Friday, April 25, 2014

Westward Group Tokyo Energy News: Is Tesla project a Dream Factory?

San Antonio had to claw its way into contention for Tesla Motors' planned “gigafactory,” a dream project that would put 6,500 people to work in a $5 billion plant that produces lithium-ion batteries.

By several accounts, local officials overcame the city's also-ran status in the early stages of Tesla's site selection. They finally coaxed the electric-car maker into taking a serious look at San Antonio for the project, which the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company announced in late February.

Now, San Antonio may be considered the strongest potential site in Texas.

That's because CPS Energy brings a lot to the table as a would-be partner for Tesla and because Mayor Julián Castro is reportedly working as many angles to win the project as he and his staff can think of.

As Tesla vets potential locations, CPS Energy is posting flirtatious Tweets on the virtues of electric vehicles. The city-owned utility is also using social media to play up its commitments to renewable energy — it's looking to make wind and solar power account for 20 percent of its electricity sources by 2020 — and demand response, which is when customers voluntarily reduce their use of electricity at times of peak demand.

Presumably, that's music to the ears of Elon Musk, the co-founder, CEO and chairman of Tesla. He's also co-founder of SolarCity, one of the largest providers of residential solar systems in the U.S., and Tesla's gigafactory would produce battery packs not just for Tesla vehicles but also “stationary storage applications” for homes and businesses. Solar panels on rooftops and battery systems to store the power they generate would come in handy for the demand response CPS Energy boasts about.

Texas — which is competing against Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico for the gigafactory — also has caught a couple of lucky breaks lately.

A big black mark against both Texas and Arizona is that they basically outlaw Tesla's distribution model — to sell cars directly to consumers, without going through franchised auto dealers.

True, Texas lawmakers are unlikely to break free of the hold dealers have on them (and their campaign accounts) anytime soon. But at least Arizona proved itself to be in the same position last week; a bill that would have allowed Tesla to sell straight to consumers — perhaps giving the state an edge — died in the legislature, according to news reports.

Also last week, the drive in New Mexico for a special legislative session to OK incentives for the gigafactory appears to have petered out, Albuquerque Business First reported Tuesday.

But as San Antonio officials have gotten their hopes up, questions about the viability of Musk's gigafactory have been relentless. An April 1 headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Does Tesla Really Need a $5 Billion Battery Factory?”

Some of the skepticism started with Panasonic, which currently supplies lithium-ion batteries to Tesla.
The maker of the luxury Model S sedan is willing to spend $2 billion on the facility, which would take up 10 million square feet and sit on as many as 1,000 acres. The company needs partners to cover the other $3 billion, and Musk suggested Panasonic might be one of them.

But Panasonic's president, Kazuhiro Tsuga, was noncommittal when he talked with reporters in Tokyo on March 26. As Bloomberg reported, he said: “Elon plans to produce more affordable models besides Model S, and I understand his thinking and would like to cooperate as much as we can. But the investment risk is definitely higher.”

Tesla has stayed mum on potential partners since then.

The big idea behind the gigafactory is that mass production, with raw materials such as lithium and cobalt coming in the front door and battery packs going out the back, will push down the cost of batteries by about 30 percent. Since batteries are the most expensive components of electric vehicles, the cost cuts would make Tesla cars less expensive.

A good thing, considering the Model S now starts at a little more than $70,000.

The company also has its mid-market Model E in the works — a car priced for the rest of us. It's expected to launch in 2017, the same year Tesla wants its gigafactory to start production.

Some of the questions coming at Tesla are whether it could actually slice 30 percent off of battery production costs, and how it would source the raw materials. But the most important question is whether enough drivers will embrace all-electric vehicles to keep the gigafactory humming.

As planned, the facility would produce enough batteries for 500,000 vehicles per year by 2020.
Selling that many Teslas would be a real feat.

The company began delivering the Model S is 2012 and had sold over 25,000 in North America and Europe by the end of 2013, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. For a little perspective: Chevrolet sold 42,000 Silverado trucks in March.

Overseas sales will be critical to Tesla. The manufacturer will start selling Model S sedans in China this month, and in Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia later this year.

A local official I talked with recently, who's worked on the gigafactory bid, was hopeful but also wary, saying, “There are questions about how viable this project is.

“It depends on your view of the future. Will enough people give up their gas-powered cars?”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Westward Group Tokyo Energy News Post-Fukushima Japan Chooses Coal Over Renewable Energy

An employee holds a piece of coal in
a storage yard at the Joban Joint Power Co.
Nakoso coal-fired power station in Iwaki City,
Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing Japan’s coal industry to expand sales at home and abroad, undermining hopes among environmentalists that he’d use the Fukushima nuclear accident to switch the nation to renewables.

A new energy plan approved by Japan’s cabinet on April 11 designates coal an important long-term electricity source while falling short of setting specific targets for cleaner energy from wind, solar and geothermal. The policy also gives nuclear power the same prominence as coal in Japan’s energy strategy.

In many ways, utilities are already ahead of policy makers. With nuclear reactors idled for safety checks, Japan’s 10 power companies consumed 5.66 million metric tons of coal in January, a record for the month and 12 percent more than a year ago, according to industry figures.

“You cannot exclude coal when you think about the best energy mix for Japan to keep energy costs stable,” said Naoya Domoto, president of energy and plant operations at IHI Corp., a developer of a technology known as A-USC that burns coal to produce a higher temperature steam. “One way to do that is to use coal efficiently.”

Japan’s appetite for coal mirrors trends in Europe and the U.S., where the push for cheaper electricity is undermining rules limiting fossil fuel emissions and supporting cleaner energy. In the U.S., a frigid winter boosted natural gas prices, providing catalyst for utilities to extend the lives of dirtier coal plants. Germany, Spain and Britain are slashing subsidies for renewables to rein in the cost of electricity.

An employee walks in a coal storage yard
at the Joban Joint Power Co.
Nakoso coal-fired power station in Iwaki City,
Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.
Mixed Bag

For renewable energy environmental groups, Japan’s policy is a mixed bag offers little in the way of policy direction. Instead, it backs the status quo, calling for reactors shut after the 2011 disaster to be restarted while offering no targets for the amount of power coming from wind and solar.

“What had been expected of the basic plan was to present a major policy to switch from nuclear power,” the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation said in a statement. “But the basic plan shows that the government has given up fulfilling that role. The plan does not promote a shift from old energy policies.”

WWF Japan urged the government to set a target to promote clean energy as soon as possible.

“The energy plan failed to present the spirit of innovation,” the conservation group said in a statement April 11. “Japan basically needs to recognize an increase in coal use is a serious issue for climate change. The country needs to push for reduction of carbon dioxide.”

The Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power 
station stands illuminated at night in 
Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.
Fossil Fuels

In calling for technology to be used to soften coal’s environmental impact, the plan acknowledges that traditional fossil fuels pollute more and carry higher costs.

Before the accident, Japan got 62 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, and nuclear made up about a third, according to government figures. Since then, utilities reverted to fossil fuels such as liquefied natural gas and coal to replace nuclear capacity taken offline. Those thermal power sources generated about 90 percent of Japan’s electricity in fiscal 2012, according to figures in the energy plan.

Buying more fossil fuels comes at a cost. The resource-poor nation has run 20 consecutive months of trade deficits and last year backtracked on promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That jarred United Nations talks involving 190 nations discussing ways to limit global warming.

Export Hopes

“It’s crucial to have diverse energy sources for a country like Japan, which relies on imports for all energy,” said Akira Yasui, an official in charge of coal policy at the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry. “Our basic stance is to use coal while caring for the environment as much as possible. Coal is economical and stable in supply.”

Abe’s government is supporting the development and export of advanced coal technology from Japan. According to a growth strategy released in June by the prime minister, the nation intends during the 2020s to commercialize A-USC technology. It’s also seeking to sell a equipment that combines fuel cells with a process called integrated gasification combined cycle to improve the efficiency of power generation.

“By applying Japan’s most advanced coal technology, the U.S., China and India can reduce a combined 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year,” far above Japan’s total emissions, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s trade minister, told parliament in February.

Fukushima Disaster

Japan’s interest in IGCC technology is on display at the Nakoso Power Station’s No. 10 coal power generator, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. The unit, set up in 2007 to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology, can produce about a quarter of a typical nuclear reactor’s 1 gigawatt of electricity.

Had it not been for the Fukushima disaster three years ago, the generator would have been closed. Today, it’s up and working after repairs. The station, operated by a joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power (9501) Co. and Tohoku Electric Power (9506) Co., posted record output for the year ended March 31.

“This was a research generator,” Yoshitaka Ishibashi, associate director and executive general manager at the plant, said in an interview. “They’re usually dismantled once the study is over. But nuclear reactors were suspended, power supply was tight, and 250 megawatt is not a negligible capacity. So it was turned into a commercial one.”

More Coal

Tokyo Electric, better known as Tepco, has other plans to use more coal for the stations that serve 29 million customers around the nation’s capital.

The utility plans to add two more IGCC generators at the Nakoso station and at its Hirono plant, also in Fukushima. A more traditional 600-megawatt coal-fired generator at the Hirono site began operating in December.

Power generation costs from IGCC can eventually be reduced to conventional coal power generation levels at 9.5 yen (9 cents) per kilowatt hour, though that may not happen for 10 years to 15 years, said Ishibashi at the Nakoso power station.

“The plan represents nothing but anachronism,” said Mie Asaoka, head of the Kiko Network, a Kyoto, Japan-based environmental organization.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Westward Group Tokyo Energy News Floating Nuclear Plants Could Ride Out Tsunamis

This illustration shows a possible configuration of a floating offshore nuclear plant, based on design work by Jacopo Buongiorno and others at MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Like offshore oil drilling platforms, the structure would include living quarters and a helipad for transportation to the site. Illustration courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

New power plant design could provide enhanced safety, easier siting, and centralized construction.
When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm.

A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

Cutaway view of the proposed plant shows that the reactor vessel itself is located deep underwater, with its containment vessel surrounded by a compartment flooded with seawater, allowing for passive cooling even in the event of an accident. Illustration courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE
The concept is being presented this week at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, by MIT professors Jacopo Buongiorno, Michael Golay, and Neil Todreas, along with others from MIT, the University of Wisconsin, and Chicago Bridge and Iron, a major nuclear plant and offshore platform construction company.

Such plants, Buongiorno explains, could be built in a shipyard, then towed to their destinations five to seven miles offshore, where they would be moored to the seafloor and connected to land by an underwater electric transmission line. The concept takes advantage of two mature technologies: light-water nuclear reactors and offshore oil and gas drilling platforms. Using established designs minimizes technological risks, says Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering (NSE) at MIT.

Although the concept of a floating nuclear plant is not unique — Russia is in the process of building one now, on a barge moored at the shore — none have been located far enough offshore to be able to ride out a tsunami, Buongiorno says. For this new design, he says, “the biggest selling point is the enhanced safety.”

A floating platform several miles offshore, moored in about 100 meters of water, would be unaffected by the motions of a tsunami; earthquakes would have no direct effect at all. Meanwhile, the biggest issue that faces most nuclear plants under emergency conditions — overheating and potential meltdown, as happened at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island — would be virtually impossible at sea, Buongiorno says: “It’s very close to the ocean, which is essentially an infinite heat sink, so it’s possible to do cooling passively, with no intervention. The reactor containment itself is essentially underwater.”

Buongiorno lists several other advantages. For one thing, it is increasingly difficult and expensive to find suitable sites for new nuclear plants: They usually need to be next to an ocean, lake, or river to provide cooling water, but shorefront properties are highly desirable. By contrast, sites offshore, but out of sight of land, could be located adjacent to the population centers they would serve. “The ocean is inexpensive real estate,” Buongiorno says.

In addition, at the end of a plant’s lifetime, “decommissioning” could be accomplished by simply towing it away to a central facility, as is done now for the Navy’s carrier and submarine reactors. That would rapidly restore the site to pristine conditions.

This design could also help to address practical construction issues that have tended to make new nuclear plants uneconomical: Shipyard construction allows for better standardization, and the all-steel design eliminates the use of concrete, which Buongiorno says is often responsible for construction delays and cost overruns.

There are no particular limits to the size of such plants, he says: They could be anywhere from small, 50-megawatt plants to 1,000-megawatt plants matching today’s largest facilities. “It’s a flexible concept,” Buongiorno says.

Most operations would be similar to those of onshore plants, and the plant would be designed to meet all regulatory security requirements for terrestrial plants. “Project work has confirmed the feasibility of achieving this goal, including satisfaction of the extra concern of protection against underwater attack,” says Todreas, the KEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Buongiorno sees a market for such plants in Asia, which has a combination of high tsunami risks and a rapidly growing need for new power sources. “It would make a lot of sense for Japan,” he says, as well as places such as Indonesia, Chile, and Africa.

This is a “very attractive and promising proposal,” says Toru Obara, a professor at the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors at the Tokyo Institute of Technology who was not involved in this research. “I think this is technically very feasible. ... Of course, further study is needed to realize the concept, but the authors have the answers to each question and the answers are realistic.”

The paper was co-authored by NSE students Angelo Briccetti, Jake Jurewicz, and Vincent Kindfuller; Michael Corradini of the University of Wisconsin; and Daniel Fadel, Ganesh Srinivasan, Ryan Hannink, and Alan Crowle of Chicago Bridge and Iron, based in Canton, Mass.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Westward Group Tokyo Energy News Japan’s energy footprint in a post-Fukushima landscape

Since the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused the catastrophic meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, Japan’s nuclear energy capacity has faced an uncertain future. The government has faced a significant cleaning up operation in the wake of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. But their troubles do not stop there, as the costs of shutting down Japan’s 48 reactor plants for safety checks and inspections begin to mount up. Japan has been nuclear-free since September 2013.

The operators of these idled plants have been forced to spend approximately $87bn on burning fossil fuels to make up for the energy shortfall, driving costs higher. As a result, they have seen $60bn wiped from their combined stock values, and the nine publicly traded nuclear operators together lost an estimated sum in the region of $50billion in the two business years since Fukushima. The ramifications of these gargantuan losses have been keenly felt. Kyushu Electric Power Co has sought a $1bn bailout from the government, alongside Hokkaido Electric Power Co which is also seeking financial backing to get them out of their difficulties.

Nuclear power however remains unpopular with the general public after the disaster at the Fukushima plant, and the struggles of Tokyo Electric Power Co in trying to deal with it. 69% of respondents to a poll in the Tokyo Shimbun said they felt that nuclear power should be entirely phased out and an Asahi newspaper poll last month found that nearly 80 percent of those surveyed supported a gradual exit from atomic power.

Regardless of these concerns, the Japanese Cabinet approved an energy policy that reverses the previous government’s plans to gradually decommission the country’s 48 nuclear power plants, which are currently idling pending rigorous safety inspections.

The country is seeking to move away from over-reliance on nuclear power (before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power accounted for nearly one third of Japan’s electricity) but is adamant that once reactors can be verified as being safe, they will be restarted. The new energy policy seeks to increase the amount of clean energy used by Japan ahead of old targets, but also names coal as being an important pillar of Japan’s energy strategy. That said, it was also stated that while coal is economical, with a steady and stable supply, the large amounts of greenhouse gases it emits are a concern. Thus there are also plans to push through technological developments that will be aimed at drastically reducing these emissions through efficiency gains.

But returning to the question of nuclear power once again, a Reuters analysis suggested that of the 48 currently idled reactors, 17 are unlikely to be restarted, and as many as 34 may have to be mothballed due to the high costs of necessary safety upgrades, seismic risks or general local opposition. Therefore, if these figures are to be believed, the major Japanese utility firms face major decommissioning costs if their plants do not pass the strict new safety standards when they are eventually inspected.

The new energy plan defines nuclear power as “an important base-load power source” but the overall role of nuclear power in the Japanese energy mix was not defined. There is a commitment to go beyond existing targets for renewable energy usage, but no concrete numbers were given. What is clear is that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is enacting a policy that is likely to prove unpopular in order to secure the ailing atomic industry. But it may still be too late to save the ailing atomic industry in Japan, with Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent energy consultant saying: “I think it is unavoidable that the Japanese utilities will write off most of their nuclear 'assets' and move on.”

Japan faces major difficulties with regards to its energy requirements in the post-Fukushima landscape, with gargantuan costs faced by the major energy companies, as well as the burden placed on the government and other creditors as these companies desperately try to stay solvent. While the re-activation of several plants is likely to alleviate these problems somewhat, it is clear that many will never be turned on again. Japan needs to reduce its dependency on nuclear power, a move that is supported by the general public, but it also needs to ensure that it can guarantee a stable energy supply going forward, and attempt to mitigate the huge losses already caused by the “nuclear problem” so far. The latest energy policy seeks to strike a balance between these aims, but it remains to be seen whether they will be successful.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Westward Group Tokyo Energy News Tokyo Power opens new Biomass Plant in Mahiyanganaya

The Tokyo Cement Group recently opened its second Biomass power plant to supply the largely rural region of Mahiyanganaya with 5MW of energy.

This Rs. 2.4 billion plant by Tokyo Power, the energy arm of the nation’s leading cement and concrete manufacturer, Tokyo Cement Group, is an initiative to build on its expertise in sustainable biomass power. “Tokyo Power launched the Mahiyanganaya plant after successfully pioneering the first plant of its kind in Sri Lanka that provides 10MW of clean energy to their factory in Trincomalee,” according to a company statement.

This 5MW Dendro power plant is expected to contribute approximately 40 million kWh annually to the national grid using sustainable green energy sources, notably Gliricidia, a fast growing tree legume, which is available in abundance in the country’s dry zone. The fuel-wood is obtained from plantations of Gliricidia sepium, or from farmers in the region who grow these trees through Tokyo Cement’s out-grower agricultural programmes.

The expected generation capacity of 40 million kWh per year or 3.33 million kWh per month should enable the supply of electricity to reach an additional 30,000 rural households, thereby allowing the farmers that grow and supply Gliricidia, to directly benefit from their involvement in supplying biomass for the community’s energy consumption, the company said.

“Our success with our initial Biomass plant in Trincomalee, gives us confidence that this plant will not only supply clean, stable energy to an under-served region but will also help stabilise the electrical grid, by supporting the CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board). Consistent, stable power generation will allow for small and medium scale industries in the region to perform better without the fear of outages,” noted E. Kugapriya, General Manager, Tokyo Power.

The Tokyo Power Dendro Plant in Mahiyanganaya will generate 40million kWh annually to light up 30,000 rural homes with clean energy, whilst preventing 28,122 Metric Tons of greenhouse gasses being emitted into the atmosphere.

“This is the equivalent of taking 5,920 passenger vehicles off the road, or if we were to drive 10,775,846,000 kilometres less every year. It is the equivalent of NOT consuming 11,978,640 litres of gasoline, or NOT burning 13,701,421 Kgs of coal. It is the equivalent of 10,80 tons of waste NOT being sent to landfills. The environmental impact of such carbon emissions could only be sequestered by planting 721,082 tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or the equivalent of 23,051 acres of a forest per year,” the statement noted.

Tokyo Cement said it aims to engage 20,000 farming families and promote Gliricidia growing across 2500 acres of Mahiyanganaya, to empower rural communities and develop sustainable land use systems, thereby securing the wellbeing of resource-lacking farming communities.

“Through the Gliricidia growing programmes, we have forged many strong bonds with local farming communities. We decided early on that we wanted them to take ownership of this project that not only leads to the electrification of their homes, but will also stimulate their local economy. We’ve projected that this Tokyo Power Dendro plant, will contribute Rs. 24 million per month in direct cash flow to farmers in the region. Thereby making this a truly self-sustaining initiative,” said Salinda Kandapola, Agricultural Outsourcing Manager at Tokyo Cement Group.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Westward Group Tokyo Energy News Japan to Utilize Nuclear Energy based on Pragmatism

The government of Japan finally came to the conclusion that the same nuclear energy that played a powerful role in modernization, is once more to be part of the energy policy of this nation. Prime Minister Abe is focused on rejuvenating the economy therefore a pragmatic energy policy is needed. Abe therefore made it clear that nuclear pragmatism is required based on the negative side effects of using dirty energy alongside having extremely limited natural resources. Not surprisingly, the utilization of the nuclear sector is a way out of the current stalemate within the body politic of Japan.

Irrespective of anti-nuclear media outlets in Japan, green environmentalists espousing doom, the blatant manipulation of facts about the stance of the majority of Japanese nationals by the international media and other areas related to negativity, it is clear that nuclear favored political parties and politicians have been re-elected locally and centrally. Indeed, anti-nuclear candidates and the main opposition party have been beaten time after time collectively in relation to national politics and local government on the whole. This doesn’t imply that the majority of Japanese nationals are pro-nuclear but it does show that other concerns are deemed to be more important.

This isn’t to downplay anti-nuclear feelings within Japan but the reality is that more people will go shopping in trendy Shinjuku, Harajuku and Ikebukuro on an average day, than the numbers that usually turn up for anti-nuclear protests. Also, it seems rather callow for some individuals that the international media and certain Japanese media outlets focus on the nuclear issue so much – after all, how many people died because of the tsunami compared with nuclear power? Not only this, the main issue in relation to the nuclear crisis that erupted after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a brutal tsunami, is the fact that “human failing, mismanagement and cronyism” were the main factors behind the tragic events that followed.

Hysteria towards the nuclear sector is often based on the manipulation of language. After all, dirty energy and enormous pollution related to other non-nuclear factors kill untold numbers every year. Of course, if Japan, or any nation, decides to focus on renewable energy based on a thorough plan that is fully effective and not based on hypocrisy, like Germany, then all well and good. However, currently this reality doesn’t exist in Japan. Therefore, until a proper energy plan is put in place that can supersede the need to utilize nuclear energy then Japan must focus on pragmatism.

New stringent tests have been put into place following the nuclear crisis that erupted after the brutal tsunami. Given this reality, and the nod of the Abe government, then it would appear that some reactor restarts will begin in earnest.

Toshimitsu Motegi, the current Trade and Industry Minister of Japan, says: “We aim to opt for an energy supply system which is realistic, pragmatic and well balanced.

If the majority of Japanese nationals had desired to phase out nuclear power, like promised by the Democratic Party of Japan, then obviously the masses would have elected them on this platform. Yet this never materialized despite all the media distortions within Japan and outside of this country. Therefore, it is high time for Japan to focus on energy pragmatism. After all, enormous costs of importing energy and health related issues based on the current policy of using dirty energy to a higher degree – based on the numbing down of nuclear energy – isn’t viable indefinitely.

In early January the Modern Tokyo Times stated: “Now Japan is stuck by either adopting a pragmatic nuclear policy based on modernizing the entire system and implementing tougher standards – or to continue with importing dirty energy at a negative cost in terms of health related issues and hindering the economy. Of course, Japan could try to radically alter its energy policy by implementing a policy that boosts alternative energy – the effects and costs remain debatable. However, the current status quo of relying on expensive imported fossil fuels to bridge the non-existent energy policy isn’t viable.

Therefore, it appears that the Abe government is finally acting irrespective of individuals agree with this policy or not. More important, at least a direction and aim is now being planned for Japan in order to meet the demands of a modern society that lacks natural energy resources.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How Alternative Energy Companies Use Big Data Tokyo Westward Group Energy Alternatives

The latest monitors can help homeowners track their energy consumption in greater detail than before.
It’s the middle of a steaming hot summer afternoon. You’re at home, blasting the air conditioner, washing your clothes, and standing in front of the open freezer while the TV plays in the background.

You may not realize it, but you’re racking up kilowatts, increasing your utility bill, and adding to Earth’s pollutants.

In the past, consumers didn’t have the resources or education to know how to use energy efficiently. But thanks to big data, they now can reduce costs and help save the planet, all with the click of a button.

Home and commercial monitors are showing customers just how much energy they’re using at any time of the day.

Efergy, a power tracking company, sells monitors and hardware that connect to fuse boxes via a wireless signal. Users can see the energy usage on the monitor or their computer screens through a platform created by the company. The devices show customers the past 255 days’ worth of hourly energy consumption, usage trends and how those translate into dollars and cents.

“It makes you realize when you’re using too much electricity and see how you can reduce,” says Juan Gonzalez, president of Efergy USA.

Efergy’s system sends out an audio alert to let customers know when they’re reaching their maximum consumption target. That helps them save on their energy bills while preventing the electricity grid from being overloaded.

Scott Wiater, president of solar panel installation business Standard Solar, says the key to reducing utility bills is being aware of your habits.

“When people can see how much they’re using in real time they tend to focus on it and use less energy,” Wiater says. “If a customer gets solar in a smart home system, they can track what the solar power system is doing and track down whatever resolution they’re looking for.”

Big data enables alternative energy companies that monitor usage to see what’s happening on a broader scale and come up with solutions. For example, if a customer doesn’t know why his or her bill is hundreds of dollars every month, one of these companies can help them see where spending can be cut. The data collected by the companies also shows the customer’s peak hours and how they can avoid using energy at those times.

“When you put data in a larger context, which is big data, it allows them to help make more sense of that information and make it more actionable,” says Ali Kashani, a co-founder and the vice president of software development at Energy Aware, an energy monitoring business. “The only way we can detect all these things in our home is looking at many homes and developing an algorithm to determine the connection.”

At Efergy, one of the goals is to create products that are going to cut down on carbon emissions, which in turn helps utilities companies “reduce the power plants using the most pollutants and make them more efficient,” says Gonzalez.

EnerNOC, a company that collects energy and operational data for commercial, industrial and agricultural businesses, is also producing systems that cut energy usage. Clients not only save on energy bills every month but get a one-time incentive to pay for system upgrades.

Whenever the grid is under stress or prices are peaking, EnerNOC’s systems let utilities send remote signals to the businesses to reduce energy usage.

“We’ll use our technology to reduce the amount of load that customers have,” says Micah Remley, vice president of product strategy and technology.
This technology includes a small gateway device that collects and analyzes energy usage day and night. At any point, users can log on and see their energy data. They’ll also receive advanced notice about downtimes, grid instability or even power outages.

“At large commercial buildings we raise temperature settings and turn off extraneous lights and fountains and things that don’t need to be running,” says Remley. “At a retail space we turn off non-essential AC equipment and non-essential lighting when customers aren’t there. We turn off irrigation pumps. Instead of watering between 2 p.m. and 4 pm. on a hot summer afternoon when costs are highest, we automate and turn them on at a different time.”

Remley says that because of big data, energy is being saved in ways that weren’t possible in the past.

“These tools have allowed us to take all the data and really automate the processing of it to find energy savings and efficiency opportunities in places we never would have been able to,” he says. “Having servers run through algorithms has completely changed the game for us. Using the tools and analysis has allowed us to scale all of these energy insights that we’ve always had to thousands of buildings very rapidly.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Europe’s Wind-Turbine Makers Are Pleading For More Political Support Tokyo Westward Group Energy Alternatives

EUROPEAN climate policy has spent vast amounts of public money, sent power utilities to the brink and done little to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, an impressive display of multi-pronged incompetence. But might all that money at least have built a robust, world-beating European renewables industry?

Not yet. European makers of solar panels have been largely wiped out by a combination of the financial crisis and competition from cheaper Chinese rivals. Q-Cells of Germany, once the world’s largest solar manufacturer, went bust in 2012. SolarWorld, Germany’s largest remaining maker, begged successfully for investors’ patience to avoid bankruptcy late last year. The EU, like America, is bringing anti-dumping complaints against Chinese firms, but even if these were to succeed it is clear that the future of solar-panel manufacturing lies beyond Europe.

Besides barely-green biomass, geographically limited hydropower and unproven tidal power, that leaves wind turbines as the best hope for European green energy. The picture is brighter than for solar. But Prokon, a German wind-park developer that offered generous profit-shares to small investors, filed for bankruptcy in January. And Europe’s makers of wind turbines have gone through a dark few years, shedding jobs and racking up losses.

Vestas, of Denmark, was once the pin-up of the wind-turbine industry. But it overinvested just as others piled into the market. As its balance-sheet deteriorated, investors took fright, forcing the management to announce huge cost-cuts and lay-offs, culminating in the sacking last year of Ditlev Engel, its boss. His successor, Anders Runevad, announced last month that the restructuring was paying off, producing €211m ($288m) in operating profit before special charges.

Kristian Tornoe Johansen, an analyst at Danske Bank, thinks that Vestas’s new “asset-light” model, with many of its production processes outsourced, puts it in a strong position to compete in Europe, America and emerging markets. HSBC’s wind-sector analysts are also bullish on Vestas, as they are on two European competitors, Nordex of Germany and Gamesa of Spain, saying that the industry is ready for a turnaround, as it were.

Perhaps it is appropriate that Mr Runevad came from Ericsson, a Swedish telecoms-equipment maker. Tom Brookes of the European Climate Foundation compares the renewables firms’ boom and bust to Nokia and Ericsson, which lost their early lead in mobile telephony when Apple and Google entered the market and became “killers”. The two killers the wind-turbine makers should fear are not the Chinese but GE and Siemens, two huge Western conglomerates. GE has overtaken Vestas to become the world’s biggest wind-turbine maker. Siemens outsells Vestas in the small but growing market for offshore windpower installations. Both conglomerates boast that they can offer their customers a complete package of transmission, storage and other capacities, in contrast to Vestas’s focus on generation only.

In some countries, such as Brazil, windpower is already competitive without subsidies, and as the technology continues to develop there will be more such markets. But in Europe that point is still far off: Siemens is aiming to cut the cost of electricity from offshore turbines to ten euro cents a kilowatt-hour by 2020, from around 14 cents now, but this is still well above the current cost of fossil-fuel generation.

So Europe’s specialist renewables firms are pleading for help. A group of the firms’ bosses, including Mr Runevad, has gone to Brussels to call on the EU to impose a further round of binding renewable-energy targets on each member, for the decade to 2030. The EU’s initial proposals for energy policy during this period, announced in January, did not include these.

Mr Runevad and his fellow windpower bosses argue that compulsory targets would encourage power utilities to buy lots of wind turbines, helping their makers achieve economies of scale. Maybe, but there is a more sensible way for Europe to accelerate the switch to renewable energy and boost its wind-turbine makers. It should reform its crippled market in emissions permits, in particular by scrapping the exemptions from having to buy permits that many polluting industries enjoy. If the turbine-makers were to lobby for this, rather than pleading for a guaranteed market share, it would be a sign of an industry confident of its future.

10 Wacky Forms of Alternative Energy Tokyo Westward Group Energy Alternatives

At DelftUniversity of Technology in the Netherlands, researchers are working on a novel, albeit somewhat distasteful, alternative to fossil fuels. They've developed a state-of-the-art toilet for use in developing countries that employs microwaves to chemically alter human waste into syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This syngas can then be used in stacks of fuel cells to generate electricity. Hypothetically, one toilet could generate enough juice to power several village households, freeing them from dependence on coal or oil.

At firstglance, Delft's scheme to turn poop into power may seem a bit daft. But drastic times call for drastic measures, and many people categorize the state of our environment as drastic. We live on a planet of finite resources -- some of which are crucial to our survival, and others that harm the environment every time we use them.

Rather than wait for the oil wells to run dry and coastal cities to disappear beneath rising sea levels, many people are looking ahead to cleaner alternative sources of energy. Some of these energy sources, like solar power, hybrid-electric vehicles and small, hand-powered gadgets have already caught on. Others, however, like feces-fueled water heaters, may take a little getting used to.

Here, for your reading enjoyment, are 10 of the wackier ideas for alternative energy. Some of them are already available; others need a few more trial runs before they hit the market. Either way, if you're reading this during a self-imposed Earth Hour, hand-crank your flashlight and prepare to be surprised -- or even amused.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

5 Alternative Energy Sources That Are Cheaper Than Solar Tokyo Westward Group Energy Alternatives

Is solar power "the fuel of the future"? Elon Musk thinks so.

The co-inventor of PayPal, now turned alternative energy rock star, has built two companies -- solar power utility SolarCity (SCTY) and electric car company Tesla (TSLA) -- around the idea that solar-generated electricity is the way to power our cars and save our environment. He's also working on a third company -- SpaceX -- which aims to bring mankind a bit closer to that ultimate clean-energy source, the sun.
But is solar power truly the solution to our energy needs? Not necessarily.

Last month, alternative energy analyst Gordon Johnson at Axiom Capital crunched the latest numbers out of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and published a report on his findings.
The upshot: When it comes to "alternative" ways to generate electricity, solar energy is just about the most expensive form of energy you can get.

Calculating the cost of generating a kilowatt hour of electricity by tallying the cost of building a facility, operating it, and paying for the fuel it consumes -- then amortizing all this across all the electricity it's expected to produce in its lifetime -- Johnson points out that solar photovoltaic power costs about 22 cents a kwh. Solar thermal power, where sunbeams are reflected and concentrated on a heat-retaining medium such as salt or graphite to store heat for later use in generating electricity, costs even more -- about 32 cents a kwh.

What forms of energy are cheaper than these? Pretty much any that you might think of.

Electricity generated by running water through a dam's turbines costs about 9 cents a kwh generated. That's less than half the cost of electricity generated from "ordinary" solar panels. More than three times less than solar thermal power. And hydropower may be even cheaper than what the EIA says it is.

The Hoover Dam, for example, is said to wholesale the electricity it generates for as little as 1.6 cents a kwh -- about a penny-and-a-half.

Say what you will about the downsides of wind power -- that windmills kill birds and bats, that they allegedly induce headaches in their neighbors -- one thing's for sure: Wind power is a whole lot cheaper than solar.

EIA estimates say that amortized over their lifetime, windmills generate electricity for a cost of just 10 cents a kwh on average -- on par with hydro, and far cheaper than solar.

Across the ocean, the European Wind Energy Association claims that some of its member projects are generating electricity at a cost of as little as 5 cents a kwh.


There's also geothermal energy -- which uses the differential between near-constant temperatures below-ground and temperatures up here to create energy.
Because geothermal energy equipment is of necessity buried, it costs a bit more to maintain it. But total costs tend to average around 10 cents a kwh -- similar to wind, and not much more than hydro. But again, a heck of a lot cheaper than solar. Indeed, at the Geysers power plant in California, geothermal energy is sold for as little as 3 cents a kwh.


Seeing as the nuclear power plants been around since the 1950s, you may not think of nuclear power as being particularly "alternative." But it doesn't produce greenhouse gases, and it does produce electricity.

And at just 11 cents a kwh to pay for electrons generated by the latest generation of nuclear reactors, it's definitely in the hunt to underprice solar. In France, where they do nuclear power at scale, utility company Electricite de France sells nuclear-generated electricity for about 5 cents a kwh.

Perhaps the most "alternative" of energies -- in the sense that it's so counterintuitive that you'd never think of it as alternative -- is coal. More specifically, coal burned in high-tech facilities that scrub out the pollutants, known by the seeming oxymoron "clean coal."
According to the EIA, if you take all the cost of creating a real clean coal industry with the latest scrubbing equipment factored in, then add the cost of developing technology to sequester carbon emissions and inject them deep underground so they can't leak back out, plus the cost of the coal itself ... you're still likely to come up with an average cost that's about 59 percent that of solar -- 13 cents a kwh.

But... Solar Power's Going to Get Cheaper, Right?

So solar power is more expensive than all these other forms of alternative energy. But here's the worst part: Solar enthusiasts argue that as their industry gains scale, and the cost of producing solar panels falls, solar will become more cost-competitive with other forms of energy -- and that's simply not true.

Solar panel costs fell 53 percent in 2012. But the module cost makes up only about 33 percent of the total cost of building, operating, and maintaining a solar plant.

Panel mountings, solar power inverters, transmission cables, and more mundane costs such as paying the construction workers and buying or leasing land -- these all cost money too, and aren't subject to cheapening through scale.

Result: Falling module prices don't necessarily make solar plants cheaper to operate.
Long story short: You can have your solar power if you want it. But do expect to pay through the nose for it -- because the EIA's numbers don't lie, and solar power doesn't come cheap.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any solar or electric car company named above. (Go figure.) But The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Tesla Motors.                         

Monday, April 7, 2014

Less Energy More Creativity Tokyo Westward Group Energy Alternatives

They were two winningly sustainable houses, designed at Harvard to use little or no energy.

A presentation at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) celebrated this pair of prize-winning student designs: one in France (wholly a computer simulation, created in pixels) and the other in Japan (wholly real, made of native timber).

The setting was “Innovate,” a periodic series of noontime presentations, this one moderated last Thursday by Inaki Abalos, who chairs GSD’s Department of Architecture.

Zero-House was the simulation, created on a computer in stages, from design, to analysis, to redesign, to re-analysis, until it had theoretically met the challenge to transform a commonplace two-story suburban house in eastern France so that it created more electricity than it used, becoming what experts call a “surplus-energy house.”

“One small step was made at a time, and then evaluated,” read the student briefing paper on Zero-House, which noted the “swift, but accurate, feedback” that computer simulation afforded.

The student team of Apoorv Goyal, Keojin Jin, Saurabh Shrestha, and Arta Yazdanseta are master of design studies (M.Des.) students set to graduate in May. They worked with adviser Holly Samuelson, D.Des. ’13, an assistant professor of architecture at GSD who, among other things, studies the energy performance of buildings. Assisting her was D.Des.S. candidate Diego Ibarra.

The biennial competition they won, sponsored by the International Building Performance Simulation Association, typically attracts many more students from engineering than from architecture. To win a contest usually skewed to installing hardware, the GSD team “did what architects do best,” wrote Samuelson in an email. They redefined the problem and “refused to dive into designing complex energy systems.”

Instead, the team combined energy-saving strategies to improve heating and cooling, in search of the right design synergies. They deployed virtual solar panels at the optimum roof pitch, double-glazed windows, improved circulation, installed a heat-trapping berm, and added a Trombe wall, a passive solar use that employs a glass wall to capture and reradiate warmth from wintertime sun.

In the end, the redesigned structure was projected to use 75 percent less energy than the base model provided by the contest rules. Its solar systems also created twice the energy needed for comfort.

The Zero-House team left no footprint on the landscape, but it provided an example of the power of computer simulation to assess strategies for reducing energy use in future houses.

Using virtual models for each step of the energy-saving process allowed for exhaustive cross-checking of strategies, said team member Arta Yazdanseta. It also allowed the team to stretch the bounds of what had been done before. “We needed to break the rules,” she said, “just enough.”

Horizon House, the second structure, went to a far more radical extent, at least in terms of most student competitions. After the building was designed, it was built.

“That’s very, very unusual,” said team adviser Mark Mulligan before the event, which packed the Stubbins Room in Gund Hall. “Getting to build it was part of the appeal,” said Mulligan, a GSD associate professor in practice of architecture, who worked with Kiel Moe, assistant professor of architectural technology, to guide the students.

The team first won an in-house GSD competition early last year, then did an independent study with Mulligan and Moe. The team members represented a sweep of disciplines, which Mulligan said strengthened the final design. The members included student Matthew Conway, Robert Daurio, M.Arch. II ’13, Carlos Cerezo Davila, M.Des.S. ’13, Mariano Gomez, M.Arch. II ’13, and students Natsuma Imai, Takuya Iwamura, Ana Garcia Puyol, and Thomas Sherman.

They won the third annual LIXIL International University Architectural Competition, a contest that provides money for building the first-place design. The 2013 challenge was to design a “retreat in nature,” a 21st-century sustainable house that fit into a setting of ancient quietude in remote northern Japan. Twelve university teams from around the world were invited to compete, and three finalists made presentations that April.

A start-to-finish reality within 10 months, Horizon House gets its name from its intent to preserve a 360-degree view of the flat rural landscape in Taiki-cho, in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. In winter the land is blanketed with snow, and in summer it’s awash in high grasses. To keep a view of the wide horizon from everywhere in the interior, the house’s living space was built on a wooden platform more than three feet above the ground.

Three team members traveled to Japan in April. Five were there off and on over the summer to negotiate construction details with local contractors, and three went back in November to see the final product. By then, said Sherman, the weather was like that of northern Maine. But Horizon House, with its heat-pump radiant flooring and wood-pellet stove, was a snuggery. Staying overnight in something you helped design, said Puyol, was a high point. “We had to move from models into something that had to be built,” she said.

Staying in Horizon House turned into a test, too. On Puyol’s second night there, a 5.0-magnitude earthquake rumbled through southern Hokkaido. “It works,” she recalled thinking, with another thrill. “The house is safe.”

Horizon House was locally sourced. “We took a very aggressive stance in using wood,” either from local forestland or recycled from structures nearby, said Sherman. (Parts of Hokkaido are suffering population drain, and abandoned structures are abundant.) Concrete was not part of the design, he added, since it is eight times more energy-intensive to make and use than wood. In the end, though, a small amount was used in the subflooring, proving that green dreams are sometimes shaded by realistic needs.

Abalos praised Horizon House not only for its aesthetic appeal but for “performing quite well.” The small structure provides universal lessons in sustainability, making it “more important than it looks.”

The house is fitted with 23 sensors to make it a living laboratory on low-energy, sustainable practices. “This is an ongoing research project,” a path not only to innovation but to an ongoing academic relationship with the University of Tokyo and other schools, Sherman said. “The outcome of more student competitions should be a network,” said Mulligan, one that sustains university connections.

“We need more of this kind of work at GSD,” Moe said. An exhibit on the first floor of Gund Hall showcases the Horizon House timeline, pictures, and video.

“We need more of this kind of work at GSD,” Moe said.