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Posted on on January 3rd, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Storehouses for Solar Energy Can Step In When the Sun Goes Down.

SolarReserve – A completed solar power tower at the SolarReserve Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant, Tonopah, Nev., expected to be in service in 2013.
Published: January 2, 2012

If solar energy is eventually going to matter— that is, generate a significant portion of the nation’s electricity — the industry must overcome a major stumbling block, experts say: finding a way to store it for use when the sun isn’t shining.

SolarReserve:  An artist’s rendering of the SolarReserve plant, which will absorb heat directed at it by mirrors and store it in molten salt.

That challenge seems to be creating an opening for a different form of power, solar thermal, which makes electricity by using the sun’s heat to boil water. The water can be used to heat salt that stores the energy until later, when the sun dips and households power up their appliances and air-conditioning at peak demand hours in the summer.

Two California companies are planning to deploy the storage technology: SolarReserve, which is building a plant in the Nevada desert scheduled to start up next year, and BrightSource, which plans three plants in California that would begin operating in 2016 and 2017. Together, the four projects will be capable of powering tens of thousand of households throughout a summer evening.

Whether the technology will be widely adopted remains to be seen, but companies like Google, Chevron and Good Energies are investing in it, and the utilities NV Energy and Southern California Edison have signed long-term contracts to buy power from these radically different new power plants.

One crucial role of the plants will be complementing solar panels, which produce electricity directly from sunlight. When the panels ramp down at dusk or on cloudy days, the plants will crank up, drawing on the stored thermal energy.

That job will become more important if photovoltaic panels, which have plunged in price lately, become even cheaper and sprout on millions of rooftops. As the grid starts depending more heavily on solar panels or wind turbines, it will need other energy sources that can step in quickly to balance the system — preferably ones classified as renewable.

Most utilities are trying to generate as many kilowatt-hours of renewable energy as they can to meet stiffer state requirements on incorporating more alternative energy, said Kevin B. Smith, the chief executive of SolarReserve.

“As we move forward, we’ll get more and more traction with the fact we can provide more capacity,” Mr. Smith said, referring to his company’s storage technology.

The Energy Department seems to agree: in September it gave SolarReserve a $737 million loan guarantee for its project in Nevada. The plant will generate 110 megawatts at peak and store enough heat to run for eight to 10 hours when the sun is not shining.

The public’s view on loan guarantees for solar projects has soured somewhat since the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a California company that received a $535 million loan guarantee to build a factory to make solar panels — only to see the market for the modules crash.

But the outlook has always been clearer for companies that make electricity, which, unlike solar modules, is generally presold by contract.

Technical details of the SolarReserve and BrightSource plants vary slightly, but both will use thousands of computer-operated poster-size mirrors aiming sunlight at a tower that absorbs it as heat.

SolarReserve absorbs the heat in molten salt, which can be used immediately to boil water, generating steam that turns a conventional turbine and generator. Hot salt can also be used to retain the heat for many hours for later use. BrightSource heats water that can be used immediately as steam or to heat salt for storage.

The plants rely on salt because it can store far more heat than water can. But once molten, it must be kept that way or it will freeze to a solid in part of the plant where it will be difficult to melt again. “You’ve made a commitment to those salt molecules,” said John Woolard, the chief executive of BrightSource.

The technology is not complicated, but the economics are.

The simplest, least expensive path for solar thermal is to turn the heat into electricity immediately. But the companies are a bit like the farmer who harvests the grain and stores it in a silo rather than shipping it straight to market on the expectation that prices will be higher later. They are betting that in revenue terms, the hour at which the energy is delivered will be more important than the amount generated.

The notion is that widespread adoption of solar panels — whether on rooftops or in giant arrays in the desert — will change the hours at which prices are highest.

Today, electricity prices usually peak in the late afternoon and evening on hot summer days. “Photovoltaic panels will do a pretty good job of chopping that peak” in the late afternoon, said Paul Denholm, a solar specialist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

In other words, the new price peak will be pushed to later in the day, to just before and after sunset, when solar photovoltaic production is small or nonexistent, he and other experts say.

Mr. Woolard said the chief goal of the new plants would be to produce electricity when the utilities need it most. “We’re optimizing around what is important for different times for the utilities,” he said.

His company’s contract with Southern California Edison still requires approval by California regulators.

Adding storage capacity helps keep the air-conditioners humming when solar panels are not producing, but there are other financial benefits.

The equipment that makes electricity from steam is the most expensive part of a solar thermal system, but if it is connected to storage technology, it can run almost twice as many hours as a plant without storage. That means the unit cost of electricity drops.

Another has to do with the arcane economics of electricity. A utility must assure a supply of electricity in two forms: energy and capacity. The difference has never meant much to most consumers, who directly pay only for energy, as measured in kilowatt-hours.

But capacity, the dependable ability to produce power, is becoming more important as renewable energy forms a larger and larger part of the grid.

Wind and sun provide a lot of energy but not much capacity. Today, backup capacity for wind and solar power comes in the form of expensive gas-fired generators, which sit idle most of the year but operate when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining.

Storage could cut costs by 4 cents a kilowatt-hour, Mr. Denholm calculates — a considerable benefit for a commodity that retails for an average of 11 cents. A big part of the savings is not having to build the gas-fired generators for backup.

For competitive reasons, neither BrightSource nor SolarReserve would discuss capital costs. But Mr. Smith of SolarReserve said that the storage technology amounted to less than 5 percent of capital costs. For BrightSource, Southern California Edison was willing to pay extra for a plant that could deliver when the sun was not shining.

The success of any given project may depend on the particular details, but other experts agree that a market is opening for plants with storage capacity. A study completed in July by Navigant Consulting, Sandia National Laboratories and Pacific Northwest Laboratory on the potential effects of adding large amounts of photovoltaic energy to NV Energy’s portfolio found that to integrate the new power sources, the utility would need more standby generation.

NV Energy would also need generation whose output could be adjusted over very short intervals to compensate for variability in solar photovoltaic production, the report suggested. The solar thermal storage system is designed to meet exactly those needs.


Posted on on October 8th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

First it was Nevada that sat its date for Tuesday January 10th. That forces Iowa and New Hampshire to have their contests earlier then January 10th.

The ridiculous question mark hangs on New Hampshire that has its internal law that pushes it to have those primaries on a Tuesday and seven days before Nevada. This allows in 2012 just November 3rd and this date is contested already by Iowa – while the 10th is by Nevada.  New Hampshire has just to change its rules or to move to Christmas-time which would be dandy so far as we are concerned or the Christian Tea – but can a New England State afford this?

Then, the display of Republican candidates gets stretched out thin – as in:

a straw poll at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of more than 3,000 social conservatives in Washington gave  Ron Paul, who addressed the summit Saturday morning and whose supporters flooded the convention, – a  37 percent in the informal poll, or 732 votes among the 1,983 attendees who participated in the survey.

Businessman Herman Cain placed second with 23 percent, or 447 votes; former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) took third with 16 percent, or 323 votes; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry  placed fourth with eight percent, or 167 votes. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) took fifth with eight percent, or 157 votes. And former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), who addressed the summit Saturday after Paul, placed sixth with four percent, garnering only 88 votes of the nearly 2,000 cast.

Romney and Perry have tangled over the past 24 hours while prominent evangelical leader Robert Jeffress called Romney’s Mormon religion  “a cult,” a –  charge with which Perry, the Texas governor does not agree.

It’s worth noting that Paul’s success in the straw poll is indicative of the enthusiasm of his young supporters rather than of his popularity among the social conservatives who typically attend the conference, most of whom in interviews Saturday pointed to Cain as their preferred candidate.

So, why did Nevada push forward, and why should one worry about Iowa or New Hampshire?

LET US SAY – the starting gate seems moving towards Cain with Bachman getting Iowa and Romney New Hampshire. Who would be a Nevada favorite to test the starting gate? Is there any place in this for Texans Ron Paul or Rick Perry?


Posted on on May 17th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

The CNN ireport – LIVING IN A TOXIC TOWN. CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta invite you to put on video what you know.….

Living in a toxic town

Many residents of Mossville, Louisiana, suspect their proximity to more than a dozen chemical plants may be responsible for what they say are high rates of cancer and other diseases in the area.

Is there a place near you where pollution is making people sick? CNN is investigating the environment’s effects on health as part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Toxic Towns USA special. We want you to join us in the newsgathering process.

“Put yourself on video and document conditions in your area, or take photos of what’s around you. Tell us what industrial or chemical pollution may be contributing to health problems for you and those you love, and be sure not to put yourself in a dangerous situation,” CNN writes.

“Tell us about toxic towns near you and Dr. Gupta may report on your community.”


Posted on on July 27th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

Uranium Contamination Haunts Navajo Country

Dan Frosch, The New York Times, July 27, 2009.

“There were a lot of things people weren’t told about the plight of Navajos and uranium mining,” Stephen B. Etsitty said. The Slowman home, the same one-level cinderblock structure his family had lived in for nearly a half-century, was contaminated with potentially dangerous levels of uranium from the days of the cold war, when hundreds of uranium mines dotted the vast tribal land known as the Navajo Nation. The scientist advised Mr. Slowman, his wife and their two sons to move out until their home could be rebuilt.

“I was angry,” Mr. Slowman said. “I guess it was here all this time, and we never knew.”

The legacy wrought from decades of uranium mining is long and painful here on the expansive reservation. Over the years, Navajo miners extracted some four million tons of uranium ore from the ground, much of it used by the United States government to make weapons.

Many miners died from radiation-related illnesses; some, unaware of harmful health effects, hauled contaminated rocks and tailings from local mines and mills to build homes for their families.

Now, those homes are being demolished and rebuilt under a new government program that seeks to identify what are very likely dozens of uranium-contaminated structures still standing on Navajo land and to temporarily relocate people living in them until the homes can be torn down and rebuilt.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, and other tribal officials have been grappling for years with the environmental fallout from uranium mining.

“There were a lot of things people weren’t told about the plight of Navajos and uranium mining,” Mr. Etsitty said. “These legacy issues are impacting generations. At some point people are saying, ‘It’s got to end.’ ”

After a Congressional hearing in 2007, a cross-section of federal agencies committed to addressing the environmental and health impacts of uranium mining on the reservation. As part of that commitment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation began working together to assess uranium levels in 500 structures through a five-year plan set to end in 2012.

Using old lists of potentially contaminated structures, federal and Navajo scientists have fanned out to rural reaches of the 27,000 square mile reservation — which includes swaths of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — to measure levels of radium, a decay product of uranium that can cause lung cancer. Of 113 structures assessed so far, 27 contained radiation levels that were above normal.

“In these situations, you have contamination in somebody’s yard or in their house,” said Harry Allen, the E.P.A.’s section chief for emergency response in San Francisco who is helping lead the government’s efforts. “To us, that is somewhat urgent.”

Many structures that showed high levels of radiation were vacant; some families had already moved out after hearing stories of contamination in their homes. But eight homes still had people living in them, and the E.P.A. and Navajo officials have worked to convince residents that it would be unsafe to stay.

“People had been told they were living in contaminated structures, but nobody ever did anything about it,” said Will Duncan, an environmental scientist who has been the E.P.A.’s main representative on the reservation. “They would tell us, ‘We don’t believe you are going to follow through.’ ”

But with a budget of nearly $8 million, the E.P.A. has demolished all 27 contaminated structures and has begun building ones to replace those that had been occupied. Typically, the agency pays a Navajo contracting company to construct a log cabin or a traditional hogan in the structure’s stead, depending on the wishes of the occupants. Mr. Allen said the cost, including temporarily relocating residents, ran approximately $260,000 per dwelling and took about eight months.

The agency also offers $50,000 to those who choose not to have an old home rebuilt.

Lillie Lane, a public information officer with the Navajo Nation E.P.A. who has acted as a liaison between the federal government and tribal members, said the program held practical and symbolic importance given the history of uranium mining here.

Ms. Lane described the difficulty of watching families, particularly elders, leaving homes they had lived in for years. She told of coming upon two old miners who died before their contaminated homes could be rebuilt. “In Navajo, a home is considered sacred,” she said. “But if the foundation or the rocks are not safe, we have to do this work.”

Some families, Ms. Lane said, complained that their children were suffering from health problems and had wondered if radiation were to blame.

The E.P.A. has started sifting through records and interviewing family members to figure out whether mining companies that once operated on the reservation are liable for any damages, Mr. Allen said.

On a recent summer day, Fred and Clara Slowman proudly surveyed their new home, a one-level log cabin that sits in the quiet shadows of Black Rock Point, miles away from the bustle of Farmington, N.M., where the family has been living in a hotel.

Mr. Slowman said he suspected that waste materials from a nearby abandoned mine seeped into his house. The family plans on having a traditional Navajo medicine man bless their dwelling before they move in.

“In our traditional way, a house is like your mom,” he said. “It’s where you eat, sleep, where you’re taken care of. And when you come back from the city, you come back to your mom. It makes you feel real good.”


Posted on on June 20th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

to our surprise, specially as we believe that it is D.O.D. that is going to establish the big renewable energy projects, and we already saw how president Obama came to Nellis Air Force base near Las Vegas to bless over such a plant, it is now the commanding officer at Nellis that presents arguments not to allow a second plant in his neighborhood. This is indeed something that we expect to require a Presidential intervention.

News About the Environment
Solar Project Meets Bigger Foe Than Cloudy Skies: The Air Force.

Opposition to Plant Highlights Hurdles Facing Renewable Energy

SolarReserve of Los Angeles hopes to build a solar plant in Nevada that could run in dark conditions, but the Air Force has objected to the project. (Artist Rendering Courtesy Of Solarreserve)

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009

On a vacant piece of land near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the promise of solar energy has collided into the demands of military training. And a solar project that would have featured a vast field of mirrors, a molten-salt storage facility and a 600-foot “power tower” appears to be heading for defeat.

In 2007, a Los Angeles firm called SolarReserve proposed the construction of a $700 million solar thermal power plant, covering two square miles near the Nevada Air Force base, where the sun shines brightly virtually all year long. There aren’t issues with wildlife, the company said. Moreover, it could hook up its solar-powered turbines to existing transmission lines left behind by a defunct mining operation.

But Col. Howard D. Belote, installation commander at Nellis, said this week that the plan won’t fly and is urging the government to turn it down.

The Air Force’s opposition demonstrates some of the conflicts and delays that could lie ahead as renewable-energy projects search for places to put big wind turbines or solar collectors, even in Western states where the federal government is a major landholder. SolarReserve has been negotiating with the Air Force for 18 months and has already revised its plans once to move the plant 25 miles away from the base, at the Air Force’s suggestion.

The Nevada plant was supposed to be a showcase for SolarReserve: one of the largest solar plants in the world, using heat-transfer technology developed for space rockets by United Technologies. A field of mirrors would focus sunlight on a receiver on a tall tower, where it would heat the molten salt to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit, much hotter than other solar plants using similar technology. The molten salt would then flow to a storage tank, where its heat would generate steam and power conventional steam turbines similar to those in coal plants.

By using the molten-salt method, the plant could store 16 hours of power supply, easing concerns about the ability of solar plants to provide power when it is dark or cloudy. It would have a capacity of 100 megawatts, enough to power about 50,000 homes.

“We’re trying to build a facility that runs 24 hours a day,” said Kevin B. Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive.

But Belote said the solar plant would compromise classified aspects of the Air Force’s training range and would interfere with radar. He said the Air Force would tell the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, which owns most of the land in the state, to reject the proposal. (The bureau controls more than 20 million acres of land with wind energy potential and more than 30 million acres with solar potential.)

SolarReserve officials “did a lot of [research] with publicly available tools,” Belote said. “But when they came back for an official look the answer was, ‘Man, that’s still too close.’ And because of the sensitivity [of information], I can’t tell them why. . . . Unfortunately for them and us, there’s stuff on the Nevada testing range we don’t tell anyone about.” Belote suggested they try another site, either 100 miles to the southeast or about 80 miles to the northeast, near the town of Mesquite.

Top executives at SolarReserve said they were upset and disappointed. They feel that the Air Force pointed them toward the second site before rejecting it. Moreover, the Nellis base boasts of its own photovoltaic panels — the nation’ largest solar photovoltaic power plant; on May 27, Belote hosted President Obama and   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who toured the solar facility.

Obama “got a nice tour of the facility, but I expect he had not been informed that Nellis was resisting renewable-energy facilities in the surrounding area,” Smith said. “The fact that Nellis AFB allowed someone to build a PV [photovoltaic] facility on the base and sell them the power is great, but they are hiding behind it while they try and stop other development in the region.”

The Air Force has a history of balking at buildings near the 2.9-million-acre flight-training range in Nevada, which makes up 41 percent of the Air Force’s total training acres worldwide. In the past, the service has objected to tall hotel projects in nearby Las Vegas and to wind turbines.

But SolarReserve’s chief executive Smith said “we tried to make sure we had a site the Air Force wouldn’t object to.” The company’s plan would place a lone solar-power tower below a 2,000-foot-tall mountain range that separates their location from the base. The base sits well above the height of the tower.

In addition, the project would create many construction jobs, Smith noted.

SolarReserve is still hoping it can prevail upon the Air Force to approve the site near Nellis and has appealed to members of Congress for help. Belote has arranged for classified briefings to explain his objections to select Senate staffers, and he has promoted the project to the mayor of Mesquite, a small town just on the Nevada side of the Arizona border, 87 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

“Our community is very, very interested in alternative energy and the thought of being green,” said Mesquite Mayor Susan M. Holecheck. “Historically, our economic base has been gaming and tourism.” Another solar company has already proposed a project using similar technology. Holecheck said the town would have to study whether a SolarReserve site would interfere with plans for moving the town’s airport. And the Bureau of Land Management would also need to agree to provide land.

Smith hasn’t had time to pursue the Mesquite idea. He said the Air Force just mentioned the alternative a month ago. “The difficulty with moving to a new site is you start over again,” he said. “It is certainly something we can do if we fail at the current site but it will delay the project 12 to 18 months.”