Fracking Successes Don’t Diminish Alternative Energy Opportunities

At a time when the U.S. Energy Information Administration has announced significant growth in total natural gas and oil production, it may seem like there are fewer opportunities for alternative energy projects in the United States. However, if companies that produce batteries can improve storage capacity and lifetime for their products, the incentives for companies to develop wind, solar and other energy generation alternatives will be much greater.

Over the past five years, petroleum energy source production has increased by about 25 percent. However, concerns about the chemicals used to force out oil and gas in previously unproductive areas have also grown. Companies do not have to release the contents of their proprietary solutions. There is one major issue that companies that take advantage of solar panels and other alternative energy generation options must solve: better batteries.

Alternatiive Energy - Wind Farms In Texas and the Central Valley of California, it is easy to see massive wind farms, with turbines dotting hillsides. However, just as with wave and solar power, the energy delivery is not consistent. Turbines won’t turn on calm days, and PV panels will not develop power on cloudy days. Currently, homeowners with solar panels can “sell” excess electricity back to their utility company, but on a large scale that is not feasible.

Companies that use metal solders as part of programs to improve battery life will help make the largest leap in technology for perhaps a decade or more. Currently, advances in power management and reduced consumption electronics materials have masked the fact that battery technology has failed to keep up. Whether it is the use of new alloys, manufacturing processes or other ways to improve both capacity and lifetime, research is now placing new emphasis on materials.

To do so will make renewable energy applications like solar panels and wind turbines more feasible on a larger scale. Currently, small-scale projects include a two megawatt battery in the Orkney Islands of Britain and Duke Energy’s 36 megawatt battery for a remote wind farm in Texas, the New York Times report notes.

For more information on the growth of fracking, visit  http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/article/20131011/OPINION01/310110002/Alternative-energy-hold-now. The New York Times piece on efforts to make renewable energy projects sustainable is available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/business/energy-environment/Filling-the-Gaps-in-the-Flow-of-Renewable-Energy.html?_r=0

Aston Martin’s high-performance hydrogen car to hit the road soon

Previously on this blog, we've discussed the progress of electric cars as one of the major ways that car manufacturers are turning to alternative energy technologies. However, luxury carmaker Aston Martin announced at this year's Geneva Motor Show that it would be turning to a different fuel source to stave off gasoline usage: hydrogen.

However, Aston Martin doesn't just want to produce a serviceable low-emissions hybrid vehicle, it wants one that can race.​

Later this year, the company will be entering one its hydrogen-fueled Aston Martin Rapides in the Nurburgring 24-hour race. The goal, according to Autocar, is to achieve the "first-ever race-pace zero emissions lap" during the event. According to CEO Ulrich Bez, the Rapide will use gasoline for just 20 percent of the race, showing that a car doesn't need gasoline in order to compete.

While hydrogen-based fuel cells have been a popular way to incorporate the substance as a fuel source in vehicles, it's not common to use it directly as a fuel source. According to GreenCarReports.com, the move to produce a vehicle that uses gasoline only a fraction of the time is one of many changes for the high-performance car producer, which has been trying to change its image from one that just produces powerful fuel-guzzlers. By spurning electric motors for ones that use hydrogen as a fuel source, Aston Martin can still produce its signature V-8 and V-12 engines, but can also feature lower gas usage.

Considering the reputation of low emission and electric vehicles as low-performance vehicles that can't keep up with their gasoline-powered counterparts, the presence of a powerful hybrid like the Rapide is a good sign for producers of alternative energy technologies. Companies such as S-Bond will continue to raise the bar of what can be accomplished with new, cleaner fuel sources.

Alternative energy technologies and manufacturing sector feed off one another

The clean energy industry and advanced manufacturing are inextricably linked. In the worst of economic times, both lead to innovation and job creation, while curbing climate change and bringing down the cost of electricity.

John Grant, director of the Next Economy Partnership Project at the New Policy Institute, wrote an article for Ideas Laboratory in which he explained that as clean energy production grows, so does the manufacturing sector in America. At the heart of it all are alternative energy technologies and the breakthroughs that are making them more affordable and more efficient.

Grant cites a recent study conducted by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), which shows that the total installed renewable capacity in the United States doubled between 2008 and 2012.

“Let’s not forget that the 5-year period covered by this study is also the worst five years for the American economy since the Great Depression. Despite these headwinds, the clean energy sector is growing,” Grant said. “This has tremendous implications not only for the economy, but for climate change. According to BCSE, from 2008 to 2012, energy related carbon emissions dropped by 13 percent. Although that’s not enough, it’s a step in the right direction to mitigate the damaging effects of climate pollution.”

Among these critical breakthroughs are advanced solar cell soldering techniques developed by companies like S-Bond, as well as cutting-edge battery technologies the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is investing heavily in. In fact, the DoE has recently encouraged industry members to actively collaborate on such initiatives.

The bond between clean energy and advanced manufacturing is as strong as the latest active solder and hermetic glass sealing solutions. They combine to reduce carbon emissions, provide millions with more affordable power and create thousands of jobs – all of which fuel economic growth and prosperity.

DoE research facility to use cutting-edge sensors, other technologies to improve offshore energy production

Thanks to a planned U.S. Department of Energy research center, businesses in the alternative energy technologies sector may be able to overcome obstacles that have long been standing in the way of their progress. The implications for wind and ocean power development projects could be game-changing.

At the Reference Facility for Offshore Renewable Energy, a wide array of technologies will be tested to determine their effectiveness in capturing reliable data about offshore winds and waters and their potential to generate ample amounts of energy. In so doing, they will be able to make more strategic plans for future projects and drastically improve their chances for success.

For example, one of the technologies to be tested at the facility involves a series of state-of-the-art sensors that will help researchers determine the strength and direction of offshore winds based on how light beams reflect off sea spray and other tiny particles floating on the breeze above the ocean's surface.

"The harsh environment and remote locale of offshore energy sites makes new technologies necessary to assess the power-producing potential of offshore sites. Strong winds and high concentrations of salt, for example, mean data-collecting equipment needs to be heavy duty and extremely sturdy to operate offshore," according to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) press release.

Additionally, because anchoring meteorological towers to the ocean floor is extremely difficult and costly, project managers must look for innovative and affordable ways to gather the precise measurements needed for mapping out offshore energy systems. Metal soldering techniques that allow developers to build equipment capable of enduring these harsh conditions and delivering critical data are essential to the future success of alternative energy initiatives.

As PNNL officials note, the technologies being tested at this research center could yield data that vastly improves the potential viability of offshore energy projects, making them that much more appealing to investors who have historically been reticent to provide their support.

Making solar technology more affordable

Technologies that help preserve the environment do not just benefit the United States, they benefit the world at large. So it is important that nations learn from one another's experience when it comes to developing alternative energy technologies and how best to manage their use.

For example, a recent study published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory highlights some of the main reasons why solar power systems cost more in the United States than they do in Germany. According to the research, residential solar system installers in the U.S. and Germany spent just over $1.80 per watt. However, German installers only added $1.20 to the cost of the solar panels for a complete installation. U.S. installers added $4.36.

Among the reasons cited for this disparity are sales tax exemptions for German installers, the cost of permitting and connecting to power grids, and the fact that because solar is much more widely used in Germany, they only spend roughly seven cents per watt of installed capacity on marketing and similar initiatives. Meanwhile, in the U.S. we spend about 70 cents per watt.

As an article for technology and media blog Mashable points out, the study does not account for 100 percent of the cost disparity between the two nations. However, Germany's success with solar power should be a beacon for us to follow.

In the meantime, while companies try to find ways of reducing the "soft" costs like marketing to convince consumers of the benefits alternative energy technologies bring to the table, we must continue to invest in new manufacturing processes that reduce "hard" costs.

"The biggest lever for reducing solar costs remains reducing the number of solar panels needed per installation, which in turn reduces labor costs." the article said.

As we continue to develop new solar module soldering techniques that can help to streamline the installation process, solar power will become more affordable and in line with coal and fossil fuel system costs.

Wind energy tax credits avoid falling off the fiscal cliff

At the eleventh hour, U.S. lawmakers approved legislation that allowed our nation to avoid plummeting over the fiscal cliff, effectively saving the wind energy tax credits that were in peril – at least for now.

The tax credits, which can cover 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour generated in the first year of a wind project, or 30 percent of the construction cost, were extended for one year under the terms of the deal struck in Washington, D.C. The bill passed through the Democrat-controlled Senate by an 89-8 margin, followed by a 257-167 vote in favor of the legislation in the Republican-controlled House.

"On behalf of all the people working in wind energy manufacturing facilities, their families, and all the communities that benefit, we thank President Obama and all the members of the House and Senate who had the foresight to extend this successful policy, so wind projects can continue to be developed in 2013 and 2014," Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press statement.

The extended tax credit will apply to wind energy projects started this calendar year. While the issue will be brought up again, as this is only a one-year extension, it remains unclear how much of an immediate effect it will have on hiring at manufacturing companies throughout the industry.

The Denver Business Journal notes that hundreds of wind industry workers throughout Colorado were laid off in recent months in anticipation of Congress letting the credits expire. The next 12 months will be critical for the sector's future, as we look to develop new and innovative alternative energy technologies, including metal soldering techniques that will help reduce the overall construction cost of wind energy projects in order to make them more competitive with coal and fossil fuel plants.

The fiscal cliff and future of the wind energy industry

For the last two months, virtually every national television news broadcast has at least mentioned the "fiscal cliff" in one way or another. We have been inundated with stories about how politicians in Washington, D.C. have been trying to hammer out a deal to prevent a series of tax increases and spending cuts that are set to go into effect at midnight tonight.

There has been so much coverage of this topic that the term "fiscal cliff" topped the list of words or phrases people would most like to see banned, released earlier today by Michigan's Lake Superior State University. But, as annoying as it may be to hear those two words repeated over and over again, they carry great significance as you read this, particularly for the wind energy industry.

A tax credit for the construction of wind energy systems – covering roughly 30 percent of the building costs – is among those on the chopping block should we topple over that dreaded cliff later tonight. According to the American Wind Energy Association, economic uncertainty has cost 10,000 jobs over the last three years in this industry, and another 37,000 could be lost if the tax credits are allowed to expire.

The impact on the wind energy sector and the U.S. economy

With the current boom in domestic oil and natural gas production sweeping the United States, the expiration of these tax credits could cripple the wind energy industry's ability to remain competitive. This would also be a harsh blow to the alternative energy technologies sector as a whole, not to mention the environmental concerns related to the controversial hydraulic "fracking" process being used to access fossil fuel reserves in shale rock formations. And, with 37,000 newly unemployed Americans coupled with middle class families paying higher taxes, we could see another recession.

In November, The Huffington Post reported that wind energy companies were anticipating difficult days ahead because of the fiscal cliff. Some began to lay off workers, including military veterans who had received training through federal green jobs programs that help them adjust to civilian life.

"We heard it was coming up, but we weren't sure when," said Andrew Sipres, a military veteran and employee at a Colorado-based wind turbine manufacturing facility. "One day we all showed up, we met in the lunchroom and they told us what was going on. Then one by one they took us into the office."

Sipres and his co-workers are the people building wind turbines, and they are the ones who may lose their jobs. If we have fewer individuals building these systems that suddenly cost 30 percent more to manufacture than they used to, the industry will be in dire straits.

What can be done to save the wind energy industry?

Nearly two weeks ago, CNNMoney reported that the American Wind Energy Association said the industry could survive if the tax credits were phased out over a reasonable time period, rather than disappearing in one fell swoop should fiscal cliff negotiations stall at the eleventh hour.

Association officials told the news source that the wind energy sector will be able to compete with coal and natural gas by 2018 as they bring manufacturing costs down, but only if the tax credits remain through that point. Natural gas plants are currently about 35 percent cheaper to build.

"We need to close that gap," Steven Lockard, chief executive of a Scottsdale, Arizona-based turbine blade manufacturer, told CNNMoney. "Costs have come down 90 percent in the last two decades, but our job is not done yet."

The way to continue to get those costs down is to invest in innovative alternative energy technologies. As new, cutting-edge joining methods for metal are developed, including metal brazing and soldering techniques, the industry can succeed in providing sustainable and affordable power that is safer for the environment than our current alternatives. At midnight tonight, we will find out what the future holds.

Climate change in western Antarctica and the importance of alternative energy technologies

The effects of climate change and a rising global sea level were made abundantly clear to New York City residents when entire neighborhoods and subway tunnels were flooded as Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast in October.

Now, a new report sheds even more light on this topic. According to an article in Nature Geoscience, scientists conducting research in western Antarctica for more than five decades have concluded that temperatures have risen by double the previously estimated amount.

Since 1958, temperatures in the region have gone up by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit, leading researchers to classify it as one of the fastest-warming parts of the world. If this trend continues, massive ice formations are likely to melt and lead to a significant rise in the global sea level.

"The surprises keep coming," Andrew J. Monaghan, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado and participant in the study, told The New York Times. "When you see this type of warming, I think it's alarming."

The Times article points out that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet could raise sea level around the world by 10 feet or more over a few hundred years. While this may seem like a small amount over a long time period, the gradual effects on coastal areas, particularly during hurricanes and other natural disasters, as well as sea life and the global environment, will be significant – potentially catastrophic.

That is why it is critical that we invest in alternative energy technologies that will stem the tide of climate change and the subsequent damage it will yield. Everything from improved methods of bonding battery terminals to solar module soldering techniques will help us become more efficient at producing, storing and utilizing clean energy.

Doing so will reduce carbon emissions and hopefully begin to reverse decades of harm done to the Earth's environment.

The rise of ‘green skyscrapers’

With each passing day, strides are being made in alternative energy technologies that paint a bright picture of what the future holds for our planet. Sustainable power sources are highly sought after as replacements for coal and fossil fuels that we currently burn en masse to the detriment of the environment.

As these technologies develop, we are seeing more and more individual projects making use of innovative green approaches to construction and energy efficiency. Take , for example, the new PNC Bank global headquarters expected to be built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This "green skyscraper" is being designed to take advantage of a series of alternative energy technologies that will not only be better for the surrounding environment, but also provide a more pleasant workplace for company employees.

"The building 'breathes' with a double-skin facade: a natural ventilation system that has a glass outer weather and air barrier and an inner layer with automated air vents, a wood curtain wall, and manually operated sliding doors," writes Ariel Schwartz, a senior editor at Co.Exist. "A series of automatic sensors on both layers open up the building for air when the weather is nice."

Add to this a "solar chimney," which pulls warm air and exhaust up through the center of the building as the double skin draws fresh air in, and this will be a bastion of energy efficiency. Not to mention, there will also be a series of photovoltaic solar cells on top of that chimney.

As Schwartz explains, 91 percent of the building will be lit by daylight, drastically reducing energy consumption from lamps and overhead lighting systems. She also describes her favorite part of the design – glass-walled "outdoor-spaces." These areas, located every five stories, will reflect the season outside. Imagine being indoors but feeling like you're sitting outside in a garden on a beautiful summer day while you eat lunch or collaborate with a colleague.

Thanks to state-of-the-art solar module soldering techniques and other leading alternative power solutions, city skylines may soon be populated with energy-efficient skyscrapers like this one.

Solar-powered plane to fly around the world

What if someone told you that by the year 2015 an airplane would be flown around the world without burning a single drop of fossil fuel? Instead, the craft will be powered completely by solar energy.

In 2009, Solar Impulse took to the skies for the first time. The following year, its pilot, Andre Borschberg, set an endurance record after flying the uniquely designed plane for 26 consecutive hours. All this was done, as a recent article in Popular Mechanics explains, thanks to solar power and state-of-the-art onboard batteries that stored the energy for use even after the sun had set.

The news source reports that Borschberg and his colleague, Bertrand Piccard, have set even loftier goals for Solar Impulse and its presently under-construction sequel, Solar Impulse 2. In May of 2013, Borschberg will pilot the aircraft in 20 to 30-hour stretches from the Bay Area in California across the nation, landing at a several points along the way to New York City with an ETA of late June.

In 2015, Solar Impulse 2, which is currently halfway through the construction process, will set out on a journey around the globe. Borschberg told Popular Mechanics that the real challenge lies in building a plane that weighs as much as a car but uses the same amount of energy as a scooter and can fly for up to five consecutive days at a time – not exactly something you would expect to circuit the Earth in.

"In the 21st century, explorers have the responsibility of bringing solutions to the big problems of humanity," Piccard added, saying that Solar Impulse is about showing that you don't need fossil fuels to fly.

We've talked about alternative energy technologies in many forms throughout this blog, but powering an airplane with solar energy is a first. In a project like this, the aircraft must be designed and constructed with precision or it and the pilot will be in grave danger. Since something like this is not typically done, innovative solar panel soldering techniques are critical for the project's success.