Monday, July 2, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

New Energy-Saving USB Outlet: U-Socket

Posted: 02 Jul 2012 11:13 AM PDT


A new energy-efficient outlet from FastMac may look like nothing new, but it’s actually something very new and slick.

“U-Socket is an AC receptacle with the added benefit of two built-in USB ports that can power any device that is charged via USB,” the company writes. “Whether it’s an iPhone, gaming device, digital camera, Kindle or an iPad, U-Socket can handle it all. Designed to replace an existing 3-prong wall outlet, U-Socket eliminates the clutter of AC adapters that stick out and take up space.”

In other words, with these babies, we could ditch all those annoying and wasteful USB chords and AC adapters.

That’s not the only great thing about this new outlet, though.

“U-Socket’s built-in smart sensor automatically detects required wattage and only outputs power when it’s needed and shuts off when it’s fully charged.”

Ever forget to unplug a charging electronic device? Ever leave a device charging for longer than needed? Of course you have. With the U-Socket, apparently, you don’t have to worry about that or feel guilty when you lose track of the time. Pretty sweet, in my opinion.

And for those of you who care about whether or not a product is made in the US: yep, this one is.

The price of these outlets? $24.95.

The website says that these are do-it-yourself ready and come with a step-by-step installation manual. I haven’t looked at it in detail and don’t know much about outlet installation, so I’m not going to endorse that. But it seems like another nice benefit if true.

For more, check out the U-Socket page on the FastMac website.

Image Credit: FastMac



New Study on Material Constraints of Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (Finding: Not a Problem)

Posted: 02 Jul 2012 11:02 AM PDT


As you may have noticed in the story on the huge NREL study just published showing that 80% of US electricity could easily come from renewable sources, concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) would play a big part in that. But would such clean technology run into problematic material constraints? A recent study from Swedish researchers examined that. Here’s the study abstract:

“Scaling up alternative energy systems to replace fossil fuels is a critical imperative. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is a promising solar energy technology that is growing steadily in a so far small, but commercial scale. Previous life cycle assessments (LCA) have resulted in confirmation of low environmental impact and high lifetime energy return. This work contributes an assessment of potential material restrictions for a large-scale application of CSP technology using data from an existing parabolic trough plant and one prospective state-of-the-art central tower plant. The material needs for these two CSP designs are calculated, along with the resulting demand for a high adoption (up to about 8000 TWh/yr by 2050) scenario. In general, most of the materials needed for CSP are commonplace. Some CSP material needs could however become significant compared to global production. The need for nitrate salts (NaNO3 and KNO3), silver and steel alloys (Nb, Ni and Mo) in particular would be significant if CSP grows to be a major global electricity supply. The possibilities for increased extraction of these materials or substituting them in CSP design, although at a marginal cost, mean that fears of material restriction are likely unfounded.”

If you didn’t catch that last part, there are no serious concerns regarding long-term mineral constraints of CSP.

Good news, and this is certainly a study to keep on hand for

For more, check out: Material constraints for concentrating solar thermal power.



Image Credits: CSP plant via Shutterstock and CSP plant via Dii Desert Energy

San Jose to Save Millions from New SolarCity Solar Projects (1st Just Turned On)

Posted: 02 Jul 2012 10:44 AM PDT

SolarCity and San Jose are teaming up to install nearly 2.5 megawatts of solar power in the city, and it’s just flipped the switch on the first of 16 projects. The project just turned on will save the city ”$27,000 in the first year and up to $1.2 million over 20 years.”

In addition to the 16 projects above, 14 more solar projects are planned for San Jose.

“These solar projects are key pillars in the City's ambitious 2007 Green Vision goal to receive 100 percent of its electrical power from clean renewable energy sources,” a news release on the matter noted.

For all such projects, “SolarCity will install and maintain the solar systems for free, without any cost to the city. SolarCity will then sell the solar electricity to the City at a rate anticipated to be lower than it pays for electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).”

Read more on the SolarCity website.

New Australia Bill for Funding Clean Energy

Posted: 02 Jul 2012 10:35 AM PDT

Australia, despite being the worldwide ‘leader’ in per capita CO2 emissions, seems to be working hard to drop that title and become a clean energy leader. As more indication of that, its political leaders recently passed an important clean energy financing bill.

“Australia Government's Senate has passed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Bill 2012 as the first step to the establishment of the $ 10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC),” Climate Connect writes.

For more on this story, check out the Climate Connect link above, or head on over to the Australian Parliament page on Clean Energy Finance Corporation Bill 2012.

80% Clean, Renewable Energy by 2050: More Than Possible, But Need More Political Will (& Public Demand)

Posted: 02 Jul 2012 10:27 AM PDT


So, if you haven’t seen the news, NREL released a report last week showing that we could power 80% the US with already commercially available clean, renewable energy technology by 2050. Now, before getting into the key findings from the report, I think it’s useful to put this into a bit of perspective and historical context.

Even more ambitious than the above, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi wrote in 2009 about how the whole world could be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2030. These guys aren’t wackos, either. Mark Z. Jacobson is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program, and Mark A. Delucchi is a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. I have seen no indication that they were technically wrong.

Another very reputable body, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), noted this year that research it has conducted has found that clean, renewable energy could cheaply supply 48 states of the continental U.S. with 70% of its electricity demand by 2030 (and that’s without including hydroelectric).

So, we’re not exactly lacking in top researchers telling us that we can implement a ton more renewable energy than we have today. But one more study from a top research institute doesn’t hurt, and NREL is certainly a top renewable energy institute, one of the top institutes in the world for the subject. And this wasn’t just the product of a few researchers. It is actually the result of “110 contributors from 35 organizations including national laboratories, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.” It’s the most thorough report I’ve seen on the topic.



Basically, with these 110 researchers chiming in, there’s no reason anyone should say we can’t get a huge majority of our power from clean, renewable energy sources via currently available technology.

With that preface, let’s get to NREL’s key findings.

“Renewable Electricity Futures Study”

The name of the study is above, but it is actually broken into 4 volumes (all PDFs):

Visit these four volumes for a lot more detail. You could probably spend all week examining the study if you were interested.

For a quick snapshot, below is an overall summary of key findings, via NREL (emphasis added):

  • Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.
  • Increased electric system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply-demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.
  • The abundance and diversity of U.S. renewable energy resources can support multiple combinations of renewable technologies that result in deep reductions in electric sector greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
  • The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios. Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies is the most impactful lever for reducing this incremental cost.

The cut in greenhouse gas emissions would be tremendous. And this is something that is critical to maintaining human society as we know it, or even improving it.

For much more on the technical issues and possibilities, check out any or all of the links above.

Notably, many technologies that we expect will soon be commercially viable weren’t even included in the identified renewable energy potential, because the study focused on commercially available technologies. This includes floating offshore wind turbines, enhanced geothermal, wave energy, tidal energy, ocean thermal energy conversion, and more. Add all of that in and I’m sure 100% renewable energy is more than viable.

Technology Isn’t the Only Thing

Now, as anyone in this industry should know, technology isn’t the main challenge these days. Having adequate support for a clean energy transition in top levels of political leadership is. This report may help to open the eyes of some. The increasing costs of climate-related disasters might do the same. But more than anything, I think we simply need the public to put pressure on politicians to make this possibility a reality.

The NREL study above focused on an 80% by 2050 scenario, but it looked at scenarios up to 90% penetration and down to 30% penetration. Unfortunately, without strong action, we could hit the very sad and societally disastrous 30% scenario.

Again, it’s not about the technology. It’s about the political will and the public demand.

The public has shown time and time again that it supports clean energy, but it hasn’t demanded it very much yet.

Until we do, we can be sure dirty energy companies will keep pumping everything they can into a political system that listens far too much to Big Money (when not forced to do otherwise).

I’d love to see this study help initiate true public demand for clean energy. Will you help that to happen? (Hint: share this news and be sure to bookmark this story for continual sharing with friends, family, acquaintances, and your political representatives!

Vacuum Tubes Rise from the Dead…To Save the Earth!

Posted: 02 Jul 2012 04:39 AM PDT

vacuum tubes could lead to the next generation of efficient electronicsEither it’s yet another sign of the impending zombie apocalypse or the beginnings of a new breakthrough for energy efficient computers and other electronic goods, but it looks like the long-dead vacuum tube may be in for a return from the graveyard of technology. A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has proposed that vacuum tubes could be revived to replace silicon as semiconductors, enabling the design of powerful electronic systems packed into nanoscale spaces.

Vacuum Tubes Then…

Vacuum tubes were, literally, relatively large glass tubes that did the heavy lifting for early computers, TV sets and other electronic goods until semiconductor transistors were invented in 1947.

While the height of technology in their day, the use of glass tubes has an obvious downside in terms of durability and sheer bulk.

Rise of the Transistors…

In our era, silicon-based transistors represent the height of technology. They have steadfastly adhered to Moore’s Law for a generation, shrinking in size every 18 months or so while doubling in performance.

Like the vacuum tube, silicon appears to be reaching its physical limit. Though further advances are conceivable, the expense of achieving them is becoming an additional obstacle.

Vacuum Tubes Now…

As described by Pitt’s lead researcher Hong Koo Kim, electron movement in a silicon chip involves a good deal of colliding and scattering. It can be compared to a car driving through heavy traffic or over bumps, sacrificing speed for efficiency. Here’s his solution:

“The best way to avoid this scattering—or traffic jam—would be to use no medium at all, like vacuum or the air in a nanometer scale space. Think of it as an airplane in the sky creating an unobstructed journey to its destination.”

Traditional vacuum tubes won’t do the trick, partly because of their high energy demand, so Kim and his team gave the old concept a complete design overhaul.

In this new version, electrons are coaxed out of silicon to form a two-dimensional airborne gas, or a sheet of charges, in which electrons can rocket along nanoscale channels without fear of colliding or scattering.

The coaxing can be done with a “negligible” electric charge, much as the mere hint of living flesh can catch the attention of any nearby zombie.

So far, though, the research is in the development stage, so the likelihood of seeing a real zombie may be slightly higher than the likelihood of holding an electron gas smart phone in your hand any time soon.

Image: Some rights reserved by

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Overturning the ’15% Rule’ Can Expand Distributed Generation

Posted: 01 Jul 2012 11:35 PM PDT


If you haven't heard yet, there's a "rule" that precludes distributed renewable energy projects from supplying more than 15% of the power to most "distribution circuits" (part of the low-voltage electric grid that brings power into homes and businesses). With the rapidly falling cost of solar power, many places in the country are starting to push up against this limit.

So, there's good news recently in California, where the state's investor-owned utilities agreed to raise this somewhat arbitrary limit and accept more distributed generation.

The process of setting the rule is almost comical, although the rationale isn't. Utilities want to be sure that during a power failure (from the grid), local distributed generators can't accidentally power the local grid enough to zap repair crews who would expect the lines they're repairing to be dead. Good idea.

But the margin for safety was rather ridiculous. Let's assume a given portion of the grid needs 100 megawatts of power at maximum.  Utilities looked for the typical "daytime minimum" (e.g. the least power used during daylight hours) and found that it was about 30% of that peak; in this case, 30 megawatts (probably around 6 AM). Then they divided by two: 15 megawatts or a 15% rule.

But this "rule" has two major problems:

  • Distributed solar produces its peak power at noon, when there is far more demand on the system than at 6 AM. So, limiting a circuit to 15 MW of solar capacity because that's half the daytime minimum vastly overestimates the amount of solar that will be on the system relative to demand. In fact, minimum demand at noon is generally around 50% of the peak, not 30%.
  • Advanced electronics and inverters enable a solar array to shut off in the event of "islanding" (when the utility grid fails), minimizing the chance of accidental shock.

The Clean Coalition and its partners in California successfully fought the utilities on this issue. Here's a short summary from their newsletter:

The proposed settlement would Fast Track interconnection of DG projects up to 100% of coincidental minimum load, and this new standard will result in as much as a threefold increase in the level of DG penetration allowed in Fast Track.  Under the previous arbitrary 15% peak load limit, DG projects only generating 30-50% of coincidental minimum load were eligible for Fast Track.  The [California Public Utilities Commission] is expected to approve the settlement by mid-summer [2012].

Well done!

This post originally appeared on ILSR's Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

Photo Credit: Great Valley Center (Attribution Some rights reserved)

Nexus EnergyHomes Building City of Brotherly Love’s First Net-Zero-Energy Homes

Posted: 01 Jul 2012 11:28 PM PDT

The city of Brotherly Love is gunning to be the greenest city in the USA. Nexus ENERGYHOMES hopes to help fulfill that vision of the Philadelphia mayor's sustainability office with a super-green new development.

The Stevenville, Maryland company is currently in the midst of building the Foundry Court project, taking up five lots between 4th and Brown Street in the Northern Liberties Philadelphia community.

By mixing efficient air filtration, energy recovery, ventilation systems, and volatile organic compound (VOC) building materials, it will help to create not only some of the nation's most energy-efficient homes, but some of the healthiest also. The new homes will also have the highest green building standards targeted by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).

Senior Vice President Ann Ashley of Nexus EnergyHomes said in a statement: "As the recognized national leader for energy-efficient home building, we are well qualified to help Philadelphia reach their goals for a revolutionary transformation towards a cleaner, greener lifestyle. Our High Performance homes combine the best technologies available under one roof."



When you add geo-solar technology for each home into the mix, you have homeowners that will be able to save where it matters the most to them: in their pocket books.

"And the homes' geo-solar technology is just the beginning of features these luxury dwellings offer prospective homebuyers. Nexus' townhomes will offer a myriad of green outdoor home living options, such as; rooftop gardening (including vegetables and artistic plantings), and the highest practices for water reclamation," Ashley said.

"With all of those benefits and virtually eliminating home utility expenditures, the Nexus EnergyHome provides comfort and affordability far superior to any other home on the market today," she said.

With the recent announcement by Nexus ENERGYHOMES, The City of Brotherly Love may need to change it's name to the City of Brotherly Green in the near future.

 Photo Credit: Nexus Energyhomes

Imagine the Fuel Cell that Keeps Running After the Hydrogen Runs Out

Posted: 01 Jul 2012 11:10 PM PDT

Materials scientists at Harvard have demonstrated a solid-oxide fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity but that also stores electrochemical energy like a battery, allowing it to continue producing power for a short time after the original fuel source has been depleted.

“This thin-film SOFC takes advantage of recent advances in low-temperature operation to incorporate a new and more versatile material,” explains principal investigator Shriram Ramanathan, Associate Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “Vanadium oxide (VOx) at the anode behaves as a multifunctional material, allowing the fuel cell to both generate and store energy.”

This new discovery will be most important in situations where a compact and lightweight power supply is essential but where the fuel supply may be interrupted.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles, for instance, would really benefit from this,” says lead author Quentin Van Overmeere, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. “When it’s impossible to refuel in the field, an extra boost of stored energy could extend the device’s lifespan significantly.”

There isn’t much use my attempting to rewrite the wonderful explanation available over at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences website. So head on over there now for more.

Harnessing the Power of Sitting Down at a Desk. Seriously.

Posted: 01 Jul 2012 10:53 PM PDT

“Human nature is above all things lazy,” said Harriet Beecher Stowes, and that was the catalyst behind Swedish design student Eddi Törnberg’s “Unplugged” desk.

I sit at a desk all day, every day, writing. Needless to say, it would be nice to switch up what that means, and Törnberg’s design is all about switching up. Instead of trying to revolutionise the way humanity works — which, we have to acknowledge, is very sedentary – Törnberg has designed a desk that fits in with our current way of life, and still produces energy from that existence.

The “Unplugged” desk generates energy using three different techniques:

So-called piezo-elements are woven into the carpet, which means that whoever walks on the carpet [exposes] the crystal in the elements to mechanical stress and the elements then emit energy.

The flower is a plant-microbial fuel cell, which means that the natural sugars and enzymes help to extract energy through photosynthesis.

The seat of the chair is based on the Seebeck effect, which means that the metal on the upper surface becomes warm, in this case from the body heat, while the underside is kept cold by metal fins. The difference between these temperatures emits energy.

Source: Eddi Tornberg (.se)

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