Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Site Search
   Search Metroland.Net
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 Columns & Opinions
   Looking Up
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Tech Life
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Solar solutions: Terrence Reilly of Empire Clean Energy.

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

Big Ball Of Energy

Solar net metering could save the world (and save New York state a lot of money)

By Chet Hardin

First, some numbers: New York state’s total peak-energy demand is 39,000 megawatts for a state that is roughly 54,000 square miles in size. If solar panels covered approximately 0.75 percent of that land, or 4,050 square miles, the state could draw all of its energy needs from the sun. And not one piece of coal would need to be burned, nor one atom of uranium exploded. Ever.

This draws a round of applause from the solar-industry insiders gathered at the Crowne Plaza in Albany for the second statewide convention of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.

Dr. Richard Perez, a research professor at the University at Albany, stands at the podium and lets the numbers settle in. Then he continues: There is not enough fossil fuel, nor uranium, in the planet to contest the sun’s ability to provide a relatively unending energy supply, an energy supply that is the apotheosis of clean, green energy.

Perez was commissioned by NYSEIA to study the impacts of solar energy on the modern-day power grid, focusing primarily on the practice known as net metering.

Net metering allows people who have solar systems to use the utility grid as a battery. But it isn’t exactly selling electricity to the grid, says Tom Thompson, president of NYSEIA, it is “trading electrons, essentially. During those times of the day when the sun is shining and the system may be producing more power than the building is using, rather than waste that power or force the solar owner to invest in battery systems, the power flows onto the grid.” When this occurs, the solar-system owner’s meter rolls back.

New York was, once, at the forefront of net metering. In 1997, the state began exploring the option under then-Gov. George Pataki. But 10 years is a long time in the world of alternative energies, and New York has been left in the dust by nearly every state in the Northeast and many others nationwide.

The current legislation in New York that governs net metering is seen by advocates of solar power as archaic and dangerously limiting. In fact, Freeing the Grid, a publication put out by several solar-energy advocacy groups, gave New York state a D grade last year in its review of states’ net-metering policies. Many of our neighbors, including Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, scored significantly higher.

It would be difficult to find someone to contest the ecological benefits of solar power, or even the beneficial effect on the industry that net metering incurs. But what Perez found through his research is that the benefits of solar power and net metering go far beyond the green considerations—there are sizable economic benefits as well.

All blackouts are caused by transmissions failures. The power plants continue to work, it is just that the electricity demand is too high for the grid to carry the power needed. In 2003, the massive blackout that left much of the Northeast in the dark was caused by a power plant that went down in Cleveland. That forced other plants to replace the lost power, but the extra load on their transmission lines was too much. The lines overheated, increasing in weight, drooped into trees, and shorted out. Within a two-hour period, four lines went down, and 50 million people went without power.

“What if we had deployed solar?” Thompson asks. What if solar panels covered rooftops across the Northeast? “Could we have avoided the blackout?”

The answer, he argues, is yes. Because solar-generated power, for the most part, is sited at the point of energy consumption, meaning that it doesn’t travel on the grid, Thompson says, you are able to reduce the stress on the transmission system. Less energy flowing over the grid means less stress on the grid. And on days that are most likely to stress the grid beyond its limits, such as the sweltering hot day of the 2003 blackout, when air conditioners likely were kicking full-blast, solar energy is at its most effective.

That bit of common sense was proven by Perez.

Perez used satellite imagery to document the amount of sunlight falling on the earth’s surface at any given time. He found that every blackout or rolling blackout in North America for more than a decade correlated to the optimal days for solar-power production. Not surprisingly, the hotter the day, the more stress on the grid, the more power that could be harnessed from the sun.

Further, according to the research of Perez and others, roughly $3 billion of solar-power equipment would have prevented the blackout. The cost of the 2003 outage was about $8 billion.

“People say solar is expensive? They aren’t thinking about it in the long term,” Thompson says. “That is why public policy is so important.”

NYSEIA and other solar advocates are pressing hard for Senate Bill 7171. Sponsored by Sen. Owen Johnson (R-Babylon), the legislation would increase the opportunities available for net metering. Currently, the law limits net metering to residences only, and limits eligibility to systems that produce a maximum10 kilowatts of power, which is a relatively small system—the kind you would find on the average suburban home. The major breakthrough on the bill, however, allows for the expansion of net-metering opportunities to commercial buildings, with a cap of 2,000 kilowatts, or 2 megawatts.

Hypothetically, this means a corporation like Wal-Mart might have significant incentive to invest in solar-power systems. If solar energy reaches price parity with fossil fuels, through incentives such tax breaks and net-metering credits, it could be viewed by these larger corporations as a wise business decision. Imagine Crossgates Mall, that bastion of consumerism, covered with solar panels. If there were no cap on net metering, Crossgates conceivably could reduce its month-to-month energy cost to almost nothing—or, even better for its bottom line, sell its excess energy back to the grid.

The current atmosphere at the Capitol is very encouraging, Thompson says. Gov. David Paterson has signaled aggressive support of the development of solar power. While lieutenant governor, Paterson chaired the state’s Renewable Energy Task Force, and in February he put forward a recommendation that the state develop “eight times more solar photovoltaic energy generation in New York—over 100 megawatts by 2011.”

A logical ramp up, advocates say, to NYSEIA’s stated goal of 2,000 megawatts by 2017. It is not an unheard of goal: California has established a 3,000 megawatt goal; New Jersey and Maryland both have similar goals. And even at 2,000 megawatts, the state would be drawing only 19.5 percent of its energy from the sun.

The bill has been reported out of the Energy Committee and is on the calendar in the Senate, which means it could be voted on at any time.

Rock the Emissions

New York state allocates $1.7 million for research to determine the feasibility of carbon sequestration in the state’s geological formations

By Kathryn Lange

Amid the buzz about alternative energies and total independence from fossil fuels, one moderate step in the fight against global warming might be to trap those nasty pollutants released by fossil-fuel-fired power plants and inject them deep into the ground. And New York is investing $1.7 million to see if it will work.

In an order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recently announced a state-funded research initiative to assess New York’s geological formations in hopes that they will prove viable for carbon sequestration, the storage of captured carbon emissions. The research, funded by a $1.7 million investment from NYSERDA and an additional $2.3 million in private funding from the agency’s research partners, aims to locate areas of New York’s geological substrate suitable for carbon sequestration. These studies are the first step toward ultimately implementing the climate-mitigating technology, and reflect the state’s efforts as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative effort by nine Northeast and Middle Atlantic states to jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Global Warming theory posits that climate change is caused by greenhouse gasses, atmospheric pollutants that trap energy from the sun and cause changes in climate patterns worldwide. Carbon dioxide is thought to be the greatest contributor to the greenhouse effect, because CO2 accounts for almost 90 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States currently emits approximately 6 million metric tons of CO2 each year. Of those emissions, approximately 40 percent can be directly attributed to fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

Geological carbon sequestration is achieved by chemically capturing carbon at a power plant, or other source, before it is emitted into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 is then compressed into a dense gas and transported via pipeline to a suitable site, where it is injected into subsurface geological formations. The stored carbon will not escape for thousands of years.

According to the “Preliminary Report on Geological Carbon Sequestration in New York,” released in 2006 by the New York State Museum, “CO2 occurs in four phases: liquid, gas, solid, and supercritical fluid. Most geological sequestration should be done in the supercritical phase, which requires high pressures and temperatures only found at depths of at least 2,500 feet.” The state’s best options for geological sequestration are in deep saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas reservoirs, which occur primarily in the sedimentary rocks of central and western New York.

NYSERDA is currently in negotiation with research teams from Process Energy Solutions, Ecology & Environment, the University at Buffalo, and Advanced Resources International. According to NYSERDA spokeswoman Colleen Ryan, the multi-team approach will enable NYSERDA to efficiently conduct a comprehensive statewide geological survey for possible storage formations.

Three regional projects will separately examine the geology of central New York and two sections of western New York, to determine possible locations for sequestration. A fourth project, building on a current NYSERDA contract with the geologists at the state museum, will evaluate shale formations throughout the state. If shale beds are found to be viable for carbon storage, it would greatly broaden sequestration opportunities statewide.

A variety of viable carbon-capture technologies are currently available, with varying degrees of effectiveness and infrastructure expense. According to Ryan, “The current research effort,” which is expected to take two to three years to complete, “is focused on storage, not capture. Future research examining the most efficient and cost-effective capture methods will be undertaken based on our findings.”

Questions have arisen about the safety of piping pressurized carbon throughout the state. However, Ryan asserts, “Hundreds of miles of CO2 piping are already in existence; safety and leakage are not a concern.” In fact, carbon-capture and transport technologies have been used in the oil industry since the mid-1970s. The practice of enhanced oil recovery essentially uses a subterranean injection of concentrated, captured CO2 to flush oil out depleted oil reservoirs. The same technology that allows us to better recover fossil fuels is now considered a promising solution to mitigate the impact of their emissions.

According to a January statement made by Paul D. Tonko, NYSERDA president and CEO, “Carbon capture and sequestration offers tremendous potential in our effort to fight climate change. These important studies will put New York at the forefront of carbon-sequestration research in the region, and will bring us one step closer to commercializing capture and sequestration technologies.”

Critics of carbon sequestration argue that the technology will merely continue our dependence on fossil fuels.

“Absolutely,” says Dr. Edwin White, director of the SUNY Center for Sustainable and Renewable Energy. Based out of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the center conducts research into renewable energies and consults the state on issues of energy policy. “I think it’s a legitimate criticism. But it’s not a practical way of looking at it. We just can’t shift our dependency that quickly. Until we get other renewable sources online, the fact is, we’re going to be dependant on fossil fuels for the next 40 to 50 years. We have over one thousand years worth of coal reserves, and we’re going to use some of that. It’s a security issue. But through clean coal technologies, like carbon sequestration, we can use some of those fossil fuels with less impact.”

“Still,” White adds, “it’s not a long-term solution. The fossil fuels are going to run out. We need to make the shift to renewable energies. It’s going to take a while, but we’re headed in the right direction, and carbon sequestration is part of that.”

Ryan asserts that NYSERDA is exploring all of its options. “The more varied our efforts, the more prepared we will be to shift to energy independence. Research and development into renewable technology and energy-efficiency technology, wind and solar incentives, there is a broad range of things we’re doing to make the earth a better place.”

“I think we’re going to need it all if we want to successfully mitigate climate change,” says White. “Cleaner fossil fuel technology is a certainly a start. But you have to get the policy in the right place or nothing is going to change. We need to invest in renewables, and there need to be ways to help people make that transition. It’s a cultural change. It’s an attitude change. And it’s not easy. In the end, it comes down to research, public education, and subsidies and policy that make the change feasible.”

Thanks for Sharing

The Climate Registry offers businesses, cities, and states a chance to publicly display their impact on the enviroment and strategize ways to reduce it

By David King

The rest of the United States has a lot of reason to be jealous of the state of California. From the beaches, the babes and the celebrities, to the rock stars, the glitz, the glam, and the Governator, California has it all. Thankfully, California has decided to share one of its better ideas with the rest of the continent of North America (no, not marijuana vending machines), and now the carbon-emissions registry that began in California is available, as the Climate Registry, to any state, province, city, or corporation on this continent.

Nancy Whalen, spokeswoman of the Climate Registry, explains: “We started talking to corporations that weren’t in California, and they were saying they wanted to have registries in the states to teach institutes how to get a handle on emissions profiles. They wanted to know, ‘How did you guys do this? Would you help us in this endeavor?’ So it became apparent it would be more cost-effective and just more practical to have one registry instead of each state having their own with everyone measuring and calculating in a different way.”

What is the goal of the Climate Registry? According to the registry’s Web site, it aims “to provide an accurate, complete, consistent, transparent and verified set of greenhouse gas emissions data supported by a robust reporting and verification infrastructure. Through this effort, the Registry encourages early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports future greenhouse-gas reduction efforts across North America. Our success will provide proof positive that companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations stand ready today to report their greenhouse gas emissions within a rigorous framework and to take actions to reduce their carbon footprints.”

In other words, any major body—from state government to a corporation like Kodak—is provided with agreed-on standards to report exactly how much bad stuff it is pumping into the air. The program not only works to document honest usage but also to formulate ways to reduce the release of greenhouse gasses.

Whalen notes that at the first board meeting of the Climate Registry, there was a vote to allow both Canada and Mexico to become board members. Currently more than 30 states, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont, have signed on as members, as well as seven Canadian provinces and six Mexican states.

Government officials aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the Climate Registry’s standard of greenhouse gas reporting. Businesses, including Corning Inc. and National Grid, the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast, have joined in as well.

National Grid media-relations manager Chris Mostyn writes in an e-mail to Metroland, “We are working closely with them on developing the protocol, which is based on the GHG measurement standards of the World Resources Institute (WRI). As we have reported in line with these on our UK business in the past, we were keen to participate to remain transparent on our emissions, to move forward to reduce them and play our role in tackling climate change.”

As more legislative bodies pass stricter standards to deal with carbon emissions, the registry sees itself in a position to provide a standard of greenhouse-gas reporting for North America

Earlier this month, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Chairman Peter Grannis announced the new standard decided on by the board of the Climate Registry to measure and verify emissions. The DEC publicly encourages state nonprofits, institutions, and businesses to join the registry.

The registry’s mission is now to provide a standard of reporting, along with a standard of measuring greenhouse emissions, to ensure that everyone is on the same playing field. The more states and businesses that join the registry, the more reliable and integrated the registry’s reporting system will become.

Whalen says it looks very likely that they will be able to accomplish that mission. “Things came together really very quickly. The momentum is quite strong. We have at least 85 corporations, cities and counties now voluntarily reporting their emissions. People really want to take part.”

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home


Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.