Monday, October 31, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

How Google is Making the Climate War Worse

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 07:49 PM PDT

I am a huge fan of Google. And the company has done far more than any other company to help solve the problems of climate change by investing in game-changing renewable innovation, and even providing an education on climate change, directly. However, it’s core mission – finding stuff for you – is turning out to hamper progress in a weird way.

Google tries very hard to please you by finding you more stuff just like the other stuff you clicked on last time. That is the essence of google’s great cleverness. But that very brilliance is becoming more and more damaging to the shared view out to an objective fact-based world.

Who hasn’t gotten exasperated with someone else’s ignorance about climate change? Haven’t you finally said: “look, you can just google it!”

But there turns out to be one big problem with just “googling” it. It depends on who you are.

So if last time you looked up climate change and chose to open something by, say, Marc Morano, then Senator Inhofe, and then the Drudge Report, which would all poo-poo climate change, google thinks, “oh, this moron likes denier news about climate change,” and next time, more of its top suggestions for your search will be skewed even further to the right.

As you keep heading further into la-la land, Google is there, holding your hand, assuring you that indeed, this is the objective, google-able truth. Two people with different search histories get two entirely different sets of google “facts” for the identical search terms.

The problem is that science-based types, who click on the fact-laden science-based pdfs from the EPA and reports from the WRI and studies from NOAA – and then get more of these kinds of results; assume that’s what everyone sees when they just “google” it, but there is no one objective science-based google.

Google has become like a good but unobtrusive butler, that always obsequiously aims to please, by always giving you more and more of what you liked last time. Ultimately, as a result, we are now all living in what we believe to be the objective, self-evidently google-able truth. And we are not.

Climate scientists keep turning out more and better climate science, and scratch their heads at the apparent lack of effect on “rational” hearts and minds, but it is simply not being found by the other side, because googling it turns up the opposition. While scientists wring their hands over the problem that they are not communicating well enough, there is nothing they can do differently.

Together with the outright (deliberate) propaganda by the 1% against the 99%, Google’s (accidental) amplification of that propaganda, a mere accident of our technological history, is fueling part of the rage of this internet age. The civil war on science it amplifies – even by accident –  is a danger to our survival, as it saps our commitment to change before it’s too late.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter
Copyright

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Distributed Solar Power Gets More Affordable

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 02:14 PM PDT

Installed costs for solar PV have dropped and economies of scale improved significantly in 2010, opening the door for much more cost-competitive distributed solar power.

The data comes from the 4th edition of the excellent report from the Lawrence Berkeley Labs’, Tracking the Sun (pdf) and shows the installed costs for behind-the-meter solar PV projects in 2010.  The following merely copies Figure 11 from that report, showing the average installed cost of “behind-the-meter” solar projects in the U.S. in 2010, by project size.

This is useful and shows the significant economies of scale for solar PV in 2010, but the history is important.  For context, the following chart shows the 2010 data along with the 2009 data from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, with the grey shaded area indicating the cost decreases.  The 2010 installed cost data from the California Solar Initiative (red) is also shown, helping validate the LBNL data.  The last data point from the CSI is an outlier likely due to having too few projects in that dataset.

Two things are clear from the new data.  First, installed costs have dropped significantly, by $1 per Watt for residential-scale solar PV and by nearly $2 per Watt for megawatt-scale projects.  We can also see more clearly how the economies of scale of solar have improved, as well.

The unit cost savings between the smallest and largest solar projects (1 MW and under) jumped from $2.80 to $4.60 per Watt, a change in relative savings from 30 percent to 47 percent.  Economies of scale were also much greater for mid-size solar (30-100 kW), with the percentage savings over the smallest projects rising from 21 to 35 percent.   The following chart illustrates the change in economies of scale, showing installed costs as a percentage of the cost of a 2 kW system.

Instead of having relatively little economies of scale for solar PV projects larger than 2 kW, the 2010 data confirms that the unit cost of solar does continue to fall significantly as solar projects grow up to 1 megawatt (MW) in size.

Unfortunately, LBNL did not have sufficient data to provide context for economies of scale for larger distributed solar projects (1 to 20 MW), with only about 20 data points.  However, their finding was that these larger crystalline solar projects cost between $4 and $5 per Watt, showing small but significant scale economies.

The lesson is that solar economies of scale seem to be improving as the U.S. market matures, good news for distributed solar to compete with peak electricity prices on the grid.

[note: for more context, see the previous post on 2009 solar economies of scale]

Cross-posted from Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

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Dying to Be Green

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 02:12 PM PDT

Halloween makes ghosts and the afterlife a scary, but fun, topic for many people. Outside of this holiday, however, death is one of the hardest things to talk about in life. But a growing movement is afoot for people to confront the unknown and give back to the Earth when they pass away with an environmentally friendly funeral.

energyNOW! chief correspondent Tyler Suiters looked into how "green" burials and cremations allow people to make sure their death conserves energy and protects the planet. You can watch the full segment below:

This year, almost a million Americans will be cremated after they pass away. In three hours, a human body is converted to ashes by 1,700-degree natural flames. The environmental implications of cremation are probably the last thing grieving families think of, but it's an energy-intense process, and releases a lot of carbon dioxide. The Anderson-McQueen funeral home in Florida, for example, handles about 1,700 cremations annually, using enough natural gas to power about 200 homes for a year. "Our monthly gas bill, just to give you an idea, is about $6,000 a month," said funeral director John McQueen.

So to reduce energy use and emissions, Anderson-McQueen invested in the first biocremation machine in the entire world. It's a new method of cremation with no flame and reduced emissions. "We still get the body to ash, but we reduce it chemically, using a process called alkaline hydrolysis," said Sandy Sullivan of biocremation machine manufacturer Resomation Ltd. In biocremation, the body is immersed in a solution of 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide, and then heated to 350 degrees, speeding up the natural chemical reactions in decomposition.

The entire process uses just 15 percent of the energy and generates just 25 percent of the emissions of a flame cremation, according to Resomation. By their calculations, traditional cremation emits 400 pounds more CO2 than biocremation, so if one million people choose biocremation it would be like taking 36,000 cars off the road for a year.

Biocremation may reduce the environmental impact of cremation itself, but what about the ashes left over? One company is answering that question by mixing remains into artificial reefs, creating new habitat for marine life. Cremated remains are stirred by loved ones into a concrete mix, placed into a reef ball, and dropped into the ocean. "We'll get growth on these within six weeks, measurable growth within two months, and meaningful shellfish population out here within a year," said George Frankel, CEO of Eternal Reefs. More than 700,000 reef balls carrying cremated remains are now off the coast of almost 70 countries.

But the greenest funeral of all may involve nothing more than the ground. That's the premise at the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, spread over 78 acres in central Florida. At Prairie Creek, and other green cemeteries, the rules are simple — no embalmed bodies and no caskets. The goal is for people to give back to the environment by returning their nutrients to nature, literally ashes to ashes and dust to dust. "We're not robbing the Earth of the natural cycle of life," said Freddie Johnson, executive director at Prairie Creek. "Mother Nature does a perfect job of taking care of the recycling of life."

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Somfy Introduces Solar Powered Shades

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 02:05 PM PDT

Somfy Systems is a motorized window treatment company. It offers mechanical window shades that cover windows to block sunlight out of houses when it is hot and unblock them when the weather is cool. Such technology is nothing new. But Somfy Systems is now offering a solar-powered version.

By covering windows in the day, window shades can reduce cooling demand on air conditioners. Such simple energy efficiency measures go a long way in solving our greenhouse gas emissions and pollution problems.

The solar panels for these shades generate DC (direct current) power, which charges NiMH (Nickel Metal-Hydride) batteries, which then power the window shades.

The cost of the product is $220 and it is compatible with all WireFree motors. The product includes the WireFree solar panel (photovoltaic), NiMH batteries, a battery tube, Y harness, and, of course, the window shades.

Other Important Notes about Keeping Cool without Air Conditioning

When writing articles or telling people how to keep cooler without air conditioning, I emphasize the importance and efficacy of blocking out sunlight, even just partially. These shades are just a more convenient way to block it out than traditional methods.

The sun still heats the roof and walls, though. The heat absorbed from the sun by the walls and roof are then re-radiated into the house. As you may already know, sunlight passes through windows readily and some of it turns into heat when it reaches surfaces, especially if they are dark/non-reflective. After this process, the resulting heat exits the house much more slowly than it entered. This is one reason why ventilation is beneficial. It literally extracts hot air from buildings. So, aside from blocking out the sun, make sure your house is well-ventilated to cut down on your air conditioning bill or not have one at all.

Photo Credit: janineomg

h/t Greentechadvocates.com

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Locally Produced, Consumed Solar Power & Inventor Nationalism: A New Model to Spur US Manufacturing & Job Growth

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 09:37 AM PDT


Our current economic malaise — a dispiriting lack of good job creation in particular — has lots of people examining present day US political economy and thinking about ways to rectify the situation. Prolific inventor and ‘serial’ entrepreneur Kent Kernahan is among them.

Working out of his home base in Cupertino, California, Kernahan has not only come up with a new way to solve a glaring safety and performance problem to do with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and installations, he’s come up with a simple, elegant public-private business model that could stimulate growth in US jobs, manufacturing and local economies. It bypasses the need to pass new legislation of any kind, doesn’t call for any corporate subsidies, tax breaks or bailouts, and it won’t require consumers footing the bill for higher electricity costs – quite the contrary actually.

Actually a combination of two ventures — Ideal PV and Locally Grown Power, Kernahan’s latest start-up not only draws on the intellectual property (IP) he’s recently developed, it’s based on his growing commitment to a concept he’s dubbed “Inventor Nationalism.”

In essence, “Inventor Nationalism” calls on US inventors to step up and exercise greater ownership and control of their inventions by stipulating that corporations or other businesses acquiring rights to their patents only use them within the US for an initial period of time, say five years.

All well and good, but can the business model and “Inventor Nationalism” actually stand up in a “globalized” economic and financial system that’s come to be dominated by large, multinational corporations? Kernahan and his partners are going to find out. They’re now working to put their technology and business model to the test.

A Virtuous Economic Circle

A serial entrepreneur with scads of experience creating and starting up power conversion and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, Kernahan told Clean Technica that he has been awarded 43 patents, most of them novelty patents. His latest are the basis for ArrayPower’s Sequenced Inverter, which the company presented at the Solar Power International (SPI) trade show in Dallas last week.

Kernahan’s since become fixated on coming up with a business model that’s more socially conscious and nationalistic, you could say patriotic, than that offered and pursued by venture capitalists, Wall Street investment banks and US business executives working for your typical multinational corporation.

Kernahan’s interest in Inventor Nationalism grew alongside his being troubled by the decline of US manufacturing and associated lack of good job creation. Looking to find a way to address these issues, he’s drawn inspiration from local, public-private economic stimulus and development projects, such as construction of stadiums, event venues.

It’s also in the spirit of locally-focused, socially responsible economic development like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Drawing on his talents and expertise, Kernahan has come up with his own variation on the theme.

Through Ideal PV and Locally Grown Power, Kernahan and partners are looking to strike up partnerships with community non-profits and municipalities to build solar panel manufacturing factories in their communities.

Ideal PV and Locally Grown Power will supply the intellectual property and the expertise needed to build and get the factories operational. Locally Grown Power will also work with the local organizations to hire and train unemployed workers – preferably those with a basic, requisite skill set – to assemble and install the solar PV systems in the city or community.

Page 1 of 3

On to Page 2: Public-Private Partnerships & Technological Innovation

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$12.7 Billion for Transmission in Europe (Boon for Wind & Solar Energy)

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 07:37 AM PDT

transmission projects desertec

The European Commission recently confirmed that €9.1 billion ($12.7 billion) for transmission networks would be included in the EU’s 2014-2020 budget plans. This is part of a €50-billion ($70-billion) infrastructure package. This is a big boon for (and probably largely driven by) offshore and onshore wind power projects across the continent.

Of course, such big numbers aren’t useful to most of us unless put into perspective, right? Well, this is a massive increase from the EU’s current budget for transmission networks, €163 million ($228 million).

It’s not yet clear how the funds will be split. The networks are for electricity, gas, and oil.

“While [the €9.1 billion] is a substantial increase in funding for what has been for a long time under-funded, it remains to be seen how this pot of money will be divided up between electricity, gas, oil and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure projects,” European Wind Energy Association chief executive Christian Kjaer said.

“The inclusion of CCS — a technology still not commercially viable and one for which the infrastructure needs are unknown — is strange in itself.”

With the EU’s strong commitment to renewable energy growth and it’s ambitious wind and solar energy plans, I imagine a good chunk of this will benefits those clean energy options. And let’s not forget that there is a HUGE renewable energy project, DESERTEC, planned for Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe that will require significant transmission infrastructure investments. Thanks to New Energy News for sharing the DESERTEC transmission image at the top of the page.

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Northwest Utilities, Energy Efficiency Groups Help Shift Consumers to Most Efficient TVs

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 04:16 AM PDT

energy efficient tv contest

by Shelby Wood, for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance

The Northwest is known for setting the pace when it comes to energy efficiency. Just last week, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy named Oregon (#4) and Washington (#5) to its annual top ten states for energy efficiency.

Northwest consumers share that reputation, often recognizing and demanding energy efficiency in products before the rest of the country. That's why, in late 2009, the nonprofit Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and the region's electric utilities to create "Energy Forward," aimed at helping consumers find the most energy-efficient televisions on the market. Energy Forward TVs carry distinctive orange stickers that identify them as the most technologically advanced, energy-efficient models available — basically, the best of the larger ENERGY STAR category.

NEEA and its partner utilities and energy efficiency organizations reach out to consumers in stores and through social media, including the Energy Forward Big Picture Contest launched last week on Facebook (winners receive Energy Forward TVs). NEEA also collaborates with its partners to develop more stringent product specifications for TVs and works with retailers to stock and promote the most efficient models. The goal is to speed the market adoption of super-efficient TVs in the Northwest — and to raise the bar for energy efficiency in TVs on a national scale.

Energy Forward TVs Making a Difference

Less than two years after the launch of Energy Forward — even in a sour economy — these efforts are making an impact. Before NEEA created Energy Forward, there was no way to easily distinguish super-efficient TVs from TVs that met minimum energy-efficiency standards. Now retailers representing 80 percent of TVs sold in the Northwest are partnering with NEEA to promote Energy Forward TVs in their stores and to their consumers.

NEEA's work, combined with other partner efforts, has helped yield results.

At the start of 2011, super energy-efficient TVs with the Energy Forward sticker represented 12 percent of televisions sold in the Northwest by participating retailers. NEEA anticipates that by the end of 2011, 35 to 40 percent of TVs sold in the region will be Energy Forward.

From 2009 through 2010, NEEA's regional television initiative saved the region approximately 13.7 average megawatts in energy savings, the equivalent to powering 10,453 homes each year.

Energy Forward’s Potential

According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, 85 percent of the region's new demand for electricity over the next 20 years can be met by using energy more efficiently. The council estimates some of the biggest energy savings could come from more Northwest residents choosing super-efficient televisions.

"A region-wide shift to the most efficient TVs has the potential to save enough energy to power more than 290,000 homes each year," said Stephanie Fleming, residential sector manager for NEEA, which is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Trust of Oregon, and more than 100 utilities in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. "Lowering TV energy use also reduces the need to build more expensive gas- and coal-fired power plants and helps avoid greenhouse gas emissions."

Energy Forward TVs can be purchased at numerous major retailers, including Best Buy, Costco, Kmart, Sam's Club, Sears, and Walmart, and a range of regional and independent retailers throughout the Northwest. More information on Energy Forward, including complete lists of retailers and super energy-efficient televisions, is available at www.energyefficientelectronics.org.

About the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) is a non-profit organization working to maximize energy efficiency to meet our future energy needs. NEEA is supported by and works in partnership with the Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Trust of Oregon and more than 100 Northwest utilities for the benefit of more than 12 million energy consumers. NEEA uses the market power of the region to accelerate the innovation and adoption of energy-efficient products, services and practices. Since 1997, NEEA and its partners have saved enough energy to power more than 450,000 homes each year. Energy efficiency can satisfy more than half of our new demand for energy, saving money and keeping the Northwest a healthy and vibrant place to live. For more information, visit neea.org.

References:

  1. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, "ACEEE State Efficiency Scorecard," 10/11/2011
  2. "Energy Forward Helps Shoppers See the Big Picture in Televisions," 10/18/2011
  3. Northwest Power and Conservation Council, "New Northwest Power Plan," 2/10/2010
  4. The Big Picture Contest

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Great Recession? My Fault.

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 04:00 AM PDT

recession cause

From one of the 400.
To the other 399.

The great recession is my fault.

This was the news flash that dawned on me in January this year.

Ok, its not just me, but it is the fault of somewhere between just 0.008% of the US population on the high side and 400 American individuals on the low side. It’s us, the tiny percentage of all Americans that are prolific inventors.

As an inventing nation we are #1 with more that 60% of the patents worldwide.

With that much raw material, we should be the manufacturing center of the planet, No?

What if some percentage of American inventors suddenly picked up a new trait?

Nationalism.

What would our manufacturing base look like then?

Since the 70s, there has been a search for why America’s great middle class of manufacturing has been destroyed to be reconstituted by our trading partners with their citizens.

Is it the fickle US Consumer that insists on buying the lowest cost product? No.
Greedy US business owner that ships the jobs to the lowest bidder? No.
Shortsighted US board that demands the last bit of margin from its executives? No.
Passive US shareholders that demand the best return and don’t care how? No. No. No…

It is a fairly unique trait of American inventors that we do not care where anything gets made. Once we conceive of it, we have not considered it our job what happens next. Most inventors I know are in it for the accomplishment of creating something unique, something that did not exist before.

In my circles I am considered a bit materialistic because I am part of the less than 1% of prolific inventors that actually create companies. Mostly, we just let someone else figure out where to create the jobs. Even in my case, the business culture strongly suggests “let the investors choose where to build it, it’s their money.”

A patent can only be issued to a human. For 20 years, it conveys the exclusive right to: make, have made, sell, or use the patented invention to that individual.

At that moment, between conception and disclosure, 60% of all the patents on earth are exclusively American.

But then the moment passes. Over 85% of all American patents are issued to employees of US enterprises and virtually every enterprise requires, as a condition of employment, that the inventor execute an “invention assignment agreement” conveying all rights in the invention to the Enterprise.

At the moment that all rights pass to the Enterprise, competitive forces dictate that the invention MUST be built at the lowest labor and capital costs. Period. If the inventor does not decide, the market will.

What if some American inventors picked up a new trait?

What if American inventors became, Nationalistic.

What if the standard form of invention assignment was that for the first 7 years of an invention’s existence, it must be Made in the United States, by Americans.

The free market still functions. It is just that for the first third of an invention’s existence it must be made in the US.

What happens to an invention is an individual human choice.

For our country to get back in the game, no treaties must be negotiated, no laws need be changed, no meddling in the markets.
It may be simply each American inventor making a choice, for the sake of the other 99.992% of Americans that depend on them. The 99.992% of Americans that created the opportunity for each inventor to practice their gift.

Would US enterprises go along with an inventor whose position was: “Make anything I conceive of in the US for the first seven years”? I think yes.
It is a matter of supply and demand. The very limited supply of prolific inventors and the demand for the enterprise value they create.

In 1995, Narin and Breitzman published “highly prolific inventors.” In it, they state, "One, two or three individuals are really driving their laboratory…companies should make effort to retain and nurture these key contributors."

In 1998, the USPTO published a paper listing all the inventors worldwide that had accumulated 70 or more patents between 1988 and 1997. 40 were Americans. (Source: PROLIFIC INVENTORS RECEIVING UTILITY PATENTS 1988 – 1997, 1998 By US Patent & Trademark Office)

In 2010, ICR published a paper that set the threshold for prolific inventor at 15 patents (5 times the average) between 1975-2002. The paper counted just 26,279 Americans (0.008% of the population of the US). (Source: PROLIFIC INVENTORS: WHO ARE THEY AND WHERE DO THEY LOCATE? EVIDENCE FROM A FIVE COUNTRIES US PATENTING DATA SET, Working Paper No. 14/2010)

The same paper describes: “The distribution is skewed to the right with a long tail (but rather thin).” “The main characteristic of ‘long-tailed’ distributions is that a high-frequency or high-amplitude population is followed by a low-frequency or low-amplitude population, which gradually ‘tails off’ asymptotically.” Prolific inventors are in the tail of the distribution of all inventors.

My own calculations based on publications are that, if my 43 were the bar between prolific and ordinary, just 400 Americans would reach that level between 2001 and 2011.

What I am proposing is not new. It an updated version of Henry Ford’s “Fordism.” In my version:

“If a good depends on labor for its demand, the labor that produces the good must be capable of acquiring the good.”

This presents a simple test: If none of the people who make the goods for an economy can afford to buy the goods they make, there will ultimately be no demand and the economy will fail.

-QED (thus it is proven)

Kent Kernahan
Managing Partner, Locally Grown Power 
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kent-kernahan/4/b50/516

Creative Commons License
Great Recession? My Fault. by Kent Kernahan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at kent@kernahan.org.

Image via Students for Liberty

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