Category Archives: Renewable Energy

New solar panels at Okra Paradise Farms

We’ve added 60 new solar PV panels to our old 20 panels at Okra Paradise Farms, bringing our production up to about 15KW DC:

Gretchen Quarterman and John S. Quarterman on the new panels on the roof of the farm workshop at Okra Paradise Farms, Lowndes County, Georgia, 29 January 2012.
Photo CC BY-ND Okra Paradise Farms

You can see the old panels sticking up on the left, and we’re sitting on some of the new panels, which continue on the lower roof on the right.

These panels were purchased with the assistance of a USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) 25% grant:

Eligible projects include those that derive energy from a wind, solar, biomass, or geothermal source, or hydrogen derived from biomass or water using wind, solar, or geothermal energy sources.
The REAP program will probably be renewed this year, so if you have a farm, you could apply.

We also applied for and got a U.S. Treasury 30% grant from the 1603 Program: Payments for Specified Energy Property in Lieu of Tax Credits. That program was funded by the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).

Finally, there is the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) 35% Clean Energy Property Tax Credit, which will apply in parts over four years.

That all adds up to 90% covered by grants and tax credits, which is a pretty good deal.

Now that remaining 10% is still a significant amount; like the price of a small car. But in 7-15 years (how long it will take to pay off this system, depending on how you figure it), what would the value of a car be? Much less than when you bought it. Meanwhile, these solar panels will be generating almost as much power as they are now, and they will continue to generate for at least a decade more, probably much more.

The big missing piece is up-front financing. For more on that, see other blog post.

Meanwhile, we have here on our workshop roof a proof of concept, operational right now.

The little dogs wanted to know what we were doing on the roof: Continue reading

The Art of Managing Longleaf

The surprising thing is so few people have heard of Leon Neel. Here’s a very interesting biography of this very influential pioneer in southeastern forestry and agriculture, including many interesting stories of south Georgia and north Florida life and politics:
The Art of Managing Longleaf:
A Personal History of the Stoddard-Neel Approach,
by Leon Neel, with Paul S. Sutter and Albert G. Way.
Leon Neel was a atudent, apprentice, and successor of Herbert Stoddard, who was originally hired by quail plantation owners around Thomasville to figure out why their quail populations were decreasing. The answer included a need to thin and especially to burn their longleaf pine tree forests. Stoddard and Neel studied and practiced for almost a century between them on how to preserve and increase the amount of standing timber and species diversity while also selectively harvesting trees to pay for the whole thing. Their Stoddard-Neel Approach is written up in textbooks. In this book we learn how it came about, and how it is basically different from the clearcut-thin-thin-clearcut “efficient” timbering cycle that is the current fad among pine tree growers in the southeast.

It starts back in the old days of Leon Neel’s youth when his daddy taught him to hunt quail: Continue reading

Janisse Ray in Moultrie, 26 Jan 2010

Janisse Ray spoke and read from her books in Moultrie last night. The place was packed with a wide variety of people:

Packed, many ages

Here’s her opening poem: Continue reading

Biochar for CO2 Sequestration and Diesel Fuel

A homegrown Georgia company, Eprida, is developing biochar for carbon sequestration and maybe diesel fuel:
The Eprida process simultaneously creates value in three markets in this order at today’s prices:
  1. Energy: gas-to-liquids diesel, from biomass
  2. Fertilizer: agricultural soil restoration, carbon enriched with nitrogen
  3. Carbon Credits: once an agricultural CDM is completed
Unlike other biomass gasification, the Eprida process can operate at small scale, converting waste biomass into fuel and fertilizer. The diesel produced will ultimately be more valuable than ethanol or methanol, and the Eprida process can convert woody plant materials that cannot be cost effectively fermented. Also, unlike virtually all other approaches for biomass to energy, which deplete soil nutrients, the Eprida process restores and enhances soil mineral, carbon and nitrogen content. As a direct result of this new approach to integrated energy and fertilizer production from biomass, the Eprida process effectively removes net CO2 from the atmosphere, and can do so profitably before the value of any carbon credits are even considered.
I especially like the small scale aspect. Individuals could do this.

(And if, like me, you wondered how to pronounce biochar, the ch is like in charcoal.)

Or municipalities like Valdosta or Lowndes County could do this, instead of the current plans for a conventional biomass power plant that looks like it will release more CO2 per kilowatt than a coal plant. Why not go with a homegrown technology that’s cleaner and may also produce diesel as a side effect?

Modeling Innovation

Much current discussion of the ACES climate bill that passed the House is about whether it will really cost one postage stamp per person per day, or maybe two stamps. This is like arguing what microcomputers will be used for in 1980. I fondly recall a prediction that “We’ll never sell millions of them unless there’s one in every doorknob!” Well, look at your average hotel today: there’s one in every doorknob.

maintech_usa.png David Roberts posts on about Why we overestimate the costs of climate change legislation, 12:09 AM on 29 Jun 2009:

As for modeling innovation, that’s always been the Achilles heel of economic forecasting. In this piece, Eban Goodstein and Hart Hodges trace a history of cost overestimations around environmental regulation. Again and again, models have underestimated the pace of business and technological innovation.

Today’s modelers surely do all they can to incorporate innovation. (As Brad notes, the CBO tries.) But there are constraints to how precisely this can be done. In 1980, McKinsey reported to AT&T that mobile subscriptions would rise to 0.9 million by 2000. The real number turned out to be … 109 million. (This factoid is among many interesting tidbits in this presentation from Vinod Khosla.)

Vinod Khosla was one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, the company that mainstreamed computer workstations, has long been a venture capitalist, and has been investing successfully in renewable energy for years.

The little red square in the Nevada desert is all the area it would take to power the U.S. with solar panels. And that’s before further efficiency improvements. No reason it all has to be in Nevada, of course: Georgia has a lot of sun. Distributed is better than centralized.

Forestry ACES

Garcia River Forest, recognized by the California Climate Action Registry as a certified source of carbon credits. In Salon, Chris Kahn writes that Winners and losers emerge in climate bill:
Owners of large tracts of forest land also will get a lot of interest from the business community. Like farmers, environmental experts see them as a huge player in the carbon economy because of their natural ability to absorb carbon.

Louis Blumberg, director of climate change for the Nature Conservancy’s California chapter, envisions a system in which forest owners could make money simply by signing an agreement to cut down fewer trees for lumber.

The Nature Conservancy did just that last year with the Conservation Fund, a nonprofit agency that owns about 24,000 acres of redwood and douglas fir forest northwest of San Francisco. The groups changed the logging schedule on the property, and the fund expects to receive about $2 million from Pacific Gas and Electric, which participates in a regional climate initiative similar to the one that the Waxman-Markey bill would create around the country.

“This is really a model of what can happen,” Blumberg said. “Property owners everywhere want to figure out a way to be part of this.”

The picture is of Garcia River Forest, “recognized by the California Climate Action Registry as a certified source of carbon credits.”

South Georgia has a lot of forest land. Some of it is even natural. Maybe Georgia Power or Colquitt Electric would like to trade some carbon credits for letting trees grow longer. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a power comapany based in Georgia. Maybe PG&E would like to trade….

Waxman-Markey Passes House

Scherer Coal Plant, Juliette, Ga.: dirtiest in the countryThe Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act just passed the House by 219-212. It’s not entirely clear what’s in it, considering the 300 pages added yesterday. But if it’s anywhere near as good as its proponents suggest, it’s a step in the right direction.

My favorite parts are actually not in the bill itself; they’re analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):

  • Protect consumers from energy price increases. According to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, the reductions in carbon pollution required by the legislation will cost American families less than a postage stamp per day. CBO calculates that the legislation will cost the average household less than 50 cents per day.
And if that wasn’t enough:
According to the CBO score of the legislation, ACES meets PAYGO requirements. For scoring purposes, CBO considers the creation of allowances as an increase in revenues and the free distribution of allowances as an offsetting outlay. Using this methodology, CBO estimates that the legislation will raise federal revenues by $846 billion over ten years and increase direct spending by $821 billion, resulting in a net $24 billion reduction in the federal budget deficit.
No, wait, this may be the best part:
ExxonMobil (XOM) , ConocoPhillips (COP), Chevron (CVX) and the American Petroleum Industry denounced the bill,
If the oil industry hates it, there must be something good about it.

Now we’ll see if it can get through the Senate without the oil industry turning benefits for renewables into renewable subsidies for the oil industry.

And the coal industry. The picture is of the Scherer coal plant in Juliette, Georgia (near Macon), which is the biggest single point source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., and about the third biggest in the world. Most of the electrical power used in Lowndes County currently comes from this plant.

Searaser: Power from Waves

Someone named Alvin Smith has invented a simple buoy-driven pump to push water uphill from the sea. From there it can flow downhill through turbines to generate power when needed. We don’t have any cliffs on the Georgia coast, but I suppose we could build water towers. More efficient, dependable, and shorter than wind turbines.

Solar Power in Lowndes County, Georgia

Connect the panelsFirst solar installation in Lowndes County, Georgia.

Actually, I’m told there is one other, installed way back in the 1970s. However, this is the first one Colquitt Electric has had on its grid.

Since Georgia in May 2008 passed a 35% property tax rebate on solar installations, maybe we’ll see more solar around here. Especially since Congress in fall 2008 passed a 30% solar tax rebate. Add those up, and the effective price of solar comes down quite a bit.

Georgia Solar Power Company This installation was done by Georgia Solar Power Company. Ben Browning of Georgia Solar Power brought in Craig Overmiller of Texas Solar Power Company to assist with this one, but from now on Georgia Solar Power should do fine on its own.

Click on the pictures for more pictures on flickr.