Twin reports find that world is embracing clean energy movement

Those who say that fossil fuels will always be the number one source of energy may need to rethink their logic following the release of two reports, one from industry news source Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and another from polling organization TNS Gallup. Both of these studies showed an increased appetite for renewable energy and suggested that investors and business leaders are more apt to put their money in green technology.

The Corporate Renewable Energy Index Report 2012 (CREX) from Bloomberg is designed to track investment in the green sector. According to the index, clean energy expenditures exceeded those for fossil fuels for the first time in 2011. $237 billion was spent on renewable power investment while $223 billion went to oil and natural gas development.

Bloomberg officials, including BNEF chief executive Michael Liebreich, celebrated the results but urged global leaders to devote more time and energy to research and develop new green technologies.

"The findings of the CREX report show corporations are taking an active role in purchasing their own renewable energy directly," he said in a press release. "However, the pace of growth in companies' use of renewable energy will depend on the level of political and regulatory support, and on further progress in the cost-competitiveness of these technologies."

Gallup's study rated public perception of wind energy and its role in the national economy. Sixty-two percent of respondents told the organization that they would like to see more products made from companies that utilize wind-derived power sources. Another piece of evidence from the second study was that greater private investment in this sector, namely from larger corporations, is a big signal for those in the industry that market forces are driving more companies into renewables.

Hewlett-Packard, Intel joining forces to create world’s most energy-efficient supercomputer

Computer hobbyists pride themselves on being able to build powerful systems that minimize energy expenditure. However, they are about to be outclassed on a professional scale as a U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) initiative is set to begin work on the world's "greenest" computer by collaborating with top information technology companies Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Intel.

The long-time tech giants will be working together with the DoE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to create a data-processing center that can supply some of its own power. The project is expected to cost around $10 million, and though designs have yet to be finalized, there are several components that government officials expect to see once it is completed.

Most notably, the proposed supercomputer may be able to compute data by the petaflop, or one million billion computations per second. According to industry source HPCwire, a system capable of processing at this magnitude requires around a megawatt of consistent energy to operate at peak capacity.

The system will incorporate a network of warm water coolers designed to maintain a certain temperature, which would prevent the supercomputer from burning too much excess energy. This design, reportedly still in development, is meant to help create the "perfect" operating temperature. Heat created by the computers will be collected and siphoned into a generator that would then be used to support climate control mechanisms in other parts of the NREL.

NREL officials told HPCwire that the Intel/HP collaboration is part of a broader strategy to reign in government energy expenses. Steve Hammond, a computation director for the laboratory, said that the DoE initiatives seek to cut future costs in every possible way.

"We've taken a chips-to-bricks approach to data centers," Hammond told HPCwire. "We're managing both the bytes and the BTUs."

The new supercomputer is expected to be brought online sometime in 2013, and could be the first of many energy-efficient data-crunching systems to come.

Archaeologists find evidence of prehistoric recycling efforts

Think you're alone in the world as you head to the local recycling center? According to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Study that was written by a group of Spanish researchers, evidence exists of recycling habits demonstrated by prehistoric humans.

The notion that our ancestors would reuse certain things began after archaeologists working at Moli del Salt region near Tarragona, Spain, found tools that appeared to have been burnt in the process of remaking. The research site has been traced back to a prehistoric society that existed nearly 13,000 years ago. Some of the items seemed to be wrought from older tools once they had been worn down, reworked into different yet still effective instruments.

"This indicates that a large part of these tools were not conceived from the outset as double artefacts but a single tool was made first and a second was added later when the artifact was recycled," one of the researchers noted in the report.

The group of scientists also suggested that some of the items found could come from different societies of humans. They theorized that migratory communities may have discovered older settlements and refashioned the tools they came upon. While the researchers can never truly figure out why our ancestors may have undertaken these actions, it's possible they did so to conserve the supplies they had on hand.

"It bears economic importance too, since it would have increased the availability of lithic resources, especially during times of scarcity," the authors noted in the article.

Future study at the Moli del Salt excavation site could focus on comparing artifacts from there with others discovered throughout the region and abroad. By doing so, archaeologists may be able to ascertain if this was a unique habit or if recycling is an action that humans are predisposed to perform.

Stay green wherever you are: Great mobile apps for eco-minded folks

Android and iPhone users may not know it, but there are a plethora of mobile apps available on the market to help them maintain their green living habits both at home and on the go. In today's article, we'll look at some of 2012's hottest eco-friendly mobile apps and what they can do for you.

Farmers Market Finder – $0.99

To find the best in locally-grown products in your neighborhood, look no further than this mobile app. Farmers Market Finder scours the Web to find upcoming events and specials in over 2,700 areas around the country. Whether you're looking for fresh produce in California or just-picked fruit in Washington, D.C., this is the app for you.

iViro – Free

This cool mobile app helps green-minded homeowners calculate how much energy they are using and offers strategies for reducing their utility bills. Areas covered include CO2 emissions, water usage and appliance electricity consumption.

iRecycle – Free

Do you want to bring that bag of bottles you've been saving to a recycling center, but aren't sure where to find one? This mobile app serves as a directory for over 100,000 redemption centers around the country, featuring contact information and operation hours. Users can also connect iRecycle to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, allowing them to plan and coordinate with others.

GoodGuide – Free

If you've ever wanted to know the size of Wal-Mart's carbon footprint or how much energy is consumed in making a box of cereal, you should download this mobile app. GoodGuide has an archive of nearly 20,000 products and businesses and includes details on which are the most eco-conscious.

Oregon officials hail opening of America’s second-largest wind farm complex

On September 22, leaders from Oregon's political and energy establishments gathered to commemorate the official opening of the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm. The facility was partially funded by power giants like Caithness Energy and General Electric and subsidized by a U.S. Department of Energy renewable energy loan, making it a poster child for public-private electricity partnerships.

Currently, the plant is capable of producing 845 Megawatts (MW) of energy, which is enough power to light 235,000 local homes at a time. This output is expected to reduce Oregon's carbon footprint by 1.483 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. This amount of energy will add up to nearly 2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, officials said at the unveiling.

State leaders, such as Governor John Kitzhaber and Senator Jeff Merkley, praised the opening as a milestone for Oregon's commitment to providing its citizens with clean power and new jobs, the latter of which will constitute up to 45 positions to run and maintain the wind farm. Roughly 400 workers were hired to aid in the initial construction phase.

"It's great news that the Shepherds Flat project is now complete," Senator Merkley said, according to a press release. "Oregon is now host to one of the largest on-shore wind farms in the world, further establishing its role as a leader in the new clean energy economy. We can now look forward to 845 megawatts of new clean energy coming on the grid."

The project attracted bipartisan support in the state, including the endorsement of Republican Representative Greg Walden, who called the plant "part of an 'all of the above' energy strategy that this country so desperately needs."

Now that Shepherds Flats is fully operational, Oregon residents will benefit from an electrical grid that provides clean and homegrown electricity.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security developing eco-friendly “robo-tuna”

In a bid to boost inspection efforts in the nation's busy ports and harbors, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been developing a series of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to reach areas that are inaccessible to human investigators. However, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit advocacy group, a problem that has plagued engineers in this field relates to propulsion systems that have so far been unable to function efficiently. Now, the nonprofit says, a new UUV has been invented that mimics the swimming patterns of tuna.

Known as the BIOSwimmer, this proposed UUV is designed to allow the robot to move its tail just like a tuna does. This function helps reduce power consumption from the internal battery, enabling it to perform security sweeps for longer periods of time. Duties of the proposed "robo-tuna" include investigating deepwater targets like chests, areas beneath ships or inlets that humans can't reach.

"It's all about distilling the science," David Taylor, a programming manager for the BIOSwimmer project, told industry news source PhysOrg. "It's called 'biomimetics.' We're using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well. Tuna have had millions of years to develop their ability to move in the water with astounding efficiency. Hopefully we won't take that long."

The designers also sought to make the BIOSwimmer more useful to remote investigation teams by simplifying the control systems for function on a laptop. The "robo-tuna" transmits data to the central computer that can either upload instructions into the UUV or allow the operator to pilot it manually.

DHS has given no official timeline for when the BIOSwimmer would enter commercial production or see field usage. However, a prototype is currently undergoing testing, so there is a good chance fishermen may soon see a curious yellow robot skim by their boats.

San Francisco government votes to move forward with renewable energy plan

On Tuesday, September 18, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to award a five-year contract to Shell Energy North America to develop and provide renewable energy to residents who decide to opt-in to the city's new incentive program.

Known as CleanPowerSF, the initiative aims to allow towns in the area to choose between the proposed system or traditional grids, which have reportedly been maintained and run by regional energy provider Pacific Gas and Energy for decades. It follows in the footsteps of the city's community choice aggregation program that was created 14 years ago, according to local news source the San Francisco Chronicle. That effort sought to empower communities to choose an alternative power source if it proved to be financially beneficial to that municipality.

The proposed initiative sets aside $19.5 million dollars to explore and develop renewable energy resources that Shell will be able to utilize as it begins delivering clean power to San Franciscans. While the project has yet to be signed by Mayor Ed Lee, he is expected to do so as many residents are reportedly in favor of the new program, despite government officials' concession that it will raise utility costs in the short-term.

However, some on the Board of Supervisors struck a positive note after the vote about how the effort could revitalize the city's energy market.

"I think we've sent a pretty clear message that we in San Francisco are an innovative city and care about our environment and about consumer choice," Supervisor David Campos told the source.

The next step in the program, following approval from Mayor Lee, would be to explore potential sites for wind and solar energy generators. Due to San Francisco's proximity to the sea, it may be safe to say that renewable energy will fit in quite nicely in the City by the Bay.

Power company secures regulatory victory, sets stage for interstate renewable energy

Clean Line, a power transmission company based in Oklahoma, announced on September 11 that it had cleared a substantial hurdle on its path to build interstate high-tension electricity lines. These networks would deliver electricity from renewable energy-producing midwestern states to providers in the southernmost U.S. states like Tennessee and Alabama.

The goal of the project, known currently as the Plains and Eastern Clean Line initiative, is to transit energy from wind and solar power sources to consumers that do not possess the renewable energy resources available in the Midwest. This process would involve a 750 mile-long system of high-voltage direct current wires, capable of delivering 3,500 megawatts (MW) of energy at a given time, or enough electricity to light nearly 1 million residences.

Michael Ming, Oklahoma's Energy Secretary, lauded the decision as one that will lead to more jobs in the state and elsewhere.

"This approval from FERC is a great step towards developing Oklahoma's low-cost clean energy
resources," Ming said, according to the release. "The Plains and Eastern Clean Line will create
jobs, while enabling billions of dollars of investments in Oklahoma’s clean energy industry."

To qualify for the regulatory clearance, Clean Line had to pass a series of tests, including commitments to deliver affordable electricity that does not discriminate based on location. Additionally, the energy company had to prove that it was acting in the public good in order to receive permission to start building the interstate power transfer network.

While Clean Line's project remains in the planning phase, it could bring much-needed jobs to areas hardest hit by the ongoing national economic malaise. Not only will this provide a boost to unemployment numbers, the initiative further cements the place of renewable energy in the wider context of U.S. energy policy.

South Dakota company makes green energy more personal

When you think renewable energy sources, your mind undoubtedly leaps a field spotted with towering wind turbines, or an industrial roof lined with large solar panels. However, one innovative company in South Dakota could change your notion of alternative energy for good.

According to an official press release, Peppermint Energy has been awarded the Solar Flare award by Solar Soluxe. The Connecticut-based industry leader has recognized the Sioux Falls, SD, operation for giving people the opportunity to harness green technology on an individual level.

The business has devised a groundbreaking desktop-size unit called the Forty2 – a name playfully inspired by Douglas Adams' famous "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" – that collects and stores solar power for personal use.

"It combines power generation (solar), power storage (Lithium Ion batteries), power inversion (power cord ready) and efficiency monitory (brains) in one mobile unit," the company website states. "Truly a Utility In A Box."

The president of Solar Soluxe, Jeffrey Mayer, praised the company for developing a product that took reneweable energy from an industrial stage to a domestic one.

An added benefit of these personal devices, according to the company's website, is that they provide owners with an incomparable freedom – not just from oil companies, but from electrical outlets as well. Once charged, a Forty2 unit can be used as an independent energy source anywhere.

"It's a solution that embraces self-reliance and a better, simpler, cleaner future for generations to come," the product description explains.

Solar Soluxe first announced its weekly Solar Flare award in July of this year. The title is intended to recognize companies that have accomplished significant technological gains in solar power, as well as drawing more attention to a range of innovative ways to use this green technology in everyday life.

U.S. Department of Transportation unveils zero-emission public transit program

In a bid to prove the effectiveness of low-impact public travel systems, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) announced a pilot program in conjunction with the Nashville Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that will finance the purchase of electric buses and charging stations in the Nashville, Tennessee area.

DoT Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking at a press conference in Nashville unveiling the proposal, spoke about the benefits the program would offer and how it could set the standard for other public undertakings that focus on renewable energy sources.

"In Tennessee and across the country, President Obama is committed to investing in sustainable transportation systems that improve access to jobs, education, and medical care for millions of riders, while bringing cleaner air to our communities and reducing our dependence on oil," LaHood told reporters at the press conference. "These projects will also help transit agencies operate more efficiently, so they save money in the long run."

This initiative is part of a nationwide push to build more energy-efficient infrastructure that includes public transit. Twenty-seven projects adding up to $59.3 million in funding will be implemented over the next year thanks to the Federal Transit Administration's Clean Fuels Grant Program, which aims to increase fuel economy in buses and trains in U.S. metropolitan areas.

According to green industry news source Earthtechling, other projects include one in Louisville, Kentucky intended to replace a costly trolley network with zero-emission buses and a plan in Miami, Florida, to swap out antiquated engines and cooling systems in the city's existing transit system with more energy-efficient technologies.

Over the next several years, readers should expect to see more announcements from communities as they overhaul their public infrastructures to both cut costs and reduce their environmental footprints.