10 Green Giants That Could Change the World

While start-ups have played a crucial role in getting the green industry off the ground, the future will likely be dominated by large, sprawling conglomerates. Why? Green technology essentially involves revamping the physical infrastructure of the modern world: replacing coal-fired power plants with wind turbines, building homes from materials concocted in chemistry laboratories, and swapping out engines for electric motors. Established companies simply are in a far better position to muster the capital, technological depth, managerial expertise and factory capacity needed. Familiarity plays a big role too. Millions have flocked to play Farmville. You won't see the same sort of giddy enthusiasm for those installing high voltage power lines or sewage-to-drinking water plants. If the Internet boom was an under-30 billionaire, clean tech is a science teacher with a comb-over. With that in mind, here is my list of the top ten Green Giants, the companies most likely to produce, develop and promote the ideas an products that will have the widest ranging effects.

Strong Solar Growth in 2009 Despite Recession

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the 2009 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review, finding 2009 to be another year of strong growth despite the economic recession. Overall U.S. solar electric capacity, including both photovoltaic and concentrating solar power installations, increased by 37 percent. This was driven primarily by strong demand in the residential and utility-scale markets, state and federal policy advances and declining technology prices. As a result, total solar industry revenue reached $4 billion, a 36 percent increase over 2008.  The solar industry contributed to the overall economy by adding 17,000 new jobs from coast to coast. The solar industry today employs 46,000 U.S. workers and supports an additional 33,000 jobs in other sectors.

Zinc Fuel Cell Powers Taiwan Made Electric Car

Known as the "Salamander," this car operates on zinc oxygen energy fuel cells. Also known as ZOE, the fuel cell generates electricity through the metal's oxidation process. It can be recycled by using sun power to return the oxidized zinc back to the original metal form. 288 of these little cells provide enough power for the lightweight vehicle to reach speeds well over 200 miles per hour. Of course, 80 miles per hour is the design speed and combined with brisk acceleration makes it nimble enough to function well in modern traffic. Local Taipei news video of the car in action here.

Ireland to support electric cars with $5,000 euro grant

Buyers of electric vehicles will get the grant and be exempt from vehicle registration tax, the government said. Ireland's Electricity Supply Board is rolling out 3,500 charge points by December 2011, with roll-out already under way in Dublin and charging points due to be installed in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. Ireland said it's aiming for 10% of the country's vehicles to be electric by 2011. Nissan is due to roll the Leaf, an all-electric five-seater, early next year, and Renault will launch its Kangoo Z.E. electric vehicle later in the year.

Solar-Powered Plane Debuts

The aircraft made its maiden voyage Wednesday in Switzerland, as a team of engineers and adventurers marked an important step in a $93.5 million project to build the first aircraft capable of circumnavigating the globe without a drop of fuel. The plane itself, Solar Impulse, is an unwieldy beast. Wings as wide as those on a 747 are decked out with solar panels to provide enough power to keep the 3,500-pound craft cruising at about 44 mph. Test pilot Markus Scherdel managed to take the aircraft almost a mile above the Swiss countryside, executing simple turns during the 90-minute flight before making a successful landing.

UPS adds 200 more hybrids to fleet

United Parcel Service (UPS) has added an additional 200 hybrid delivery vehicles to its fleet of low-emissions and alternative energy vehicles. With this latest addition, UPS now has more than 20,000 green vehicles in its fleet! The 200 new HEV package cars are expected to reduce fuel consumption by roughly 176,000 gallons over the course of a year compared to an equivalent number of traditional diesel trucks. The hybrids also should reduce by 1,786 metric tons the amount of CO2 gases released annually into the atmosphere.

Tesla Wins Alternative Energy Rally

A Tesla Roadster has become the first electric vehicle to win the Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally and the first to win an FIA-sanctioned competition. Driven by Formula One driver Erik Comas, the Arctic white Roadster beat 96 competitors in range, efficiency and performance. The Roadster's victory in the three-day, nearly 1,000-kilometer challenge also marks the first time an electric vehicle has dominated a certified Federation Internationale de l'Automobile competition. The Roadster scored definitive victories in two additional categories, including the Efficiency Cup and the Electric Vehicles Cup.

China vs U.S. in clean energy investing war

This is a war we want to encourage. China overtook the United States in renewable energy investments for the first time ever in 2009, attracting nearly twice as many dollars and becoming the world's largest market for clean energy projects. Renewable energy investments in China - mostly wind farms - totaled $34.6 billion in 2009, according to report released Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In the United States, $18.6 billion was spent. The report noted that over 700,000 clean energy jobs have been created in the Untied States since 1998, and with so much money being invested in the alternative energy market, this was likely just the beginning.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in US

What's billed as the biggest roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure in the world is about to begin in the United States. Urban planners are deciding where to locate more than 11,000 charging stations in 11 major cities. They want those stations up and running when the first mass-market electric cars from Nissan and General Motors go on sale at the end of this year. Last year, the Department of Energy awarded $100 million to eTec, an electric transportation research and development firm, to build electric vehicle charging networks in five states. eTec is installing more than 2,000 electric car chargers in the greater Seattle area in western Washington, and another 2,000 at homes and public places in four Oregon cities. They'll be near shopping centers, fast food restaurants and movie theaters, "the variety of places that people think about when they're able to park and leave the vehicle for an hour or two."

Chevron Tests 7 Solar Technologies at an old refinery site in California

The oil giant Chevron has transformed an old refinery site in California into a test bed for seven advanced photovoltaic solar technologies, which the company is evaluating for use at its facilities worldwide. Chevron is unveiling 7,700 solar panels installed on 18 acres in Bakersfield, the capital of California's oil patch. Called Project Brightfield, the plant will generate 740 kilowatts of electricity to power nearby oil operations. Any excess electricity will be fed to the power grid. Chevron will test the technologies for three years and decide which might merit use at the company's facilities, or by Chevron Energy Solutions, which builds solar power plants and installs solar arrays for commercial customers.

China's State Grid Corp. to accelerate building of electric vehicle charging stations

The State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) has announced plans to accelerate the building of electric vehicle charging stations in 27 cities in 2010. Plans are for 75 public charging stations, 6,209 AC charging spots and some battery replacement stations, with the aim of supporting the country's "Energy efficient and new energy vehicle pilot program." Since 2006, the SGCC has acquired 101 electric vehicles and constructed 30 pilot charging stations, and has cooperated with the Beijing municipal government in the design of seven electric bus lines and manufacture of 58 electric buses.

FCC's National Broadband Plan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unveiled the first U.S. National Broadband Plan on Tuesday morning. And — what we're particularly interested in — there's an entire chapter on Energy and the Environment (Chapter 12, Page 245). The National Broadband Plan looks at how broadband can be used to build out a smarter power grid, make information technology more efficient and make transportation cleaner. Some recommendations include: States should reduce impediments and financial disincentives to using commercial service providers for Smart Grid communications. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC ) should start a proceeding to explore the reliability and resiliency of commercial broadband communications networks. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the FCC should continue their joint efforts to identify new uses for federal spectrum and should consider the requirements of the Smart Grid. Congress should consider amending the Communications Act to enable utilities to use the proposed public safety 700 MHz wireless broadband network.

Cooling by Sound

Cooling applications represent 25% of all electricity use in the United States, consuming over 7 quadrillion BTUs of energy and generating nearly 600 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), is developing a new form of refrigeration that could be three times as efficient as existing forms. It's based on thermoacoustics, a technology that works for cooling at extremely low temperatures (such as for liquefying gases), but hasn't been used for cooling at room temperature (what you need for household refrigeration). PARC has developed a proprietary thermoacoustic refrigeration technology that can achieve double the efficiency of the best current residential and commercial air conditioning and refrigeration systems. Wide adoption of PARC's technology could lead to dramatic energy savings and greatly reduced CO2 emissions. PARC's approach could:

  • Double the efficiency of air conditioning
  • Save 4 quadrillion BTUs (13% of total U.S. electricity use) per year
  • Reduce CO2 emissions by 311 million metric tons annually

Sweden Goal - 50% Renewable Energy by 2020

Maud Olofsson, Sweden's Enterprise and Energy Minister, announced recently the addition of 2,000 wind turbines to the country's alternative energy regimen. The move, which would be rolled out over the next ten years would add 10 terawatt hours of clean energy per year to their grid. But is that enough for the Scandinavian country? Apparently not because they've also set a goal for themselves to have 50 percent (yes, half!) of their electricity come from renewable sources by 2020!

Richest Loan Gurantee for Alternative Energy Project Ever

BrightSource Energy Inc. has won a $1.4 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to build three concentrated solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, just weeks after the company scaled back plans to address concerns over the desert tortoise.  The complex will generate 392 megawatts of electricity using thousands of mirrors to focus the power of the sun to create steam that drives electrical turbines. It'll produce enough power for about 140,000 homes. Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison Co. signed up to buy power from the plants, which will be built by Bechtel and create about 1,000 construction jobs and 86 permanent jobs. Construction on the first plant is expected to begin in the second half of 2010.

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