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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Lux: Total is leading example of oil supermajor expanding into solar plus storage and distributed generation

August 09, 2016

France-based Total is the first oil supermajor aggressively to enter new areas of business including solar plus storage and distributed generation, notes Lux Research in a new report: “Superpower Darwinism: What Big Oil Can and Cannot Do About Total’s Billion-Dollar Battery Move.”

Even though viable battery companies have become harder and more expensive to buy since Total’s $1-billion acquisition of Saft (earlier post), the oil supermajors—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Total—have cash piles ranging from $5 billion to $30 billion each, despite shrinking profits since 2012 and uncertainty about timing of the eventual recovery of oil prices.

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Surprise Natural Gas Drawdown Signals Higher Prices Ahead

by Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

The US electric power sector burned through a record amount of natural gas in recent weeks, a sign of the shifting power generation mix and also a signal that natural gas supplies could get tighter than many analysts had previously expected.

The EIA reported a surprise drawdown in natural gas inventories for the week ending on August 3. The reduction of 6 billion cubic feet (Bcf) was the first summertime drawdown since 2006. Natural gas spot prices shot up following the data release on August 4, although they fell back again shortly after.

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PSA evaluating Aquarius Engines’ free-piston linear generator for range-extender

July 21, 2016

PSA Groupe is evaluating a free-piston engine linear-generator under development by Israel-based start-up Aquarius Engines for use as a range-extender in its electric vehicles. According to a report from Reuters, PSA Research and Development Director Gilles Le Borgne said that while the company is evaluating the technology, “Nothing has been decided yet.” According to Aquarius, several prototype vehicles using its free-piston generator will be road-tested by 2017.

A number of groups have recently or are currently investigating the use of free piston engine power generation applications with a focus on automotive, including academic work at West Virginia University (WVU), Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), and Shanghai Jiaotong University. (Earlier post.)

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Korea team investigates characteristics of SI dual-piston free-piston engine linear generator

June 28, 2016

Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER) have developed and are investigating the characteristics of a prototype of a dual-piston spark-ignition (SI) free-piston engine coupled with a linear alternator for electric power generation. Their paper is published in the journal Fuel.

Free piston engines, first introduced in the 1920s, have been attracting renewed attention for their potential for high efficiency and low emissions. Toyota R&D, for example, has been investigating Free Piston Engine Linear Generators (FPEGs) for B/C segment electric vehicles for several years. (Earlier post.)

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IEA: 7% increase in total energy investment could cut premature deaths from air pollution in half by 2040

June 27, 2016

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that energy policy choices backed by a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 could cut premature deaths from air pollution roughly in half by 2040. Under such a scenario, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution would decline by 1.7 million in 2040 compared with the report’s main scenario, and those from household pollution would fall by 1.6 million annually.

The IEA World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report on Energy and Air Pollution highlights the links between energy, air pollution and health. The report, the IEA’s first in-depth analysis of air quality, identifies contributions the energy sector can make to curb poor air quality—the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diets, and smoking.

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Tesla makes ~$2.8B all-stock offer to acquire SolarCity

June 21, 2016

Tesla Motora has made an all-stock offer worth approximately $2.8B to acquire all of the outstanding shares of solar energy provider SolarCity. Subject to completing due diligence, Tesla is proposing an exchange ratio of 0.122x to 0.131x shares of Tesla common stock for each share of SolarCity common stock. This proposal represents a value of $26.50 to $28.50 per share, or a premium of approximately 21% to 30% over the recent closing price of SolarCity’s shares.

Tesla Chairman and CEO Elon Musk is also Chairman of SolarCity; Antonio Gracias, CEO of investor Valor Management Corp., is on both Tesla and SolarCity boards. Musk and Gracias recused themselves from voting on the proposed acquisition at the Tesla Board meeting, and will recuse themselves from the SolarCity Board meeting which will consider the offer.

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PG&E to retire Diablo Canyon nuclear plant by 2025, replace with renewables and energy storage

PG&E announced a Joint Proposal with labor and leading environmental organizations that would increase investment in energy efficiency, renewables and storage beyond current state mandates while phasing out PG&E’s production of nuclear power in California by 2025 with the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant—California’s last operating nuclear power generation station.

Underpinning the agreement is the recognition that California’s new energy policies will significantly reduce the need for Diablo Canyon’s inflexible baseload electricity output. There are several contributing factors, including the increase of the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50% by 2030; doubling of energy efficiency goals under SB 350; the challenge of managing overgeneration and intermittency conditions under a resource portfolio increasingly influenced by solar and wind production; the growth rate of distributed energy resources; and the potential increases in the departure of PG&E’s retail load customers to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

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Opinion: Uranium Prices Set To Double By 2018

June 16, 2016

by James Stafford of Oilprice.com

With prices set to double by 2018, we’ve seen the bottom of the uranium market, and the negative sentiment that has followed this resource around despite strong fundamentals, is starting to change.

Billionaire investors sense it, and they’re always the first to anticipate change and take advantage of the rally before it becomes a reality. The turning point is where all the money is made, and there are plenty of indications that the uranium recovery is already underway.

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DOE awarding >$82M to support nuclear energy research and development

June 15, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) ia awarding more than $82 million to 93 projects that will help push innovative nuclear technologies toward commercialization and into the market. These awards provide funding for nuclear energy-related research through the Nuclear Energy University Program, Nuclear Science User Facilities, and Nuclear Energy Enabling Technology programs.

In addition to financial support, a number of recipients will receive technical and regulatory assistance through the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative.

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Toyota R&D continues work on free piston linear generators for EVs; novel resonant pendulum control method

May 06, 2016

In 2014, a team at Toyota Central R&D Labs Inc. published two SAE papers on their work in developing a prototype 10 kW Free Piston Engine Linear Generator (FPEG) for B/C segment electric vehicles. (Earlier post.) The FPEG consists of a two-stroke combustion system, a linear generator, and a gas spring chamber; the unit offers potential for compact build, high efficiency and high fuel flexibility.

Now, the Toyota researchers report on a new FPEG control method to realize stable and flexible piston motion control for efficient electric power generation. They presented their work in a paper at the recent 2016 SAE World Congress.

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NREL reveals thermoelectric potential for tailored semiconducting carbon nanotubes

April 05, 2016

A finely tuned carbon nanotube thin film has the potential to act as a thermoelectric power generator that captures and uses waste heat, according to researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The research could help guide the manufacture of thermoelectric devices based on either single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) films or composites containing these nanotubes. Because more than half of the energy consumed worldwide is rejected primarily as waste heat, the idea of thermoelectric power generation is emerging as an important part of renewable energy and energy-efficiency portfolios.

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Researchers develop all-weather solar cell that generates power from rain as well as from sun

April 03, 2016

While many technical advances have made solar cells more efficient and affordable, a disadvantage remains in the fact that solar cells produce no power when it’s raining. Now, however, researchers from the Ocean University of China (Qingdao) and Yunnan Normal University (Kunming, China) have developed an all-weather solar cell that is triggered by both sunlight and raindrops by combining an electron-enriched graphene electrode with a dye-sensitized solar cell.

The new solar cell can be excited by incident light on sunny days and raindrops on rainy days, yielding an optimal solar-to-electric conversion efficiency of 6.53% under AM 1.5 irradiation and current over microamps as well as a voltage of hundreds of microvolts by simulated raindrops. Their work is published as a “Very Important Paper” in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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DOE selects 33 clean energy businesses for nearly $6.7M in support under Small Business Vouchers pilot

March 11, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) selected 33 small businesses to work directly with DOE national labs to accelerate the commercialization of new clean energy technologies.

The department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is investing nearly $6.7 million under Round 1 of the new Small Business Vouchers (SBV) pilot. For Round 1, the small businesses and laboratories will collaborate on advancing a number of clean energy technologies, including water, wind, bioenergy, solar, buildings, vehicles, fuel cells, geothermal technologies, and advanced manufacturing. The selected small businesses will work with scientists at nine department laboratories: Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL); Sandia National Laboratories (SNL); Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); Idaho National Laboratory (INL); Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL); Argonne National Laboratory (ANL); and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

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Argonne LCA study finds many alternative fuels consume more water than petroleum and natural gas fuels

March 09, 2016

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have analyzed the water consumption for transportation fuels in the United States using an extended lifecycle system boundary that includes the water embedded in intermediate processing steps.

In a paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, they compared the water consumed per unit energy and per km traveled in light-duty vehicles. They found that many alternative fuels consume larger quantities of water on a per km basis than traditional petroleum and natural gas pathways. The authors concluded that it will be important to consider the implications of transportation and energy policy changes on water resources in the future.

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Rice study finds using natural gas for electricity and heating, not transportation, more effective in reducing GHGs

Rice University researchers have determined a more effective way to use natural gas to reduce climate-warming emissions would be in the replacement of existing coal-fired power plants and fuel-oil furnaces rather than burning it in cars and buses.

The Rice study by environmental engineer Daniel Cohan and alumnus Shayak Sengupta compared the net greenhouse gas-emission savings that could be realized by replacing other fuels in vehicles, furnaces and power plants. They found that gas-fired power plants achieved the greatest reduction—more than 50%—in net emissions when replacing old coal-fired power plants. The use of compressed natural gas in vehicles yielded the least benefit, essentially matching the emissions of modern gasoline or diesel engines.

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Singapore considers Model S EV a high carbon emission vehicle based on fuel consumption and upstream power generation

Channel NewsAsia recently reported on the case of a Tesla Model S owner in Singapore who, rather than receiving the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) rebate he expected of S$15,000 (US$10,841) was hit with a CEVS surcharge of S$15,000 for having high carbon emissions.

Under Singapore’s revised Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS), all new cars and imported used cars registered from 1 July 2015 with low carbon emissions of less than or equal to 135g CO2/km qualify for rebates of between S$5,000 (US$3,614) and S$30,000 (US$21,681), which are offset against the vehicle’s Additional Registration Fee (ARF). Cars with high carbon emissions equal to or more than 186g CO2/km incur a registration surcharge of between S$5,000 and S$30,000.

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CMU study finds that coal retirement is needed for EVs to reduce air pollution

February 12, 2016

Electric vehicles charged in coal-heavy regions can create more human health and environmental damages from life cycle air emissions than gasoline vehicles, according to a new consequential life cycle analysis by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. However, the anticipated—albeit now possibly delayed, per the recent Supreme Court decision—retirement of coal-fired power plants will make electric vehicles more competitive on an air emissions basis, the researchers found.

Among the findings of the study, published as an open-access paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, was that battery electric vehicles with large battery capacity can produce two to three times as much air emissions damage as gasoline hybrid electric vehicles, depending on charge timing.

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New German ecoPtG project seeks to make power-to-gas commercially viable with help of automotive technology

February 04, 2016

In collaboration with engineering partner IAV, the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg (Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg, ZSW); the Reiner Lemoine Institut (RLI); and Wasserelektrolyse Hydrotechnik (HT) are researching cost-effective methods of producing hydrogen with the help of automotive technology. In the ecoPtG project, the researchers and engineers are developing an alkaline water electrolyzer with an output of 100 kW. They aim to demonstrate that CO2-neutral hydrogen can be produced in a cost-effective manner and intend to facilitate the storage of electricity.

Electricity is increasingly being generated from fluctuating renewable sources. Solar and wind energy generation depends on the weather and is subject to significant fluctuations. At times, renewable energy production thus temporarily exceeds regional demand. Hydrogen produced according to the power-to-gas method can play a role in resolving this challenge and decarbonizing the transport sector. By converting electricity to gas, solar and wind power become storable. If required, hydrogen can be reconverted or used as environmentally compatible fuel for fuel cell vehicles.

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Purdue, EPFL team propose Hydricity concept for integrated co-production of H2 and electricity from solar thermal energy

December 16, 2015

Researchers from Purdue University and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland are proposing a new integrated process involving the co-production of hydrogen and electricity from solar thermal energy—a concept they label “hydricity”. They describe their proposal in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The hydricity process entails integrating solar water power (SWP) cycle and solar thermal hydrogen production technologies and a turbine-based hydrogen power cycle with suitable improvements of each for compatibility and beneficial interaction.

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Study finds EV deployment in China to increase Environmental Justice challenge there

November 16, 2015

A new study by a team from the University of Tennessee, Tsinghua University and the University of Minnesota has found that the wide-scale deployment of electric vehicles in China can increase the Environmental Justice (EJ) challenge in that country.

According to their findings, published in a paper in the ACS journalEnvironmental Science & Technology, most (∼77%, range: 41–96%) emission inhalation attributable to urban EVs use—i.e., from the shifting of transportation’s air pollution from urban tailpipes to rural power plants—is distributed to predominately rural communities the incomes of which are on average lower than the cities in which the EVs are used.

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California Hydrogen Business Council says a robust P2G RD&D program should be a priority for the state

October 14, 2015

The case for using Power-to-Gas solutions to store renewable energy is compelling for a number of important use cases, according to a new white paper released by the California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC). The paper, —“Power-To-Gas: The Case For Hydrogen”—outlines the feasibility and economics of renewable energy storage solutions using P2G. Among the paper’s conclusions is that a robust P2G RD&D program should be a priority for the state of California. Currently, P2G is being deployed in Europe and Canada but is only at the early demonstration phase in California.

P2G systems use electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen—i.e., P2G converts electrical energy to chemical energy in the form of hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be transported through the natural gas grid via blending or further conversion to methane, transported by other means such as trucks, or used directly at the point of production. (Posts.)

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Toyota to unveil new fuel cell vehicle concept; focus on distributed generation as well as transportation

October 08, 2015

With its fuel cell Mirai already on sale, Toyota Motor is continuing to push the fuel cell envelope with the introduction of a new fuel cell concept at the upcoming Tokyo Moto Show at the end of this month. The new Toyota FCV Plus is a fuel cell concept that embodies Toyota’s vision of a hydrogen-based society. Toyota is also introducing the all-new Prius and the Toyota C-HR Concept, a compact hybrid crossover.

Toyota envisages a sustainable society in which hydrogen energy is in widespread use—a society it says is embodied by the new FCV Plus concept vehicle, which functions as a distributed power generation system as well as a vehicle.

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Intelligent Energy announces US$1.8B deal for ~27K telecom towers in India; fuel cell power for ~70%; landmark in fuel cell deployment

October 04, 2015

UK-based fuel cell developer Intelligent Energy will purchase contracts from GTL Limited to supply energy-management services across more than 27,400 telecom towers in India—about 6.4% of the country’s total. Essential Energy, a subsidiary of Intelligent Energy in India, will assume the power management for the towers—a figure equivalent to 50% of the UK’s telecom towers and 13% of the US’. Essential Energy intends to transition around 70% of the managed telecom towers from diesel power to hydrogen fuel cells throughout their contracts’ tenure.

The transaction delivers contracted revenues of approximately £1.2 billion (US$1.8 billion) over ten years—a major development for Intelligent Energy and the industry, said Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy Holdings. The landmark deal also represents a major milestone in hydrogen fuel cell deployment.

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Toyota and public and private partners in Japan to trial renewable CO2-free hydrogen supply chain

September 08, 2015

Major corporate and public sector partners in Japan are launching an effort to test a full carbon-neutral hydrogen supply chain powered by renewable wind energy. The trials are planned to take place near the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki in the Keihin coastal region.

On the public sector side, the project is being implemented by the Kanagawa Prefectural Government, Yokohama City, and Kawasaki City. The four private sector participants are Iwatani Corporation, Toshiba Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Turbine and Systems Inc. In addition, the project will be supported by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment.

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DOE awards ~$25M to 8 projects for CO2 capture and compression; $15M for novel Direct Fuel Cell system

September 02, 2015

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected eight projects to receive almost $25 million in funding to construct small- and large-scale pilots for reducing the cost of CO2 capture and compression through DOE’s Carbon Capture Program. More than half of the funding ($15 million) will go to FuelCell Energy for a pilot scale project using one of the company’s Direct Fuel Cells for carbon capture and compression.

The DOE’s Carbon Capture Program consists of two core research technology areas, post-combustion capture and pre-combustion capture, and also supports related CO2 compression efforts. Current research and development efforts are advancing technologies that could provide step-change reductions in both cost and energy penalty compared to currently available technologies.

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Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of renewable electricity; nuclear competitive with other baseload power sources

August 31, 2015

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2010 and 2015 LCOE ranges for solar and wind technologies. Source: IEA/NEA. Click to enlarge.

The cost of producing electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar has been falling for several years. A new report, a joint project by the International Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency, provides in detail the contrasting costs for different power generation technologies around the world and shows that renewable sources can produce electricity at close to or even below the cost of new fossil fuel-based power stations, depending upon conditions such as resources and appropriate market and regulatory frameworks.

The report, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity: 2015 Edition, also shows that new nuclear power plants generate electricity more cheaply than other established “baseload” sources—mainly coal- and gas-fired power plants—over the full lifetime of facilities when financing costs are relatively low.

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MIT team proposes ARC fusion reactor: affordable, robust, compact

August 10, 2015

Advances in magnet technology have enabled researchers at MIT to propose a new design for a practical compact tokamak fusion reactor that might be realized in as little as a decade: the ARC (affordable, robust, compact) reactor. The stronger magnetic field makes it possible to produce the required magnetic confinement of the superhot plasma—the working material of a fusion reaction—but in a much smaller device than those previously envisioned.

The reduction in size, in turn, makes the whole system less expensive and faster to build, and also allows for some ingenious new features in the power plant design. The proposed tokamak (donut-shaped) reactor is designed to have 500 MW fusion power at 3.3 m major radius and is described in a paper in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design.

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