News and Events January 12, 2013
The Energy Department on January 3 announced its award of more than $10 million in funding to five projects in California, Maryland, Texas, and Washington that will develop innovative technologies to convert biomass into advanced biofuels and bioproducts. These projects use synthetic biological and chemical techniques to convert biomass into processable sugars that can be transformed into bioproducts and drop-in biofuels for cars, trucks, and planes.
Two of these projects will develop cost-effective ways to produce intermediates from the deconstruction of lignocellulose, a structural material that comprises much of the mass of plants. Biofuel intermediates are biomass-based products that can be treated as commodities and passed from a producer to a refiner through the supply chain, before being processed into biofuel. Three projects will propose new conversion techniques to transform biomass intermediates into advanced biofuels and bioproducts. See the Energy Department Progress Alert.
The Energy Department on December 21 announced a $9 million investment in building envelope technologies, including high-efficiency, high-performance windows; roofs; and heating and cooling equipment. The new investment supports six advanced manufacturing projects in California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee that advance whole-home energy performance.
The investment includes about $6.5 million awarded to four projects to develop highly efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, and about $3 million awarded to two projects that focus on building envelope materials. For example, St. Louis, Missouri-based Unico will receive $2 million to develop a cold-climate heat pump with a variable-speed compressor that will maintain capacity and efficiency, even at very low temperatures. The Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will develop and test highly insulated, easy-to-install windows that use automated shading and can capture or repel heat, depending on the season. See the Energy Department press release.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the investment tax credits will be extended through the end of the year under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which was passed by Congress on January 1, 2013, and signed into law on January 2 by President Obama. The extension of the PTC, included in the bill to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” would apply to all U.S. wind projects that start construction in 2013. In addition to the PTC, the law also covers investment tax credits for community and offshore wind projects.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said the incentives will allow continued growth for wind energy. Last year, the amount of wind energy installed in the United States comprised a record-setting 44% of all new U.S. electrical generating capacity, according to the Energy Information Administration and AWEA. See the White House Blog, the White House American Taxpayer Relief Act fact sheet, and the AWEA press release.
The law also includes geothermal, biomass, and hydropower tax credits as well as a range of other energy efficiency and renewable energy credits. For example, the law extends the biodiesel tax incentive for 2012 and 2013, which expired on December 31, 2011. The $1-per-gallon biodiesel tax incentive was first implemented in 2005. According to a study conducted by Cardno ENTRIX, a consulting firm, the biofuel industry would support more than 112,000 jobs nationally in 2013 with the tax credit in place versus nearly 82,000 without it. See press releases from the National Biodiesel Board and the Geothermal Energy Association.
Also, the measure provides one-year tax credits for energy-efficient additions such as exterior windows, doors, and skylights which are eligible for the non-business energy property tax credit; alternative-fuel-vehicle refueling stations; a $2,500 tax credit for two-wheeled or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles; and construction of energy-efficient new homes and the purchase of energy-efficient appliances. See the text of the bill.
The Energy Department on December 20 announced $12 million in new funding for the Rooftop Solar Challenge II, which will support projects that make solar energy businesses more efficient. The funding opportunity builds on the success of 2011’s Rooftop Solar Challenge and is part of the Department’s broader efforts to spur solar power deployment by making it easier, faster, and cheaper to finance and install solar energy systems.
The challenges are aimed at streamlining and standardizing local permitting, zoning, metering, and connection processes and improving finance options to lower costs for residential and small commercial rooftop solar energy systems. Through the first round, 22 regional teams have worked to dramatically reduce the non-hardware or soft costs of solar. This has included standardizing installation and permitting fees across multiple jurisdictions, establishing group purchasing discounts, and expanding online permitting. These soft costs can comprise 40% of the cost of going solar. The teams selected for round two, which may include teams selected in the first round, will be evaluated throughout a two-and-a-half-year project period using solar market maturity models developed by the Department’s SunShot Initiative. See the Energy Department Progress Alert.
When it comes to harnessing America’s vast geothermal energy resources, knowing where to look is half the battle.
Geothermal energy—the heat contained within the earth—represents a growing part of the country’s clean energy mix. Still, for continued growth of this industry, gaining easy access to reliable, comprehensive geothermal data remains a critical barrier.
To help solve this challenge, the Energy Department is partnering with the Arizona Geological Survey—among other public and private sector contributors—to create the National Geothermal Data System at www.geothermaldata.org. This interactive, open source database provides project developers and other industry partners with the critical information they need to cut the time in identifying and developing new production areas and to reduce upfront discovery costs. For the complete story, see the Energy Blog.