Thursday, April 29, 2010

China Cleans Up

China exceeded U.S. investment in clean energy for the first time last year with deployments totaling $34.6 billion. The country still has a long way to go to clean up it's emissions--China surpassed the US as the global leader in C02 emissions several years ago--but they're moving quickly to clean up their act.

Technology Review posted a slide show today profiling some of the new technology they're committing to including offshore wind,  utility-scale solar power, DC transmission lines, massive nuclear deployments, and coal with carbon capture and sequestration.  

I was happy to see vacuum tube solar hot water included in Tech Review's lineup.  Not the most cutting edge technology, but one in ten Chinese people now use these highly efficient heaters for domestic hot water. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mass Save Has New Website for Great Appliance Exchange

Many thanks to WBZ's John Karalis who a just tweeted the following;

"Mass Save system has crashed. Here's the new website to apply for rebates":

My wife and I had been speed dialing and refreshing the crashed Mass Save website for the past hour trying to land a reservation # for the appliance rebate program since it launched 1 hr ago.  The new site was operating without a hitch and showed that $700,000 of the $5.4 million rebate was already gone.  Seems I'm not the only one who found John's tweet.

Update: I just checked again, 1 hr and 10 minutes after the program began and $1.8 million of the $5.4 in funds is already gone.  Better get on it quick!

Update # 2: One hour and 15 minutes after the rebate program began the new site that WBZ tweeted  has also crashed.  Wonder if they are cooking up a third site...

Update # 3: Two hours after the rebate offer began and one hour after Mass Save was able to piece back together a working website for the program, the money is all gone!

Here is the breakdown from at noon;

Program Countdown:
Starting Funds $ 5,455,625.00
Reserved Funds-$ 5,455,625.00
Remaining Funds $ 0.00

Wait List Maximum $ 1,700,000.00
Wait List Allocated-$ 402,000.00
Wait List Remaining $ 1,298,000.00    

There is still a chance participants could get funded through the waiting list, but who knows...

photo credit: wikimedia commons

Monday, February 22, 2010

China's Dino Hunter

I've had the privilege of many a late night call recently with Xu Xing, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing who has described more dinosaurs than anyone else alive.

Xu is a leading proponent of the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs and over the past decade has uncovered a number of really unusual fossils, from a pint sized dinosaur with four wings to a feathered ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex.  You can read my interview with Xu in New Scientist, and find additional illustrations of what these feathered beasts likely looked like here.

Having once worked as a biologist reintroducing California condors to the wild, the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs seemed obvious to me. Condors have hard scales on their feet that, when seen up close, seem to scream out "we stem from an ancient line of reptiles!"

Talking with Xu, however, it seems my observations were only partly correct.  Condors and all other birds do descend from dinosaurs, but the commonly held belief that scales = ancient and feathers = modern isn't so simple.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Solar Shingles Heat Up

Check out a recent story I wrote for Technology Review on a new plug 'n' play solar shingle from Dow Chemical.  Dow plans to release a small test batch of the solar embedded shingles later this year and while they haven't yet announced who will get them, I think they'd compliment my solar hot water system quite nicely.

My guess is this and other attempts to merge solar panels with conventional building materials will initially cost a premium and the technology will likely encounter some hiccups along the way.  But, eventually, I think solar embedded shingles will become a standard part of new roofs. Like one industry analyst told me, "two hundred years ago they didn't build buildings with electrical systems in the walls and wiring buildings was a really expensive retrofit.  Today, its standard practice."

Image Credit: The Dow Chemical Company

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cambridge Climate Emergency Congress

As world leaders gathered in Copenhagen,  Our Fair City held its own climate summit inviting townspeople to gather together and brainstorm ideas on how to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions.

On December 12, 100 Cantabrigians from a high school student to a climate expert spent the day at City Hall developing proposals that included eliminating all street parking by 2020 and incorporating landscaped or reflective roofs into building codes.

The ideas seemed rather ambitious, but if the city plans to start meeting its greenhouse gas reduction goals it will likely need to get creative.  In 2002 city officials launched a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. Earlier this year, however, they announced that despite their best efforts emissions have not only not decreased, but, have continued to grow.  

City officials will review recommendations from the recent summit and will announce how they plan to proceed on January 23

Image: Cambridge City Hall courtesy of Wikimedia

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Climate Sleep-Out in Boston Pays Off

For the past seven weeks, college students from around the region have been camping out on Boston Common on Sunday nights calling for Massachusetts to run entirely on clean energy by 2020.  After a final, snowy sleepout last Sunday,  the demands of The Leadership Campaign were answered, sort of.

On December 7, state officials introduced a bill to create a task force charged with proposing ways to get Massachusetts to 100% clean electricity by 2020.

The resolution seems like a nice way of saying we've heard you, now bugger off, but then again Massachusetts relies on coal for only 25 percent of its electric power (about half the national average) and has set a goal of 20 percent renewable electricity production by 2020. 

I wonder what it would take for the state to get to 100 percent "clean electricity"-- the Leadership Campaign seems to include fossil fuel plants that use waste heat capture and recycling in its definition of clean--by 2020.

Image Credit: Ian Maclellan for The Leadership Campaign

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sleeping With Swine Flu

"If this turns out to be swine flu, would you still sleep with me or would you sleep on the couch?" My wife had come home from work looking like death warmed over, with barely enough energy to finish her dinner. She'd heard rumors of students and teachers coming down with H1N1 at the school where she works, but nothing had been confirmed. I dismissed her question at the time, saying we'd take it as it comes, and though it wasn't yet 8 o'clock, I started coaxing her toward bed...  

A story I wrote in today's Boston Globe Magazine charts my thought process later in the evening as I weigh whether or not I should join Rachel in bed and why, if one of us is to be banished to the couch, she assumes it would be me.

Rachel and I are regular readers of the "Coupling" stories written by local writers on the back page of each week's Sunday magazine.  I didn't figure I'd ever have anything to contribute, but when I got to thinking about the swine flu question she'd posed to me, it seemed like such an obvious fit I just had to submit it.

Vacuum Tube Solar Hot Water Comes to Cambridge

One of the first home improvements Rachel and I made when we purchased our condo here in Cambridge this spring was a solar hot water installation on our rooftop.

The system we had put in uses vacuum tubes, a newer, more efficient type of solar collector than the black box flat panels of old. As a writer covering energy and the environment in Cambridge and China, I'd spent the past three years tracing this new and exotic technology back to the factories and cities in China where they are surprisingly commonplace.

I first read about the tubes three years ago in a story in the Boston Globe. A family in Newbury, MA was using a massive installation to provide hot water and heat for their giant barn of a house.  A photo that went with the story showed their installation covered in frost on a cold winter day. Somehow, despite the cold, the tubes were still kicking out 120 to 160 degree water.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

DOE Bets $150 Million On Clean Tech

If you had $150 million to spend on boundary-busting energy research, where would you put the cash? The US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has committed that amount with one lofty aim: to transform the planet's energy future: But which technologies are its best bets?
To find the answers, check out a story I wrote this week in New Scientist.
This was an interesting story to write in that the Department of Energy had just dolled out millions of dollars for projects so risky that most were expected to fail, yet even if a few succeeded, they could have a transformative effect on the planet's energy future.
What made the story more interesting is the vast majority of recipients, from industry giants to little known start up companies, had such a strong financial interest in keeping their projects under wraps that few would divulge what they were working on, even after they received secured funding.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gore at Harvard

Former US Vice President Al Gore wasn't quite ready to give up telling inconvenient truths as he discussed his latest book Our Choice: A plan to solve the global climate crisis at Harvard this weekend.

Gore took the stage to a standing ovation before a capacity crowd at the First Parrish Church Meetinghouse in Harvard Square on 7 November to discuss his compilation of "all of the most effective solutions that are available now and that together will solve this crisis".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Out of Guangxi

Check out the story I wrote for New Scientist this week on what Chinese paleontologists believe to be a 110,000 yr old human jaw bone (see photo on right).

If their claims about the fossil they found in China's southern Guangxi province prove true, it would raise some interesting questions about human origins.

Specifically it could challenge the widely held belief that modern humans are the direct descendents of Homo sapiens that migrated out of Africa around 100,000 years ago.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Obama At MIT

Check out the story I wrote and filmed for New Scientist of President Obama's address at MIT on Friday.
Prior to his clean energy speech, the cynics had already written it off as a token "official" event to justify private funderaisers he would attend later in the day for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.
While there may be some truth to their claims, his arrival inside MIT's Kresge Auditorium created a buzz that was nothing short of flipping the switch on Alcator C-Mod, the University's nuclear fusion reactor.

Obama faces some tough challenges, increasing skepticism, and looming deadlines as he and others look to move climate legislation through Congress.  Here's hoping they succeed.  
image credit: Shepard Fairey & AP