Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wind-Powered Manufacturing

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the first WIndiana wind conference this week was the story of the Time Factory wind turbine installation in an industrial park on the northwest side of Indianapolis. 

Owner Jim Purcell recounted three-year project and his struggle getting zoning approval for the 50kW Entegrity wind turbine that stands 125 feet above his 22,000 square-foot calendar publishing factory. He also explained his business case for the wind turbine, which was compelling. 

Utilizing the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which allows a 100% depreciation of wind systems in one year, a $25,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense and a $5000 grant from Indianapolis Power and Light, Purcell is anticipating a 7-year payback on his $170,000 investment in clean energy. In Purcell's words, "this is a no-brainer." Thanks in part to his pathfinding, at least four more of these "small wind" systems are in the works in the Indianapolis area. 

See a related post Hybrid Power or Your Home and the previous posts on WIndiana.

Green, Affordable, Disaster-Resistant Kit Homes

If you are looking to rebuild quickly after being flooded out or blown out by recent storms in the Midwest, you may want to have a look at LV Series Homes by Rocio Romero that can withstand 150-mile-per-hour winds and have about twice the insulation of a standard home. 

There are several elegant modern prefab green homes out there now (see Living Homes, Marmol Radziner, Glidehouse) but they tend to be rather expensive. Romero's LV Series homes are panelized kits that are among the most attractive prefabs I've seen and by far the least expensive (assuming you get a good deal on the assembly or do some of it yourself). A 1400-square-foot 2-bedroom home sells for $45,000 and 
is shipped on one flatbed truck. Has Habitat for Humanity seen these?

I'm writing this from my crowded home office lusting after the LVM studio cube that would look great in my back yard above the high water mark for less than $24,000. Some assembly required.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WIndiana 2008 - Day 2

Day 2 of Indiana's first WIndiana wind conference (see previous post for Day 1) began with a panel of utility company representatives talking about the opportunities and obstacles presented by wind power. Panel members included David Ziegner Commissioner of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, Greg Wagoner representing Wabash Valley Power, Larry Brown of the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, Marc E. Lewis, Indiana Michigan Power Company, Diane Jenner of Duke Energy and Richard Benedict of Indianapolis Power and Light. 

Larry Fowler pointed out that wind energy was not on the Indiana radar ten years ago when a remark was made at an energy conference that "wind opportunities in Indiana are negligible." He also noted that when Fowler Ridge Wind Farm is completed, Indiana will find itself among the top 15 wind states in the country. Some common themes among the panel members were that wind is something they are investing in to diversify their portfolios and hedge against the potential for carbon legislation or a national or state Renewable Portfolio Standard (found in 26 states, but not in Indiana). All expressed some concerns for greater implementation of wind power: 

  • predominantly off-peak power, not mid-summer hot afternoon
  • intermittant power with 15% to 30% capacity factor (rated production not available all the time)
  • the transmission infrastructure is outdated and not designed to handle new power resources and there's a long queue to get new projects on the grid
  • the alternative energy Production Tax Credit expires at the end of 2008 and a predictable tax credit environment is necessary to make investment more attractive
  • uncertainty over carbon legislation; most favored Federal legislation to set the rules of the game as soon as possible so companies could plan their future in a carbon-constrained world, which most agreed was inevitable

Rising costs are also inevitable according to many of the panelists for wind and for fossil fuels due to rising global demand for fuels and resources needed to manufacture plants, turbines and wiring. With carbon legislation and stricter emissions controls looming, Greg Wagoner of Wabash Valley said predictions of electric power price increases by industry experts ranged from 30% to 150%.

Duke Energy's Diane Jenner listed Energy Effciency as their "fifth fuel" after coal, gas, nuclear and renewables. 

I spent the rest of the morning listening to the other end of the wind power spectrum, small wind (typically systems under 100 kW) that run on the other side of the electric meter. Another track at the conference explored opportunities for Indiana manufacturers to get into the wind business.

With small wind systems, you can create your own wind power plant for your home, farm or business. More on that in the next blog, including the story of the Time Factory, a small business in Indianapolis with it's own wind turbine and how it will have a 7-year payback with a little help from the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. 

This  first WIndiana conference appeared to be a successful and well-run venture with over 300 attendees. 

(See also previous post on Hybrid Power for Your Home)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

WIndiana 2008 - Day 1

A packed house listened this morning at the first WIndiana wind energy conference at the Indianapolis Convention Center as Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman ran the numbers. Indiana now has 130 MW of wind power in place (up from 0 at the beginning of the year), and will have 530 MW (enough to power 132,500 homes) by the end of this year. She also noted that 2500 MW of new wind is in planning  in 15 counties in Indiana. According to Wind Powering America, each 1000MW of wind power has a $1.3 billion economic impact on Indiana.

This represents a major step away from Indiana's almost total dependency on coal. While Indiana gets 96% of it's electric power from coal, the national average is 50%. This places Indiana in a precarious position as coal prices rise due to international demand, a carbon tax or cap and trade system, and tighter emission controls phase in. Dirt cheap coal-fired electricity is about to go the way of $2.50 gas, and that may not be all bad for the Hoosier state.

Unlike coal-fired power plants, wind farms emit no sulfur dioxide or nitrous oxide or particulates or mercury or carbon dioxide and they don't require cooling water. Indiana has a wealth of free wind and an excellent transmission grid connected to major markets in other states. According to Larry Flowers of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, new wind power is cheaper than new coal powered electricity. You can view the presentation he gave this morning here. Wind is an intermittant resource and it will never replace all coal plants, but it can be a substantial portion of a renewable energy portfolio along with solar, biomass and other renewables. Indiana will play a key role in the national goal of 20% wind energy by 2030

Day 2 of WIndiana 2008 will feature the major utility companies' take on the situation. The second half of the morning will feature two tracks: one for Indiana manufacturers wishing to learn how to get into the business of manufacturing the giant turbines and another for small wind systems suitable for small businesses or homes. The conference will conclude with tours of big wind and small wind installations.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Six Sins of Greenwashing

Terrachoice, a marketing firm specializing in green marketing and related research has published a revealing study called "The Six Sins of Greenwashing." Their study found that 99% of green product claims are actually greenwashing. 

The sin I find particularly applicable to "green buildings" is the Sin of No Proof. Many high-profile projects are advertised as green but no certification can be found to back up the claim. If you are tempted to call your building green without certification by LEED or Green Globes or Energy Star or NAHB or any other third-party certification, do yourself a favor and read the Terrachoice article.  Consumers are becoming more savvy when it comes to false or misleading claims and a number of web sites have popped up to search and destroy those claims. Check out the American Public Media "Greenwash Brigade" for example.

A good source for a definition of greenwashing and more links on the topic is SourceWatch.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Indiana: Crossroads of Supercells - Our Future?

You probably thought that I had a case of carpel tunnel syndrome after my last lengthy post; The Cubic Mile of Oil, since I have been absent for so long. Unfortunately, nearly all my waking hours since then have revolved around recovering from supercell thunderstorms that have been raking the Midwest. And I have had it easy compared to other Hoosiers.
As I write this, my neighbors in the counties south of here are battling floodwaters the likes of which we have not seen in Indiana since 1913, and some communities have already broken the records from that historic storm. Some counties south of the metro area received more than a quarter of the average annual rainfall in less than 24 hours, with some locations receiving an unbelievable eleven inches of rain. We are becoming used to the images on local weather broadcasts (kudos to the WTHR team coverage) that track multiple chains of severe thunderstorms across our state with the high-tech graphics that show cartoon tornadoes, but on the ground, we are growing weary of the sandbags, pumps, downed trees, power outages, flooded fields, closed roads, evacuated homes, tornado-ravaged communities, ruined personal belongings and mildewed walls.

A truly sustainable green building should be designed for disaster resistance. A building that is easily damaged by the types of disasters that can normally be expected in a particular location is a candidate for the landfill. That is becoming much more challenging in our time of climate destabilization where supercell thunderstorms and the tornadoes and torrential rains they spawn are becoming a weekly occurance across the Midwest.

I currently have a two-foot tall sand-bag dam around the front of my house and gas-powered two-inch discharge trash pump sitting on my front porch. No, I do not live in a flood zone. Living anywhere near a 100-year flood zone or even a 500-year flood zone does not meet my criteria for disaster-resistant site selection. In fact, my Indianapolis neighborhood, Highland Kessler, received its name for the fact that it is a good seventy feet above the White River that attracted early settlers here. Downtown Indianapolis should flood six stories deep before my house does. Unfortunately, when I bought this place in a normally placid wooded neighborhood three years ago, I assumed that the high elevation equated with good drainage, since that would be such an easy engineering problem. For reasons I won't get into in this post, that is not the case and I have been flooded twice in the past two weeks to the extent our paper delivery person had to wade in to delivery my paper (I'm working on her medal recommendation letter) past cars nearly floating in my driveway. The first time I was also cleaning up after a large tree blew over and my garage and crawl space were flooded. The second time I had to deal with even higher water that overturned the contents of my garage, including gas cans and plastic bins of off-season clothing (not a good combination), and got to within a half inch of breaching my front door. These were both storms packing less than two inches of rain, but were of extreme intensity on already saturated ground.
They were supercell storms that generated high winds, golf-ball-sized hail, bizaare lightning frequency, tornadoes and torrential downpours. With a reasonably competent drainage system design, these storms should not have led to flooding in my neighborhood. A neighbor who has lived here for 55 years said she had never seen anything like the flooding this season. My raised-bed garden surrounded by 2x6s nearly floated off in what looked like a mountain stream and the tomatoes are listing. My understanding is that a solution to my local drainage issue is in design as I write this. I hope they sprung for the good engineers.

My greater concern is the larger question: are storms growning generally more severe in the Midwest as climate destabilizes and the Gulf of Mexico warms? Will there be any truly high ground in the future? How can we design for the type of extreme weather we have been seeing lately in the Midwest?

Due to my personal exposure, I have developed perhaps a heightened awareness of this issue, to the point that I check the weather radar about as much as I check my email. Last Friday, I noticed that hundreds of thunderheads were rising off the Gulf of Mexico and rushing toward the vortex of the low pressure system that was headed for Indianapolis. I told a design colleague who specializes in hydrology to go take a look at the national weather radar and see if he didn't share my concern that a major rainmaker was headed for us. I left work early to see if I could scrounge some big pumps and sandbags to save my house from the "big one." I was successful securing pumps and on Saturday I had a crew of extended family gathering sandbags (there were eight sandbags left at the city garage- we had to go to Lowes) and hooking up piping.
The radar showed a now-familiar train of severe thunderstorms headed our way with high winds, potential tornadoes, frequent lightning, hail and torrential rains. About the time we finished our preparations the radar picture showed the storms had tracked mostly to the south of the Indianapolis metropolitan area with disasterous effects. Whole towns in Morgan and Johnson and Bartholomew counties were flooded, as were interstate highways 70 and 65. Hospitals, designed for ultimate disaster resistance for obvious reasons, were taking on water and one had to be closed. The magnitude of the devastation made my predicament seem trivial. Another wave of powerful storms is headed our way on Monday, packing from 1 to 3 inches of rain. Stay tuned.

As for the bigger picture, have a look at the Science Daily story today about the potential relationship between climate destabilization and severe storms that mirrors my concerns. And later came the even more authoritative report by the U.S. Climate Science Program.

Please step over my dam and around the shiny new pump on my front porch. I'm going to leave them there until the 30-day wait for my national flood insurance policy ends and I feel a little less exposed. Perhaps then I will have time to post about how to design for disaster resistance in a world where the old rules of thumb are rapidly changing.