Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Latest From : CleanTechnica

Latest From : CleanTechnica

Obama State of the Union Address 2011 [w/ VIDEO]

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 07:00 AM PST

Obama State of the Union 2011 Video Clip

I’ve done an early read of reactions to Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address (full text) from leading green thinkers around the web. It is always interesting to see how different people with the same overall intentions view something — what they focus on can be quite different. Reflecting on and integrating some of those early reactions, as well as the speech itself, here’s my take on Obama’s State of the Union address.

Global Warming Left Out

Bryan Walsh of TIME’s Ecocentric blog notes, “Tonight’s State of the Union may be remembered as the moment when the White House stopped working on climate—and started working on energy.”

This is a big point. While we just saw the hottest year on record, Obama made no mention of it. He seems to have decided that global warming or climate change or global weirding should not be mentioned. There are a lot of reasons why he might be doing so (i.e. it has become a divided issue politically, people like to hear about solutions not problems, or it is too complicated a topic for the American public), but as Dr Joe Romm of Climate Progress notes: “These omissions were depressingly predictable (see ‘Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?‘) and thus, predictably, depressing to climate hawks.” This was a clear disappointment to those of us who see the issue as the biggest economic, quality of life, and societally existential issue of our time.

Obama’s (or his team’s) decision to not mention climate change or global warming means that a ton more people will not see its importance or validity as one of the most critical issues we must address, one of the most critical issues (probably the most critical) the world is facing.

“Clean” Energy Front and Center

While global warming was left out of the speech, clean energy was a prominent focus. In other words, while not wanting to discuss the problem, Obama was more than eager to discuss one of the key solutions.

“Clean” Energy Creates Jobs

Obama knows that clean energy creates more jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuel industries. But he also knows that the clean energy industry needs more security than it has seen for that to hold true in the future. Obama said:

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.

This provided a clear push to finally create some form of federal energy policy… not a completely stupid mishmash of energy laws and subsidies.

American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Denise Bode, commenting on the speech, noted (in an email):

We are pleased to see the possibility of the first predictable long-term federal policy toward renewable energy. But of course we'll need to make sure the policy really deploys the renewable energy Americans want in the near term, as well as the long term.

Wind energy can deliver right now on its promise to deliver new electricity to Americans more affordably than any other energy source, if we have a level playing field to compete with the permanent entitlements that fossil fuels have enjoyed for over 90 years.

Exactly… (I’ll get to the fossil fuel industry more in a bit).

Why the ” ” Around “Clean”

Well, the ‘ugly’ news (as Dr Romm called it) is that what Obama terms “clean” energy is a mixture of real clean energy (solar and wind), economically suicidal nuclear energy (which, debatably, is also far from clean) and not-clean coal.

Here’s more on nuclear’s financial risk from our friend Timothy Hurst of ecopolitology:

Greenpeace’s Phil Radford points out that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has said that new nuclear loans pose a greater than 50 percent chance of default.  Radford writes that in the State of the Union, “President Obama should support his own Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chief, who says that the U.S. can produce all new electricity without any new nuclear or coal power plants.”

Natural gas is also running into all sorts of environmental problems and may be much less climate-friendly than has been claimed.

Of course, supporting these other energy supplies is perhaps the only way to get anything through a bought and bribed Congress. So, it may just be something we have to swallow if we want to tackle the environmental problems we’re facing, including the unutterable words that start with G and W.

Fossil Fuel Industries Don’t Need Any More Help

Perhaps the strongest statement in Obama’s whole speech was the following:

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

This is huge. This is a key to making the energy playing field just, to cutting tons of wasteful spending out of the federal budget, and to addressing… ok, I’ll say it, GLOBAL WARMING… doon, doon, doon.

Seriously, this is a key proposal that is about more than rhetoric. AWEA’s Bode writes, “On ending billions in oil industry tax subsidies and investing in ‘tomorrow's energy’:  It is true that fossil fuels receive five times more in federal incentives than renewable energy. We don't believe that is in line with Americans' current priorities.”

Bryan Walsh notes:

Republicans in the audience didn’t exactly jump behind that one, but it might have been the most stunning line of the speech. Past Presidents have promised again and again to get America off foreign oil. Former President George W. Bush, who made his money in the petroleum industry, told Congress in his 2006 State of the Union speech that “America is addicted to oil”—then did nothing about it. But Obama has actually charted a path away from oil and other fossil fuels.

Will it finally happen?

High-Speed Rail to Get More Support

While some extremely narrow-minded Republicans have sacrificed jobs and economic growth in their states to oppose one of Obama’s favorite topics, one also highly supported by Americans and people the world over, high-speed rail is a critical part of economic growth and solutions to help the environment. To drop support for it would have been a bad move. Obama did the opposite. He increased his support for it.

Here’s more from Obama:

Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I'm proposing that we redouble these efforts.

We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down.  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway….

This sort of investment and foresight is what made America great. It’s important that we not lose that and continue falling behind in the world economy. It’s important that we not continue ruining our quality of life with unnecessary traffic congestion, lost productiveness and money, and air and water pollution. It’s important that we not become a nation of incrementalists.

It’s good to see Obama has not lost his focus on this critical transportation solution to our numerous economic and environmental problems.

Obama is Not Going to Drop Critical Environmental Regulations (that Actually Benefit the Economy)

Yes, Republicans will tell you until their blue in the face that the EPA attacks the economy. Far from the truth. Environmental regulations create a net benefit to the economy of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. And, clearly, they serve a key quality of life purpose.

Obama said:

I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people.  That's what we've done in this country for more than a century. It's why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.

Who can argue with that?

Our Sputnik Moment

This is an analogy that has been circulating for awhile, because it is a good one. The U.S. is falling behind in the critical job-creating category of the future. We are at a key crossroads where we must decide to considerably boost our efforts and get on top again or risk falling further on the global economic and technological stage.

Here’s more from Obama:

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we are seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.

Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert's words, "We reinvented ourselves."

That's what Americans have done for over two hundred years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we've begun to reinvent our energy policy. We're not just handing out money. We're issuing a challenge. We're telling America's scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we'll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.

Right on.

More thoughts on Obama’s State of the Union speech? Share them below.

Finally! A Low Cost Solar Panel that Can See in the Dark

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 04:00 AM PST

researchers at Lawrence  Berkeley Lab develop full light spectrum solar cellWell…it can almost see in the dark. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have just announced that they’ve been able to confirm a new high-efficiency solar cell design that handles pretty much the entire solar spectrum. To ice the solar cake, the new technology can be manufactured using ordinary low-cost processes that are currently in use.

Harnessing the Full Spectrum for Solar Power

A conventional solar cell uses one kind of semiconductor, which captures light from one part of the spectrum. The new solar cell uses different materials, stacked in layers, that respond to different wavelengths. As explained by LBL writer Paul Preuss, the trick is to use one alloy, gallium arsenide nitride, but replace some of the arsenic atoms with nitrogen to create an intermediate energy band. This third band enables the semiconductor to respond to low and mid-energy wavelengths as well as the more “energetic” parts of the spectrum.

Lowering the Cost of Full Spectrum Solar Cells

In earlier trials, the researchers used different alloys that achieved full spectrum responses but involved very high production costs. The advantage of gallium arsenide nitride is that it is very similar to a conventional semiconductor, gallium arsenide, and it can be produced with a commonly used fabrication method involving chemical vapor deposition.

Full Speed Ahead to Full Spectrum Solar Cells

The Lawrence Berkeley breakthrough represents just one path to increasing the efficiency and lowering the cost of solar cells. Over at Ohio State University, a full spectrum solar cell is also under development, and Stanford is pursuing a new technology that cuts around the problem of solar cell efficiency loss due to high temperatures. And then of course there’s low cost solar paints on the horizon, new solar cell fabrication methods, and the use of low-cost materials for concentrating solar power…well, it may be just a bit too soon to say goody-bye to “yesterday’s energy” but we’re sure on our way.

Image: Moon by r w h on

Solar Incentives for Commercial Rooftops Are Used-Up Early in California

Posted: 25 Jan 2011 12:23 PM PST

The good news is Californians are adding 3 Gigawatts of solar to the grid from rooftops in record time. The bad news is that some of their incentives are consequently running out early.

Since 2006, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) has offered rebates for solar installations, both residential and non-residential, that step down over time.

But the budget ceiling has now just been hit for all non-residential rooftops, according to DSIRE, for Pacific Gas & Electricity and San Diego Gas & Electric customers, and the 10 year solar incentives program will end five years early, instead of in 2016, for these customers. Only Southern California Edison still has non-residential incentives left.

In 2006, with the signing of SB 1, then-Governor Schwarzenegger’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative,  CSI budgeted $3.2 billion to supply 3 Gigawatts of solar to the California grid off of California rooftops in ten years, by 2016, disbursing the rebates through the largest California electric utilities, PG&E and SDG&E, and SCE.

All solar projects are eligible, but with different rates, limits, and steps for residential, commercial and governmental. (Public schools, non-profits or churches, for example, that are not eligible to take a Federal tax credit, get higher rebates.)

The program covers not only PV, but solar for space heating, and rooftop solar thermal used to provide hot water, radiant heat or air conditioning, as long as the technology can meet the requirements of the very thoroughly tested CEC list of eligible solar equipment.

For all the non-residential applicants in PG&E and SDG&E territories, which includes commercial and industrial and governmental and non-profit customers, this ends the popular rebate program. In case some projects drop out, both utilities are accepting some new applications on a waiting list.

Last year, a similar cut-off was threatened in residential rooftop solar projects. The previous limit of “2.5 % of peak power demand” ceiling was in danger of being exceeded, by rooftop solar. After passionate lobbying by solar groups, the limit was raised to allow up to 5% of peak power demand be met by homeowners’ rooftop solar installations.

The commercial program was to have run till 2016. Instead, all the non-residential solar incentives have run out in two of the three main utility districts.

Will there be a last minute save? I am usually contacted before these kinds of dire events by groups like the NRDC or SEIA or Solar Nation. But I have not heard anything about this from them. Have you?

Image: Solar Server

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

Clean Transportation Link Drop

Posted: 25 Jan 2011 11:25 AM PST

Some of the best or biggest clean transportation news from the past week (other than what we covered):

Road Trains

This is actually an idea my dad had a few years ago. I figured at that time someone was probably working on it, but had never heard of such a plan.

'Road trains' can improve fuel efficiency—and driver downtime—by turning cars into conga lines

It’s 2011, where’s your self-driving car? With “road train” technology, now in development by Volvo, it could be the car you already own. Road trains, or platoons, create semi-autonomous conga lines of cars following one leader vehicle with a professional driver. Volvo’s calling the project SARTRE — Safe Road Trains for the Environment. (You can exit, though — cars can leave the train at any time.) But what are the real environmental effects?…

Public Transit

Public transit saves us money, whether we ride it or not… but more savings to those who ride it.

Rising Gas Prices Allow Public Transit Riders to Ring in the New Year with an Average Savings of $805 This Month and $9,656 Annually

Washington, DC- 2011 begins with rising gas prices and predictions they will go even higher as we move further into the new year. These predictions coupled with the release of The American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) monthly "Transit Savings Report" highlight the increasing benefits of switching from driving to riding public transportation. The report notes that riding public transportation saves individuals, on average $9,656 annually, and up to $805 per month based on the January 5, 2011 average national gas price ($3.08 per gallon-reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate….

Public Transportation Relieves Traffic Congestion

The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) today released its highly regarded congestion report, 2010 Urban Mobility Report, which looked at road congestion in 439 United States urban areas. As in past years, the data overwhelmingly shows the importance of public transportation in relieving congestion. In fact, the report's improved methodology indicates that public transportation has an even greater role in reducing congestion than previously thought.

The 2010 Urban Mobility Report makes clear that without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 785 million hours of delay and consumed 640 million more gallons of fuel. Had there been no public transportation service available in the 439 urban areas studied, congestion costs for 2009 would have risen by nearly $19 billion from $115 to $134 billion. (See the table below for the top 36 urban areas.)…

High-Speed Rail & Intercity Bus Lines

Some in-depth articles on why high-speed rail is good as well as other news.

VISION: Can a New High-Speed Rail System Save the American Dream?

Crippled by economic depression and environmental catastrophe, the American dream is dead in the water. And with peak oil hot on its hyperconsuming heels, America is looking for solutions, and it may have found a good one in the form of an ambitious national high-speed rail network that would connect its metropoles and mid-size cities together in green solidarity. Better late than never….

California’s high-speed rail project is on the right track

The Jan. 12 editorial “Hit the brakes,” criticizing California’s high-speed rail plan, was shortsighted and parochial. If President Dwight D. Eisenhower had waited until he had all the cash on hand, all the lines drawn on a map and all the naysayers on board, America wouldn’t have an interstate highway system. We stand at a similar crossroads today when it comes to high-speed rail….

Hating on the California High-Speed Rail Haters

California has secured billions in federal funding for its statewide network of high-speed rail corridors. Late last year it scooped up an extra $624 million from the unwanted rail projects in Ohio and Wisconsin. By next year construction will begin on the first segment, a 65-mile stretch running from Madera to Bakersfield through Fresno. So everything is golden in the golden state, right?

Not if you live in Burlingame, where officials are furious that current plans call for the rail to ride above ground, rather than through tunnels. And not if you live in Corcoran, either, where the New York Times reports the same fear holds true, according to city manager Ronald W. Hoggard:…

Turkey to build nearly 100 high-speed train stations

Nearly 100 high-speed train stations will be built across Turkey for accommodation of high-speed trains.

The train stations will be presented to auction with build-operate-transfer model….

America's Fastest Growing Form of Transit: The Intercity Bus

For the third year in a row, "intercity bus service was the fastest growing mode of intercity transportation, outpacing air and rail transportation," says a report released by DePaul University, called "The Intercity Bus: America's Fastest Growing Transportation Mode," by Joseph P. Schwieterman and Lauren Fischer….

Clean Cars

D.C. Area Boasts Residential Electric Car Charging Station

A new development, owned by Equity Residential, in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. will now have an electric car charging station in its garage.  Launched in conjunction with Car Charging Inc. the location appears to be "the first such charging station in a residential building parking garage in the area," says District blogger Richard Layman of Rebuilding Place In The Urban Space. The location is 425 Massachusetts Ave. in Northwest Washington….

Grants driving customers towards electric cars

Survey finds 53 per cent of motorists considering electric or hybrid car as next purchase….

Report: China working on plan to install 10 million charging stations by 2020

Recently, a slew of reports have surfaced suggesting that many of China’s automakers are scaling back development of alternative energy vehicles. Specifically, reports indicate that weak consumer interest is forcing Chinese automakers to ditch plans to manufacture electric vehicles. With that in mind, it’s surprising, at least to some degree, to stumble upon news indicating that China is forging forward with plans to install perhaps millions of plug-in vehicle charging stations within the next decade….

Chrysler battery-less hybrids announced

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Chrysler Group is working on a new hybrid minivan that doesn’t use batteries or electric motors to drive it, the automaker announced with the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday….

Toyota Developing Electric Motors that Don't Need Rare Earth Metals

On the surface electric cars seem simple, but the motors and batteries are actually made from rare earth elements subject to supply disruption. But Toyota is working on an electric motor that doesn't use these rare metals….

Clean Transport City

Not on your list of places to see? Maybe it should be!

2011 Sustainable Transport Award Winner: Guangzhou, China

The city of Guangzhou, China today won the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award for its new world-class bus rapid transit (BRT) system that integrates with bike lanes, bike share and metro stations. The annual award created by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy goes to a city that made the most progress over the year to increase mobility, while reducing transportation greenhouse and air pollution emissions and improving safety and access for cyclists and pedestrians….

Photo Credit: caribb

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