#Solar watering systems: “You store water instead of electricity” — Vance Fulton

Photo via SolarPumps.com.
Photo via SolarPumps.com.

From The Craig Daily Press (Michael Neary):

Solar-powered water systems let livestock drink more easily and take pressure off ponds and streams

[Vance Fulton], an engineering technician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, described the way solar energy provides an effective way for landowners to transport water to their livestock.

“Especially around here, (landowners) have found that solar is a much more efficient way to pump water than the old windmills,” Fulton said.

And now, with the birth of the Sage Grouse Initiative, the solar-powered systems are receiving increasing amounts of federal support. Fulton said the systems have received funding through the Farm Bill for decades — but for the last several years, SGI has targeted more money for the solar-powered projects in places where the sage grouse is affected, such as Moffat County.

Surprising as it may seem at first glance, the creation of multiple water sources for cattle helps sage grouse too.

The system often works this way: A solar panel powers a pump that drives water through an underground pipeline, and the pipeline delivers the water to troughs at various points in the land so that animals can drink. The pump often fills up a storage tank for a backup water supply, as well.

The system, as Fulton explained it, creates an efficient means of supplying water to animals on the land. By creating several water sources, the system also eases stress on the ponds, puddles and streams where animals may gather to drink. That benefits a host of creatures — including the sage grouse.

Chris Yarbrough, formerly a biologist with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who is now regional habitat biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, explained how a water system such as this can help sage grouse. If there’s only one pond on a ranch, he said, that’s where the cows will congregate.

“That area will probably get overgrazed, and you’ll probably get a lot of weeds — things that aren’t good for wildlife,” he said.

But water troughs scattered throughout the land can attract animals to different spots, easing the pressure on a pond or a stream.

“The grasses and (other plants) then have a chance to grow,” he said — something that’s good for sage grouse and lots of other species, as well.

Yarbrough said much of the funding to install solar pumping systems in Moffat County is generated by the SGI, launched by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2010.

Fulton said the NRCS works with about 20 landowners in Moffat County on solar watering systems, and he noted there may be others using solar power, as well. It’s a number that’s far larger, he said, than it was about a decade ago, before the SGI.

One of the Moffat County landowners who uses solar-powered system is Doug Davis, who has a ranch called Davis Family Farm LLC that lies in the eastern part of the county.

“We discovered a very good water source up high, and because it’s up high you can use gravity flow,” Davis said.

Davis explained that the solar panel on this ranch pumps water from the well into a storage tank — and from that storage tank, gravity allows the water to flow through pipes to troughs throughout the property. Davis said that, on another property, he uses the solar-powered pump to push water directly to the troughs.

windmillgreghobbs

Either way, Davis said he’s glad to be using solar energy. He used to use windmills, which could be tough to maintain and less reliable.

“Windmills are much higher maintenance, and the wind does not blow as consistently as the sun shines,” he said. “Solar, which has turned out to be a low-maintenance, relatively low-cost proposition for us, is a winner.”

As Fulton walked through Davis’s land on that sunny July day, he pointed to some small nuances in the equipment, including strategically placed fencing to protect the plumbing from the animals drinking from the troughs, and a “small animal escape ramp” to let otherwise trapped animals climb to safety.

Fulton said the solar-powered system works without batteries, which means that energy is transferred directly to the pumps. It also means that the amount of energy may vary from day to day, depending on the supply of sunlight at a given time. That’s where the agility of the pumps comes into play.

“These pumps are able to work on variable voltage,” he said. “They’ll even continue to pump on a slightly cloudy day.”

Storing water during the sunny days, Fulton said, creates a water supply to use on the cloudy ones.

“You store water instead of storing electricity,” he said.

Fulton said, too, that advances in technology — in the pumps and the solar panels — have made the system even better than it used to be.

“It got more dependable, more efficient through the years,” he said — a sign that the sun soaking ranches throughout the county will be put to good use for many more years to come.

#ClimateChange: Renewables overtake coal as world’s largest source of power capacity — The Financial Times

From The Financial Times (Pilita Clark):

About 500,000 solar panels were installed every day last year as a record-shattering surge in green electricity saw renewables overtake coal as the world’s largest source of installed power capacity.

Two wind turbines went up every hour in countries such as China, according to International Energy Agency officials who have sharply upgraded their forecasts of how fast renewable energy sources will keep growing.

“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the global energy advisory agency.

Part of the growth was caused by falls in the cost of solar and onshore wind power that Mr Birol said would have been “unthinkable” only five years ago.

Average global generation costs for new onshore wind farms fell by an estimated 30 per cent between 2010 and 2015 while those for big solar panel plants fell by an even steeper two-thirds, an IEA report published on Tuesday showed.

The Paris-based agency thinks costs are likely to fall even further over the next five years, by 15 per cent on average for wind and by a quarter for solar power.

It said an unprecedented 153 gigawatts of green electricity was installed last year, mostly wind and solar projects, which was more than the total power capacity in Canada.

This was also more than the amount of conventional fossil fuel or nuclear power added in 2015, leading renewables to surpass coal’s cumulative share of global power capacity, though not electricity generation.

A power plant’s capacity is the maximum amount of electricity it can potentially produce. The amount of energy a plant actually generates varies according to how long it produces power over a period of time.

Because a wind or solar farm cannot generate constantly like a coal power plant, it will produce less energy over the course of a year even though it may have the same or higher level of capacity.

Coal power plants supplied close to 39 per cent of the world’s power in 2015, while renewables, including older hydropower dams, accounted for 23 per cent, IEA data show.

But the agency expects renewables’ share of power generation to rise to 28 per cent by 2021, when it predicts they will supply the equivalent of all the electricity generated today in the US and EU put together.

It has revised its forecasts to show renewables’ capacity will grow 13 per cent more between 2015 and 2021 than it had thought would be the case just last year, mostly because of stronger policy backing in the US, China, India and Mexico.

Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division, said efforts to address climate change were only part of the reason for this policy drive.

Air pollution worries were also spurring growth in countries such as China, a renewable energy juggernaut that alone accounts for close to 40 per cent of capacity growth.

NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

#ClimateChange: Boulder’s clean energy pledge was driven by a lack of state and national leadership — The Colorado Independent

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

Boulder aims derive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. By the Sierra Club’s measure, that makes Boulder the 17th city nationwide to commit to the ambitious climate goal.

Mayor Suzanne Jones announced the plan last week during a clean energy event in Denver put on by environmental groups. She said the commitment is good news in the fight against climate change, but that Boulder’s motivation stems largely from an unfortunate lack of action at the state and national levels.

“The story here is that cities are having to lead because there isn’t national leadership, and frankly there’s limited state leadership,” she told The Independent.

The need for state and local government action has been a focus of environmentalists since the Paris climate conference. As Jones tells it, Boulder aims in the future “to push for better state policies and programs through the legislature, and (to) work with the administration to try to move the ball forward.”

Boulder’s clean energy goal has been in the works since May, when council members agreed in theory to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity. The goal for 2030 will become official, in the form of a finalized citywide climate commitment, this December. In the meantime, the city’s staff has been directed to develop a roadmap to make the commitment possible.

One such staff member is Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s regional sustainability coordinator. Koehn said the commitment to 100 percent renewables is a sub-strategy for meeting the city’s larger goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The same goal was set statewide in 2008 via an executive order by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, but Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015 climate plan made no mention of it — or any other measurable, quantifiable goals.

Koehn is quick to point out that Boulder’s latest commitment is only to clean electricity, and thus doesn’t mean the city will suddenly stop using oil and gas. Boulderites will still use natural gas to heat their homes, and the city’s public transportation system will still run on fossil fuels. But powering the electric grid with renewables will better prepare Boulder for the inevitable uptick in electricity use that future changes — like a shift to electric cars and buses — will undoubtedly bring.

“If we want to move people off of fossil fuels, we want to do it when the electricity supply is as clean as it can be,” said Koehn.

The plan also doesn’t mean that Boulder will stop using carbon-powered electricity. It will stay connected to the state’s larger grid, which, like the city does now, uses a mix of renewable and fossil fuels to smooth out the supply during peak demand times. But by 2030, Boulder will produce enough renewable energy for its own use, leading to the same net impact as if it used only its own, separate grid.

This commitment to generating enough electricity to cover total use differs from that of Aspen, which is currently known as one of three U.S. cities to already run only on renewables. Aspen actually still gets about half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and simply offsets the difference by purchasing renewable energy credits from out-of-state utilities, like a wind farm in Nebraska. Boulder is committed to actually creating renewable energy, not just paying for it.

Boulder’s energy staff will spend the next several months hammering out the details of its climate commitment plan. Then, according to a memo released from the May 10 meeting, a finalized “comprehensive energy transition strategy” will be expected in 2017, when the city has a better sense of whether it will municipalize its utility or renew a contract with Xcel Energy.

Both Jones and Koehn admit that transitioning to a 100 percent renewable electricity supply won’t be easy, but say it’s both necessary and economically sound. [ed. emphasis mine]

Said Koehn, “People can continue to shake their heads at this, but we know that this is where our society needs to go in terms of stabilizing our climate.”

Jones added, “The wonderful thing about this is that moving to 100 percent renewable energy is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right business choice.”

Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

U.S. added 7,200 megawatts of solar power in 2015

Summit County Citizens Voice

Residential installations lead the way

New initiative to boost several solar projects with $27 million. Solar outpaced natural gas capacity additions in 2015.

Staff Report

The U.S. solar power market grew by 17 percent in 2015, adding more than 7,200 megawatts of photovoltaics and outpacing the growth of the natural gas capacity additions for the first time ever. In all, solar supplied 29.5 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2015.

The solar sector grew fastest in California, North Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts and New York, but the market continues to diversify geographically, with 13 states installing more than 100 megawatts of capacity in 2015.

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“I believe the extension of tax credits for solar and wind energy is a game changer” — Barbara Boxer

From USA Today (Bill Theobald) via the Fort Collins Coloradan:

The annual spending bill negotiated by congressional leaders is stuffed with millions in additional funding for Western needs — from fighting wildfires to fixing national parks and helping deal with the drought.

In addition, a companion bill would extend tax breaks for solar and wind power.

Both bills are expected to be approved by the House and Senate in the next few days.

The budget legislation would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. It would reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund for three years and appropriate $450 million for the fund to be spent through the Department of Interior and the Forest Service.

The fund has provided $17 billion through its 50-year lifetime to fund more than 40,000 local recreation projects and to buy about 5 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West…

Funding in the budget bill is $50 million more than President Obama requested, a 47 percent increase from last year. More than 50 percent of the money will go for local and state recreation projects.

Alan Rowsome of The Wilderness Society had said Congress would be snatching “defeat from the jaws of victory” if it failed to permanently reauthorize the fund and increase the amount that could be spent.

For wildfires, the legislation includes $4.2 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention programs within the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. That’s $670 million more than last year and includes $1 billion in firefighting reserve funds.

This provision is sure to disappoint members of the House and Senate — mostly from the West — who have been pushing legislation to revise funding for fighting wildfires. Fighting the most severe fires, under these proposals, would be paid for like other natural disasters such as tornadoes and come from emergency funds.

That would eliminate the need during several recent severe fire seasons to transfer money into firefighting from other activities, including efforts to reduce the number and severity of fires. The bill includes $545 million for hazardous fuels reduction, an increase of $19 million from last year.

Other provisions of interest to the West in the budget legislation include:

  • National Park Service. The service gets $2.9 billion, up $237 million, including $94 million to reduce the massive maintenance backlog at the parks and to mark the service’s centennial anniversary in 2016.
  • Drought relief. While no comprehensive drought package is included, $100 million is appropriated for the Bureau of Reclamation to address severe drought in the West.
  • Tax breaks include five-year extensions of the production tax credit for wind energy and the investment tax credit for solar energy.
  • Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said the ITC would create about 61,000 jobs in 2017 and retain another 80,000 solar jobs. The American Wind Energy Association estimated extending the PTC would add more than 100,000 jobs in four years in the wind industry.

    “I believe the extension of tax credits for solar and wind energy is a game changer,” Boxer said.