How the West is now Sun: United States pushed forward, the land of the rising sun, EV Fronts

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Schwarzenegger and Salazar
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, right, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the October groundbreaking ceremony for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the state. California is one of six states in which Mr. Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have announced “solar energy zones.”

Published Dec. 16, 2010

The federal government announced policies on Thursday, Dec. 16, that will drive the U.S. further down the road to a renewable energy future that prominently features solar electricity and electric vehicles.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu detailed a proposal for “solar energy zones” on public lands in six Western states; solar projects proposed for those zones will go through a streamlined, standardized approval process.

In separate actions, Mr. Chu said that the Energy Department will award up to $184 million in grants over the next few years to accelerate the development of vehicle technologies, with the goals of reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil, saving drivers money, and limiting carbon pollution. Mr. Chu also announced plans for the department to fund up to $50 million to test and demonstrate innovative, cost-competitive solar energy technologies.

According to an extensive analysis, the solar energy zones in the six states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah — have been deemed the most suitable for environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy production. The analysis is the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, a report ordered by President Obama’s administration. The public is being asked to read and comment on the draft plan, which has accompanying maps.

“This proposal lays out the next phase of President Obama’s strategy for rapid and responsible development of renewable energy on America’s public lands,” Mr. Salazar said.

While the plan is undergoing public review, the federal Bureau of Land Management will continue to review current solar power proposals for areas under its jurisdiction. According to the press release announcing the solar energy zones, eight utility-scale solar projects have been approved in the last three months for sites in California and Nevada. The completed projects will generate a total of 3,572 megawatts of electricity.

Some of the large-scale solar projects proposed for lands in the West have met with opposition from activists concerned about environmental impacts. A 145-megawatt solar power plant proposed in Saguache County, Colorado, has drawn fire from residents complaining that it would bring “industrial solar” to a rural agrarian region. Groups in California have opposed the construction of large-scale solar power plants in the deserts, saying that solar should be developed on rooftops and in areas closer to urban centers.

In an attempt to reduce such opposition, the draft report identifies areas considered the most appropriate for development, with the highest solar energy potential and fewest environmental and resource conflicts.

“This analysis will help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development on areas of our public lands that are best suited for large-scale solar development. Our early, ‘Smart from the Start,’ planning will help us site solar projects in the right places, and reduce conflicts and delays at later stages of the development process,” Mr. Salazar said.

The federal grants for vehicle research will cover a broad range of technologies: materials, combustion research, hybrid electric systems, fleet efficiency and fuels.

“These awards will help ensure America leads the world in the development of advanced vehicle technologies that support cost-competitive, convenient, and comfortable fuel-efficient vehicles,” Mr. Chu said.

The first electric vehicles are beginning to hit the consumer market; both the pure-electric Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet extended-range EV are in the process of being delivered to customers or dealerships. These new vehicles will need improvements in batteries, electronics and materials to compete fully with conventional vehicles.

The grants are also targeted toward improving combustion technologies, fuels, and waste heat recovery so that conventional vehicles can run in a more environmentally sensitive and efficient manner.

The Energy Department will be accepting applications for the grants from industry, laboratory and university teams, focusing on eight approaches to improving vehicle efficiency:

Improving today’s vehicle fuels and lubricants to enable optimal performance of advanced combustion engines.Accelerating the commercial availability of lighter-weight vehicles using advanced materials like magnesium and carbon.Designing, building and testing a lightweight vehicle that is 50 percent lighter than a baseline light-duty vehicle.Developing advanced cells and design technology for electric drive batteries.Developing the next generation of power inverters and electric motors to meet demanding performance targets while achieving significant reductions in cost.Improving the efficiency of thermoelectric devices to convert engine waste heat to electricity, and developing early-stage enabling engine technologies to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.Developing and demonstrating fuel-efficient tire and driver feedback technologies that will positively affect efficiency of the fleet of passenger cars and commercial vehicles.Conducting laboratory and field evaluations of advanced technology vehicles and related infrastructure, while developing new or modified test procedures.

Applications for the solicitation are due February 28, 2011, and must be submitted through to be considered for awards. The Department of Energy expects to announce the selections by summer 2011. For more information on the Vehicle Technologies Program, please visit the program’s website.

The planned $50 million solar technologies demonstration program will be a critical link between the Department of Energy’s advanced technology development programs and full-scale commercialization efforts. The Nevada National Security Site will serve as a proving ground for the cutting-edge solar technologies, such as concentrating solar thermal power and concentrating photovoltaic energy.

“Our country has incredible renewable resources, innovative entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, and manufacturing know-how,” Mr. Chu said in announcing the solar energy zones. “It’s time to harness these resources and lead in the global clean energy economy. Today’s announcement is part of an integrated strategy to cultivate the entire innovation chain to create the jobs of the 21st century economy and to put America on a sustainable energy path.”

Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, said, “Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu are listening to what the American people are saying – that they support the development of solar projects on public lands. For years, the oil and gas industries have had an easy path for getting permits to drill on public lands. With today’s announcement, solar energy projects are now closer to a more predictable review and approval process for projects on public lands.

“This announcement builds on the solar industry’s momentum over the past year surpassing all of last year’s growth through the third quarter, as well as the approval of the first eight utility-scale solar projects on public lands. To put this in perspective, 74,000 permits were issued for oil and gas drilling on public lands over the past 20 years. Today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction for solar energy on public lands.”

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