Thursday, July 31, 2008

'Major Discovery' from MIT Primed to Unleash Solar Revolution

Holy cow. We might have a revolution in renewable energy storage here. The ability to store actual power produced, from the wind or the sun let's say, is highly expensive and inefficient. This genius scientist at MIT (Daniel Nocera) created a way to store that excess energy for later use (such as a time when the wind is blowing or the sun isn't shining). And supposedly it is extremely easy to set up so that we all could have one at home. Read the press release to get all of the groovy details. That link also has a video on it of Professor Nocera describing his invention. This is phenomenal news.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wind Energy Faces Daunting Challenges

I am glad to see some articles beginning to talk about transmission lines. We have all of these potential renewable energy sources that are located in various parts of the country, but how do we get that created power (from say the desert or the "wind corridor") to the home? Our current transmission lines are woefully inept and will need to be completely revamped. It's something that we must talk about before we unleash the flood gates of renewable energy power generation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Next Generation of Alternative Energy

According to this article, concentrated solar power, algae, and ocean wave-power generation are attractive to venture capital firms. According to the article $2 billion in funding was served up to the cleantech industry in the second quarter of 2008. That's a lot of coin and encouraging to hear about. Now let's back that up with sound and intelligent legislation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Agribusiness Heavies Form Biofuels Lobbying Group

Great. I guess we've come to this as a society. Even as food prices go higher, as people have trouble putting food on their tables, and as millions of people go hungry each night around the world, lobbyists will come in, wave gobs of cash around, and buy out our elected officials to promote crops as biofuels. It is all about the money. How pathetic.

Where Would America’s Renewable Energy Come From?

Nice and easy to comprehend article on where the U.S. can get all of its renewable energy. Plus it uses some cool maps from NREL on where this renewable energy resides within our borders.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Modest Proposal: Eco-Friendly Stimulus

For some reason I have a rash of car posts this lazy, hot Sunday. We have another thought-provoking article from Alan S. Blinder, an economics professor. It's an interesting concept to help get out cars off the road and stimulate demand for new ones. From the article:

"A California study estimated that cars 13 years old and older accounted for 25 percent of the miles driven but 75 percent of all pollution from cars. So we can reduce pollution by pulling some of these wrecks off the road. Several pilot programs have found that doing so is a cost-effective way to reduce emissions."

So we can clean the environment and create the demand for newer, cleaner, more efficient automobiles, by paying, "Cash for Clunkers." It's a pin-pointed policy proposal with a direct, measurable result. Plus this smart policy proposal beats just handing out a $600 "stimulus check" that could be used randomly on anything and not create a greater good for an industry and a country. What do you think?

GM and the New Plug-In Infrastructure

If indeed electric plug-in cars are our future then there are numerous things to think about before it becomes a reality. It isn't simply plugging the car into your outlet in the garage or at work, as this article points out. We need to come up with standards and policies that will govern access to power and determine what the infrastructure will look and act like. Even though the author frets a little too much over things that in my opinion aren't necessary to foster a plug-in infrastructure, it is a good piece to help you get the conversation going about what a future with plug-in cars will look like.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

EPA Puts Off Renewable Fuels Waiver Decision until August

As we talked about on Wednesday with this post, "Ethanol Industry Braces for EPA Decision on Its Future," the EPA was supposed to make a decision today on whether or not to waive the ethanol mandate. Well, the EPA couldn't make it, but they did say that the decision would be made in, "early August." That's right around the corner.

Saharan Sun to Power European Supergrid

The idea that the ever burning sun in the Sahara could be home to PV and CSP energy plants and provide Europe all of its power needs is gaining steam again (no pun intended). Some of the challenges are redoing the grid by installing transmission lines that do not lose power over long distances. Transmitting power in DC will allow for transmission of power over longer distances with minimum power loss. However the current, which is usually created in AC, would have to be converted to DC first. These power inverters tend to be expensive.

Another challenge, with respect to Europeans getting their power from the Sahara in Africa, was addressed in my previous post, "Renewable OPEC: Careful What You Wish For."

I am glad that the Europeans are discussing the generation of their power from renewable means rather than falling back on the old dirty reliables, coal and nuclear.

Solar Thermal Energy Coming to a Boil - Peak Oil

Great overview about concentrated solar power (CSP) from the North Denver News. This is our best hope for providing maximum power (more so than PV) that is clean and renewable. Also check out my older post titled, "Heat Is Much Easier to Store Than Electricity, Dreaming of a Low-Carbon Economy" for more on the phenomenal benefits of CSP.

New California Law Allows Cities to Give Loans for Energy-saving Improvements

Excellent. Low-interest loans offered by cities for solar panels or energy efficient air conditioners that can be paid back over decades through property taxes. This is an innovative way for a city to reduce it's carbon footprint, for individuals to start generating their own power, and jump-starting the solar industry in those communities.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NREL Solar Research Gains Two R&D 100 Awards

Congrats to NREL for getting two awards this year. And check out what they got them for:

"An ultra-light, highly efficient solar cell and use of ink-jet printing to manufacture thin-film photovoltaics—both developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory—have been named among this year’s most significant innovations by Research & Development (R&D) Magazine."

You mean I could someday print my own solar panels! I am giddy with anticipation.

Ethanol Industry Braces for EPA Decision on Its Future

Tough decision by the EPA this week (Thursday). Should they keep the mandate to add more ethanol to the fuel supply which will make the farmers, ethanol producers, and auto industry happy? Or will will they waive the mandate which will supposedly help keep food prices at bay and the rest of us consumers happy? Read this article to find out the arguments.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Island in the Wind: A Danish Community’s Victory over Carbon Emissions

"Once people on Samsø started thinking about energy, a local farmer explains, “it became a kind of sport.”

That is a line from a recent New Yorker article that a reader pointed out to me. It is a line that, for me, provokes a little more thought. How many of us think about something to the point where it becomes a challenge to our minds. Can renewable energy and energy efficiency ever be that something? It certainly has been gaining a lot of traction in the traditional media and even to a greater extent within the mainstream media (i.e., the blogs!).

The article itself, written by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a wonderful read. From the beginning we are immersed in this community in Denmark and are led to discover how the determination of a few people can become infectious and translate into action. It gives me hope that Al Gore's proposal of all of our electricity generation from renewable sources in 10 years is completely possible, if we just put our minds together.

For the longest time I haven't heard the phrase uttered, "You can do it, if you put your mind to it." When's the last time you heard it? I miss that America. I think she's ripe for a new challenge. A challenge that will take collective brain power and will power, and most importantly, a suspension of disbelief.

Renewable energy is right. Right economically, politically, and environmentally. Now all we have to do is act. Do we want to sit and wait for gas prices to go through the roof to the point where we can't afford to drive to work or to school or to the grocery store? Or will we put our heads together and find another way to transport ourselves that is cheaper and kinder to the environment and uses renewable sources?

So read the article and let me know your thoughts. I think we can do it. What say you?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Answer's in the Wind - and Sun

Here's a good pro wind and sun article in the Washington Post by an oil and natural gas guy. His main focus is that, "hydrocarbons will be priced out of the market" and solar and wind technologies will be there to fill in the gap. Now, in my humble opinion, this isn't an excuse to wait for the invisible hand of the "market" to guide us to the promised land of some future cheaper renewable energies (how did the unregulated market treat us with respect to the current financial mess we are in?). We must act now to redo our national transmission grid, help folks retrofit their homes to be energy efficient, reduce our consumption of foreign oil (about 70% of our oil is purchased from foreign sources), promote localized energy consumption through solar, wind, and geothermal, create plug-in electric automobiles for commuters, increase public transportation lines, and educate, educate, educate. How do we get to this point? Lots of intelligent investment, both public and private funds, and intelligent, comprehensive policy. Is it possible? Yes. Do we have the will to change? That's up to you dear reader.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sunnyvale School Districts Installing Solar Panels to Cut Energy Costs

Hopefully we will begin to see more of this. Schools are open during peak solar time (so are most businesses) and should be able to meet part of their electricity needs with a modest PV installation. Add a solar hot water heater and they could meet some more. And even before that an energy audit of the building itself. Just think, every school across the land generating most of their own power. What a learning experience for the children.

Texas Approves Massive New Wind Power Project

In the headline it should say, "and yet another wind power project." I tell ya', Texas is really tearing it up with the wind power. It's the new, "Texas tea." They're adding another 13,000 megawatts of wind power at about $4.9 billion dollars. That is just incredible. Don't mess with Texas!

Somebody Finally Had the Courage to Say It

Al Gore gave a speech today in Washington D.C. that pretty much summed up what needs to happen in this country. And he says we can complete it within 10 years. And to quote former Vice President Gore:

"The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels."

He proposes that we first produce all of our electricity through carbon-free sources, i.e., solar, wind, and geothermal. I'm not positive that we can do 100% renewable for all of our electricity needs in 10 years. We've got massive infrastructure problems for one. But I do believe that it is at least a goal that we can see and begin to work towards, just like we had when we landed a man on the moon. Enough of the lip speak, let's start acting!

Read the speech and let me know what you think.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Did Oil Execs Luck into Record Pay?

Read this article and then tell me with a straight face that, "Congress should keep giving oil companies billions of dollars of tax payer subsidies because they are a new market trying to get off the ground." When will the madness of excessive profit at the expense of our pocketbooks end? I'm not advocating socialism here, just a little bit of a balance.

Energy Interview with Amory Lovins

Informative interview in Mother Jones with the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins. I have just started the book he co-wrote called "Natural Capitalism" (see the Analog Reading margin in the right hand margin for a link to Amazon). In the interview he insists that subsidies for energy (renewable or not) are not the way to go, because energy policy on a federal level is not effective. I believe he has a point but I am not ready to give up on federal subsidies for the renewable energy industry (at the same time decreasing subsidies for coal and oil). I also think that in addition to the subsidies we should pursue all of the ideas he presents in the interview (like making existing buildings energy efficient) to make energy profitable for both the consumer and the distributor. I'm probably wrong though, as Mr. Lovins has been at this a lot longer than I have and is a heck of a lot smarter. Read the interview and let me know what you think.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gas Prices: What's the Future Look Like?

A reader posted a comment on the "NREL, A123Systems battery research" post. He/she said,

"Within 10 years half the automobiles on the road will be battery powered. They will be able to go 200 miles on a charge and be as capable as our current autos. Most power plants will be powered by natural gas or wind and some solar."

Having said this, do you agree? What does our future look like with $10 a gallon of gas? There's no way that our stagnate incomes/slowing economy can afford 10 bucks a gallon. No way. So if gas does get that high what does the world look like? How do we get to work? How does our food get transported to the grocery store? How do our kids get to school? What will containers (made out of petroleum-based plastic) become? Lots of things will have to change with $10 a gallon.

It is an exciting time to be alive and change is coming whether we want or not. But after so many years of easy living in the states (relative to other places around the globe) don't we need a challenge to get the blood moving again, the old brain thinking again, and the will power thriving again? I think so, do you?

MIT Increases Efficiency of Solar Panels

Phenomenal news. MIT has figured out a way to increase solar panel efficiency by, "making more efficient use of the full spectrum of sunlight." This will reduce the expense of the panel in a big way by allowing more bang for the buck and generating a quicker ROI. Go MIT.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

NREL, A123Systems Join on Battery Research

This will be a great combination - the very capable research abilities of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the cash-infused private manufacturing company, A123Systems. If we are going to switch over to hybrid cars in the coming years we are going to have to create batteries that can hold more charge for longer periods of time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Zero Emissions House for the G-8 Summit

The G-8 attendees are in for a treat in Japan. Hopefully they'll pay attention when they take a tour of the zero emissions house and bring some of those ideas back to their respective countries. Here's to wishful thinking.

The Next President’s First Task [A Manifesto]

An informative and well-written piece by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Vanity Fair magazine. Renewable energy is an imperative for the U.S. to get back on its feet as a nation. Iceland did it. And the next President of the U.S. needs to realize this. From the article:

"Today, we don’t need to abolish carbon as an energy source in order to see its inefficiencies starkly, or to understand that this addiction is the principal drag on American capitalism. The evidence is before our eyes. The practice of borrowing a billion dollars each day to buy foreign oil has caused the American dollar to implode."

A billion dollars each day. Wow. Or how about this:

"Carbon dependence has eroded our economic power, destroyed our moral authority, diminished our international influence and prestige, endangered our national security, and damaged our health and landscapes. It is subverting everything we value."

Go read the whole thing and start thinking about what we must do to bring this economy back to sanity starting yesterday.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Markey Tackles Energy Policies in Colorado's 4th Congressional District

Betsy Markey of the Democratic Party is running against the incumbent Republican Representative Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado's 4th Congressional district. I'm glad to see energy as a leading topic in this year's election. Most if not all of our Colorado Congressional and Senatorial candidates are speaking about energy, but perhaps not discussing enough renewable energy. Let's make sure that we let our candidates know that we can't drill or mine our way out of this problem and instead we need clear and comprehensive energy reform that creates new jobs and weans us off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Cleantech initiatives such as solar and wind should be the focus along with an in-depth study of non-agricultural biofuels. Write 'em or call 'em! Go Betsy!

Colorado Governor Meeting with Renewable Energy Companies in Spain

Ahhhh, lucky Governor Ritter jaunting off to beautiful Spain to drum up some investment for Colorado. Good work Governor. Let us know how your trip went after you get back.

A Cloth to Cut the Mercury Risk From Light Bulbs

Interesting way to capture the mercury from a broken compact fluorescent light bulb.

Large Solar Energy Array Set for G.M. in Spain

This is good news. It's even better that an American company from the state of Michigan is building the solar array in Spain. Probably has something to do with GM being an American company but we take what we can get. Hopefully other companies with gigantic warehouses and plants will follow GM's lead.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Inventor Uses Tornadoes as Energy Source

Harnessing the energy from a tornado. Nice. One night while I was listening to late night radio a few years ago, they were talking about some of the incredible damage that a couple of tornadoes did to small towns in the Midwest. I remember a caller asking if it was possible to harness the tornado's tremendous amount of energy. Well, apparently a budding genius is on his way to figuring out how to create a tornado in a controlled environment.

"A tornado may sound like a tough thing to create, but all you need to do is find a way to heat an elevated layer of air so that the temperature is much higher than that of the air below, which will create a vortex."

From the article it's not clear if the temperature fluctuations are generated by renewable sources but this is definitely a neat way of generating energy. Only $60 mil to build the tornado facility. Pocket change right?

To generate a tornado, you just have to radically heat the "elevated" air. I wonder what the difference in temperature is in order to generate a tornado. Is there a NOAA scientist out there?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Laugh at High Gas Prices With a 235-MPG VW

These next few years are going to be terribly exciting in the automotive industry. American companies are being forced by consumers to downsize their autos and foreign auto companies are putting fuel efficient cars into production quicker than expected. MPG is king. Check out this 235 MPG Volkswagen. Looks like fun.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Secret Report: Biofuel Caused Food Crisis

Is this the nail in the coffin for food-based biofuels? If this report is to be believed (and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the World Bank now that Paul Wolfowitz is gone), plant-based fuel sources caused a 75% increase in global food prices. 75%.

Oh and the only reason it is a "secret" report is because of this "belief":

"Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush."

Millions of folks are starving and cannot afford to buy food around the globe and the World Bank is worried about embarrassing President Bush? How sad is that? We need to wake up.

Oh and here is another money quote from Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam:

"It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."

The lobbyists are corrupting the problem. They always do. Can we recognize that the deep-pocketed lobbyists who put unlimited reams of cash into our politicians pockets are not looking out for the best interest of the average person? If we don't recognize this, then we will all suffer from the horrible policies created by the heavy influence of these lobbies.

McConnell Says Gulf States 'think oil rigs are pretty'

Here's another out of touch U.S. Senator saying that folks in the Gulf states "think oil rigs are pretty." Note to anybody that is listening: any politico who promotes offshore drilling or drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to reduce the price of gas at the pump is blowing smoke up your tail pipe and pandering to your fears. The only way to reduce gas prices in the near future is to supplement fossil fuels with other energy sources. We cannot drill our way out of this problem.

Senator Bernie Sanders Backs New Solar Power Initiative

Ahhhh, Senator Bernie Sanders is such a breath of fresh air in these stagnate, myopic times. He is proposing an initiative to put 10 million solar panels on 10 million homes and businesses in the U.S. Just imagine the self-sufficiency that this country would experience, not to mention the jobs created. I am growing weary at any mention of drilling our way out of high gas prices or anything that has to do with fossil fuels to cure what ails us. There is a need for strong leadership and not business as usual. Give Senator Sanders a call or email him and let him know that you appreciate his willingness to present refreshing ideas to help wean us off fossil fuels for out energy needs.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

BLM Lifts Solar Moratorium 21 Months Early

Well that was quick. BLM decided to drop the moratorium on new solar plant applications after some heat from a U.S. Senator and the solar industry. Good. Let's keep in mind that we the people still have to poke and prod our government officials every once and awhile. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Oil Shale May Figure into GOP's Energy Plan

How long until Senator Wayne Allard's term is over? I have to say that Republicans just want to drill more holes in the land and squeeze more oil out of shale in a feeble attempt to extricate ourselves from the onslaught of high oil prices. Read this article and it will give you an idea of how out of touch the GOP is with regards to generating sound energy policy and instead want to keep providing benefits to big oil companies. Plus Senator Ken Salazar gives Allard a little smack down.

Ethanol Plants Taking Big Hits, Shutting Down

Wow. I didn't see this one coming. The price of grains are going through the roof because of massive flooding in the Midwest. This in turn is causing ethanol production plants to literally shut down and go bankrupt. Ethanol plants to be built will remain on the drawing board and probably never will come to fruition. This isn't a told you so moment, but it is a moment for reflection. We need to think on a deeper level about what happens when we use fertile land to grow food to put gas in our cars. We also need to think about other ways to move us away from our insatiable thirst of Middle Eastern oil. Is that cellulosic ethanol or fuel from our municipal waste? Necessity is the mother of all invention, right?

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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