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On burning wood, coppicing and pollarding

Heading Out, The Oil Drum
The power plant on our campus is set up so that it can burn either coal, natural gas or wood feed stocks. At the present time the natural gas lines are blocked, since the trends of increasing price made it uneconomic to use within the boilers. However the plant uses around wood for 40% of the feed, and has for a number of years. It helps, both with pollution control, and with the overall plant economics (oftimes being cheaper per kwh generated). We are located adjacent to a national forest and thus there is a ready supply of material.

Now in relatively small quantities this is a viable program, and for domestic heating wood has long been a fall-back supply (we buy several cords each winter to burn in our tile stove).

It is particularly useful as a supply in those parts of the country where solar and wind energies are not going to be locally available as viable resources (long-term, long-distance transmission of generated power is an issue I’ll duck today).

However, before everyone rushes out to get a stove, furnace, or even a fireplace it is worth reminding folks of some historic facts (some of which Bloomberg also catches)….
(4 Sept 2009)

Floating challenge for offshore wind turbine

Jorn Madslien, BBC News
Heading offshore in the Rygercruise catamaran, it is a journey into uncharted territory.
Not in terms of sea charts – the Norwegian energy giant StatoilHydro knows these waters well, having spent the past 30 years drilling for oil and gas here – but in terms of technology.

Statoil has constructed the world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine a couple of hours by catamaran from the oil town Stavanger, in the hope that one day vast wind farms could be constructed far offshore in water depths of up to 700m.

Standing firm as the catamaran rolls in the waves, Sjur Bratland is optimistic with regards to the technology’s potential…
(8 Sept 2009)

Renewable Fuel Pretenders

Robert Rapier, The Oil Drum
This essay initially started out as “Pretenders, Contenders, and Niches.” However, the section on pretenders grew to the point that I have decided to split that essay up. The first part, Renewable Fuel Pretenders, will cover some of the current media and political darlings. The second part, Renewable Fuel Contenders, will discuss some options that have received less attention, but in the long term are more likely to have staying power in my view. The final part on niches will discuss situations in which certain options might work in very specific situations.

One thing that probably goes without saying. Most pretenders don’t believe they are pretenders. They are often completely sincere people who believe they have cracked the code, and thus they take exception to my characterization. The cellulosic guys, the algae guys, and even the hydrogen guys will insist that I have it all wrong. In fact, following the posting of this essay on my blog, I heard from all of them. I got numerous e-mails assuring me that they really had come up with the solution. What I have discovered in many of these cases is that people often believe this because they have no experience at scaling up technologies. They might have something that works in the lab, but this can instill a false sense of confidence in those who have never scaled a process up.

…This all boils down to something I have said on many occasions: You can’t mandate technology. Just because you mandate that 36 billion gallons of biofuel are to be produced by 2022 doesn’t mean that it has a remote chance of happening. This is not a hard concept to understand, but it seems to have eluded our government for many years. Politicians would probably understand that they couldn’t create colonies on the moon in 10 years via mandate. They know they can’t cure cancer via mandate. But in the area of biofuels, they seem to feel like they can just conjure up vast amounts of hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol, or algal biodiesel…
(3 Sept 2009)

Pumping Up the Grid: Key Step to Green Energy

Michael Noble, Yale environment 360
As America gets serious about the twin crises of oil dependency and climate change, many analysts believe that wind power — and eventually solar power — will make the largest carbon-free contributions to a new energy supply. But America’s aging electrical transmission system is renewable energy’s Achilles heel, and unless a broad policy consensus to upgrade our electrical grid is forged soon, the potential of wind and solar power will be vastly diminished.

Three things are needed to solve the challenge of renewable energy transmission: good technical planning, permitting and siting processes that can win public support, and broad agreement on how to pay the high cost of new power lines. Of these issues, the last one — gaining agreement on how transmission costs are spread among players — is currently the most contentious. To solve it, policymakers must come up with a plan to allocate these costs as broadly across the electricity system as possible — utilities, renewable energy generators, and consumers — since ultimately the whole system and all its users will benefit from a 21st century grid.

Today, achieving a national consensus on the importance of a better electrical transmission system is the single most important step toward vast expansion of clean, low-cost sources of energy. With every passing day, we can generate more and more energy from wind and solar power. The challenge now is getting it to the population centers where it is most needed…
(8 September 2009)

US and China to unveil joint plan to ‘take over’ cleantech market

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
A joint US-China plan to “take over the world” in low-carbon technology will be revealed tomorrow at a meeting of Davos’s World Economic Forum in Dalian.

The sweeping initiative to secure the opportunities arising from tackling climate change is based on top-level business collaboration between the two superpowers, with some deals already done. One obstacle, however, will be growing trade friction over clean technology.

Leading industrialists, entrepreneurs and financiers from the world’s two biggest polluters have marked out the development strategy for a trillion dollar “greentech” market for inclusion in a bilateral climate agreement that is expected to be signed by the two governments when Obama visits China in November.

The global clean technology market would get a major boost from any deal at the global climate summit in Copenhagen in December…
(9 Sept 2009)