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A fuel of convenience
Why pellets are packing the power

Jackie Jones, Renewable Energy World
Suddenly, it seems, everyone is talking about pellets. The time certainly seems right for this rapidly growing branch of the biomass sector. High oil prices make pellets an increasingly attractive option for domestic and district heating, while the coal-power generation sector, especially in Europe, is keen to reduce its carbon emissions and try shifting towards co-firing with pellets. Meanwhile research is underway into manufacturing ‘agropellets’ from a wider range of agricultural residue and energy crops.

‘It is quite possible that total pellet consumption in Europe will triple in the coming five years.’This is the view presented by Matti Hilli, CEO one of the world’s largest pellet producers – Vapo Oy – speaking at the Bioenergy in Wood Industry 2005 conference, held in Finland last September.While growth in medium-sized district heating plants was steady, there was a marked increase in the co-firing of pellets with coal. On the home heating front, 2005 was a boom year for pellets in Germany, and as the likelihood of a European directive on renewable heating and cooling increases, that trend seems set to continue. Meanwhile, in industry, pellets are also being adopted as a source of on-site heat, often in CHP installations.

Compared with wood chip, for example, wood pellets are highly sophisticated form of packaged energy. First, their energy density is about four times that of good quality wood chip – about 3100 kWh/m3, meaning that their storage and transport is considerably easier and more efficient.And unlike briquettes, the other compacted wood fuel, pellets can be bulk handled like a liquid, as they are small enough to flow freely.

This means that they can be transported by tanker and ‘pumped’ into storage bins, then fed automatically into boilers.
(5 June 2006)
Colin Campbell of ASPO is very keen on this solution.

Hat tip: Tom Whipple

A hundred thousand points of light
Thinking out of the grid

Rebecca Willis, Green Futures
Behind all the headlines and the hype about the coming energy crisis facing the UK, there are some seriously effective local solutions taking shape. In the pages which follow, we profile this year’s groundbreaking Ashden Award UK winners. But first, Rebecca Willis argues that we should use the looming energy crisis as a chance to rethink some outdated assumptions about how we source and use our power.
The rooftop wind turbine has become a must-have accessory for David Cameron, for energy minister Malcolm Wicks, and for a queue of celebrities eager to mount a very public display of their green credentials. It’s a welcome symbol of a rapidly growing interest in small-scale, sustainable energy.

But while rooftop gestures gather pace, politicians are still failing to ignite the genuinely transformative potential of an energy system based on small-scale, distributed power. Far removed from our present, antiquated grid system, we could call such a system Grid 2.0.

A world away from the hothouses of London, Doreen Attfield talks to her neighbours in Fernside Crescent, Huddersfield, about the weather. It’s more than just chitchat. The brighter the sky, the lower their electricity bills: Fernside is part of the Europe-wide SunCities initiative [see ‘Making sparks around the house’], which has kitted out 2,000 homes with solar panels. As Doreen says, as soon as the panels were installed: “Everyone was busy comparing how much energy we were producing a day. It was really exciting.” And Fernside is not an isolated example. As so many of this year’s Ashden Award winners show, people are beginning to reconnect to their power.

We could be on the cusp of a radical new approach to energy. One in which power generation will no longer be purely remote and centralised, a one-way flow through the wires from big generators to passive consumers. As energy expert Walt Patterson explains, that model dates back to when “the best available generating technologies were based on water power and steam power. It was shaped by economies of scale in generating electricity.”

Rebecca Willis is an Associate of Green Alliance and author of a new pamphlet, Grid 2.0: The next generation, available from
(July 2006)

Energy Surety for Mission Readiness (microgrids)
By David Menicucci, Roch Ducey, and Paul Volkman, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Increased energy security and decreased dependence on fossil fuels are two major objectives of the new Army Energy Strategy for Installations. Both goals suggest that the Army consider diversifying its current use of the local electric utility for primary power and engine-driven generators for emergency back-up power. They also call for including renewable energy systems such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass, and other advanced distributed generation (DG) technologies such as fuel cells and microturbines. Increased energy reliability and security and, therefore, enhanced mission readiness, can be achieved by networking these power systems together in an “intelligent” microgrid. This concept is built on the philosophy that, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

To assess the microgrid’s potential for Army use, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is working with ACSIM, HQ-IMA, and the Research and Development Engineering Command (RDECOM). ERDC is investigating how the energy surety microgrid concept can be implemented, not only at the installation and remote training facility level, but at forward base camps, tactical operation centers, and Soldier power — in other words, “home station to foxhole.”
(July 2006; hat-tip to
Listed at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory website..

Movie Casts the Electric Car as Hero, GM as Bad Guy

Martin Zimmerman, LA Times via Common Dreams
The EV1 may be dead and buried, but the electric car that once roamed California freeways is still haunting General Motors Corp.

The Detroit auto giant is the reluctant “star” of the biting documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which chronicles one fateful slice of California’s effort to force automakers to develop cleaner vehicles for the state’s smog-afflicted residents.

The film, which opened in limited release last month, takes aim at several major automakers including Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. But GM receives by far the worst bashing for its decision to terminate the EV1 despite what the filmmakers contend was widespread consumer demand.

“It doesn’t make me feel very good about GM,” said John Horny of Altadena as he emerged from a recent showing of the film in Pasadena. “It seems they made a mistake in not going ahead in building the cars.”

It’s the sort of PR that experts say the automaker doesn’t need as it battles for financial survival against aggressive Japanese competitors and for corporate autonomy in the face of pressure from unhappy shareholders.

…So far, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” isn’t killing GM’s sales. But the automaker is taking steps to minimize the fallout.

GM has run full-page newspaper ads to circulate its version of the electric car saga. And it paid for so-called sponsored links on Google’s Internet search engine. (Type in “electric car” or the film’s name and the search results are topped by a link to a GM website that explains “what really happened” to the EV1.)

“The truth is never black and white,” said GM spokesman Barthmuss, who appears in the movie. “Our response has been to try to point out the gray areas.”
(15 July 2006)
One way to look at the movie is as a 1-1/2 hour commercial for GM’s electric car… and people are willing to pay $10 to see it. It’s a sad comment that the only response GM can think of is a defensive public relations campaign. Apparently it will take a more nimble, foreward-looking company to capitalize on the public enthusiasm for electric vehicles. -BA