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

The Smart Grid Via White Space, Courtesy of Google

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.

General Motors using student design competitions to recruit EV engineers

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.

Europe Considers New Taxes to Promote ‘Clean’ Energy

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.

Leaf records 14,000 U.S. pre-orders, 90% are conquest sales

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.

UN climate chief departs an optimist despite setbacks

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.”

Saharan Sun Power

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.

5 start-ups hoping to kickstart electric vehicle charging infrastructure

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.

Utilities can lead way on energy

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.

Pickens: Americans ready for 10-year energy plan

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.

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

  1. catman306 says:

    I wonder how much of that natural gas that’s powering the vehicles in Picken’s version of the future comes from frac welling? That might be a solution worse than the problem.

    Someday ALL small vehicles will be electric powered. Larger vehicles will run on compressed natural gas or propane. Oil will be used to lubricate machinery. Coal will remain in the ground.

    And commenters will be paid by websites for adding value.:-)

  2. robhon says:

    I have to say, I’ve never owned a Nissan but I think they’re doing a bang up job marketing the Leaf and committing themselves to a new way of doing business. It’s really compelling!

  3. robhon says:

    You know what else I find interesting? The fact that no one yet is talking about the simplicity of all electric. I’d love to see some stats on the number of moving parts in an internal combustion engine vehicle with that of the new all electrics coming out. There is a whole other cost level that is potentially being eliminated for the consumer.

  4. Wonhyo says:

    robhon #2: I agree, Nissan has done a great job marketing the Leaf.

    What strikes me is that the 2011 Leaf is not a huge advancement over the 1997 GM EV1. Of course, battery technology has advanced, but both vehicles get about 80 miles of practical range (EV1 80 miles from secondhand experience, Leaf 80 miles by 20% derating of 100 mile stated range). The newer high energy density has allowed the Leaf to be a 4/5 seater, compared to the EV1’s 2 seats.

    I would like to see GM develop and market an all-electric car, in parallel with their development/introduction of the PHEV Volt. GM could simple resurrect the EV1 and use Lithium batteries to extend the range (perhaps doubling range to 160 miles?).

    A lighter PHEV EV1 is another option.

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    robhon wrote: “I’d love to see some stats on the number of moving parts in an internal combustion engine vehicle with that of the new all electrics coming out.”

    Well, as far as the motors themselves go, an internal combustion engine has hundreds of moving parts.

    An electric motor has ONE moving part.

  6. robhon says:

    SecularAnimist… Exactly! No one is pushing this aspect of EV’s yet. No oil changes. No 30k, 60k, etc checkups. No transmission fluids. With regard to battery life, in the time it will take to exhaust the original battery new battery technology should have come out that will extend the range of your EV probably quite significantly.

  7. Raul says:

    Maybe bad news, some say the controllers are set specifically
    to a battery type set.

  8. Chris Winter says:

    Certainly, and maybe even fine-tuned for an individual battery. But the cost of a new controller won’t add much to the cost of the vehicle’s new battery set.

  9. Raul says:

    I saw the neat thing on YTube. A man had ordered a rolling chassis
    and fitted an electric motor conversion set on it.
    Very fast and nice looking.

  10. SecularAnimist says:

    Ideally, electric cars will become like personal computers, built with industry standard form-factors and interfaces, using generically swappable and upgradeable components from a whole “ecosystem” of third-party manufacturers. Just like you can upgrade your PC with more RAM, or a bigger hard drive, or a better video card, you will be able to upgrade your electric car with lighter, higher storage-capacity batteries, a more efficient electric motor, more sophisticated controllers, etc. as the technology improves.

    Of course, an auto industry based on assembling cars from swappable, generic, off-the-shelf components, and selling cars that need little or no maintenance and can be upgraded by end-users or local shops so that they get better over time rather than wearing out, will be an entirely different industry from what it is today.

  11. prokaryote says:

    Oil, War, Mobile Phones and Electric Cars: The Fully Charged Show (Video)

  12. prokaryote says:

    Antarctica Contribution to Sea Level Rise

    New results from an investigation by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the National Oceanography Centre published in the journal Nature Geoscience show that West Antarctica is currently contributing nearly 10% of global sea level rise.

  13. prokaryote says:

    Changing atmosphere increases build-up of space debris

  14. prokaryote says:

    Once more into the breach for Orbital Sciences and the carbon observatory

  15. prokaryote says:

    Nepal Temporarily Halts All Logging – More Trees Cut in Last Few Months Than From 2000-2005

  16. James Newberry says:

    The tremendous simplicity and inherent economics of a transit based society with short-run electric vehicles is exactly why capitalism, which embraces unlimited growth, consumption and waste, has not provided it. This is especially so with corrupt corporatism like we have in America.

    GM now stands for Global Meltdown (in several regards).

  17. prokaryote says:

    Researcher develops green, bio-based process for producing fuel additive

  18. prokaryote says:

    Dave Matthews Calls Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining “Unforgivable”

  19. prokaryote says:

    Canada To Invest Added C$400M On International Climate Change

  20. prokaryote says:

    Brazilian floods have flattened entire town, mayor says

    the entire town of Branquinha, population 12,000, will have to be rebuilt in a different location. Television footage showed a train station washed away, its tracks ripped from the earth. Cars lay overturned and strewn along a riverbank. Dazed people wandered about streets littered with couches, chairs and mountains of mud.

  21. Philip says:

    Approximately 1000 participants from more than 54 countries, including New York’s Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, have gathered in Copenhagen for a bike conference. Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, has stated that to tackle the climate challenge, breaking the transportation curve is crucial. “Here, bikes can make a significant contribution in cities, a contribution that not only reduces pollution, but also gives us better health and well-being.”

    More cities and rail companies are now reducing the need for cars by enabling bike-train commutes. The Guardian, a newspaper with superior environmental coverage, has a Bike blog, and a recent post dealt with the growth of this car-free option.

    “Independent surveys by Passenger Focus show that nationally in 2009, 2.2% of rail passengers got to the station by bicycle. Of these, 1.3% took their bike on the train, and 0.9% parked at the station.

    While these are small percentages, in real terms this means there were around 28m bike-rail journeys in 2009 – or 77,000 a day (based on Department for Transport rail journey figures). This represents a huge increase. In 2007 there were just 19.5m bike-rail journeys in total.

    Why has this stupendous growth happened? There are two main reasons.

    First, there has been an explosion in the use of folding bikes by rail commuters. This growth will continue, as train companies are committed to allowing compact folding bikes to travel for free at all times.

    Second, there has been steady growth in the number of people parking their bicycle at rail stations. There are now around 25,000 cycle spaces in the UK, with thousands more planned.”

  22. sailrick says:

    Sailors have been showing interest in electric motors to replace their diesel or gasoline engines. The simplicity is appealing, no transmission or reduction gear needed, no fuel. For daysailing, usually all that is needed is power to get in and out of the marina, and these elecric motors are running 3-4 hours on a charge. They are amazingly compact, as is the battery pack. Even for extended cruising, where many sailboats have solar panels, wind generators or water propellor generators for charging batteries, electric motors are feasable. A local company where I live builds electric auxilary motors for sailboats. We’ve had two boats equipped with their motors at the boatyard where I work, and I helped with a sea trial of one of them.
    Not bad, and they are cheaper than a deisel.