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Renewables - May 14

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Amish in Ohio embracing solar power

Associated Press
In shunning modern technology, the Amish in northeast Ohio keep their homes free of electric and telephone wires. But a growing number of rooftops are sporting solar panels.

Hundreds of Amish are taken with getting energy from the sun. They see it as a safe alternative to natural gas and kerosene as a source of light.

Livestock farmer Owen Nisley of nearby Charm said getting power through solar panels is “no different from my cows eating the grass that has captured the sun’s energy. ... We love the solar, even in the winter when there are a lot of dark days.”

The equipment has become so prevalent that the environmental group Green Energy Ohio is organizing an Amish Country tour during the American Solar Energy Society’s 36th annual convention, July 7-12, in Cleveland. About 1,800 people from across the nation are expected to attend the conference and trade show.

Squaring solar panels with the Amish tradition of forgoing the fancy is easy for Jake Raber, co-owner of The Lighthouse of Ohio Distribution in Fredericksburg.

“I am a Christian and I am Amish. But being Amish is not a religion. It’s a way of life,” Raber said. “Being Amish means being independent.”
(12 May 2007)


Wind farms' deadly reputation hard to shift

Emma Marris & Daemon Fairless, Nature
What's 3% of a bird? The last seven centimetres of a swan's wingspan? The right foot of an ostrich? Or the annual death toll attributable to an average wind turbine? In the context of last week's report1 by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the environmental impacts of wind-energy projects, it's the third definition that counts. It takes 30-odd turbines to reach a kill-rate of one bird a year.

The scientists who wrote the report naturally attached lots of caveats to this figure, which they gleaned from 14 studies they felt were of good quality. They acknowledged that rates can differ widely from site to site, and that although, as Hamlet said, there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, such a fall might not be quite as special, or worth avoiding, as the death of a bald eagle.

In the final analysis, though, whichever way you slice it, or them, America's birds seem to die in turbine blades at a rate no higher than 40,000 a year. Deaths due to domestic cats, on the other hand, are put at "hundreds of millions". It is possible, the panel noted, that the turbines are rather worse for bats; recent studies have turned up more of their carcasses than expected. But the numbers are still small.

...It is unlikely, though, that the study will allay the worries of bird-lovers who look on wind farms with loathing. For carbon-free power sources, wind turbines have an oddly bad reputation among conservationists: bird safety, like landscape aesthetics, is a common cause for complaint.

And the wind farms do not have a completely clean bill of health. As the NAS report pointed out, much of the data available is too narrow and site specific.
(11 May 2007)
The full article is behind a paywall


Has the Algae Cavalry Arrived?

Saif Lalani, The Oil Drum
The last 2 years have seen a major global push towards the use of biofuels. This has included corn, soybeans, sugarcane, sunflower and rapeseed among others. The U.S. Government has mandated an increased usage of ethanol in gasoline, which has resulted in a boom in the construction of corn-to-ethanol plants.

The short-sightedness of this policy can be seen by anyone not standing for reelection to the US Senate. Soaring demand has led to a more than 60% increase in corn prices. These price increases have, however, not deterred the ethanol industry, which continues to add more and more corn-to-ethanol plants to the drawing board. While industry estimates vary it is quite likely that we could be using more than 50% of the total domestic corn production to supply less than 10% of the national demand for gasoline by 2010.

Given the relatively low overall yield of corn ethanol per acre, several alternatives have been proposed. These include the growing of soybeans, rapeseed and safflower to produce biodiesel. With some of these crops yields can range anywhere from 3-7 times that from corn ethanol per acre and have several other advantages including a much better EROEI. The one that caught my eye though was the proposal to convert algae into biodiesel.

Several posts on TOD have referred to algae as holding more promise for biodiesel production, but I had yet to see any substantive proof of its feasibility. I spent several hours over the last few days researching this and I found some interesting facts that I thought I would share on TOD. The bulk of these findings are based on Dr. Krassen Dimitrov’s work. I invited him to present a summary of his work at TOD but he suggested I do it. He even suggested I “link it’ to me. Talk about not taking credit! My role was to verify his calculations, make a synopsis and add additional information that I learned on this subject. I also communicated with Dr.Briggs at UNH about this and his views are included.

...In conclusion it seems that while their intentions may be heroic, GreenFuel and De Beers have promised way more than they can possibly deliver. I am so confident of this that I would love to extend a familiar $1000 bet on this. Unfortunately as seen here, no one can verify how much any of GreenFuel's plants produce at any time.

The future may hold a lot of promise for this technology though. A cheaper replacement for polycarbonate along with setting up reactors in third world countries with more PAR and cheaper labor may make this very realistic.
(11 May 2007)

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