Alternative energy news today ponders electric vehicles and the batteries that power them, takes a look at solar installation in India and the risks still involved with solar plants generally, and closes with some interesting developments in wind power.
By 2020, the amount of electricity needed to keep electric vehicles on the road could rise by 1,700%, from just 146,000 megawatt-hours to around 2.6 million MWh. Total US electricity consumption in 2009 is estimated to be about 4 billion MWh annually, so even the sharp rise predicted for electric vehicles remains but a small drop in a very large bucket.
But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes as automakers like Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), Honda Motor Corp. (NYSE: HMC), General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), and Tesla Motors, Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) expand their offerings of hybrids and all-electric cars. A smarter grid will certainly be needed, but so will a use for all those used electric vehicle batteries.
Recycling is a possibility, of course, but that is a rather low-return option. Other options include using the batteries to store electricity in small packs that could help manage power flows either during peak demand periods or outages. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has begun a project to help determine the optimal time to replace a vehicle’s battery pack in order to maximize both the battery’s useful life and the return on investment of the car’s owner. While a vehicle battery could last 8-10 years, it might be better to replace it after 5 years and use the old battery to store electricity because the trade-in value would reduce the cost of a new vehicle battery. An interesting idea, for sure.
Chinese solar PV maker Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (NYSE: STP) has signed on to deliver 100 megawatts of solar panels over the next two years for solar PV projects in India. India has put together an aggressive plant to reach 2,000 megawatts of off-grid solar PV installation and 20,000 megawatts of on-grid installations by 2020. The country is also aiming at 1,000 megawatts of solar PV installed by 2013. That’s very aggressive for a country with less than 20 megawatts of solar PV installed currently.
And things are not going smoothly. Of the initial 1,000 megawatts, about 380 megawatts were expected to come from 2-megawatt installations. Many of the bids were awarded to companies that had no intention of doing the work, so the projects are being delayed as viable builders are found and financing is arranged.
Some 620 megawatts were expected to be built in projects of 5 megawatts or greater, of either solar PV and solar thermal projects. So far essentially no construction has begun. India represents a huge opportunity for solar generation, but it seems to want to focus on grid-connected, large projects as opposed to small rooftop projects that might be more useful to the country’s large rural population.
Researchers at Indiana University have released a study that indicates that a warmer climate will not adversely affect wind speed or consistency in major US wind corridors. The study projects that wind patterns will not change significantly over the next 50 years. The implication of that is that a wind farm built in a windy location today can depend on similar wind patterns for at least the expected life of the wind farm.
Another wind-related story comes from the state of Massachusetts, where the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has reduced by some 50% the area offshore of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket that could be considered for future commercial wind energy leasing. The reduction is the result of public comments the agency received in response to a request issued last December.