Electron microscope image of nanowire/bacteria array at the heart of the new artificial photosynthesis system. | Berkeley Lab
In what's being called a win-win for the environment and the production of renewable energy, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, have achieved a major breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis.
The scientists have created a system that can capture carbon dioxide emissions before they're released into the atmosphere and convert them into fuels, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and other valuable products.
The new artificial photosynthesis system was developed by scientists including Peidong Yang (left), Christopher Chang, and Michelle Chang.
Scientists around the world have spent decades looking for a practical way to mimic photosynthesis. That's the process in which green plants use energy from sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates. But it's proven to be a difficult technical challenge.
"The real issue comes from the balance of energy efficiency, cost, and stability, Dr. Amanda J. Morris, assistant professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and an expert in sustainable energy, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Electrons, which are required, are very expensive (either produced from gasoline, oil, coal or solar) and so, the process must be very efficient in terms of electron and energy balances."
Morris, who was not involved in the new research, called it "important," adding that it would guide future efforts in the field.
Biology-nanotechnology mash-up. The heart of the new system is an array of minute silicon and titanium oxide wires studded with Sporomusa ovata bacteria. The "nanowires" capture light energy and deliver it the bacteria, which convert carbon dioxide in the air into acetate (a key building block for the more complex organic molecules in fuels, biodegradable plastics, and pharmaceuticals).
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"We are currently working on our second-generation system, which has a solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency of 3 percent," Yang said in the statement. "Once we can reach a conversion efficiency of 10 percent in a cost-effective manner, the technology should be commercially viable."
That could take awhile. Morris told HuffPost Science that "a device based on this technology will not hit the market anytime soon."
The biggest single impediment to a global explosion in renewable energy is storage. Crack the challenge of expensive batteries and a future without carbon-heavy energy sources becomes possible. Ditto the dangerous alternative of nuclear and even the most recent booming sector, shale oil and gas. South African born and raised billionaire Elon Musk has been investing heavily in trying to develop the holy grail for renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Now comes news that the world’s richest man, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, has joined him in this laudable quest. Dirty energy is a massive industry with enormous vested interests. But their force pales next to the power of human ingenuity, especially when it is appropriately funded. Time, perhaps, to start working that into your long-term investment strategy? – Alec Hogg
By Christopher Martin
(Bloomberg Business) — Professor Donald Sadoway remembers chuckling at an e-mail in August 2009 from a woman claiming to represent Bill Gates. The world’s richest man had taken Sadoway’s Introduction to Solid State Chemistry online, the message explained. Gates wondered if he could meet the guy teaching the popular MIT course the next time the billionaire was in the Boston area, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its May issue.
“I thought it was a student prank,” says Sadoway, who’s spent more than a decade melting metals in search of a cheap, long-life battery that might wean the world off dirty energy. He’d almost forgotten the note when Gates’s assistant wrote again to plead for a response.
A month later, Gates and Sadoway were swapping ideas on curbing climate change in the chemist’s second-story office on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus. They discussed progress on batteries to help solar and wind compete with fossil fuels. Gates said to call when Sadoway was ready to start a company. “He agreed to be an angel investor,” Sadoway says. “It would have been tough without that support.”
Sadoway is ready. He and a handful of scientists with young companies and big backers say they have a shot at solving a vexing problem: how to store and deliver power around the clock so sustainable energiescan become viable alternatives to fossil fuels. How these storage projects are allowing utility power customers to defect from the grid is one of the topics for debate this week at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York. Today’s nickel-cadmium and lithium-ion offerings aren’t up to the task. They can’t run a home for more than a few hours or most cars for more than 100 miles (160 kilometers). At about $400 per kilowatt-hour, they’re double the price analysts say will unleash widespread green power. “Developing a storage system beyond lithium-ion is critical to unlocking the value of electric vehicles and renewable energy,” says Andrew Chung, a partner at Menlo Park, California–based venture capital firm Khosla Ventures.
The timing for inventors—and investors—may finally be right. Wind turbines accounted for 45 percent of new U.S. power production last year, while solar made up 34 percent of fresh capacity worldwide. Storing this energy when the sun isn’t shining or a breeze isn’t blowing has remained an expensive hurdle. Battery believers say that’s changing. They’ve invested more than $5 billion in the past decade, racing to get technologies to market. They’re betting new batteries can hold enough clean energy to run a car, home, or campus; store power from wind or solar farms; and make dirty electricity grids greener by replacing generators and reducing the need for more fossil fuel plants. This market for storage capacity will increase almost 10-fold in three years to 2,400 megawatts, equal to six natural gas turbines, Navigant Consulting says.
Gates made good on his pledge to Sadoway with an undisclosed investment in 2011. Themoney helped form Ambri, a nod to the company’s roots in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Gates declined to comment for this story.) Billionaire Nick Pritzker and his son Joby are backing Pittsburgh-based Aquion Energy through their Prelude Ventures and Tao Invest funds. At Aquion, a Carnegie Mellon University professor is repurposing a factory that made Volkswagens and Sony TVs to fashion batteries for residences and hotels. Technology from California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has support from VC Vinod Khosla. The top three U.S. automakers are testing the lab’s lithium polymer product, which powers cars and homes. Sales are expected next year.
More money will flow to the global, $50 billion-a-year battery industry as the U.S., China, and Germany scramble to cut greenhouse gases. The market includes everything from flashlights and home solar to power sources for islands and storage that can fortify grids. A dozen startups are chasing the pot in a field dominated by Panasonic and LG Electronics, which are advancing their own offerings. “It’s a fantastic time, with some really strong technologies,” says Venkat Srinivasan, who leads storage research at Berkeley Lab.
Sadoway is one of the first out of the gate. This year, he plans to ship six 10-ton prototypes packed with hundreds of liquid metal cells to wind and solar farms in Hawaii, a microgrid in Alaska, and a Consolidated Edison substation in Manhattan. Ambri’s battery will store power Con Ed offloads when demand is low. Then, rather than cranking up another coal- or gas-fired plant, the utility will drain the battery when New Yorkers want more juice
Sadoway, a 65-year-old Canadian, defies the nerdy inventor mold. He’s been known to teach his class in a tuxedo while serving champagne. Yet he’s all science when explaining batteries. He says Ambri can top lithium-ion on price and longevity with tricky chemistry that he and a former student have finally perfected. The battery combines two metals Sadoway won’t disclose that have different weights and melting points. He separates them with a salt layer. Electric currents heat the metals to as much as 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit) to pass electrons through the molten salt. That helps the metals hold more energy. Unlike the lithium-ion in laptops, which can take about 400 charges and last four years, Sadoway says his batteries can take 10,000 charges and work for at least a decade.
Sony introduced the now-ubiquitous lithium-ion technology in 1991. The batteries, with theirflammable liquid electrolyte, never overcame original flaws. They can burst into flames and require toxic solvents with names such as N-methylpyrrolidone. More frustrating for investors, no one so far has come up with a clear route to bringing down prices while ramping up production. Tesla Motors Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk says he can do it. He’s betting $5 billion that a new plant near a lithium mine in Nevada will make his Teslas go more than 200 miles at about $35,000 per car by 2017. That’s about one-third the cost of today’s priciest $100,000 Model S. Analysts estimate Tesla’s batteries cost less than $400 a kilowatt-hour. Musk has said he wants to cut costs by 30 percent with full output. Tesla declined to comment on battery prices. To answer critics who say Teslas lose their green cred by plugging into a grid, Musk offers solar panels for homes and some charging stations.
Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers jump-started today’s race to beat lithium-ion in 2007. VCs asked one simple question: What should the ideal battery do? The firm, known for spotting future tech icons such as Netscape and Google, gathered analysts and partners at its Menlo Park headquarters. They came up with a list of “impossible demands.” Then they set out to find the technology—hopefully lurking in a chemist’s lab—ready to be refined and eventually brought to market, saysRay Lane, partner emeritus at Kleiner.
Kleiner dispatched Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems who was a partner at the firm, and David Wells, from its greentech division, to Pittsburgh. They visited Jay Whitacre, a lanky cyclist with a Ph.D. in materials science. Whitacre was tinkering with battery chemistries while teaching Engineering the Materials of the Future at Carnegie Mellon. “It’s a very short list that can beat lithium-ion,” says Lane, former president of software giant Oracle who’s now chairman of boards at both Aquion and Carnegie Mellon. “Jay Whitacre was the only one who said he could do it. I didn’t believe him at first.”
Believing him or not, Kleiner took a chance. It gave Whitacre $1.6 million in 2008 to accelerate his research. He built a cell using an updated version of a saltwater battery produced in 1800 by Alessandro Volta, the father of the electric battery. Six months later, Whitacre, now 43, was ready to take his sodium-based battery out of his lab at the university. He called the company Aquion for its aqueous-ion chemistry.
Lane and his partners were so pleased with Whitacre’s early progress they agreed to invest a further $7 million in 2009. The firm has helped Aquionraise more than $172 million, including chunks from Gates and Nick and Joby Pritzker. Nick is a cousin of Hyatt Hotels founder Jay Pritzker, who died in 1999. Aquion hasn’t released individual investments because it’s privately held. CEO Scott Pearson says that may change in the next year. “We’re one round away from an IPO or an equity deal,” he says.
Aquion leases a three-story redbrick house in Pittsburgh’s gritty Lawrenceville neighborhood. It’s close enough for Whitacre to bike the 2.5 miles from campus. On a bitterly cold February day, with wind blowing off the Allegheny River, Whitacre said he’s developed what will become the cheapest nontoxic and long-lasting battery for a home or a hospital. It provides steady power for eight hours or more, discharging solar energy it gathers during the day. Whitacre shows off the fruit of his labor: a 28.6-kilowatt-hour battery module the size of a clothes dryer. It’s running the staff refrigerator, coffee maker, and water heater.
Aquion’s robots are hard at work 30 miles east. Designed to package chocolate candies, they’re instead plucking pucks of black carbon and manganese powders and placing them in casings to be filled with brine. Nearby, 50 pallets of boxed-up batteries are heading to Hawaii’s big island to power the 8-acre (3-hectare) estate of Earl Bakken, inventor of the external, wearable pacemaker. They’ll store electricity generated by 512 solar panels, replacing propane engines.
Whitacre is gearing up to produce enough batteries every year to store 200 megawatt-hours of power. Initially, he expects to sell to locales with diesel generators. “Islands and microgrids are the first big natural markets,” he says. Eventually, Aquion wants to add four more production lines to the current one. That could reduce cell costs to as little as $100 per kilowatt-hour, CEO Pearson says.
Hany Eitouni, a bespectacled chemical engineer, is also chasing $100 cells with technology he helped develop at Berkeley Lab. Eitouni’s porous material lets electrons flow in a new dry lithium battery that’s a cousin to current models. Khosla Ventures and Samsung Venture Investment bet $17 million on Eitouni’s Seeo, bringing venture funding to more than $42 million since 2007. Eitouni, 37, says his latest rolled packets of lithium polymer cells are the size of a briefcase and hold two to three times the energy per weight of today’s liquid lithium battery. That’s key for electric vehicles to travel more than 200 miles per charge. What’s more, his solid polymer loses less energy in the form of heat, a flaw in current lithium batteries, he says.
As the fog lifts at an East Bay industrial park, Seeo technicians in white coats and safety goggles manipulate harsh chemicals that clean metals in the batteries’ core. Machines roll 40 layers of lithium foil into a cylinder with two polymer layers that are pressed into a pouch. Eitouni boasts of passing grades for his batteries “in the high 90s.” Seeo expects to break under the $100-per-kilowatt-hour mark as it moves its best designs to full production during the next few years, says CEO Hal Zarem. “Seeo can be very cheap as they grow to scale,” says Jeremy Neubauer, senior engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Center for Transportation Technologies and Systems.
Phil Guidice, the CEO who’s running Sadoway’s Ambri, says new batteries emerging with the help of big backers will finally enable renewables to compete with fossil fuels. “Khosla, Gates, Musk, and the Pritzkers are all excited about changing the world in a better way, and they’re swinging for the fences,” Guidice says. “We’re getting closer every day.”
“Ere many generations pass; our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point in the universe.” – Nikola Tesla
A Reactionless AC Synchronous Generator (RLG) has been invented by Paramahamsa Tewari, electrical engineer and former Executive Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India. His background includes engineering project management for construction of nuclear power stations. The efficiency of models he has built, which have also been independently built and tested, is as high as 250%.
In November 2014, I made one of many visits to the laboratory of Paramahamsa Tewari. I had seen the basis for the RLG design in September of 2010. Mr. Tewari showed me a stiff conductor about a foot long which was allowed to rotate at the center and connected at each end with small gauge wire. A magnetic circuit was placed under the conductor. When a current was allowed to flow through the conductor it rotated, due to a torque induced on the conductor according to Flemings Left Hand Rule and standard theory, verified by experiments at the dawn of the electrical age. With a simple rearrangement of the magnetic circuit, the same current produced no rotation – the torque was cancelled. I later duplicated the setup and experiment on my workbench. It is ingenious and lead to his breakthrough, the invention of a reactionless generator with greatly improved efficiency.
This experiment has lead to the design and testing of generators with efficiencies far above any previous design. The design uses the same types of materials used in current generators, but the magnetic circuit within the machine is configured to cancel back torque while inducing current and producing power. This might be compared to the rearrangement of materials by the Wright Brothers to build a surface with lift that resulted in manned flight in a time when many, including scientists, said it was impossible. Indeed, physicists who cling to an outdated model of the properties and structure of space have declared what has been done by Tewari to be impossible.
During the November testing I witnessed two tests of efficiency on the new model in Tewari’s lab. The second test was several percent better than the first and produced 6.6 KVA with an efficiency of 238%. A second set of stator coils was not connected yet but is expected to increase output to 300%. This is a 3 phase, 248 volt Hz, AC synchronous generator operating at 50 Hz. State of the art, true RMS meters on the input and output that measured KW, KVA, and power factor confirmed the readings of meters we had supplied for tests I observed in April of 2014.
We were able to visit a 130-acre factory site of one of the top electrical machinery manufacturing companies in India. At this site the company manufactures rotating electrical machines, including generators. When the chief electrical engineer first saw the drawings and design of the RLG he knew immediately what it meant for efficiency! Because of their confidence in the design, and the results of the tests on the smaller model, the company has assembled a self-excited machine designed to produce 20 KVA.
When we arrived at the factory a vice president of the company, the factory general manager, and the chief engineer greeted us. We then inspected the new machine and met the engineering design team assigned to this project. They are electrical and mechanical engineers who design and build conventional generators with output as high as 500 KVA. They are very enthusiastic and understand the breakthrough. A second machine rated at 25 KVA is now under construction at this company in India.
I believe, as do the engineers in India, that this is the biggest breakthrough in rotating electrical machine design since Faraday’s invention of the electrical motor in 1832. The elimination of back torque allows all the energy generated to pass through the machine. Power output is determined by the strength of the excitation magnets and the synchronous reactance (resistance at 50/60 Hz) of the stator windings. Current models can be cascaded for higher output. Each machine can produce at least 2.38 times the input and can be configured in a self-running mode. Due to concentration on efficiency and design improvements the machine has not yet been configured in this manner.
During a visit to witness tests in December of 2012, we were guests of the engineering director of a large utility company, and we toured a generation facility which the director pointed out was ready for RLG systems as soon as they are scaled to the required size. In March 2015 we returned to India for licensing discussions. Current plans call for introductory models to be marketed at 10 KVA and 25 KVA. A second company is involved in manufacturing discussions and the Karnataka Power Corporation, which supplies Bangalore, is investigating the use of 200 KVA units in a wind farm application as described in the April 7th edition of Asia Times.
The November 2013 issue of The Atlantic magazine features an article on The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel. The RLG is more than just a product or a technical innovation. It is a fundamental change in the way that energy can be generated. It overcomes the inherent inefficiencies of AC generators. Patents have been filed and the RLG is ready to be licensed to companies that manufacture rotating electrical machinery. In fact, discussions with companies on three continents are underway.
We believe that the RLG is a fundamental discovery, not an innovation. Mankind’s first fundamental discovery was harnessing and controlling fire. The second was the wheel. The third was harnessing and controlling electricity. The fourth was harnessing and controlling the atom. The RLG can turn wheels without the use of fire (fossil fuels) or the atom (nuclear plants). It is a 21st century innovation. The first four of these innovations involved an understanding of material elements. The RLG is based on an understanding of the non-material properties of space. Paramahamsa Tewari’s search for the nature of reality has led him from study of the ancient Vedas of India to the formulation of Space Vortex Theory. It is a new theory unifying the relationship between space, mass, inertia, light, and gravity. Starting with principles described in the Vedic texts, Tewari was able to delineate a mathematical model that explains the words of Tesla when he said:
“All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never ending cycles all things and phenomena.” – Nikola Tesla,“Man’s Greatest Achievement,” 1907
In Tewari’s words:
“The universal matter is created out of prana since prana is aakaash in motion, and aakaash is the primordial superfluid substratum of the universe.”
The concept that efficiencies cannot be greater than 100% is due to an incomplete understanding of the properties of space. The second law of thermodynamics must be modified to account for the fact that space is not empty, as has been taught for the last 150 years. The RLG operates at what has been called “over unity.” Many experienced electrical engineers engaged in the manufacture of AC generators have independently tested the RLG and confirmed the efficiency ratings that I have observed. It’s time for the physicists to get out of the way and modify their theories while the engineers go about the business of design and production.
The theory and mathematical models can be found at:
Paramahamsa Tewari was born on June 1, 1937, and graduated in Electrical Engineering in 1958 from Banaras Engineering College, India, and held responsible positions in large engineering construction organizations, mostly in nuclear projects of the Department of Atomic Energy, India. He was also deputed abroad for a year at Douglas Point Nuclear Project, Canada. He is presently the retired Executive Nuclear Director, Nuclear Power Corporation, Department of Atomic Energy, India, and is the former Project Director of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project.
Fundamentals of physics attracted Tewari’s imaginations right from the early school and college days. Over the last four decades his new ideas on the basic nature of space, energy, and matter have solidified into definite shape from which a new theory (Space Vortex Theory) has emerged. The theory reveals the most basic issue of relationship between space and matter precisely pinpointing that space is a more fundamental entity than matter. The physical significance of mass, inertia, gravitation, charge and light are revealed by extending the analysis in the theory beyond material properties and into the substratum of space, which again is broken down into fieldless voids, thus showing the limit to which a physical theory can possibly reach. The real universe is shown to be opposite to the current concepts of concrete-matter and empty space. The books that he has authored on Space Vortex Theory are:
The Substantial Space and Void Nature of Elementary Material Particles (1977)
Space Vortices of Energy and Matter (1978)
The Origin of Electron’s Mass, Charge Gravitational and Electromagnetic Fields from “Empty Space” (1982)
Beyond Matter (1984)
He has lectured as invited speaker in international conferences in Germany, USA, and Italy on the newly discovered phenomenon of Space Power Generation. For the practical demonstration of generation of electrical power from the medium of space, Tewari has built reactionless generators that operate at over-unity efficiency, thereby showing physicists have been wrong about the nature of space for 110 years and he has shown that space is the source of energy for the generation of basic forms of energy.
Above, April 2014 test model showing rotor and stator. Machines can be wound in a star or delta configuration.
Writen by Toby Grotz. (Left, you can also see a picture of him with Tewari here)
He is an electrical engineer and researcher of new energy technologies since 1973. He has organized numerous conferences and travelled the world interviewing and assisting inventors since 1992. He has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. While working in the aerospace industry, he worked on space shuttle and Hubble telescope testing in a solar simulator and space environment test facility. He has also been involved in research for new energy sources and novel forms of hydrogen production.
SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Energy and General Services Administration announced the first ever federal partnership to purchase solar power. This action follows President Obama’s order last month requiring federal agencies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and increase their renewable energy use to at least 30 percent over the next 10 years.
The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the nation. Government-wide, the electricity bill is $5 billion a year, paying for 57 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in nearly 500,000 buildings. As Executive Order 13693, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, is implemented, the annual savings are estimated to be almost $1 billion in avoided energy costs.
The Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Project (or FASPP) is a contract solicitation designed to take advantage of economies of scale in solar installation. Due to contracting challenges and high costs, agencies have made limited progress installing solar systems. Agencies in the FASPP will use the same contract solicitation and contractor for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness, and third-party financing to cover upfront costs. The project includes nine federal sites in San Jose, Menlo Park, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Bruno, Santa Rosa, Carson City and Reno, and the Forest Service regional office at Mare Island. Initially, the project will produce up to 5 megawatts of solar power across multiple federal sites in California and Nevada. “This model can help us achieve the President’s Executive Order calling for federal agencies to work together on procurements to increase clean energy use,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “By combining our efforts with our federal partners at the Forest Service, Department of Energy, and GSA, we are proving that solar power and other clean energy will save money, protect our air and water, and help us fight climate change.”
“It is an honor to be involved in this cutting-edge, collaborative project that directly supports the federal sustainability goals of the next decade,” said Randy Moore, Regional Forester for the Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service. “The solar arrays planned for our Regional Office will offset approximately 90 percent of projected electrical use and demonstrate our commitment to increasing use of renewable energy and striving for more net-zero energy facilities.”
“Procurements like the Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Pilot will help agencies achieve expanded renewable energy goals,” said Tim Unruh, Director of DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program. The Energy Department is committed to developing and delivering new technologies and practices that can accelerate existing solutions to scale, addressing our nation’s long-term energy goals.”
“Issuing this solicitation is the latest in GSA’s ongoing efforts to green the federal government and to provide additional savings to GSA customers and ultimately to the American taxpayer,” said Samuel J. Morris III, GSA’s Acting Pacific Rim Regional Administrator. “By combining the procurement for these nine sites, we anticipate realizing lower utility rates. This innovative strategy, if successful, will serve as a model that can be replicated across the country.”
Inspired by the success of Silicon Valley’s local government aggregated procurement, EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region convened a strong team of federal entities interested in procuring renewable energy produced at their facilities. GSA agreed to provide contracting and project management support. DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory provided technical expertise and support. The Forest Service and GSA plan to host the solar systems and buy the renewable energy.
The FASPP contract solicitation will be open through Friday, May 29, 2015. Businesses interested in submitting can review the Request for Proposal on FedBizOpps.gov.
RICHLAND, Wash. --A Hanford High student might just be the next Einstein.
Sophomore Naveena Bontha earned the overall Gold Medal Grand Prize at the recent state science and engineering fair. She developed a new way to capture carbon dioxide from flue gasses.
She hopes this method will put an end to rising sea levels and global temperatures that may be destroying our environment. She says she got her inspiration from watching the news.
"There are just so many things that are out of our control, you know there are shootings there are weird events happening in the world and there's nothing I can control. But one day when I was watching it they started talking about the protests and like the marches for carbon dioxide capture taxes and stuff and I realized that this is something that affects us all," said Naveena.
Naveena will compete internationally for a chance to win up to five million in prizes.
The Richland teen heads to the first one in Texas in a few weeks.
The US fossil fuel industry is rapidly losing customers, and now it looks like you can add Woodsy Owl to the list. Woodsy is the iconic spokes-owl for the US Forest Service’s conservation programs, and the agency has just joined forces with the Energy Department and the General Services Administration for the nation’s first ever inter-agency, standardized solar PPA program. Short for power purchase agreement, the new solar PPA program is expected to ramp up the federal government’s adoption of solar power to hyperspeed.
Stakes Are High For The New US Solar PPA Program
For those of you new to the topic, PPAs have become a common way for individual households and other property owners to get solar power without having to pay up front for the solar panels. The idea is that you provide your rooftop or other real estate to the solar developer for free. In return, you simply pay for the solar-generated electricity you use or pay a predetermined monthly rate for some specific period of time, typically at a lower rate than the conventional grid.
However, most other federal agencies are still working piecemeal, and many don’t have the economy of scale that can enable the Defense Department to get volume discounts.
With 500,000 buildings under its belt and an electricity bill of $5 billion per year, the federal government has plenty of incentive to speed up the transition to solar power and other renewables.
The new federal solar PPA partnership, called the Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Project (FASPP), was pulled together by the US Environmental Protection Agency after officials there learned of a similar, local-level government program in Silicon Valley. FASPP will leverage the General Service Administration’s contract solicitation platform to nail down volume discounts and speed up the contracting process.
The Energy Department’s role is to provide technical support, and the Forest Service will provide the property for the solar installations.
Rather than re-inventing the wheel for each site, Woodsy — that is, the US Forest Service — will be able to hitch onto the pre-vetted FASPP contractor and third-party financing entity.
The first round of projects will tote up to 5 megawatts and cover 9 different Forest Service sites in California and Nevada.
If the new partnership is successful, it will set the stage for more agencies to climb on board — we’re thinking the Energy Department, for one, is itching to jump in.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department has been keeping itself — and the US solar industry — very busy this year.
In addition to the many solar projects previously covered by CleanTechnica, just last week the US Navy announced that it will lease land at its massive Pearl Harbor base for a 50 megawatt solar array. The new array will be developed for Hawaiian Electric Co., for possible use as a community solar project.
Also last week, the US Army broke ground on a 15 megawatt solar project at Fort Detrick in Maryland, in partnership with the Massachusetts company Ameresco.