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Renewables & efficiency - June 29

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Feed-in tariffs grow green power but may fall victim to energy politics, German-style.

Michael Scott Moore, Miller-McCune Magazine
... Feed-in tariffs are better known as incentives for solar energy because they've made Germany, of all places — with its melancholic weather and dribbles of winter sunshine — a world leader in solar power. Germans have installed enough panels to account for half the world's megawattage of solar power, while Americans, with their vast western deserts and subtropical southern sun, have installed the panels to produce around 10 percent.

The German feed-in tariff is simply a law that says a big energy firm has to pay an above-market rate for renewable energy, sometimes several times the market rate. Anyone with a windmill, a biomass plant or a solar panel can earn that rate for a fixed span of at least 20 years. The energy firm can then earn back the money by offering "green blends" of electricity to its customers at slightly higher rates. The overall effect has been to harness individual German angst over pollution and global warming into a national movement to build renewable power.

It sounds like a success story, and from a distance it is. The feed-in tariff — along with other initiatives, like a project at the University of Göttingen to get Jühnde off the grid in the first place — has driven plenty of scattered German innovation. But from a longer point of view, the country's ambitious green project is failing. Feed-in tariffs were introduced under Gerhard Schröder in 2000, when his government agreed to phase out nuclear power. The idea was to boost renewable energies by 2021, the deadline for Germany's last nuclear plant to go dark.

Now it's clear that renewables alone won't fill the gap left by a nuclear phase-out.
(26 June 2009)
The importance of framing. Whether feed-in tariffs are a success or failure, depends entirely on how the issue is framed. -BA


Germany at a More Real Climate Crossroads

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
More vital news from Germany: besides the creation of a car free city (Vauban), Chancellor Merkel is holding Obama's feet to the fire to do more to halt greenhouse-gas emissions -- even as she faces domestic protest regarding sacrosanct coal power.

Germany's entire society enjoys a better quality of life than the U.S. thanks to generous vacations while using half the energy per capita used by U.S. citizens. But all is not well in Germany due to economic and demographic stress combined with unsustainable energy dependence.

At the same time we in the U.S. often feel quite behind certain western European nations. So we can be fooled into thinking that taking modest measures to cut energy use is enough. Enough for what, and for whom?

Germany is still a capitalistic nation with powerful industrial forces catering to the good life of civilization: power consumption cannot be questioned below a certain comfort level. Sound familiar?

Press reports say Germany's environmental groups take the position that renewable energy is the answer for climate protection. It must be as hard to tell what the grassroots are really up to there, as it is in the U.S., when, for example, the bicycling do-it-yourselfer in both countries doesn't need much power -- she or he just wants to save the planet and have some kicks in a healthy world. Little press attention is given to such folk.
(26 June 2009)



Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears

James Glanz, New York Times
... Hastily shut down, Mr. Häring’s project was soon forgotten by nearly everyone outside Switzerland. As early as this week, though, an American start-up company, AltaRock Energy, will begin using nearly the same method to drill deep into ground laced with fault lines in an area two hours’ drive north of San Francisco.

Residents of the region, which straddles Lake and Sonoma Counties, have already been protesting swarms of smaller earthquakes set off by a less geologically invasive set of energy projects there. AltaRock officials said that they chose the spot in part because the history of mostly small quakes reassured them that the risks were limited.

Like the effort in Basel, the new project will tap geothermal energy by fracturing hard rock more than two miles deep to extract its heat

... But in a report on seismic impact that AltaRock was required to file, the company failed to mention that the Basel program was shut down because of the earthquake it caused. AltaRock claimed it was uncertain that the project had caused the quake, even though Swiss government seismologists and officials on the Basel project agreed that it did. Nor did AltaRock mention the thousands of smaller earthquakes induced by the Basel project that continued for months after it shut down.

The California project is the first of dozens that could be operating in the United States in the next several years, driven by a push to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases and the Obama administration’s support for renewable energy.

Geothermal’s potential as a clean energy source has raised huge hopes, and its advocates believe it could put a significant dent in American dependence on fossil fuels — potentially supplying roughly 15 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030, according to one estimate by Google.The earth’s heat is always there waiting to be tapped, unlike wind and solar power, which are intermittent
(23 June 2009)




Improving Power in Rural China

Heading Out (Dave Summers), The Oil Drum
Powering Rural China

One of the concerns of the Qinghai Administration deals with the large number of herders that remain wandering the hills, as their herds migrate across the landscape. Apart from the concerns over over-grazing that the now-larger herd/flock size is starting to impact grassland stability, they are also concerned with the provision of power and easier physical access to the herder dwellings, and he provision of social services.

Driving out to see the Liujia Gorge hydro-electric scheme and nature park we passed through a street that illustrated one of the first steps in helping that had been achieved. Outside virtually every residence on the sunny side of the street (and about four on the other) there was a solar cooker of the type shown at the top of the page. These are extremely popular even where there is electricity (which is not that expensive) but are even more popular with the herders, since this gives them a source of hot water and power for cooking, without needing access to electricity.

The second step in giving folk power has been the introduction of the solar water heaters. The designs are quite simple, a drum, and thin collector pipes, and they are currently being sold, at a price of around 6,000 – 7,000 yuan (6.7 to the dollar)

... Heating Houses and Tents

The Tu have a significant minority status in China, and in Xining City there is a community, which has at least three culture centers. These show off the way of life of the Tu, and this is a typical room within their gated community. The platform contains a small wood stove, and a conduit that carries hot gases through the bed of the bed, before exhausting it. As a result the ceramic box is quite warm, and the family can thus sit here and eat, and drink, and if they collapse – we’ll they’re on a bed to start with. The amount of wood required to keep the fire going and heat the ceramic is relatively small, and as I mentioned we saw Pollarded trees, and sheep stretching up to eat new leaves and branches. We sat in here for lunch, around the table, and I was initiated into the ceremony of the three cups. (I also can confirm that ear of yak is quite a pleasant delicacy). The design from the bed came from North East China where the Tu originated. They also had a small still going which produced the ethanol for the ceremony.

The construction illustrates how much benefit can come from an intelligence of need.

In contrast, Tibetan tents, which are of a heavy and dark construction so that they can soak up as much heat from the sun as possible, have a central wall, with a small fire built into it. This is usually fed by dried dung, of which there is a pile usually outside. Outside the cities this is quite a common dwelling for the herders (and workers on the pipeline) though the tents were made of different materials and colors (white being the dominant other).
(24 June 2009)

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