Wednesday, August 3, 2011



August 03, 2011

News and Events

DOE Considers New Venue for Solar Decathlon 2013

Photo of large group of people on the National Mall with houses and trees in the background.

Teams of competitors gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009.
Credit: Stefano Paltera, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

DOE announced that it is considering offers for a new site for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. The Solar Decathlon is a competition that challenges collegiate students from across the globe to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable and highly energy efficient. For the first time since the biennial event began in 2002 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., DOE is inviting venues across the nation to compete for the opportunity to host this award-winning event. The Solar Decathlon has attracted thousands of people to experience first-hand the benefits of homes that incorporate clean energy technologies. Solar Decathlon 2011, the fifth decathlon, will take place at the National Mall's West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., September 23 through October 2, 2011.

The Solar Decathlon provides participating students with unique training for the clean energy workforce. As part of the Obama Administration's larger goals to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and to maintain a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce, DOE creates and supports initiatives that engage students to learn about energy technologies and issues. The contest also fosters greater adoption of clean energy technologies and energy efficient construction techniques that help the United States compete in the global marketplace. Responses to the solicitation are due August 29. See the DOE press release, solicitation DE-SOL-0003159 in FedConnect, and the Solar Decathlon website.

DOE Investing $50 Million to Advance Domestic Solar Manufacturing Market

DOE announced on August 2 its $50 million investment over two years for the SUNPATH program. The program is designed to help the United States reclaim its competitive edge in solar energy manufacturing. SUNPATH, which stands for Scaling Up Nascent PV AT Home, is the second Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative supporting DOE's SunShot Initiative.

SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages. It will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage. By bridging this gap, SUNPATH will help ensure that innovative, low-cost solar technologies are manufactured in the United States.

The United States maintained a dominant share of the global solar market in 1995, manufacturing 43% of the world's PV panels. It has declined steadily to just 7% by 2010. DOE is seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. Applications are due by October 28, 2011. See the DOE press release, the application requirements at the Funding Opportunity Exchange, and the DOE SunShot Initiative.

President Announces Higher Fuel Efficiency Standard

President Obama announced on July 29 that 13 major automakers have agreed to increase fuel economy for cars and light-duty trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by model year 2025. The companies—BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors Corporation, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo—together account for more than 90% of all vehicles sold in the United States. The United Auto Workers and the State of California helped develop the agreement.

The next round of standards builds on the Obama administration's agreement for model year 2012-2016 vehicles. They will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg. Achieving the new goals will require innovative technologies and manufacturing that will spur economic growth and create high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America. The administration estimates that the standards for model years 2011 to 2025 will save U.S. families $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 will result in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will save a total of 12 billion barrels of oil.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have worked with auto manufacturers, the state of California, environmental groups, and other stakeholders to ensure these standards are achievable, are cost-effective, and preserve consumer choice. The program would increase the stringency of standards for passenger cars by an average of 5 percent each year. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are developing a joint proposed rulemaking that will include full details on the proposed program and supporting analyses, including the costs and benefits of the proposal and its effects on the economy, auto manufacturers, and consumers. After the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, there will be an opportunity for public comment and public hearings. The agencies plan to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking by the end of September 2011. See the press release and reportPDF.

DOE Releases Results of Pilot Project on Home Energy Use

DOE, along with CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric LLC, released survey results from a 500-participant in-home display pilot program for smart meters that began last fall. Based on surveys, 71% of customers reported that they have changed their electricity consumption behavior because of the energy use data they accessed on their in-home displays. The findings were based on a smart meter and intelligent grid technology system partially funded by a $200 million DOE Smart Grid Investment Grant.

The survey showed that 83% of respondents reported turning off lights at night or when not in the room; 51% said they adjusted the temperature on their thermostat; and 93% of respondents reported they were satisfied with their in-home display. To date, CenterPoint Energy has installed nearly 1.5 million smart meters in its 2.2-million meter system. See the DOE press release, the website, and the CenterPoint Energy smart grid Web page.

USDA Creates New Biomass Production Projects

Photo of a wild plant in front of a river.

The biofuels potential of non-food plants such as prairie cordgrass will get a boost from a new USDA program.
Credit: USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on July 26 the creation of four additional Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in six states. The move will expand the availability of non-food crops for use in the manufacturing of liquid biofuels. USDA has allocated up to $45 million for contracts that range between less than five years and up to 15 years. Acres will be set aside acres in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington for the production of renewable energy crops that will provide the feedstocks to produce more than 2 million gallons of biofuels annually.

Two of the new BCAP project areas, targeted for California, Montana, Washington, and Oregon, will grow camelina at a significant scale. Camelina, an oilseed that can be a jet fuel substitute, is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. Another project area will encourage growth of hybrid poplar trees in Oregon on up to 7,000 acres. Additionally, a BCAP project area in Kansas and Oklahoma has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass.

BCAP helps farmers and forest landowners with the start-up costs of planting non-food energy crops for conversion to heat, power, bio-based products, and advanced biofuels. The program is designed to ensure sufficient biomass is available to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil, improve domestic energy security, reduce pollution, and spur rural economic development and job creation. The deadline to sign up for the project is September 16. See the USDA press release and the BCAP Web page.

Harnessing Tidal Power, While Protecting Marine Life

Below the surface of U.S. coastal waters could be the energy needed to power your clothes dryer and other appliances. Some say tides have the potential to power about 5% of U.S. households by producing nearly nine gigawatts of renewable energy.

A pilot project to test this potential is in the works in Washington state's Puget Sound. The Snohomish County Public Utility District was awarded a $10 million grant from DOE to install two tidal energy turbines on the floor of Admiralty Inlet, a trough of fast-moving water about 35 miles northwest of Seattle. Much like how wind turbines convert wind energy, the project's underwater turbines will generate electricity from ebbing and flowing tidal waters. At peak tidal currents, the two turbines could generate more than one megawatt of electricity, enough to power about 700 American homes. See the Energy Blog post.

Solar Startup to Create 250 Jobs in North Carolina

A DOE-enabled innovation made Tuesday, July 19, a good day for North Carolina. Entrepreneurs from Durham-based solar startup Semprius teamed with Governor Bev Perdue to announce the company's plan to build a new high-tech manufacturing facility in Henderson. The factory is expected to create more than 250 full-time jobs over the next five years, which is a particular boon for Henderson, where the county unemployment rate reached 13.3% in May. This follows on the heels of news that Siemens recently participated with others in a $20 million investment in Semprius. Siemens took a 16% stake in the company—a vote of confidence from a global engineering giant with years of success in the solar industry.

None of this comes as a surprise to those of us who have followed Semprius' progress as a pioneer in the design and fabrication of high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules. The company’s story provides a case-study example for how federally funded research and development sparks job-creation for Americans in a global growth industry. See the Energy Blog post.

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