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Green technologies can face expensive and complicated chicken-and-egg questions when it comes to infrastructure. Which comes first, the electric car or the charging station? The wind farm or the transmission lines? There have been some notable efforts this year by companies to take the first leap. Here are a couple worth watching in 2011:
Electric cars vs. public charging infrastructure — Electric cars for the masses are arriving. The Nissan Leaf and partially electric Chevrolet Volt already arrived as of December. Other models from Ford and Toyota are coming within the next year or two, along with releases from Tesla, Coda, Wheego and Think. Advocates argue that the cars will be fine without public charging stations thanks to home charging, while skeptics say sales will be stunted by leery customers until charging infrastructure is built out. Companies like Ecotality and Coulomb are currently rolling out about 20,000 chargers nationwide with the aid of Department of Energy funds. Power plant company NRG Energy has also launched a privately financed charging system in Houston, Tex. with various charging plans.
Atlantic Wind Connection — Trans-Elect is planning a transmission backbone that will run from New Jersey to Virginia to enable offshore wind on the Atlantic Coast. Google and Good Energies have taken majority stakes in the first phase of what is estimated to be a $5 billion project, which seems to have gotten good feedback from the government and environmentalists. But is it too big a risk? Wind expert and former Massachusetts assistant environmental secretary R.J. Lyman, who advocates for smaller wind projects, outlined the risks and rewards:
“The Atlantic connection is an important contributor to some of the infrastructure challenges. That’s like building a highway out into the cornfields of Iowa and hoping that McDonalds and Walmart and homebuilders will build on the interchanges. It’s a big bet. Maybe they’re right. But they’ve never done anything anywhere near this scale. Their largest project was one-tenth a size of this but … you have to start somewhere.”
Offshore wind — Offshore wind would solve a multitude of landbound wind farms’ ills — wind is typically stronger and steadier offshore, and turbines could be located far enough out of sight to avoid complaints about marring the landscape. This isn’t quite an infrastructure project, but could spur them — the U.S. government is streamlining the permitting process for offshore wind development on the Outer Continental Shelf on the East Coast, which could provide more than 1,000 gigawatts in wind energy, according to Bloomberg.
Biofuels stations — Clean-fuel company Propel announced plans to build 75 biofuel stations across California by 2011, thanks to $10.9 million in federal and state funding. The stations will sell E85 and biodiesel.
Wind energy for the Southern U.S. — Pattern Energy is proposing a 400-mile transmission line to export wind from West Texas, which is the top wind-producing region in the country. If it’s successful, buildings in the Southeast could be wind-powered by 2016.
Wind energy within Texas — Texas regulators have assigned $4.93 billion of transmission projects to transport wind from the West Texas and Panhandle regions to more highly populated areas like Dallas and Austin. The state’s Public Utility Commission says the projects will eventually transmit 18,456 megawatts of wind power. Dallas utility Oncor is planning to build about 850 miles of transmission lines to transport wind from West Texas.
[Image via Flickr/robstephaustralia]