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Overview of alternative energy

Alternative energy is both a short-term and long-term strategy. The other side of the energy coin (as in 5-dollar gold piece...and you know how inflation has affected THAT nugget)... is conservation of energy.

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california green energy solutions Alternative energy is both a short-term and long-term strategy. The other side of the energy coin (as in 5-dollar gold piece...and you know how inflation has affected THAT nugget)... is conservation of energy. Through zero-waste strategies, simplicity, good old common sense...and finding alternative ways to live, we tackle the everyday innovation opportunities in our own lives. We make a difference not only for the earth...but for our own health and sanity!

Overview articles like this can help you put get some perspective on how we're constructing our lives...and where we can innovate a better standard of living that doesn't necessitate 80-hour workweeks to afford food, clothing and shelter. Living more simply and meaningfully is a good alternative energy, too!

Putting things into perspective always helps us understand options available...both for business- and living-as-usual. And innovation. Here is an overview of renewable fuels provided by the Department of Energy in a long, detailed 2006 report: "Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook with projections to 2030." We'll just hit the high spots of renewalbe fuels included in the report which, in its 150+ pages "provides natural resources supply and technology input information for forecasts of new central-station U.S. electricity generating capacity using renewable energy resources."

The RFM includes seven submodules representing various renewable energy sources,

  • biomass,
  • geothermal,
  • conventional hydroelectricity,
  • landfill gas,
  • solar thermal,
  • solar photovoltaics, and
  • wind.
Some nonelectric renewable energy is used for industrial and residential wood consumption, solar residential and commercial hot water heating, biofuels blending in transportation fuels, and residential and commercial geothermal (ground-source) heat pumps. Additional minor renewable energy applications occur outside energy markets, such as direct solar thermal industrial applications or direct lighting, off-grid electricity generation, and heat from geothermal resources used directly (e.g., district heating and greenhouses)

Some renewables, such as landfill gas (LFG) from municipal solid waste (MSW) and other biomass materials, are fuels in the conventional sense of the word, while others, such as water, wind, and solar radiation, are energy sources that do not involve the production or consumption of a fuel.

Renewable technologies cover the gamut of commercial markets, from hydroelectric power, which was one of the first electric generation technologies, to newer power systems using biomass, geothermal, LFG, solar, and wind energy. In some cases, they require technological innovation (HINT: innovation needed!) to become cost effective or have inherent characteristics, such as intermittency, which make their penetration into the electricity grid dependent upon new methods for integration within utility system plans or upon the availability of low-cost energy storage systems.

The RFM report includes only grid-connected central station electricity generation systems.

The submodules that interact with the electricity grid system include grid-connected

  • biomass,
  • geothermal,
  • conventional hydroelectricity,
  • landfill gas,
  • solar (thermal and photovoltaic), and
  • wind

    Capital Costs

    Capital costs for renewable technologies can include additional costs associated with reduced resource quality; need to build or upgrade transmission capacity from remote resource areas to load centers; or local impediments...

    Solar Electric Submodule

    The Solar Electric Submodule (SOLES) currently includes both concentrating solar power (thermal) and photovoltaics, including two solar technologies: 50 megawatt central receiver (power tower) solar thermal (ST) and 5 megawatt single axis tracking-flat plate photovoltaic (PV) technologies. PV is assumed available in all thirteen EMM regions, while ST is available only in the six Western regions where direct normal solar insolation is sufficient.


    • Capacity factors for solar technologies are assumed to vary by time of day and season of the year
    • Because solar technologies are more expensive than other utility grid-connected technologies, early penetration will be driven by broader economic decisions such as the desire to become familiar with a new technology or environmental considerations.
    • Solar resources are well in excess of conceivable demand for new capacity; energy supplies are considered unlimited within regions (at specified daily, seasonal, and regional capacity factors).
    • The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT92) gives permanent 10-percent investment tax credit for solar electric power generation by tax-paying entities.

    Wind-Electric Power Submodule

    Because of limits to windy land area, wind is considered a finite resource. The minimum economically viable average wind speed is about 14 mph, and wind speeds are categorized by annual average wind speed based on a classification system from the Pacific Northwest Laboratory.


    • Wind supply costs are affected by three modeling measures, addressing
      (1) average wind speed,
      (2) distance from existing transmission lines, and
      (3) resource degradation, transmission network upgrade costs, and market factors.
    • Available wind resource is reduced by excluding all windy lands not suited for the installation of wind turbines because of: excessive terrain slope (greater than 20 percent); reservation of land for non-intrusive uses (such as National Parks, wildlife refuges, and so forth); inherent incompatibility with existing land uses (such as urban areas, areas surrounding airports and water bodies, including offshore locations); insufficient continguous windy land to support a viable wind plant (less than 5 square kilometers of windy land in a 100 square kilometer area).

      Half of the wind resource located on military reservations, U.S. Forest Service land, state forested land, and all non-ridge-crest forest areas are excluded from the available resource base to account for the uncertain ability to site projects at such locations.

    • Capital costs for wind technologies are assumed to increase in response to
      (1) declining natural resource quality, such as terrain slope, terrain roughness, terrain accessibility, wind turbulence, wind variability, or other natural resource factors,
      (2) increasing cost of upgrading existing local and network distribution and transmission lines to accommodate growing quantities of intermittent wind power, and
      (3) market conditions, such as the increasing costs of alternative land uses, including aesthetic or environmental reasons.
    • Because of downwind turbulence and other aerodynamic effects, the model assumes an average spacing between turbine rows of 5 rotor diameters and a lateral spacing between turbines of 10 rotor diameters. This spacing requirement determines the amount of power that can be generated from wind resources, about 6.5 megawatts per square kilometer of windy land, and is factored into requests for generating capacity by the EMM.

    Biomass Electric Power Submodule

    Biomass consumed for electricity generation includes the wood products and paper industries, the so-called captive capacity.


    • The conversion technology represented is an advanced gasification-combined cycle plant that is similar to a coal-fired gasifier.
    • Biomass cofiring can occur up to a maximum of 15 percent of fuel used in coal-fired generating plants.

    Fuel supplies include four fuel types: forestry materials, wood residues, agricultural residues and energy crops.

    The forestry materials component is made up of logging residues, rough rotten salvageable dead wood, and excess small pole trees.

    The wood residue component consists of primary mill residues, silvicultural trimmings, and urban wood such as pallets, construction waste, and demolition debris that are not otherwise used.115

    Agricultural residues are wheat straw, corn stover, and a number of other major agricultural crops. Energy crop data are for hybrid poplar, willow, and switchgrass grown on crop land, pasture land, or on Conservation Reserve Program lands.

    Landfill-Gas-to-Electricity Submodule

    Landfill-gas-to-electricity capacity competes with other technologies using supply curves that are based on the amount of “high”, “low”, and “very low” methane producing landfills as calculated by EPA’s “Energy Project Landfill Gas Utilization Software” (E-PLUS).


    • Gross domestic product (GDP) and population (that's us!) are used to estimate the supply of landfill gas.
    • Recycling is assumed to account for 35 percent of the total waste stream by 2005 and 50 percent by 2010 (consistent with EPA’s recycling goals).
    • The waste stream is broken into three categories: readily, moderately, and slowly decomposable material.
    • Cost-of-electricity for each site was calculated by assuming each site to be a 100-acre by 50-foot deep landfill and by applying methane emission factors for “high”, “low”, and “very low” methane emitting wastes.

    Conventional Hydroelectricity

    Conventional hydroelectricity represents U.S. potential for new conventional hydroelectric capacity 1 megawatt or greater from new dams, existing dams without hydroelectricity, and from adding capacity at existing hydroelectric dams.

    Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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