Category Archives: Clean Energy

Pace of innovation accelerating in Clean Tech

Aug 9, 2011 2:08 PM

I came across these two articles demonstrating the rapid pace of technical improvement in clean energy. In spite of all the bad news from the debt deal (funding cuts for clean energy research), at least we’ll see returns from previous investments.

A lot of the breakthroughs below come from innovation in academic settings. More and more, it seems like public investment in applied academic research yields high returns.

5 breakthroughs will make solar power cheaper than coal

1. Nano-templated molecules that store energy
MIT associate professor Jeffrey Grossman and others successfully created a new molecule called azobenzene using carbon nanotubes to structure the molecules so that they “lock in” stored solar thermal energy indefinitely.
2. Print solar cells on anything
An MIT team led by professor Karen Gleason has discovered a way to print a solar cell on just about anything, using low temperatures and vapor as opposed to liquid solutions that are expensive, require high temperatures and degrade the substrate materials.
3. Solar thermal power in a flat panel
Professor Gang Chen was been working on a revolutionary new way to make solar power — micro solar thermal — which could theoretically produce electricity at 8 times the efficiency of the word’s best solar panel. Solar thermal usually requires huge arrays of mirrors that heat up an element to run a steam turbine.
4. A virus to improve nano-solar cell efficiency
MIT graduate students recently engineered a virus called M13 (which normally attacks bacteria) that works to precisely space apart carbon nanotubes so they can be used to effectively convert solar energy.
5. Transparent solar cell could turn windows into power plants
The world’s cities are packed with miles and miles of glass. What if all that glass could be used to harness the sun’s rays while maintaining their transparency?

Wind Power Gains as Gear Improves

Challenges remain, but the technology has come a long way in recent years, and wind farm operators have learned plenty of tricks, too, like the importance of shutting down the machines in high winds and the best places to put them to begin with.

The turbines have grown larger, and more effective. One model made today by Vestas, a Danish turbine manufacturer, can produce 300 times as much power as a turbine sold 15 years ago, according to Finn Strom Madsen, the president of technology research and development for Vestas.

But experts say that vast improvements in wind technology still lie ahead — which makes sense for an industry that is about 100 years behind, say, that of the automobile.

Read more at NYTimes.

Romney talks sense on climate

Jun 4, 2011 11:46 AM

Mitt Romney surprised a lot of folks this weekend by jumping off the climate-denial bandwagon. This probably makes him more appealing to independents, but might give candidates like Newt Gingrich (climate change is “the newest excuse to take control of lives” by “left-wing intellectuals”) more room with right-leaning primary voters.

On a similar note, voters on the left are getting upset with Obama’s continual giveaways to the coal and oil industries. Creating a huge coal export market to China and domestic offshore drilling presence will only make it harder to go cold turkey when we need to.


“The world is getting warmer”: Romney

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney broke with Republican orthodoxy on Friday by saying he believes that humans are responsible, at least to some extent, for climate change.

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

The former Massachusetts governor fielded questions on topics ranging from the debt ceiling to abortion on his first full day of campaigning for 2012 Republican primary nomination.

Romney leads opinion polls in New Hampshire by a wide margin, and is among the top contenders nationally to win the Republican primary.

But the candidate lost the publicity battle on Thursday when his campaign launch in New Hampshire was overshadowed by Republican star Sarah Palin, who swooped in as part of her East Coast bus tour to dominate local media coverage.

In addressing climate change and energy policy, Romney called on the United States to break its dependence on foreign oil, and expand alternative energies including solar, wind, nuclear and clean coal.

Read more at Reuters.

CAPper Kate Gordon gets big love from Nat Geo

May 26, 2011 1:47 PM

Kate Gordon got a huge shout out from National Geographic’s The Great Energy Challenge today. Mike Casey essentially casts her debate as the definitive blueprint for the defense and advocacy of clean energy.

My time at CAP ends tomorrow and being here for the inception of this coherent platform has been a tremendous privilege. The world is on the verge of something big in clean energy and CAP is going to be at the forefront of articulating its potential.

The video of Kate’s debate at Cato:

Here’s an excerpt from Casey’s post:

Clean Energy Advocate Gives a “How to” Clinic on Rebutting Fossil Energy Disinformation

Over the past few months, I’ve made the case that dirty energy lobby plays a full contact game against clean energy, using lobbying and disinformation as business weapons to drive the idea that clean energy is “expensive, unreliable and not ready.” Cleantech, I’ve said, needs to step up its advocacy game dramatically, including driving an honest debate about who is really “expensive.”

At the WINDPOWER International trade show this week, I spoke on a panel that fielded a number of questions about how to do that. It’s hard to find a better place to start by highlighting the clinic put on by Kate Gordon of the Center for American Progress at a recent “debate” at the fossil-funded front group, the Cato Institute.

Gordon faced off against a rising star in the dirty energy experts-for-rent stable, Andrew Morris, whose disinformation platform is the Koch-funded (and Koch-founded) “Mercatus Center.”

Gordon faced Morris on his home turf, a forum completely stacked against her and the clean energy side. Cato named the debate, “The false promise of green energy,” (I’m not making this up) and “moderated by anti-cleantech Cato Institute “Senior Fellow”Jerry Taylor (typical quote: “if wind energy were a sensible economic investment, it would not need the lavish federal and state subsidies already in place”). There’s got to be an operations manual for fossil fuel front groups to do this sort of thing: functions like a propaganda machine, but sport a neutral, benign and thoughtful name. Position yourself as good guys who just happen to come down on the side of the dirty energy interests that fund them. Invite clean energy advocate who can be counted on to bring a bunch of numbers, armload of facts and a strong belief in intellectual honesty and a reasonableness. Frame the conversation against clean energy advocate, put in well-trained mouthpiece, and route clean energy advocate. Claim victory and intellectual triumph.

Except, it was Gordon put on a clinic of not just how to stand up to dirty energy “experts,” but that you have to stand up to them in the first place.

Read the rest at National Geographic’s The Great Energy Challenge.

Wind and Solar among top ten thriving industries – WSJ

May 17, 2011 3:54 PM

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wind and Solar are among the top ten thriving industries in America.

The wind industry grew at 17% in the last decade and Solar grew at 2.7%, but they’re forecasted to grow at 11.2% and 7.9% respectively in the next six years.

Sector Revenue 2010 (in millions) Growth 2000-2010 Forecast Growth 2010-2016
Voice Over Internet Protocol Providers (VoIP) $12,498 194% 17.4%
Wind Power $3,388 16.9% 11.2%
E-Commerce & Online Auctions $95,005 12.2% 9.4%
Environmental Consulting $18,153 7.7% 9.4%
Biotechnology $86,971 11% 9.6%
Video Games $38,622 6.2% 8.3%
Solar Power $69 2.7% 7.9%
Third-Party Administrators & Insurance Claims Adjusters $57,530 6.9% 7.7%
Correctional Facilities $34,373 9.1% 7.5%
Internet Publishing & Broadcasting $32,573 25.2% 6.8%

It doesn’t take a genius to see which way the wind blows.


USA Today blasts climate deniers

May 17, 2011 11:28 AM

USA Today isn’t known for being a hugely political paper. It usually reports the news right down the middle and doesn’t get called out on Fox News for being part of the “Mainstream Liberal Media” cabal.

Which is one of the reasons it was the number one newspaper by circulation until last year (since eclipsed by the Wall Street Journal – this country is going to hell in a hand basket). They report the news and stay out of the big fights.

So it’s a pleasant surprise to see them come out with a strong editorial blasting climate deniers. It’s an indicator of just how far out of touch the GOP is and how the sensible majority views science denial.

Our view: America, pick your climate choices

One way to deal with a problem is to pretend it doesn’t exist. This approach has the virtue of relieving you from having to come up with a solution, spend money or make tough choices. The downside, of course, is that leaky faucets and other problems rarely solve themselves and, in fact, usually get worse if ignored.

Such is the case with climate change, a threat that too many members of Congress, most of them Republicans, have decided to manage by denying the science. That head-in-the-sand approach avoids messy discussions of higher energy prices, but it just got harder to justify.

Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Councilarm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.

Read the rest at

Huntsman on climate science

May 17, 2011 10:32 AM

Finally, a GOPer with a rational view on climate change and the science behind it. From an interview with TIME:

This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community – though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Huntsman won praises from Jimmy Carter. On CNN, Carter said that Huntsman is “very attractive to me personally.” It’s weird seeing the President considered the most liberal of the past century professing stirrings for a center-right politician.

But I suppose it’s a sign of the times. It’s and indicator of how extreme the GOP has become when a candidate decides to have a debate about policy rather than science. Frankly, we’re all pleasantly surprised.

Oil CEOs testify before Senate Finance Committee

May 12, 2011 1:34 PM

Some sharp words exchanged here. Apparently Conoco put out a statement saying the removal of oil subsidies is “un-American.”

Schumer and Menendez asked the CEO to apologize but he refused to do so.

Lots of CAP research cited by Dems and serious spin by R’s. I almost feel bad for the CEOs – all of their Republican defenders are leaving for a deficit reduction meeting at the White House. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Rockefeller said that the CEOs are out of touch because they can’t identify with the average person at the pump (Said the pot!). Besides Schumer’s well-rehearsed populist outrage, I think the discussion is getting too wonky and the CEOs are winning by throwing out confusing numbers.

Job Search — Clean Energy and Pakistan

May 9, 2011 5:19 PM

So my internship is rapidly approaching its end and it’s go time for finding a new gig. I’ve been working with the Energy Opportunity team at the Center for American Progress for the past three or so months (which explains all of the energy-related posts) and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

I think Energy is going to be the defining issue of the next decade and I’m anxious to be a part of it. In this Stanford Thought Leaders talk, Tony Siebel says the IT revolution is pretty much over and, with the world’s population approaching 10 billion by the end of the century, innovation is going to come in providing people with basic needs like food, water, and energy.

Our ability to feed people in the twentieth century has been a function of using petroleum-based fertilizers and plant-breeding techniques pioneered by Norman Borlaug. But people that study world agriculture will tell you that the status quo is remarkably unsustainable — half of Iowa’s topsoil has washed away in the past fifty years, modern agriculture is hugely dependent on petroleum-based fertilizers, and runoff has created a colossal dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

But energy is a universal input into all activities, and reforming how we produce and use energy will be the prime mover of addressing climate change and the Earth’s diminishing resources. If energy becomes clean and cheap enough, a lot of our present problems become considerably more manageable.

In the medium term, I think it would be cool to work on AfPak issues. My parents are Pakistani and I can speak Urdu fairly well, so I might be helpful to organizations working on that endeavor. Even better – energy projects in AfPak!

So that’s where I’d like to be in the future. But realistically, my gig ends May 31st. I’ll entertain pretty much anything (besides working for the GOP or Big Oil)! Get in touch if you have any ideas!

Here’s a copy of my resume.

Resurgence of climate denial

Apr 28, 2011 4:59 PM

This is a saddening indicator of how far the climate debate has fallen –

McCain on Climate:


Gingrich on Climate:


Contrast it with this –

Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty:


Chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee Fred Upton:


Sad. Progressives are on firm, factual ground with climate but need to reintroduce it to the public debate in a forceful way. The entire case for clean energy simply isn’t the same without it!

Cleantech saves soldiers’ lives

Apr 26, 2011 11:39 PM

The military is the one area where government spending on R&D is tolerated by the GOP. Republicans tried to gut the Department of Energy’s hugely successful ARPA-E program during the last budget fight, but left DoD’s DARPA virtually untouched. But Defense is picking up the slack by demonstrating a practical application of clean energy: to fight and win wars!

It’s fantastic to see the military take the lead on this when the rest of us in the clean energy space have had such difficulty. Using energy innovation to save the lives of American servicemen – that’s a proposition the Grand Oil Party can’t argue with.

Takeaways –

1.   One soldier is wounded or killed for every 50 convoys transporting fuel.

2. The U.S. military uses more energy than two-thirds of the world’s nations.

3. The military has demonstrated that clean energy can fully power the world’s most demanding endeavors. Three bases in Afghanistan run almost entirely on solar power.

The military has a history of technological innovation that has huge carry-on benefits for civilian uses (see the INTERNET, microwave etc.). Let’s hope their leadership on clean energy is a harbinger of broader acceptance stateside.


DoD official: Clean tech saves lives

By Darius Dixon

4/26/11 1:49 PM EDT

Clean energy development is a race to the battlefield as much as to the marketplace, a top Defense Department official said Tuesday.

Case in point: U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan during routine patrols carry about 18 pounds of batteries apiece for radios and other equipment. That’s a burden they shouldn’t have to bear, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III said during a White House panel discussion on energy security.

New energy technology and efficiency save lives along vulnerable U.S. supply lines by reducing fuel shipments that are prone to insurgents’ ambushes or bombing attacks, he said.

“More than 70 percent of the convoys in Afghanistan are used just for fuel or water,” Lynn said, adding that more than 3,000 troops and contractors have been killed or wounded protecting those types of convoys.

And the Pentagon’s $15 billion annual energy bill, one that “consumes more energy than is used by two-thirds of all the nations on earth,” is largely dependent on foreign sources, Lynn said.

Last year, the Pentagon and the Energy Department entered into a partnership to promote energy efficiency and clean technology throughout the U.S. military.

“Clean energy technology is one way to lighten the load and give our troops more capability,” Lynn said. He said marines in Afghanistan started deploying solar panels in Helmand Province last fall so that two bases in the region now run completely on solar power and a third cut its consumption of diesel fuel by more than 90 percent.

The deployment of flexible solar panels, he added, reduced soldiers’ need for battery resupply on extended missions.

Read the rest at Politico Pro (subscription required).