In green technology developments, during the same week when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that total toxic air releases in 2011 declined 8 percent from 2010, mostly because of decreases in hazardous air pollutant emissions, China’s citizens couldn’t breathe quite so easily.
The new fashion statement in Beijing this week was face masks—and not because of the flu epidemic. In fact, schoolchildren in China’s capital city were ordered to halt all outdoor activities during the first three days of the week, as a filthy cloud of smog shrouded the People’s Republic, reducing visibility and posing a dangerous health hazard.
On Tuesday morning, the air pollution level reached 251 on a scale of 300 in Beijing—and even higher, 278, in Shanghai. While 51-100 on the Air Pollution Index Scale is “good,” with no health implications, the air quality in China was so poor that even healthy people had to take measures. Air quality was even worse over the past weekend. Emergency response measures were adopted in Beijing when the city's air quality reached a level of 755, regarded as "beyond index." For the first time, Beijing activated a new plan restricting construction and industrial activity, and curbing vehicle use, said state-run Xinhua news agency. China's government has acknowledged, and announced intentions to address, its air quality problems, which have been attributed to a legacy of more than three decades of unfettered economic growth. Last month, the environmental ministry announced a goal to reduce levels of PM2.5—tiny particulate matter—by five percent each year in major cities and industrial areas through 2015.
One car that will not contribute to pollution is the all-electric Tesla. Following the rollout of its spitfire Roadster and its sophisticated Model S, this week the company brought out a “family car,” the Model X, that is to vehicles what John Stamos is to women — hot yet kid-friendly, rangy yet sporty, smooth yet quirky, and totally out of our league yet altogether irresistible.
On January 15 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, entrepreneur, adventurer and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the new seven-seat, all-wheel-drive, concept crossover — which still will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds — “will be our most important and highest-volume car.” An eye-catching and utilitarian feature of the new EV is a “falcon-wing door” that offers “unparalleled” accessibility for passengers, Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen said. Instead of opening outward, the back doors open straight up, reminiscent of the 1980s’ DeLorean, which also was a darling among the car crowd. The X will fit in the tightest space and still provide riders with room to exit. According to the Detroit Free Press, Von Holzhausen said the Model X’s “muscular, sinewy feel” and “athletic poise and character” are characteristics the company values. “You’ll see that in every Tesla going forward,” he predicted. The Model X will start at $49,900 after a $7,500 federal tax credit, with added optional features pricing the vehicle up to a possible $90,000 total. The company is “now taking reservations” for the Model X; it will be available in 2014.
And speaking of price tags…located in a desert area called the Valley of the Sun, the City of Phoenix “spends money like water”—very carefully. Now, metropolitan administrators have installed a 7.5-megawatt (MW) solar power array at Lake Pleasant Water Treatment Plant, northwest of Phoenix, which is expected to save the Arizona capital city and its 2.5 million residents about $4.2 million over the next 20 years, compared to conventional electricity.
The high-efficiency solar installation was designed and built by SunPower Corp. of San Jose, California. It represents the largest such installation ever on city property and is expected to generate 70 percent of the five-year-old water treatment plant’s electrical power needs. “This is another great example of the progressive thinking that enables Phoenix to keep customer costs as low as possible," commented Councilman Bill Gates (News - Alert), chairman of the city's Finance, Efficiency, Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee. "City solar projects are currently generating 13 MW of electricity through solar energy, or enough to power about 2,600 homes annually."
A slew of new retail energy providers are offering cheaper rates to customers nationwide in the United States. Frontier Communications Corporation–until very recently known only as a U.S. phone company based in Stamford, Connecticut— has expanded its services to bring low-cost , retail natural gas and electricity to consumers in Ohio via FTR Energy Services, a provider of affordable, green retail energy. While consumers will enjoy the same billing and service from their current utility service provider, FTR Energy Services will be responsible for supplying them with clean-burning natural gas and “100 percent green electricity.” The company will offer the consumers five percent cash back on their energy supply.
Finally, Dresden, Germany-based manufacturer Heliatek Gmbh announced this week that it had achieved record-breaking 12 percent efficiency with its organic solar cells. The company, which spun off from the Technical University of Dresden (IAPP) and the University of Ulm in 2006, said those organizations shared credit for the accomplishment.
The world record was measured and confirmed by Geneva-based SGS Consumer Testing (News - Alert) Services. The measurement campaign at SGS also validated the superior low light and high temperature performances of organic photovoltaics (OPV), compared to traditional solar technologies. The 12 percent record cell on a standard size of 1.1 cm² combines two patented absorber materials, which convert light of different wavelengths. Using two different absorber materials produces stronger absorption of photons and improves energy utilization through a higher photovoltage.
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