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.

Not Far Enough: Some Say EPA's Climate Rules Need to do More

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant, central Wyoming | Photo: Greg Goebel/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency issued its long-awaited plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants on Monday, but some climate activists are saying the move doesn't go far enough.

The EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan would, if approved, direct states to develop a range of programs to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to 70 percent of 2005 emissions levels no later than 2030. Under the proposed rule, California would be asked to cut its power plant emissions by about 23 percent from 2012.

Though Monday's announcement was lauded by many in the environmental movement, the Clean Power Plan did not escape criticism from some who say the reductions goals are too little, and 2030 too late to forestall devastating climate change.

Rooftop Solar Installations Gaining So Far in 2014

more solar panels were put on houses like this than on big commercial buildings early this year. | Photo: ATIS547/Flickr/Creative Commons License

More solar was installed on residential rooftops than in big commercial settings during the first quarter of 2014, according to a trade report released Wednesday.

According to the Q1 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, released this week by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. saw 232 megawatts' worth of residential rooftop solar installed from January through March of this year, while commercial installations, such as those atop big-box stores and warehouses, lagged slightly behind at 225 megawatts.

Utility-scale solar installations, a.k.a. those gigantic solar panel arrays out in the desert or on converted farmland, neatly outstripped both commercial and residential installations put together, at 873 megawatts installed in the first three months of the year.

The last time residential solar installations outstripped commercial projects was in 2002, according to SEIA, well before the current boom in solar started. The report's authors expect commercial installations to gain steam later in the year, but say the long-term trend likely favors household rooftop over commercial.

Solar's 'Threat' to Utilities Prompts Financial Rating Downgrade

Old-school Barclays Bank sign | Photo: Dominic Alves/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's that embarrassing thing where a major financial firm tells you your industrial sector might not survive if we save the planet. A team of analysts at Barclays, the dreadnought British bank and financial services firm, downgraded its rating for the American utilities sector this week due to perceived threat to the industry from residential rooftop solar with battery storage.

The move will make it more expensive for American power companies to obtain loans, especially if other analysts follow suit.

And it's all because the Barclays boffins figure that it will soon be cheaper to generate and store your own power than it will be to pay your electric bill as usual.

Solar Fuel: An Interesting Idea Takes a Realistic Step

Shu Hu, in foreground, measures the efficiency of one of his team's solar fuel cells. | Photo: Robert Paz, Caltech

Every time we use fossil fuels to move ourselves around, heat our homes, or generate electricity we're using stale solar energy. Plants took sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide and turned them into hydrocarbons, which then got socked away for anywhere between hundreds of thousands and hundreds of millions of years.

Rather than burn those vintage hydrocarbons, releasing their stored carbon into the atmosphere, wouldn't it be great if we could mimic the process of photosynthesis on our own? Imagine taking sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide and turning them directly into fuel for our machines. Not only could we avoid dumping the Paleozoic's sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, but we might well be able to avoid the other kinds of pollution involved in extracting and processing fossil fuels.

That's the theory. The practice is more complex and fraught with obstacles. But a group of researchers at Caltech might just have found a way around one of those obstacles, using a material once deemed worthless for technological use.