Friday, August 15, 2008

Alternative Energy in the News

As Akron gets ready to host the Green Energy Expo tomorrow, we find good news about solar and geothermal in two NYT articles today.

California will benefit greatly from two new solar power plants being built there. From the article by Matthew Wald:
The plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant.
One of the plants will be built using the a new thin film material while the other will use crystal silicon. The article notes that the solar plants will provide their highest energy during the afternoons when demand is highest.

Thanks to forward looking governments in some states, solar developments are surging ahead. Here's a company that has invented a solar film that may very well replace costly PV panels.

The other NYT article by Liz Galst focuses on geothermal heating systems. The demand is huge and the payoff to consumers worried about reliance on petroleum products for home or business heating is very attractive. The article states that for large commercial buildings, the savings could begin in only two to three years.

Geothermal systems, it should be noted, provide both heating and cooling using a heat pump that circulates water through pipes down into the earth, where only 6 ft below temperatures are a steady 55 degrees. The Akron Zoo's Komodo Dragon house is heated and cooled using a geothermal system. The pipes can be placed either horizontally at 6 feet under or vertically from 200 to 300 feet down.

It sounds like a no-brainer that Americans should become leaders in adopting and developing this technology. Heating and cooling from the benign depths of the earth or from filthy coal plants or dangerous nuclear plants -- what is there to debate? The House of Reps has given an ok for a push in this direction, but the Senate has yet to act. From the article:
The industry may find sales and workloads booming even further should Congress pass and the president sign the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008. The legislation, sponsored by Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would extend tax credits of up to $4,000 through the end of 2014 to homeowners who have ground source heat pumps installed. (The bill offers no aid to businesses.) The House approved the bill in May, and it is awaiting action in the Senate.
The biggest problems with geothermal is that demand is far surpassing the available supplies, equipment and especially skilled workers. When politicians talk about green collar jobs, this is an area they should be acting upon, not just talking possibilities.

Most public school systems have "career education" tracks that have traditionally trained students for careers in heating and air conditioning, auto mechanics and the building trades. I wonder how many school systems have begun to switch over to the trades of the future that are rapidly becoming the trades most needed right now?

If I walked down Kenmore Blvd, would I find a store front business with a heat pump contractor employing kids trained at Kenmore High School in geothermal system technology? How long do I have to wait for that to happen? As the NYT article states, "With this kind of growth, mom and pop shops can benefit as much as any of the big guys..."

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