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Electric ‘Water Karts’ for Canals of Paris, Venice

Electric ?Water Karts? for Canals of Paris, Venice,?

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:49 AM PDT

Following up on the solar-powered Elekra electric hobby plane, here?s our next cool electric vehicle to check out ? electric ?karts? being used in Dubai and Thailand, which are actually aimed for cities with potential canal or other waterway commuters. Fun stuff. Here?s more from our friends over at Gas2:

Electric Water Kart Tears up Paris? Canals (w/ video) (via Gas 2.0)

Somewhere between a geriatric paddle-boat and a high-intensity Jet Ski lies this, Aquelo?s new Gliss-speed ?water kart?. The Gliss-speed is a fully electric commuter craft with a top speed of about 15 knots (a little over 15 mph) that offers easy operation, nimble handling, and ? if Aquelo??

No related posts.

EV Battery Prices Fell 14% in Last Year

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:40 AM PDT

ev charging

The average price of batteries used in electric vehicles has dropped 14% in the last year (Q1 2012 compared to Q1 2011) with manufacturing up considerably. The average price of an EV battery is now $689 per kilowatt hour, compared to $800 per kilowatt hour in 2011, according to a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report.

Compared to 2009, prices are down approximately 30%. By 2030, BNEF projects battery prices will fall to $150/kWh (in 2012 dollars).

?Electric vehicles such as the Mitsubishi Motor iMiEV, Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S require between 16 and 85kWh of storage, with a total cost of $11,200 and $34,000, or around 25% of the total cost of the vehicle,? BNEF notes. ?Battery pack prices for plug-in hybrid vehicles such as GM?s Volt are on average 67% higher in terms of $/kWh, than those for electric-only vehicles like Nissan?s Leaf. This higher price is mainly due to the greater power-to-energy performance required for plug-in hybrid vehicles.?

Part of the recent cost drops is due to manufacturing supply chain cost reductions, but the main part of the drop is simply due to increased supply relative to demand.

?As reported last year by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, current production capacity for electric vehicle battery packs outstrips demand by over 10GWh, equivalent to around 400,000 pure battery electric vehicles, and the gap is on course to widen to 17GWh by the end of 2013. By comparison, the total number of electric vehicles sold in 2011 was 43,237.?

While this mismatch results in lower profit margins for EV battery companies, it is considered good for the EV industry as a whole and consumer adoption.

?Batteries are one of the biggest drivers of the cost of electric vehicles, and hence of their uptake,? Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, commented. ?A sharp decline in price may be unwelcome for battery manufacturers, but it is essential for the long-term health of the sector. Battery prices will be one of the key pieces of data for investors, policy-makers and the car industry to watch over the next few years, and that is why we have launched this index.?

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance
Image: Electric vehicle charging via Shutterstock

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1.EV Battery Prices Dropping

2. Lower Battery Cost, Get Less Expensive EVs

3. Wind Turbine Prices Hit New Low

Bill Gates Never Ran an Energy Company

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:18 AM PDT

Bill Gates is hit or miss when it comes to his comments on cleantech and climate change, in my opinion. He?s fully behind the scientific consensus on climate change (that it?s a huge threat and caused by humans), and he?s behind deployment of clean energy solutions. However, he?s largely investing in nuclear and cleantech companies looking for a breakthrough, as well as geoengineering, so he seems to have a habit of belittling market-ready and extremely fast-growing cleantech options such as solar energy, wind energy, and LEDs.

Of course, these days, Gates isn?t the only one ? there?s a lot of misunderstanding about the state of solar energy (and clean energy, in general) after the conservative media and political frenzy last year when one solar company (out of thousands) went bankrupt? in the midst of some staggering price drops of solar technologies from competing companies. I feel like I?m correcting clean energy myths half the time here on CleanTechnica.

But misguided comments from Gates or others with a lot of influence are something to be concerned about, because they influence public opinion, which can influence policy. So, I?m very happened that the informed, intelligent Jigar Shah has taken time out to respond to Gates and others, and I?m happy I can easily share that response with you all via this Ecopreneurist repost below. Enjoy and share this with others:

Bill Gates Never Ran an Energy Company (via Ecopreneurist)

Last year, Bill Gates noted in an interview with Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal that technologies like solar photovoltaics and LED lights were ?cute? but could never deal with the bigger issue of climate change and powering the developing world. And, this week, writer Marc Gunther wrote?

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2. What Should the Climate and Clean Energy Jobs Bill Include?

3. Welcome To Planet Forward: From Your Lens To The White House Gates

Mobile Energy for Emergency, Education and Enterprise ? Looking for Funding

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:01 AM PDT

Following up on my announcement last week about Ecopreneurist?s help getting social and eco companies or projects their crowdfunding, here?s one of the first the site is featuring.

Crowdfunding Platform: ME4 Mobile Energy for Emergency, Education and Enterprise (via Ecopreneurist)

Campaign Name: ME4 = Mobile Energy for Emergency, Education and Enterprise What is the campaign all about? We take a rather large mobile solar generator ? a 25-foot-long trailer with solar PV panels, inverters and batteries (ENERGY), designed for rapid response and recovery in disasters?

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1.Looking for Help Crowdfunding an Eco or Social Enterprise?

2. New Solar-Powered Electricity Generator is Safe, Silent, and Mobile

3. Congress Slashes Obama’s Energy Education Program in Energy and Water Bill

Chevy Volt 2013 Will Have ?EV-Hold? Mode

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 06:52 AM PDT

As we heard last week, the Chevy will soon provide its Volt owners with a little more control. The 2013 Volt will allow drivers to NOT use the electric mode if they choose? Why would they do that? Well, perhaps to save the battery for upcoming city driving when they are on the highway. Here?s more info from Gas2:

2013 Chevy Volt To Recieve EV-Hold Mode, Revised Looks (via Gas 2.0)

First hitting the streets in the last month of 2010, the Chevy Volt has had a long, hard slog as a new car on the market. Having been lambasted and unfairly linked to Obama by GM-hating conservatives, the Volt has also suffered from questions about battery safety and as well as a high price that makes?

Related posts:

1.More Control Given to Chevy Volt Drivers Soon? Maybe.

2. Chevy Volt Gets Highest Satisfaction Rating in Consumer Reports

3. Chevy Volt 2010 Unveiled in Transformers 2 Spy Footage

Electric Vehicles Good for the Environment & Save You Money

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 04:15 AM PDT

The Union of Concerned Scientists has completed what is the most comprehensive study to date on the financial and environmental costs (or, more appropriately, savings) of electric vehicles.

?No matter where one lives in the United States, electric vehicles (EVs) are a good choice for reducing global warming emissions and saving money on fueling up, according to a new analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),? the UCS writes.

nissan leaf technological revolutionsFor years, EV critics have claimed that EVs don?t reduce carbon dioxide or other global warming emissions because they burn electricity from coal and natural gas power plants. While drivers in regions with a lot of fossil fuel power will not cut emissions as much as drivers in regions with a lot of clean energy power plants, no matter where someone lives in the US, driving an EV is cleaner than driving a gasoline-powered car, according to the ?State of Charge: Electric Vehicles? Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Cost Savings Across the United States.?

Notably, UCS also calculates how much EV drivers save in ?fuel? costs ? a lot.

Neither of these findings is at all a surprise to me, as one of our key EV writers has shown in the past that the cost of electric vehicles and their environmental costs are lower than conventional automobiles, but this UCS study is more comprehensive than anything we?ve seen to date.
Saving Money by Driving an EV

Everywhere in the country, an EV driver also saves money every time she or he ?refuels? ? compared to what they?d spend refueling a gasoline-powered vehicle.

ford focus electric on sale?Based on electricity rates in 50 cities across the United States, the analysis found drivers can save $750 to $1,200 dollars a year compared to operating an average new compact gasoline vehicle (27 mpg) fueled with gasoline at $3.50 per gallon. Higher gas prices would mean even greater EV fuel cost savings. For each 50 cent increase in gas prices, an EV driver can expect save an extra $200 a year.?

Time of Use (TOU) electricity pricing, which many regions have or are implementing, allows a driver to maximize those savings, since they cam access cheaper electricity at night when they are likely charging their vehicles.

Why EVs Are Awesome
Regional Differences for EV Emissions

More good news is that most Americans live in the ?best? regions for driving an EV. UCS notes: ?nearly half (45 percent) of Americans live in ?best? regions where an EV has lower global warming emissions than a 50 mile per gallon (mpg) gasoline-powered vehicle, topping even the best gasoline hybrids on the market. In places like California and most of New York, EV?s environmental performance could be as high as an 80 mpg gasoline-powered vehicle.?

How about the worst region? Well, even in the dirtiest (when it comes to electricity) region of the US ? some parts of the Rocky Mountains region ? driving an EV is better than driving most other cars. ?In parts of the Rocky Mountains region, driving an EV produces global warming emissions equivalent to a gasoline vehicle with a fuel economy rating of 33 mpg, similar to the best non-hybrid compact gasoline vehicles available today ? all while cutting our nation?s oil consumption.?

Also, notable, clean energy is increasing while dirty energy is getting shut down, all across the US.

?The good news is that as the nation?s electric grids get cleaner, consumers who buy an EV today can expect to see their car?s emissions go down over the lifetime of the vehicle,? said Don Anair, the report?s author and senior engineer for UCS?s Clean Vehicles Program.
Bottom Line: Driving an EV is Better for the Environment than Driving a Gasoline-Powered Car

That?s the take home message, and if you ever run into a commenter saying otherwise, be sure to direct them to this post or the report linked above.

?This report shows drivers should feel confident that owning an electric vehicle is a good choice for reducing global warming pollution, cutting fuel costs, and slashing oil consumption,? said Anair. ?Those in the market for a new car may have been uncertain how the global warming emissions and fuel costs of EVs stack up to gasoline-powered vehicles. Now, drivers can for the first time see just how much driving an electric vehicle in their hometown will lower global warming emissions and save them money on fuel costs.?

back to the future car electric
EVs Getting Popular

10 new EV models are coming to market this year, and many more are on the drawing board. If you?ve been a CleanTechnica reader for a long time, you?ve probably noticed that we?ve increased our EV content a ton in the past year. I used to never write on EVs, and other writers hardly touched them, but with a few pioneering models hitting market, their clear environmental benefits, and a lot more EVs on the way, we have increased our coverage of these clean(er) vehicles considerably (and we?re now a top site for car coverage, according to Technorati).

Of course, EV?s are not as efficient or green as bicycling, walking, taking the train, or riding a motorcycle or scooter (especially an electric motorcycle or scooter) in most places, but for those who are going to stick with an automobile over one of the above options, EVs are the way to go.

Also, while EVs are greener than gasoline-power cars, we certainly need to keep maximizing their green factor by switching our grid over to a clean energy rather than primarily dirty energy grid. And for those of you interesting in doing so, there are a lot of options out there for going EV and going solar at the same time!

Source: UCS
Images: GM; Nissan Leaf courtesy of shutterstock; Ford; Wikimedia Commons; Fisker;DeLorean Motor Company;

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1.Companies Could Save Tons with Electric Vehicles, MIT Study Finds

2. Smith Electric Vehicles Delivers New Electric Truck to FedEx

3. Electric Vehicles, Smart Grid, Residential Solar Power: A Virtuous Circle Emerges

Dong to Erect First 6-MW Siemens Offshore Wind Turbine

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 03:26 AM PDT

Dong Energy, a large European energy company, has received full consent to test Siemens? new 6-MW offshore wind turbines. It will install two test turbines at its Gunfleet Sands wind farm in South East England. This will mark Dong?s first UK demonstration project and the first time this large wind turbine will be tested offshore.

Notice how small the man in this picture looks.

Notably, you might remember, REpower and C- Power NV were the first to install a 6-MW wind turbine from any company offshore ? they did so just last month at the Thornton Bank II wind farm off the coast of Belgium. And Scotland is also looking to soon install a test 6-MW offshore wind turbine. As Charis mentioned when announcing that, this wind turbine (and I presume the others mentioned above) is big enough to land a helicopter on!

Regarding the Dong Energy installation of Siemens? 6-MW turbine, Dong Energy writes:

?The new turbines will be installed by November this year with construction starting in May, and will be connected through a dedicated export cable. DONG Energy will be looking to verify turbine performance, reliability and functionality. The Gunfleet Sands 3 demonstration project is located 8.5 km south east of Clacton on Sea.?

?The Gunfleet Sands 3 demonstration project marks an important step in industry?s efforts to reduce the cost of energy. The Round 3 projects in the UK are in deeper waters and will have a much bigger capacity than existing wind farms so the technology will increase in capacity as well. This demonstration project aligns with DONG Energy?s ambitions to steer development in the wind industry towards industrialisation to make offshore wind power even more competitive.?

Source: Dong Energy
Images: Siemens

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1.Siemens Starts Operating its First 6-MW Wind Turbine with Improved Power-to-Weight Ratio

2. 6-MW Offshore Wind Turbine Goes Up (World?s First)

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?In 14 and a half seconds, the sun provides as much energy to Earth as humanity uses in a day.?

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 02:59 AM PDT

Our quick post the other day on a fun image noting that deserts receive more energy from the sun in 6 hours than humankind consumes within a year was quite popular, as was Vote Solar?s witty solar energy spill billboard, so I figure you might also like the image above that the Australian Youth Climate Coalition dropped on the CleanTechnica ?timeline? on Facebook. As it notes, in 14 and a half seconds, the sun provides as much energy to Earth as humanity uses in a day.

It reminds me of this next image, which I am fond of sharing, that shows annual renewable energy potential compared to the total energy potential of finite energy resources:

solar energy

“Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt?years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables.” (source: Perez & Perez, 2009a)

In other words, people who say we don?t have space to power the world with renewable energy are off their bloody rocker.

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2. Humans Won’t Survive on Half of Earth by 2300

3. Solar Power Could Produce >50% of Global Electricity, IEA Report Concludes

European Wind Sector Grew Twice as Fast as EU Economy

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 02:50 AM PDT

In the midst of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) annual conference, EWEA has released data showing that in recent years the European wind energy industry has grown twice as fast as the EU economy as a whole.

?Focusing on the role of wind power for our sustainable future makes good sense from both an environmental and an economic perspective,? Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark said.

?The green agenda is both about job creation in the short run and climate protection in the long run,? Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said.

To enlarge, click the image and then click on it again on the next page, or hold “ctrl” (or “command”) while clicking the “+” key.

According to EWEA, the European wind industry contributed 33% more to EU GDP from 2007 to 2010. Wind energy was a big support in the midst of economic slowdown, providing a ?32 billion boost in 2010 alone.
European Wind Energy Stats and Projections

Aside from the above, here are some more salient stats and projections from EWEA:

§ The sector created 30% more jobs from 2007 to 2010 to reach nearly 240,000, while EU unemployment rose by 9.6% . By 2020, there should be 520,000 jobs in the sector.

§ The sector was a net exporter of ?5.7 billion worth of goods and services in 2010

§ The sector avoided ?5.71 billion of fuel costs in 2010

§ The sector invested 5% of its spending in R&D ? three times more than the EU average. Wind turbine manufacturers commit around 10% of their total turnover to R&D.

§ By 2020 wind?s contribution to GDP will have increased almost three-fold.

§ If the wind industry were a Member State, it would rank 19th in 2020 in terms of its contribution to EU GDP, above Slovakia and just below Hungary.

§ The number of jobs will go up by over 200% to reach 520,000 by 2020, according to the report.

§ By 2030, the number of jobs could go up to 795,000.

?Transforming the energy system makes economic sense,? EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger.

?Wind energy is a recession-busting industry. It is countering the recession ? providing increasing economic activity, more jobs and exports every year to an EU struggling with an economic crisis intensified by ever increasing amounts of fuel being imported at rising costs to European citizens,? said Arthouros Zervos, President of EWEA.
European Wind Industry Policy Needs

Of course, to prosper as it could, the European wind industry needs appropriate policy support. In particular, EWEA is calling for:

§ Stable national renewable energy frameworks, and ambitious implementation of 2020 requirements at national level.

§ A post-2020 energy policy with a binding renewables target for 2030.

§ A joined up European power grid and single energy market.

§ A more ambitious 30% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020.

§ Sufficient and dedicated EU funding for wind energy research.

For more, you can read the full EWEA report, and you can follow the latest news from the EWEA conference on the EWEA site.

Related posts:

1.European Wind Industry to Employ 520,000 by 2020

2. 141 GW of European Offshore Wind Under Way

3. Green Jobs Grew California?s Economy Most, Study Shows

Global Wind Industry to Reach 500 GW by 2017

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 02:23 AM PDT

The global wind industry is set to install more than 46 GW of new wind energy this year and, according to a new five-year industry forecast published today by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) at the EWEA 2012 Conference at Bella Center in Copenhagen, total global wind power capacity by the end of 2016 will be just under 500 GW.

The GWEC projects average annual market growth rates of approximately 8 percent for each of the next 5 years, but with a strong 2012 and a big dip in 2013, because of the presumed failure to extend or implement important government incentives and rebates.

Total installation capacity for the 2012 to 2016 period is expected to reach 255 GW.

?For the next five years, annual market growth will be driven primarily by India and Brazil, with significant contributions from new markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia,? said Steve Sawyer, GWEC Secretary General. ?While the market continues to diversify across all continents, it is at the same time plagued by continued slow economic growth and budget crises in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), as well as the continuing credit crunch.?

Asia Continues Market Leadership

For the second year in a row, the majority of the new installations were outside of the OECD and this is a trend that the GWEC expects will only continue.

Asia continues to be the world?s largest market with many more installations than any other region, and it is expected to install a total of 118 GW between now and 2016. It is projected to surpass Europe as the world leader in cumulative installed capacity sometime during 2013. It is expected to end 2016 with a total of 200 GW of installed capacity, about two-fifths of world capacity.

The Chinese market has stabilised after nearly a decade of double and triple digit growth, and is expected to remain around current levels for the next few years.

India achieved a 3 GW market for the first time last year and is expected to reach 5 GW by 2015.

Following the nuclear disaster of 2011, Japan?s wind industry is being revitalised and is also expected to become a dominant market in the region.
Rest of the World Growing As Well

Stats for the rest of the world are nearly as encouraging as those in Asia. The Latin American market is being supported mainly by Brazil as it makes a name for itself as an established major international market with a strong manufacturing base which could end up supplying a growing regional market, growth that is likely to represent the majority in the region through to 2016.

Due to it?s tough 2020 goals, the European market remains stable and should reveal few surprises. Germany had a strong 2011 and, with the government?s plan to phase out all nuclear installations by 2020, the wind industry is likely to take a good boost. Spain had a disappointing 2011 which is likely to continue into 2010, but Romania, Poland, Turkey, and Sweden have taken up the slack.

Which leaves North America, a market expected to continue growing through 2012 thanks to well over 1,000 MW installed in Canada and Mexico and more than 8 GW currently under construction in the US. North America is expected to end 2016 with just over 100 GW installed.

Source: Global Wind Energy Council
Image Source: Gavin Schaefer

Related posts:

1.Installed Wind Power Capacity Up 21% Globally in 2011

2. World Wind Power Capacity & An Idea

3. 2009 Global Wind Power Report (by Country): Wind Up (Despite Economy) and China & US Up Big

Italy to Levy Carbon Tax, Cut Solar FiT in Wake of Record-Setting Growth

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 11:09 PM PDT

When Italy?s been the subject of international news reports recently, it?s usually been related to its sovereign debt problems, economic woes and its struggle to restructure its political economy. Much less prominent has been its success in developing its renewable energy resources and markets? solar energy in particular? as well as its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti?s government intends to take these efforts a step further. Yesterday it announced it will introduce a carbon tax, proceeds from which will be devoted to financing renewable energy production, according to a Reuters report. A tax on the carbon content of fuels, the new tax follows Italy last week raising its 2020 renewable energy targets and revising a plan to reduce incentives for solar and other forms of renewable energy production.

Italy was already part and party to the EU?s 20-20-20 goals of reducing carbon emissions 20% and obtaining 20% of energy from renewable resources by 2020. It?s also committed to the EU?s controversial air travel emissions tax.

In line with EU plans, the new carbon tax, which needs to be approved by Italy?s Parliament, would see the imposition of excise duties on energy products based on their carbon content. Instituting a market disincentive for fossil fuel energy sources, the government aims to boost the Italian economy by supporting the transition to a ?green,? ?zero carbon? economy, while also helping it reduce its deficit and debt levels.

Italy?s Remarkable Solar Energy Success

Solar PV and renewable energy development are proving to be a much sought after way forward for Italy, and other EU nations, in helping solve persistent economic and employment problems. Italy depends on imports to meet 87% of electricity demand. Solar PV and renewable energy resource development not only lessens its imported energy dependence, thereby enhancing energy security, it also adds to GDP and generates jobs. Distributed generation lessens strains on the grid and actually enhances the overall reliability of electricity supply. And it?s doing so at sharply declining cost. And let?s not forget the very substantial environmental benefits: cleaner, healthier air, land and water.

There was around 1-gigawatt (GW) of solar power capacity installed in Italy in 2009. Today, it?s a world leader in a globalized, rapidly growing solar PV market. The introduction of a Feed-in Tariff (FiT), along with a streamlining and refocusing of the regulatory permitting process, led Italy?s solar energy capacity to more than triple to 3.4-GW by the end of 2010, making it the second-largest solar PV market in the world. Moreover, applications for another 4 GW were submitted to Italy?s electricity regulator, meaning that Italy had sufficient installed and planned solar PV capacity to meet its 2020 target a decade ahead of schedule.

The job creation potential of government support for solar power isn?t to be overlooked either. ?Solar energy generation produces more jobs than any other form of energy generation, and each dollar of public money invested generates an additional $4-$6 in private investment,? Applied Materials? Cathy Boone noted on the solar PV industry materials and equipment supplier?s blog in March 2011.

Revising Italy?s Solar Feed-in Tariff

The Italian government?s looking to ease the burden on consumers by cutting back on its FiT rates, changes included in the country?s Fourth Conto Energia. Through the FiT, Italy?s electricity consumers pay for growing installations of solar PV and renewable power systems, though the additional cost can be offset by home, property and business owners installing their own solar PV and renewable power systems, as well as by increasing energy efficiency.

With the Fourth Conto Energia, Italy?s Parliament in June 2011 significantly reduced the country?s solar FiT between 22-30% in 2011, by 23-45% in 2012 and by 10-45% in 2013 depending on how much solar PV is actually installed.

Drafts of the fifth Conto Energia circulating on the Web state that the Italian government will reduce its solar PV budget by some $800 million and require all projects over 3-kW to be registered with relevant authorities. Slated for enactment in July this year, priority is to be given to solar PV plants built in areas in need of economic stimulus and those designed to minimize environmental impacts.

Solar PV participants worry that additional cuts would drastically reduce their revenues and profits, supporters fretted that it would derail progress towards a zero-carbon economy while detractors latched on and touted the changes as evidence of a failed policy.

Fortunately, solar PV is proving resilient, showing vitality and growth by holding its own in the face of cutbacks in incentives, while delivering on the promise of more affordable solar and renewable energy, jobs growth and reductions carbon dioxide emissions and environmental degradation.

Italian solar PV growth accelerated in 2011, with much of the growth coming in the last seven months of the year. Some 9-GW of solar PV capacity was installed in Italy in 2011, surpassing that in world solar PV market leader Germany for the first time. Nearly 4-GW of new capacity was installed from June through December. Taken together, Italy and Germany accounted for nearly 60% of global solar PV market growth in 2011.

Centralized, mass market electric utilities have been equivocal, at best, in their support of solar PV. Though far below 2011?s record-high level of solar PV installations, Enel, which controls around 85% of Italy?s electricity market, expects Italy to add another 3-4 GW of new solar power capacity in 2012.

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DARPA Seeks Disaster Response Robots?With Bette Davis Eyes?

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 06:58 PM PDT

DARPA Robotics Challenge seeks emergency response robotsThe Department of Defense has just launched a new robot design competition called the Robotics Challenge, setting a $2 million cash prize to sweeten the pot with the aim of developing a humanoid robot for emergency response. The ostensible inspiration has been recent environmental mega-disasters like the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, which call for a new breed of emergency responders who can operate efficiently under conditions that would normally fry, pulp or otherwise mangle a human being beyond recognition ? though the application to military situations is obvious, too.
Another green job for robots

New green technology is trending on a parallel path with advanced robotics, and one result is that green jobs for robots are becoming commonplace. Robotic devices are already performing manufacturing, maintenance and repair tasks in the solar and wind energy fields, and robots for environmental monitoring, surveying and data collection are under development. Robots have also been practicing emergency response, primarily in the form of those effective but clunky little bomb defusing robots.

The Department of Defense competition, administered by the research agency DARPA, steps it up to a whole new level by requiring advanced mobility, dexterity, flexibility, durability, and the ability to act autonomously.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge

The Robotics Challenge will launch in October and DARPA has already begun to solicit interest from the robotics field. The agency issued a funding opportunity announcement that underscores the need for a robot with human attributes, because it specifically seeks a robot that can function effectively in environments that were engineered for human beings. That includes obstacles like staircases and ladders.

The winning robot also needs to handle tools designed for humans ? and in this competition, a vehicle counts as a tool ? so in addition to having highly dexterous arms and hands, it will need the flexibility to adapt its shape to fit into oddly shaped spaces.
Green robots with Bette Davis eyes

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the competition is designing a robotic system that can be operated easily by personnel who are not robotics experts. The commands could be executed electronically and also by in person by using hand gestures, words or even facial expressions, and that?s where the Bette Davis eyes would come in (Bette Davis, the actress, had famously enormous eyes).

Robotics experts at the Naval Research Laboratory are in fact already at work on a pair of humanoid disaster response robots named Lucas and Octavia that sport large eyes, complete with arched eyebrows.

According to Department of Defense writer Jessica Tozer, the anthropomorphic eyes have an important function: their calming appearance can have a significant effect on the ability of human operators to act under stress.

A YouTube video of Octavia in action demonstrates how the robot responds initially to in-person human hand gestures in an emergency, then acts autonomously to pinpoint the source of a fire and put it out, with its human operator safely out of the picture.
Disaster-fighting robots from the Navy

Octavia and Lucas have a way to go before they win DARPA?s challenge, since they have no legs, at least not yet. However, the Navy is also working on another advanced disaster response robot called SAFFiR, for Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot.

SAFFiR is a partnership with the legendary Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech, which has already been developing a stable of cognitive humanoid robots.

If the SAFFiR project becomes involved with Robotics Challenge, it already has a good head start. The research team is designing SAFFiR to deal with a complex maritime environment that is characterized by cramped spaces, ladders, and raised door sills among many other obstacles.

In addition, like any good sailor a Navy robot will have to develop a keen sense of balance and function effectively in heavy seas.

When fully developed, the goal is to get SAFFiR into the general size of a human, so that it can fit into gear designed for humans.

That might carry the humanoid angle a bit farther than DARPA bargained for ? a robot fully clothed in protective gear could end up looking practically identical to its human mates.

Image: Courtesy of DARPA.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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This Could Be Big ? Refundable Federal Tax Credit Could Remove Barrier to Community Wind

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 04:51 PM PDT

community wind farm tax credit

Since it will take a battle to extend federal tax credits for wind power anyway, why not make community wind development easier at the same time?

Last month, President Obama?s Treasury Department released proposed reforms to a number of business taxes including the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power projects. The reform proposal would make the tax credit permanent, but more importantly, it would make it refundable.

A regular tax credit reduces the amount of taxes a business or person pays dollar for dollar, down to zero. In the case of the PTC, it provides 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour produced by the wind power project, over 10 years. But for the many individuals and businesses that don?t owe a lot of taxes, they have limited use. That?s why there?s an entire ?tax equity industry? made up of large banks and Wall Street firms that partner with wind and solar developers to reduce their tax bills. The drawback of these partnerships is that as much as half of the tax credit?s value is consumed by the Wall Street firms and not the renewable energy project.

With a refundable tax credit, wind and solar project owners wouldn?t require big tax bills or Wall Street to finance projects. Instead, any participant in a community renewable energy project would receive a check equal to the tax credit?s value.

The implications are significant. The South Dakota Wind Partners project, for example, collected over 600 owners for 7 wind turbines, thanks to a temporary option to take the federal PTC as a cash grant. Brian Minish, who helped develop the South Dakota Wind Partners community wind project, says that a refundable tax credit will similarly make a community wind project easier: ?The refundable PTC is much better then the current PTC structure in that we don?t need to find tax equity investors and we don?t need to pay them a premium return. This would allow more common investors to participate in community wind projects!?

Since community-owned wind projects create up to twice the jobs and over three times the local economic impact compared to absentee-owned projects, small policy changes that make community ownership easier can have a big impact.

There are other solutions afoot for community wind, including the Community Wind Act. This U.S. Senate bill would allow distributed wind projects ? 20 megawatts and smaller ? to take the upfront Investment Tax Credit instead of the PTC. The change provides one big advantage: community wind projects have a harder time getting capital, so upfront cash helps secure financing.

Legal and tax barriers have created an uphill struggle for community ownership of renewable energy, so it?s nice to see improvements on the radar of the Obama administration and in Congress.

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Images: community wind farm & cows and community wind farm via Shutterstock

Related posts:

1.Citizens Make an Example of Minnesota ?Community Wind? Project

2. Community Wind Power

3. New Mexican Community College Offers New Opportunity With Wind Program

Leaving the Fossil Fuel Era with Methanol

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 02:49 PM PDT

This car prefers wood alcohol over gasoline

For those who find themselves stuck at the gas pump and glued to the Fossil Fuel Era, it?s always uplifting to keep alternatives in mind, even if they aren?t commonly used like they should be. Methanol, the fuel that powers the racecars at the upcoming Indianapolis 500 should be placed high on that list of alternatives. Bottom line, it appears to be far better in its impact on our climate and is considerably less expensive than gasoline.

Since few of us are willing or able to give up our cars, this is a fact we should keep in mind and share with others.

Here is information provided by the Methanol Institute, along with a video about methanol as a choice for transportation fuel.

?As the most basic alcohol, methanol is a desirable choice as a transportation fuel due to its efficient combustion, ease of distribution and wide availability around the globe. Methanol is used in transportation in 3 main ways ? directly as fuel or blended with gasoline, converted in dimethyl ether (DME) to be used as a diesel replacement, or as a part of the biodiesel production process.?

This YouTube video shares some information about the use of methanol in transportation:

Source: Methanol Institute
Photo: toastforbrekkie

Related posts:

1.Direct Methanol Fuel Cells Are a Proven Alternative to Batteries

2. The ?What Happened to the Methanol Economy?? Question

3. MTI Micro Unveils Portable Fuel Cell Charger

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