Wednesday, February 1, 2012

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World Bank’s Program-for-Results Loan Instrument: Good Intentions?

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 07:30 AM PST

The World Bank's social and environmental standards face an uncertain future as Bob Zoellick leaves this year.

The World Bank’s Board of Directors has approved a new lending instrument called Program-For-Results (P4R). The instrument is supposed to fund programs, not provide project finance, and is meant to work within a borrower’s existing regulatory framework — what the Bank calls a country systems approach.

However, not all country systems are made equal. Some of today’s largest dam financiers operate within a highly unaccountable national policy framework, where human rights, transparency, and civil society participation may take a back seat to the “national interest.”

Often, today’s dam builders are not held to the highest social and environmental standards, either because developers do not implement them in practice, or because dam financiers do not have strong safeguards policies in the first place. Will P4R help these dam financiers adopt stronger standards? Or will it simply move money to highly unaccountable governments and institutions, without achieving real results? In case P4R finances hydropower, who will be held accountable for project impacts: the World Bank, the borrower, or both?

What Will P4R Mean for Dams?

In the short-term, probably not much. The World Bank’s market share in global hydropower investment continues to be lower than that of financiers from China, Brazil, and other middle-income countries, and these financiers are likely to continue to out-compete the Bank in project finance. Without a doubt, the World Bank wants to get back in the game; it’s already begun to do so in Africa, for example, where it will finance the highly controversial Lom Pangar Dam in Cameroon. Yet, in order to raise its market share, the Bank may increasingly need to form partnerships with state lenders, and P4R is a clever way for the Bank to do this.

For example, let’s say that the government of Ethiopia creates a program that seeks to expand rural electrification, relying principally on hydropower. In our fictional example, the Ethiopian government has the liquidity to finance the dams on its own, and the costs of fulfilling the Bank’s loan safeguards are too high anyway, so the government does not request project finance from the Bank. Still, the Bank wants to be involved, and in this fictional case, decides to use P4R to improve the capacity of Ethiopian institutions to meet the goals of the electrification program. The P4R loan provides know-how and expertise in such areas as technology for high-powered transmission lines, energy poverty census indicators, and social and environmental safeguards, for example. Nonetheless, partnering with a corrupt government presents the Bank with a problem: disparities remain between its standards and those of the borrower. How will the Bank convince the borrower to raise its standards?

What Will P4R Mean for Safeguards?

It is unclear how the Bank will use P4R to leverage its own standards against those of borrowers. Prior to creating P4R loans, the Bank will undertake a series of technical, fiduciary, environmental and social, and integrated risk assessments of recipients’ country systems, including an assessment of borrower fraud and corruption. Yet, the Bank will find it difficult to thoroughly address disparities, for three reasons.

First, sovereign governments will not want to expose certain sectors to reform, including those sectors they consider to be strategic for growth — the electricity sector is often one of them. Governments may also find it undesirable to address cronyism, and as a result, the Bank may not have the leverage to reform some borrowers’ record of corruption, especially in countries where the state enjoys majority control over corporations, banks, and the judicial system, or where civil society has a low capacity to hold dam builders accountable.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi faces accusations of human rights abuses against families who oppose the Gibe 3 and Grand Millennium dams.

Second, the Bank’s traditional eight Operational Policies — known as the Bank’s safeguards — will not apply to P4R. The Bank argues that the traditional safeguards only apply to project finance — and because P4R loans are, rather, meant to finance programs, the Bank will create a new Operational Policy specific to P4R, called OP 9.00.  As currently written, OP 9.00 attempts to extract the principles of the Bank’s project-level safeguards and apply them to country systems. Yet the principles are weaker than the binding norms. As a result, many fear that borrowers will not adopt the principles of the safeguards in meaningful ways.

Third, the benchmarks of the Bank’s country systems assessments are still unclear, as the Bank is considering simplifying its own safeguards through a revision process that commences in 2012. As the Bank begins to offer P4R as a way to move money to emerging economies, weakening its own Operational Policies may be a way to hedge against the possibility that borrowers will not want to implement meaningful reforms. In so doing, the Bank might be signaling that it is willing to meet the standards of borrower country systems somewhere in the middle — above all, because doing so reduces transaction costs with state lenders, and allows the Bank to capture a greater share of lucrative markets, such as hydropower.

Limited Scope, but Risks Abound

Still, P4R might not apply at all to dams. In the Fall of 2011, the US Congress conditioned its next General Capital Increase (GCI) to the World Bank on a number of limits to the scope of P4R, including piloting the instrument over the next two years, and capping it annually at 5% of all World Bank operations. In addition, we have been told that Category A projects, which cause significant adverse impacts on the environment and affected people, have been excluded from the P4R pilot. Accordingly, P4R funds may not be used to finance hydropower projects, which are often categorized as Category A.  Finally, after the P4R pilot ends, the World Bank is to implement an independent evaluation of the instrument, which may decide the future of the instrument.

However, uncertainties still remain. Risk assessors may still categorize dam projects as Category B (substantial but reversible environmental impacts), and if P4R were to fund a program that increases electricity access through hydropower, it is still possible that P4R funds may be used to build an especially damaging Category B dam. Also, the boundary between program lending and project lending may become blurred, as the Bank will allow what it calls “hybrid P4R-investment loan operations” – meaning that a P4R loan may also include project finance. As a result, there is no absolute guarantee that P4R won’t be used to fund controversial projects.

A Missed Opportunity?

With the current limitations to the scope of P4R in place, the new instrument may not immediately apply to hydropower, but only to less controversial programs.  Nonetheless, P4R is pertinent to the future of borrowers’ regulatory systems, and to who shares accountability for the impacts of project finance. P4R certainly has the potential to improve borrowers’ regulatory systems, especially in the area of social and environmental standards; and global regulatory harmonization is a positive long-term goal. However, the Bank’s revision of its own safeguards policies sends a worrying signal that the direction of regulatory harmonization may be downwards, rather than upwards.

Whether or not P4R is used for programs related to hydropower, the World Bank will continue to lend project finance for dams, and increasingly so in Africa. This is reason enough to improve, not weaken, the Bank’s traditional safeguards policies. Meanwhile, in order for P4R to improve upon governance and corruption, the capacity of civil society to hold borrower institutions accountable to high standards must also be improved. As it currently stands, the World Bank’s new loan instrument may not be able to achieve such results.

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Top Residential Solar Installers

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Top this, top that—it’s a busy week for solar lists and records. GTM Research recently put together a list of the top residential solar installers in the first three quarters of 2011. With well over 2,000 installers in a market of over $2 billion (in 2011), to top that list is clearly a feat,.. but it’s a feat accomplished without any doubt by one company, a company you must have heard of by now. The company is SolarCity, and it’s gobbled up a pretty astounding 14% of national market share (as a reminder, GTM Research has over 2,000 installers in its database).

top residential solar installers chart

Second place was Real Goods Solar, with 6% of the market share.

SolarCity hasn’t always been the clear leader. In fact, it’s just in 2011 that it’s surged to the front. In 2010, it and REC Solar were about tied, each with approximately 5.5% of the market.

SolarCity’s Formula for Success

Well, first of all, solar leases and other forms of third-party-owned agreements have blown up, and SolarCity is a leader on this front. As reported back in June of 2011, Google invested $280 million to expand its solar leasing program.

Like it’s solar leasing competitors, you can even get solar on your home for $0 down. Some people hate this system, because it gives more of the solar profits to corporations rather than individuals. But there’s no denying that people are attracted to it and that it is helping to increase solar adoption across the country.

SolarCity’s range has also expanded considerably in the past year. “Much of SolarCity's capacity comes from its operations in Western states, primarily California and Arizona,” GTM reports. “Over the last year and a half, though, the company has pushed aggressively into new states, including established markets such as Colorado, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as promising growth markets such as Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts.”

But, GTM postulates that it’s that ever-important marketing pzazz (or budget) that has propelled the company so far into the lead. “What sets the company apart is aggressive marketing and advertising. To Americans not in the solar industry, SolarCity is likely one of the most recognizable names in the business, in addition to SunPower and the late Solyndra.”

top 5 residential solar installers 2011

Other Leading Solar Installers

Other than SolarCity and Real Goods Solar, rounding out the top 5 are #3 Trinity Heating and Air (of the Northeast, and especially dominant in solar powerhouse New Jersey), #4 REC Solar (the only company that topped SolarCity in one quarter), and #5 PetersenDean (“a long-established roofing company”).

Real Goods Solar, traditionally focused on solar leaders California, Colorado, and New Jersey, is now expanding into several other states with the purchase of the residential division of Alteris Renewables, the 18th largest residential installer by market share, which is a leader in New England states. So, expect more from it in the coming year.

Trinity Heating and Air, which has 35% of the NJ market share, is actually probably best-known for its solar business, Trinity Solar, which “was spun off from the HVAC services company in 2004 and is now ranked as New Jersey’s largest green energy company.”

REC Solar has actually lost market share since 2010, without a doubt because its traditional markets of AZ, CA, CO and NJ while others have.

The 99%

The top 20 installers took 49% of the solar installation market in the first three quarters of 2011. That means, of course, that the other 99% or so took 51% of the market. This is down from 66% in 2010.

That may sound like an increasing wealth distribution matter to us highly equality-minded folks, but the fact if the matter is, as markets mature in the U.S., consolidation occurs. This is yet another sign of the solar market growing up a bit.

Of course, there’s still plenty of competition and plenty of innovative companies that could rise up to take more of the market share. GTM noted, for example, that #6 on the list, Verengo SolarPlus, is a relatively young company that started in Los Angeles, recently set up shop in New Jersey, and is growing fast on a model similar to SolarCity—a model focused on creative, direct-to-customer advertising, and financing partnerships with SunRun. We’ll see what the coming quarters and years bring for Verengo Solar and the other rising stars amongst the 2,000 or so residential solar installers.

Source: GTM

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Industrial Air Pollution Cost Europe up to €169 Billion in 2009, EEA Reveals

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 06:30 AM PST

Smog in Moscow, Russia.

The 10,000 largest polluting facilities in Europe allegedly cost citizens between €102 and €169 billion in 2009. This came from a 2011 report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) of the analysis of the effects of industrial pollution on human health and the environment, and particularly the financial cost of managing those effects. The financial cost of air pollution and global warming, unfortunately, are not usually reported, or even discussed, by mainstream news stations.

Half of the financial cost was incurred by only 191 of the facilities, and it is an estimated €51 to €85 billion. The report is titled, “Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe.” Here is a list, from the report, of the facilities that caused the most harm.

“Our analysis reveals the high cost caused by pollution from power stations and other large industrial plants,” Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said.

“The estimated costs are calculated using the emissions reported by the facilities themselves. By using existing tools employed by policy-makers to estimate harm to health and the environment, we revealed some of the hidden costs of pollution. We cannot afford to ignore these issues,” added Professor McGlade.

The facilities studied include large power plants, refineries, manufacturing combustion and industrial processes, waste, and some agricultural activities.

The environmental damage caused by the facilities cost each citizen €200-330, and 3/4 of the costs were incurred by only 622 of the industrial facilities, which is only 6.2% of the 10,000 studied. CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions contributed the most to the costs incurred.

Pollutants such as SO2 (sulfur dioxide), NOx (nitrogen oxides), and ammonia, which contribute to respiratory problems, factored into the study as well and were claimed to incur a cost of €38-105 billion annually.

h/t PRNewswire | Photo Credit: Yuri Virovets

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Wind Energy Holding Co. Plans $550 Million of Projects in Thailand by 2016

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

Korat, Thailand

Wind Energy Holding Co., a Bangkok-based wind project developer, plans to erect three 90-MW wind farms in Korat, Thailand by 2016. The three wind farms would, thus, have a combined electricity generation capacity of 270 MW.

The wind farms would be located in Korat, which is north of Bangkok, in Thailand.

Korat, Thailand

This project is expected to cost as much as $550 million. Thailand imports 80% of its oil and it is working hard to reduce its dependence on foreign fossil fuels. As part of that, the nation is aiming to obtain 25% of its electricity from renewable sources, including wind, by 2022.

The vice president of business development, Aaron Daniels, said that the company is seeking lenders and equity investors for its projects and plans to set up a bidding operation late this quarter or early in the next.

According to Daniels, the company has started development of another $400-million, 207-MW wind farm at a nearby site. 70% of the cost of the project will be paid for by loans from Kasikornbank Pcl and Siam Commercial Bank Pcl.

"They're a first of a kind project," he said. "No one has done utility-scale turbine projects in Thailand before."

Art installation in Korat, Thailand.

Siemens AG is supplying 90 wind turbines for the second 207-MW project, each of those turbines having an electricity generation capacity of 2.3 MW. The project is being developed in equal portions called "FKW" and "KR2."

The Thailand government provides financial incentives for wind power and wants to install 1,200 MW of wind farms by 2021.

h/t Bloomberg.com | Korat photos via Tom BKK & Marisa Antonaya & Tom BKK, respectively

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GE’s 150-MW Kenya Wind Power Project Highlights Benefits of Clean Energy Economic Development

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 05:46 AM PST

Kenya’s strategic plan to make much more use of renewable energy resources took another step forward on Jan. 30, when Prime Minister Raila Odinga and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt announced that GE will build a 150-MW wind energy farm in the town of Ngong, 12 miles (19 kms) southwest of Nairobi.

With demand for electricity growing at some 14% per year and the country being heavily reliant on fossil fuel imports, Kenya’s keen to develop a range of renewable energy resources to augment hydroelectricity, which produces nearly half of supply, and reduce fossil fuel imports. The Kenyan government has an national renewable energy plan calling for a minimum of 2 GW of electricity from renewable energy sources to be produced by 2013, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report.

Kenya’s ambitious renewable energy strategy highlights the multiple, reinforcing benefits of developing renewable energy resources for developing countries. Situated astride the East African Rift Zone, geothermal power project development has been at the forefront of Kenya’s renewable energy development initiative, but the country also has significant wind and solar energy resources, and it’s moving forward with plans to develop biogas, biomass, and waste-to-energy projects as well.

Wind Power and a Green Kenyan Energy Sector, Economy

In a somewhat dated paper entitled, “Proposals on the profitable use of the convection wind system in Nyanza Provice of Kenya,” Wimborme Energy Consultancy’s E.G. Matthews wrote, “It should be noted that countries like Kenya could be in a strong economic position in the next (21st) century as renewable energy sources become more important. The present major industrial powers have based their strength on burning oil and coal. If they can no longer allow themselves to do this because of the environmental effects, the countries which have plenty of solar and wind power will become relatively richer in energy terms than northern hemisphere countries with less solar power.”

Assessing the variety of renewable energy development options open to Kenya, “wind generated electricity ought to be installed on the grounds that it is already profitable at the present low energy prices. As well as on the Kano Plains in Nyanza province, wind energy development may also be viable along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast,” he added.

Matthews goes on to assert that “as energy prices rise the value of the wind energy can only increase while its cost will not rise so much,” adding that “if all these renewable resources are developed, Kenya can look forward to a time when energy imports will become a small proportion of present needs, and even to the possibility of energy exports in the form of hydrogen.”

In his paper, Matthews also devotes a good amount of space to elaborating on the environmental and health benefits of developing renewable energy resources, noting that moving aggressively down this path will have positive local and global effects. Enacting policies to reduce demand for fossil fuels would significantly improve health and environmental conditions, especially in urban centers such as Nairobi. They would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the largest contributor to the greenhouse effect.

Kenya’s Wind Power Geography: “More Useful than an Oilfield”

Wind energy along Kenya’s lakeside, Kano plains in Nyanza have traditionally been used on a small scale to pump water for cropland irrigation and domestic consumption, as well as for sailing and producing electricity locally. That’s changing, as Kenya is seeking to supplement and diversify hydroelectricity production and reduce its reliance on heavily polluting, imported fossil fuels.

“The people of the Lake-side plains lands of Kenya live within a potential source of power more useful than an oilfield,” Matthew writes. “Although they have no significant sources of water power or coal they live in what can be described as a giant natural heat engine.

“This is the wind circulation system caused by the difference in temperatures of the sun-baked Kano Plains and the cooler waters of the Lake. Air rises from the plains from about 11.00 a.m. as they heat up; this pulls in air from the lake and a substantial wind blows throughout the area until the land cools down and temperatures equalize at about sunset. Unlike an oilfield this will not be exhausted as long as the sun shines.”

Advantageous Comparison

Technological advances in wind turbine efficiency and the reduced cost of smaller-scale generators sets the stage for increased exploitation of this clean, renewable energy resource in the region, Kano noted.

Advantageously comparing the wind system in the Kano Plains area to that of California, he points out that “the daily strength of the wind system is very predictable; the seasonal variation is much less than in California; and most of Kenya’s power comes from water power.”

Significantly, he notes that wind energy, besides being pollution-free, is a much better means of supplementing grid electricity from hydro resources than thermal coal electricity. “In practice, allowing for variations in demand throughout the day, as the wind velocity rises the water power would be turned off. Thus the storage function of power would be transferred to the river,” he wrote.

“In the long run this would allow the same quantity of water in the Tana River to produce more electricity than at present by building more generators to use the water saved, when the wind is not blowing. Thermal stations, which cannot be turned on and off easily, can provide a continuous base load as at present (but a combination of water and wind may allow thermal stations, using imported fuel, to be phased out).”

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project

After delays, the most ambitious of Kenya’s wind energy development projects looks set to break ground. At 300 MW, the Lake Turkana wind farm project would be the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, by itself increasing Kenya’s electrical generation capacity by around 25%. The project plan calls for some 365 large-scale, Vestas V52 wind turbines to be installed in desert areas around the lake in northern Kenya. Completion of the project was anticipated in 2012, but that’s been delayed.

Originally announced in 2009, Lake Turkana Wind Power Development Ltd. said it intended to build an $874-million, 300-MW capacity wind farm on the shores of the lake, long famous in the world of anthropology as an archaeological site where evidence of some of the earliest modern humans have been found.

Guaranteed by an investment group that includes the World Bank, the company needed to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA), and it also needed to secure a power purchase agreement (PPA) with KenGen, the state-owned electric utility. “We are looking at financial close at the end of March, beginning of April and therefore groundbreaking as soon as possible after that,” Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd. Chairman Carlo van Wageningen was quoted as saying in a Jan. 5 Smart Planet/Reuters report. Completion is now expected by 2013.

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The EU Confirms More Stringent Emissions Cuts Will Cost Less than Predicted

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:30 AM PST

clean energy europe

The European Commission has confirmed that tougher emissions regulations would be less costly to implement than previously thought, according to a study published on Monday. This is due to multiple factors, especially: 1) the economic recession, which caused a significant overall decrease in energy usage, and 2) the effectiveness of EU climate policies to date.

The existing EU emissions regulations require that emissions be cut 20% by the year 2020. There is an up-front cost of doing this and the factors mentioned have reduced it to an estimated €48 billion. According to the report, the lowered cost of the emissions reductions means that emissions can smoothly be reduced by an additional ten percentage points (to 30%). This would be achieved with a 25% domestic emissions reduction and a 5% reduction caused by purchasing international emissions reduction credits.

“The fact that the 20 per cent emissions reduction target is now less costly in monetary terms than was assumed in 2008 means the 30 per cent reduction scenario has become considerably less costly, too,” the report says. “Achieving 25 per cent out of 30 per cent reductions domestically by 2020 is estimated now to cost about €70bn.”

Financial Savings, Jobs, & Reduced Dependence on Foreign Oil

“For the EU as a whole, moving to a 25% domestic reduction in 2020 would save an average of €20 billion in fuel costs each year over the period 2016-2020 compared to the reference scenario. Of this, by 2020, €9 billion comes from reduced oil and gas imports.”

Those are some significant savings, and look like they’re well worth the initial investment.

An increased target is also estimated to create an additional two million jobs.

For these reasons, and out of a sense of responsibility, many NGOs, businesses, and investors have been pushing for a higher 2020 target for awhile now. This report gives them more backing and will, hopefully, push decision-makers to up the EU’s target.

According to the EU climate policy officer:

“This study is important because it offers member states a way to ensure greater stability and resilience against oil price and supply fluctuations, which in turn will create stronger economies and a healthier environment in all of Europe,” she added.

“Higher targets will benefit the EU’s citizens and economy, as well as poorer countries already experiencing the effects of climate change in other parts of the world.”

Sources: Business Green & European Commission | Windmill & Biofuel Crop via shutterstock

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Skylight that Doubles as Solar Panel

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:00 AM PST

Here’s another repost of a fun technology featured on ecomagination’s website (full disclosure: I was contracted to write an article for ecomagination):

Deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, an office building home to Google is about to become a prototype for a cleantech product that's capable of harvesting the sun's power in a whole new way.

The product in question is EnFocus Engineering's Diamond-Power panel—a high-tech module that's one part skylight, one part solar panel.

Offering building occupants a real alternative to artificial lighting, the Diamond-Power panel can control the sun's power more efficiently than any skylight on the market while utilizing the sun's full range of light better than the average solar cell.

"In many situations people have plenty of daylighting, but they don't switch the electrical lights off so there's no savings," says EnFocus' President and Chief Technology Officer Jason Lu. "The point of our product is to provide a good lighting source so people actually can leave their electrical lights off."

The Power of Daylight

Even when it's not being used to create power, sunlight still has an abundance of potential. After all, what better source of free, nonpolluting lighting is there than natural daylight? Plus, there are tangential benefits: studies have shown students perform better, shoppers stay longer and buy more, and workers tend to be more productive.

Still, streaming sunlight into a building can lead to a host of cleantech conundrums. Solar heat gain is the primary one, and it's why many glass-walled office buildings need air conditioning even in the winter.

The light coming through the skylight is cool. One advantage you have is you're not adding heat load to the building.

"What this system does is take that hot light and efficiently transport its power to the grid," explains Stan Sutton, President of Inland Metal Technologies, a provider of the skylight's materials as well as an investor in the company. "What you get as a byproduct of it all is light that isn't directly from the sun. This means the light coming through the skylight is cool. One advantage you have is you're not adding heat load to the building."

A second advantage is that the remaining spectrum of light is similar to what you'd experience standing under a tree on a sunny day—there's plenty to read by, but it's not hot and glaring.

"The reason the light is better distributed is that we select a portion of the sunlight that is already diffused," he explains. "It's much more comfortable, and also it doesn't change that much when you're under a cloud."

The Ultimate Multitasker

Its ability to make the full spectrum of light useful is what makes the Diamond-Power panel stand out in the realm of cleantech. "We're using what is typically the waste light that photovoltaic technology can't use well," Lu says.

Using triple junction solar cells, the panel captures roughly 80 percent of sunlight, converting close to 40 percent into power while allowing 20 percent of waste light into the building for illumination.

These highly efficient cells, coupled with the glass and the aluminum structures that hold it together, make the Diamond-Power skylight quite the multitasker in solar power use.

"With the solar skylight, what you have is daylight passed through—and it's not glaring, it's not hot," Sutton explains. "And because it's putting power back into the grid, it's offsetting the cost of consuming the power for artificial [lighting]. You're attacking both sides of the equation. You're powering up the grid a little bit, and you're also reducing the heat load, thus consuming less power from the grid."

One of the reasons Google liked it is the aesthetics. People look at it and say it looks awesome.

Lu points out that using daylight as interior lighting first is actually the most efficient use of solar energy there is.

"Normally when energy is converted into electricity, we lose a lot of energy in that process," Lu points out. "Conversion, unfortunately, is low-efficiency. And when you use electrical lighting, you have to convert that power back into light. That process is also, unfortunately, very inefficient.

"If you look at it that way, when we directly use sunlight, we are actually using the light much more efficiently than electrical light."

Designer Style

Although traditional skylights present myriad cleantech challenges, they're still a favorite for many businesses due in part to their visual appeal. There's hardly a high-end hotel that doesn't have a glass atrium; newer government buildings sport them; even shopping malls have enough foresight to know shoppers would like a patch of sun here and there as they stroll through.

"Humans in general do better in daylight—we are an animal that needs the blue light of daylight," Sutton remarks. And certainly, there is an element of beauty associated with the look of a skylight and simply getting that sunshine from the outside into the inside that all the physics and chemistry and engineering out there might never be able to quite pin down.

The Diamond-Power skylight antes up on this quotient, too.

"We were at the annual solar show in San Francisco, Semicon, and we had probably 500 people come by," Sutton says. "The comment most everyone had is that this is a beautiful piece of sculpture."

Says Sutton, "It's highly attractive; it's cool-looking. It has an aesthetic and it doesn't need to be hidden or covered up. One of the reasons Google liked it is the aesthetics. People look at it and say it looks awesome."

Illustration by Chaz Russo

 Layla Bellows is a writer and editor based in Atlanta. She focuses on sustainability in the built environment, including materials and design, as well as its relationship to renewable energy and resources.

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Fluor to Design, Build, Operate and Maintain 125-Megawatt Solar Energy Facility in Arizona

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 03:05 PM PST

large solar power plant

Fluor solar power plant in Carrisa Plains, CA.

Fluor Corporation announced today that Arlington Valley Solar Energy II awarded it a lump-sum engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract to construct a 125-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) generating facility in Maricopa County, Arizona, as well as a separate contract for operating and maintaining the power plant.

Compared to most solar power setups, this is a very large-scale power plant.

"This significant new win for Fluor positions the company as a leader in the solar power engineering and construction industry," said Dave Dunning, president of Fluor's Power Group. "We look forward to expanding our solar resume and delivering one of the world's largest solar PV projects for LS Power. Fluor's financial strength and backing for this project demonstrates our ability to bring a turnkey solution to our clients for their utility-scale solar developments."

All of the major permits required have been acquired and this project is to be located on 1,160 acres (4.69 square km) of land.

"We are pleased to be working with a world-class EPC firm like Fluor for LS Power's largest solar project to date," said John King, executive vice president of LS Power. "This project brings many benefits to the State of Arizona and Maricopa County, including construction and operations jobs with local business opportunities and longer-term benefits from tax revenues. The State of California will benefit from the green energy delivered from the project as well as the solar panel sales from a San Diego-based manufacturer for a portion of the project."

The construction process is now taking place at Fluor's Southern California operations center. The power plant is expected to be operational by late 2013.

Source: Fluor

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CleanTechnica Hit 2 Milestones Today

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:47 AM PST

CleanTechnica hit two numeric milestones today, so I thought I’d share the short-lived happiness with you all, since you made it happen. :D

1) We’ve gone over 16,000 RSS subscribers for the first time that I’m aware of (and I watch it pretty closely). The numbers fluctuate based on readership each day (for example, it drops on the weekend), so I’m sure it will drop below 16,000 again, but it has been steadily climbing as long as I’ve been here, and I remember hitting the 15,000 mark for the first time just last year.

2) We just went above 6,000 followers on Twitter. Not as big, but it’s something! :D

Thank you to all you enthusiastic readers and big thanks to folks sharing our stories and site with friends! As always, if you’ve got some feedback for us, feel free to drop us a note.

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GM Announces Eco-Stickers for All Chevy Cars

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:19 AM PST

Chevy Eco-Stickers

For the first time in the United States, cars on the road will bear a green label with environmental data proudly proclaiming themselves to be eco-cars. The company creating this new sticker is none other than GM's Chevy brand, and the first car to show off its environmental data will be the 2012 Chevy Sonic.

Global Warming Scorecards

Chevy's Ecologic sticker is a totally voluntary response to a motion towards environmental product labeling in the United States. California and New York, for example, require new cars to have a "global warming scorecard," and federal regulations have been modified to require super explicit information on fuel consumption.

Placed in the driver's-side rear window, Chevy's sticker will have some bullet points about the measures the company is taking to reduce its environmental impact—how much of the car can be recycled, fuel-saving tech in the car, and the greener parts of the manufacturing process. As it's not large enough to hold all the information Chevy wants you to have, the company is also launching a website with more details, expected to go live in February.

A Sticker for Every Chevy

While the first batch of stickers is just going on the Sonics, every 2013 Chevy will get its very own sticker. The Sonic is the test run this year partly because it's totally new, and partly because it's fairly unique in the United States. The company can more easily track information, such as carbon emissions during manufacturing, on the sticker for the trial run.

Chevy brand marketing manager Bill Devine spoke briefly about the sticker as it fits in with other environmental measures taken by GM in recent history, as reported by Business Green:

“We’ve taken an environment leadership role (with the Chevy Volt electric car) and we thought this was the next evolutionary step.”

The Volt and the sticker aren't the sum total of GM's green initiative—it’s also trying to get zero-waste-to-landfill status, for example—but they're the most easily visible to the average consumer in a bid to put the rest of GM's environmental efforts in the spotlight.

Mike Robinson, GM's vice president of sustainability and regulatory affairs, is pretty enthusiastic about both the sticker and how it fits into GM's greener future:

“From a sustainability point of view what this signals, I think, is that we’re trying to provide consumers with relevant information that we know they’re very interested in. You can expect a pretty consistent drumbeat of things coming from GM on the sustainability front.”

Questions? Opinions? Curious about the sticker? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Business Green | Image: Chevy

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