Archive for April 29th, 2013

Natural gas becomes a fuel for the long haul

Posted on: April 29th, 2013 by shannon No Comments

 

Truckers, UPS join the lot choosing cleaner, cheaper path

 

The natural gas boom has already upended the American power industry, displacing coal and bringing consumers cheaper electricity.

Now the trucking industry, with its millions of 18-wheelers moving products like potato chips, deodorant and copy paper around the country, is taking a leap forward in switching from petroleum to cleaner-burning natural gas. And if natural gas remains cheap, consumers may benefit again.

This month, Cummins, a leading engine manufacturer, began shipping big, new engines that make long runs on natural gas possible. A skeletal network of refueling stations at dozens of truck stops stands ready. Major shippers like Procter & Gamble, mindful of both fuel costs and green credentials, are turning to companies with natural gas trucks in their fleets.

And in the latest sign of how the momentum for natural gas in transportation is accelerating, United Parcel Service announced last week that it is expanding its fleet of heavy 18-wheel vehicles running on liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to 800 by the end of 2014, from 112. The vehicles will use the new Cummins engines, produced under a joint venture with Westport Innovations.

UPS, like the rest of the industry, still has a long way to go in the conversion, but the company hopes to make natural gas vehicles a majority of its new heavy truck acquisitions in two years. The company is benefiting from incentives provided by various states and the federal government, which offer tax credits and grants for installing natural gas fuel stations and using vehicles fueled by natural gas.

“By us doing this it will help pave the way and others will follow,” said Scott Wicker, chief sustainability officer at UPS. “Moving into LNG is a means to get us onto what we see as the bridging fuel of the future and off of oil. It’s the right step for us, for our customers and for our planet.”

The move could also cut the country’s oil import bill. Right now, about 8 million heavy and medium-weight trucks consume 3 million barrels of oil a day while traveling the nation’s highways. That is nearly 15 percent of the total national daily consumption and the equivalent of three-fourths of the amount of oil imported from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Roughly two-thirds of the diesel used as transportation fuel nationwide feeds 3 million 18-wheelers, the main trucks hauling goods over long distances.

 

A slow transition

In the last four years, the natural gas shale drilling boom has produced a glut of inexpensive fuel, leading producers to argue that the country should wean its commercial and municipal transportation systems from a dependence on imported oil to domestically produced natural gas.

Waste Management driver Alan Sadler fills his truck with CNG gas at the company's filling station in Washington, Pa., last November. Some predict that years from now, motorists needing a fill-up might see natural gas pumps sharing space at the neighborhood filling station with ones dispensing gasoline and diesel.

 

It is cheaper, saving truckers as much as $1.50 a gallon, and it burns cleaner, making it easier to meet emissions standards. The domestic fuel also provides some insulation from the volatile geopolitics that can drive up petroleum prices.

Still, manufacturers and fleet owners have been slow to switch, partly because natural gas vehicles can cost almost twice as much as conventional trucks and because only a few gasoline stations have the specialized equipment needed to dispense the fuel.

Now, as name-brand manufacturers and chains like Nike and Wal-Mart have pressed for transportation of their goods by natural gas vehicles and companies like UPS, FedEx and Ryder System have started exploring the option, truck makers have begun bringing natural gas vehicles to the market. Major manufacturers, including Navistar and Volvo, have plans to offer long-haul natural gas vehicles.

Clean Energy Fuels – a company backed by the financier T. Boone Pickens and Chesapeake Energy – has peppered major routes with 70 stations, many at truck stops operated by Pilot Flying J. (The truck-stop company, whose chief executive is Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, is separately under investigation for potential rebate fraud.)

Clean Energy has plans to complete 30 to 50 more by the end of the year. Shell has an agreement to build refueling stations at as many as 100 TravelCenters of America and Petro Stopping Centers while ENN, a privately held Chinese company, hopes to build 500 filling stations as well.

 

Place to fuel few

That emerging network “really has changed the interplay between the shippers and the contracted carriers,” said Andrew J. Littlefair, Clean Energy’s chief executive. “The whole deal’s beginning to change.”

Though the network is growing rapidly, it has a long way to go. As of May 2012, only 53 LNG fueling stations were in the United States, more than two-thirds concentrated in California, along with 1,047 compressed natural gas stations around the country, according to the Energy Department. In comparison, there were 157,000 fueling stations selling gasoline.

Vehicle use of natural gas in the United States is still negligible but it has been growing. Among fleets whose vehicles travel shorter routes, like transit buses, refuse haulers and delivery trucks, use of compressed natural gas is much further along. Last year, more than half of newly purchased garbage trucks ran on compressed natural gas.

The federal Energy Information Administration last year projected that if enough LNG filling stations were built and economic conditions were right, sales of heavy-duty natural gas vehicles could increase to 275,000 in 2035, equivalent to 34 percent of new vehicle sales, from 860 in 2010. But estimates vary.

Citigroup recently forecast that 30 percent of the heavy truck fleet would shift to natural gas by the end of the decade, but some in the transportation industry put that figure much lower.

 

A ‘chicken-and-egg dilemma’

One obstacle is cost. There are some tax incentives, and the Obama administration funneled stimulus money to various projects. ENN, the Chinese company, for instance, has teamed up with a small company now operating as Blu in Utah that used federal stimulus money to help open a natural gas fueling station in Salt Lake City in 2011.

But industry executives say that the incentives are not enough to get the system going and solve what Bill Logue, chief executive of the FedEx Freight Corp., called the “chicken-and-egg dilemma” of which comes first, the trucks or the stations.

“We believe that public policy supporting the development of natural gas infrastructure is critical and should be prioritized,” he said in an email message. “Individual drivers and private companies cannot realistically be expected to resolve the dilemma themselves.”

Another issue arises alongside the very appeal of the fuel: its low price. Because natural gas is in demand to meet so many different energy needs – including industrial electricity and home heating – prices could rise, as they have in recent months, especially if the Obama administration begins approving the fuel for export to countries where gas commands a much higher price, as some producers and lawmakers are pressing the Energy Department to do.

 

By Diane Cardwell and Clifford Krauss — New York Times

In Rockingham County, the sun is a crop

Posted on: April 29th, 2013 by shannon No Comments

 

PELHAM — The first thing that gets your attention is the blue — row after row of polycrystalline panels sitting atop aluminum racking gleaming in the sunlight.

From a distance, the fenced-in area could be mistaken for a body of water.

This is a farm. Its crop is the sun.

The solar farm, which is run by Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, sits on roughly 40 acres. More than 26,000 solar panels generate 5 megawatts of AC power.

This power, enough to serve 750 houses, is sold to Duke Energy.

County Manager Lance Metzler said the solar farm, Dibrell Farm, is the first in Rockingham County. He said more farms like this are likely in the near future.

“We are looking at other sites throughout the county that might interest Strata Solar,” Metzler said.

Blair Schooff, Strata Solar’s vice president of marketing and sales, said the company is interested in developing more farms in Rockingham County.

 

A bluebird perches on a solar panel at the new Strata Solar solar farm in northern Rockingham county.

 

“We have a couple of projects lined up,” Schooff said. “We are actively interested in the area.”

Schooff said Guilford County is also on Strata Solar’s radar.

“We are looking very intensely at that whole part of the state,” he said.

They crop up quickly, no matter where they go.

Construction on Dibrell Farm began in mid-January, and it was commissioned April 5. Strata Solar leases the farmland for 20 years with a 10-year option.

The company works with the land as is and did little to no grading. When the deal ends, the panels will be removed and recycled. The land can be used for farming or whatever else the landowner chooses.

“It’s a $12 million investment in the community,” Metzler said, adding that the company spent about $250,000 in the community during construction.

It is a good source of income for the property owner. Schooff said farmers are usually eager to deal with the company.

“We have been well-embraced by the farm community,” Schooff said.

Giant solar farms are a fairly new thing, at least in central North Carolina. Companies say they need trained workers, undeveloped land, community and government support and plenty of sunshine — which the area has in abundance.

SunEdison runs a solar farm on 355 acres in Davidson County and supplies electricity to Duke Energy under a 20-year contract.

In 2011, Guilford County was one of seven finalists for what was touted as the largest solar farm in the world — a $1.4 billion project. National Solar Power of Melbourne, Fla., eventually built the farm in its home state.

But the size and scope of the project got officials in the Triad talking about solar energy as a viable economic development option for this struggling area.

National Solar Power’s five-year construction phase, for instance, would have created 400 jobs. And the $1.4 billion investment would have produced $10.9 million in Guilford County taxes.

Strata Solar works with employment and economic development offices where projects are built, and it hires and trains individuals. Its strategy is to build solar farms in regional clusters so its teams can move from one job to the next.

Where “next” is Schooff wouldn’t say, but the company isn’t finished with Rockingham County.

And there is plenty of sunshine to go around.

 

Reposted from the News & Record

Renewable Energy Potential High in Rural Communities

Posted on: April 29th, 2013 by shannon No Comments

 

USDA-funded renewable energy assessments for NC, SC & VA provide assistance

 

RALEIGH, N.C. – As renewable energy becomes increasingly common throughout the state of North Carolina, opportunities for rural communities to take advantage of renewable energy are growing rapidly.  Solar electric, also known as photovoltaic or PV, solar thermal, and bio-energy can bring revenue and savings to rural and agricultural enterprises while providing the environmental benefits that accompanies renewable energy. Several factors are joining forces to drive this recent explosion of solar and bio-energy development. In the PV industry, recent strong growth in worldwide demand for PV has driven down system prices through radical drops in panel prices due to manufacturing cost reductions, economies of scale and increased competition.  Additionally, large-scale investors are becoming more comfortable with solar PV and solar thermal as investments, which is increasing the size of systems and allowing new financing options.

Large Solar PV installations, some 100 acres or more, are now often being sited in rural areas, where flat land near transmission or distribution power lines is common and minimizes the cost the solar farm. Land owners can benefit by leasing land for 15 or more years to the project developers that are building these solar farms throughout the state.  Lease rates are often higher than other uses for the land, making this an attractive option for many landowners. Large solar thermal installations can be installed at any type of facility where a large amount of hot water is used. These systems can dramatically reduce the use of heating fuels, reducing the facilities’ operating costs.  A seven-acre solar thermal farm at Prestage Foods in St. Pauls, N.C. was installed at no cost to Prestage Foods, and will cut their utility cost for heating hot water by more than 35 percent.

North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (REPS) provide an ongoing opportunity for North Carolina agriculture to produce renewable energy by providing specific incentives for renewable energy produced from swine and poultry waste. Power produced from swine waste and poultry litter can claim renewable energy credits, which have a market value and can be sold to provide additional revenue to these projects.  Only a few installations have taken advantage of the swine and poultry allocations of the renewable portfolio standards, leaving a large opportunity for swine and poultry waste-to-energy projects in North Carolina.

 

Assessment Contact: Tommy Cleveland, NC Solar Center, 919-515-9432, tommy_cleveland@ncsu.edu

Media Contact: Shannon Helm, N.C. Solar Center, 919-423-8340, shannon_helm@ncsu.edu