SciTechBlog
April 5, 2010

Google: People need info to save energy

Posted: 06:00 PM ET

A coalition of tech companies, telecoms and environmental groups on Monday sent a letter to President Obama (PDF) on the subject of home energy efficiency.

The groups, which include Google, AT&T and 45 others, essentially make two points:

  • In order for people to save energy, they need to know more about how much energy they're currently using.
  • The U.S. government should, in some way, require that "timely, useful and actionable" data about energy use and pricing be made available to consumers over the Internet or mobile phone.

As for the info consumers should have access to, the groups say that to make smart decisions about how much energy to use and when to use it, people need to know the following:

  • How much energy their individual appliances use, in near-real-time
  • How much electricity costs at any given time
  • How the electricity is being generated (ie, by turning wind turbines or burning coal)

With all of this information, people could save an average of $360 per person per year on energy bills, the group says.

Google and The Climate Group will co-host a talk on this subject on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Washington. A Google blog post says the White House energy adviser, Carol Browner, will give a keynote address.

For people to be able to get data about how much energy they're using at any given time, what appliances are sucking it in, and how much the electricity costs at the moment, the U.S. will have to deploy a "smart" electricity grid, capable of tracking and transmitting all of this information.

The White House has promised a $4 billion investment in the smart grid, but it has faced delays.

And a number of roadblocks remain.

Some say smart grid technology is too expensive, as the Wall Street Journal reports. The blog earth2tech says some electricity companies may not make energy data available fast enough to really be that useful for consumers.

What do you think? Would knowing more about your electricity consumption - in real-time - help you slash your power bill?

[via ReadWriteWeb]

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Filed under: Energy • environment • Google • greenhouse gas


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February 21, 2010

Lasers may enable fusion

Posted: 05:31 PM ET

Can a swimming pool's worth of water power California for a year?

The answer is yes, assuming all goes according to plan for scientists working on laser-driven fusion, said Ed Moses at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Moses spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, AAAS, on Sunday.

The sun's heat and light get generated in a fusion reaction, in which two hydrogen atoms combine to make helium. This reaction is driven by gravity, whereas in the proposed fusion reactor, particles come together because of lasers.

Water is the main and virtually limitless ingredient, since the idea is to make use of hydrogen particles in water. This summer and fall, researchers hope to test their technique with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that has one proton and two neutrons.

Energy from this fusion machine would be harnessed as follows: The reaction produces neutrons, which are slowed down in a liquid salt. The salt gets hot, and then it's pumped as a heat exchanger, essentially making steam. There are also other advanced ideas about how to get the energy out of the process, including the induction of electric currents.

The capability to get more energy out than is put in should be available in about five to seven years, Moses said. Researchers hope to get a demonstration plant up and running in the next 10 to 15 years.

There are, of course, social challenges in addition to technical challenges, he said. Fusion is one of many approaches being considered for cleaner energy.

To learn more, visit the site of the Laser Inertial Fusion Engine.

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Filed under: Energy


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January 8, 2010

It is not easy being green

Posted: 03:04 PM ET
Nintendo Wii
Nintendo Wii

Nintendo scored the worst in a new Greenpeace report on efforts by electronics companies to be ecologically responsible.

In the “Guide to Greener Electronics”, Nintendo’s score of 1.4 out of 10 rated it 18th out of 18 companies that produce cell phones, gaming consoles and computer equipment. Each company was rated in three categories – chemicals and chemical management, e-waste, and energy.

Nintendo scored zero on all e-waste criteria and received their most points in the chemical category. They have PVC-free internal wiring in their Wii consoles and banned the use of some chemicals. They are also attempting to eliminate the use of all PVCs, but have not set a timeline for its phaseout.

Cell phone manufacturer Nokia led all companies with a score of 7.3, down slightly from last year’s ranking. Greenpeace praised the company for its comprehensive voluntary take-back program, which attempts to educate cell phone users about the benefits of recycling old phones.

Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Phillips rounded out the top 4 companies in the report. Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo and Microsoft joined Nintendo in the bottom 5.

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Filed under: cell phones • Energy • environment


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November 4, 2009

Cloud computing's CO2 lining

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

On my scavenger hunt into cloud computing, I learned there are few if any ways to compare one cloud computing company to another. Say, for instance, you wanted to upload the contents of your laptop to "the cloud" of the Internet. It would be hard if not impossible to get a comparison about how well companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM provide this service, which is sometimes called "cloud storage."

One emerging and important way to make these comparisons, though, is energy efficiency.

The computer farms that make up the cloud are energy-sucking machines. It costs more to cool the computers than to run them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 1.5 percent of all electricity consumption in the country in 2007 came from the data centers that house these cloud computers. And that electricity use is expected to double every five years as we store and process more info in the cloud. (View the EPA's full report to Congress on the subject).

But not all clouds are equal. And the EPA and an industry group called The Green Grid have made it part of their missions to give consumers ways to compare the emerging cloud power-houses.

In April, the EPA will unveil an “Energy Star” ratings program for data centers, according to Michael Zatz, manager of the EPA’s Energy Star program for commercial buildings. The program is voluntary, so not everyone will report their efficiencies, but a number of companies, including Microsoft, are already on board.

Here's an site with more information on this emerging program for green data centers. Scroll down half-way to find a list of some companies involved. Also check out Green Grid for a list of computing companies that are working with that group towards a more energy-efficient future for computing.

And let me know what you think. Is it a big deal that so little information is available about cloud computing? What would you like to know that's not being shared?

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Filed under: climate change • cloud computing • consumer tech • data centers • Energy


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April 24, 2009

Biofuel loses fight with California pollution regulators

Posted: 10:00 AM ET

The biofuel industry has lost its battle against California regulators over rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from various fuels, including corn-based ethanol.

artcorngi

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) late Thursday approved the controversial Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which would force fuel producers to lower their “carbon intensity” of their products by 10 percent by 2020.

“They have made a huge mistake in demonizing first generation biofuels,” said Brooke Coleman of the New Fuels Alliance, a biofuel lobbying group. Coleman called the new rules a “biased regulation that drives investment away from all biofuels.”

Carbon intensity is what fueled the controversy. It’s a rating system meant to classify each fuel by how much greenhouse gases they produce for every unit of energy that they create.

CARB Chairman Mary Nichols touted the board’s decision, predicting that the new rules will reduce air pollution, create new jobs and “continue California’s leadership in the fight against global warming.”

Makers of ethanol said the rating system unfairly ties their U.S.-made corn-based fuel to mass deforestation – not in the United States – but in developing nations. Ethanol critics say the entire biofuel industry should bear global responsibility for clearing of trees to make farmland to grow crops that will be used to make the fuel.

The rules have taken on a pretty high profile since they were proposed. Several U.S. states are considering similar measures and even the European Union watching with interest.

In the months that the debate has been raging, people have been voicing a lot of strong opinions about this issue. So, what do you think about the ruling? Fire away!

In other news, CNN's iReport wants to know what you think of iPhone apps. How do you use them? What's your favorite? Tell us about your iPhone app experience!

Filed under: climate change • Energy • environment • Ethanol • Fuel • Uncategorized


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April 21, 2009

Green tech ideas for Earth Day

Posted: 11:26 AM ET

Earth Day is tomorrow, and several news sites have ideas about how you can use technology to save energy and help the environment. Here's a sample:

SAVE ENERGY: CNET has a good overview of how technology can gobble up energy, and another story on power-saving green technologies to watch. When it come to computer energy savings, screen savers don't cut it, one story says:

Screen saver software does not save energy. It's much better to turn off your monitor when you take a break. CO2 Saver, a free program for Windows XP and Vista, can help you manage your PC's sleep behavior.

DIY: On the DIY (do it yourself) side of things, NPR has a first-person story about a man who made a solar backpack that charges his iPod while he walks around Manhattan.

SMART GRID: Here's a Chicago Tribune blog about GE's "plug" on Monday of Miami's new smart grid, which an exec says is the largest project of its kind. Smart grids use automated meters to save energy. The technology is a government priority in the U.S. and in Europe these days.

ONLINE NEWS: The New York Times quotes experts who say ditching newspapers for online information may be the sustainable thing to do. The paper notes that Marriott hotels no longer will leave papers on their guests' doorsteps.

FINANCIAL CRUNCH: PC World reports on a survey that says investors are turning away from green technology because of the economic recession. But some still would like to see green tech be a priority, the site says.

AT SCHOOL: If you're a student or a parent, earthday.net has some ideas about greening your school. Among them: talk to administrators about switching to lower-energy LED "Exit" signs. One old-school "Exit" sign costs about $24 per year to operate, according to the EPA.

BICYCLE: Finally, it's worth noting that low-tech solutions can be green, too. The New York Times magazine recently interviewed the nation's energy secretary, Steven Chu (pictured above), who indicates he feels guilty that security officials won't let him ride his bike to work anymore. An excerpt:

Is it true you don’t drive a car?
My wife does, but I no longer own a car. Let me just say that in most of my jobs, I mostly rode my bicycle.

And now?
My security detail didn’t want me to be riding my bicycle or even taking the Metro. I have a security detail that drives me.

How do you feel about adding carbon emissions to the air?
I don’t feel good about it.

What technology helps you be green? Tell us about it in the comments. You also can share your views on local environmental issues on iReport.com.

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Filed under: computers • Earth Day • Energy • environment • Scientists • solar energy • technology


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April 2, 2009

Renewable energy could threaten wildlife

Posted: 12:27 PM ET

In a weird sort of environmental paradox, the Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday released maps of the American West showing areas that would be damaged if they're developed for renewable energy.

Renewable energy expansion is a priority of the Obama administration, but some of the land that could be used for wind or solar power also is home to endangered and threatened species.

It's an interesting example of environmental issues butting heads. Environmentalists generally support renewable energy projects because they reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases going into the atmosphere - and therefore help to slow global climate change. But this could be a sign they may oppose some wind and solar projects.

NRDC says the issues don't have to be in opposition. Careful planning could solve the conflict, the group says.

You can check out the maps on Google Earth.

Here's one example: a birding group mapped areas of Wyoming where the sage-grouse lives.

In my previous life as an environment reporter in Oklahoma, I wrote about how wind farms in that state are crossing paths with a funky bird called the lesser prairie chicken. The bird is so popular it even has YouTube videos.

What do you think? Can we ditch fossil fuels and protect wildlife? What should be the priorities?

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Filed under: Animals • Birds • climate change • endangered species • Energy • environment • Politics • solar energy


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March 27, 2009

Ready for Earth Hour?

Posted: 04:53 PM ET

You've heard of Earth Day. Now get ready for Earth Hour.

The El Capitan theatre in Hollywood is one of many famous structures planning to switch off its lights during Earth Hour. Photo: Getty Images

A global initiative organized by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour is asking people and institutions around the world to turn off their lights for one hour Saturday night - 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. in whatever time zone you're in - to conserve energy and make a statement of concern about climate change.

Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for 60 minutes. Last year 50 million people turned off their lights, according to the project's Web site, www.earthhour.org. Such global landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in New York's Times Square all stood in darkness. (No word on Las Vegas, though.)

This time, organizers hope that 1 billion people worldwide - almost one-sixth of the Earth's population - will switch off their lights. More than 2,400 cities and towns in 82 countries - plus such floodlit icons as Paris's Eiffel Tower, Egypt’s Great Pyramids and New York's Empire State Building - are already on board, according to the Earth Hour site.

(The site doesn't say anything about whether participants should stop using all electricity during Earth Hour, so if you stay home and watch TV in the dark you might be OK.)

As with any public venture these days, Earth Hour leaders are using the Web to rally folks to their cause. An Earth Hour group on Facebook has more than 628,000 members, an Earth Hour video has been watched more than 57,000 times on YouTube and Earth Hour was the top-searched topic Friday afternoon on Twitter.

Tweets ranged from statements of support to such comments as "[I] will be cranking out as many jigawatts as possible during Earth Hour. I even plan to run both cars in the garage."

One man's Facebook post, titled "Why Earth Hour is stupid," argued that the initiative will simply waste energy unless power plants lower their production during this time. People could conserve electricity more efficiently by unplugging unused household appliances, he wrote.

So what, if any, are your plans for Earth Hour? And why?

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Filed under: climate change • Energy


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March 2, 2009

Does the smart grid make you feel dumb?

Posted: 03:27 PM ET
ALT TEXT

The latest buzzword on the energy forefront is “smart grid.”  You may have seen the GE commercial featuring a re-worked scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz” touting smart-grid products that promise to save you money, help keep the world green and make pink bunnies grow like wildflowers in your yard (well maybe not – but they do promise a lot).

There was a House subcommittee hearing this week on this very subject. And an article today on CNN.com.

So what does it all mean?  The technology GE is promoting is basically two-way communication between your electronic appliances, the outlets and the power company.  This will allow you and them better control over how and when you use electricity.  And in theory, the more control you have, the more efficient you can be.

All of that is very cool, but it’s a long way away.  For one thing, our current power grid (the one that actually brings electricity to you from the power plant) isn’t really set up to transmit energy from alternative sources such as rural solar or wind farms to far-away population centers.

Our current system is built around centralized power plants delivering energy to nearby areas. What we need to take full advantage of wind and solar power is a whole new grid - a decentralized one that can move power easily from one place to another. 

That won’t come quickly, easily or cheaply.  It’s one of the more expensive parts of T. Boone Pickens’ plan, and many say it will take trillions of dollars and at least a decade to finish.  Oh yeah, and our national grid is actually made up of several grids loosely tied together and owned by privately held consortiums – so it will take an act of Congress to get this done.

So what next?  It seems our country is a bit adverse to paying for infrastructure; we know we need it, but it’s not a new and shiny gizmo waiting in our living room for us to play with.  For real progress to take place, we need to realize how important these improvements will be to our future.

Here’s a collection of links and articles I found interesting on this topic:

Smart grid

Outsmarting the Smart Grid

New York Times: Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

How to fix the grid

DOE’s grid page

DOE FAQ (who owns the power grid)

As always, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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Filed under: Energy • environment


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November 19, 2008

Saving the waves

Posted: 11:40 AM ET

Over the years, cruise ships have been under fire for sometimes sketchy environmental practices.  But it's looking like the green movement is even moving to the aqua-blue waterways. 

Celebrity Cruises' new ship, Solstice.

I just got off the inaugural sailing of the new Celebrity Solstice cruise ship.  This boat is big pimpin' - stylishly appointed with all the bells and whistles. But what may be more impressive than all the onboard comforts are the advances Celebrity has made to help protect the ocean.

Save the Waves is a comprehensive environmental protection program Celebrity established 20 years ago.  You might say its just PR greenwashing, but some steps they take to be green are pretty dramatic.  For instance, recycling bins for aluminum, plastic, and glass containers are a breeding ground for bacteria. The only way to prevent the bacteria from growing is to cool the containers, so they store recyclables in a massive refrigerator.

On the alternative energy front the Solstice is the first cruise ship to utilize the sun with solar panels spread out around the ship.  They don’t generate a ton of juice but every little bit helps, as do the 25,000 LED light bulbs used onboard. 

What I found most cool was what they did with the hull of the ship.  The hull is coated with a non-toxic silicone to create less friction with the water.  The coating also reduces the growth of barnacles and algae on the ship, which helps reduce the chances of transporting an invasive species into a habitat it shouldn’t be in.  (Like the Zebra Mussels that are creating havoc throughout the Great Lakes.)  

As for physical design, they moved the longitudinal center of buoyancy forward to create smaller angles in the aft of the ship, resulting in smoother flow of water to the propeller.   They also put a kind of reverse spoiler on the stern to help reduce drag.  More than 90 wind tunnel and water tank tests were done to help design a hull that is 30 percent more fuel efficient than older ships.  That’s a huge reduction on greenhouse gases AND a huge cost savings to the bottom line.  (Though like just about any large oceangoing vessel, Celebrity Solstice still runs on diesel.   A lot of it.) 

Oh, and the ship also has a seaworthy lawn with real grass.  Its more of a novelty than an environmental initiative, but it does bring a literal accent to a ship that's trying - and succeeding - to be a little greener.

–Rob Marciano, CNN

Filed under: Energy • environment • Oceans


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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