With a deadline looming today, the Department of Energy emptied its portfolio and handed out $156 million in loan guarantees for that it called “groundbreaking technologies.” Republicans criticized the “rush” to get projects out the door and warned of more Solyndras.
In the solar energy world, the dominos continued to fall as the Stirling Engine Company filed for bankruptcy. The company was trying to modernize a 19th century technology that uses low heat – in this case sunlight – to vaporize a gas that runs a turbine. Two California utilities had commissioned giant Stirling engine projects in the Arizona desert but after two years of fiddling the companies decided to switch to photovoltaic (PV) cells instead. This left Stirling Engine with no income. The company had not received any federal loan guarantees and investors will absorb the loss.
The Keystone XL Pipeline controversy continued to heat up, with the debate shifting to the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Farmers and environmentalists are protesting while the lineup of supporters and opponents continues to grow. Gary Doer, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, voiced his support yesterday and the Obama Administration has OK’d the project. But demonstrators have picketed the White House and many court challenges still loom.
Energy storage technology continued to advance as Beacon Power landed a contract with Northwest Energy to install Beacon’s flywheel system at the Montana utility’s power stations. Beacon’s flywheels help maintain voltage balances and can offer short-term spurts of output for peaking needs. In Singapore, researches announced the development of a polystyrene membrane that can store an electric charge at about 1/10th the cost of liquid electrolytes or conventional batteries. The scientists said the membrane would make commercial storage of electricity much more feasible.
Finally, all eyes remain on China as the emerging giant struggles to build its energy complex. Even though coal output has increased, the country faces electrical shortages this winter. The government announced it will curtail coke mining in order to preserve resources and reduce air pollution. At the same time, China’s industrial plant continued to grow as Advanced Energy of Fort Collins, CO announced it will move the manufacture of some of its solar equipment across the Pacific. Two American solar companies are rumored to be preparing a trade complaint that China is flooding the US market. GE is benefitting from China’s rise, however, projecting a 25-30 percent increase in sales over the next year.