Friday, December 16, 2011

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Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Making Progress (Part 2): How Do We Make Progress?

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

 

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a 2-post guest appearance by Alex Magnin, a Brooklyn-based technology entrepreneur whose latest startup is helping to “green Hollywood” (more info at the bottom). This series came about as a response to Peter Thiel’s ‘The End of the Future‘ tract. In part one, Magnin showed patterns in the creation of lasting progress — and encouraged us to fear not, because humans have shown an overwhelmingly impressive ability in their history to innovate and move forward past many daunting challenges. In this post, he looks at what we have to do to ensure history repeats itself….

Before his post starts, I just want to note how happy I am CleanTechnica has the readers and friends it has — this is a truly wonderful post, and I’m sure many of you will resonate with it. Thanks, Alex!

Peter Thiel TEDx presentation

Peter Thiel during TEDx Silicon Valley presentation.

In Part One, we looked at what progress is made of. We saw the process of technological innovation and how it is turned into economic prosperity in a particular pattern. Today, in a recession, the march forward seems unsure. History shows us it should not.

Yet, just because things have cycled before does not mean for sure they will cycle again. Nothing is guaranteed. Our actions determine the future.

So, to make sure things go well, we must remember what is required of us to keep the pattern going, to ensure we continue to turn innovation into prosperity and progress.

Basically, while one person can innovate, many people must take up that innovation and use it well to generate prosperity. It is not inventing the technology, but installing and deploying the technology that makes progress.

So, while having more people in the world has been a great thing for technology, with more innovators making more innovations, it poses difficulties to progress: more people need to cooperate to deploy new technology in a way that creates prosperity and progress.

This cooperation only works on the basis of faith. When shared benefits require shared sacrifice, one must trust his neighbor to participate equally in both the sacrifice and the benefits. And this faith, of course, is a leap to trust – it calls upon our heart.

Society has worked well for quite some time. For the majority of our history, our societies were small. The leap of faith was easier. Recently, our worlds have rapidly expanded. So, the question of continuing progress, the type of progress that turns innovation into prosperity — progress that requires society-wide sacrifice for future benefits — will be a test of what is on our hearts.

The long-term trend has humans cooperating in our best nature. Logic dictates it. Universal morality boils down to the golden rule – treat others as you would like to be treated – at the very least, because in a free, competitive society unbound from that morality, it is a likelihood that, some of the time, you will end up on the wrong end of the stick. The process of civilization, the state, and the rule of law can be seen as a sort of mutual d├ętente – the recognition that, in a zero-sum world of unbridled freedom and desire, we feel an uncomfortable possibility that we could lose. We realize we will do best by working together with other free people.

But a paradox of universal freedom is that it unleashes our wildest desires while its universality – the very fact that we have it, and so does everyone else – so expands the pool of potential competitors that the odds of anyone attaining all those desires become near-impossible. In our worst nature, this frustration leads to violence in its many forms – from wars over resources to jealousy of our neighbor, from skirting corporate regulations to children dying in famine.

So, we build institutions and culture to help us — to help us subsume our egos and drive oppression and violence out of our society; to help us cooperate better; and to lead us to greater faith in each other. The process is ongoing, from primitive to feudal to mercantile and to free democratic, but through human history, institutions and culture have been the lynchpins of progress.

Today, as economic growth stalls, our institutions appear ineffectual, and our culture indulges escapism and narcissism, a reminder of what got us this far is imperative.

Remember that being human means being able to conceive of possibilities beyond the momentary reality. It means being able to look towards our own future, but also to step into our neighbors' shoes.

It was this conception that impelled us to trade ego for morality before, to treat others as we would wish to be treated. It is this conception that continues to impel us to turn individual innovation into societal progress, and to build the culture and institutions that help us do so. We need them. Optimizing technological progress for prosperity means optimizing us. The two are the same, because progress and prosperity in a free and open society exist within a moral framework – what I wish for myself, I must also wish for others; the zero-sum game is one in which I may well lose. So the future of progress is a question of what is inside us. Our minds may have limits, but the potential of our hearts is infinite. So long as there is no end to that capacity, there is no end to the future. This is a reason to be hopeful.

Alex Magnin is a Brooklyn-based technology entrepreneur. He serves as COO of Lua Technologies, building enterprise communications software for mass collaboration — Lua is working with the Environmental Media Association and the Producers Guild of America Green Initiative to help make the $31B Film & TV production industry more eco-friendly.

He is also on the Board of Directors of Every Person Has A Story, a non-profit connecting students around the world through digital photography.

Alex helps make cool things for the internet as a partner in Betamale Ventures, and was on the founding team and formerly ran product and business development at Martini Media, a premier digital advertising technology company. He attended Wesleyan University. He owes much to many, but in this article a particular intellectual debt to Alexis de Tocqueville and Rene Girard. You can find Alex at alexmagnin.com and twitter.com/alexmagnin

Peter Thiel photo via Suzia Katz

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Semprius to Produce Dot-Sized, Low Cost-High Efficiency Solar CPV Cells, Modules at NC Plant

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 11:33 PM PST

Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL, Semprius

Tiny solar cells developed by Durham, NC-based Semprius were validated by the US Dept. of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) as achieving an energy conversion efficiency of greater than 41% at a concentration of 1,000 suns. That’s one of the highest efficiencies ever recorded at this level of concentrated sunlight, NREL announced Dec. 14.

With seed funding from the DOE and the help of experts at the NREL-based SunShot Incubator Program, Semprius now aims to manufacture and commercialize its technology utilizing its patented micro-transfer printing process, a low cost, massive parallel process that simultaneously transfers thousands of the preformed circuit elements from a source semiconductor to almost any other substrate.

Construction of Semprius’s manufacturing plant in Henderson, NC began earlier this year. North Carolina and local agencies contributed $7.9 million for the 50,000-square foot plant, which is expected to employ 256 people at full build-out. The plant’s due to be commissioned in 2012 with an initial capacity of 5 megawatts (MW), expanding to 35 MW over time.

Tiny CPV Cells Competitive with Fossil Fuels

The market for highly-concentrated solar photovoltaics (CPV) is expected to at least double every year over the next nine years, reaching greater than 10 gigawatts (GWs) of power by 2020, according to Semprius CEO Joe Carr. The modules produced at the Henderson plant will be 24 inches by 18 inches, and about 2-1/2 inches deep, have a concentration of more than 1,100 suns and an efficiency of more than 31%. It’s believed that Semprius’s CPV modules would be cost competitive with fossil fuel technology at high volume.

About the diameter of a dot made by a ballpoint pen, Semprius’s solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are triple junction cells made of gallium arsenide. Low cost lenses concentrate sunlight 1,100-times onto the cells. Their tiny size reduces module cost as they take up only 1/1000th of the entire solar module area. It also enables a high density of cells per module, which better distributes unwanted heat across the entire solar module solar area. That eliminates the need for heat dissipation hardware, such as heat fins, further reducing production costs.

Semprius’s patented micro-transfer printing process allows thousands of its concentrated solar PV cells (CPV) to be transferred from a growth substrate to a semiconductor wafer or other form factor. It’s a continuous, massive parallel process that runs continuously and allows the growth substrate to be used repeatedly, which cuts costs dramatically, according to NREL and Semprius.

The process was originally developed by University of Illinois Professor John Rogers and his R&D team, which they initially envisaged being used to manufacture flexible electronics. Rogers then realized that applying the technology to CPV design could be much more lucrative, NREL recounted.

“We’re using a completely different approach to what has been practiced,” said Kanchan Ghosal, CPV Applications Engineering Manager and the principal investigator for Semprius’ PV Incubator Award. “This approach uses micro-cells and transfer printing to significantly reduce the use of materials in highly concentrated PV modules. And it provides a highly parallel method to manufacture the module, based on established microelectronics processes and equipment.”

Semprius claims its low-cost manufacturing approach by 50%. Progress to data has been enough to grab the attention of multinational power industry giant Siemens, which took a 16% equity stake in the company as part of a $20 million investment from venture capitalists.

The venture capital investment further illustrates how federal government investment, scientific and technological research, development and support is being leverage by private sector companies. The DOE has invested $50 million in 35 solar start-ups participating in the SunShot Incubator Program. Private investment in these companies now totals more than $1.3 billion, a 25:1 multiple.

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Solar Power Can Fit on Existing Land

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:32 PM PST

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

While large-scale solar creates contention between environmental advocates and renewable energy proponents, the truth is that there are thousands of acres in already developed land where solar can easily fit.  This infographic explains a few of the many places solar power can fit, not even counting rooftops.

solar land needs

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Utility Company CEOs Say Coal Regulations Good for U.S.

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:30 PM PST

 

coal pollution regulations utility company ceo

For all those who have been or might be confused by nonsense pushed by fossil fuel industry reps, politicians, and a handful of utility companies regarding EPA regulations of coal power plants, here’s a great post by Daniel Weiss, Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress, which includes a couple extended quotes by utility company CEOs. (This post originally appeared on Climate Progress.)

By Daniel J. Weiss

There are reports that on December 19th the Environmental Protection Agency will promulgate the long awaited standards to require coal fired power plants to reduce their mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxic pollution.  The dirtiest utilities and big coal companies have launched an eleventh hour pressure campaign to convince President Obama to delay or weaken the implementation of these safeguards that would prevent 1,400 premature deaths per month.

One of the major false claims about these vital health protections is that they would make our electricity system less reliable.   On December 10th, two major utilities rebutted these claims in letters published in the Wall St. Journal in response to its misleading editorial.   Ralph Izzo, Chairman, CEO, and President of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) responded

"As CEO of an energy company with nuclear, coal and natural gas-fueled power plants, I found the alarms raised in your editorial about a 'looming threat to electric reliability' to be exaggerated. You won't get an argument from me about the importance of reliability. However, the report you cite concludes that the EPA's proposed clean-air rules will have a modest impact on plant retirements.

"No one disputes that mercury is harmful to human health or that the technology is available now to reduce mercury emissions dramatically. Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. invested $1.5 billion in our coal-fired power plants, reducing emissions of mercury and acid gases by 90% or more. Those projects created jobs for 1,600 construction workers and added permanent positions at our plants. We are not alone. Nearly 60% of the U.S. coal fleet has mercury-control equipment installed or under construction. The EPA's air rules will provide the certainty to move forward with large, job-creating investments to modernize America's electric power infrastructure."

Jack Fusco, CEO and President of Calpine Corp., with 92 power plants in 20 states, also rebutted the WSJ's claims.

"Contrary to what the editorial indicates, in the 40-year history of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has never let the lights go out, and it is committed to upholding this record. Our industry is well-positioned to comply with these rules.

"You misrepresent the finding in the North American Electric Reliability Corp. report, which estimates that the EPA's air rules may potentially impact…less than 5% of the nation's coal-fired power plants…A recent report from M.J. Bradley and Associates and the Analysis Group shows that 11 of the top 15 largest coal fleet owners in the U.S., representing half of the nation's coal capacity, have indicated that they are well-positioned to comply with the rules."

Exelon is another large utility that supports the utility air toxics reductions, and believes that it poses little threat to reliability.

The 22 dirty utilities and coal companies in the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity – a leader in efforts to weaken the safeguards — have nearly $18 billion in cash reserves to easily withstand any economic impact of the new pollution reductions.  President Obama and Congress must continue to ignore dirty energy pleadings to delay these pollution reductions that are essential to protect public health.

– Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at American Progress

Coal power plant picture via shutterstock

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Community Solar in Olympia, Washington Moves Forward

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:18 PM PST

Community Solar Olympia Farmers Market

The city of Olympia, Washington has approved five new community solar projects, which will be installed at the new Hands-On Children's Museum; City Hall; the Olympia Community Center; Fire Station #4; and Fir Street Reservoir in 2012.

Community Solar: A Public-Private Partnership

The systems will be deployed through a power purchase agreement with Thurston Solar Management (TSM), a joint venture of Olympia-based PureSolar and Seattle-based Tangerine Power. After previously securing a contract to install a PV system at the Children's Museum, the group was selected for the additional four projects through a competitive bidding process by the Olympia City Council.

Under the agreement, TSM will install, operate and maintain the equipment for nine years. The city will purchase power generated by the solar arrays at the below-market rate of 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At the end of the contract term, the city can either renew the lease, require the installation to be removed at the company's expense, or buy the system at its depreciated value.

Washington’s In-State Production Incentives

The projects are made possible by Washington's unique (some might say “curious”) renewable energy production incentive, which has been in place since 2005. The program is funded through a tax break to utility companies, and pays a base rate of $.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) through 2020. However, investors in "community solar projects" installed on government property can earn up to $1.08 per kWh if they install modules and inverters manufactured in Washington state.

Participation in the community solar projects will be open to all Washington residents. For more information on how community solar programs work, see our previous post about Solar Mosaic.

Currently, Silicon Energy (Marysville) and itek energy (Bellingham) are the only in-state solar equipment manufacturers.

Benefits to Communities

According to TSM Managing Member, Rich Phillips, the five projects will generate nearly $25 million in revenue for WA state manufacturers and installers, and will save the City of Olympia over $1.3 million in avoided utility costs over the next 25 years. "We're pretty excited about the benefits to the city, but are just as excited about the other assets to the community as a whole," Phillips said in a statement. "Creating clean, renewable energy on site is an excellent educational tool; a way to reduce our dependence on foreign or dirty fuel; a way to reduce our carbon output and improve our health, and is an endearing legacy to future generations of Olympia residents."

In addition to these projects, Puget Sound Energy will also make $30,000 available to fund community solar projects in Olympia and Lacey through its voluntary Green Power Program, if it can enroll a total of 1,011 new program participants by the end of this year. According to a news release, the utility only needs to enroll 50 more customers in the program.

Source: The Olympian
Olympia Farmers Market Community Solar picture by Sunset Air

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UK NGO Wins Right to Challenge Cuts in Solar Subsidies

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:11 PM PST


solar panels on uk row houses

A coalition of a leading UK environmental NGO and two solar energy producers have successfully petitioned the UK’s high court to urgently review a planned cut in the feed-in-tariff for solar energy, the Guardian reports.

As multiple studies have shown, feed-in tariffs — set prices that utilities must pay for renewable energy — are the best way to drive growth in renewables, subsidising their development without direct investment by taxpayers. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that feed-in tariffs are responsible for the installation of three-quarters of world solar photovoltaic energy installations.

But the UK’s coalition Government has proposed cutting the feed-in tariff for solar energy by 50% — halving the price solar energy producers receive for their product. This is expected to severely reduce the number of new solar installations. An alliance of solar firms and NGOs known as “Cut Don’t Kill” reckon the cuts could cost up to 29,000 jobs.

solar panels uk homeAlthough the Government is still consulting on the proposals, it has said that any cut in the tariff will apply to all solar panels installed before last Monday, December 12. As a result, the government website where owners register their installations crashed last week under the strain of people rushing to register before the deadline.

Now a leading UK environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth, has successfully petitioned the high court — a little like the US Supreme Court, though not as powerful — to consider stopping the cut.

Along with two solar producers, Solarcentury and HomeSun, FoE argued that establishing a date for a cut to go into effect when the Government is still officially consulting on the tariff is ”premature and unlawful”. The High Court agreed, with the judge ordering an “urgent review” of the deadline next Tuesday.

The court is unlikely to overturn the cut itself, but will consider ordering a later deadline. ”There is a decision which is susceptible to challenge, even if consultation leaves open the possibility that a different date may ultimately be chosen” for the cut, the judge ruled.

Friends of the Earth director Andy Atkins said: “We’re delighted the high court has given the go-ahead to our legal challenge — we believe the government plans to abruptly slash solar subsidies are not only unfair, but illegal.”

For more on feed-in tariffs and how they’ve driven renewable energy in Europe, see America and Germany Getting Their Clean Energy Just Desserts.

Solar panels on England row houses and home via shutterstock

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Investing in the Planet: 3 Top Green Stocks

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:00 PM PST

investing in the planet green stocks

With the spotlight on environmental issues, many investors have been looking into green stocks. Green stocks are businesses involved in sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices, ranging from production of solar panels and hybrid/electric vehicle parts to tech-related pursuits such as IP trunking and designing energy-efficient data centers. Any significant effort to reduce energy consumption (and save companies money in the process) can make a company ‘green’.

This sector is comprised of many different industries, but all green stocks are committed to saving businesses and the world money by providing environmentally-friendly solutions. Additionally, numerous government incentives have caused more and more businesses to go green just to cash in on its financial advantages.

Investors are noticing this sea of change toward ecological awareness in businesses around the world, and they are putting money into green businesses that they believe will take advantage of the growing trend. Green stocks may be small, highly-focused companies like First Solar (FSLR) or huge corporate entities like Google (GOOG); the only thing that makes a stock green is the company’s commitment to environmentally-friendly products and practices.

Read on for a list of three top green stocks going into 2012! These are likely poised for growth thanks to the rising awareness of how going green saves money and the planet.

1) First Solar (FSLR)

A leader in solar energy, First Solar is headquartered in Arizona but has manufacturing plants all over the world. The company is just beginning its entry into the international solar energy marketplace, with its main being focus on next-generation solar technologies. With a foot in almost all related photovoltaic tech, equipment, and devices, First Solar focuses on providing high-efficiency panels and next-gen appliances at low costs.

First Solar capitalizes on its solar tech understanding and is an industry leader. Its main customers are government groups and large corporations who can afford to purchase in bulk and for whom efficiency and a definitive cost-savings advantage make Evolution a smart choice. Its major markets are currently in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Analysts expect that First Solar, whose stock price currently hovers around $45/share, is right at the bottom of its downtrend and will soon begin trending up.

2) Solazyme (SZYM)

A major producer of algae biofuels, Solazyme is on the cutting edge of alternative fuel production. Algae biofuel can be used in place of gasoline — the oils created as a byproduct of the pressing process have a number of other purposes in the nutritional supplement and skin care industries as well. Solazyme uses its algae-producing and pressing factories to cross into these well-established industries. This gives the company a level of diversity missing from many other green businesses, and many market watchers predict it will serve the company well.

The company just recently had its IPO, and analysts believe the initial excitement over the company has waned to a level of reality. Its stock price has steadily dropped despite its great credentials, and with plans for expansion and a number of high-profile clients, including Chevron, Dow Chemicals, Sephora and the U.S. Navy, Solazyme is poised to perform in 2012.

3) EnerNOC (ENOC)

EnerNOC provides energy efficiency solutions to energy companies, allowing them to reduce emissions and costs while providing stable energy grid solutions. It is effectively a smart grid company, transforming existing energy infrastructure into high-efficiency systems. And it provides energy producers with demand-side management solutions such as Demand Response (DR).

Having turned a consistent profit over the past few years, since its IPO, ENOC gives a nice dividend despite its relatively low stock price. Over the past year, the stock’s price has faltered, but the company’s performance has only strengthened. Investors are starting to look at EnerNOC with interest, as they believe it is undervalued for the company’s reach and good business practices. It is only a matter of time, analysts say, before the company’s stock price begins to rise again.

Image source: Energy-Wise-Homes

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