Buffett’s Mid-American Energy purchases solar concern

by grmeyers

FROM RENEWABLE ENERGY WORLD (12/7/11)

“The solar industry got a turbo-boost of both name recognition and mainstream credibility on Wednesday as a subsidiary of billionaire Warren Buffett’s investment company MidAmerican Energy Holdings announced plans to purchase the Topaz Solar power development from thin-film PV module maker First Solar. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The 550-megawatt Topaz project in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., is among the world’s biggest solar farms under development, and many times larger than any project currently in operation. The First Solar project was not able to close its conditional loan guarantee with the Department of Energy prior to the Sept. 30 deadline, but it has gone ahead anyway. Construction on the project began in November and is expected to run through 2015. According to First Solar, it will create about 400 construction jobs.

The $2 billion project will include First Solar’s thin-film panels, and the company will build, operate and maintain the project for MidAmerican. Pacific Gas and Electric will buy the electricity under a 25-year power purchase agreement.

“Based in Iowa, MidAmerican, a subsidiary of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, is already a big player in wind energy. Some analysts are saying that the company’s move into solar power could be linked to the expiring Production Tax Credit for wind power, which is set to go away at the end of 2012. The solar industry, which is hoping for an extension of the Treasury Department grant that expires at the end of this year, still has an Investment Tax Credit that runs through 2016. That could make solar a safer bet.

“Regardless of the reason, MidAmerican clearly sees the Topaz project as a financial opportunity even without federal backing. SolarCity recently took a similar route when it announced that Bank of America Merrill Lynch was helping it move ahead with its $1 billion Solar Strong project, which also failed to close on a loan guarantee from the DOE.

“The project “demonstrates that solar energy is a commercially viable technology without the support of governmental loan guarantees and reflects the type of solar and other renewable generation that MidAmerican will continue to seek to add to its unregulated portfolio,” said Greg Abel, chairman, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company in a press release.”

This is good news for renewable energy growth and its positive impacts on climate change!

Tapping geothermal riches

by grmeyers

This California geothermal power plant is one method of using heat from the Earth.

Use a banking analogy for the untapped and clean geothermal energy our planet provides to find we live on top of a remarkable energy safe deposit vault.

In 2008, geothermal power supplied less than one percent of the world’s energy. However by 2050 it is anticipated that geothermal power will meet between 10 and 20 percent of the world’s energy requirements, notes a report from Renewable Energy World.

Colorado engineer and geothermal innovator Merline Van Dyke says here are many different kinds of geothermal systems, some that rely on hot water from beneath the earth’s surface, others that simply use the constant temperature of soil below the surface as a means of heating and cooling.

“What I’m interested in talking about are the efficient ones,” says Van Dyke. He began experimenting with making homes more efficient in 1994, building a home in the foothills west of Denver, using structural insulated panels.

Van Dyke is presently working with Sims Construction, a Denver builder, as they finish a three-story, 2,400 square-foot geothermal house that uses structural concrete insulated panels (SCIP) on the exterior to maintain efficient temperatures. Net result: R-40 insulation value, an electricity bill that will run half of a normal bill, and no need for natural gas.

Source: Amasond

The house is located in central Denver and features an Amasond geothermal system. Amasond, an Austrian-based company, provided a geothermal system where pipe was drilled to a non-water level of 118 feet, where the earth temperature was a constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit.  This past summer, Sims flew to Europe to participate in an Amasond training program.

“I am very excited about how efficient this home is going to be,” he says, noting this is the first home of this kind to be built in Denver.

Understanding Geothermal Basics

Geothermal energy – or heat from the Earth – has been used in a variety of ways since the early annals of human life on this planet. Perhaps best, in this day and age, most geothermal energy is clean and sustainable, depending on what procedures are used. Hydraulic fracturing of rock below the surface, a procedure used in oil and natural gas capture, is being explored as a way to obtain hot water, but the environmental impacts to this procedure are being questioned by some. Resources of geothermal energy range from the shallow ground to hot water and hot rock found a few miles beneath the Earth’s surface, and down even deeper to the extremely high temperatures of molten rock called magma.

Merline Van Dyke and Richard Sims in front of Denver geothermal house using structural concrete insulated panels

A geothermal heat pump system consists of a heat pump, an air delivery system (ductwork), and a system of pipes buried in the ground near the building (see photo). In the winter, the heat pump removes heat from the heat exchanger and pumps it into the indoor air delivery system. In the summer, the process is reversed, and the heat pump moves heat from the indoor air into the heat exchanger. The heat removed from the indoor air during the summer can also be used to provide a free source of hot water.

The Department of Energy, working with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, CO undertakes ongoing research to develop and advance technologies for various geothermal applications.

Geothermal heat pumps use much less energy than conventional heating systems, since they draw heat from the ground. They are also more efficient when cooling your home. Not only does this save energy and money, it reduces air pollution. The GEO Exchange http://www.geoexchange.org/ is a trade association for geothermal heat pumps, an integral part of any geothermal system.

In modern direct-use systems, a well is drilled into a geothermal reservoir to provide a steady stream of hot water. The water is brought up through the well, and a mechanical system – piping, a heat exchanger, and controls – delivers the heat directly for its intended use. A disposal system then either injects the cooled water underground or disposes of it on the surface.

Geothermal Electricity

In 1911, the world’s first geothermal power plant had a capacity of 250 kilowatts. By 1975 the Larderello fields were capable of producing 405 megawatts of power. It was the world’s only industrial producer of geothermal electricity until 1958, when New Zealand built a plant in Wairakei. The Geysers Resort Hotel, California, was the site of the first geothermal power plant in the United States. The Geysers currently produces over 750 Megawatts of power annually.

Today, 69 geothermal power facilities are in operation at 18 sites around the United States, and geothermal power is generated in over 20 countries around the world.