Parking lots of the future

Why is it that the Dutch and the Danish are doing some of the coolest stuff in the world when it comes to renewable energy projects? Figured I’d point out this AP story about parking lots turned into solar sponges — basically solar thermal systems under the wheels of our cars. Here’s a description of how the lots work:

“A latticework of flexible plastic pipes, held in place by a plastic grid, is covered over by asphalt, which magnifies the sun’s thermal power. As cool water in the pipes is heated, it is pumped deep under the ground to natural aquifers where it maintains a fairly constant temperature of about 20C. The heated water can be retrieved months later to keep the road surface ice-free in winter. The same system pumps cold water from a separate subterranean reservoir to cool buildings on hot days. Though it doubles the cost of construction, the system’s first benefits are a longer life for roads and bridges, fewer ice-induced accidents and less need for repaving.”

It just makes me wonder how much could truly be done if, early in the design process of any type of municipal infrastructure, we put some creative though behind it — keeping in mind the need to capture as much renewable energy as we can.

Geothermal power… Canada’s forgotten energy source

Zero. That’s how many power plants in Canada use high-temperature geothermal heat to generate electricity. It’s estimated that British Columbia alone could have 6,000 megawatts of “easy” geothermal potential, and as I point out in my latest Clean Break column, across Canada the potential is much more if we include low enthalpy geothermal and enhanced geothermal systems that go deeper and are engineered to produce useable energy.

Despite the popularity of geothermal power in parts of the U.S. southwest and other areas around the world, Canada remains the only Pacific Rim country to not exploit this renewable, cheap and plentiful resource. In fact, Canada cancelled its federal geothermal energy program in 1984 and has more or less forgotten about it ever since, even as the rest of the world passes us by.

Fortunately, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association — a 30-year old organization with little clout over the years — is trying to rejuvenate discussion of geothermal power in Canada. It has jazzed up its Web site, started an education campaign and membership drive, and is busy doing up a white paper that it hopes will lead to a reinstatement of Canada’s federal program and policies that support development of geothermal projects.

Alison Thompson, vice-president of the association, believes there’s an opportunity for Canada to leapfrog other countries by embracing new technologies from the start — kind of how developing countries bypassed landline telecommunications in favour of wireless systems. I hope she’s right. At a time when we’re scratching our heads on ways to fight climate change, and talking about elaborate plans to build CO2 pipelines and sequester greenhouse gases, you’d think we’d go for some low-lying fruit first. Yes, it will take a large amount of initial investment and some risk before we get it right, but hell, you get that with nuclear and clean coal. It’s why any discussion of future energy development should — must — include discussion of geothermal power, starting on the west coast and spreading across the country as technologies mature.

There’s my holiday rant. Merry Christmas — and thanks for reading over the year!

Stellar debut for 5N Plus

Just a follow-up to my previous post about Montreal-based 5N Plus and its initial public offering. The maker of purified cadmium telluride for use in solar cells, and a key supplier to First Solar, debutted on the Toronto Stock Exchange at $3.00 (Canadian) and saw its shares skyrocket 87 per cent to $5.60. It will be interesting to see whether 5N’s stock enjoys the same (or similar) climb as First Solar’s shares.

A turning point for silicon?

The U.K.’s Times Online has an interesting story marking a milestone in the solar industry. For the first time the solar industry’s demand for silicon has outstripped demand from the semiconductor industry. Citing Solar Buzz, the story said refined silicon for solar applications reached 23,102 metric tonnes this year, up 12 per cent from the previous year. “It is the first time that annual volumes have exceeded those for manufacturers of semiconductors used in computers and other electronic equipment, which are expected to reach about 22,882 tonnes this year, up slightly from 22,086 last year,” according to Times Online.

Meanwhile, a new survey from the U.S. National Venture Capital Association found that investment dollars directed toward clean technologies, such as solar, are expected to grow in 2008. But funding for semiconductor-related ventures is expected to decline. This, and the silicon milestone, only supports the suggestion that the clean technology market is going nowhere but up.

Tiny Finavera making waves in California

It would be unCanadian of me to not point out the numerous stories today — finally unleashed after an embargo — detailing Vancouver-based Finavera’s deal to sell wave power to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

I won’t go into too much detail, other than to say the commitment by 2012 is for Finavera to supply about 2 megawatts of wave energy to PG&E using a wave park located about four kilometres off the California coast. The power purchase agreement, or PPA, with PG&E is being billed as the “first commercial wave-energy contract in the United States,” and calls for supply of nearly 4,000 megawatt-hours of renewable ocean power annually over the term of the contract.

Check out the Globe and Mail article here, and the Greentech Media story here, and the San Francisco Chronicle story here.