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Farming the Sun
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  1. Default Farming the Sun

    Every day, the Sun sends to Earth around 140 watts per square meter (averaged over 24 hours at the surface). This energy is over a range of frequencies (called black-body radiation), minus a few bands taken out by water, carbon dioxide and other compounds in the atmosphere.

    If you had a good use for all of that energy, you might be prepared to pay up to 20 cents per kilowatt hour, as you do for some of your delivered electricity. Some quick maths shows that every hectare of farmland in New Zealand receives $2.4 million retail dollars worth of energy per year, from the Sun.

    If you covered a hectare of paddock with photovoltaic solar panels, at current efficiency of say 25%, priced at $2 per watt for the panels (capacity of 600kW per Ha), you could perhaps generate 200kW per hectare on average in NZ (retail $40 per hour, or $350,000/Ha/yr), but the capital cost of the panels and hardware would be at least $2million. If you wanted to sell the power, it might only be worth 10c per kWHr at wholesale rates, and with the shortish lifetime of panels (15-20 yrs), it starts to look less exciting.

    But why would you cover up a hectare of good farmland with solar panels anyway? By using your land for dairying (for example) to produce milksolids, and excluding brought-in feeds, fuel, electricity and assuming no meat production, it is normal to send off-farm just 0.06% of the Suns’ energy hitting each hectare. It’s a bit like turning on a 2400W heater in your lounge and getting under two watts of heating from it! You would hardly know it was going. Annual profit per hectare from dairy farming can reach NZ$3,000 to $5,000 or so.

    From an energy efficiency point of view, farming with ruminants only succeeds because humans value the outputs highly, and most of the vast energy used comes free from the Sun. (On the positive side, it is also generally a pleasant use for land, and ruminants are good at cropping pasture from hills).

    Knowing this efficiency issue, farmers can look at ways of increasing profitability by effectively using more of the sunshine that they receive. Aim to have no pugging, by whatever means possible. It might be far cheaper to just put in a feed pad or standoff area, than to lose several hectares of farm for several weeks of each year (of course serious pugging can take years to correct). Herd homes or sheltered areas keep stock cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and this helps with their feed conversion efficiency.

    Pay close attention to your soil structure and pasture and correct imbalances. It’s possible that the benefits of increasing soil biological activity is an overlooked factor (worms, microbes etc). Look at a wider variety of forages that cope with all the weather extremes seen on your farm, as the climate slowly changes.

    Why pay gold for your water heating power when you have so much spare area near the dairy for a few evacuated solar tubes? These systems are getting cheaper all the time, and the payback period is getting down below five years. Keep an eye on the photovoltaic cell prices - these are coming down sharply as China starts solving its energy issues. Another interesting area is the extraction of biodiesel from algae in stirred ponds or pumped tubing systems. This is over 1000 times more efficient than growing irrigated crops to produce ethanol for example. The next few years will see big changes in this area.

    Don’t forget that you already have a huge solar panel working there on your farm, and if you could just increase its very low efficiency, it would improve the bottom line.
    Last edited by Graham; 24th August 2009 at 08:52 PM.

  2. Default

    Newer notes:

    Solar PV panels can be up to 30% efficient, others are quoting prices as low as US$1 a Watt (although largescale manufacturing of this type would quickly use up all the Tellurium on Earth). Evacuated tubes for water heating can be up to 85% efficient in extracting blackbody radiation, a terrific figure.

    According to AgResearch (pvt email), I’m not wrong with the solar efficiency of pastoral farming, but it was pointed out that ruminants are a very simple way of cropping drymatter from hills and difficult areas.

    If anyone is interested in looking further into biodiesel production from algae have a first look here:

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/...story?id=47237

    Exxon Mobil recently allocated $600million towards research into biodiesel production from algae. I hope this gets people thinking about extra uses for any land that they own, and also provides some optimism about our future transport fuel needs. It could be as simple as biodiesel from algae.

    http://www.businesswire.com/portal/s...54&newsLang=en
    Last edited by Graham; 12th August 2009 at 10:06 PM. Reason: To add link

  3. Default

    OriginOil Named Among Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies
    19.11.08 | 11:01 Uhr
    LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--
    OriginOil, Inc. (OTCBB:OOIL), the developer of a breakthrough technology to transform algae, the most promising source of renewable oil, into a true competitor to petroleum, announced that the company has been named as one of the Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies by the New Energy Congress. NEC ranks OriginOil as the top algae company.

    The New Energy Congress is an association of energy professionals from around the world who review the most promising claims to existing and up-and-coming energy technologies that are clean, renewable, affordable, reliable, easy to implement and safe. From this ongoing review, NEC generates its Global Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies listing (http://Top100Energy.com).

    "We are pleased to welcome OriginOil to our listing of top renewable energy companies. Algae is carbon neutral and holds tremendous potential as an energy resource. OriginOil is addressing the challenges to large-scale production," said Sterling D. Allan, CEO of the New Energy Congress. "OriginOil is developing a practical, industrial process that can make algae a viable, cost-competitive alternative to petroleum."

    Companies named to the list will be honored at the NEC's sponsoring display at the second bi-annual Environmental Hall of Fame November 20-22 in Chicago. The awards ceremony, which is open to the public, will include Pierce Brosnan (James Bond) and his wife, who have been active in the environmental movement.

    OriginOil's proprietary system is an industrial, scalable process for continuous algae growth and extraction of oil. In a self-contained module, the Helix BioReactor, algae is cultivated around a rotating vertical shaft which allows it to grow in multiple layers and facilitates the delivery of the nutrients it needs, CO2 and appropriate light spectrum. The oil is then extracted by breaking down the algae cell walls using the company's Quantum Fracturing technology, a chemical-free microwave process. The complete system is modular, scalable and portable. By displacing fossil fuel use, OriginOil's process also helps producers garner saleable carbon credits.

    "We are honored to be recognized by the New Energy Congress," said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO. "Algae can be a petroleum replacement in all sorts of applications, including gasoline, diesel, plastics and solvents. The goal with our unique technology is to fundamentally change our source of oil without disrupting the environment or food supplies, as other biofuels do."

    About OriginOil, Inc.

    OriginOil, Inc. is developing a breakthrough technology that will transform algae, the most promising source of renewable oil, into a true competitor to petroleum. Much of the world's oil and gas is made up of ancient algae deposits. Today, our technology will produce "new oil" from algae, through a cost-effective, high-speed manufacturing process. This endless supply of new oil can be used for many products such as diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, plastics and solvents without the global warming effects of petroleum. Other oil producing feedstock such as corn and sugarcane often destroy vital farmlands and rainforests, disrupt global food supplies and create new environmental problems. Our unique technology, based on algae, is targeted at fundamentally changing our source of oil without disrupting the environment or food supplies. To learn more about OriginOil, please visit our website at www.originoil.com.

    Safe Harbor Statement:

    Matters discussed in this press release contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. When used in this press release, the words "anticipate," "believe," "estimate," "may," "intend," "expect" and similar expressions identify such forward-looking statements. Actual results, performance or achievements could differ materially from those contemplated, expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements contained herein, and while expected, there is no guarantee that we will attain the aforementioned anticipated developmental milestones. These forward-looking statements are based largely on the expectations of the Company and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. These include, but are not limited to, risks and uncertainties associated with: the impact of economic, competitive and other factors affecting the Company and its operations, markets, product, and distributor performance, the impact on the national and local economies resulting from terrorist actions, and U.S. actions subsequently; and other factors detailed in reports filed by the Company.

    Abstract/Short Description

    Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of OriginOil, Inc., developer of a breakthrough technology to transform algae, the most promising source of renewable oil, into a true competitor to petroleum, announced that the New Energy Congress has ranked OriginOil as the top algae company.

    Keyword List

    algae biodiesel, algae biofuel, algae oil, algae to oil, biodiesel algae, biodiesel from algae, biofuel from algae, new energy congress, oil from algae, ooil, originoil, riggs eckelberry

  4. Default

    Recently I was talking to someone who knows a lot more about farming than I do, and he took me to task about my sweeping statement on the solar efficiency of farming. Their large holding is probably only suited to pastoral farming in his opinion, with forestry the other likely option.

    He quite rightly commented that if it was converted to forestry, there would be a few people employed spasmodically for a few years, and once the planting and pruning was over, it would be a wasteland as far as the local community were concerned, until it was harvested. And for what? a lot of logs of average quality 30 year old pine timber, sent overseas for processing.

    I have purchased low cost Chinese-made furniture constructed of NZ pine, and a local business imports pool tables made of NZ pine, because we can't make them as cheaply here. Let's face it, pine seems to end up at the lower end of the worldwide timber market.

    On the other hand, I have seen forestry removed north and east of Taupo recently, and replaced with rolling dairy pasture. But I can't understand how it will work in the short-medium term, when the soil is so porous and bereft of organic matter, at least on the surface. Maybe it will build up quicker than I expect.

    Actually, I'm very impressed with the ability of farming in NZ to employ many people, and keep regional businesses going (sometimes very profitably). But it's in human nature to wonder if the farming process could be improved.

    For instance, bigger farms with irrigation gear and dairies can use a lot of power from the main grid. In NZ, we've run out of easy options for new power. There is no room for another Bluff aluminium smelter, those types of huge energy-intensive exporters cannot set up here at the moment. But those same farms have a lot of cheapish land (compared to industrial estates) with incident free energy from the sun. At the very least, all farms could heat their own water at 85% efficiency, free of charge once capital costs are paid off.

    Where it suits, some land could also be sacrified as holding ponds for seasonal rain. If you think about it, water is solar energy in a highly condensed form. If you are wanting power for domestic use at a spot remote from the grid, you are told to look for water with enough volume and head. If you have that, forget about wind energy and photovoltaic cells (PV). It's much cheaper to use a pelton wheel.

    For farms, water is becoming increasingly important for pasture and crop growth. It is often the limiting factor on many properties, and I think it's time to have a look at re-using some of that enormous energy that the sun is providing. Why don't NZ farmers have a look at the Aussies: they have solar-powered pumps sourcing scarce water from underground, while we just seem to let it all our watery bounty course down the hills and off the property.

  5. Default

    I found this 2006 article today.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006...ng_the_sun.php

    Germany has built up quite a business making solar panels, but I think China and other countries might head them off on price. In 2006 the system was profitable because the farmer was paid 3x the trade price for his solar power, guaranteed. Payback period just over 11 years.

    However, now solar PV panels can be purchased for under NZ$5 per watt, well less than half the price that would have been paid in 2006. Maybe the days of solar farms in NZ are not far off.

    The efficiency of the evacuated tubes is much higher, if you could just find a use for lots of hot water..some industrial process perhaps. Small-scale dairy factories anyone?

  6. Default Farms converted from pasture to solar PV

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/bu...t/09solar.html

    PUERTOLLANO, Spain — Two years ago, this gritty mining city hosted a brief 21st-century gold rush. Long famous for coal, Puertollano discovered another energy source it had overlooked: the relentless, scorching sun.
    The New York Times 8th March 2010

    Puertollano, a mining center, has wooed the solar industry.
    Armed with generous incentives from the Spanish government to jump-start a national solar energy industry, the city set out to replace its failing coal economy by attracting solar companies, with a campaign slogan: “The Sun Moves Us.”

    Soon, Puertollano, home to the Museum of the Mining Industry, had two enormous solar power plants, factories making solar panels and silicon wafers, and clean energy research institutes. Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain.

    Farmers sold land for solar plants. Boutiques opened. And people from all over the world, seeing business opportunities, moved to the city, which had suffered from 20 percent unemployment and a population exodus.

    But as low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.

    In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.

    “We lost the opportunity to be at the vanguard of renewables — we were not only generating electricity, but also a strong economy,” said Joaquín Carlos Hermoso Murillo, Puertollano’s mayor since 2004. “Why are they limiting solar power, when the sun is unlimited?”

    Puertollano’s wrenching fall points to the delicate policy calculations needed to stimulate nascent solar industries and create green jobs, and might serve as a cautionary tale for the United States, where a similar exercise is now under way.

    For now, electricity generation from the sun’s rays needs to be subsidized because it requires the purchase of new equipment and investment in evolving technologies. But costs are rapidly dropping. And regulators are still learning how to structure stimulus payments so that they yield a stable green industry that supports itself, rather than just costly energy and an economic flash in the pan like Spain’s.

    “The industry as a whole learned a lot from what happened in Spain,” said Cassidy DeLine, who analyzes the European solar market for Emerging Energy Research, a firm based in Cambridge, Mass. She noted that other countries had since set subsidies lower and issued stricter standards for solar plants.

    Yet, despite the pain that Spain’s incentives ended up causing, in many ways they fulfilled their promise, Ms. DeLine said.

    “Even though incentives can create bubbles and bursts, without them this industry won’t take off,” she said. “The U.S. is really behind Europe on this, and if we wait until solar is cost-competitive on its own, we may miss the boat and an opportunity to shape the market.”

    The most robust Spanish solar companies survived the downturn, have restructured and are re-emerging as global players.

    For example, when the government changed course, Siliken Renewable Energy, originally a producer of solar panels, shut its factories for five months and cut its staff to 600 from 1,200. But after shifting its focus to external markets like Italy, France and the United States, and diversifying into solar support services, the company now turns a profit.

    “We were a company that banks trusted, so we could make the shift,” said Antonio Navarro, a company spokesman. “But a lot of little companies disappeared.”

    The period was particularly difficult because it coincided with the global economic crisis, he said.

    To encourage development of solar power and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, Europe has generally relied on so-called feed-in tariffs, through which governments pay a hefty premium for electricity from renewable resources. Regulators in the United States have favored less direct incentives like requiring municipalities to buy a percentage of their electricity from companies making renewable energy, although a few cities and states, most notably Vermont, are experimenting with the feed-in concept.

    When it was announced in the summer of 2007, Spain’s premium payment for solar power was the most generous anywhere — 58 cents per kilowatt-hour — with few strings attached.

    In retrospect it was far too high. “Everyone from all over the world was installing in Spain as fast as they could, and every biologist who could add was working in solar,” said Pedro Banda, director general of the Institute of Concentration Photovoltaic Systems, one of the research institutes in Puertollano.

    Even inefficient, poorly designed plants could make a profit, and speculation in solar building permits was common.

    Although Spain’s long-term goal had been to produce 400 megawatts of electricity from solar panels by 2010, it reached that milestone by the end of 2007.

    In 2008 the nation connected 2.5 gigawatts of solar power into its grid, more than quintupling its previous capacity and making it second to Germany, the world leader. But many of the hastily opened plants offered no hope of being cost-competitive with conventional power, being poorly designed or located where sunshine was inadequate, for example.

    Designs for solar power plants vary. The most common type uses photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. Others, called thermal solar plants, use mirrors to focus the sun’s energy on a liquid that, when heated, drives a steam turbine.

    In its haste to create a solar industry, Spain made some miscalculations: solar plants can be set up so quickly and easily that the rush into the industry was much faster than anticipated. And the lavish subsidies inflated Spanish solar installation costs at a time when they were rapidly decreasing elsewhere — in part because of increasing competition from panel makers in China, but also because higher volumes produced economies of scale.

    In Spain, the tariff, now adjusted quarterly, is about 39 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from freestanding solar power plants, and slightly higher for panels on rooftops.

    Germany’s tariff, 53 cents per kilowatt-hour, is expected to fall at least 15 percent this summer, and there are proposals before Parliament to eliminate subsidies for solar plants on farmland.

    The bonus payments required to make solar energy financially viable vary, depending on local sunshine and the cost of conventional energy. Experts predict that, possibly by next year, Italy will be the first place where solar-generated electricity will not need subsidies to compete with electricity from fossil fuel. Italy has abundant sun and sky-high energy rates, given that it imports most of its fossil fuel.

    Even with the reduced incentives and local economic downturn, the solar industry gave Puertollano something of a face-lift and, potentially, a new economic future. Research institutes there are developing cutting-edge technologies. Unemployment, though now up around 10 percent, has not returned to the 20 percent figure. The city is home to a number of solar businesses: a new 50-megawatt thermal-solar plant owned by the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola created hundreds of jobs.

    Although coal mines still dot the landscape and a petrochemical factory remains one of Puertollano’s largest employers, that new solar plant sits just next door, with more than 100,000 parabolic mirrors in neat rows on about 400 acres of former farmland. Clean and white as a hospital ward, it silently turns sunshine into Spanish electricity.
    This looks to be an ongoing theme now, and I have been advised that the curent trade price for solar PV panels is more like NZ$4.00 per watt. It's dropping fast as China is now making at least 50% of the world's production. A massive change in just a couple of years.

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