A Cleaner Energy Future

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Courtesy of ASTM International

As renewable energy plays an increasingly important role in the world’s energy portfolio, the standards of ASTM International Committee E44 are helping to pave the way for innovation in clean energy sources.

A growing population and improving living standards around the world are causing significant increases in energy demand and competition for fossil fuels. These escalating energy requirements are converging with diminishing fuel resources, resulting in a ripple effect throughout our global economy and environment.

Rising energy demand brings higher costs, requiring consumers to pay more to put gas in their cars, and to heat and cool their homes, straining household budgets. The industrial sector suffers similar impacts, as higher energy prices make manufacturing and shipping more expensive for businesses, putting even more pressure on profitability in a volatile economy. Equally concerning is the link between increased fossil fuel consumption and environmental issues such as climate change and its effect on the health of people and communities worldwide.

To meet growing energy needs long term and address associated economic and environmental impacts, it’s imperative that we generate energy from a broad array of sources. To further diversify the world’s energy portfolio, momentum continues to build for renewable energy that will support global energy demand in a cost-efficient, secure and sustainable manner.

Renewable Energy on the Rise

Recent research shows that the move to renewable energy will continue to trend upward. In its Annual Energy Outlook 2014, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 11 percent of the world’s total energy comes from renewable sources, including hydropower, biomass, biofuels and wind, geothermal and solar power. The EIA projects that this number will grow to 15 percent by 2040. It also estimates that 21 percent of the world’s electricity came from renewable energy in 2011 and expects that to grow to 25 percent by 2040.1

More optimism is justified in statistics for spending on major renewable energy infrastructure during the first three quarters of 2014, including the development of plants that aid in the production of solar thermal, geothermal and wind energy, and other projects. About $175 billion has been spent globally on renewable energy projects so far this year, up 16 percent from the same period last year. Spending in the third quarter 2014 gained 12 percent to $55 billion from $48.9 billion a year earlier, according to the London-based research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance.2

Standards Propel Renewable Energy

As the world continues to seek clean energy alternatives to offset dependence on fossil fuels, standards developed by ASTM International Committee E44 on Solar, Geothermal and Other Alternative Energy Sources are helping to accelerate the pace of change. E44’s standards initiatives are focused on the conversion of solar and geothermal renewable energy to directly usable energy.

The committee’s portfolio of approximately 50 standards addresses such areas as:

  • The heating of domestic hot water;
  • Active and passive space heating and cooling;
  • Process heating;
  • Thermal conversion power generation; and
  • Photovoltaic generation of electricity and advanced energy conversion, including wind energy.

Solar Market Growth

A major focus of Committee E44’s current activities is solar energy technologies — a growing area of clean energy that is drawing the interest of major companies and investors more and more. An improving economic climate for solar power has been a key driver of this growth. According to the global consultancy McKinsey & Company, solar is a far more cost-competitive power source today than it was 10 years ago, thanks to technological leaps and the scaled-up production of solar panels. This has helped trigger a precipitous rise in global solar installations — over 50 percent a year, on average — since 2006.3

McKinsey notes that solar power’s changing economics are already influencing business consumption and investment. A number of companies with large physical footprints and high power costs are installing commercial-scale rooftop solar systems, often at less than the current price of buying power from a utility. Notable among these is Wal-Mart Stores, which has stated that it will switch to 100 percent renewable power by 2020, up from around 20 percent today. Similarly, Verizon is spending $100 million on solar and fuel cell technology to power its facilities and cell-network infrastructure. Solar is even finding its way into the sports world. More than 11,000 solar panels have been installed at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. It is the largest solar installation in professional football and in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area.

Advancing Technologies

Through myriad standards development activities, ASTM Committee E44 is supporting growth throughout the field of solar energy. E44 standards help measure the performance of photovoltaic modules — interconnected assemblies of solar panels — while also guiding solar installation and maintenance practices, and facilitating quality and safety in solar systems and materials.

For the global solar industry, E44 standards provide the technical underpinning that supports the long-term performance and durability of solar systems, according to ASTM Committee E44 chairman David M. Burns, a senior specialist at the 3M Weathering Research Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“As the industry grows, there are increasing calls for information on the expected life of these systems to allow users to compare technologies and assess their long-term economics,” says Burns. “From the technical end, there’s a science around the service life prediction of complex electronic systems, which is what PV modules are. E44 standards offer the scientific framework and reliable methods for assessing the durability of solar systems, which is critical to the long term viability of the industry.”

Performance measurement is a major thrust of Subcommittee E44.09 on Photovoltaic Electric Power Conversion, which has developed more than 20 test methods focused on assessing PV systems in various conditions. Many of these methods form the foundation of qualification standards developed by other national and international standards developers, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Flagship standards include E2527 for performance of photovoltaic systems under natural sunlight, which offers a recognized procedure for testing and reporting the electrical performance of a photovoltaic concentrator module or system. Similarly, E1171 for photovoltaic modules in cyclic temperature and humidity environments provides industry stakeholders with useful guidelines to assess module performance in varying conditions.

Solar Installation Best Practices

Dramatic growth in solar deployment has also drawn many new system installers to the marketplace. This increase has created the need for best practice installation guidelines for both residential and commercial PV applications. One of E44’s newest standards, E2766 for installation of roof mounted photovoltaic arrays, fills the void and addresses requirements such as proper water-shedding integration with the existing roof system, water sealing of roof penetrations and sufficient anchoring per regional pressure load requirements.

Quality and Safety in Solar Systems

Complementing the work of E44.09 is that of Subcommittee E44.05 on Solar Heating and Cooling Systems and Materials. This group has developed a wide range of practices for the safe and reliable design, installation and operation of solar heating and cooling systems. These standards are used by designers, manufacturers, distributors, installers, contractors, regulatory officials and building owners. For example, ASTM standard E424 for solar energy transmittance and reflectance assists building designers in selecting and specifying glazing materials for solar energy transmittance. In addition, E683 for installation and service of solar space heating systems provides installation and service practices for solar heating systems to help ensure adequate performance, safety and customer satisfaction.

Another important quality standard is E903 on solar absorptance, reflectance and transmittance of materials, developed by Subcommittee E44.20 on Optical Materials for Solar Applications. This test method helps manufacturers assess the reliability, durability and performance of these components in order to optimize performance of the entire materials system.

Supporting the Investor Community

The booming solar marketplace has led to a healthy climate for investors in large-scale solar installations. McKinsey emphasizes that solar’s long-term contracts and relative insulation from fuel-price fluctuations are proving increasingly attractive for investors. Institutional investors, insurance companies and major banks are becoming more comfortable with the risks, such as weather uncertainty and the reliability of components, associated with long-term ownership of solar assets.3

Borne out of the needs of the investor community, a proposed E44 standard will provide guidelines that stakeholders can rely on in due diligence activities related to capital investments in large commercial solar projects. The draft, underway in E44.09, will specify the minimum requirements for the installation, commissioning, operations and maintenance process during the expected life of a photovoltaic power plant.

Committee E44 is taking aim at numerous other industry standardization needs that will further propel the commercialization and adoption of solar energy technologies. To achieve these goals, E44 technical experts are working closely with the Solar America Board for Codes and Standards, or Solar ABCs, one of the major projects of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative market transformation efforts.

Developing the First Heat Meter Standard

In times of increasing energy costs, it is essential to measure and control energy consumption accurately. Heat meters provide an accurate accounting of thermal energy by measuring the heat quantity that is absorbed or given up by a heat conveying liquid across a heat exchange circuit.

Within the United States, no consensus standard exists that defines the accuracy and operational characteristics of heat meter instrumentation. Standardizing metering instrumentation would enhance the energy, financial and environmental benefits generated from thermal energy sources and technologies.

To address this need, ASTM is collaborating with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials on the development of voluntary consensus heat meter standards for the U.S. market. The ASTM and IAPMO partnership was forged following a request by industry with the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the need, application and use of a heat meter standard in the United States.

“The EPA supports the development of a U.S. heat meter standard as a means to both credibly and accurately measure the environmental, energy and financial benefits generated by distributed clean heating and cooling technologies nationwide,” says James Critchfield, director of the EPA’s Clean Technology Initiatives. “This effort corresponds well with the increased focus on thermal energy at the federal, state and local levels as our nation transitions to a cleaner and more energy efficient economy.”

An ASTM member, Critchfield is chairing the development of heat meter standards within recently formed Subcommittee E44.25 on Heat Metering. Work is underway on E44.25’s first standard, which is intended to define the requirements for heat meter instrumentation common to several renewable and conventional thermal energy technologies and hydronic applications, including water heating, space heating and cooling, process heat and district heating applications. Future activities will focus on the development of a guidance standard to address implementation of heat meter instrumentation in system environments.

Underground Renewable Energy

Geothermal energy — the thermal energy contained in the rocks and fluids of the earth — offers great potential as an abundant source of renewable power. This energy can be found in shallow ground and in the hot water and hot rock located a few miles beneath the earth’s surface. Geothermal energy is clean, sustainable and available 24 hours a day. Tapping into this resource to heat and cool buildings requires geothermal systems, which include a heat pump, an air delivery system and a heat exchanger, which is a system of pipes buried in the shallow ground near the building.

According to the EIA, under current policies geothermal generation is projected to increase much more quickly than total electricity demand, with an annual growth rate of 4.3 percent between 2011 and 2035.1 Legislation and government incentives may help jump-start the expansion of the geothermal industry. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy provided $62 million for research in geothermal technologies.4

Subcommittee E44.15 on Geothermal Field Development, Utilization and Materials focuses its standards development efforts on the science and application of geothermal energy. E44.15 standards improve communications among industry stakeholders by providing consistent terminology and offering practices and test methods for evaluating the quality of geothermal resources, determining material compatibility for geothermal hardware and defining the performance of power conversion technologies.

The most widely used E44.15 standard is E1675 for sampling geothermal fluid for chemical analysis. This standard is utilized in 17 countries to guide the collection of representative samples of the steam and liquid phases.

To help advance geothermal energy technologies and support investment activity, E44.15 has also launched the development of a new practice aimed at defining the requirements for the installation, testing, commissioning and maintenance of closed loop geothermal heat exchangers.

37 Years of Renewable Energy Standards

Now approaching its 37th year under the ASTM umbrella, Committee E44, with its membership of more than 100 technical experts from nine countries, remains at the epicenter in the development of critical standards that bolster the development and growth of renewable energy around the world.

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