Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

The Facebook IPO’s Connection to Solar Energy

Posted: 22 May 2012 11:19 AM PDT


When the Facebook IPO was the #1 news topic last week, it didn’t cross my mind that there was any important connection to cleantech, or solar energy in particular. However, a couple days later, it struck me that there was an important one.

Facebook went from a simple idea in 2003 or 2004 to a multi-billion-dollar company with one of the biggest IPOs in history this month. Why?

What does Facebook offer?

Facebook’s offerings are pretty straightforward (though, it’s obviously trying to broaden those as much as it can). Primarily, for as long as I’ve known about it, it has offered two main things, and those two things are still the core of its business:

  1. it gives people an easy way to ‘publish’ whatever they want (it acts as a decentralized publishing agency that lets everyone be ‘a star’);
  2. it delivers a custom ‘newspaper’ (or news feed) to every member (again, acting as a decentralized news agency).

Any news agency would die for the kind of numbers Facebook has. The value of decentralized publishing is apparently as good as it gets these days. Of course, Facebook is just one of many networks offering these things now, but it got it early and it eventually became the clearly dominant one, now making it almost mandatory to be on Facebook if you want to connect with friends and family in this way.

Now, finally, how does this relate to solar energy?

If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, the point is that solar energy decentralizes power generation (like Facebook decentralized publishing… or dominated the decentralization of publishing). This certainly isn’t as glamorous as ‘being in the publishing, photography, and film industry’ (being on Facebook), but this is one of its great values — it puts power (and, with that, more societal power) back in the hands of individuals and households.

While solar power may not feed people’s ego and social needs like Facebook does, there’s no doubt that the above, especially when people realize that it means more money for them, is appealing.

Am I going out on a limb with this connection? I don’t think so, and I certainly wasn’t trying to. While the decentralized (or democratized, as John Farrell puts it) nature of rooftop solar is one of its important (and I would say underrated) qualities, it’s not exactly what’s driving the industry forward — in fact, the effort involved in doing something for oneself might be on of the biggest things slowing it down. But along with superior environmental performance, cheaper electricity, and job creation, that is one important piece of what solar power offers.

Images: screenshot of CleanTechnica Facebook page by me; Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com

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Global P2P Cargo Bike-Sharing Platform

Posted: 22 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT


Bicycling is a wonderful transportation option. But one thing many people who haven’t been to top bicycling cities or countries get hung up on is the concern that you can’t transport much with a bike. Now, I lived in one of the top bicycling cities in the world for five months (Groningen in the Netherlands), and when I hear such concerns I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. I saw people transporting just about everything imaginable with various types of cargo bikes, including food, couches (I’ve seen it), large equipment, and… kids:

The good news? Cargo bikes are getting a boost from a new, global peer-to-peer (P2P) cargo bike-sharing network — Velogistics.

From sister site Green Living Ideas:

Velogistics has the plan figured out with a straight-forward mapping system. People who want to rent or share their cargo bikes post photos and short descriptions of their bikes on the Velogistics website. Bikes can be shared for free or rented at a set price. The location of the bikes is easily found using pins on the Google Maps system. The Velogistics team also has members that scout out broken and abandoned bikes, and refurbishes them to be used as cargo bikes. Additionally, they are building anopen-source wiki dedicated to care and maintenance of cargo bikes.

Sounds great!

Image Credits: cargo bikes in Groningen by zachary shahan (me); jurjen_nlvikapproved 

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5 Top Sustainable Building Concepts (with Pics)

Posted: 22 May 2012 06:33 AM PDT

Sustainable building or green building design isn’t something we cover a lot here on CleanTechnica, even though many of the components of sustainable building are cleantech products, so this nice summary of 5 top sustainable building concepts from around the world seemed like a perfect article to repost from sister site Green Building Elements — enjoy:

GUEST POST: Five of the World’s Most Sustainable Building Concepts (via http://greenbuildingelements.com)

As most of us know from hearing the word too many times, sustainable building covers a very wide range of definitions. But regardless of how we might define something and spar on who has the best meaning, the idea of practicing sustainability for what we build and how we live is a measure we should…

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Cleantech Innovation Challenge in Mexico for Cleantech Startups

Posted: 22 May 2012 06:28 AM PDT

Cleantech startup competitions, hackathons, and such are apparently growing in popularity — it seems like I’m reading and writing about at least one a week. Here’s info about another one, in Mexico, via sister site Ecopreneurist:

Cleantech Challenge Mexico 2012: Funds Green Startups in Mexico (via Ecopreneurist)

San Francisco has it, so does Boston, London, Australia and South Africa, and now Mexico. Cleantech competitions have turned into a global trend over night, creating a forum where entrepreneurs can showcase their inventions, share ideas, learn from their peers and experts, and best of all, get financed…

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$4.6 Billion a Year Saved by US Bicyclists, LAB Study Finds

Posted: 22 May 2012 06:23 AM PDT

As I wrote in an article published on Sunday, determining the savings from bicycling to work is highly dependent on assumptions used (what isn’t?). Nonetheless, it’s clear to anyone who thinks about it for a few moments that bicycling is much, much, much cheaper than driving (not to mention the savings from improved health). So, it’s not surprising that a new study published by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), the Sierra Club, and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) finds that, on the whole, US bicyclists save $4.6 billion per year by bicycling instead of driving.

A couple more keys finding from the study are:

  • “The average annual operating cost of a bicycle is $308 — versus $8,220 for the average car.”
  • “If American drivers replaced just one four-mile car trip with a bike each week for the whole year, it would save more than 2 billion gallons of gas.”


Here are some statements from the heads of the three organizations behind the study:

"There are so many reasons more people are riding, from improving their health to protecting the environment," said League President Andy Clarke. "But, especially in tough economic times, bicycling can also be an economic catalyst, keeping billions of dollars in the pockets of American families."

"Biking is an important piece of a 21st century transportation system," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "Biking reduces America's dependence on oil and lets individuals bypass the gas pump, saving individuals money and protecting our health and environment from dirty oil pollution."

"Bicycling is a crucial mode of commuting for many Latinos," said Catherine Singley, Senior Policy Analyst at NCLR. "Federal transportation policy should ensure that biking is a safe and viable way to connect people to jobs."

Check out the full fact sheet for more.

Source: LAB
Image Credits: Portland bicyclists BikePortland.org and poetas

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Pickens Dumps Chesapeake Energy, Vermont to Outlaw Fracking, 55 Investors With $1 Trillion Want Shale Gas Fracking Cleaned Up

Posted: 22 May 2012 06:05 AM PDT

natural gas fracking scam

I covered Rolling Stone‘s excellent piece on a potential fracking bubble and scam back in March, and while I know that many are sold on fracking’s benefits (even Obama, it seems), I can tell you that I wouldn’t put my money on it in the long term. Here are a few recent stories that I think are rather telling:

1) T. Boone Pickens, formerly one of natural gas’s most ardent supporters and biggest cheerleaders, has dropped his holdings in Chesapeake, reportedly due to its low prices. But not only that, Pickens has gone as far as to say that “natural gas has been a disaster.”

“These are the same low prices that are making it preferable to sell our domestic energy to China and India, rather than provide us with the energy security that the oil and gas industry promised with expanded gas development,” Wenonah Hauter,  Food & Water Watch Executive Director, states.

"T. Boone Pickens's recent divestment from Chesapeake Energy shows that natural gas is a house of cards, and that even one of its biggest cheerleaders has grown wise to this fact.

"The oil and gas industry is industrializing rural communities and destroying our air and water, with no real benefit to anyone—not even investors."

2) Vermont, while it’s not exactly a natural gas gold mine, is to become the first state in the US to ban oil and natural gas fracking. “Vermont will be the first state to outlaw a controversial oil and gas drilling method known as fracking when Governor Peter Shumlin signs a bill banning the practice,” Reuters writes.

“Governor Shumlin does support the fracking ban,” said Sue Allen, a spokeswoman for Vermont’s Democratic governor. “He will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk.”

3) 55 investors with $1 trillion of assets have teamed up to promote “best practices” in the natural gas fracking industry, wanting the whole process cleaned up.

“Major investors are no longer willing to sit by idly as energy companies engaged in shale gas fracking face concerns about industry drilling problems, growing regulatory uncertainty, and increasing opposition from concerned shareholders,” Boston Common Asset Management, one of three groups behind this push, writes.

Image: natural gas fracking drilling rig courtesy Shutterstock

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Electricity Storage Can Take Advantage of Daily Price Variations

Posted: 22 May 2012 05:45 AM PDT

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Electricity storage technologies that can operate on timescales such as hours or days are often deployed at specific times of day to take advantage of variations in the price of electricity (see chart above, right). Storage operators can buy electricity when prices are lower (overnight or on weekends), store it, and then discharge or deliver it later, selling the stored electricity when prices are higher (daytime, weekdays). Following a previous article introducing electricity storage technologies and functions, this article focuses on technologies that operate on these longer timescales, or energy management technologies, and their two overarching benefits to the electric power system: flattening the daily load shape (see chart above, left) and integrating variable generation like wind.

The first chart above illustrates the practice behind the concept of “load shifting” or “load leveling.” When electric demand is low, operators seek to increase the effective demand by moving power to storage. When demand is high, operators seek to decrease effective demand by using stored energy to generate electricity. Pumped hydroelectric storage is one example of this approach. Overnight, a reversible hydroelectric turbine is powered by low-cost electricity from the grid, using it to pump water “uphill”, to a reservoir at a higher elevation. During the daytime peak hours, this water is then released back “downhill” and through the hydroelectric turbine to produce electricity, which is sold to the grid at the higher, on-peak prices.

This load-shifting function has beneficial effects on the electric power system:

    • Lowering the effective peak demand on the system can reduce the requirement for peaking generators, which are particularly expensive to operate. With a lower effective peak demand, operators can defer infrastructure improvements, such as new generators or transmission additions.
    • Using storage to create a higher effective demand overnight allows more facilities to operate as baseload resources, enhancing their operating efficiency. Often, power plants have to lower their output or shut down entirely overnight to avoid oversupplying the grid with power. There can be significant efficiency losses and costs associated with reduced output or temporary shutdown of baseload plants.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Renewable generators such as wind and solar often have significant variability in their output over the course of the day. Concentrating solar plants can store solar heat in an oil or molten salt, allowing them to continue generating power through cloud passage or after the sun sets. In most locations, wind resources are more available overnight, when demand is low. Storage facilities might store wind-generated electricity overnight, when the wind is most available, and release electricity when demand is higher—time-shifting the supply to meet the demand.

Pumped hydroelectric is the most prevalent energy management storage technology, with 22 gigawatts (GW) of capacity installed in the United States. Other technologies are also in use. Compressed air technology uses low-cost electricity to store pressurized air underground, and then releases that pressure later to support the operation of a combustion turbine. Some batteries, particularly flow batteries (based on liquid rather than solid chemistries), have the characteristics needed for energy management. The Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Database currently lists four demonstration-type flow battery-based projects (as of April 2012). Thermal energy storage often takes the form of chilling or heating large amounts of water (or another heat transfer medium) overnight for use during the day.

The value proposition for energy management technologies can often be made based on the opportunity to take advantage of daily price variations. However, available technologies are limited at the utility-scale and costs can be high.

    • Pumped hydroelectric storage facilities have detailed site-specific topography and geology requirements and can be difficult to site. The last pumped hydroelectric facility to come online in the United States was in 2002, with the prior facility built seven years earlier.
    • Compressed-air storage has similar issues, requiring specific underground geologic structures in which to store large amounts of compressed air. There are currently only two compressed-air storage facilities in the world, one in Alabama, built in 1991, and another in Germany; a recent effort to develop a site in Iowa was terminated due to lack of appropriate geology.
    • Battery technology is a dynamic field for research, development, and demonstration. However, due to relatively high costs, batteries have only recently been seen as candidates for most utility-scale applications.

This article was originally published on the Energy Information Administration website.

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Generate Electricity Working Out (It’s a Growing Trend)

Posted: 22 May 2012 04:30 AM PDT

We’ve written about the potential to turn gyms or home DIY workout facilities into electricity generators numerous times before (even an idea for human-powered river gyms), but it seems the idea is starting to get a bit more popular. Here’s a roundup of some electricity-generating facilities from sister site Green Living Ideas worth checking out:

Exercise to Create Renewable Energy (via Green Living Ideas)

If you walked into an energy generating gym, you might not notice at first. You'd see your regular sweaty, toned bodies on sleek workout machines, but there's a special icing on the cake here – these machines are hooked up to batteries that generate electricity. Essentially, kinetic energy from…

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More Bike Paths & Sidewalks = More Bicycling & Walking

Posted: 22 May 2012 04:00 AM PDT

The relationship between bicycling facilities and bicycle transportation was the focus of my master’s thesis in city and regional planning. Previous research had pretty conclusively shown a link between bicycle facilities and bicycle transportation, but a more detailed look at specific facilities had not been conducted. My findings were that higher-quality bicycle facilities were linked to more bicycle transportation, reinforcing the general assumptions we all make.

Now, while not looking at different facilities in such detail, another study has found a link between bicycle (and pedestrian) funding for infrastructure projects and bicycle (and pedestrian) transportation. Here’s more from sister site sustainablog:

Bike Paths and Sidewalks: Transportation Investments that Work (via sustainablog)

Bicycling and walking infrastructure has definitely become hip… so hip that we're even seeing a lot of it going in here in St. Louis! Both environmental and health concerns (as well as gas prices, I'm sure) have gotten people out of their cars and onto their bikes or their feet. Such infrastructure…

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Aptera Electric Car Company Rises from Its Ashes: A Rescue by the Sleeping Dragon

Posted: 22 May 2012 03:52 AM PDT


The phoenix and a dragon is a common motif on Chinese pottery, often used as wedding gifts. Aptera (a wingless bird) is an electric car company that ceased operations in December after many setbacks, but its ideas and assets have taken flight again, purchased by the Jonway Group, a Chinese company. This might be considered an auspicious omen.

The Car

For those who took notice of EV developments in the last several years, Aptera made a name for itself by promoting the idea of a light vehicle that would nevertheless be crash-worthy due to its internal structure and airbags. Its light weight combined with its extreme aerodynamic shape would mean that it would only need a small engine and would be highly efficient.

The unusual vehicle sported 3 wheels, and, accordingly, would be registered as a motorcycle, but the driver would not need a helmet or a special license. Several configurations were considered, including a conventional engine, a hybrid, and a battery electric vehicle. The innovation received recognition in the last Star Trek movie, where it made a brief appearance appropriately cast as a futuristic vehicle.

The soon-to-be-obsolete Aptera Motors website proclaims: “We have gone to great lengths to find visionaries, innovators and disruptors.” Being surrounded by innovation can make us blind to how others view our work, competition, and a sound business model. We can become so convinced of our divine place in the world that it is hard to get the rose out of the glasses. As Aptera entered the X prize competition that concluded last year, it seemed a forgone conclusion that it should win. But there were other 3-wheeled vehicles that seemed designed just for the competition, including a sport model known at the Alias by Zap motors. The competition was supposed to be promoting fuel-efficient vehicles that were destined for production. The Aptera, from media coverage, seemed close to this goal but did not prevail. A door swinging open during one part of the competition probably did not help. Jim Motavalli, a frequent writer on electric vehicles, feels that the company was just trying to do too much — ”…all at once — launch a new car company, employ revolutionary composite materials, build a better battery, introduce a radical body design, and create public awareness.”

It had previously been denied a government loan, primarily on the basis that its product was a 3-wheeled vehicle and not a 4-wheeled vehicle. When a lobbying effort changed the wording on the loan program, the company reapplied, but was not able to secure the requested loan amounts or sufficient funding to accept the loan. Aptera sounded like another Tesla, only waiting for production to begin to fill its waiting list of anticipating customers, but Tesla has paid great attention to its business model. Without alternative financing, Aptera decided to cease operations.

The Company

Now the innovation that was Aptera has been purchased by the Chinese in the form of the Jonway group.

This is the same company which is a major investor in Zap, which at almost 20 years old is, by today’s standards, an “old” electric car company. It primarily manufactured 3-wheeled vehicles used commercially and in industry around the world, but with the aid of the Jonway group expanded its offing. Presently, Zap vehicles are manufactured in China and assembled in Santa Rosa, California. There is a plan to do the same with the new Aptera vehicles scheduled to be available for purchase in early 2013. A new website for Aptera USA is reportedly being prepared and pre-ordering should be available by the end of June, but as of this writing, there seems to be no new live website. The now close connection between Zap and Aptera is further suggested in the proposed original name change to “Zaptera, USA,” according to the North Bay business Journal.

This story is almost a repeat of what happened to an innovative electric motorcycle called the Vectrix, which also closed its doors to be later purchased by a Chinese company, Gold Peak Industries. We can wish these Chinese companies well and be grateful that the American innovations will not disappear from the world. At the same time, we might wonder if we can still call it simply a lack of leadership where Congress fails to promote alternatives to oil and watches year after year as we become increasingly indebted to China because of foreign payments for oil. What is China doing with its growing prosperity? Congress continues to watch as American companies like Solyndra fail due to Chinese imports (and then spend more taxpayer money trying to cast blame elsewhere) and it watches again as the innovations that could help relieve our debt, from companies like Aptera and Vectrix, are purchased with oil dollars. Perhaps we should ignore the brief spot where the Aptera appears in Star Trek and instead take a lesson from the now canceled show Firefly, which follows a future rag-tag spaceship crew that can’t afford much but in which everyone speaks Chinese. At what point is it more than a lack of leadership?

Images: Phoenix and DragonAptera via wikicommons

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Bright Future for European Electric Motor Market

Posted: 22 May 2012 03:33 AM PDT

A new analysis from Frost & Sullivan projects the continued electrification of vehicles in the automotive industry, and expects this trend to boost the market for traction motors.

Frost & Sullivan anticipates the European traction motor market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50 per cent for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs).

They also expect permanent magnet motors to dominate the market by virtue of their performance and efficiency. That being said, however, there is still growing concern over the availability and subsequent pricing of rare earth metals required for the production of such motors, and therefore Frost & Sullivan expects other motor technologies such as induction and hybrid motors to make a bigger push into the electric automotive market.

Frost & Sullivan reported in a new analysis that the market earned revenues of €55 million in 2010 and estimates this to reach €1.6 billion in 2017 with emission norms and government support driving vehicle manufacturers towards greater adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Another aspect of their findings was the likelihood of vehicle manufacturers bringing the development of electric motors in house.

“While some VMs are working with more than one supplier on the development of electric motors, others are choosing to develop it in-house,” notes Frost & Sullivan Team Leader Anjan Hemanth Kumar. “Reliability, strong R&D, a smooth supply chain and tight quality control coupled with state-of-the-art manufacturing procedures and facilities are some of the key sourcing criteria for VMs.”

“Electric motors represent an advanced technology that will prove critical to the success of greener vehicles,” concludes Kumar. “They will undoubtedly open doors of opportunity down the supply chain.”

Source: Frost & Sullivan
Image Source: harry_nl

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Chinese Railway Stations to Go Solar

Posted: 22 May 2012 03:31 AM PDT

A three-way strategic joint development agreement has been made between three Chinese companies that will see solar technology installed throughout the country’s public railway infrastructure.

Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., a developer of state-of-the-art, flexible, thin-film photovoltaic modules, announced yesterday it has entered into a three-way strategic joint development agreement with Shenzhen Radiant Enterprise Co., Ltd. and Third Railway Survey and Design Institute Group Corporation of China.

Radiant has been responsible for installing the roofing component on multiple railway station projects throughout China and is a natural choice to help retrofit existing railway stations with solar technology, and to help in new installations. TSDI, on the other hand, has designed over 50, 000 kilometres of railways throughout China, including the country’s first high-speed railway and first heavy-haul railway. The company also designed the large-scale multi-modal transport hub, the Beijing South Railway Station.

The total volume of solar installation on Chinese public infrastructure is expected to reach 800 MW over the next five years. System design and engineering development will take place soon, with initial project installations to begin in 2013.

“We are honoured to be involved with TSDI through this very important partnership, which will promote Ascent Solar’s transformational technology in a high-profile sector of China’s public infrastructure. This year, we look forward to working closely with TSDI and Radiant to design and develop systems to be installed beginning in 2013,” stated Victor Lee, Ascent Solar President and CEO.

Winston Xu, Founder of Shenzhen Radiant Enterprise Co., Ltd. and Ascent Solar Board Member, said “China’s state-of-the-art railway system is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. Ascent Solar and Radiant Group feel privileged to work with TSDI towards the goal of incorporating green, renewable energy with this important piece of China’s infrastructure.”

Source: Ascent Solar
Image Source: SJ Photography

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BELECTRIC First Company to Install 1 GW of Cumulative Photovoltaic Power

Posted: 22 May 2012 03:25 AM PDT

German-based solar manufacturing company BELECTRIC has become the first company in the world to install more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of photovoltaic power.

With several photovoltaic systems commissioned early last week, this brought the total cumulative installed solar power by BELECTRIC over the 1 GW mark.

The solar power plant in Alt Daber near Wittstock (Germany) was commissioned at the end of 2011. With 67.8 MWp photovoltaic power it stands for one of the biggest solar power plants BELECTRIC has constructed.

"This is an outstanding event for BELECTRIC and the photovoltaics industry in general. My special thanks go to all the employees who have driven forward the development of the company in all parts of the world in the past 10 years," stated Bernhard Beck, CEO of BELECTRIC. "At BELECTRIC, we employ over 2,000 people across the globe in areas such as research, plant construction and maintenance. Our machine park, the development and production of system components in our production areas and the in-house construction of power plants are the unique selling points of our company."

BELECTRIC employs over 2,000 professionals across the planet, and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.


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Fossil Fuel Subsidies to Cost US 113,000,000,000 in Next 10 Years (Not Including Climate & Health Damage) without Change

Posted: 21 May 2012 05:07 PM PDT

350.org has launched a big campaign against fossil fuel subsidies. As part of that, it is presenting some pretty startling and inconvenient facts about the cost of these subsidies to the US public. This subsidy counter is especially awesome, yet scary:

Adding on to that, Jamie Henn of 350.org writes:

“Watching that bottom number tick up with every passing second is pretty outrageous, but there's good news: we now have an opening to end these taxpayer handouts to corporate polluters. A new poll revealed that 70% of Americans — including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — support ending fossil fuel subsidies.

Indeed, we do.

As I’m writing this, over 100,000 people have actually signed a petition asking that we cut these fossil fuel subsidies. Of course, if you haven’t already, you can sign it too!

As the petition page notes:

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison launched a new piece of legislation that would repeal $113 billion of tax-breaks, handouts, and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the next 10 years.

Not only is fossil fuel the richest industry on earth, but any of us who pay taxes write it a hefty check each year. It's as if we're paying them a performance bonus for wrecking the climate. We'll never get to renewable energy if we keep handing gobs of money to oil and coal and gas.

The bill would strip away these outrageous subsidies. As you can imagine, the fossil fuel industry is going to fight back hard, so we need to come out as strong as possible.

So, again, go and sign the petition!

For a little more inspiration, though, here’s a signature counter that will apparently automatically update as new signatures come in:

End Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Sign the Petition

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Trucks Use Overhead Wires to Act More Like Trolleys

Posted: 21 May 2012 04:41 PM PDT

We covered this in our clean transportation roundup last Friday, but I know a lot of people don’t read those roundups (I don’t know why exactly, but I’m actually the same way), so after seeing that Gas2 covered this cool story in more detail, I decided I’d give it more eyes with a quick repost — here you go:

Trucks Borrow Trolley Idea, Link Up With Overhead Power Lines (via Gas 2.0)

A hundred years ago, most major cities relied on trains and electric trolleys to move most of their citizenry around. These days cars and trucks rule the roads of America, although an old idea might soon find a modern application. I am talking about overhead trolley power lines electrifying hybrid…

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