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Obama Forges Ahead on Clean Energy, Launches Industry Energy Efficiency, Advanced Solar Energy Research Initiatives

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Concentrating solar plant in the California desertPresident Obama and his administration continue to forge ahead, rolling out renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives in the face of intensifying rhetoric and ongoing opposition. Two announcements this past week highlight additions to the proactive, forward-looking framework for energy policy the President, his administration and supporters have been assembling.

On August 30, president Obama issued an Executive Order to spur investments in industrial energy efficiency, including combined heat and power (CHP). In addition, the Department of Energy (DOE) Aug. 29 announced it’s launching five new research projects aimed at further reducing the cost of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP).

Strengthening US Manufacturing by Improving Energy Efficiency

Noting that the industrial sector accounts for more than 30 percent of total US energy consumption, the President’s Executive Order on industrial energy efficiency and CHP:

  • Sets a national goal of 40 gigawatts (GW) of new CHP installation over the next decade;
  • Directs agencies to foster a national dialogue through ongoing regional workshops to encourage the adoption of best practice policies and investment models that overcome the numerous barriers to investment, provide public information on the benefits of unlocking investment in industrial energy efficiency, and use existing Federal authorities that can support these investments;
  • Directs the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to coordinate actions at the Federal level while providing policy and technical assistance to states to promote investments in industrial energy efficiency.

The benefits associated with realizing improvements in industrial energy efficiency and CHP are many and varied. Those mentioned in the Executive Order include:

  • Improving U.S. manufacturing competitiveness: By accelerating these investments, manufacturers could save at least $100 billion in energy costs over the next decade.
  • Creating jobs now through investments upgrading our manufacturing facilities: Meeting the President’s goal of 40 GW of new CHP over the next decade would mean $40 billion to $80 billion of new capital investment in American manufacturing facilities. Most of these efficient technologies are made right here in the United States.
  • Offering a low-cost approach to new electricity generation capacity to meet current and future demand: Investments in industrial energy efficiency, including CHP, cost as much as 50% less than traditional forms of delivered new baseload power.
  • Significantly lowering emissions: Improved efficiency can meaningfully reduce nationwide GHG emissions and other criteria pollutants.
  • Enhancing grid security: Investments in industrial energy efficiency reduce the need for new electricity infrastructure (transmission and distribution) and improve overall electric reliability.

Supporting the Executive Order, DOE and the EPA released a new report entitled, Combined Heat and Power: A Clean Energy Solution.

DOE also announced five new company commitments to the President’s Better Buildings, Better Plants initiative. Kingspan Insulated Panels, Cree, General Aluminum Manufacturing Co., Paperworks and HARBEC Inc. have signed on the program, pledging to improve the energy intensity of their operations by 25 percent over ten years.

To date, partners in the Better Buildings, Better Plants program have realized at least $80 million in costs savings as a result of their efforts. The total’s expected to reach a cumulative total of some $1 billion by 2020.

Building on SunShot Initiative’s Success

The President and his team also continue to be busy seeking ways to further stimulate and foster growth and development of renewable energy. Looking to build on the success of the President’s SunShot Initiative, the DOE intends to invest some $3.4 million in five research and development (R&D) projects to be carried out by multi-disciplinary research teams with members from industry, universities and national laboratories.

The past decade has seen explosive growth in the global solar energy market. American companies are helping to lead this dramatic progress—driving lower costs and introducing new, better performing technologies into the marketplace,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated in a press release.

“These collaborative projects announced today harness the immense capabilities of our Scientific User Facilities to invent and deploy new technologies that will strengthen American manufacturing and technical competitiveness,” said Secretary Chu. “As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, advanced solar energy technologies are helping to provide clean, renewable electricity for homes and businesses across the country while diversifying the United States’ energy economy.”

DOE categorizes the five solar power research projects according to two levels.Two projects making up the first have been awarded a total $900,000 to establish research partnerships that will use existing tools at Energy Department Scientific User Facilities.

The first project entails PLANT PV partnering with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry to develop 3-D mapping tools for higher performing thin-film solar PV materials, DOE explains in a press release. For the second, the Univ. of Colorado will use tools at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to research development of inexpensive high-temperature CSP materials.

The DOE’s investing $2.6 million in three, second level solar power research projects. All three involve establishing full research programs at a Scientific User Facility with the aim of developing new tools and expanding the capability of each facility to conduct advanced solar energy research.

One project entails Sandia National Laboratory researchers joining with counterparts from the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies in New Mexico to improve the efficiency of thin-film PV materials. A second involves Arizona State Univ. researchers working with x-ray technologies at Argonne National Laboratory. For the third, Stanford Univ. will partner with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to research inexpensive ways of printing solar PV cells.

A complete, descriptive list of the projects is available online at the DOE’s EERE website.

Image credit: International Rivers, courtesy flickr

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