Thursday, February 16, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Hagent, the Heat-Storing Robot

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 09:51 AM PST

 
Hagent, the Heating Robot

February is a cold month for many people – it's certainly hovering around freezing in the greater Chicago area We actually consider that incredibly mild and even overly warm weather for this time of year, but that’s another story…. And still, just because standing water isn't freezing into sheets of ice doesn't mean it's not too cold to be uncomfortable indoors without cranking up the heat. Of course, as the temperature goes up, so do the utility bills. One possible solution is a net-zero-energy home; a potentially less expensive solution is Hagent, the heating robot.

Developed by German designers – Andreas Meinhardt and Daniel Abendroth – Hagent is a sort of mobile space heater. Only, instead of plugging into the wall and heating the room indiscriminately, Hagent actually moves to a warm area to collect the heat and then goes to the cold areas to warm them up.

How Does Hagent Work?

Hagent, which looks like a simple black box, has a number of heat sensors. These allow it to identify heat sources (a fireplace, for example), and also cold areas (such as the bedroom on the other side of the house). Hagent absorbs the heat in something called phase-change material, stores it, and then releases it in the cold areas.

Hagent's first prototype was pretty much a modified Segway control unit and a plywood frame, exhibited at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, in October 2011. Sensors weren't added until the second prototype was built some time later, which allowed Hagent to move on its own and not crash into things (a major flaw in Prototype Number One). The current prototype is the fourth version, which has been tested against various temperature ranges (testing Hagent to detect body heat failed spectacularly as Hagent proceeded to gravitate towards sunny spots, monitors, and other machines, for example).

While there are currently no concrete plans to send Hagent to production, it does seem like a much more efficient way of heating a house or an apartment – I really like the idea of moving around the available heat rather than just continuing to turn up the thermostat until that one cold room seems warm enough.

Source: Daniel-Abendroth.de via Cnet | Image: Daniel-Abendroth.de

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U.S. Solar Energy Projects Rose 67% in 4th Quarter

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 06:06 AM PST

 
solar energy projects

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar power installations increased 67% in the 4th quarter of 2011. Of course this was largely driven by the expiration of the 1603 Treasury program, which the solar industry is working hard to get renewed and Obama included in his latest budget proposal. Additionally, if you haven’t heard (a joke for our regular readers), solar panel prices fell off a cliff in 2011.

In total, 700-750 megawatts of rooftop solar energy projects and ground-mounted solar energy projects were installed in the 4th quarter. 450 megawatts were installed in the 3rd quarter.

U.S. Solar Energy Projects in the Wings

With still-dropping solar panel prices and a renewal of the U.S. Treasury Department’s 1603 program (take action here to push for that renewal), SEIA notes that solar power installations could grow by 3,000 megawatts to 4,000 megawatts in 2012.

“Extension of this worthwhile program will allow taxpayers to reap the significant economic and energy policy benefits associated with the expanded deployment and use of solar energy,” SEIA writes.

“The 1603 program has helped leverage over $24 billion in private sector investment in for a wide range of clean energy projects, and extending the 1603 program will create an additional 37,000 jobs in the American solar industry in this year alone,” President and CEO Rhone Resch states.

Sources: Bloomberg & SEIA
Solar panels via shutterstock

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Energy Conservation at Home (9 Tips from ENERGY STAR)

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 05:28 AM PST

 
It’s fun to write about all the breaking news on cleantech, get caught up in the policy issues, and examine cleantech growth around the world, but when it comes down to it, one of the best things we can do to live lighter is cut our home energy consumption. To help you with your home energy conservation efforts, he EPA’s ENERGY STAR communications manager, Denise Durret, recently wrote a guest post on just this topic for sister site sustainablog. I think it’s worth a review (and worth a friendly share, too!):

Home Energy Conservation is Easy — Just Do It!

Home energy conservation is simple, easy, and makes a world of difference. The tips above can mostly be set as habits within a few days, or a few weeks at the least. As for the products, consider what you’re buying when you buy and make sure to burn the product tips above into your mind!

And remember, such energy conservation decisions don’t only help the environment, but can also help you save a ton of money!

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Badass BMW i8 (Electric Supercar) Caught Test-Driving in the Snow (VIDEO)

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 05:08 AM PST

 
bmw i8 plug-in hybrid green car

Charis wrote on a market research report the other day that essentially said that electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids need an iCar to really get the public gung-ho about them. In other words, stop giving us the ‘green’ pitch that I (and probably you) love, but that most folks meet with relative indifference, and give us the “YOU NEED THIS OR YOU WILL BE SO UNCOOL” pitch.

While I’d like to think we can get everyone realizing the core importance of going green (i.e. if we don’t, we threaten the survival of our species… not to mention that of countless other species), and this is something I work on every day, I would venture to say that there is no single thing we need more than making green products or lifestyle options the coolest, baddest things on the planet, and making it just plain uncool to go another route. Part of that includes make simply awesome green products.

First of all, back on the car front, there’s hardly an automobile brand better than BMW to do this for EVs or plugin-hybrids, in my opinion at least. And, look, they even give it that funky ‘i’ prefix! Coincidence? Or was the market research report and recent news about us needing an iCar somewhat influenced by early whispers of the i8 and i3? I’m not sure,… but on to the news!

So, the BMW i8 was caught test driving in the snow recently (or it was staged to make it look like it was caught test-driving… you decide) and Chris DeMorro of sister site Gas2 chimes in on his thoughts on and desires for this “hella cool” car in this repost below (followed by a couple more brief statements by yours truly):

I’m pretty much in love with the Nissan Leaf, even though I’m not a car guy at all and don’t intend to buy a car anytime soon, if ever (I’ve been car-free for about 7 years now and love it). But I think this BMW i8 and related products may get more of the public behind this green car trend than the Leaf has… we’ll have to wait and see, and keep sharing videos of the badass car as they come out.

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New Study: EV More Polluting than Petrol??! Not So Fast…

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 04:33 AM PST

 

The Devil is always in the details. It is being widely reported on the web that a new University of Tennessee study by Chris Cherry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, and graduate student Shuguang Ji shows that, when electric cars are charged by grid power where the energy mix is 90% coal, they are more polluting than petrol vehicles. But when we take a careful look at the study, several clarifications come to light that tend to discredit the study and marginalize the results.

Marginalizing the Results

There are two qualifications of this study that tend to limit its application. First, it studied 34 Chinese cities. Secondly, it was a study of particulate matter.

China is not typical of the rest of the world. It is hard to imagine pollution so bad that a haze was visible across the lobby of a Northern China hotel where I stayed 8 years ago. The sun was never visible (on a “clear” day) and it was never possible to see across the street. This pollution was primarily particulates from coal-fired power plants mixed with smog. They have expanded their economy rapidly and, because they have vast deposits of coal, this is the primary source of energy they have relied upon for new electrical power plants. The advantage of such plants is that they are relatively cheap to build. The construction is proceeding so rapidly that they have been adding a coal-fired power plant a week. The cost of operating such plants, however, is not only the coal but the externality of pollution associated with it.

A study in such a place does not extend to most places in the world—you cannot generalize those results and apply them to very many places.

Different Kinds of Pollution

There are many kinds of pollution. Automobile Pollution is known for NOx (which eventually changes into smog), carbon dioxide, carbon Monoxide, and various other emissions. The particulate level of gasoline engines is relatively low and one of the reasons we don’t use as many diesel engines is that the particulate level is higher for that fuel. Coal pollution, however, is high in particulates. If the study had, instead of particulates, measured CO2, NOx, or carbon monoxide, the reverse results would likely have been found.

A Matter of Degree

Science is like a knife. It can be used for surgery, murder, or our daily bread. In this case, the study has a narrow subject matter: particulates. Its conclusion is further limited to those places where coal is a very large percentage of the electrical energy mix. The US national electrical energy mix for coal is now around 43%. The other nations of the world that have an energy mix that relies so heavily on coal is Australia and South Africa.

It is also a snapshot in time. The electric car is not the problem—power plants are. As the grid becomes cleaner over time, the EV is best positioned to take advantage of that change. It would be hazardous to rely upon the study for any future course of action without considering the trend of the electrical energy mix. In the US, the electrical energy mix for coal has gone from 55% to the present 43% in the last 8 years. In the EU, 70% of new power capacity in 2011 was from renewables.

An electric car, at least, has the possibility of using a clean source for its energy charge, but an internal combustion engine is always going to be burning something and producing pollution no matter what the fuel.

Under the high pressure and temperature conditions in an engine, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the air react to form various nitrogen oxides, collectively known as NOx. Nitrogen oxides, like hydrocarbons, are precursors to the formation of ozone. They also contribute to the formation of acid rain. (emphasis added)

When we consider that there are many more petrol vehicles than electric vehicles, the major pollution concern is not a few EVs, but dirty power plants and petrol vehicles.

The study also concludes that “electric cars are more harmful to public health per kilometer traveled in China than conventional vehicles.” The important qualification is “per kilometer traveled” and “in China.” With fewer electric cars, the impact is less. In other locations, the study results will not be valid.

But even within China, the study also at times lumps electric bikes with electric cars and confusingly suggests that “electric vehicles in China outnumber conventional vehicles 2:1,” when the vast majority of these are electric bicycles (and the study is focused on cars). It is unclear if the study, when calculating results, included the pollution from refineries or the time-shaving that an EV can do to reduce pollution (or that they can charge with essentially no added pollution during off-peak hours.)

Apples, Oranges, and a False Premise

The study attempts to build upon the fallacy of what has come to be known as the “long tailpipe argument.” The electric car does not pollute in its operation. At issue is the source of energy for a battery vehicle while charging. We can compare individual cars to the general fleet (energy users, power demand, “apples”) or we can compare individual power plants to all power plants (energy suppliers, power supply, “oranges”) and we can even compare all energy demand to all energy supply. What we can’t do is suggest a particular vehicle is being powered by a particular supply as long as there is an electrical grid between the two (apples and oranges). We have to consider the number of vehicles when there is an energy grid between the two.

We can only draw conclusions based upon the size of the electric fleet and the spectrum of power sources. In the US, for example, we could as easily focus on the clean power sources as the dirty ones. In the US, we presently have enough clean sources of electricity (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric…) to power over 100 million electric cars. This is what is available today. Tomorrow, this number will be even larger as more renewable resources are used for electrical production. China is also building its clean power sources at the same time it is introducing electric cars. Its clean electric power supply will also far exceed the number of electric cars.

So, before we become alarmed by a study that seems to search for its conclusion, it is good to take a careful look at what it is attempting to say, if anything.

Photo Credit: Leo Fung

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Kenyan Wind Project Funded!

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 04:12 AM PST

 
open-source kenyan wind turbine project

Wow, just as a quick update, the opensource Kenyan wind project I wrote about yesterday was funded, barely. I was keeping an eye on it yesterday, as it needed several thousands dollars still when I wrote about it. Happy to see they barely crossed the line. And look forward to seeing where it goes from there. I hope, of course, that CleanTechnica readers were instrumental in pushing it across the $25,000 line!

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80% of Independent Voters (& Majority of Americans) Opposed to Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 04:06 AM PST

 
President Obama, in his latest budget proposal, has called to repeal more than $4 billion a year in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, arguing that these "inefficient fossil fuel subsidies… impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to address the threat of climate change.” And it turns out that a large percentage of the American population is with him.

In the Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in November 2011 report, Yale researchers found that 70% of Americans opposed federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, including nice majorities of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. Interestingly, independent voters are most opposed to these subsidies.

Here are the highlights from the report:

Priority

  • 70 percent of Americans say global warming should be a very high (12%), high (25%), or medium (33%) priority for the president and Congress, including 44 percent of registered Republicans, 72 percent of Independents and 85 percent of Democrats.
  • 90 percent of Americans say developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (30%), high (35%), or medium (25%) priority for the president and Congress, including 82 percent of registered Republicans, 91 percent of Independents, and 97 percent of Democrats.
  • 54 percent of Americans say that a candidate's views on global warming will be either the "single most important issue" (2%) or "one of several important issues" (52%) in determining their vote for President next year, including 39 percent of registered Republicans, 55 percent of Independents, and 65 percent of Democrats.

Revenue Neutral Carbon Taxes

  • 65 percent of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax that would "help create jobs and decrease pollution," including majorities of registered Republicans (51%), Independents (69%), and Democrats (77%).
  • Likewise, 60 percent of Americans support a $10 per ton carbon tax if the revenue were used to reduce federal income taxes, even when told this would "slightly increase the cost of many things you buy, including food, clothing, and electricity." This policy is supported by 48 percent of registered Republicans, 50 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats.
  • 49 percent of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax if the revenue was instead returned to each American family equally as an annual check. Only 44 percent support this policy if the revenues were instead used to pay down the national debt.

Opposition to Subsidies

  • 69 percent of Americans oppose federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including 67 percent of registered Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, and 68 percent of Democrats.
  • 54 percent of Americans oppose subsidies to the ethanol industry to make fuel from corn, including 56 percent of registered Republicans, 65 percent of Independents, and 49 percent of Democrats.

Support for Other Policies

  • Public support remains high for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (73%), signing an international treaty to cut emissions (66%), and requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year.
  • Since May of 2011, there has been a decline in "strong support" for research into renewable energy sources (-9), tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (-11), and building more nuclear power plants (-5). However, overall public support (strongly and somewhat support) for the first two policies remains high (78% each). Overall public support for nuclear power now stands at 42 percent.

Action

  • Despite ongoing concerns about the economy, 66 percent of Americans say the U.S. should undertake a large (26%) or medium-scale effort (40%) to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs.
  • 85 percent of Americans (including 76% of registered Republicans, 83% of Independents, and 90% of Democrats) say that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs (54%), or has no effect (31%). Only 15 percent say environmental protection reduces economic growth and costs jobs.

Source: Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in November 2011

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State-Owned Oil Companies Increase Price Volatility and Pollution, but Rarely Get Used as Geopolitical Weapons, says Stanford Researcher

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 03:49 AM PST

 
In a brief look at the complexities of the oil industry today — and, in particular, state-owned oil companies — Mark Golden of Stanford, referencing a new and detailed book on the topic, provides some interesting insight into the still-dominant oil industry cleantech solutions compete with, and especially that more obscure segment of it.

"Oil and Governance: State-Owned Enterprises and the World Energy Supply"

Large subsidies from NOCs for fuel use at home lead to massive overconsumption. Gasoline is almost free in Venezuela. Within Russia, Gazprom sells natural gas for a fraction of the price it charges Western Europe, according to Oil and Governance.

by Mark Golden

To maintain power, oil-rich governments often lean on their national oil companies in ways that hurt the environment, damage their companies’ efficiency and raise prices for the rest of the world, according to Stanford University researcher Mark Thurber.

The state-owned oil companies, like Saudi Aramco, Petróleos de Venezuela and China National Petroleum Corp., control 73 percent of the world’s oil reserves, dwarfing the ExxonMobils of the world.

Beyond just producing profits for their central governments, the national oil companies (known as NOCs) are often saddled with tasks such as heavily subsidizing domestic energy consumption and employing thousands of unneeded workers with good political connections.

“You might think that the NOCs would be good for the environment because they are partly the cause of today’s high oil prices, and high prices should lead to less consumption and less pollution, but that isn’t the case,” said Thurber, co-editor of, and contributor to, the new book Oil and Governance: State-Owned Enterprises and the World Energy Supply (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Subsidized Gasoline and Natural Gas

Large subsidies from NOCs for fuel use at home lead to massive overconsumption. Gasoline is almost free in Venezuela. Within Russia, Gazprom sells natural gas for a fraction of the price it charges Western Europe, according to Oil and Governance. The International Energy Agency estimates that elimination of such government subsidies alone would get the world almost halfway to targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, Thurber noted last week when speaking at Stanford’s weekly Energy Seminar.

Another adverse effect for the environment: state-owned companies contribute to fuel price volatility. The roller-coaster between high and low oil prices may discourage large investments in competing energy sources like greener biofuels.

Price volatility can derive from the following dynamic: in high price periods, governments tend to use their NOCs to dispense privileges to influential elites or subsidize development programs that curry favor with the broader population, but by leaning on NOCs for these functions in times of high prices, governments depress investment in new oil fields just when additional output is needed most, according to the book. Only in lower price periods do governments place greater value on the efficiencies achieved by private players in oil production, which expands supply when it is not needed as much.

Overdependence on NOCs to further regime survival robs them of autonomy, focus, and investment capital. One of the new book’s most striking findings is the clear correlation between companies’ performance as oil enterprises and the non-energy related burdens host governments put on them, like providing social programs, political patronage, and private security for elites.

Low Performers in Iran and Venezuela

Low-performing NOCs have high non-energy burdens. Two of the lower performers, the oil companies of Iran and Venezuela, have seen their ability to find oil and produce it efficiently decline markedly under the meddling of presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chávez, the book finds. In both cases, reasonably proficient managers have been replaced with political cronies.

Companies with fewer non-energy burdens, on the other hand, can do quite well. Two companies in the latter group – Norway’s Statoil and Brazil’s Petrobras – are as capable in their areas of expertise as any private oil company, according to the 1,000-page volume, which was commissioned by Stanford’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, where Thurber is associate director of research. The book comprises case studies of 15 NOCs, as well as several chapters analyzing why some of the companies perform so much better than others.

Defying conventional wisdom, the book finds little evidence that NOCs are effective geopolitical tools for their host governments. In fact, managers at the companies often try to keep politicians as far removed as possible from oil operations. NOC expansion abroad typically has as much to do with the NOC’s desire for autonomy as it does with the global designs of politicians. And even where politicians desire to use NOCs as geopolitical instruments, they find themselves limited by the realities of what it takes to find, extract, and deliver hydrocarbons.

“The largest political impact of host governments on their NOCs is not in using them as tools for foreign policy. Rather, it is the adverse impact on these companies’ ability to find and produce oil,” the editors of Oil and Governance conclude.

Due to NOCs’ frequently subpar performance, privately owned oil companies likely will continue to have a major role despite concerns about “the rise of state capitalism.”  The book identifies the ability to manage risk as a characteristic factor that differentiates private oil companies from their NOC brethren. Lacking the NOCs’ privileged position at home, private companies are forced to compete around the world for capital and opportunities. They have strong incentives to refine the geological knowledge that makes their bets pay off more often than not. Their global reach lets them diversify risk and more reliably connect resources to customers.

As a result, most indications point to more opportunities for international oil companies, according to the authors. They will especially thrive at the high-risk frontiers of the oil and gas industry – frontiers that today include shale gas, oil sands and the remote Arctic. At the same time, NOCs will maintain their dominant control of low-cost resources around the world.

The Program on Energy and Sustainable Development is part of The Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

Mark Golden works in communications at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.

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Designing a Bike by Committee for the People of Bordeaux

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 10:49 AM PST


What a concept: Democracy in transportation design for urban settings.

Last November, the City of Bordeaux in France asked citizens to make suggestions on what they would like to see included in the design of a new town bike. More than 300 citizens shared their ideas, which designer Philippe Starck has now used as the inspiration for what has been provisionally called the City PIBAL Streamer—an interesting concept where riders can either sit and peddle like on a traditional bike, or stand on the platform and use it like a scooter.

The number of cyclists in the city tripled in Bordeaux over the last 15 years, thanks in part to a comprehensive tram network and numerous city-center traffic restrictions. Drop hire bike points have been placed throughout the area, and this is where the new town bike/scooter will be added.

According to Paul Ridden of gizmagThe City PIBAL Streamer design concept was recently unveiled at the Cyclab 2 event by Starck and the Mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé. The result is said to be both durable and functional, with lots of room for onboard storage. The ride features a lightweight aluminum frame with a standing platform at the bottom. The bike also features colored wheels, hub braking, and automatic, integrated LED lighting.

Manufacture of the new design will be the responsibility of Peugeot. The company’s engineers are to assemble a run of 3,000 bikes for the City of Bordeaux for end of year availability. It’s during this period that any technical issues relating to the concept will be tackled—such as frame stress points and core strength.

Photos: gizmag

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