California city completes energy-efficiency revitalization program

On September 12, the city of Concord, California, which is located in Contra Costa County not far from San Francisco, announced that it had finished upgrading its power infrastructure with the latest in renewable energy technology. These actions are estimated to save the city nearly $18 million and could earn the community hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax credits.

To complete the overhaul, the town worked with Chevron Energy Solutions, a solar power provider that specializes in educational and municipal installations. A total of 14 projects were undertaken, including one that set up a photovoltaic array to help generate power for the town's public pool facility. Another initiative replaced park and street lighting fixtures with ones that gather solar energy during the day to reduce stress on the energy grid at night. Most of the local government buildings were also renovated, swapping out old HVAC systems with ones that are more energy efficient.

"This was a bold program in that the City took a comprehensive approach to tackling our growing energy costs," Mayor Ron Leone of Concord said at a gathering of state and local leaders, according to a press release. "With the completion of this program, we have demonstrated once again our commitment to local taxpayers to maximize every dollar with which we have been entrusted."

According to the release, the town intends to begin work on redeveloping an old Naval arsenal that accounts for roughly 5,000 acres of public land. While no designs have been finalized, officials predict that the site will, once completed, feature energy-efficient housing complexes and open recreation spaces.

These efforts demonstrate that communities are beginning to take an active role in utilizing green technology to help balance their budgets and increase their standard of living.

U.S. government moves forward with cheap solar tech contest

In June of this year, the Department of Energy (DoE) announced the guidelines for and initiation of the "America's Most Affordable Rooftop Solar" contest, which sought low-cost designs from American entrepreneurs that could bring cost-effective renewable energy to homeowners. This effort is part of the DoE's SunShot Initiative, a larger program devoted the development of cheap alternatives to otherwise expensive technology.

"Through the SunShot Initiative, we're tackling the technological, scientific and market barriers facing America's solar industry to make sure solar power continues to play an important role in our diverse energy mix," DoE Secretary Steven Chu said at the time in a press release.

Since then, the program has evolved somewhat. Now known as the "Race to the Rooftop", the program offers a $10 million prize to the award-winning design team. DoE officials also strengthened the requirements for the program. Originally, participants were expected to build 5,000 photovoltaic solar power systems that could generate up to 15 kilowatts of power at a cost of roughly $2 per watt. The new parameters dictate that developers need to bring that price down to about $1 per watt. According to green news source EarthTechling, solar power installation currently costs approximately $5 per watt in a residential setting.

Groups that wish to participate in the contest can log onto the DoE website and investigate the guidelines and rules. The first step involves submitting a deployment plan for review by government officials. Feedback is issued to selected teams, after which these participants begin building solar power systems. The organization that completes their quota first will be subject to review and, if successful, will receive the prize.

The "Race to the Rooftop" does not have a set deadline, but solar panel designers are already at work trying to reach the goal of bringing renewable energy to homes across the country.

World’s largest photovoltaic plant being built in Arizona desert

As state and local governments implement various types of renewable energy sources in their communities, one project stands out among them all for its size and potential impact on the local energy market.

The Agua Caliente solar photovoltaic power plant, currently being built in Yuma County, Arizona, will be the largest facility of its kind once completed. A part-public, part-private initiative, it benefits from the U.S. Department of Energy's green power stimulus programs.

It will be capable of producing an enormous amount of energy. Right now, the plant has a maximum capacity of 250 megawatts (MW) that it can deliver to the local power grid. Once the final generators are brought online, however, the project is estimated to produce up to 290 MW at a time. First Solar Inc., the company responsible for its construction and eventual operation, expects the final components to be in place sometime in 2014.

In terms of low-impact electricity production, the company estimates that roughly 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be offset over the course of 25 years once the plant is fully operational. Roughly 450 employees will run the facility, providing a small boost to the area's employment levels.

"The Agua Caliente project exemplifies how utility-grade solar PV power can be rapidly deployed in a phased approach and seamlessly integrated into the electrical grid," Jim Tyler, a technology development executive for First Solar, said in a press release. "We are extremely proud to set a new benchmark for the industry with Agua Caliente, which incorporates the knowledge gained over years of experience designing, building and operating utility-scale solar projects for leading utilities and energy providers."

Once completed, this initiative may pave the way for similar large-scale projects in other parts of the country. At the very least, it will provide much-needed renewable energy for local residents.

Report: World’s total electricity needs could be answered with wind power by 2030

According to a study authored by a joint team of researchers from the University of Delaware and Stanford University's School of Engineering, if world governments committed to a comprehensive renewable energy program – with a special focus on wind power – global electricity needs could be entirely green before the year 2030.

The report, published in the industry journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, centered on the calculation that by that year, total energy consumption will reach eleven-and-a-half terawatts per year. While this number seems staggering at first, the group of scientists estimate that there are enough viable wind power sites around the world that, if developed, would more than meet these requirements. In fact, with coordinated effort output could exceed demand several times over.

The authors, led by Stanford University's Mark Jacobson, conceded that current electricity generation methods may, at max capacity, produce roughly half of the world's needs. However, they argued that the way that wind power is currently approached – by building ever-bigger turbines – is surprisingly short-sighted.

Instead, they propose that researchers and scientists examine ways to capture wind from higher elevations. A recent experiment conducted by Altaeros Energies of Massachusetts utilized a prototype inflatable turbine that coasted to an altitude of 350 feet before the machine was activated. It successfully generated more power than it utilized, and further tests will put larger turbines up to 1,000 feet. Up there, the company said, winds are both stronger and steadier.

As the saying goes, necessity breeds invention. With the world on the cusp of greater demand for power, energy companies may start to see the benefit of moving toward this kind of  large-scale renewable energy project.

German green living company creates compostable snack packaging prototype

Anyone with experience picking up garbage knows that wrappings for snacks are extremely wasteful and tough to dispose of. However, thanks to the efforts of German company Baden Aniline and Soda Factory (BASF), the world might be one step closer to creating a packaging that can be successfully composted.

BASF's prototype utilizes a biopolymer-based design that allows the packaging to degrade naturally, as opposed to traditional designs that can take years to break down. Designers eschewed commonly used plastics in favor of ones that would wear down more easily.

The company, according to its website, plans on marketing the product through a partnership with the Seattle Mariners. It received its grand unveiling on September 5, when the first 10,000 attendees of the Mariners-Boston Red Sox game that day were given a complimentary bag of peanuts.

BASF officials, including marketing manager Kimberly Schiltz, predicted that this development will spawn more innovation in the snack industry as more customers expect products that can be disposed of without endangering the environment.

"It means that popular snack foods can be brought to market in compostable packaging that delivers needed shelf-life at a competitive price point, with a more sustainable 'end-of-life' solution than with conventional packaging materials," she said.

Scott Jenkins, the Mariners' vice president of operations, added in the release that the new design would help the team achieve its goals of becoming a zero-waste franchise, an initiative which includes reducing the amount of garbage produced during games and practices.

"If all of the snacks sold at Safeco came in compostable packaging, it would represent a significant savings of time and money for the team and get us a whole lot closer to achieving zero waste," Jenkins said.

The BASF product could hold the key to a more sustainable consumer culture in the United States, promising a solution in the quest for widespread low impact living.

Tighter fiscal conditions push more communities toward green technology, experts say

With state and local funding from the U.S. federal government all but drying up in the wake of the financial turmoil of 2008-09, cities and towns have been left to face growing budget crises without much external assistance. The result of this, according to an August 23 report from Yale University's Environment 360 publication, has been that more and more local governing institutions are turning to green infrastructure to help them cut costs and avoid expensive repairs in the long run.

One of the areas identified in the piece is Seattle, Washington, which has been grappling with the environmental and economic problems that result from excessive water runoff, leading to an increase in polluted, non-drinkable water. To combat this condition, the community has begun installing roof gardens to capture rainwater before it can hit drainage pipes. Additionally, residents have been encouraged to modify their downspouts to bring the runoff back to their gardens, providing extra protection and more water for their plants. According to the article, Seattleites can be compensated up to $4,000 as reward for their efforts.

Katherine Baer, who works with low-impact living advocacy group American Rivers, which assists towns as they implement green infrastructure, spoke with the publication about the necessity of these actions as communities struggle to make ends meet.

"We're at a tipping point,” Baer told the source. "We're going to see a lot more of these practices that protect, restore or replicate natural functions, as cities grapple not only with water quality, but with livability and climate adaptation."

Other areas, such as New York City, have already begun reaping the benefits of utilizing green infrastructure and technology. Their efforts may, in time, inspire many more local governments to take similar types of action.


Seattle-based biofuel company one step closer to creating algae-based fuels

In the energy business, money is everything. Thanks to a capital infusion from green investment firm Avista Development, Inc., a new biotech company from Seattle, Washington, is able to continue its work on finding a viable solution to the national need for clean and renewable energy.

Margaret McCormick, the CEO of Matrix Genetics, recently spoke with green industry news source EarthFix about the latest developments and the company's work on producing a viable form of biofuel. Her organization, according to the source, has been investigating the best ways of creating cyanobacteria specimens that are capable of releasing oil-rich lipids. The secret, McCormick says, is to bioengineer the organisms to gain lots of weight.

"You can see it's a very pretty green color so our scientists love to work with it because it’s a lot more pleasant than other types of bacteria that we work with," she told the source, in reference to a beaker filled with algae placed inside a vibration machine.

Currently, according to EarthFix, researchers for Matrix Genetics are trying to come up with a standardized method for producing oil-rich algae. The team's long-term goal is to pair cyanobacteria breeding facilities with a carbon dioxide-emitting power plant. By doing so, the organisms can absorb the emissions and put them to good use.

Ralph Cavalieri, a green tech specialist for Washington State University, told the source that "costs will come down, the efficiencies will steadily go up and we’ll end up not paying any more than petroleum, for example."

Though this project is still several years away from full production, the exciting results discovered thus far suggest that this technology could one day be an important part of the low-impact economy of the future.

Power-generating ocean buoys set to launch in Oregon

According to a report published on September 3 by the New York Times, Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), a company based in New Jersey that specializes in wave-based electrical generators, may be on the cusp of changing the face of renewable energy.

Their devices, known as PowerBuoys, function by allowing water to push pistons up and down, collecting the friction from the process and converting it into energy. This power is then sent to the nearby grid through an underwater cable. According to recent tests conducted in conjunction with the U.S Navy, the PowerBuoy is capable of producing a continuous amount of 300 to 400 watts.

The Oregon government hopes to tap into the state's wide array of low-impact energy sources, including wave power. Paul Klarin, the liaison from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development for the initiative, called the PowerBuoy project simply one part of a "no one-size-fits-all kind of plan."

"Some are on the seabed on the ocean floor, some are in the water column, some are sitting on the surface, some project up from the surface into the atmosphere, like wind – many different sizes, many different forms, many different footprints," he said.

Hesitations among Oregon's environmentalists remain, such as the fear that this project could become a hindrance for the area's salmon population, which serves as a sort of bedrock staple for many of the state's wildlife populations. To allay these concerns, OPT designed the PowerBuoy system to function without potentially hazardous hydraulic fluids. Additionally, the company built the devices to withstand severe storm surges and, as a redundancy, outfitted each machine with three enormous anchors to keep them in place.

When the power network comes online, it is expected to produce energy for approximately 1,000 homes. Once it is deployed, this initiative could be the start of a revolution in the ways communities provide electricity for themselves.

New York set to activate ultraviolet water purification plant

In roughly two months, assuming that everything goes to plan, the state of New York's Delaware-Catskills Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility (UDF) will begin processing the region's water supply. At full-scale capacity, the plant is expected to process up to nine billion liters of drinkable liquid a day, covering roughly 90 percent of the area's needs, including New York City, without as much energy consumption compared to existing technologies.

The facility, in the Mount Pleasant-Greenburgh region in Westchester County, New York, is approximately 16,000 square feet and cost $1.6 billion to design and construct. It features 56 ultraviolet (UV) emitters that bathe the water coming from the Catskills and Delaware County aquifers in radiation, killing any liquid-borne pathogens by altering their DNA irreparably. These bugs include giardia and cryptosporidium, which can cause gastro-intestinal diseases. The emitters are designed to process 151 million liters at a time.

According to industry source Scientific American, the driving force behind implementation of the UDF was a 2006 Environmental Protection Agency rule change that required municipalities to put in place more stringent filtration systems. The New York state government weighed several designs, including one that called for deeper and thicker porous sediment-based frameworks, before deciding on the UV radiation version.

The plant, built by Trojan Technologies, Inc., is expected to go online on October 29. When activated, it will become the largest facility of its kind. That title currently belongs to the Tesla Treatment Center in the San Francisco region, which treats roughly 12 billion liters of drinkable water per day. While the short-term results of utilizing the UDF and UV radiation may not be immediately apparent, it will certainly help mitigate the risk of disease that the Greater New York region faces from mistreated water supplies.