22 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for June 23: The smart grid via white space (and Google); Nissan Leaf records 14,000 U.S. pre-orders, 90% are conquest sales; How Desertec can run Europe on solar
While the debate continues about what network standards are best to run smart grids, here’s a wireless tech that you don’t often hear about: white space, the spectrum vacated by the switch from analog televisions to digital. Today Google and startup Spectrum Bridge are announcing that they have created the first ever smart grid deployment over white space, working with the utility Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunications in the tiny county of Plumas-Sierra in Northern California.
The big idea behind the untapped white space is that now that analog TV channel operators have moved to digital, very valuable, spectrum “” nationwide and free to use because it is unlicensed (not owned by any company but guided by rules) “” has been unleashed. Several years ago Google launched a campaign called Free The Airwaves in an effort to draw attention to the idea of using white space for wireless consumer broadband services.
Hiring new engineers in the auto industry is always something of a gamble. Just because someone coming out of school has a 4.0 GPA, it doesn’t mean that they are well suited to the day-to-day problem solving and innovation required of a modern engineer. In the past, a lot of new engineers were recruited through co-operative education programs or internships where companies got see students work first hand. However, cost cutting efforts in recent years have caused these programs to be curtailed. Today, with automakers hard at work on alternative fuel and electric drive programs, they need engineers with new skill sets that many of the veterans lack.
Over the last several years, General Motors has been using student design competitions like ChallengeX and EcoCar to give students real-world experience and at the same time evaluate and recruit them. GM has supplied vehicles to university teams through both programs and then worked with them to design, develop and evaluate new powertrains over the course of four years. In that time, GM has hired 55 graduates from the ChallengeX program as permanent staff and another 16 from from the EcoCar competition.
David Cameron, the British prime minister, suggested Tuesday new taxes on the heaviest emitters of greenhouse gases, the latest measure in Europe aimed at promoting “cleaner” technologies like nuclear power and biofuels.
Mr. Cameron’s announcement came as the European Commission debated whether to pursue a Europe-wide minimum tax based on emissions from motor fuels and heating oil. The European measure would be aimed at spreading the burden of meeting targets for greenhouse gas reduction beyond heavy industry to households and farms.
Mr. Cameron’s plan is focused instead on the biggest polluters, like coal-fired power stations and steel makers. It would require them to pay a minimum price for permits to pollute under the E.U. Emissions Trading System.
In auto speak, conquest sales can be loosely defined as a legal form of stealing from others, as in taking potential sales away from other models or swiping buyers who are typically loyal to another brand. Conquest sales are highly coveted, and most automakers actually aim to make vehicles that will sway buyers away from another brand and towards a lifelong commitment to its models. If gaining conquest sales was Nissan’s goal with the Leaf, early results show that it succeeded in spades.
According to Brian Carolin, Nissan’s senior vice president for sales and marketing, the company has recorded 14,000 pre-orders for the Leaf in the U.S. alone. Of those 14,000, the company claims that 90 percent currently own and drive non-Nissan products. If true, the Leaf’s conquest is almost without comparison. Few vehicles can capably convert loyal buyers over with this level of authority. Let’s not forget, most potential Leaf buyers have only risked a refundable $99 at this point, so the outlook may change when real money is at stake.
For four years, Yvo de Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has faced the daunting challenge of persuading nearly 200 nations that it’s in their interests to begin weaning themselves from the fossil fuels that make the world go ’round. The culmination of his tenure came last December in Denmark, where he and many others tried “” and failed “” to get world powers to commit to binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
As he prepares to leave his post at the end of June, de Boer “” widely admired for his diplomatic skills and commitment to blunting the gathering threat of global warming “” says he is not discouraged by the slow pace of talks to reduce emissions. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, conducted by New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert, de Boer said the world community now squarely acknowledges the dangers posed by climate change and that since Copenhagen 127 countries have backed the Copenhagen Accord, with many agreeing to voluntary emissions reductions targets. “Governments around the world are already beginning to shift their policies,” he said. “The world is beginning to move on climate change.”
There is plenty of sun in deserts and the Sahara is one of the biggest deserts in the world. Europe intends to import its first solar generated electricity from North Africa within the next five years, European Energy Commissioner G¼nther Oettinger said in an interview on Sunday. The European Union is backing projects to turn the plentiful sunlight in the Sahara desert into electricity for Europe, a scheme it hopes will help meet its target of deriving 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The Sahara is the world’s largest hot desert. At over 3,600,000 square miles), it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The desert stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean. To the south, it is delimited by the Sahel: a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna that comprises the northern region of central and western Sub-Saharan Africa.
The solar potential of Africa is widely known. The continent would have more than enough to satisfy the energy needs of every country within its borders, and could even have some left over. If this is the case, how can this “left over” power be used? Known as the Desertec Industrial Initiative, the German led consortium of 12 European businesses consists of some of country’s biggest engineering and power companies, along with Munich Re, the largest reinsurer in the world. The group aims to provide 15 percent of Europe’s electricity by 2050 or earlier via power lines stretching across the desert and Mediterranean Sea….
Of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle East deserts, only 0.3 percent would need to be captured in order to help satisfy Europe’s energy needs. The European Union claims the project is a way of beginning to share Europe’s renewable energy resources across the globe through the construction of a chain of huge wind and solar farms.
In 2010, solar panels available for customers can have a yield of up to 19%, while commercially available panels can go as far as 27%. A photovoltaic installation in the southern latitudes of Europe or the United States might then be expected to produce about 1 kilowatt-hour/square meter/day.
In the Sahara desert, with less cloud cover and a better solar angle, one might obtain closer to 8.3 kilowatt-hour/square meter/day.
One of the biggest sticking points in the adoption of electric vehicles has been the availability of their “fuel” source: charging stations. To date, most of the charging has been done in individual garages. This problem is being tackled by all manner of start-ups and established automotive companies, of course, including the highly visible Better Place, founded and led by charismatic former SAP executive Shai Agassi.
Better Place, from Palo Alto, Calif., is testing charging stations, such as the one to the right below, which could be installed in parking lots. But, the company is also testing other approaches, such as the idea of switching out batteries, so you don’t have to wait for a charge. The latter concept is part of a new trial with taxis in Japan.
But although it is a master at publicity, Better Place has plenty of competition, many of which are certain to vie for some of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure test projects that would be funded by the American Power Act if the legislation passes. Here are five OTHER companies to watch (in no particular order) when it comes to the great (maybe) electric vehicle infrastructure rollout.
Passing a meaningful energy and climate bill this year will be challenging “” but not impossible.
It’s time for all of us “” politicians, business leaders and environmentalists “” to put wishful thinking aside, establish realistic goals and develop a consensus for legislation that can be passed this year.
If that means capping emissions from the utility sector first “” so be it. There is growing consensus in the electric utility industry to act now, so let’s move forward.
Duke Energy and other electric utilities are already scheduled to retire and replace virtually all coal and other large power plants with cleaner and more efficient technologies by 2050.
A clear and predictable federal energy and climate policy can accelerate these projects and put private capital to work more rapidly. It can also create millions of jobs.
Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens said Americans are ready for the challenge if President Barack Obama will commit to a 10-year plan to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Pickens said Tuesday he believes the U.S. has enough natural gas reserves to “replace dirty foreign oil.”
Speaking at the Sustainable Innovation Summit in Dallas, Pickens reiterated his belief that wind and solar power also are keys to energy independence.
The Texas oilman said nothing has happened in the two years since Obama pledged to implement a 10-year plan for exploring alternative energy sources.
Pickens also criticized the U.S. for being behind China in trying to solve energy problems.
“America has never had a plan,” Pickens said. “They have a plan to solve their problem, we don’t.”
Pickens said the money that would be saved by using the alternative energy he proposes would far outweigh any initial costs.
His plan includes creating new jobs from expanding on the wind and solar energy industry, providing incentives for homeowners and commercial building owners to upgrade their insulation and other energy saving options and to use the country’s natural gas reserves to replace imported oil as fuel until another more viable option is available.