Worldwatch researchers recently returned from Haiti as a part of the Energy Roadmaps for the Caribbean Project. One exciting idea that grew out of our meetings with government, utility, and private sector officials is the potential for wind and pumped-storage hydro systems on the island of Hispaniola.

A wind and pumped-storage hydro system is an old technology with a new twist, and it is a technology that is being explored on several small islands around the world.

A model of the wind and pumped-storage hydro system on El Hierro (Source: ThomasNet News and Gorona del Viento El Hierro)

For the past half century, countries including the United States have used excess electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear power plants during periods of low power demand to pump water uphill to be stored in reservoirs as potential energy. Then, when demand peaks the reservoirs are opened, allowing water to pass through hydroelectric facilities to generate the needed electricity to meet power demand.

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Caribbean, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy security, Green Technology, Haiti, hydropower, Innovation, low-carbon, renewable energy, wind power

As previously reported, members of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy team made the first country visit to Jamaica as part of the institute’s Caribbean Low-Carbon Roadmap work. During that visit I had the opportunity to visit Wigton Wind Farm, the island’s largest grid-tied, utility-scale wind power facility. Situated on the southern tip of the Don Figuerero Mountains, not far from the southern coastal town of Alligator Pond, the wind farm offers good lessons for successful promotion of renewable energy in Jamaica and how such projects are in the country’s best interests. But it has also shined a light on obstacles that should be resolved as the country pursues more renewable energy projects.

The entrance at Wigton Wind Farm in Manchester, Jamaica.

Wigton Wind Farm is actually composed of two separate projects, one built in 2004 and the other in 2010. The first phase – or Wigton I as it is referred to – comprises 23 NEG-Micon 900/52 turbines, each with an installed capacity of 900 kilowatts (kW). The second phase, Wigton II, consists of 9 Vestas V80 turbines, each with an installed capacity of 2 megawatts (MW). Their respective capacity factors are 35 percent and 33 percent, which means together they generate around 115 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity per year. In total the wind farm is expected to offset 60,000 barrels of oil per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 85,000 tons.

Wigton Wind Farm is a subsidiary of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), a state energy corporation housed within Jamaica’s Ministry of Energy and Mining. Dr. Raymond Wright, a former managing group director at PCJ, became Wigton’s first strong supporter in the late 90’s. When construction started in 2004, PCJ was fortunate in securing a good location for the project. Much of the land on which the wind farm is sited is owned by Alcoa, which is the managing partner of Jamalco, a partnership between the Jamaican government and Alcoa Minerals of Jamaica. There is still enough land to build a possible third phase of Wigton just to the north of the first two project locations. This remaining land also happens to be located in an area that, according to studies, is a strong wind resource. A quick look at 3TIER Inc.’s Dashboard tool shows that the area has an annual mean wind speed around 8 meters per second (m/s).

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Caribbean, Climate Change, emissions reductions, Jamaica, low-carbon, renewable energy, wind power

Photo: Coyote Springs Generating Station by Portland General Electric

On August 25, my colleagues at the Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors and I released a new greenhouse gas (GHG) life-cycle analysis of U.S. coal and natural gas-fired electricity. If you have been following my posts on ReVolt over the last year, you’ll know we began studying this issue after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced revisions to its methodology for estimating emissions from natural gas systems (basically from the production, processing, transmission, and distribution of natural gas) that resulted in a more than doubling of its estimate for methane emissions from those sources. Methane, in addition to being the primary component of natural gas, is a GHG some 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year period. Consequently, some analysts have raised concerns that when the actual amount of methane emitted during the entire life cycle of natural gas (an amount which the EPA’s previous methodology apparently underestimated) is taken into account, natural gas might lose its GHG advantage over coal.

Over the past year, a number of new life-cycle analyses have come out that all ask different versions of the question, “How clean is natural gas really, on a life-cycle basis?” Some focus on GHG emissions from shale versus conventional natural gas, while others focus on all natural gas produced in the United States. The life-cycle analyses use different underlying assumptions, methodologies, and sources of data, and nearly all comment on the implications of their findings for the GHG comparison between coal and gas. After all, if the Obama administration is (or at least was) considering a clean energy standard that gave natural gas-fired electricity a half-credit on the basis of its GHG savings over coal, this should be reflected by actual GHG savings.

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Climate Change, coal, emissions reductions, energy, EPA, natural gas

Source: Caribbean 360

Worldwatch researchers recently completed their initial visit to Jamaica for the Caribbean Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps project. The team discussed a range of issues related to Jamaica’s energy infrastructure and needs with policymakers and stakeholders, and one issue that stood out was the potential for more cogeneration at sugar mills.

As of 2010, the agricultural sector accounted for 6 percent of Jamaica’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 20 percent of the nation’s employment. The largest of the industries within the agricultural sector – the sugarcane industry – accounted for 35,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs. About 46,000 hectares, or nearly 5 percent of Jamaica’s land, is dedicated to growing sugarcane.

But what does this industry have to do with Worldwatch’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap in Jamaica? The simple answer is that waste from sugar mills is already contributing to Jamaica’s energy portfolio, and has the potential to play an even more substantial role.

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bioenergy, Caribbean, Climate Change, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, green economy, Jamaica, renewable energy

As part of Worldwatch’s Caribbean Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap project, Climate & Energy Director Alexander Ochs and I made our first country visit to Jamaica. The trip, ten days in total, was a chance to formally meet with project partners at the Jamaican Ministry of Energy and Mining and other governmental departments as well as with stakeholders from across all sectors that are important to the country’s energy future. Throughout the visit, many issues came up repeatedly, including working with the IMF, net billing vs. net metering, calculation of avoided costs as it pertains to renewable energy projects and power purchase agreements, and the cost of taking out a loan for renewable energy investments. All of this led to a very clear initial observation: Jamaica is facing a serious energy crisis, one that can only be tackled with massive investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and smarter grid solution.

(L to R) Gerald Lindo, Fitzroy Vidal, and Minister Clive Mullings of Jamaica's Ministry of Energy & Mining with Worldwatch's Mark Konold and Alexander Ochs

Jamaica’s GDP is currently around USD $13 billion. In 2010, the country spent USD $1.6 billion on fossil fuel imports, roughly 12 percent of its GDP. That figure was as high as 20 percent before the global economic crisis and it is likely to return to that level as oil prices continue their overall upward trend. Despite enormous renewable resources, fossil fuels comprise 91 percent of the island’s energy source. This dependency on fossil fuels plays a major role in a consumer’s utility bill, or “light bill” as it is commonly called. Currently, consumers pay roughly USD $0.38 to $0.40 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity. By comparison, electricity rates in the U.S. average around $ 0.10 per kWh. As the burden of expensive electricity persists, there is growing support for the government to take action. As Hillary Alexander, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Energy and Mining, told us, “We need solutions that are practical, implementable and beneficial for the people of Jamaica – and we need them now!”

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Caribbean, Climate Change, developing countries, emissions reductions, Jamaica, low-carbon, renewable energy, solar power, wind power

On July 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a package of regulations designed to reduce air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry. One of these regulations, a new source performance standard for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), will require drillers to use a technique called “green completions” on any oil or gas well that they hydraulically fracture. The EPA estimates that this new regulation, which is the United States’ first federal air standard addressing hydraulically fractured wells, will reduce such wells’ emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 95 percent.

Green completions also have the co-benefit of capturing methane that would otherwise be vented or flared. Methane is the main constituent of natural gas and a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Recent estimates of methane emitted during the production, processing, and transport of natural gas have caused some to question the greenhouse gas benefits that could be achieved by switching from coal to gas-fired electricity.

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emissions reductions, EPA, Methane, natural gas, oil, United States

President Obama announced last week that automakers must enhance the future performance of their cars and light trucks if they want to continue selling in the United States. The fleets for Model Years 2017 through 2025 will need to meet a combined highway/city performance equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) and 163 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per mile according to EPA test procedures. The new standard extends one established in 2009 that requires a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of 35.5 mpg and 250 grams of CO2 per mile by Model Year 2016. For passenger vehicles, the standards increase by an average of five percent annually from 2017 through 2025.

The CAFE requirement includes a flexibility mechanism that provides credits allowing automakers to reduce their fleet-wide efficiency performance by designing a variety of systems including efficient air conditioning, flex fuel engines, and compressed natural gas treatment. These ‘accounting tricks’ combined with the possibility of a slight rebound effect in driving behavior may undermine fuel efficiency improvements. Meeting the higher fuel economy standards may not be so far out of reach for automakers even without flexible crediting, considering the efficiency levels achieved by cars on the road today, such as the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg. Nonetheless, the new standard is leaps and bounds beyond the 27 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard for passenger cars that had been in place since 1985.

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emissions reductions, energy efficiency, energy security, European Union, fuel economy, green jobs, low-carbon, manufacturing jobs, transportation, United States

For the millions suffering through the recent heat waves blanketing the United States, geothermal heating and cooling systems may be of interest. Although such systems are by no means new, they have experienced tremendous growth recently. Last year alone, 50,000 new systems were built in the United States, increasing the total number of U.S. geothermal heating and cooling installations to 150,000.

The frequent and extreme heat waves and cold spells of the past decade have put utilities under greater pressure. Just last week, three regional transmission organizations (RTOs) set all-time highs for daily electricity demand. Unfortunately for electricity consumers, rising electricity demand also translates into rising electricity prices. So what does this have to do with geothermal energy? For home and building owners, geothermal systems offer an opportunity for cleaner and cheaper heating and cooling services.

What services can a geothermal heating and cooling system provide?

As the name might suggest, geothermal heating and cooling systems provide heating and cooling for buildings. Less obvious is that these same systems can also provide humidity control and water heating services. This means that installing a geothermal system lowers the demand on furnace, air-conditioning, and water heating units.

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emissions reductions, energy efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, renewable energy, technology series

Metros with clusters across the United States

There are 2.7 million clean economy jobs in the United States, according to a recently released report by the Brookings Institution entitled “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment.” Brookings hosted an event to announce the release, at which one panel explored the fascinating and increasingly important role that Regional Innovation Clusters (RICs) play in fostering the clean economy.

The report shows that the majority of green jobs (defined as jobs with a direct or indirect environmental benefit) are in conventional sectors like manufacturing, waste management, and mass transit. But the fastest growing sector is clean technology, which includes renewable energy, smart grid, and energy efficiency. While 64 percent of green jobs in the U.S. reside within the 100 largest metropolitan areas (which hold 66 percent of the U.S. population), the same metros hold an outsized 74 percent of the clean tech jobs created from 2003 to 2010. The Brookings report takes this as evidence that metros have strong industry clusters that boost clean economy growth.

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brookings, clean economy, cleantech, clusters, economic development, emissions reductions, energy, energy efficiency, finance, green economy, green jobs, Green Technology, Innovation, low-carbon, nortech, Obama, regional innovation clusters, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable, technology series, United States

Natural disasters can provide a dramatic reminder of the impact human activities are having on our planet. In recent months, the Southwestern United States has experienced devastating forest fires. As of June 2nd, over 3 million acres have burned throughout the country this year, representing the largest acreage burned by this point in the year since 2000. According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the total number of acres burned between 1960 and 2009 has greatly increased. Additionally, the number of acres burned per individual fire event has also increased, at an even sharper rate, demonstrating a trend toward more severe fires. This is true despite the fact that U.S. forest acreage decreased from 1945-1997.

Source: National interagency Fire Center

The Wallow Fire, which began in late May and is still burning, is the largest fire in Arizona’s history covering 538,049 acres. The Las Conchas fire, which has thus far destroyed over 100,000 acres and has become the largest blaze in New Mexico’s history is also still burning as of July 1st. There are several other large fires in the Southwestern region.  The increase in number and severity of wildfires makes us wonder:  is climate change to blame? The answer: yes, at least in part. In fact it is a combination of poor management AND climate conditions that is fueling the infernos raging in the American Southwest and elsewhere in the country.

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Climate Change, emissions reductions, environmental research, forest fires, natural disasters