Solar-powered Canals – Are They the Future in California?

India's first-canal-top solar power plant

A solar covered canal system – just not yet here in the United States

Governor Brown’s recently announced plan to have California derive 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 has opened the door for bold ideas to help achieve this.

Carl Weidert, a retired, self-employed biologist who lives in Shingletown, California, has spent years garnering interest in his idea of utilizing California’s canals as solar arrays to generate electricity. Of the five governors he’s proposed his innovative plan to, only Governor Schwarzenegger responding favorably.

Approximately 1,000 miles of canals – managed mainly by government agencies – exist throughout California, covering around 100,000 acres. Weidert wants to cover the canals with moveable covers covered with solar panels.

To learn more about this innovative idea and find out what country has already adopted this, click here.

Combating Climate Change – a new look with Al Gore and Jeff Skoll

Al Gore at Google Hangout 2013

Former Vice President Al Gore at the Google Hangout 

A fascinating online meeting billed as Combating Climate Change took place Tuesday June 11th. Sponsored by The Climate Reality Project (the non-profit founded by former Vice President Al Gore), it featured Gore and Jeff Skoll, the Executive Producer of the film An Inconvenient Truth. In 2006, this eye-opening film launched a worldwide conversation, some would say controversy, regarding the effects of climate change. Now, on  the film’s seventh anniversary, these two came together, with moderator Dr. Kiki Sanford to give an update on what was discussed in the film.

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Florida City opens innovative wastewater to energy Facility

Back in August of last year, I wrote about plans in Sanford, Florida, to open a plant to convert wastewater sludge into renewable green energy by utilizing a biomass gassifier.

The plant is now open and the northern Floridia city has signed a 20-year contract with Houston-based MaxWest Environmental Systems to operate the system. The city will pay MaxWest $258,000 a year for the power it produces over the course of the contract.

With an anticipated savings of $9 million over the 20-year contract, more utilities are taking a hard look at this promising technology. MaxWest is working with eight other Florida municipalities to set up similar gasifiers.

Solar Panels for Rent

Massachusetts homeowners can now lease solar panels

Massachusetts homeowners can now lease solar panels

Residential solar panels – generally a hefty $25,000 or more to install – can now be leased for a fraction of the cost in Massachusetts.

Sun Run has entered the solar lease business in the Bay state, the first company to do so. Now homeowners can pay an up-front fee of $1,000, sign up for an 18-year long-term lease (similar to signing up for cable TV) and have solar panels installed on their roofs. Homeowners will likely make back their investment within 7 years or less and, by locking in the rate they pay for electricity generated, will save on future bills as well.

SunRun owns the solar panels but partners with local installers like Alteris Renewables and groSolar in Massachusetts. Homeowners who sign up to lease their panels don’t have to worry about upkeep or breakage. If a panel breaks, it’s replaced at no extra charge.  Homeowners also don’t have to worry about details like tying the panels in to the electric grid or applying for the rebates and subsidies as the companies gets the state and federal subsidies (it owns the panels).

But homeowners do have some perks and options. When they move, they can transfer their solar agreement to the new homeowner, buy out the contract, or purchase the panels.

Governor Deval Patrick is hoping “solar as a service” will help Massachussetts reach an ambitious goal of getting 250 megawatts of solar power by 2017.  Currently the state has $68 million available for solar electricity rebates between 2008 and 2011.

Changing Wind Turbine Speeds can Reduce Bat Fatalities

Shutting down wind turbines can reduce mortality rates during bat migration

Shutting down wind turbines can reduce mortality rates during bat migration

A new report on a study of the interaction between bats and wind turbines shows that shutting down wind turbines during low winds reduces bat mortality by more than 70%, with minimal accompanying energy loss.

The study was the first U.S.-based experiment on the effectiveness of changing turbine cut-in speed on reducing bat fatality at wind turbines at the Casselman Wind Project in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Twelve of the site’s 23 wind turbines were part of the experiment The amount of power loss from the experiment was approximately 2% of total project output during the 76-day study period for the 12 turbines, the report revealed. The report speculated that had all 23 turbines participated in the experiment, total energy loss would have been limited to 0.3 % of total annual output.

“Shutting down turbines at certain wind speeds during periods when bats appear most vulnerable at this Northeastern U.S. wind farm may have the potential to be a cost-effective way to reduce the impact on bats during their late summer migration season,” said Andy Linehan, wind permitting director for Iberdrola Renewables, who partnered with Bat Conservation International to address potential wind energy impacts on bats.

With this demonstration, perhaps wind farms will practice good stewardship and “trim their sails” to help protect the bats.

Solar Highways Begin to Light the Way

Oregon highway solar panels begin lighting the way

Oregon highway solar panels begin lighting the way

The state of Oregon began installing the U.S.’s first solar highway in August. Located at the intersection of Highways 5 and 205, its 104-kilowatt array will produce 28 percent of the power necessary to light the exchange.

Portland (OR) General Electric and U.S. Bankcorp Community Development Corporation partnered to create the funding for this $1.4 million alternative energy project.

The CDC will own the project’s federal and state tax benefits for 5 years (they’ll expire then). Ownership will then revert to Portland GE.
This venture sounds promising. Makes you wonder what something like this could do in a sunnier states like California, Nevada or in the Southwest, with those wide-open spaces? There’s the land for larger arrays that could produce significantly larger amounts of energy. Think the utility companies are considering it? It could make a unique contribution to their renewables’ portfolios.