News and Events July 19, 2012
The Energy Department joined with Texas Tech University and the department’s Sandia National Laboratories on July 17 to break ground on a new state-of-the-art wind turbine test facility in Lubbock, Texas. Supported by a $2.6 million investment from the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWIFT) facility will be the first public facility of its kind to use multiple wind turbines to measure how wind turbine wakes interact with one another in a wind farm. Scheduled to begin operation later this year, the facility will help wind turbine designers and manufacturers continue to drive down the cost of wind energy by reducing the aerodynamic losses of wind energy plants, enhancing energy capture, and mitigating turbine damage.
Along with the ability to monitor wind plant performance, the SWIFT facility will have additional advanced testing and monitoring capabilities, as well as space for up to ten wind turbines, allowing researchers to examine how larger wind farms can become more productive and collaborative. The facility, which will host both open-source and proprietary research, is the result of a partnership between the department’s Sandia National Laboratories, the Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, Group NIRE, and wind turbine manufacturer Vestas. The site will initially be equipped with two research-scale wind turbines provided by the Energy Department and a third installed by Vestas Technology R&D in Houston. See the DOE Progress Alert and the Wind Program website.
The Energy Department is developing new voluntary procedures that will help standardize how state and local governments, industry, and energy efficiency organizations estimate energy savings. These protocols are being developed by technical experts through collaboration with energy efficiency program administrators, industry stakeholders, and home energy assessors. The department invites stakeholders from the public sector, industry, and academia to participate in an online public review of these new protocols in an effort to estimate energy savings from energy efficiency programs.
The new procedures provide a straightforward method for evaluating potential energy savings in residential and commercial building upgrades offered through ratepayer-funded initiatives. These common energy efficiency upgrades include energy-saving lighting, lighting controls, commercial air conditioning, and residential furnaces and boilers. These voluntary protocols will help energy efficiency program administrators and local governments improve the objectivity, consistency, and transparency of energy savings data; it will also help strengthen consumers’ confidence in the results expected from energy efficiency upgrades. The protocols, being developed under the Uniform Methods Project, are available for review through July 27. See the DOE Progress Alert and the protocols for review.
A refuse truck powered by compressed natural gas in Washington state.
Credit: Western Washington Clean Cities
The Energy Department on July 12 announced $30 million in funding for 13 research projects designed to find new ways of harnessing natural gas supplies for cars and trucks. Researchers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin will work on the initiative. The grants are made through the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). The projects are part of Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy, which aims to engineer lightweight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles and develop natural gas compressors that efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home.
Today’s natural gas vehicle technologies require tanks that can withstand high pressures. They are often cumbersome, and are either too large or too expensive to be suitable for smaller passenger vehicles. ARPA-E’s new projects are focused on removing these barriers, which will help encourage the widespread use of natural gas cars and trucks. For example, REL, Inc. in Calumet, Michigan, will receive $3 million to develop an internal “foam core” for natural gas tanks that allows tanks to be formed into any shape. This will enable higher storage capacity than current carbon fiber tanks at one-third the cost.
The projects will also focus on developing natural gas compressors that make it easier for consumers to re-fuel at home. The Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin will use $4 million to develop an at-home natural gas re-fueling system that compresses gas with a single piston. Unlike current four-piston compressors, these highly integrated single-piston systems will use fewer moving parts, leading to a more reliable, lighter, and cost-effective compressor. See the Energy Department press release and the complete list of projects .
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on July 12 that rural electric cooperatives and utilities in 15 states will receive $287 million in loan guarantees to make improvements to generation and transmission facilities and to implement smart grid technologies. The announcement includes support for more than $10 million in smart grid technologies. This will help utilities make efficiency improvements to the electric grid and help consumers lower their electric bills by reducing energy use in homes and businesses. With this funding, USDA Rural Development moves closer to reaching a department goal to fund more than $250 million for smart grid technologies.
In Texas, Houston County Electric Cooperative is receiving $9 million to build and improve 421 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements, serving 2,000 customers. The loan includes $670,000 in smart grid projects. The loan guarantees are provided by USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service. The funding helps electric utilities upgrade, expand, maintain, and replace electric infrastructure. USDA Rural Development also funds energy conservation and renewable energy projects. See the USDA press release.
Global clean energy investments increased 24% in the second quarter of 2012 compared to the first quarter, with new investment totaling $59.6 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The amount was still 18% below the near-record quarterly figure of $72.5 billion in the second quarter last year.
The United States enjoyed solid gains in investment in the second quarter of 18% over the first quarter, reaching $10.2 billion, the report said. China surged 92% in investment to $18.3 billion in the April-to-June period. Overall, solar accounted for $33.6 billion of investment in the second quarter, up 19% over the first quarter, and wind had $21.6 billion, up 47% quarter to quarter. The largest venture capital and private equity deals of the quarter saw U.S. automaker Fisker clinch $148 million for its plug-in hybrid vehicle development. The figures draw on a comprehensive database of transactions in clean energy worldwide. See the Bloomberg New Energy Finance press release.
The California Energy Commission on July 11 awarded $1.1 million for energy research projects, including a variety impacting renewable energy and energy efficiency. Funds for the 10 projects come from the Commission’s Public Interest Research Project program. Commissioners approved $300,000 to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego in order to better understand differences in regional climate model projections for California and how they impact hydropower generation forecasting.
The remaining nine projects are from PIER’s Energy Innovations Small Grant program. The program provides money to small businesses, non-profits, individuals, and academic institutions to conduct research establishing the feasibility of new, innovative energy concepts. These grants are capped at $95,000. Among the projects is a project dealing with small soluble organic molecules designed to increase the lifetime and reliability of photovoltaics, and a study of enhanced cooling towers for cooling buildings. See the California Energy Commission press release.