It’s Alive! US Energy Department Promotes Solar, Wind, Storage News

Source: By Tina Casey, Clean Technica • Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2017

All of those folks who were cautiously optimistic about former Texas Governor Rick Perry as head of the US Department of Energy might be feeling a little more cautiously optimistic now. In the past several days, the agency has pushed out some news and social media messages hinting that the agency will continue to follow through with support for renewables.

That’s subject to where the new Republican budget axe falls, but in the meantime, let’s celebrate with a look at the latest from DOE.

US Energy Department Touts Solar

Seriously, they have been on a tear. The latest was this March 20th tweet promoting the marriage of 3D printing and renewables:

Energy renewables USA Trump Perry

They also included a beauty shot of solar panels and daisies in an otherwise innocuous March 20th tweet reminding folks that the spring Equinox is one of only two days in the year in which day and night are of equal length.

Moving back a couple of days, on March 18, DOE tweeted a link to an article on energy efficient landscaping.

The big tell happened on March 19, when @ENERGY tweeted something that would have been old hat under the Obama Administration. With purported coal fan Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, this sticks out like a sore thumb:

Rural electric co-ops are bringing more #solar power to communities across America with this #SunShot toolkit…

The tweet comes across as a not so subtle hint that if Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress continue pressing for DOE budget cuts, the axe could fall on their core voters in rural areas.

The tweet links to a full article promoting a new solar toolkit developed through the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. This program will help “hundreds” of rural communities access cost-competitive solar powered electricity — or not, if EERE lands on the Republican budget chopping block.

Another DOE program serving Trump’s base is a SunShot solar jobs program for military veterans, which could also get the old heave-ho if Republican budget cuts go through.

SunShot is the Obama-era initiative pledged to bring the cost of solar power down to parity with fossil fuels asap, and solar workforce development is part of the plan.

Perry Talking To Zinke About US Wind?

Perry has also been supporting his agency’s renewables programs with tweets from his official @SecretaryPerry account. On March 18 he enthused over the use of drones to conduct wind turbine inspections:

Now THIS is cool! An automated drone inspects a wind turbine, making it easier and faster to collect data.

Not to read too much into it, but on March 15, just a few days earlier, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke used his @SecretaryZinke account to broadcast a get together with Perry:

Good to have @SecretaryPerry over this evening. Talking energy, infrastructure, and maybe a little football.

Perhaps wind energy was on the table during that get-together, perhaps not. Or, perhaps. On March 16, Zinke provided a ringing endorsement for offshore wind development in a press release marking the preliminary lease award for a wind farm off the coast of North Carolina:

“The success of this lease sale reflects the continued interest of coastal communities to develop their offshore energy resources…Renewable energy, like offshore wind, is one tool in the all of the above energy toolbox that will help power America with domestic energy, securing energy independence, and bolstering the economy.”

Another clue comes from DOE’s News & Blog page. The page has been rather thin on breaking news lately, but scroll down and you’ll see that DOE is still highlighting wind power with links to two click-friendly titled articles, “Quiz: Test Your Wind Energy IQ” and “Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Wind Power.”

Energy Storage Breakthrough

Although they haven’t been showing up on the News & Blog page, the nation’s sprawling network of national laboratories is still funneling projects through the pipeline and issuing press releases.

In the latest news, Oak Ridge National Laboratory reports a new energy storage breakthrough based on MXenes, a class of 2-D inorganic materials composed of carbides and nitrides of titanium and other transition metals, which one could loosely call high class pottery.

Typical 2-D ceramics don’t conduct electricity very well, but the “molecular sheet” structure of MXenes gives them an advantage.

The breakthrough involves deploying a scanning transmission electron microscope to achieve the first ever “direct evidence of the atomic-defect configurations in a titanium-carbide MXene synthesized at Drexel University.”

Those defects are the key to the effectiveness of MXenes, so now that they have been clearly defined, the next step is to engineer them into advanced materials for energy storage and other uses.

The Bill Gates Factor

Social media and press releases are just two ways in which Rick Perry’s DOE has been dropping hints. The energy czar also met with Bill Gates at his agency’s headquarters on Monday, where they had an “insightful discussion.”

Gates has a hand in the nuclear power market, so it’s likely that nukes were on the table. After all, nuclear technology was the spark that motivated the formation of the Energy Department way back when.

Just a wild guess, but it’s also likely that the renewable energy strategy of Gates’s Microsoft was touched upon as well. The company recently announced a 237 megawatt wind buy following a flurry of activity in the renewables sector.

Here’s the happy recap from CleanTechnica last November:

Microsoft has been consistent in its ambitions to green its operations, acquiring 285 MW of wind energy in the space of two years in deals that were pivotal in the development of two separate wind projects. The company was also listed alongside Apple and Google as new entrants to CDP’s 2015 Climate A Listers in November of last year. Microsoft also announced just this past September that it intends to reach a renewable energy target of 50% by 2018 — at which point it was already at 44%.

It’s also kind of interesting that Perry would go out of his way to publicize his meeting with Gates, given that Microsoft joined in a “rare” coordinated legal protest against the first iteration of the Trump Administration Muslim travel ban — but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.