What is Renewable Energy?

Simply said, renewable energy comes from natural cycles and systems, turning the ever-present energy around us into usable forms.

Renewable or “alternative” energy is generally cleaner than energy from nonrenewable sources such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal. Yet right now in the U.S. over 80% of our energy still comes from nonrenewable sources.

Like the name says, renewable energy can be replenished constantly. Its sources include radiant energy like solar, thermal energy like geothermal, chemical processes like biomass, gravitational energy like hydropower, and motion energy like wind.

Some of the major current sources of renewable energy include:

Wind
Wind power is one of the cleanest technologies, and also one of the most abundant and cost-competitive energy resources, making it a viable alternative to the fossil fuels that harm our health and threaten the environment. Yet wind power is unreliable as a constant source of electricity, impacts vast tracts of land, and is unavailable where wind is intermittent.

Solar
Solar power has the ability to one day solve much of the world’s energy needs, but that day is still very far off. Still, solar technologies are getting more efficient and cost-effective each year, and it is the fastest-growing type of renewable energy.

Biofuels
Ethanol is the product of crops high in sugar or starch, while biodiesel is the product of plants with a high oil content. Both are biofuels, and both provide viable energy sources that have not yet reached their full potential. Scientists continue refining foodstocks to obtain higher efficiencies.

Geothermal
Heat from the earth, or geothermal energy, is cost effective, reliable, and clean, but is mostly confined to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Some progress has been made recently in expanding the range of geothermal resources, but geothermal power remains a limited solution to our energy needs.

Hydro
Harnassing the kinetic power of moving water to generate electricity is the largest source of renewable power in the United States and worldwide. Hydropower can be a sustainable and nonpolluting power source that can help decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the threat of global warming, but is limited to areas with large and consistent water supplies.

Ocean
Another form of kinetic power generation, the ocean’s constant movement by way of waves, tides, and currents is a powerful and clean energy resource. Like other hydro power, though, its geographic range is limited.

Climate Change and Renewable Energy

There is general agreement among the world’s major economies that it is essential to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. And with energy-related CO2 accounting for 61% of global greenhouse gas emissions today, the energy sector will have to be at the heart of change.

The European Union is committed to a 30% reduction by 2020 and a 60-80% reduction by 2050, under condition that other industrialized nations also commit. To do so will require $22 trillion in global energy investments over the next 25-30 years. Much of that investment will be in new power plants and distribution systems.

Are Solar Cell Phone Towers the Answer in Rural Areas?

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Cell phone customers in remote areas from Africa to Appalachia have been undeserved for years. Is VNL’s new solar-powered transmitter the answer?

VNL, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cell phone infrastructure, has been trying for years to figure out how to serve the far-flung populations that mobile carriers know represent a huge new customer base. The issue hasn’t been the price of installing transmitter towers, but instead the cost of economically powering and supporting them them when they require placement in areas that aren’t on the current power grid. To nmake things more complicated, amny of these areas don’t have trained engineers nearby, and frequently lack the roads to easily facilitate their construction.

GSM phone service is one of the most power and technology-intensive methods of communication available, and yet it’s crucial to safety and development of rural communities. Now VNL thinks they’ve found the answer: solar power.

How Does Solar Fix These Problems?

The entire GSM system has been re-engineered to a new standard called WorldGSM, and it requires less than half of the energy required by a standard transmitter. With that sort of savings, VNL was able to explore alternative fuels and battery packs, ultimately deciding that solar offered them the most utility. This includes a rural-optimized (and solar) switching center and base controller, meaning the entire system has been redesigned to be robust enough for rural conditions. The best part?  Solar power and the optimization process have virtually eliminated the need for engineers to visit the installations, potentially saving over 2 million gallons of diesel fuel in India alone.

Have Ox, Will Travel

The optimized WorldGSM technology has already been hailed as “revolutionary” by mobile providers inside India.  It’s so light and easy to transport that VNL has announced that the transmitter will fit in two ox carts for transport. The system can also be assembled by laymen, a smart distribution strategy for a rural technology.  It’s also interoperable with equipment from different carriers, and is projected to open up the next billion mobile phone customers. VNL has the potential to dramatically improve the prospects of isolated communities in a world economy — sustainably.
Courtesy ecotechdaily.com

Opel Ampera

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The Vauxhall Ampera will go on sale in 2012, pitched between the Vauxhall Astra and Insignia. Probably, at first, it will be costlier than both  but what remarkable economy it’s capable of. How does 176 mpg grab you, with CO2 emissions of a mere 40 g/km? The best Vauxhall Corsa, by way of comparison, emits 109 g/km. Plus,  the Ampera is a full-sized model, with a 300-mile range. It can do 40 miles on electric power alone, meaning most drivers may never see the engine start. More than that, there’s a gasoline-powered “range extender” to take you farther.

Solar park bench would provide free WiFi

While not necessarily the most efficient use of solar power, I sure wouldn’t mind having a few of these in my town.

Some crazy designers with some extra time on their hands have put together a design for a solar-powered wifi and lighting system that would be built into a park bench. A simple thin-film solar panel would sit under a glass pane … and then you or I would sit on the glass pane. The system would also include a 3G-linked WiFi node so people sitting on or around the bench could get free Internet access.

The price, of course, would be a bit steep, but what worries me more is that the system would suffer greatly if it were actually popular. I mean, in some cities, free WiFi would pretty much guarantee that several people would be sitting on the bench 24 hours a day (especially during sunny times). And if your butt is blocking the sunlight … what’s powering your WiFi?
Courtesy Hank Green yahoo.com

Waste Management invests in Trash-to-Energy Tech

Municipal trash giant Waste Management on Thursday created a joint venture that will turn waste into energy using technology that it says is cleaner than incinerators.

S4 Energy Solutions is a joint venture which will use plasma gasification technology from InEnTec of Bend, Ore., to build distributed energy systems. Waste Management financed the creation of the venture, marking the first time that the trash collector has invested in gasification technology, said Senior Vice President Joseph Vaillancourt.

The new company plans to build distributed energy systems that use separated industrial waste as a “feedstock.” For example, the company plans to design systems that can turn medical waste into electricity at hospitals, said Jeffrey Surma, the president and CEO of S4 Energy Solutions.

There are a number of mostly small companies that are developing trash-to-energy systems around gasification. One company, Enerkem, on Wednesday passed the environmental regulatory process and won approval to build a facility to turn municipal solid trash into ethanol and chemicals in Edmonton, Alberta.

Rather than burn trash, gasification heats the material at very high temperatures until it breaks down and produces a synthesis gas, or syngas. That syngas can be burned in a natural gas turbine, which is considered a relatively clean way to make electricity. S4 Energy Solutions said that it can also make ethanol, other liquid fuels, or potentially hydrogen.

The InEnTec product has a process for cleaning the syngas. Initial tests show that the level of environmental pollutants dioxins and furens released is low, Surma said.

(Credit: InEnTech)

“The emissions from a power generating facility would be far better than EPA requirements, comparable if not better than a power generator operating on natural gas,” he said, adding that the company hopes to have customers later this year.

The technology was originally developed in the early 1990s at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Surma said.

S4 Energy’s planned gasification systems won’t replace incinerators but they do provide an option for on-site energy generation. Waste Management will provide ancillary equipment, such as sorting, to create a full waste-to-energy system, Vaillancourt said.
Courtesy Martin LaMonica www.cnet.com