Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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EPA Defies Republicans – Announces Better Data-Gathering on Air Pollution Harm Anyway

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 04:40 PM PDT

Even as the Republican majority in the House is shutting down the science associated with air pollution, and has passed an astounding 168 bills hampering the EPA’s ability to collect data on (or act to prevent) the harm of pollutants, the EPA is making improvements in its ability to study the interaction of weather and harmful air pollution.

The EPA today announced a more up to the minute refinement of the decades-old method used in gathering its data: the Community Multi-scale Air Quality model (CMAQ) that the National Weather Service uses as the model to produce daily forecasts for ozone air quality and other harmful health effects of the use of dirty energy.

The new modeling  improves forecasting ability, in predicting for example the daily danger level of smog over natural geological “basins” like Los Angeles.

Republican bills to shut down EPA

New data or old, however, it might be a moot point. The Republican majority in congress last month passed a bill to prevent EPA from even collecting data on the health effects of air pollution (in order to assess the costs of not cleaning up) with the TRAIN Act, passed by party line vote.

Another bill passed by Republicans this year would knock satellites out of the business of providing much of the raw meteorological data needed in compiling this kind of information (as well as predicting hurricanes, droughts and tornadoes). (US Breaks Heat Records as Republicans End Record-Keeping) That data is now providing the evidence of anthropogenic climate change, something that Republicans oppose on ideological grounds and wish to sweep under the rug.

Why Republicans want to shut down EPA

By silencing the canary, Republicans believe that the US will enter a golden age of unfettered dirty energy job-creation along the lines of a similarly unfettered Somalia or Nigeria. However, solar energy grew at 6.8% last year, employs more people than coal extraction, and posted a larger trade surplus than the oil business.

If the EPA survives this assault by the Republican Party – and that is up to voters in a land so awash in falsified news that they do not have the information necessary for democracy – the new version would use up-to-the minute meteorology and air chemistry data to determine how weather conditions affect pollution, and how pollution can affect and change weather. It would make it possible for scientists to analyze air quality at smaller, finer-resolution settings for individual towns and cities, and model air quality for the entire northern hemisphere.

What CMAQ models currently

Currently, scientists use CMAQ to estimate air quality levels at the regional and national scales. CMAQ uses meteorology and emissions data to evaluate air pollution trends and distribution. The system models multiple air pollutants, which include ozone, particulate matter, and air toxics to help air quality regulators determine the best air quality management scenarios for their communities, regions, and states.

Why we pay EPA to study it

Air quality has a direct impact on people's health. EPA research has shown that air contaminated with common pollutants like ozone, acidic gases, and toxic components of particulate matter can aggravate asthma symptoms and put stress on cardiovascular systems.

What the improved CMAQ model could do

The improved version allows scientists to study air pollution at the local level and much larger scales. It has the capability to use data from other air quality models. This gives the system more flexibility to address new and increasingly complex air pollution issues, and incorporate input from a worldwide community of CMAQ users.

"The ability to apply the CMAQ model to larger scales will allow scientists to better understand the ways that air pollution moves around the globe, and provide much-needed information for decision makers in protecting public health," said Dr. Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development. "The model represents collaborative work among scientists in the fields of engineering, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, atmospheric science, and meteorology."

Why the EPA is endangered

The House has a Republican majority and the Senate has had a real or de facto one for six years, except for 4 or 5 very productive months of over 60 Democrats, after Al Franken was finally allowed to be seated in 2009, and ending with Teddy Kennedy’s death several months later.

By using a shady and undemocratic maneuver, any time there are just 40 Republicans in the Senate, since 2006, Republicans have been able to systematically prevent votes being taken on any Democratic bill, using the cloture vote (a vote to hold a vote) which requires 60 Senators to agree to vote, effectively shutting down the Democratic majority from being able to vote up or down.

The resulting gridlock effectively demoralizes Democratic voters, because they assume that Senate Democrats are ineffective despite supposedly holding a “majority” of over 50.

This demoralization is fostered by the corporate media which acts as if the need for 60 votes is normal, and nevertheless, that Democrats who “hold the majority” (usually over 50)  are incompetent in not being able to get bills passed, which discourages Democratic voters, depressing the Democratic vote, making it easier for Republicans to keep their actual (though illegal) “majority” of 40.

Susan Kraemer

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China Wind Capacity May Reach 1,000 GW by 2050

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 03:38 PM PDT

China continues to create headlines in the area of renewable energy, this time concerning the wind power generating capacity it might reach by 2050 – some 1,000 gigawatts. China is already the world's largest generator of wind energy capacity.

The news comes from a study prepared by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which has broad control over the Chinese economy.

The total of 1,000GW would represent a dramatic increase from the 41 GW of wind power capacity it showed at the end of 2010.

The Worldwatch Institute writes: "The breathtaking growth of Chinese wind power illustrates how effective government policy can influence the market. Since the issuing of the renewable energy law, the government has enacted a series of policies to facilitate wind power development. One important step has been to improve the wind power pricing regulation, which uses a competitive bidding process to determine the price of wind power. Through five rounds of public tendering to issue wind concessions, policymakers have explored ways to further improve pricing and disperse worries in the industry about excessively low bidding hindering further development."

Political and economic maneuvering aside, this is positive news from a climate perspective because the potential capacity of 1,000 gigawatts would reduce the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 gigatons a year, roughly equivalent to the combined carbon dioxide emissions of Germany, France, and Italy in 2009, the study from the NRDC’s Energy Research Institute showed.

Bottom line: such renewable energy capacity would generate about 17 percent of China’s electricity output in 2050, compared to the present 1 percent number.

As reported last April by the market research company Lucintel, over the last decade, China has been strengthening its position in wind energy generation and gradually emerged as the first largest installed base of wind turbines in the world. The wind turbine manufacturing sector in China has experienced a rapid development, as lots of domestic manufacturers have emerged within a short span of time.

"China is one of the world's pioneers in the wind power development," the report said.

The report added that wind energy in China has grown at a CAGR of 104 percent in the last five years (2005-2010) on cumulative installation basis and reached 44,734 MW in 2010. The market is expected to grow with a CAGR of 19 percent for the next five years (2011-2016) on cumulative MW installations.

Photo:  Land Rover Our Planet

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Explosions, Bush Fires, and Solar Cars – the World Solar Challenge Continues

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 01:35 PM PDT

The Veolia World Solar Challenge in Australia is well under way, with 22 teams still competing under their own steam 4 days into the race. The solar cars, which start with 5kW of stored energy, must use solar power to get themselves from Darwin to Adelaide — about 1800 miles in total. The road is long and difficult, sometimes in surprising ways.

Aside from the challenge of producing enough energy with solar panels (which, in theory, all teams have properly anticipated), the solar cars also have to contend with local traffic. Australia is known for its massive road trains, for instance (up to 174 feet long!), or massive trailers carrying huge mining trucks taking up more than their fair share of the road. Such enormous vehicles generate crosswinds of up to 24mph – no matter how aerodynamically stable a solar car is, that much force will pull it sideways. (No cars have yet been sucked under the commercial vehicles so far.)

Surprise, Surprise

But even the traffic can be anticipated – just ask an Australian, and he'll tell you about it. Harder to see coming are random arsonists setting the bush on fire. (No, really.) The three leading teams were all stuck in Wauchope overnight on the second day of racing, due to closed roads and nobody wanting to be set on fire. The remaining teams managed to avoid the mess entirely by camping out in Tennant Creek.

Then, after everything appeared to have quieted down, Tennant Creek received its fair share of excitement when Team Solar Philippines' SIKAT II caught fire. As no one was in the vehicle at the time, there were no injuries. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the battery pack had overheated. Repairs were made, the battery pack was replaced, and the team continues the race.

Go, Solar Cars, Go!

There’s also some great video footage hosted by The Guardian showcasing some of the teams and their vehicles here:

The Show Will Go On

Despite the drama above and other disruptions – such as the Barrow Creek checkpoint relocating 60 miles south to Ti Tree due to uncertainty regarding the hotel's infrastructure – the participants just keep on trucking. The top 10 teams and their positions are listed below. A complete list of Day 4 Provisional Results is available in PDF format at the World Solar Challenge Website, as well as further updates.

Source | Image: Veolia World Solar Challenge

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Utility Fights Dirty in City’s Battle for Clean, Local Energy

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 01:23 PM PDT

boulder local energy battle
In just three weeks, citizens of Boulder, Colorado will vote on whether to begin a big, formal process to unplug from Xcel Energy's system and plug into local energy self-reliance. The vote to form a municipal electric utility could set a precedent for communities across the United States to keep millions of dollars local instead of sending them to remote electric utilities each year.
The vote on ballot measures 2B and 2C is the culmination of a multi-year struggle by the city of Boulder to meet the Kyoto greenhouse-gas emission targets by getting less coal power and more renewable energy from its investor-owned utility.

At every turn, the utility has stalled local efforts.

When the city first considered municipalization, Xcel offered to finance and build a local smart grid, but it has since been allowed by the state’s public utility commission to charge Coloradans for significant cost overruns. When the city asked Xcel to bring in more clean energy, the utility offered to build a new wind plant and import its power from across the state only if Boulder citizens agreed to pay more when the wind blew and pay when it didn’t, too. Despite the ill nature of the offer, the city offered to put it on the ballot along with a vote to municipalize, but Xcel refused, demanding that the city also offer citizens a separate “status quo” measure.

In contrast, a Boulder-owned utility offers enormous clean energy and economic opportunity without having to beg a big, private company. The city could increase renewable energy production by 40 percent from multiple, local sources without increasing rates, according to a citizen-led peer reviewed study. The economic value of local energy ownership would multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

But with $100 million a year in revenues from Boulder ratepayers on the line, Xcel's fight is getting as dirty as its nearby Cherokee coal plant. Xcel has dumped over $450,000 into a vote no campaign, 10 times the expenditures of the grassroots groups supporting the municipalization ballot measure. The utility’s front group has flogged a web advertisement that falsely asserts that electricity will be unreliable if the city has control, even though one in seven Americans gets their (reliable) electricity from municipal utilities. Xcel has posted job notices on light poles offering residents up to $12 an hour to work as “grassroots” utility flaks. And in a purely spiteful move, Xcel also succeeded in banning Boulder resident Leslie Glustrom from participating at the Public Utilities Commission, where she had asked tough questions about Xcel’s new coal power plants and proposed rate increases.

Locals are fighting back. Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future has organized a crack team of technical and financial experts to model the impact of the municipal utility and is pounding the pavement to counter Xcel’s campaign of misinformation. The coalition has received endorsements from dozens of local elected officials and businesses, two local newspapers, and nearly one thousand residents. Even President Obama's former green jobs advisor Van Jones starred in a video endorsing Boulder’s effort for local energy self-reliance.

The battle for local control isn’t just in Boulder. Recently, a number of Massachusetts towns pursued municipal electric plants when the private electric company took too long to restore power after Hurricane Irene. And, in nearby Longmont, Colorado, citizens may vote to use their existing fiber optic network to provide better internet broadband services (if citizens can overcome the $250,000 being spent by private providers CenturyLink and Comcast).

The stakes are high. Buying electricity from Xcel sends $100 million out of the Boulder economy each year, and helps perpetuate a centrally controlled grid reliant on coal-fired power (and often hostile to wind power). Ratepayers across America may not have the chance to weigh in on Boulder’s vote this November, but they should watch intently (and donate if they like), because Boulder citizens may be firing the first “shot heard round the world” for local control of their clean energy future.

Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Zane Selvans

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New Small Hydro Could Add Significantly to State Renewable Power

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 01:04 PM PDT

Over at Climate Progress, Stephen Lacey recently asked why there isn’t more development of micro hydro in the U.S., given its potential to provide more than 30,000 low-cost megawatts of power to U.S. states (and bipartisan political support).

We can’t answer that question any better than Stephen, but we can provide a good illustration of that potential, replicating a map from our 2010 report Energy Self-Reliant States (click here for a larger version):

New Micro Hydro Power Potential (Percent of State Electricity Sales)

Clearly, there’s a ton of small hydro potential in the U.S.

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Change Energy Use Forever — “Reinvent Fire” (VIDEO)

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 05:45 AM PDT

This is a pretty sweet new video from the Rocky Mountain Institute on our transition to a clean energy economy (already taking place, but how much more we can and need to do):

And from Climate Progress, where I ran across is today, here are some of the facts from the Rocky Mountain Institute’s plan:

Much as cold warriors cast about for a new enemy after the Soviet Union collapsed, many feel that coal is now the irreplaceable fossil fuel. Electricity is essential to modern life, they say, too expensive to store, and far too asset-intensive to change even over a generation.  We suspect they suffer from a dearth of practical imagination, as illustrated by this list of what approximate equivalent percentage of U.S. coal-fired electricity could be saved by:

  • Using electricity only as efficiently (per GDP) as the top ten states averaged four years ago: ~60 percent (;
  • Systematically using electricity with cost-effective efficiency: 100–150 percent, at a lower cost than just buying the coal;

We mean to speed the transformation from pervasive waste to elegant frugality, from causing scarcity by inattention to creating abundance by design, from liquidating energy capital to living better on energy income.

  • Adding windpower in available windy sites: over 400 percent, at or below wholesale power prices;
  • Building just the windpower now stuck in the interconnection queue: 50 percent;
  • Properly exploiting profitable industrial cogeneration: 40 percent (plus more in buildings); and
  • Running coal plants less and existing but partly idle combined-cycle gas plants more: 35 percent immediately, at an extra cost much less than displacing coal with new nuclear plants. In practice, a combination from this far from exhaustive menu can create a practical transition beyond coal, with cleaner air, right-side-up landscapes, more jobs, greater energy security, and lower electric bills.


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1st Community-Owned Solar Farm in Australia Coming Soon..

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 04:44 AM PDT

australia hervey bay to get community-owned solar farm

It was recently announced that construction was about to begin on Australia’s first community-owned solar farm, in Queensland’s Hervey Bay. Ingenero, a Queensland solar company, was awarded the contract to build the 396-kW solar farm.

In addition to the solar farm project, it was also announced that ABB Australia had been awarded a contract to build a 266-kW solar panel system at the Hervey Bay Hospital.

As I mentioned a couple times in my CNBC interview on “Energy Opportunities,” solar power doesn’t only offer environmental benefits. Decentralized solar power offers community benefits, as well. It seems the folks in Queensland (and Australia, in general) get this.

"Importantly, these projects will help reduce energy costs as well as carbon emissions," Energy Minister Stephen Robertson said. The hospital will save approximately $20,000/year in electricity costs, for example.  The projects will also create local jobs and improve the quality of life in the area.

Victoria, Australia is also looking to get its first community-owned solar farm up soon, as are residents in several other parts of Australia.

More on Australia solar farms and government policies.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by GregTheBusker

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Back to the Future’s DeLorean Now Electric

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 04:17 AM PDT

electric delorean back to the future

Remember Back to the Future? Remember that wicked cool car that could time travel (the DeLorean)? Yeah, well, it’s coming back… DeLorean Motor Company announced on the weekend a “brand-new, all-electric DeLorean” (pictured above and below). The electric deLorean made its debut at the DMC Texas Open House Event on October 14 (last Friday).

From the company’s website: “For several years, DeLorean Motor Company of Texas has been reconstituting the fruit of John Z. Deloreans's troubled loins (phrasing!). Now we are working with electric-car startup Epic EV to put an all-electric DMC-12 into production by 2013.”

delorean electric car inside

electric delorean inside car

Now, I wonder if someone is coming back with the DeLorean to take revenge for the “killing of the electric car”….

More EV stories.

All Images via DeLorean Motor Company

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Diamonds are a Quantum Computer’s Best Friend

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 04:00 AM PDT

Professor Dirk Englund of Columbia Engineering develops quantum computer by studying atoms trapped in diamondsQuantum computers have the potential to fly past Moore’s Law and give us a new generation of ultra powerful supercomputers. The new technology is based on the behavior of photons, the smallest particles that make up light, which could mean the potential for packing that power into smaller, more energy efficient devices than anything known today. However, there is one little problem…how do you get a photon to behave the way you want it to behave? As it turns out, the seeds of a solution can be found in microscopic flaws within diamonds.

Quantum Computers 101

To get a grasp on the current state of the research into quantum computers, CleanTechnica touched base with Dirk Englund, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and applied physics at Columbia Engineering, who kindly shared his "elevator pitch."

"In my research, we apply the theory [of quantum mechanics] to photons — single 'packets' of light — to carry and manipulate information," said Englund.  "A single photon is an object that follows strange rules that defy our classical intuition.  But it's this strange quantum behavior that we can exploit for very powerful processes."

To help a neophyte visualize the difference between conventional computers and quantum computers, Englund referred to the "coin" analogy, in which two coins are arranged heads-or-tails in four possible states. In a conventional computer, the two coins could only be in one state at a time. In a quantum computer, those same two coins could hold all four states at once.

But What Good is a Quantum Computer?

Aside from the potential savings in energy and other resources, quantum computers would be capable of handling massive amounts of data that conventional computers just can’t handle. Quantum computers could tackle giant problems such as protein folding, which may not involve particularly complex equations but are beyond the data storage capacity of conventional computers.

Diamonds and Quantum Computers

The diamonds come into play in terms of pushing the foundational research forward. Normally in Englund's field, atoms are studied in a gaseous state, which takes a tremendous amount of overhead in terms of equipment and expense.

"We are using atomic impurities in diamonds – you can look at this as 'trapped atoms' — as an alternative to researching 'free' atoms in space," Englund said. "Altogether we're seeing ideas for gas-phase being transferred into the realm of solid state physics."

The diamonds that Englund is studying would hardly make for decent bling – they are actually microscopic diamond crystals – and even if they were larger, they might not pass muster with Harry Winston.

"Impurities are often looked down upon in diamonds from a gemstone point of view," Englund explained. "Actually they are atoms that are trapped and emit light, and that gives diamonds their hues. Those associated with certain colors are special; they are like 'well behaved' atoms trapped in a lattice."

A Long Road to the Computer of the Future

For now, Englund's team is working on a device that would integrate quantum photonics into chips. The result would not be a "pure" quantum computer, but a quantum analog of a conventional computer.

The result will also be rather "clunky and quite expensive," in the foreseeable future, so quantum computers will most likely be out of reach of the consumer market for many years. However, Englund does anticipate that elements of quantum photonic research will begin to show up in other ways, for example in communications technology, especially in the transmission of secure messages.

Don’t Forget to Thank the Air Force

Typically in other countries this kind of foundational research is supported by civilian funding, but Englund's work – which has obvious application to civilian products – is being supported by the Department of Defense. That probably won’t surprise regular readers of CleanTechnica; we’ve covered any number of stories relating to DoD’s promotion of renewable energy projects that easily cross over to civilian use, including portable solar power kits, geothermal energy, and aviation biofuels.

Last week, Englund was awarded the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, for which he was nominated by the U.S. Air Force. The award comes with a $500,000 prize in support of five more years of research, so fingers crossed for quantum computers sooner rather than later.

Photo credit: Diamonds hold key to quantum computers, some rights reserved by jurvetson.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey

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Facebook & Opower Creating Social Energy Efficiency App

Posted: 19 Oct 2011 03:15 AM PDT

facebook energy app

Quick News: Facebook and Opower are working with the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop a Facebook app that will encourage more people to pay attention to their energy consumption and energy efficiency. The social energy app will allow people to compare their energy use with the energy use of an average U.S. home of a similar size, and with the energy use of their friends’ homes. In addition, the Facebook app will allow people to share energy saving tips with other app users. And, of course, there will be energy-saving competitions.

Read more on sister site Green Building Elements: Facebook, Opower Developing Social Energy Efficiency App

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