Cogeneration goes residential in Germany

Home power plants project unveiled in Germany:

An ambitious project was unveiled in Germany on Wednesday to install mini gas-fired power plants in people’s basements and produce as much electricity as two nuclear reactors within a year.

The Hamburg-based renewable energy group Lichtblick and its automaker partner Volkswagen say the plants would produce not only heating and hot water but also electricity, with any excess power fed into the local grid.

LED light bulbs hitting the market

Could LED light bulbs finally be coming of age? From Alok Jha in the Guardian:

This month, Philips unveiled its new range of LED bulbs. I was sceptical that they'd be any better than the several I had tried already but, well, something has definitely changed in this technology. The 3W Econic spotlight is a direct replacement for the ubiquitous 35W halogen bulb and claims to have the same light output. When I tried it out, I found that Philips wasn't exaggerating. This is brighter than any other LED I've come across. Putting two in our small shower room, after a while I forgot that the bulbs were not halogens.

Solar starting to take off

$4.1 billion in orders for thin-film solar:

On Wednesday, Nanosolar pulled back the curtain on its thin-film photovoltaic cell technology--which it claims is more efficient and less expensive than that of industry leader First Solar--and announced that it has secured $4.1 billion in orders for its solar panels ...

... Nanosolar, based in San Jose, Calif., has developed a solar cell made from copper indium gallium (di)selenide. The semiconducting materials and nanoparticles are contained within a proprietary ink that makes it possible to print flexible solar cells on rolls of cheap aluminum foil.

Insulation in the passive house project

More information on the passive house project from the 100K House blog:

Do these higher insulation values cost more? Of course, but they reduce the heating and cooling loads by almost 90% and they are a tiny fraction of the cost of something like a geothermal or PV system that would get us to the same efficiency levels. That’s the beauty of the Passiv Haus standard.

America's food crisis and how to fix it

From Time Magazine:

If a factory farm is hell for an animal, then Bill Niman's seaside ranch in Bolinas, Calif., an hour north of San Francisco, must be heaven. The property's cliffside view over the Pacific Ocean is worth millions, but the black Angus cattle that Niman and his wife Nicolette Hahn Niman raise keep their eyes on the ground, chewing contentedly on the pasture.

(Via Grist.)

The top 10 sources for clean energy

Mark Jacobson ranks the top ten major sources for energy on the basis of their potential for deliving adequate power, impact on global warming, pollution, etc.:

"There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession," Jacobson says. "Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles, and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage, and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power."

(Via Grist. Article by Mark Jacobson here.)

Retrofitting dams to generate electricity

Retrofitting dams to generate electricity seems like a no-brainer to me:

Only 3 percent of the 80,000 dams in the United States are used to generate power, according to Norm Bishop, a vice president at MWH, a water engineering firm. They were built for other purposes, like flood control, recreation, irrigation or water storage.

To expand the nation’s hydropower capacity, “We should be looking at the dams in the 97 percent range that have no existing power facilities,” Mr. Bishop said.

Talking cars and smart grids

Is Ford's work on electric cars that can 'talk' to power grids a harbinger of Amory Lovin's 'smart garage' concept (discussed earlier) coming to life?

Owners can choose to recharge at off-peak times when electricity is cheaper, or when wind, solar or renewable energy is driving the grid, said Nancy Gioia, director of Ford's sustainable mobility technologies division. "What we're doing is developing our capability.''

Building commissioning: energy savings at negative cost

Climate Progress highlights the potential cost and energy savings to be had from building commissioning:

commissioning identifies the almost inevitable “drift” from where things should be and puts the building back on course, often making it perform even better than the original designers intended. (Why do we tune up our cars but not our far more complex buildings?)

Algal biofuel

The New York Times profiles Solix, a company with an intriguing process for collecting solar energy and storing it in fuel:

With the twin goals of making fuel from algae and reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases, a start-up company co-founded by a Colorado State University professor recently introduced a strain of algae that loves carbon dioxide into a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant. The water is already green-tinged with life.

Green the block

Obama admin teams with grassroots groups to 'Green the Block':

In the economic stimulus package, $14 billion is designated for housing upgrades, including $5 billion to make low-income housing more energy efficient. Noting that the government currently spends $5 billion a year providing monetary assistance for energy bills to low-income households, Donovan said investments like those in the stimulus plan will help offset costs for families and the government in the long run.

Affordable, modern, and green

The 100K House project has launched Postgreen Homes:

At Postgreen we are trying to build homes for those people who are no longer interested in the race for more stuff and a bigger place to store it. We are trying to build homes for the many, many lifestyles that don't mesh with the majority of homes being built. We believe that every home should be energy efficient, healthy and well designed. We believe that size isn't everything. We believe that quality can be affordable.

The good news about energy efficiency

David Roberts provides an excellent overview of recent studies touting both the incredible impact efficiency can have on greenhouse gas emisisons:

"Energy efficiency investments can provide up to one-half of the needed greenhouse-gas emissions reductions most scientists say are needed between now and the year 2050."

and its inherent profitability for the economy:

"Hence, shifting away from the production and consumption of conventional energy resources, in favor of more productive investments in energy-efficient technologies, can lead to a more robust economy and to a greater level of overall employment opportunities with the U.S."

Roberts also highlights this choice quote from Joseph Romm summarizing the results of the McKinsey study on energy efficiency:

"the entire 2020 target in the Waxman-Markey climate bill could be met with energy efficiency at a net savings to U.S. consumers and businesses of $700 billion."

Habitat for humanity gets greener

Habitat for Humanity has announced plans to build over 5000 green homes across America:

"This is unquestionably the largest scale accelerated initiative we’ve taken on to drive green building," said Jonathan Reckford, the chief executive of Habitat for Humanity International. The $30 million initiative, he added, would bring rapid payback for families in terms of lower energy bills.

I can't imagine a better plan for lower-income housing than to reduce energy costs for the people living there.

(Via Green Inc.)

Nissan unveils ‘Leaf’ electric car

Via Grist:

Nissan unveiled Sunday its first all-electric car, the Leaf, vowing to open a new chapter for the troubled auto industry and take a lead over its bigger rivals in zero-emission vehicles.

Nissan plans to sell the car at a similar price to a comparable model with a petrol-powered engine. The battery, which will be stored under the seat and floor, will be leased separately.

"We need to invest a lot of money to build the car plants and the battery plants at a moment where all the auto companies are saving investments," said Ghosn. "But there is such a high potential that we [will] go ahead with it."

Best source of carbon-free energy is efficiency

Ars Technica covers the aforementioned McKinsey report, along with another report released by the National Academies of Science which concludes that conservation efforts could largely obviate the need for new power plants, and discusses possible reasons for the lack of uptake of more efficient technologies:

One aspect of the problem was described well by the International Energy Agency. For many efficient systems, the consumer-level payoff is relatively small, and comes gradually over many years--even for those systems that require a large, up-front investment. On the national level, however, the cumulative impact is enormous. The trick is crafting policies that make the national incentive for efficiency apparent to individual consumers.