California Energy, Climate Labs Get Research Grants From Feds

UC Berkeley and three other California research institutions are awarded grants from the Department of Energy | Photo: John Morgan/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Four leading California research laboratories working in the fields of energy and climate change were among the grant recipients from the Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers program, the DOE announced Wednesday.

"Today, we are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation's energy future," said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in announcing the awards. "The funding we're announcing today will help fuel scientific and technological innovation."

The grants, totaling $100 million, are the second round of funding from the DOE for its Energy Frontier Research Centers, and are intended to promote basic scientific research into renewable energy-related materials and technology issues.

Meet California's New Solar Capital: Buffalo, New York

Downtown Buffalo | Photo: Joseph A./Flickr/Creative Commons License

SolarCity, the Menlo Park-based solar panel leasing company best known as the company Elon Musk owns that isn't SpaceX or Tesla Motors, announced Tuesday that it's buying Fremont-based solar panel manufacturer Silevo, and that the acquisition will lead to building one of the world's largest solar panel factories in Buffalo, New York.

In a blog post published Tuesday, Musk and SolarCity's cofounders Peter and Lyndon Rive said that the company is in negotiations with the state of New York to build a solar panel manufacturing center large enough to build more than a gigawatt's worth of solar panels every year.

The panels built at the facility would use Silevo's proprietary Triex photovoltaic technology, which Musk and the Rives brothers say offers high energy output at low cost. And putting the facility in snowy, economically depressed Buffalo is a stroke of genius.

Bird Deaths Continue Through May at Ivanpah Solar

Lazuli bunting, one of the species found dead at the Ivanpah solar facility in May | Photo: Carla Kishinami/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Recorded bird deaths at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System ebbed only slightly in May after their peak in April, and more than half the bird carcasses reported to the state energy agency showed signs of injury from the plant's concentrated solar energy.

According to the Monthly Compliance Report for May filed with the California Energy Commission (CEC), a total of 80 birds were confirmed killed at the San Bernardino County solar plant in May. 44 of the birds showed clear signs of scorching, singeing, or melting of feathers consistent with exposure to extreme temperatures, as would happen if the birds flew through the plant's solar flux fields.

Solar flux burns weren't just recorded on the birds' sensitive feathers. Several of the carcasses were described as having had burns to the skin beneath the feathers. Two birds, both barn swallows, were described as showing injuries to their eyes consistent with solar flux injuries, and one of the two swallows had burns on his cloacal protuberance -- an organ roughly equivalent to the mammalian scrotum.

Mammoth Residents Concerned Over Geothermal Plant Threat to Groundwater

Natural hot springs in the Mammoth Lakes area hint at the region's geothermal potential | Photo: clickfarmer/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A 33-megawatt geothermal power plant approved in August by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service has the town of Mammoth Lakes worried about its drinking water supply.

Ormat Technologies' Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Energy Project would draw 29,000 acre-feet of extremely hot water per year from deep within the rock layers of the tectonically active region, using up to 16 newly drilled wells.

But that geothermally heated aquifer lies beneath the cold water aquifer from which Mammoth Lakes draws its drinking water, and locals are worried that the Ormat's pumping could draw down the cold water aquifer: a troubling prospect in this drought as locals become increasingly dependent on groundwater.

California Denies Sierra Club Intervention On Large Solar Project

Artist's conception, Palen Solar Electric Generating System | Photo: BrightSource Energy

The California Energy Commission has turned down a request from the Sierra Club to become a formal legal party to proceedings regarding the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System west of Blythe in Riverside County.

The Sierra Club filed to "intervene" in the CEC's Palen proceedings on June 6. "Intervening" is a bit of jargon meaning to become a full legal party to the CEC's quasijudicial proceedings, whose testimony must be given full consideration in any decision. It's a step that gives more influence than members of the public have in the process; more like becoming a party to a lawsuit.

In its decision today denying the Sierra Club's petition, CEC pointed out that the official deadline for intervention in the case passed last September. Ordinarily, that'd be a slam dunk reason to deny the Club's petition. But the Palen case has gone through such a complex set of changes since that deadline, with new information being revealed, that granting the Club status as an intervenor would have been more than justified.

Solar Roadways: 4 Reasons They Might Not Work

The Brusaws with their prototype solar paving tiles | Photo: Solar Roadways

Over the last couple of weeks, ReWire's gotten a boatload of emails and social media forwards about the "Solar Freaking Roadways" Indiegogo campaign, in which inventors Julie and Scott Brusaw have raised well over $1.9 million to develop their modular solar-powered paving tiles. The Brusaws' goal is nothing less than replacing every bit of paved surface in the U.S. with the tiles, each of which will generate a maximum of 52 watts of electrical power when illuminated by the sun.

The Brusaws offer a vision of a nation that derives all its power from its roadways, which would include baked-in LEDs (to replace lane striping paint), heating elements to melt ice and snow, and integrated GPS. They claim that replacing our roadways with their panels will offer a source of solar energy enough to meet the United States' power needs three times over, with a roadway that's safer for pedestrians and animals.

As with any promise that sounds too good to be true, this one merits careful scrutiny -- especially since what the Brusaws are offering something a lot of us really want. Here are four reasons to take the Solar Roadways hype with a large amount of salt.

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