Direct Energy Buzz for November 2014

The Direct Energy Buzz for November 2014 is packed full of interesting tidbits that can help you become a more responsible and informed energy consumer. We feature an optimistic but cautious update about US energy efficiency; the real life facts that environmental impact matters even when you’re building a solar energy farm, how Sandia National Lab software helps institutions save on their HVAC and meet new standards, and how alfalfa seeds and pine resin can make lithium ion batteries eco-friendly and recyclable.

Direct Energy Buzz for November 2014Western Oil Use Is Starting to Decline? 

During the last week of September, Reuter’s market analyst John Kemp delivered a mixed bag of info about US energy efficiency. First, the good news: “The United States is experiencing the largest and most sustained drop in oil demand since the start of the petroleum era in 1859…” Higher fuel efficiency and switching over to natural gas and biofuels has cut the daily US oil consumption. Granted, current consumption remains high – about 16 million barrels per day (same as 1997). But it has fallen since peaking in 2005 by about 2 million barrels per day.

According to the EIA’s “International Energy Outlook 2014,” “Liquids consumption among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) countries, which reached its peak at 50 MMbbl/d in 2005, has generally been trending downward since that time, reflecting both slow economic growth and growing energy efficiency in the transportation sector.” Those OECD countries include North America, Europe, and Japan.

While less oil consumption sounds good, Kemp cautions that the rest of the world will likely be consuming more and further reminds us that past pricing cycles have shown high consumption trumps efficiency when fuel prices drop. Most recently, Saudi Arabia cut its price to its best customers to find the pain point for US shale oil production. With oil hovering around $80/bbl, several US companies are scaling back drilling in some US shale plays. Experts expect a price rebound next year.

Direct Energy Buzz for November 2014Solar Farms = Location, Location, Location! 

Like any power plant, solar energy farms don’t get built until ALL the impact studies get written, read, and then approved. In some places, that’s easily done. Take for instance the Kinsley Solar Farm being built by Public Service Enterprise Group (PS&G) just east of Wenonah, NJ. The project is the third of its kind in the state where closed landfills are being converted into renewable energy generators. The modest-sized Kinsley project is slated to have a nameplate capacity of 11.18 Megawatts DC. Conversion to AC usually incurs a percentage of line loss, so the resulting AC wattage will be less. All told, PS&G has returned 110 acres of landfill into production of solar energy capable of generating 31 MW-dc (about enough to power 5,000 homes annually).

On the other hand, it’s just plain odd when environmentally-friendly projects get cancelled due to environmental concerns. And that’s just what happened in California. On September 24, Palen Solar Holdings (a BrightSource-Abengoa consortium) dropped its plan to build a pair of solar-powered boiler towers near Joshua Tree National Park and officially withdrew its petition to amend its existing license. The 250 MW project came under scrutiny due to concerns about wildlife and disturbing Native American ancestral lands. The site’s original license had been granted to Solar Millenium, now defunct, and encompassed a 500 MW parabolic trough system. According to BrightSource, one reason for dropping the Pelen project is that it could not be completed by December, 2016 and so would not qualify for a 30% investment tax credit.

Direct Energy Buzz for November 2014
Sandia National Laboratories logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sandia National Labs Shows Institutions How to Save on HVAC Usage

The US Department of Energy looks to enact new efficiency standards for commercial rooftop HVAC systems that could slash energy use by about 30%. Current commercial rooftop HVAC IEER efficiency levels are about 9.5 to 11.5, while residential home systems reach as high as 21. The new rules call for a range of 12.3 to 14.8. Over the next thirty years, new units could have the potential of saving businesses between $16 and $50 billion and reduce electricity consumption by about 1.3 trillion kilowatt-hours. For manufacturers, those standards could incur costs around $300 million and result in compliance costs to industry as high as $311 million.

So, how do you get a big commercial institution interested in energy upgrades for savings? There’s an app for that! 

Sandia National Labs recently released Institutional Transformation (IX) model software that allows users to model a building in 3D and see how they can improve its energy performance from the building-wide HVAC system down to individual offices, thermostats, and electrical outlets. How well does it work? The pilot model was based on Sandia itself — 114 buildings, many larger than 10,000 sq.ft, that consume 90% of Sandia Labs’ energy. After the software helped them reduce energy use by 9% and save $2 million in less than three years, Sandia Labs’ goal is to cut its energy consumption by 25% by 2017.

Direct Energy Buzz for November 2014
Resin, or pitch, occurs naturally in pine trees. (Resin image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Product Pitch: Pining for Organic Lithium-Ion Batteries 

Lithium ion batteries store lots of power and provide lots of power. They run almost everything from phones to cars. The problem is that the batteries themselves contain hard-to-find rare earth materials and toxic substances. The lithium is also expensive to commercially extract for making batteries, and it can not be removed and recycled. So, researchers at Uppsala University’s Ångström Laboratory in Sweden came up with a whole new concept in battery design based on using recoverable and renewable biological material that could meet current lithium-ion power needs. Using pine resin (pitch) and alfalfa seeds, the researchers devised a battery that not only worked but could easily be recycled, allowed the lithium to be recovered, and could be used to make a whole new battery that had 99% capacity as the original. Their full research article, Environmentally-Friendly Lithium Recycling From a Spent Organic Li-Ion Battery has been published in ChemSusChem.

Do you have any fun energy tips for the month that you want to share with our readers? Please post them in the comments! We love a good discussion.

About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.