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Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.

The Biden administration’s 2022 budget released on Friday includes major funding increases for important Department of Energy (DOE) programs to drive clean energy innovation, address the climate crisis, and build a strong and equitable economy. These funding increases complement the investments proposed in the President’s American Jobs Plan (AJP). Now it’s up to Congress to pass AJP and write a government funding bill that reflects the President’s proposals.

Below are five components of the budget that would accelerate clean energy innovation and redirect DOE programs toward our greatest challenges and opportunities.

1. Historic Funding Increases for Clean Energy

The budget includes $4.7 billion in regular-year funding for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), a $2 billion (or 65%) increase from 2021. EERE houses the agency’s efforts focused on heavy industry, building decarbonization, clean transportation technologies, and renewable power. These programs are underfunded relative to the need for investment and the opportunity to build out domestic clean energy industries. The administration’s budget would give these programs a much-needed funding boost.

The budget also ramps up funding for other clean energy programs at DOE and establishes a new Advanced Research Projects Agency — Climate with initial funding of $500 million, of which $200 million is at DOE.

2. Demonstrations & Deployment to Round Out the Innovation Portfolio

The budget emphasizes funding for demonstration projects and deployment of climate solutions, a welcome pivot from the Trump DOE’s narrow focus on early-stage research and development. The new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, funded at $400 million, fills a critical gap in DOE’s efforts to commercialize newer, better clean energy technologies, reduce costs, and address barriers to widespread deployment. The $300 million for Build Back Better Challenge grants will help bring the benefits of clean energy to more communities. And the focus throughout the budget on research, development, demonstrations, and deployment will better equip DOE to accelerate clean energy innovation at the scale necessary.

3. Bringing Clean Energy to More Communities

DOE should play a critical role ensuring that more communities see the benefits of technologies like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. Strong community engagement practices and funding for clean energy projects to benefit low-income, pollution-burdened, and energy transition communities and communities of color can help DOE meet these goals.

The budget includes several new programs to bring clean energy to more communities. For example, it proposes to prioritize the new Build Back Better Challenge grants for marginalized, overburdened, and energy transition communities. It also appears to expand the Weatherization Assistance Program — one of the only existing efforts focused on low-income communities — to enable more households to access funding for cost- and energy-saving retrofits, though the details on the expanded program are not yet clear.

The budget also indicates that EERE’s goal is to accelerate a just, equitable clean energy transition. This explicit focus, while just a start, is an important shift. Historically, EERE and most other offices at DOE have not been designed to support equity and environmental and energy justice.

4. Procurement and Funding to Decarbonize Heavy Industry

Technologies to clean up industrial facilities like steel mills and cement plants are critical to addressing the climate crisis. But these sectors have long been a major gap in DOE innovation efforts. The budget acknowledges that decarbonizing heavy industry should be a focus for both EERE and the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. This focus is a great first step toward building out a strong federal industrial sector program. As Congress turns the President’s proposals into a detailed appropriations bill, we hope to see large funding increases for the Advanced Manufacturing Office, funding for large-scale demonstrations at industrial facilities, and support for DOE to expand its heavy industry efforts to include electrification, hydrogen, circular economy measures, novel processes, and carbon capture and storage.

The budget also includes more details on the industrial-sector decarbonization efforts proposed in the American Jobs Plan, including, notably, funding to procure low-carbon materials. The federal government is a top purchaser of industrial products like steel and cement for the construction of roads, bridges, buildings and other projects. Government procurement is thus a critical lever in creating early markets and sustained demand for cleaner materials, alongside direct investments to help ensure U.S. industry is making the cleanest products on the market.

To better leverage procurement to drive innovation, the federal government should support efforts to create a reporting system that helps manufacturers account for all the carbon associated with producing a range of industrial products, and require that all construction projects receiving federal funds take climate pollution and labor protection into account when awarding contracts. We urge Congress to include funding in the FY22 budget for the federal government to support these priorities. Doing so will ensure we capture the significant emissions reduction opportunities associated with switching to lower-carbon materials in projects funded by the American Jobs Plan.

5. Support for State, Local, and Tribal Governments

Action from states and municipal governments is critical to meeting our climate goals; increasing clean energy; and driving adoption of innovative technologies, policies, and business models. Federal funding is necessary to support states and cities in these endeavors, but current programs lack the budget to meaningfully support them.

The budget proposes several new programs to support states and cities, including Build Back Better Challenge grants for states and a new Local Government Energy Program. The success of these programs will depend on the details, but it is promising to see new efforts to support states and cities in the budget. Moreover, these programs build on the block grant funding proposed in the American Jobs Plan to provide an influx of support for states to advance clean energy, building electrification, and efficiency.

The budget also includes funding increases to support tribal nations to advance clean energy. Households on tribal lands lack access to electricity at extremely high rates and often face high costs to connect to the electricity grid. The budget proposes a six-fold increase in funding for the Office of Indian Energy (a $100 million increase) to support American Indian and Alaskan Native nations, including to help address energy access and energy poverty.

Federal clean energy programs have already helped foster a revolution in technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries. Now, we have an opportunity to accelerate clean energy innovation to improve, demonstrate, and deploy the technologies and strategies we need to combat the climate crisis. With the right funding and policies, we can do so in a way that creates strong economic growth rooted in the industries of the future, addresses inequalities in our energy and economic systems, and cuts pollution in places that have borne the brunt of it in the past. President Biden’s energy budget is a major step toward realizing these goals, and Congress should pass a government funding bill that incorporates these proposals and brings the benefits of clean energy to communities across the country.

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Switzerland put vertical solar panels on a roadside retaining wall




Switzerland put vertical solar panels on a roadside retaining wall

A canton in Switzerland commissioned a project in which solar panels were attached vertically to a roadside retaining wall.

The canton of Appenzell Ausserhoden in northeastern Switzerland is aiming to generate at least 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2035. So, it exercised a little creativity and covered a roadside retaining wall with 756 glass-glass solar panels.

The panels have an output of 325 kW and an energy yield of around 230,000 kWh annually. This is equivalent to the consumption of about 52 Swiss households. The energy will be fed into the grid of energy supplier St. Gallisch-Appenzellische Kraftwerke, and the canton will get a feed-in tariff in return.

German mounting system provider K2 Systems and Swiss contractor Solarmotion installed the vertical system on the 75-degree retaining wall. The panels were anchored on a mounting rail with HUS screw anchors, and Lichtenstein-based Hilti provided mechanical dowels. 

The PV system was anchored on and in the masonry using an adhesive technique. An anchoring depth of a maximum of 90 mm could not be exceeded so that the retaining wall would not be adversely affected.

Due to the close proximity to the asphalt, the solar panels’ components are subject to exceptional corrosion requirements and are anodized for protection. Indirect components are made of aluminum – only the screw anchors are made of stainless steel.

K2 Systems says that “especially in the winter months (when consumption and dependence on foreign electricity imports are at their highest), the vertically aligned modules will achieve a very good electricity yield.”

Electrek’s Take

This isn’t a big project, but it’s a delightfully creative one, which is why it caught my eye. A retaining wall is dead space, and snow will slide off the panels in Swiss winters.

We at Electrek love it when solar is installed in intelligent and inventive ways. Warehouse rooftops? Cover them. Highway medians? Canal covers? Box stores? Put solar on them. It just makes sense.

Read more: In a US first, California will pilot solar-panel canopies over canals

Photo: K2 Systems

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Doroni’s all-electric flying car gets flight certified in the US




Doroni's all-electric flying car gets flight certified in the US

Flying electric cars are not just for sci-fi movies. Miami-based Doroni Aerospace announced Friday its all-electric flying car, the Doroni H1, received official FAA Airworthiness Certification. And the best part – it’s designed to fit in your garage.

Doroni’s all-electric flying car gets FAA-certified

Doroni claims to be the first company to test manned flights with a 2-seater flying electric car in the US. The Doroni H1 took flight earlier this year.

CEO Doron Merdinger successfully piloted the personal electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) this summer. Merdinger said receiving the flight certification “is not just a milestone for our company, but a leap forward for the entire field of personal air mobility.”

He says the electric flying car “is poised to redefine urban transportation.” Doroni’s aircraft has already received over 370 pre-orders as the startup wraps up funding efforts.

Powered by ten independent propulsion systems, the all-electric flying car has a claimed top speed of 140 mph (100 mph cruising speed) and 60 miles range. Its unique design ensures stability during flight.

Doroni’s electric flying car (Source: Doroni)

It includes four ducts containing two e-motors with patented ducted propellers. Eight are for vertical flight with an additional “two pushes.”

The two-seater aircraft is designed to fit inside a two-car garage at 23 ft in length and 14 ft in width. It also features fast charging (20% -80%) in under 20 minutes.

Doroni’s electric flying car prototype (Source: Doroni)

Electric flying cars coming to a dealership near you

Doroni’s all-electric flying car is semi-autonomous, meaning you can guide it to different levels. A controller stick is used to push you forward, backward, or to the side.

Doroni H1 interior control stick (source: Doroni)

Who would buy one of these? Doroni says one of its customers is a doctor who wants to use the aircraft to skip traffic on their way to work. However, you will need a certification. It requires at least 20 hours of experience, 15 inside the aircraft and another five solo.

Merdinger says the biggest use case for eVTOLs will be for air taxis or ride-sharing. Doroni aims for a different market though.

Doroni electric flying car concept (Source: Doroni)

The company says there is enough space to fly everywhere, especially in suburban areas. Doroni’s all-electric flying car is designed for more than just getting you from point A to point B. It allows you to “enjoy nature,” according to Merdinger.

Doroni expects to build about 120 to 125 units by 2025 or 2026. Eventually, the Miami-based startup plans on scaling to produce 2,500 eVTOLs annually. You can learn more about the electric flying car on Doroni’s website.

(Source: Alef Aeronautics)

The company is the latest to receive the flight certification. Alef’s Model A was the first electric flying car to get certfied in June.

Alef said it had 2,500 pre-orders in July. The orders include 2,100 from individuals and 400 from businesses, including a California car dealership.

Electrek’s Take

Are electric flying cars going to take over road transportation? Not necessarily. At least not anytime soon.

Doroni and Alef are both working on niche markets, which makes the most sense for the time being. At the same time, the companies are pushing forward another sustainble means of transport.

As Merdinger explained “this is just the beginning,” as the technology advances.

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Rivian already has a patent on Tesla’s Cybertruck ‘range extender’




Rivian already has a patent on Tesla's Cybertruck 'range extender'

Tesla delivered the first Cybertrucks yesterday, and with that delivery event came the revelation that in order to get the range it promised, the Cybertruck needs a separate battery pack in the bed. But a similar battery pack system was already patented years ago, by one of Tesla’s competitors in the electric pick-up space.

Tesla’s Cybertruck website included a revelation about a feature that wasn’t mentioned in its presentation: a “range extender,” in the form of an additional battery pack in the truck bed which expands the truck’s range.

It’s an interesting solution, and we don’t know all the details of it yet. We don’t know the cost, the weight, how it will be installed and uninstalled, or whether it even can be uninstalled.

The battery pack is intended to be used “for very long trips or towing heavy things up mountains,” according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. It takes up about a third of the truck bed, as can be seen in a photo posted on Tesla’s Cybertruck site.

Tesla Range extender battery pack

So, there’s still room for cargo, just not the full 6 feet of bed length that Tesla says the Cybertruck has.

But the fact that it was described as being used only “for very long trips or towing heavy things up mountains” suggests that it will be removable, since most people don’t do that sort of thing every single day.

Making it removable is actually a good solution, because it can lower prices, make packaging easier, and improve efficiency for vehicles that simply don’t need a ridiculously enormous 470-mile battery – and most drivers don’t need that.

And if it is removable, well, there’s already a patent on that.

In 2019, electric truck maker Rivian filed a patent for a “removable auxiliary battery” that would fit into the front third-or-so of the truck bed. This patent was granted in 2020, so Rivian currently has a patent on this technology.

The patent is described as:

An electric vehicle system for transporting human passengers or cargo includes an electric vehicle that includes a body, a plurality of wheels, a cargo area, an electric motor for propelling the electric vehicle, and a primary battery for providing electrical power to the electric motor for propelling the electric vehicle. An auxiliary battery module is attachable to the electric vehicle for providing electrical power to the electric motor via a first electrical connector at the auxiliary battery module and a second electrical connector at the electric vehicle that mates with the first electrical connector. The auxiliary battery module can be positioned in the cargo area while supplying power to the electric motor, and can be removable and reattachable from the electric vehicle. The auxiliary battery module includes an integrated cooling system for cooling itself during operation of the electric vehicle including a conduit therein for circulating coolant.

We aren’t patent lawyers here, but this sounds awfully similar to Tesla’s “range extender.” The obvious potential differences we can find are if the range extender doesn’t have integrated cooling, which is unlikely, or if the range extender isn’t removable, which doesn’t seem to jive with the statement that it is only for long trips or with the marketing showing it as an optional add-on (if that were the case, why not just offer different battery sizes?).

Tesla itself has many patents (and is still pursuing more of them), but has pledged not to “initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use its technology.” It announced this in a 2014 blog post, and followed up by saying that it thinks several companies are using its patents.

So next, the question is: is Tesla’s solution different enough to avoid Rivian’s patent protection? Has Tesla licensed the idea from Rivian, and we just haven’t heard about it yet? Or will Rivian return Tesla’s “good faith” and not initiate a patent lawsuit against Tesla, if it does feel like it has a good enough case to say that Tesla’s range extender infringes on its patent?

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