President Barack Obama nudged lawmakers on Tuesday night to take another swing at several high-profile energy ideas, including phasing out of billions of dollars in oil subsidies, ramping up use of biofuels and electric vehicles and setting a nationwide goal for "clean energy sources" that includes nuclear and "clean coal." Obama suggested the White House will also continue to push efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - although he didn't use the phrase climate change - and promote clean energy technologies despite the death of cap-and-trade legislation last year. The president sought to make a direct link between economic growth and clean energy policies, while studiously avoiding picking favorites among several different power sources that can quickly prompt bitter regional fights, as well as partisan ones.
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Cooperation on clean energy could be a high point in U.S.-China relations leading to benefits for both countries, government and business officials said ahead of a summit between Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama. Disputes between the world's two largest economies and energy consumers over China's wind power subsidies and its slowdown in exports of rare earths minerals, used in everything from wind turbines to cell phones, have dominated headlines in recent months. As China tries to transform its economy from the manufacturing of cheap goods into one developing and distributing sophisticated technologies, such as clean energy, spats over intellectual property rights have already troubled trade relations between the two countries. But pressure on both countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reel in fossil fuel demand may push them to overcome these differences.
Until now, Abu Dhabi has been known as the quiet powerhouse behind its flashier neighbor, Dubai, bankrolling record-breaking skyscrapers and fantastical island resorts intended to make the United Arab Emirates synonymous with luxury, wealth and success. But now Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, is looking to set a different kind of example. The Masdar development project, due to be completed in 2013, aims to be the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city. Clocking in with a healthy $22-billion price tag, Masdar is to house approximately 1,500 clean-tech companies and 40,000 residents, and support 50,000 commuters. In addition to new technology, the design draws on traditional Arab and Islamic spatial principles to create a natural cooling effect and require less air conditioning. Narrow streets with cantilevered facades are to help maximize shading and reduce glare in order to provide cooler ambient temperatures. These architectural details combined with strategic green space and a renewable-energy-powered public transportation system are intended to minimize energy demand and pollution.
Investors loved the opportunities of the wind and solar sectors and the quick returns of energy-efficiency firms in 2010, according to a U.S. market report (PDF) by Peachtree Capital Advisors. The wind industry had close to $4.8 billion in transaction value in 2010, which included private fund-raising deals, initial public offerings, and mergers and acquisitions. Solar generated a transaction value of $3.2 billion, and energy efficiency, which includes smart grid and LED lighting companies, followed with $2.5 billion. The transaction values run parallel to the cleantech investing numbers for 2010, which found that solar startups continued to draw the most money in venture capital investment last year, while energy-efficiency startups garnered the largest number of deals, according to the Cleantech Group. However, given utility-scale wind is a more matured market, there are fewer investments in next wind technology startups.
Metro is now the only major transit agency in the U.S. with a fleet run entirely on alternative fuels. Officials say the shift has sharply cut emissions of cancer-causing pollution. After almost two decades of effort to reduce vehicle emissions, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority retired its last diesel bus Wednesday and became the only major transit agency in the nation with a fleet that is totally equipped with alternative-fuel technologies. In an urban area where diesel buses began operating in 1940, the MTA now has 2,221 buses powered by compressed natural gas, as well as one electric bus and six gasoline-electric hybrids. Transit officials estimate that the elimination of diesel engines has reduced the release of cancer-causing particulates from the bus fleet by 80% and greenhouse gases by about 300,000 pounds a day in one of the smoggiest areas of the country. MTA officials say that compressed natural gas buses cost more to buy and maintain than those powered by diesel but that the increased expenses are offset somewhat over the long run by lower fuel costs.
The sun may be in your iPhone battery's future. Yesterday, Apple received Patent No. 7,868,582 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for powering electronics partially with solar power. The patent, which was originally filed in 2009, describes a system of using a solar panel for charging different portable devices, including a notebook computer, tablet, phone, or other handheld gadget. It specifically deals with converting the power from a solar panel to meet the power requirements of electronics. The system includes a voltage converter that ensures the available solar power can be converted and used to recharge batteries. The solar panel could either be embedded in the device or be removable, according to the patent. Although Apple has not yet released any solar-powered gadgets, it's clear that the company is interested in letting people use sunlight to charge when they can't get to an AC outlet. It's the fourth patent that Apple has received related to solar power, according to Patently Apple.
Dow Chemical Co. is set to showcase its most recent energy-saving innovations at the International Builders' Show in Florida. The company's Building Solutions team will be displaying a range of insulation, air sealing and renewable energy solutions for homeowners. "Building a high performance home starts with sealing the building envelope," said Dale Winger, residential market manager, Dow Building Solutions, in a Jan. 5 news release. He added that the products on display would reflect the growing demand for more energy-efficient homes. Latest developments include a variety of spray polyurethane foam products to reduce air and moisture infiltration causes by gaps and cracks in buildings, as well a selection of rigid foam insulation designed to meet the needs of specific above-grade wall applications. As well as polyurethane and other foam solutions, the company will be showcasing its Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles, a solar-power product for residential homes expected to be commercially available in the US market by mid-2011. IBS 2011 is one of the largest annual light construction shows in the world and will take place Jan. 12-15 in Orlando, Fla.
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt got another marketing jolt Monday, when it received the North American Car of the Year. The car that runs on electricity for 40 miles (65 kilometers) before a backup gas engine kicks in beat out the Nissan Leaf, another electric, and Hyundai Sonata in the annual ceremony on the first day of media previews for the Detroit auto show. Forty-nine auto journalists from the U.S. and Canada made the picks. The vehicles are judged on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value. It's the latest in a string of accolades for the Volt, which went on sale in limited markets in December and costs $40,280. It was named the Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine named the Volt the 2011 car of the year the same month. General Motors Co. Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said the Volt "represents the soul" of the new GM, on the rebound after enduring a government-led bankruptcy in 2009. GM sold between 250 and 350 Chevy Volts in December and Nissan's sales totaled less than 10 Leaf sedans in the past two weeks. Production for both is slowly ramping up. It will be well into 2012 before both the Volt and Leaf, which costs $32,780, are available nationwide. Early demand is strong: About 50,000 people already are on waiting lists. The Volts are being assembled in Detroit. GM predicts it will sell 10,000 of them in 2011 and between 35,000 and 45,000 in 2012. By way of comparison, Chevrolet sold 187,250 Malibu sedans in the first 11 months of 2010 with sticker prices that start at $21,975.
U.S. researchers say they've produced a new class of solar cells that can repair themselves much like plants do through photosynthesis. By using carbon nanotubes and DNA, scientists at Purdue University have developed solar technology aimed at increasing service life and reducing cost, a university release said Tuesday. "We've created artificial photosystems using optical nanomaterials to harvest solar energy that is converted to electrical power," Jong Hyun Choi, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, said. Photoelectrochemical cells that convert sunlight into electricity contain light-absorbing dyes called chromophores, similar to chlorophyll molecules in plants, that degrade due to exposure to sunlight. "The critical disadvantage of conventional photoelectrochemical cells is this degradation," Choi said. The new technology gets around this problem in the same way nature does, by continuously replacing the photo-damaged dyes with new ones. "This sort of self-regeneration is done in plants every hour," Choi said.
Some Florida businesses are squeezing a trickle of fuel from algae, claiming they can help power the world. But right now, a few expensive drops in the bucket are all they have to show. On 1,000 acres on the northwest shores of Lake Apopka, Orlando businessman Nick VandenBrekel touts a new crop for Florida that he says can help boost the state's economy as it provides another source of alternative energy. His company, Agrisys, has raised more than $25 million from investors and plans to break ground this quarter on ponds and a small refinery where VandenBrekel says Agrisys will be able to grow algae, process it into an oil, and refine the oil into jet fuel, diesel or gasoline. The operation, he says, will be "the world's first large-scale, vertically integrated algae-to-biofuels facility."
Sure, you've heard about Big Government. But have you seen its energy bill? With $25 billion in annual power and fuel costs, the U.S. government is the largest single energy consumer in the nation's economy, and among the largest in the world. Of course, the 500,000 buildings the government leases or owns include not only office space, but supercomputers, hospitals, and aviation safety radar facilities. And the 600,000 vehicles that Uncle Sam has to tank up include those conveying troops engaged in active combat. For years, it has been clear that there's a big opportunity in the sheer size of this energy footprint. The U.S. Congress has been setting federal efficiency goals since 1978—in hope not only of cutting costs and foreign oil dependence, but also of leading the way for energy savings in the private sector. The Obama administration now is seeking to ramp up that effort dramatically—with the help of an unprecedented $4.5 billion in stimulus funds to be spent by next September entirely for federal green building and renovation projects. By executive order, the federal government is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2020.
An office park in Alhambra is about to start drawing a quarter of its electricity from the devices. It joins commercial properties in more than 40 cities statewide. Behind a chain-link fence next to a parking structure at an office park in the San Gabriel Valley sit five softly humming gray boxes that could change the way homes and offices are powered. On Tuesday, the boxes — each somewhat bigger than an SUV — will begin generating enough electricity to power about a quarter of the complex, saving the property owner about $500,000 a year in electricity bills. The Energy Servers use fuel-cell technology to create low-emission electricity. The product, developed by Bloom Energy, a Sunnyvale, Calif., start-up, has been hailed as an innovation that could change the power industry. "We were convinced that this was a technology that was extraordinarily good," said Wayne Ratkovich, chief executive of Ratkovich Co., which owns the Alhambra office park. "And we're not paying as high of an electric bill, so we'll save a lot of money."
The world's biggest gas-guzzling nation has limits after all. After seven decades of mostly uninterrupted growth, U.S. gasoline demand is at the start of a long-term decline. By 2030, Americans will burn at least 20 percent less gasoline than today, experts say, even as millions of more cars clog the roads. The country's thirst for gasoline is shrinking as cars and trucks become more fuel-efficient, the government mandates the use of more ethanol and people drive less. "A combination of demographic change and policy change means the days of gasoline growing in the U.S. are over," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry. This isn't the first time in U.S. history that gasoline demand has fallen, at least temporarily. Drivers typically cut back during recessions, then hit the road again when the economy picks up. The Great Recession was the chief reason demand fell sharply in 2008.
Deepwater Wind, a company based in Providence, Rhode Island, has drawn up plans for what could be the largest wind farm in U.S. waters, the company announced last week. The proposed farm would generate a huge 1,000 megawatts of power and would be located 18 to 27 miles off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts at a depth of 52 meters—considerably deeper than any other large scale wind project to date. By moving into deeper waters, turbines can harness stronger, more sustained winds. And the massive turbines the company plans to use—each capable of generating more than 5 megawatts of power, with blades rising 150 meters above the water's surface—will be nearly invisible from shore, thereby avoiding potential legal battles with coastal communities that perceive the turbines as eyesores. Four-legged steel platforms rising from the seafloor will allow Deepwater Wind to operate in depths more than twice those of conventional steel "monopole" wind turbine platforms. As water depth increases, the diameter of monopoles must increase exponentially, making them uneconomical in water deeper than about 20 meters. By using a four-legged design, company officials say they will be able to work in depths that were previously prohibitively expensive.
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