Hurricane Sandy spurs calls for “smart grid” development

In the wake of this fall's Hurricane Sandy, which left devastation up and down the northern Atlantic coast, some professionals in green technology industries have called on the nation's leaders to take a more proactive stance on the concept of a "smart grid."

The idea for a next-generation electrical system, according to General Electric Digital Energy's John McDonald, would have empowered utility workers to pinpoint and repair damage more quickly.

McDonald argued in a recent article published by various green advocacy websites that this kind of initiative might have alleviated some of the ongoing distress taking place in affected regions, including New Jersey and New York City.

One element, smart metering, would have delivered crucial information to electricity providers in a real-time format, instead of relying on damage reports from customers or authorities. In his piece, McDonald blasted current networks that only enable such alerts if they occur in certain areas.

"Not all utilities have invested in those technologies," McDonald told AOL Energy in an interview. "They are not as up to date and effective as they could be. They are in the best position when the storm hits and comes through their service area."

Another component lacking in most electric grids, a geographical information system (GIS), could have created a digitized map of the service areas with up-to-date statuses on the different portions of the network. With this piece of technology, providers could spread resources more effectively by utilizing a comprehensive layout of the affected regions.

According to EarthTechling, a green news source, nearly 10 million people were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. This event, though tragic, will hopefully serve as a wake-up call that the American electrical grid needs more safeguarding against natural disasters.

U.S. Air Force commission undertakes energy conservation efforts

The U.S. Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is responsible for the acquisition and maintenance of weapons systems, as well as research and development duties. As it is the largest Air Force command in that branch of the armed services, it consumes quite a bit of energy on a day-to-day basis. In a bid to reduce its consumption of electricity, the (AFMC) is undertaking a series of measures that will help lower costs by millions of dollars.

According to an official press release from the military agency, energy efficient power strips are being distributed to various AFMC branches. Once the initiative is fully implemented, it is expected to save up to $5.4 million over ten years, or roughly $540,000 per year.

Energy savings is achieved through a novel design that puts unused electronics into a "sleep" mode without actually turning off crucial hardware. Representatives from the AFMC, including Lt. Gen. Andrew Busch, vice commander of the agency, stated that this project is just one part of the military's comprehensive strategy to reduce utility costs.

"AFMC has been a leader in energy conservation and efficiency," Busch was quoted as saying. "From testing and developing synthetic fuels to winning international awards for waste reduction management – finding ways to be more 'green' and reduce energy expenditures by using technology like the smart strip will continue to be our priority."

These efforts are part of the U.S. Department of Defense's efforts to rein in costs, especially in light of the upcoming cuts to the nation's military budget. Additionally, you should keep an eye out for this type of power strip the next time you go shopping, as you can lower your own monthly expenditures and reduce your ecological footprint at the same time.

American mini-automaker hopes to change the way people get around town

If you use your car primarily to get around town, buy groceries and visit your friends every once in awhile, you know that even these tiny trips are a pain at the gas pump. But, all this may change in the coming years, as a transportation startup based in Durham, North Carolina, is working on a prototype that could change the way people approach the way they move around.

Organic Transit is a small-scale operation that is currently working on a prototype simply known as the ELF. This half recumbent bicycle, half electronic vehicle is a 100 percent game-changer in terms of traditional means of transportation. It features LED lights and a 750-watt motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. This unique design allows the driver to choose how they want to travel, as they can opt to pedal, rely on the engine or utilize a mix of the two. While the most energy efficient cars are capable of up to 45 to 60 miles per gallon (MPG), the ELF can reach a whopping 1800 MPG in its current design.

"It's time for a radical shift in how we get around. Environmentally, economically and socially the public is ready," founder and CEO Rob Cotter was quoted as saying in a press release.

Not only is the ELF capable of significant power conservation, the vehicle is also stylish and easy to operate. Its sleek frame is easily distinguished and is capable of carrying up to 350 pounds of luggage, groceries or whatever else you'd like to stash inside.

At this time, the ELF is still in the prototype phase and some design elements could change before it enters pre-production. However, this exciting new vehicle is sure to stir up the debate regarding the most ecologically friendly and practical ways to travel in the 21st century.

U.S. cable box providers to boost energy efficiency, save customers up to $1.5 billion per year

A trade group consisting of the largest U.S. cable providers, including Comcast, AT&T and DIRECTV, has announced that it will press ahead with government-mandated efficiency standards ahead of schedule. The agreement between the various companies means that, beginning in January 2013, customers will begin to see energy savings in their home entertainment systems.

As part of the agreement, according to an official press release from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), an experimental set of "sleep" stages will be implemented by participating organizations. This new feature will enable cable boxes to power down and consume less energy while not in use but still plugged into the wall.

Additionally, the companies will undertake a program to replace traditional cable boxes with set-top boxes, which is a new design that utilizes less electricity per hour and can be programmed to shut off during certain times of the day. Officials from the CEA and NCTA, in their release, expressed hope that these changes would result in cheaper utility bills for customers and improved compliance with government standards.

"Providing American consumers with innovative services that deliver great video content and reduce in-home energy costs is win-win for customers and participating companies," Michael Powell, NCTA President and CEO, was quoted as saying. "Multichannel video providers and device manufacturers are proud to participate in this unprecedented initiative, and we will continue to pursue even more ways to reduce the overall energy footprint of our services."

If you are a customer of one of these companies – it's a good chance that you are if you watch T.V. – you should expect to see the cable guy stop in and replace your box. With these new measures in place, can enjoy some energy savings while you watch your favorite shows.

Team of scientists led by Penn State professor produces first-ever solar-cell fiber

The work of an international team of scientists, chemists and engineers, led by Penn State's John Badding, has resulted in the world's first silicon-based optical fiber with the capacity to conduct electricity through solar cells. Although this technology is still in its infancy, the experiments conducted by Badding's group have yielded a material that can be scaled for several meters and could one day be used in a wide variety of applications.

In an official press release from the university, Badding explained that his team's creation was a departure from traditional solar power technologies.

"A solar cell is usually made from a glass or plastic substrate onto which hydrogenated amorphous silicon has been grown," he was quoted as saying. "Such a solar cell is created using an expensive piece of equipment called a PECVD reactor and the end result is something flat with little flexibility. But woven, fiber-based solar cells would be lightweight, flexible configurations that are portable, foldable, and even wearable."

As for its uses, the new form of connection could be placed in next-generation telephone wires that are capable of generating their own electricity. Additionally, bulky and inefficient medical implants could be replaced with smaller ones that consume less energy, enabling those devices to be more sturdy and have longer working lives.

Badding added in his statement that the technology could be used to change the way that traditional solar panels are built and deployed. Unlike current models that rely on the position of the sun to function, the new optic wires could be fine-tuned to a building's shape, allowing it to create its own power during all daylight hours. However this new innovation is deployed, it's sure to change the way that people access sources of clean energy.

Autonomous robot completes 9,000 nautical-mile journey across Pacific Ocean

In what could be billed as the 21st century equivalent of "The Little Engine That Could," a self-directed drone built by a team from California-based Liquid Robotics has successfully finished its trip across the Pacific Ocean. The journey clocked in at nearly 9,000 nautical miles, or almost 17,000 kilometers.

The Wave Glider in question, known to the group by its nickname Papa Mau, is actually one of a series of autonomous robots that have been plying the Pacific Ocean for the past year as the company tests its new technology. While Papa Mau is taking a well-deserved rest, another is following close behind it while a third is headed toward Japan.

In addition to perfecting its navigation and control systems, Papa Mau was also equipped with an array of experimental scientific equipment. This initiative was intended to test the viability of self-steered research vessels, and judging by the data collected – the drone recorded part of a 1,200 mile-long strand of chlorophyll blooms – their mission was a success by all accounts.

"To say we are excited and proud of Papa Mau reaching his final destination is an understatement," Bill Vass, CEO of Liquid Robotics, was quoted as saying in a press release. "We set off on the PacX journey to demonstrate that Wave Glider technology could not only survive the high seas and a journey of this length, but more importantly, collect and transmit ocean data in real-time from the most remote portions of the Pacific Ocean."

After 365 days at sea, Papa Mau will most likely be used to means-test some of the company's later models. With the success of this plucky little robot, it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to see more autonomous drones coasting through the oceans.

Harlem’s latest Applebee’s location set to become city’s first LEED restaurant

An Applebee's is being built in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, just inside the East Park Plaza. While most would assume that this event is just the spread of a restaurant chain, it's actually a groundbreaking development in bringing renewable energy technology to today's consumer culture. According to media reports, the new franchise is set to receive a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The restaurant will employ a number of power-saving methods when it opens. One of the most intriguing aspects is the use of bamboo throughout the establishment, an easily recycled material that makes great countertops and tables.

The Applebee's will also feature a green wall, which is an assembly of plant life designed to soak up carbon dioxide in the room and convert it into breathable air. A structure that is becoming more common in commercial buildings, the green wall helps save on HVAC expenses and reduces the level of hazardous gases in the restaurant.

Speaking about the development, Zane Tankel, who founded Apple-Metro, the operating company that oversees Applebee's, stated that it was only the beginning of the brand's embracing of green energy in a restaurant setting.

"It's about being a good neighbor, both locally and globally. We are focusing on green practices and are on a regular schedule of renovating and remodeling our existing restaurants to ensure that Applebee's in New York City is becoming more environmentally friendly," Tankel said in a statement.

If you're in the area on December 10, when the new Applebee's will be unveiled, we definitely recommend checking it out. Whether or not you appreciate their menu, the opening is a testament to the growing influence of renewable resources in our daily lives.

San Francisco expands its car sharing program following initial success

City CarShare, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the lives of commuters while reducing the environmental damage caused by carbon dioxide, announced recently that the organization, in conjunction with the City of San Francisco's local government, would substantially grow its fleet of cars to meet rising demand and optimistic usage quotas.

According to an official press release from the association, 13 new plug-in and five electric vehicles would be available for use in addition to its 18 existing plug-ins and 160 hybrid engine cars. CarShare officials, in the statement, expressed hope that they would be able to meet their target of having half of their cars run purely on electricity by 2015.

"City CarShare’s expansive electric and hybrid fleet is the largest in the Bay Area and provides San Francisco residents and businesses with an environmentally-friendly choice that helps ease congestion on our city's streets and leads the way in environmental stewardship in this collaborative consumption economy," Edwin Lee, San Francisco's mayor, was quoted as saying.

The benefits of the program are reportedly already showing themselves, as, according to the organization, roughly 80 million pounds of carbon dioxide are prevented from entering the atmosphere each year as a direct result of the CarShare initiative. Additionally, its multiple locations and diverse selection of vehicles allows commuters to customize their travel methods based on their needs, a facet that ensures more people are able to use this exciting and innovative service.

While CarShare's network isn't expected to be complete until the end of the decade, you should keep an eye out for similar programs in other American cities. In a few years time, don't be surprised to see more than a few car sharing programs helping to bring down carbon dioxide levels and make metro areas a safer place to work and live.

General Electric creates design for low-budget wind turbine

One of the major hurdles facing the wind power industry, according to tech giant General Electric (GE), is the fact that turbine construction and maintenance can be cost-prohibitive in many cases. Now, recent announcement from the firm indicates that it is tackling this issue head-on by developing a fabric-based structure that could lower the expenses associated with turbine manufacturing by nearly 40 percent.

GE's project will be funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Advanced Research Projects Agency, with a price tag of around $5.6 million. The major component, the turbine blade, will be constructed using a metal frame and a wrap-around fabric that is manufactured to be super-strong. Traditional blades are made of fiberglass, which can be cumbersome and difficult to install, as well as expensive. The goal of the project is to develop a device that communities could use to generate electricity without the large cost associated with turbine installation.

"GE's weaving an advanced wind blade that could be the fabric of our clean energy future," Wendy Lin, a principal engineer for GE, said in a statement. "The fabric we're developing will be tough, flexible, and easier to assemble and maintain. It represents a clear path to making wind even more cost-competitive with fossil fuels."

An additional benefit from GE's initiative would be the creation of longer blades. According to the company, current models in excess of 120 meters are increasingly unstable and pose problems for operators, due primarily to the fiberglass construction. Making larger and more durable blades would increase the electricity production of existing turbines or allow for the construction of new ones capable of generating more kilowatts per hour.

While this developmental project isn't set to be completed for several years, there is little doubt that wind energy will become a larger and more important of our nation's energy landscape.