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February 23, 2013

TMCnet's GreenTech Week in Review



In green technology developments this week, it seems that we are sliding ever more rapidly down the slippery slope of global warming (bad news), but there have been a slew of developments by independent researchers and industry to advance the adoption of renewable energy (good news).

On February 20, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany announced that the total mass of ice in the Arctic Sea had dwindled by 36 percent – as measured last autumn – compared to the same period in the years 2003 to 2008. Scientists at Lund University in Sweden, one of Scandinavia's largest institutions for education and research, said this development was nothing short of alarming. They observed that the rising levels of greenhouse gases are creating a vicious cycle of events that will only cause the ice cover to shrink even further.

Thus, sooner than we had imagined, the Arctic may literally be “ground zero” for solar warming.

On the plus side, however, there were several entrepreneurial attempts this week to speed the advancement and adoption of renewable energy – especially solar power.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a startup awarded $500,000 last June by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Incubator program has launched a website designed to make  negotiating the complex solar shopping experience as easy as navigating a travel site like Kayak. The firm, EnergySage, will focus its new Solar Marketplace initially on the northeastern United States. Plans are to roll out rapidly to additional markets. On the site, shoppers can solicit and receive multiple quotes from a pre-screened network of high-quality solar installation providers.

The site is free for consumers, while providers pay a small commission for new business they receive.

And who better to drive solar adoption in the United States than an automaker? That was the thinking behind SolarCity’s (News - Alert) deal this week with American Honda Motor Co. The San Mateo, California-based solar installer and the Torrance, California-based division of Japan’s second-largest car manufacturer have announced a partnership geared to make solar power more affordable and available to U.S. Honda (News - Alert) and Acura customers in SolarCity’s 14-state service area. Together, they have established an investment fund to finance $65 million in solar projects to assist Honda and Acura customers in installing solar power with little or no upfront cost, depending on the customer’s selection of plans.

Speaking of chargers—it’s just a little larger than the State of Maryland, but the tiny Republic of Estonia in northern Europe now has 165 electric vehicle (EV) fast chargers, making Estonia the first country ever to open a nationwide EV fast-charging network that totally eliminates range anxiety. A single operator, the national foundation, Kredex, is responsible for the administration of all stations— and customers can use the same payment solution and technical support nationwide.  

Meanwhile, in Boulder, Colorado scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are spearheading a three-year, nationwide project to create unprecedented, 36-hour forecasts of incoming energy from the Sun. The research team is designing a prototype system to forecast the insulation of specific utility scale solar facilities— and resulting power generation— every 15 minutes, enabling utilities to continuously anticipate the amount of available solar energy. Much of the focus will be on generating detailed data on the presence of clouds and atmospheric particles that can reduce incoming energy from the sun. Central to the effort will be three total sky imagers in each of several locations, which will observe the entire sky, triangulate the height and depth of clouds, and trace their paths across the sky. Once the system is tested, the techniques will be widely disseminated for use by the energy industry and meteorologists.

In addition to its indisputable value to utilities, the system could be useful for short-term predictions of pavement temperatures. Such information would be useful to airport managers, road crews, and professional race car drivers.

Finally, a soft gray-silver mineral found in large supply, to date, in only four places on Earth – Russia, China, South Africa, and now Nevada – is on the brink of becoming one of the most valuable commodities of the 21st Century. Called vanadium, it is vitally needed by both the renewable energy and steel/construction sectors. Now, Canada-based American Vanadium, the sole developer of a vanadium mine in the United States, has entered into a strategic partnership with Germany-based Gildemeister Energy Solutions. A part of the Gildemeister group, Gildemeister Energy Solutions of Germany comprises four areas: Components, SunCarrier, CellCube and WindCarrier —and is an expert in the delivery of integrated energy solutions designed to optimize production, storage and utilization of renewable energies. 




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