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June 20 2013


Cleaner Power from Innovation: Creative Approaches to Renewable Energy

Renewable energy innovation is the key to a sustainable new energy economyInnovation is the key to the future and central to the expansion of renewable sources of energy. There are a number of innovations that could radically transform the clean energy equation. Although renewable energy is growing exponentially around the world these sources of power have a number of shortcoming that make it difficult to scale-up so that they can replace dirty energy sources like fossil fuels. However, those who doubt that renewable energy will be able to replace fossil fuels lack imagination. We need to get outside the box to envision a future powered entirely by clean energy.

Renewable sources of power are our only hope for the future as we cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels. Professor Lesley Hughes explains, “In order to achieve that goal of stabilizing the climate at two degrees or less, we simply have to leave about 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, We cannot afford to burn them and still have a stable and safe climate.”

Here are a number of examples of recent innovations in renewable energy. While these examples only scratch the surface of creative approaches to clean energy, they give us an idea of some of the ways in which we may be able to provide for all of our power needs while minimizing our impact on the planet.

These innovations are broken down into the following five areas:  Wind, solar,  nano-technologies, small scale renewables, and hydrogen.

Wind energy

Concrete spheres: Offshore wind holds tremendous promise, however the intermittent and unpredictable presence of wind imposes limits on this technology.  Researchers at MIT have developed a way of storing wind energy to be used when there is no wind. This concept employs huge concrete spheres which anchor wind turbines to the sea floor. When a wind turbine produces more energy than is needed, power is diverted to drive a pump attached to the underwater structure, pumping seawater out of a 30-meter-diameter hollow sphere. Then when there is no wind the water would flow back into the sphere through a turbine attached to a generator, producing energy. Initial tests suggest that this is a viable cost effective technology.

Bladeless turbines: Conventional wind turbines are a large and growing source of energy but the turning blades have led to concerns about noise pollution and impacts on bird and bat populations. People have also complained that such wind turbines are an eyesore. The new concept developed by Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science faculty at Delft, converts wind to energy without any moving parts by using the movement of electrically charged water droplets to generate power.

Solar energy

Paper-printed solar cells: A printing process has been developed that harnesses the power of the sun. These simple solar cells can even be folded and unfolded. The robust new technology was developed by a team of researchers at MIT. The vapor-deposition process is inexpensive and scalable for commercial applications. It uses significantly less energy intensive materials (i.e. glass).

Optical battery: A dramatic and surprising magnetic effect of light discovered by University of Michigan researchers could lead to solar power without traditional semiconductor-based solar cells. The so called “optical battery,” has overturned a century-old tenet of physics. The researchers found that a light field can generate magnetic effects that are 100 million times stronger than previously expected. Under these circumstances, the magnetic effects develop strength equivalent to a strong electric effect. This could lead to a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation. This new technique could make solar power much cheaper. Researchers predict that with improved materials they could convert solar power to useable energy equivalent to today’s commercial-grade solar cells.

Space Based Panels: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and its partner Solaren are trying to get approval from US regulators to purchase 200 megawatts worth of solar energy delivered from solar panels located in space. Unlike the 2007 Pentagon study which concluded that space based solar panels are not economical, Solaren claims it has developed a technology that would make it commercially viable in the coming years.

Ceria Panels: Researchers are looking into the rare earth metal ceria, (also known as cerium oxide) to be incorporated into solar panels. What makes this metal so interesting is its ability to alternatively exhale and inhale oxygen as it heats up or cools down.

High efficiency thin-film: Scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have managed to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar cells. They are employing computer simulations to probe deeper into the indium/gallium combination to increase the efficiency of Copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) thin-film solar cells.

Thermo-chemical panels: MIT researchers are investigating ways of capturing and releasing solar energy with the help of thermo-chemical technology. Although initially investigated in the seventies, it was found to be too expensive. MIT researchers are working to make this thermo-chemical technology more cost effective.


Carbon nanotubes: The researchers of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that carbon nanotubes discharge powerful waves of electricity under certain circumstances. The MIT team calls it thermopower waves.

Nano-photosynthesis: Nanoscience is working on duplicating the process known as photosynthesis where plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. A team of the University of Florida chemists is trying a new mechanism to transform light straight into motion.

Virus-built battery: Angela Belcher and her team of bioengineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a virus-built battery.

Superconducting nano-scale wires: Scientists from Bar-Ilan University, Israel, supported by U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) at Brookhaven National Laboratory are producing superconducting nano-scale wires to facilitate faster and more powerful electronic devices.

Small Scale

Window mounted solar panels: Designers, Kyuho Song & Boa Oh have developed a small window mounted solar panel. Its called the Window Socket and it pulls solar power to an internal battery, which can be either used immediately or saved for use during night time or when there is no sun. After 8 hours of charging, the socket provides the user with 10 hours of electricity.

Portable Wind Power: There are several “back-pack” style devices that are on the market including the Rose Wind Turbine. This turbine is a small portable device that fits neatly into the trunk of a car.


Electrocatalysts that can be used in electrolyzers: Researchers at the University of Calgary are using electrocatalysts that can be used in electrolyzers, which can generate hydrogen. This relatively less expensive approach can create hydrogen energy generated from solar panels or wind turbines.  It can then be used when there is no sun or no wind. The Calgary Researchers have already formed a company, named FireWater Fuel, to commercialize the new catalysts. They hope to have a prototype soon.

No Catalyst: A new process is being tested by chemical engineers at Purdue University to get cost effective hydrogen production at fuel-cell temperature-level without the need for a catalyst.

Photosynthesis: Scientists from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are  working on a type of photosynthesis as a way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Most of these technologies will never get off the ground to become commercially viable. However, renewable energy innovation is ongoing and we are finding ways of improving existing technologies or developing entirely new sources of clean power. It takes some imagination, but it is important to allow ourselves to see beyond the technological limitations we face today. The key is to think outside the box and not envision a future limited by the technologies of today.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Sandia Labs, courtesy flickr


The post Cleaner Power from Innovation: Creative Approaches to Renewable Energy appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 20 2012


Enviro News Wrap: Cape Cod Wind Project Approved; Few Deniers in Canada; the Dangers of Arctic Drilling, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

July 26 2012


In the Green Economy, Electricians Are in Demand

Electricians are in demand in the new green economyGuest post by Derek Singleton

In 2009, Software Advice predicted that electricians would be one of the construction trades best-suited to capitalize on the growth of green construction. It appears that prediction is coming true. Since 2005, the green construction industry has grown from close to three billion dollar industry to one worth roughly $48 billion.  And a recent report by McGraw-Hill Construction stated that electricians are among the trades in highest demand today.

Individuals with electrical skills are needed to fill a wide range of green constructions jobs today–from renewable energy installations to building management projects. To capitalize on the green construction opportunity, individuals in the electrical trade will need a to obtain a green skill set. Below, I’ll break down a few of the jobs–and corresponding skills–that electricians need to fill secure a job as green construction expands.

Skills Related to Renewable Energy Installations

While there are multiple types of renewable energy projects underway, electricians are well-positioned to fill jobs in solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind turbine installations. To fill these positions, electricians will need to following skills.

  • Solar PV - Naturally, these projects require a deep understanding of photovoltaic materials, equipment and codes–particularly article 690 of the electrical code which gives safety standards for dealing with photovoltaics. In addition to these skills, electricians need to know how to reconfigure panels while maintaining proper wiring. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ provides detailed skills information on their site.
  • Wind Turbine - Wind turbines require electricians that are capable of working at high altitudes and understand how to distribute power from low, medium and high voltages. Beyond these skills, electricians working on these projects need knowledge of hydraulics, torquing and gearing to properly set up the turbines to capture the maximum amount of energy.

Skills Needed for Energy Management Projects

A complementary set of skills in high demand is around the field of energy management. These projects are based on making an existing building more efficient or creating an energy-efficient building for the onset. These projects require a slightly different skill set.

  • Energy Auditing - Energy auditors need strong analytical abilities as well as an understanding of how lighting and HVAC impact overall energy consumption. Additionally, it’s important to have an understanding of how to integrate electrical systems with communications systems.
  • Familiarity with Building Management Systems (BMS) - This role is dictated by a knowledge of computer systems such as programmable logic controls and motion-activated sensors. This means that electricians in these roles will need to know how to configure computerized systems.
  • Familiarity with LEED - The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) estimates that up to 40 percent of LEED certification is done by an electrical contractor. In addition to knowing LEED standards, these individuals need to know how to accrue (and track) LEED credits and coordinate renewable energy installations with energy management projects. The US Green Building Council publishes a comprehensive set of LEED certification information that can get electricians started on this path.

This is just a sampling of the types of green jobs that electricians can move to take advantage of. As the green construction market grows, more and more types of jobs will surely surface. Until then, what skills would you recommend electricians obtain to land a job in green construction? If you have any other ideas, I invited to leave them in comments section below.

Image credit: NewsOne

May 09 2012


European Elections and Sustainable Development in America

European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.


All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: National Post/Getty Images

February 13 2012


Will Hurricanes Topple U.S. Wind Turbines?

Of the offshore sites where wind power is being considered or developed, Galveston County in Texas was the riskiest, followed by Dare County in North Carolina, researchers found.

December 05 2011


Enviro News Wrap: Fracking and Natural Gas; Taxing Chinese Solar Panels; Watering Down Environmental Laws, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:





November 08 2011


May 03 2011


Enviro News Wrap: French Solar Investment; Climategate Retrospective; Japan’s Energy Future, and more…

The latest environmental news headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

The largest oil company in France, Total, bought 60% of SunPower, one of the largest PV solar panel manufacturers in the world. As other large oil companies drift away from investments in alternative energy Total is diving right in.

There are too many types of organisms on earth to count, but some still try and they find new species all the time.

As we change how we produce and use energy our lifestyles will change too. New York Times reports on residents of New Jersey adjusting to solar panels in their neighborhood.

MotherJones revisits Climategate in a post-perspective story.

Japan has relied on nuclear power for decades. Recent events have shown a need for other energy sources. Wind power has been difficult to harvest on the island with traditional wind turbines, but newer designs are making wind power more viable.

New York City is covering old landfills with solar panels, how wonderful.

The moment has come; you can now buy a “Green” yacht. The technologies it utilizes should be used on commercial vehicles, but the vehicle itself is a floating oxymoron.

Of the many changes that climate change will bring, one of them will be decreased river flow in the Western US. With all the controversy over rivers already less water will just escalate the situation.

National Geographic covers a fuel efficiency car competition with great photo coverage.

Al Gore now has his own Global Warming Ap and a video to show it off. Check it out.

Grist shows off a Sierra Club map of coal-fired power plants in the US and asks the question, “is there one near you.”


March 21 2011


When Wind Farms Trump House Cats

While cats are a far greater than wind turbines are to small birds, that doesn't hold true for endangered species like the whooping crane, golden eagle or sage grouse.

March 14 2011


Testing Your Environmental Principles

Why do people who say they care about the environment sometimes act as though they don't when it comes to a specific change?

February 07 2011


January 18 2011


January 11 2011


China's Galloping Wind Market

A manufacturer estimates that more than three times as much wind power capacity was installed in China last year than in the United States.

December 16 2010


A New Way to Buy Some Wind Power

The customer provides a space for the installation and buys the energy it produces, but the manufacturer owns the device, at least for the first few years.

December 09 2010


December 01 2010


Cancun climate summit: UK paying large proportion of global fund to help poor countries

British taxpayers forked out more than £500 million last year to help poor countries build renewable energy sources like wind turbines and adapt to climate change.

October 05 2010


September 29 2010


Thinking Small, and Still Smaller, on Wind Power

Some wind power projects in Italy are small in scale -- a turbine or two in a village. And around the globe, there are far more compact rooftop models.

September 23 2010


On Our Radar: Shrinking Caribou Herds

As development impinges on their range, rapidly rising Arctic temperatures throw caribou out of sync with the environment in which they evolved.
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