QUICK NEWS, 2-24: HURDLE FOR GOOGLE’S OCEAN WIRES; COLO SUN INCENTIVES DROP; A BETTER BATTERY; U.S. MUST FIND RARE EARTHS
HURDLE FOR GOOGLE’S OCEAN WIRES
Offshore Wind Transmission System Raises Red Flag at State Agencies; State officials worry that Atlantic Wind Connection's underwater backbone could spike already high power prices
Tom Johnson, February 22, 2011 (New Jersey Spotlight)
"…In filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), both the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel expressed concern about the Atlantic Wind Connection project, a $5 billion submarine high-voltage transmission backbone…[T]he two agencies argued that the project, stretching from Virginia to New Jersey, could adversely affect the rates paid by consumers and also place much of the risk on the ratepayer instead of the developers.
"The Atlantic Wind Connection is a 350-mile underwater transmission line, which aims to connect the spate of offshore wind farms being developed by New Jersey and other states. Its backers include Google, and Trans-Elect, a transmission company…[It] has been viewed warily in New Jersey by both regulators and offshore wind developers, who already have lined up their own interconnections with the regional power grid, and at a far lower cost than what Atlantic Wind Connection envisions…"
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"Robert Mitchell, chief executive officer of Trans-Elect [recently] argued…the project would bring down electricity costs to consumers by reducing congestion on the regional power grid, a problem blamed for spiking consumers’ bills in New Jersey by more than $1 billion a year…6,000 megawatts of offshore wind…could result in a savings of $17 billion for ratepayers up and down the eastern seaboard over the next two decades…[and] could reduce [climate change-inducing] carbon dioxide emissions…by 16 million tons…
"New Jersey officials, however, remain unconvinced…Consumers already pay some of the highest electric bills in the nation, a burden some argue could increase as the state shifts to cleaner sources of energy, such as solar and wind power. According to the Rate Counsel, if current state policies remain in effect, subsidies to develop solar and wind power projects could cost consumers an additional $5 billion over the next two decades."
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"…[New Jersey officials say] the project ought to go through the same planning process as other transmission proposals…[and question] the ultimate viability of the Atlantic Wind Connection proposal, which seeks a return on equity of 13.58 percent, the highest possible under the FERC’s rules…In particular, the Rate Counsel objects to the project's seeking special incentive ratemaking remedies, including allowing the project to begin collecting from customers even before construction on the transmission backbone begins…[which, it says,] side-steps state regulatory ratemaking and fails to balance risk between the developer and ratepayers…
"…[The Atlantic Wind Connection’s] Mitchell said the developer hopes to clear the federal agency review within a couple of months."
COLO SUN INCENTIVES DROP
Xcel Energy Modifies Solar*Rewards Program
17 February 2011 (Solar Industry)
"Xcel Energy, a U.S.-based electrical and natural gas company, has changed its Solar*Rewards program to include an immediate reduction in the combined program incentive and a filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for approval to lower the rebates offered through the program for on-site solar energy installations.
"The combined Solar*Rewards incentive for small, customer-owned systems (0.5 kW to 10 kW) will now be paid at $2.01/W, down from the former $2.35 per watt. The medium and third-party-owned programs will be adjusted similarly. There will be no incentive change for applications that have already been approved."
But will Coloradans still buy solar? (click to enlarge)
"Xcel Energy says it also is filing with the CPUC for approval to change the rebates for participants at the four program levels…[O]n commission approval, Xcel Energy plans to offer a combined incentive of up to $1.25/W for small systems.
"The changes are prompted by the decline in solar panel costs and increasing subsidization from government programs, according to Xcel Energy. Together, these developments have reduced the level of incentives needed to support customer participation…"
A BETTER BATTERY
Lithium-ion battery with new chemistry could power electric vehicles
February 21, 2011 (PhysOrg)
"While car companies race to develop electric and hybrid electric vehicles, one of the biggest challenges they face is finding a suitable energy storage system. Lithium-ion batteries, which currently power a variety of smaller consumer electronics devices, could ideally fill this role…[but] require further [energy density and power density] improvements…
"…[In An Advanced Lithium Ion Battery Based on High Performance Electrode Materials, researchers Jusef Hassoun, Ki-Soo Lee, Yang-Kook Sun, and Bruno Scrosati, from the University of Rome Sapienza in Rome, Italy, and Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea, report having] developed a novel type of lithium-ion battery with an anode and cathode that involve new, advanced battery chemistries, greatly improving the battery’s performance and likely making it suitable for electric vehicles…"
Li-ion: Good and getting better (click to enlarge)
"…[The] study builds on the team’s previous research involving the development of novel, advanced lithium-ion battery chemistries. The key to the high performance lies in the battery’s electrode materials….[T]he scientists [used] a tin-carbon anode and a cathode made of lithium manganese oxide doped with nickel and cobalt. As far as the researchers know, a lithium-ion battery with this unique electrode combination has never been reported before…
"The new [high-voltage cathode and a nanostructured anode] materials provide certain advantages for the overall battery. As the researchers previously demonstrated, the tin-carbon anode has a high cycling life of several hundred cycles without a reduction in capacity, as well as discharge-charge efficiency approaching 100%. By applying a surface treatment to the anode, the researchers could further improve the capacity."
Advance battery technology is hot (click to enlarge)
"…[T]he new manganese-based cathode materials…are more abundant, less expensive, more environmentally friendly, and have a higher stability at low temperatures compared to the lithium cobalt oxide cathode used in conventional lithium-ion batteries…[with carefully optimized] composition, particle size, shape, morphology, and tap density…The cathode’s high voltage and high capacity provides the new battery with a higher energy density (170 Wh/kg at average discharge voltage of 4.2 volts) than conventional lithium-ion batteries…"
[Scrosati:] “In summary, with respect to those using conventional lithium-ion batteries, electric vehicles using our battery may assure: 1) a longer driving range (210 km/charge vs. 150 km/charge due to the higher energy density; 2) a higher top speed; 3) a lower cost; and 4) better overall performance especially at low temperatures…”
U.S. MUST FIND RARE EARTHS
Scientists Call for New Sources of Critical Elements
Mathew L. Wald, February 18, 2011 (NY Times)
"Technologies for green or renewable-energy devices like batteries, solar cells and advanced electric motors are dependent on critical metals and other elements that are threatened by major shortages, two influential American scientific groups said…China’s chokehold on the chemical elements known as rare earths is just one example…The report called for the United States government to research and develop new sources for a broad range of critical materials and to more closely monitor the supply of and demand…
"…Many of the materials in question are now traded in relatively small volumes, but are becoming increasingly critical to the production of clean energy technologies, according to the report by the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society…[Materials] like indium, gallium and tellurium, until a few years ago were mainly ‘laboratory curiosities’…But shortages…could slow the deployment of green technologies…"
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"The threat to supplies comes not only from geopolitics, as with China’s restricting exports of rare earth elements, the report said. More fundamentally, it said, global production of many vital materials is simply not keeping pace with demand…[T]he amount of tellurium required for one gigawatt of [thin film] solar cells — about equal to the power output of a single large nuclear plant — would be approximately twice the entire world’s [recent] production…
"Because the copper business on which tellurium is piggybacked was about $80 billion in 2009, while the tellurium market was but a tiny fraction of that — close to $30 million — it is unlikely that producers will expand copper mines simply to yield more tellurium…Gallium, indium and germanium are other elements for which demand is now low but might grow far faster than production could be increased…Production of those materials today is generally a byproduct of something else, and not a result of primary production of the elements themselves. So investors may not want to build mines or processing plants just for those elements, the study said."
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"The report put lithium in this category. It is important to batteries, but substitutes might be found, and that means that exploration and development of new lithium resources [is in limbo]…[N]o one is sure about how fast production of these “energy critical elements” could be increased, the study said…[D]eveloping and opening a new mine can take decades.
"Another complication is that mining many of the materials also brings to the surface uranium and thorium, which are radioactive. The uranium and thorium often occur in concentrations too low to be commercially attractive, so they are cast aside as byproducts, creating environmental problems…The report said the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should create a committee to examine the production and use of these energy-critical elements, and aim to enhance their production…find substitutes [and recycle them]…"