PERMITS ISSUED TO STORE TEXAS WIND ENERGY IN GIANT UNDERGROUND SALT CAVE, TOO Meanwhile, in Tennessee Colony: As Fairway works on retrofitting some of those giant salt caves south of the Astrodome to store crude oil, a company called APEX says it has the permits all lined up to outfit a cavern in Anderson County’s Bethel Salt Dome to store some of Texas’s excessive wind energy. The plan, if the company gets the rest of the necessary funding, is to buy excess electricity from the grid to run an air compressor, pumping air into a salt chamber as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. That compressed air (with a boost from some natural gas combustion) would then be used to turn a turbine when needed. Energy analyst Paul Denham tells David Fehling that only a few spots in the US along the Gulf Coast have the kind of salt dome geology being put to work by the Bethel project (and by the only other major compressed air plants in the world, currently operating in Germany and Alabama); a few other companies, however, are now working on taking underground caverns out of the equation. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot]
On the market as of 2 weeks ago: the home-slash-power-plant on the corner of Virginia and Colquitt streets, a block west of the now-rising Kirby Collection. The listing claims the building is Houston’s first LEED-Platinum certified home (though others have since followed suit), and by Houston standards, Adams Architects took extreme measures to reduce the 1,900-sq.-ft. house’s dependence on city utilities networks.
Rooftop solar panels send excess energy to the power grid during the day, and a back-up battery system is in place in case the grid ever goes down. Tucked out of sight below the 3-bedroom structure are geothermal conduits which circulate water down to hotter strata 300 ft. deep, collecting energy to heat and cool the house. A 7,000-gallon cistern beneath the recycled-plastic deck also collects rainwater for use in the space.
Ready to peek inside?
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Green Machine in Upper Kirby
These crop duster-height shots of 12 acres of solar paneling were snagged above FM 3013 half a mile south of Gebhardt Rd., where Harvest Moon Renewable Energy Company is getting ready to bring its juice to market in Sealy and Houston areas served by CenterPoint Energy. According to a fresh-from-the-farm press release, the plant’s 15,000-and-then-some solar panels, blossoming on the end of more than 1,000 steel posts, should produce around 2.5 million kilowatt-hours of power each year (bundled into the 952 million kWh the EPA says Houston uses annually). MP2 Energy will take care of the actual selling, and plans to fill in the gaps from the solar supply with power bought from other renewable sources.
Harvest Moon’s president Joey Romano, who previously developed the solar-focused Mirabeau B. apartments on Waugh at Hyde Park, is now running the operation with founder and CEO Joe Romano, formerly CEO of Contango Oil & Gas and CFO of Zilhka Energy. The company plans to allow customers to tour the family farm, but you can also watch the panel crop grow online — the company took a time-lapse video of the 120-day installation, which wrapped up late last year:
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Fresh from the Photovoltaic Module
COMMENT OF THE DAY: SOLAR ENERGY MARKETING SECRETS — REVEALED “As soon as these things can be leased at a price that’s less than the cost of electricity they produce, it’ll be a home run. No one seems to offer long term leases that would last the lifetime of the hardware. I’m not sure how many years of amortization it would take so that the payment was smaller than the savings, or even if they last long enough to ever pay themselves off, but if such a model could be devised it would be great. Then you’d have tons of buyers, which would drive costs down, getting more buyers, etc.” [Cody, commenting on Pods Appear on Downtown Building, Grab Solar Panels with Wrench and Garden Hose]
A few months after Ike, this tricked-out FEMA trailer rolls into Houston as . . . art?? Paul Villinski’s reworked 30-ft. Gulfstream “Cavalier” trailer, which took the artist 7 months to mod, will be parked outside the Rice University Art Gallery starting later this month.
Re-born as the Emergency Response Studio, the trailer’s formaldehyde-ridden original materials are replaced by entirely “green” technology and building materials, including recycled denim insulation, bamboo cabinetry, compact fluorescent lighting, reclaimed wood, and natural linoleum floor tiles made from linseed oil. It is powered by eight mammoth batteries that store energy generated by an array of solar panels and a “micro” wind turbine atop a 40-foot high mast. Not only practical, Emergency Response Studio is a visually engaging structure with an expansive work area featuring a wall section that lowers to become a deck. A ten-foot, elliptical geodesic skylight allows extra headroom and natural lighting in the work area. Though designed as an artist’s studio and residence, Emergency Response Studio is an ingenious prototype for self-sufficient, solar-powered mobile housing.
Party on the back deck!
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AND JUST IMAGINE HOW WELL THEY’D DO IF THERE WERE JOBS OR SHOPPING NEARBY! Discovery at Spring Trails, Land Tejas’s gated and solar-panel-badged community north of Spring, is selling well, says Lisa Gray: “. . . only a few weeks after Discovery put itself on the market, and without even a finished house that would-be buyers can tour, most of the lots ready for building have been optioned, and the developer is scrambling to make more available fast. In fact, Discovery is off to the fastest start of any development in the company’s 11-year history, and Land Tejas expects demand to pick up even more this fall. Already, propelled mostly by Google searches, 200 to 300 people a week are touring the neighborhood’s ‘Discovery Center.'” [Houston Chronicle]
Sure, everybody’s excited about biodiesel because it’s new and rare. But just wait until smelly biodiesel production plants start littering the landscape like fast-food franchises.
If you’ve got $1.95 million, you can set one up too. A company out of Florida is selling “prepackaged,” turnkey biodiesel plants from a German factory. Let them come, and they will build it:
As part of its business-in-a-box plan, Xenerga promises long-term, exclusive deals to purchase waste cooking oil from a network of suppliers whose clients include McDonald’s Corp. and Chili’s Grill & Bar. Xenerga’s supply side also focuses on rendered animal fats like beef tallow, chicken grease and pig fat, all of which are plentiful in Texas.
Interest from this region has been strong, the company told the Houston Business Journal: a plant in west Houston is planned already.
Xenerga also promises to deliver customers willing to buy the estimated 5 million gallons of biodiesel per year that the plants produce.
Each Xenerga plant only takes up half an acre, requires two employees at a time, and can be sited almost anywhere from light industrial parks to rural farmland.
Photo: Biodiesel production plant in Carl’s Corner, Texas, by flickr user Nicola Matsukis
Since February, about half the residents of Oak Ridge North, a small city just across I-45 from the Woodlands, have been getting their electricity from chicken fat. The nation’s first entirely biodiesel-generated electrical plant, run by Biofuels Power Corp., supplies power to the community. The fuel comes from a sister company, Safe Renewables, which runs a plant two miles away that can create biodiesel from vegetable oils too. But chicken fat is apparently plentiful around here, so Oak Ridge north gets powered by schmaltz.
The power facility has the capacity to produce approximately 5 MW of electricity using three used diesel Caterpillar generators that act as a single source of power. At full load, they use 72 gallons of biodiesel per MW hour. An interesting feature is that waste heat from the generators is used to keep the fuel tank warm and prevent . . . the biodiesel from gelling. The company is experimenting with various additives to decrease emissions and increase efficiency. “We hope to get down to 60 gallons per megawatt hour,” Crimmins says.
When’s poultry power coming to the rest of Houston? Well, there’s that pesky nitrogen-oxide-that-becomes-ozone emissions problem. We hope they’ll be able to keep that French fry smell out of the AC, too.
Photo: xgray‘s childhood home in Oak Ridge North