In an effort to keep ringing the bell when I come across the examples of positive eco-energy developments in the US, please note the following two stories I read about in the last two days. As reported in the Raleigh News and Observer on Thursday, a solar panel firm called Semprius will be opening a manufacturing facility in Henderson, NC which will employ 250 people in assembling a state of the art solar panel. These solar panels are based on a concept called Concentrated Photovoltaic or CPV panels which use lenses to focus sunlight cells increasing the amount of electricity produced. The CPV panels convert 33.9% of sunlight energy into electricity as contrasted to the typical poly silicon solar cells which convert around 24%.
The technology created by Semprius was supported by the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Siemens AG who now has a 16% stake in Semprius. Its major customers will be Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Siemens AG. The plant will produce solar panels that produce up to 5 to 6 megawatts of energy with plans to expand to produce 35 megawatts of energy. This is an excellent example of the history of public/ private investment in the US. It also shows the global nature of business, as Siemens, who has a huge US and NC presence, is a German firm. Siemen’s reputation is stellar and with their involvement as an investor and key user of the product worldwide will be key to its success. Germany is well ahead of the US in alternative energy and Europe will be 20% solar-powered by 2050. Yes, there have been some failures in the solar panel industry – such as Evergreen and Solyndra – but that may be as much attributable to the Chinese government investing so heavily in their industry. It also shows there are jobs to be had in the solar panel industry, both in the manufacturing and installation ends.
The second eco-energy story was reported by The Charlotte Observer today. Duke Energy reported that they have retired three older coal-powered plants in the Carolinas and its news subsidiary Progress Energy is retiring one of its older coal-powered plants and three oil-fired plants. Duke said they have shut down 587 megawatts of coal-powered plants and will shut down 1,080 more megawatts by 2015. They have been replacing these plants with cleaner coal (I cannot use the term clean coal) and natural gas-powered plants. They still have issues with retrieval of the coal and natural gas, hence the term cleaner, but are far better than the older coal-powered plants. The cleaner coal actually converts the coal to a gas that is then burned with many of its by-products captured.
I mention this as Duke is leading the way on its gradually diminishing of fossil fuel based power. This process is not dissimilar to what is being done in China. Duke has reported in 2011 that 46% of its energy comes from coal, so they are continuing to make strides. Utilities have announced they have retired 12 gigawatts of coal-fired power since 2009 and will retire 30 gigawatts more by 2015, when two federal air-pollution measures for power plants take effect. Bernstein reports that the amount retired may be closer to 54 gigawatts.
As noted in an earlier post, the US is third in the world behind China and Germany in alternative energy development. Much of this has been due to these federal pollution standards. the miles per gallon standards and what independent states of done. For example, in NC, 12.5% of a utility’s power must come from alternative energy by 2021. Yet, a great deal of the US standing is based on a confederation of smaller efforts which are focused, but replicable. With solar energy on the uptick and wind energy in 38 states, along with various biomass, tidal and river current efforts,we have much to build on. At this point, we lack the holistic long term eco-energy strategy which will tie this all together and help us move as rapidly as we can away from fossil fuels.
Yet, good news keeps occurring and we should highlight and celebrate them. These efforts give me hope that we can make a difference and that there are people thinking of better ways to build the mousetraps. I use the plural with intent, as our solutions will be a cadre of alternatives and not just one solution. Well done.