Rooftop solar really started taking off in California when third-party leasing companies offered property owners a way to go solar without laying out any cash up front. Now, a startup is bringing that leasing model to a wholly different renewable energy realm: decentralized power storage.
Stem, a Bay Area-based firm working in the electrical power storage field, has launched a venture that will lease power storage capacity to businesses. Stem's equipment will allow businesses to reduce their power consumption from the grid at peak times, offering electric bill reductions of between 10 and 40 percent -- and helping the power grid avoid uncomfortable shortfalls of power during peak periods.
Best of all, Stem leases their storage banks to firms with no money upfront, and lease payments are at least partly offset by significantly reduced power bills. Which should make the whole prospect much more attractive to businesses looking to take control of their power consumption.
An innovative California dairy is getting a bit of press for tapping one of its most abundant products to make electricity. On Friday, Antonio Brasil's dairy in the Merced County town of Dos Palos unveiled its newest feature: a 240-kilowatt power plant fueled by cow poop.
The unveiling of the 10,000 square foot digester was hosted by Fresno area Congressional Representative Jim Costa, who lauded the joint venture between Brasil and Carson City, NV-based Elite Energy.
"What we're really talking about here is protecting water resources, protecting the air quality and climate, creating a renewable energy stream," said Costa.
The project's anaerobic digester will create a stream of something besides renewable energy, as well: about 18,000 gallons of liquid compost a day, and 25 cubic yards oof soil amendment.
A typical dairy cow produces about 180 pounds of manure and urine every day. California, which produces a bit more than a fifth of the nation's milk supply, has about 1.8 million cows. That's a huge waste stream, and it's an environmental problem. Nitrates from dairy farm effluent can seriously pollute air and water, not to mention making life miserable for neighbors in a more strictly aesthetic sense.
We reported in February about research into using graphene, an inexpensive, biodegradable form of pure carbon as a possible way to store electrical power cheaply and without much environmental impact.
A new study suggests that pairing that carbon with the second most common element in the Earth's crust, silicon, may offer a way to produce efficient, durable power storage at a low price.
We're talking about supercapacitors, the high-tech mini storage systems that can in theory charge hundreds of times faster than batteries, with thousands of times more charge cycles in their usable life span. And a team of engineering researchers from Vanderbilt University has found a way to combine graphene and silicon to make supercapacitors store up to forty times more power than commercially available models.
If supercapacitors take much less time to charge than lithium ion batteries and last through thousands of times as many charge cycles, why are we still waiting for hours to charge old-school batteries in our smartphones? Simple: it's because the actual power storage capacity of batteries is still much higher than that of available supercapacitors. Even with recent advances in technology, supercapacitors can only store about two to five percent as much power as a lithium battery of similar weight.
Which means that even though a smartphone using commercially available supercapacitors instead of batteries might only take a minute or two to charge fully, you'd end up needing to recharge it at least once an hour. That would hardly make your supercapacitor smartphone competitive in the marketplace, obligatory jokes about battery use in iOS 7 aside.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a non-binding climate pact Monday with governors John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, and Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia. Reaction to the pact is mixed, with the most negative reaction coming from activists opposed to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas in California.
And Brown didn't do much to reassure fracking opponents in his reaction to a protest outside the San Francisco headquarters of Cisco Systems, where the formal signing ceremony occurred.
"I think we ought to give science a chance before deciding on a ban on fracking," Brown told reporters after the ceremony, adding that fracking had allowed a more economical shift away from coal-fired power.
Here's another ripple from October's shutdown of the federal government: the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has pushed back the deadline for public comments on a Northern California wind project's application to be allowed to kill eagles.
EDF Renewables' Shiloh IV wind project would put 50 two-megawatt wind turbines in the lMontezuma Hills between Fairfield and Rio Vista in Solano County. EDF is seeking a programmatic eagle take permit under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) that would allow its turbines at Shiloh IV to kill an eagle a year.
Though several other wind energy projects have applied for eagle take permits, Shiloh IV is in line to be the first project granted a programmatic eagle take permit. USFWS published a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of the permit before the shutdown, and is now extending the public comment period to make up for the 16 day period during which that Draft EA wasn't accessible to the public.
It's a compelling, heroic narrative: a Native tribe fights to close a coal plant that's poisoned its people, and builds a solar power plant next door as an alternative source of power. A city far away that's been buying coal-fired power decides to go coal-free, and agrees to buy all the power from the tribe's solar plant. The credits roll and everyone feels good.
Everyone, that is, except a threatened desert reptile that's had to move out of the way.
In spring 2013, wildlife biologists moved 157 desert tortoises, a federally listed threatened species, from the 2,000-acre footprint of the Moapa Solar power plant, being built by First Solar on the Moapa Paiute reservation in the shadow of the doomed Reid-Gardner Generating Station. Since those translocations, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least ten tortoises have died from predation and from heat exhaustion.