Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Reader, now Google Energy?

Posted on February 19, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

Environmental Leader reports that the Federal Energy Regualtory Commission (FERC) approved Google’s new venture in energy markets. Google Energy LLC will act as an energy broker by purchasing electricity (rather than generating it on its own) and selling it to wholesale customers. Google has stated its initial goals are to secure access to lower cost energy from more renewable energy sources to power its own operations. In January, shortly after the announcement to seek FERC approval was made, Google’s Niki Fenwick explained on CNET:

“Right now, we can’t buy affordable, utility-scale, renewable energy in our markets. We want to buy the highest quality, most affordable renewable energy wherever we can and use the green credits,”

This is only part of Google’s drive to become a greener company. Other efforts include powering its California campus with solar panels, introducing initiatives to make renewable energy cheaper than coal, developing a home energy monitoring tool and numerous other clean energy investments and joint ventures. Leaving the question of whether or not Google should be buying and selling energy aside, the company’s committment promoting renewable energy are commendable.

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Solar Aid to Victims of Earthquake in Haiti

Posted on January 19, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Image from Christian Science Monitor

As aid workers and volunteers scramble to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that hit the country last week, Environmental Leader reports on several companies are donating solar supplies to help the effort. Sol, a solar lighting provider, is working with its suppliers to bring over $400,000 worth of solar powered lighting to hospitals and clinics that will allow them to extend the hours they can treat patients after the sun goes down.

See the news report about Sol’s efforts in Haiti.

To help improve communications, Digicel and Intivation are donating 1, 000 solar powered phones the recovery effort. Intivation’s solar phone can operate completely on solar power when it is not possible to reach another electricity source. Digicel, a cellular service provider in the Carribbean, is also granting credits to users in Haiti to help them communicate during this difficult time.

Both the solar lighting technology and the solar cell phones will help relieve the stress on Haiti’s electricity grid which has experienced severe power shortages as a result of the earthquake.

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Sun + Wind= Renewables Working Around the Clock

Posted on December 29, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

Green Inc reports on a new project planned by Southwest Solar Technology that incorporates both solar and wind technology to overcome the difficulty of storing electricity. As Matthew Wald, the reporter from Green Inc, puts it:

“Electricity from renewable sources can be like a perfect luncheon served at 4 a.m., a nice thing but far more appreciated at a different hour. Electricity is hard to store, though, which is why nearly all of it is consumed at the instant it is generated, and energy storage is still in its infancy.”

Already, a potential method of storage is compressed air technology. Excess energy is taken from the grid at any time and used to push air into an underground cave. When electricity is needed, the air is released to push a turbine and generate electricity. In the southeast, the Alabama Electrical Cooperative has been using the technology since 2000. In its plant, the air is heated with natural gas to better drive the turbines.

 Southwest Solar Tech is working on working off of the existing compressed air technology to heat the air with solar power and intergrate wind farms into the mix. A solar dish will be used to heat a container of liquid to up to 1700 degrees fahrenheit. This will heat the air that is pushed into a cave by wind turbines at night, when the wind farm is generating surplus electricity that is not accepted by the grid.

This project is currently only in the planning stage, but as contintue renewables play a bigger role in US energy supply, the issue of storage will grow in importance.

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845 MW Wind Project Deal Signed in Oregon

Posted on December 14, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Green Inc. reported last week on a $1.4billion wind deal signed last week.  The Oregon project will feature 338 GE turbines that have the capacity to produce 845 MW of power, making it the largest wind turbine committment of the year, according to GE.  The announcement paid close attention to the issue of green job creation after the drama over a West Texas project that featured Chinese turbines. The GE turbines will be assembled in Florida and more than half of the parts will be made in the United States. Addionally, 400 temporary jobs will be created during the construction of the project, set to take place in 2011-12.

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What is Osmotic Power?

Posted on November 24, 2009. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , |

Green Inc. reported today on today’s debut of an osmotic power pilot project in Norway. That’s cool, but what is osmotic power? Here is how Statkraft, the company that developed the Norwegian project explains it:

“Freshwater and saltwater are channeled into separate chambers, separated by an artificial membrane. The salt molecules in the seawater draw the freshwater through the membrane, causing the pressure on the seawater side to increase. This pressure is equivalent to a water column of 120 meters or, in other words, quite a significant waterfall. This pressure can be used in a turbine to make electricity.”

According to the company, this type of power generation has the potential to provide half of Europe’s power supply as a baseload (continuously available) power source. The development of osmotic power generation has been slow since the 1970s, but now with improvements in membrane technology, experts think it has the potential to take off. Osmotic power plants can be installed wherever salt water and freshwater are in the same vicinity- for example where a river meets the ocean or next to an existing desalination plant.

Was this coffee made by power from the osmotic power plant?

The Norwegian pilot, though a significant accomplishment for those involved, only contributes 4 kw of power to the grid. As the Green Inc. article points out, that’s enough to run a coffee grinder. Still, Eric Stilihagen, the VP of osmotic power at Statkraft is insistent in the potential of this technology:

“We really need to increase the speed to bring this technology into the market…We should do this much faster than we did with solar power and wind power.”


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More US Jobs from Proposed Texas Wind Farm?

Posted on November 19, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

In a follow up to the recent controversy around the proposed Texas wind farm. The issue was that a Chinese company (A-Power Generation Service)would manufacture the turbines in China, creating thousands of clean jobs in that country. That in itself was not an issue, but what did prove to be controversial was the fact that stimulus funds would go to fund the project and the number of jobs created in the US was not nearly at the same level (300 for construction and only about 20 permanent).

Green Inc. reports that US Renewable Energy Group and A-Power announced on Tuesday that the plan had been revised to inlcude

“A new production and assembly plant in the United States that will supply highly advanced wind energy turbines to renewable energy projects throughout North and South America.”

This announcement came after Senator Schumer (D-NY) said he would oppose stimulus funding of the project if the wind turbines were produced in China.

Still, as the Green Inc. post points out, there are a lot of uncertainties about the details of the plan, the big one being whether this new proposed plant will be used to supply to the turbines for this specific project or if it will be a separate effort.

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And the Winner is…

Posted on November 18, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

The latest Climate Counts scorecard is out and the winner is….Nike

The non-profit released its third annual climate scorecard assessing what various companies are saying and doing about climate change. The scorecard judges companies climate policy on 4 categories:

  • Review: How is the company measuring and tracking greenhouse gasses
  • Reduce: What is the company doing to reduce its carbon footprint and how this is incorporated into its operations
  • Policy Stance: Does the company support or oppose climate change legislation
  • Report: How is the company notifying the public about its findings

The total possible score for all 4 categories is 100 and companies are classified as “stuck” (12 or less points) “starting” (13-149 points) or “striding” (above 50 points).

As the top company for the second year in a row, Nike scored 83 points. Other top companies were Stonyfield Farm (81 points), Unilever (80 points) and HP (79 points).

Climate Counts hopes the scoreboard will inspire businesses to compete to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage them to take voluntary actions to stay ahead of the curve. 

The results are easy to read and displayed by industry so anyone visiting the site can quickly compare who is leading (they get the green striding icon) and who is falling behind (the ones with the red stuck icon). There is also the option to contact the company and let them know that climate action is important to you.

According to Climate Counts Executive Director Woods Turner:

“Competition – the most fundamental tenet of a thriving global marketplace – will define the future of corporate climate action and sustainability…Our scores show that companies are motivated to act when they may not measure up to other companies on their response to issues that matter to people.”

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Is there hope for Copenhagen?

Posted on November 16, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

Copenhagen 2009The UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15), a huge milestone for international climate change policy, is fast approaching. But will this much anticipated conference yield any concrete results? The buzz this weekend suggested that it would not.

Recent statements by world leaders, including President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, attempt to soften expectations for the outcome of the meeting, framing it is a “stepping stone” to an eventual agreement rather than the birthplace of a binding international framework to replace Kyoto.

By calling the meeting a “stepping stone”, Secretary Clinton falls in the camp that believes international climate change policy will be like international trade policy–evolving rounds of agreements and negotiations without a concrete endpoint. The contrast to this evolving framework is an international treaty, like the Montreal Protocol, which addressed ozone depleting substances and was negotiated in the late 1980s.

At a side meeting during the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore this weekend, the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen indicated that it was unrealistic to expect a legally binding agreement out of the impending summit and that perhaps a more feasible goal was a politically binding promise to establish a treaty at a later meeting. According to Rasmussen, this would be, “one agreement, two steps”

So what does this mean for climate change policy? Its certainly a dissapointment for many climate change activists that were hoping to get a solid committment from the meeting. But was this ever a realistic expectation? As Andrew Revkin puts it in NY Times DotEarth Blog,

“Finding a common framework for action acceptable to 200-plus countries with variegated vulnerabilities, fuel choices, political systems and histories of emissions remains a daunting task.”

Clearly, the fact that a global agreement on climate change is going to be very difficult to reach, is not news in any way. Still, over the last year, there were many positive signs that encouraged many that an agreement would be possible. First of all, the new American President cared about climate change and appointed Todd Stern, a seasoned and informed climate envoy to represent the country in negotiations. A year ago, it seemed as though the US was ready to take the lead in the international climate policy and make an agreement happen. And Europeans were starting not to see us only as SUV driving, air conditioning- loving, fast food eaters.

And now? The European climate negotiators once again see the US as the obstacle to any progress on climate change. As the chief Spanish negotiator commented,

“There’s a certain level of frustration in seeing that not all countries share (the) vision.”

Its a tough time for a climate change agreement. In the US, record unemployment rates, a flailing economy, and the struggle for health care reform are dominating the scene, not leaving much energy for climate change. And without the US, there is no prospect for a global agreement. Still, domestic climate change legislation has passed the house and has been introduced in the Senate, despite other legislative priorities.

So Copenhagen may not be the meeting where a binding international agreement is negotiated, but it could be a constructive part of a continuing effort to find a solution to climate change.

Don’t give up hope just yet.

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Stimulus Funds Huge West Texas Wind Farm Joint-Venture with Chinese Company

Posted on November 2, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Last week, Green Inc announced a planned 600 MW wind farm to begin construction by 2010 in West Texas. The project is a joint venture involving A-Power Energy Generation Services, a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer; Renewable Energy Group,  a US Investment firm; and the Texas based Cielo Wind Power. With the support of US government stimulus incentives including cash grants and loan guarantees, Chinese banks will finance a large percentage of the $1.5 billion project.

The 240 wind turbines required for the farm will be made in Shenyang, China in the first example of Chinese exporting turbines to the United States. John Lin, CEO of A- Power Energy Generation Systems,

“This wind farm project came about thanks to the openness of the United States for investments in the field of renewable energy”

Interestingly, a follow up from Green Inc. yesterday showed that not everyone in the US is that open to Chinese involvement in this project. Many readers and observers were unhappy to see US stimulus money going to Chinese companies. Though, the project would create 300 construction jobs in the US, only 30 of these would be permanent. And, this pales in comparison to the 2,000 Chinese jobs created by the project.

“Why are U.S. stimulus funds being used to subsidize manufacturing jobs in China?”

Asked a reader that was perplexed by how US government officials could keep making statements about the threat of US losing its competitiveness in the clean energy field to Chinese companies, and at the time is making a huge stimulus investment that seems to benefit these same companies.

According to a recent study by the Investigative Reporting Project at American University School of Communication,

“84 percent of the $1.05 billion in clean-energy grants distributed by the government since Sept. 1 has gone to foreign renewable energy companies — specifically, wind companies”

Russ Choma, an author of the study explains that much of the investment for wind power has gone to European companies, because the American wind energy manufacturing base lags far behind that of Europe.

Several other factors account for the negative reaction to Chinese investment in the West Texas wind project. First, China’s is know for practicing “green protectionism” by enforcing local content provisions on clean technologies to boost domestic production. At a recent US-China summit, the China agreed to lift the restrictions on wind turbines.

Second, China is already dominating the solar industry and exports 95% of its products to the US and Europe, giving US producers a run for their money as they try to compete with the low Chinese solar panel prices.

Finally, China tends to make Americans (or at least a subset of them) nervous. In many industries, Chinese manufacturers are the toughest competitors. And don’t forget about that huge bilateral trade deficit. So the strong reaction to this latest announcement is no surprise.

And there are some difficult questions posed for even the biggest China fans. Should US stimulus money really be spent to create jobs in China? How will the US stay competitive in the future without making significant domestic  investments in new industries like wind turbine manufacturing? Still, US-China cooperation is key to crafting a global climate change treaty and plan, and though it may be a leap of faith, isn’t a joint venture like this a useful way to get the ball rolling?

Here’s a follow up post from Green Inc, with comments from US Renewable Energy Group’s, CEO Cappy McGarr (is that a great name or what?) He argues that the project’s positive impact on US jobs will be much larger than originally outlined.

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Clean Currents is Making News!

Posted on October 28, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Yesterday was a big news day here at Clean Currents!

In the afternoon, we posted a press release about 5 of our school customers making the EPA’s Green Power Partnership Top 20 Green Power Purchasing list. Clean Currents supplies the Bullis School, the top individual school on the list with 100% clean power as well as the Norwood School, the Green Acres School, the Sheridan School, and the Evergreen School which also made the top 20 list. Clean Currents has made an effort to reach out to local schools in order to help them promote sustainable living and education to teach kids from an early age about environmental issues and climate change. Another cool fact: by buying green power, the 5 area schools are effectively taking 600 cars off the road!

Also, Kristi Neidhart, our residential program coordinator was interviewed on NPR about our Green Neighborhood Effect Program. The interview featured, Matt Berres, a Greenbelt resident who switched to Clean Currents to save money and support wind power.  The interview aired this morning on WAMU 88.5 All Things Considered and if you missed it, you can listen to it online.


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