August 31, 2011

News and Events

DOE Finalizes $852 Million Loan Guarantee for California Solar Plant

Photo of a row of shining metal troughs the desert.Reflecting solar troughs will be used in the Genesis Solar Energy Project.
Credit: DOE

DOE announced on August 26 that it finalized a partial guarantee for an $852 million loan to support the Genesis Solar Energy Project, a 250-megawatt parabolic trough concentrating solar power (CSP) facility. The project will increase by 50% the installed CSP capacity in the United States. Sponsor NextEra Energy Resources estimates the loan will fund approximately 800 construction jobs and 47 operating jobs. The project is located on land managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management in Riverside County, California.

The partial loan guarantee will support the utility-scale deployment of a technology that has been used commercially for more than two decades, and the facility is expected to produce enough electricity to power more than 48,000 homes and avoid over 320,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Power from the project will be sold to Pacific Gas and Electric Company. DOE’s Loan Programs Office has issued loans, loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling nearly $40 billion to support 42 clean energy projects across the U.S. See the DOE press release.

DOE Announces New Efficiency Standards for Home Refrigerators

DOE issued on August 26 final energy efficiency standards for home refrigerators and freezers. The new standards will improve the efficiency of home refrigerators some 25% by 2014. The standards, developed through a consensus process with manufacturers, consumer groups, and environmentalists, are expected to deliver more than $200 in electricity bill savings for the typical consumer over the lifetime of the refrigerator. Nationally, consumers are expected to save more than $21 billion on their energy bills through 2043 as a result of these standards. According to a DOE analysis, the standards will save enough electricity each year to power 3.4 million homes, about the same number of homes in the entire state of Virginia.

The efficiency standards finalize the proposed consensus standards agreed to by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, more than 25 individual refrigerator manufacturers, and some of the nation’s leading consumer and environmental advocacy groups. The standards will go into effect three years after their publication in the Federal Register. See the DOE press release and the final rulePDF.

Vice President Cites Private Sector Backing for ARPA-E Awardees

Vice President Biden announced on August 30 that five companies receiving a total of $15.5 million from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) have now attracted more than $100 million in private capital investment. ARPA-E allocated between $1.5 million and $6 million to each of the firms to support their work on advanced grid scale batteries, innovative new approaches to biofuels, or waste heat recovery. In February, DOE Secretary Chu reported that six other ARPA-E firms had collectively crossed the $100 million investment threshold after garnering $23.6 million in ARPA-E seed funding. The financing reflects the progress the companies have made over the past two years toward developing new technologies that could transform U.S. energy production and use.

The companies Biden cited are OPX Biotechnologies of Boulder, Colorado, whose researchers—in combination with bacteria experts from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory—are creating bacteria to produce a liquid biofuel using electricity and carbon dioxide; Phononic Devices of Raleigh, North Carolina, which is designing thermoelectric devices to capture wasted heat produced by factories, power plants, and vehicles, and then convert it directly into usable electric; Primus Power of Hayward, California, which has developed a flow battery using high energy fluids pumped throughout the battery to store renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar power; Stanford University in California, where Professor Fritz Prinz is commercializing a new type of energy storage device that will perform many of the same jobs as a normal battery does but hold more charges; and Transphorm of Goleta, California, which is pursuing compact and efficient semiconductor devices that can quickly switch electrical currents, thereby reducing wasted power from electric motors.

ARPA-E will be making its next round of awards in September, including support for a series of innovative projects to keep U.S. manufacturers competitive by reducing the need for expensive rare earth materials from China. Rare earths are naturally occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties that are used for many clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. Up to $30 million will be made available for this program area, in addition to funding for projects in advanced biofuels, thermal storage, grid control technologies and solar power. See the ARPA-E press release and the ARPA-E website.

USDA Guarantees Loan to Florida Biofuels Facility

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on August 18 that it issued a $75 million loan guarantee to support construction of a waste-to-energy bioprocessing facility in Vero Beach, Florida. The plant will produce up to 8 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol and will create an estimated 380 new jobs.

The facility, to be completed by the summer of 2012, will use a gas fermentation process to produce cellulosic ethanol from citrus fruit, vegetable, and yard wastes. The plant will consume an estimated 300 dry tons of organic material per day and will produce enough electricity to run the plant and provide for the power needs of 1,400 homes. It is estimated the facility will create 380 jobs. Compared to gasoline, the ethanol produced by the plant will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 90%. The loan guarantee was issued through USDA Rural Development’s Biorefinery Assistance Program. DOE has also supported this technology with $50 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. See the USDA press release, a DOE Energy Blog post, and the USDA Biorefinery Assistance Program webpage.

Interior Approves Transmission for California Solar Project

Photo of a row of metal towers with wires strung across them.Transmission lines approved by the Department of Interior will cross public lands to link a California solar project to the energy grid.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced on August 25 approval for construction of a transmission line that will be located on public lands and will connect a 250-megawatt solar power project to the energy grid in California. The aboveground 230-kilovolt line will bring power from the Imperial Solar Energy Center West Project, located on private, fallowed farmlands in Imperial County. The new line, to be located on 65 acres of DOI-managed land, will deliver power to more than 75,000 homes. Proposed by CSOLAR Development, LLC, the transmission project is expected to create up to 285 jobs during construction.

Because the transmission line will cross both private land and a federal right-of-way, it could not proceed without DOI approval and the environmental impact report/environmental assessment (EIR/EA) had to consider the impacts of the entire generation and transmission project. The proposal received extensive environmental review and mitigation measures, with the EIR/EA issued on July 28. DOI’s Bureau of Land Management also worked with American Indian communities, the DOI’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other stakeholders to minimize and compensate for potential adverse impacts. See the DOI press release and the record of decisionPDF.

Kennebec Valley Community College’s State-of-the-Art Solar Lab

Advancing solar technology is not only key to increasing the affordability of renewable power, it’s also critical to spreading its economic benefits across the country. That’s why Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) in Fairfield, Maine, has created a program to increase the quality and availability of training in how to install solar systems in the Northeast.

The lab may have hosted its grand opening recently, but the facility has been in development for more than a year and hosted two separate “train the trainers” sessions before the facility was even complete. Course participants from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont come from community colleges, apprentice programs, career education programs, and private companies.

In 2009, with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, DOE launched the Solar Instructor Training Network to coordinate training in solar system design, installation, inspection, and sales. KVCC was chosen to be one of nine regional U.S. training centers. See the Energy Blog post.

Solar Decathlon Entry Uses iPad to Monitor Home

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is participating in its first Solar Decathlon, the upcoming U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, featuring its home “Living Light.” Named for its very brightly sunlit double facade glass system, the home’s blueprint was inspired by the cantilever barns of southern Appalachia, which have giant eaves to provide shade and a “two-core” design.

The floor plan revolves around the two wooden cores at the base, which allows for an open living space in the center. The home includes one bedroom, one bath, a living room, and a kitchen. More space is available for dining and recreation, along with an outdoor patio area and garden for growing small crops.

The double facade glass system is used for natural lighting and to keep a sealed temperature envelope that allows you to regulate it to your liking, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The facades are built with an inner insulated glass panel and an outer pane with an air barrier, which also holds the windows’ blinds.

The real engine of Living Light is in its 10.9-kilowatt solar array atop the roof that also acts as a shading trellis. This array powers all of the electric appliances including an oven, cooktop, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, home entertainment systems (television and sound system), the mini-ductless heat pumps and the ERV, along with the most exciting feature–a home automation system you can run from an iPad. Knoxville expects the home to require just half the electricity generated from the array and suggest using the rest to charge an electric vehicle or even sell back to your utility company.?See the Energy Blog post.

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