Sep 18, 2009 | 31
At least some members of the Obama administration plan to call for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies as part of next week's G20 economic leaders summit, citing positive impacts ranging from improved energy security to combating climate change. But how much does the U.S. government pay? Well, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Law Institute released today, roughly $72 billion between 2002 and 2008.
More than $54 billion of that was in the form of 23 different tax credits for oil, coal and natural gas producers, including those overseas, most of which are permanent provisions of the U.S. Tax Code. Just $18.3 billion was grants and other direct cash for research and development and other pursuits, such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Aug 27, 2009 | 17
The American age of oil began 150 years ago today. Or, if you prefer the phrasing of President George W. Bush, the U.S. addiction to oil can be traced back to the original pusher "Colonel" Edwin Drake who began producing oil from the first commercial well near Titusville, Pa., (about 100 miles north of Pittsburgh).
The rest is history—the automobile, plastics, modern agriculture and, of course, climate change. But it all started with the Colonel's 69-foot wooden well that ultimately yielded roughly 40 barrels a day. To put that in perspective, the world currently produces some 85 million barrels per day, which provide us with a full 40 percent of our energy.
The Titusville find kicked off the first oil boom (to be followed by similar booms in Texas, Saudi Arabia and, most recently, Brazil) and left us with the enduring legacy of Pennzoil as well as the corporate children of the oil monopolies created by capitalist titans like John D. Rockefeller.
Aug 27, 2009 | 29
Here's a seemingly simple solar power fact*: the sun bathes Earth with enough energy in one hour (4.3 x 1020 joules) to more than fill all of humanity's present energy use in a year (4.1 x 1020 joules). So how to convert it? In the world of solar energy harvesting, there's a constant battle between cost and efficiency. On the one hand, complex and expensive triple-junction photovoltaic cells can turn more than 40 percent of the (specially concentrated) sunlight that falls on them into electricity. On the other, cheap, plastic solar cells under development convert less than 5 percent.
In between, ubiquitous photovoltaics—the multicrystalline silicon solar panels cropping up on rooftops across the country and, indeed, the world—struggle to balance the need for (relatively) easy manufacturing and low cost with technology to get the most electrons for your solar buck.
Aug 18, 2009 | 13
Mining is the second most dangerous occupation in the U.S., averaging roughly 27 deaths for every 100,000 workers per year. That's nearly nine times higher than the overall fatality rate for U.S. industry as a whole, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau (pdf).
So it stands to reason that energy derived from renewable resources such as the sun and wind might cause fewer workplace deaths than energy industries—coal, oil and natural gas—that rely on mining, drilling and otherwise extracting fossil fuels. And that's exactly what doctors from Medical College of Wisconsin and Duke University Medical Center found in an analysis published in JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association on August 19.
Jun 8, 2009 | 2
Employees at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) appear to be ignoring their own energy-saving advice. The agency, which is authorized to spend $16.8 billion of the federal stimulus within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy alone, failed a recent inspector general energy efficienty audit, notes The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog today.
The audit, which surveyed seven of the agency's major sites, detailed the DoE's "efforts to manage information technology resources in an energy-efficient and environmentally responsible manner." It found that the agency was squandering enough energy on unnecessary IT to power 2,400 homes for a year, at a cost of more than $1.5 million.
May 15, 2009 | 6
How can a Nobel Prize–winning physicist—now the nation's energy secretary—get a bunch of coal industry folks to sit up and take notice during a keynote speech? How about by announcing that the feds are planning to dispense $2.4 billion to research and develop so-called clean coal technology?
In fact, that's exactly what Steven Chu did today at a meeting of the National Coal Council in Washington, D.C., where he announced that the government plans to add another $800 million to the Clean Coal Power Initiative pot of cash designed to explore new ways to cut acid rain, smog and mercury pollution as well as $1.5 billion to probe carbon dioxide capture and storage (rather than venting it) from heavy emitters other than power plants (think: cement manufacturers and refineries).
May 13, 2009 | 5
Duke Energy wants to put a power plant on your house.
Over the next year, the utility plans to spend $50 million to plop a variety of photovoltaic panels on commercial buildings, the roofs of private homes, and other property in North Carolina.
Once installed, the 10 megawatts worth of solar panels are expected to produce enough alternating-current electricity to power 1,300 homes. But the utility’s main goals for the demonstration project are to gain experience with distributed generation—putting the power plant closer to the customer—and with integrating intermittent, renewable resources like sunshine into the grid.
Apr 15, 2009 | 18
It's no wonder inventors are racing to develop the best type of engine to power tomorrow's fleet of hybrids as automakers rush to get enviro-friendly cars on the road and consumers are tempted by a new $7,500 tax incentive being offered for buying one. But it's not only new inventions that are vying for a piece of the action: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold, and other entrepreneurs are attempting to put a new face on technology that's been kicking around for more than a century—an electromagnetic engine that turns mechanical into electrical energy.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week published a patent application describing an internal combustion engine that "converts mechanical energy of a piston to and from electrical energy during each piston cycle" submitted in October 2007 by Searette LLC, part of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue, Wash., company launched in 2000 to buy and license patents. Gates, who was still Microsoft's chief software architect at the time the patent was filed, is listed as one of 10 inventors on the application.
Apr 9, 2009 | 1
High-tech giants like Google and Microsoft are getting socked with high electric bills to cool ever-expanding data centers (computers don't like heat or humidity). In an attempt to lower costs, some of them are using fresh air to help maintain optimum temps–and now there's a way to gauge how much money and energy they can save by taking this tack. The Green Grid, a Portland, Ore.,–based consortium of 208 businesses (including Google and Microsoft) with megadata centers, today launched a free tool on its Web site designed to help U.S. and Canadian companies figure out how Mother Nature can help them keep their cool—and how much dough and energy they can save by tapping her reserves.
Potential savings depend on a number of factors, including where a data center is located, the local cost per kilowatt hour of power, how much energy a facility uses and the specific temperatures and humidity levels required, according to Mark Monroe, a member of the Green Grid's board of directors and Sun Microsystems's director of sustainable computing.
Mar 27, 2009 | 9
It will be exactly 30 years tomorrow since the nation's worst commercial nuclear accident occurred on a three-mile (five kilometer) slip of land in the Susquehanna River in the shadow of Harrisburg, Pa. Until that day, few people had ever heard of Three Mile Island—now there are few who haven't.
Once a majestic symbol of nuclear power, the plant would become synonymous with its dangers after one of its two reactors—the newer one, known as Unit 2—nearly melted down on March 28, 1979, just months after it was fired up.
The plant was shuttered, and Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh recommended that pregnant women and preschoolers within five miles (eight kilometers) of the plant evacuate; some nearby hospitals and nursing homes were also evacuated. Today steam billows from the chunky, twin cooling towers of TMI's only functioning unit; the crippled reactor, now a skeleton, never reopened.
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Conventional washing machines cause excessive damage and wrinkling to clothes primarily during the water removal step. With the introduc
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