Thursday, July 26, 2007

US Air Force, renewable energy for planes program!

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research here recently awarded the University of Washington and three partner universities a grant worth approximately $6 million over 5 years to study the design of air vehicles capable of collecting and storing solar and heat energies.

One of the goals of the research is to enhance Air Force air vehicle systems but there are many potential applications in other areas such as space platforms

While running air vehicles or space platforms, there are presently three main sources for harvesting energy with non-fossil origins – sunlight, heat, and vibration,” said Dr. B. L. “Les” Lee, program manager at AFOSR’s Aerospace and Material Sciences Directorate. The source of the heat energy, he said, can be aerodynamic heating caused by high flying speed or the recycling of waste heat around an aircraft cabin or engine. Each of the three sources, he explained, is capable of generating electricity, but sunlight and heat energies show the greatest potential in terms of significant power output. As a result, the proposed research will focus primarily on these two energy sources

Researchers will explore a variety of topics concerning materials and micro devices associated with so-called photovoltaic energy – or electricity generated from light sources – and thermoelectric energy – or electricity generated from heat sources. Once fully developed, these systems may one day enable air vehicles to fly solely on solar energy and aerodynamic heat. The systems may also find application in cabin operation on commercial airplanes

This is so awesome! First we use it in unmanned planes, then we use it in small manned planes. And then we just keep on progressing. Even if it didn't soley power an airplane, it could still reduce gas money! Looks like the Air Force is thinking smart now I tell ya. Although the money there allocating is pretty small. Hey you have to start somewhere! And here is the cool thing! If Air Force planes could be electricaly charged eventually. They could run on that for a little bit, intill the solar and thermal energy harvesting systems kicked in! I mean just think how quiet electric cars are, now apply that to a plane. I mean that would probably give a steath advantage of some sort. Another thing it would help with is thermal signature. Electric cars don't give off emmisions, electric planes won't either. And last but not least, the money savings. There will probably be four phases this technology will mature through.

1. Unmanned Aircraft Unmanned aircraft are usually pretty small and don't have half as much power needs as regular manned aircraft. Just think if we could power our unmanned fleet with solar and thermal energy. The money savings for fuel would probably be at least in the tens if not the hundreds of millions of dollars. This technology would also provide us with a potential to keep borders, etc, under surveliance for long periods of time.

2. Small Aircraft An example of a small aircraft would be the F22 Raptor, or JSF. The savings for using no fuel in these aircraft would be in the hundreds if not the billions of dollars.

3. Medium aircraft. The B2 Spirit or B52 bomber would be a medium sized aircraft. The savings for these aircraft would be the same as phase 2.

4. Big Aircraft. The C-130 or the AWACS, or even the JSTAR. Would be in this category. The savings would be on the phase two scale.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Air Force Solar Power Plant!

The largest solar power plant in North America will soon be providing electricity to an Air Force base in the Nevada desert.
The military says the plant, scheduled to power up at Nellis Air Force Base by the end of the year, shows that solar energy can effectively meet part of the country's energy needs. Despite three decades of development of the technology, solar energy is expensive, requires large amounts of space and taxpayer subsidies, and doesn't work at night or on overcast days.
Nellis, which is outside Las Vegas, is devoting 140 acres to a massive photovoltaic array with panels of silicon wafers that will rotate to follow the sun across the sky and generate electricity.
The plant will be capable of producing 15 megawatts of power, enough to provide 30% of the electric needs on the base, where 12,000 people work and 7,215 people live, Nellis officials say.
The Air Force expects to save $1 million a year in lower electric bills and to use the plant to demonstrate it is boldly advancing the use of renewable energy technology, a commitment of the Bush administration, Ohlemacher says. The Air Force will pay none of the construction costs. Instead, private investors will pay the more than $100 million projected capital cost, anticipating a steady flow of revenue from the Air Force for the electricity and substantial federal tax subsidies.
The project is being built in a complex arrangement between the Air Force and three financial partners:
•SunPower Corp. and its PowerLight subsidiary, California-based solar specialists that will construct the plant.
•MMA Renewable Ventures, a San Francisco company that will attract institutional investors to finance the project and own and operate the plant on land leased by the Air Force.
•Nevada Power, the local power provider, which will indirectly subsidize the Air Force's lower rates through payments to MMA Renewable Ventures.
MMA Renewable Ventures and its investors will take advantage of a 30% federal tax credit that Congress passed in 2005 and expires at the end of this year. Solar advocates are asking Congress for a 10-year extension as a way to keep solar electric economically viable. Investors also can take advantage of accelerated depreciation schedules for solar, an additional tax break, Tomlinson notes.
MMA and its investors will sell solar energy credits generated by the project to Nevada Power. The utility plans to use those credits toward meeting Nevada requirements that it obtain 20% of its power from renewable energy sources by 2015, says Tom Fair, Nevada Power executive for renewable energy. "Our goal is to bring more renewables into the system," Fair says.

This is one of the most encouraging things I've ever heard about the US Militaries commitment to renewable energy. The only thing I don't like is that the Air Force is not investing its own money into the project. Based off my calculations instead of saving 1 million dollars a year, the air force could be saving 5 to 10 million dollars a year. That would mean payback on the cost of the system would be 10 to 2o years. And they would be actually be saving extra money not going into recouping the cost of the solar program after ten to twenty years. Just think of what they could do with all that extra money! Either way saving money is great if its 10 or 1 million dollars. And with those savings I woulnd't be suprised if they built a solar carport. I'm projecting an increase in commercial solar cell effiency from 22 percent or so to around 30 % in 8 or ten years. With 8 or ten million dollars saved up, coupled with government funding they could build a pretty huge solar carport. The one in San Diego generates around 1.25 megawats a year. And thats only for 446 cars. Just think of what they could do for Nellis Air Force Bases parking lot. They could probably save around a millon dollars a year. And I even had an idea for if they did pay upfront costs. Assuming they saved an average of 8 million dollars a year and put half of that to building a solar car port in ten years they could build a solar carport for the whole base and upgrade the buildings energy effiency. Another interesting possibilty for this base would be geothermal energy or heating. For gosh sakes its in the desert! Another thing that might help is a small wind turbine farm.