Apple's building a solar farm in NV, for clean energy data centers

Reuters reports that Apple will build a new solar farm with NV Energy Inc, to power the computing giant's new data center in Reno, Nevada. The plan is seen as "a major step towards its goal of having its data centers run on renewable energy." Read the rest

16-year-old invents prizewinning clean algae-biofuel conversion process

Alan sez, "Evie Sobczak, who is presently 16, appears to have invented a completely chemical-free process for turning algae into a biofuel. Along the way her process appears to be about 20% more efficient than current chemical-heavy (and thus potentially polluting) processes. Her project just took first place and best in category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair."

Teen's biofuel invention turns algae into fuel (Thanks, Alan!) Read the rest

Documentary on activist who taught people to make solar cottage industries in 16 countries

Richard Komp has taught people how to make solar as a cottage industry in at least 16 different countries over the last few years.

Thorium, fusion, and other energy miracles

There are existing solutions to our the energy crises facing us today, but they all suffer from being frustratingly imperfect, complicated, and not particularly easy to implement (at least not quickly). Some even require us to change our behaviors. And, most likely, we'd have have to use lots of these solutions all at once, further adding to the complication involved. It's no wonder then that, in our heart of hearts, most of us are holding out for a miracle — some new technology that could provide all the power we want, with few drawbacks, and few changes to our current infrastructure or social status-quo. But is that a good idea, or a waste of time and resources? In the first edition of a new monthly column for The New York Times, Justin Gillis writes about the allure of energy miracles, what they actually look like in reality, and whether there's really a dichotomy between using what we have and developing something better. Read the rest

Bedouin "solar mamas" can't get backing for solarizing their village in Jordan

Two Bedouin women return from a six-month solar engineering training at the Barefoot College in India as 'solar engineers' to start training other women.

Gimme Some Truth: short doc on fracking, with Artists Against Fracking, and Yoko Ono

A documentary and PSA from Yoko Ono and Artists Against Fracking.

This is why your office feels too cold

There is no single definition of comfort. My newest column for The New York Times Magazine explores the different cultural definitions of pleasant living, how those traditions affect energy use in different countries, and how globalization changes both the culture and the fossil fuel consumption. Fun fact: Engineers have a unit of measurement that helps them account for clothing when they're trying to figure out what temperature an office building should be. It's called the Clo, and 1 Clo is equivalent to one full business suit. As I discovered, that fact has a big impact on women, business people in the tropics, and basically anybody who doesn't wear a suit to work. Read the rest

Is increased biofuel demand in the US causing more poor in Central America to starve?

Richard Perry/The New York Times

A worthy and overlooked story in the NYT by Elizabeth Rosenthal about a new economic riptide hitting Central America, a result of America's changing corn policy. The US is now using 40% of our own corn crop to produce biofuel, and tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which now imports about half of its corn.

"Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel."

Read the rest, and check out Richard Perry's photo slideshow. Read the rest

Kinetic energy, as illustrated by Disney

This is the difference between low kinetic energy (top) and high kinetic energy (bottom), as illustrated in the 1956 Disney book Our Friend the Atom. It may be useful in visualizing some of the ideas presented in my recent feature on space radiation.

From Fresh Photons, a fantastic blog chock full of science pictures.

Via David Ng

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Why (some) manufacturing is returning to the USA

General Electric has moved some of its key appliance-manufacturing work back to the USA, re-opening "Appliance Park," a megafactory in Louisville, KY. The company is finding it cheaper to do some manufacturing in the US relative to China, thanks to spiking oil costs, plummeting natural gas prices in the US, rising Chinese wages, falling US wages, and, most of all, the efficiencies that arise from locating workers next to managers and designers.

The GeoSpring suffered from an advanced-technology version of “IKEA Syndrome.” It was so hard to assemble that no one in the big room wanted to make it. Instead they redesigned it. The team eliminated 1 out of every 5 parts. It cut the cost of the materials by 25 percent. It eliminated the tangle of tubing that couldn’t be easily welded. By considering the workers who would have to put the water heater together—in fact, by having those workers right at the table, looking at the design as it was drawn—the team cut the work hours necessary to assemble the water heater from 10 hours in China to two hours in Louisville.

In the end, says Nolan, not one part was the same.

So a funny thing happened to the GeoSpring on the way from the cheap Chinese factory to the expensive Kentucky factory: The material cost went down. The labor required to make it went down. The quality went up. Even the energy efficiency went up.

GE wasn’t just able to hold the retail sticker to the “China price.” It beat that price by nearly 20 percent.

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The future of fuel has gone to sh*%.

Scientists are studying panda poop to learn how to make better biofuels.

Maggie speaking in St. Paul with superhero physicist, Jim Kakalios

Tomorrow night, I'll be joining University of Minnesota physics professor Jim Kakalios for Beaker & Brush — a series of discussions between scientists and artists/writers sponsored by The Science Museum of Minnesota. Kakalios is the author of The Physics of Superheroes and The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics. Together, we'll be talking about the way both physics and society have shaped American energy use and electric infrastructure. Energy is a socio-technical system. To understand where it came from and where it's going, you have to look at both science and culture. The event starts at 6:30 pm at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul. Read the rest

Ono to Cuomo: "Imagine there’s no fracking"

CBS Outdoor via Rolling Stone

Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon launched "Artists Against Fracking" earlier this year, and have received no response from NY gov. Andrew Cuomo to their request to meet and talk about the idea of a ban of fracking in New York. Now, Ono and Lennon have launched a billboard campaign on a route where the governor often passes. “Governor Cuomo: Imagine there’s no fracking,” the sign reads.

Read the rest

Energy emergency: Sandy profiteers sell gas, generators at predatory prices on post-apocalypse Craigslist

Gas supplies remain extremely limited in New York and New Jersey, nearly a week after hurricane Sandy, and the power's still out for many in those states and others, such as nearby Connecticut.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed an executive order announcing a state of energy emergency and instituting gas rationing for the purchase of fuel by motorists in 12 counties, starting today at noon.

Make way for price-gouging entrepreneurs!

Try this, to get a taste of how bad it is: search for "gasoline," "gas," or "generator" on NY Craigslist right now. Gas sales I've found on Craigslist range from $5 to $20 a gallon, but there are probably ads at higher prices. My favorite was the 55-gallon drum of gas for a thousand bucks. Unleaded! Cash only, folks.

Not only is this exploitative, it's explosive. A black market of gasoline reselling, without appropriate safety measures, seems to me like a recipe for tragedy.

Read the rest

Radio documentary on elections and America's energy future: The Power of One, with Alex Chadwick

BURN: An Energy Journal, the radio documentary series hosted by former NPR journalist Alex Chadwick, has a 2-hour election special out. It's the most powerful piece of radio journalism I've listened to since—well, since the last episode they put out. You really must do yourself a favor and set aside some time this weekend to listen to “The Power of One.”

Energy policy, defining how we use energy to power our economy and our lives, is among the most pressing issues for the next four years. In this special two-hour edition of BURN, stories about the power of one: how, in this election season, a single person, place, policy or idea can — with a boost from science — affect the nation’s search for greater energy independence.

The documentary examines how "individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in this Presidential Election year, and redefining America’s quest for greater energy independence." It was completed and hit the air before Hurricane Sandy, but the energy issues illuminated by that disaster (blackouts, gas shortage, grid failure, backup power failure at hospitals) further underscore the urgency.

Read the rest

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