Todd Woody

Todd Woody is an environmental and technology journalist based in California who writes for The New York Times, Quartz, and other publications.

frackin' busted

Tech startup’s pollution detector aids enviro justice group

If you had been driving through North Texas this week you might have seen a white Dodge Sprinter van circling some of the natural gas wells and compression stations that have sprung up around the Barnett Shale belt like boom-time subdivisions. Drillers tap natural gas by splitting shale through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that injects fluids laced with chemicals into the rock formations. The proliferation of shale gas drilling northeast of Dallas has ignited an uproar among residents, some of whom fear that fracking could be poisoning ground water and polluting the air with carcinogens. But the …

Better than sliced bread?

Bloom: Thinking inside the box

The Bloom Energy Servers installed at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose. Photo: Todd WoodyGreen tech had its Google moment this week in Silicon Valley when one of the most secretive and well-funded startups around, Bloom Energy, literally lifted the curtain on what it claims is a breakthrough in fuel cell technology: affordable electricity! Fewer greenhouse gas emissions! And that’s all before they throw in the bamboo steamer.    After eight years in stealth mode — until this week, Bloom’s website featured the company’s name and little else — the startup pulled out the stops in a carefully stage-managed media blitz that …

No money down!

Creative borrowing spurs commercial retrofits

On the heels of San Francisco’s announcement last week that it plans to spend $150 million greening up homes, comes a new report that studies a slew of other innovative ways to finance energy efficiency improvements for all types of buildings. It’s no big surprise that the key to ramping up the energy efficiency industry and fostering technological advances is no-money-down financing so building owners can avoid the capital costs of retrofits.  And that’s exactly what the California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF) is working toward. Energy efficiency “immediately saves money for end-users, improves the bottom line for companies, reduces local …

Picking up the PACE

San Francisco commits $150 million to green homes

Monday night I was having drinks in downtown San Francisco with some seriously smart people — top-level IBM scientists and strategists involved in Big Blue’s Smarter Planet initiative.  Given the room’s collective interest in creating smart electrical grids, smart water systems, advanced electric car batteries and other green technologies, the talk naturally turned to how to create sustainable cities. Solar panel installation in San Francisco.Photo courtesy bkusler via FlickrThe technology largely exists, the IBMers agreed, but what’s really needed is a great leap forward in financial engineering to allow cities to finance all the cool stuff being developed in labs …

Distribute This

The little solar that could

I spotted a rare critter on the streets of San Francisco this week — a smiling, optimistic businessperson. Then again, Ron Kenedi is in the solar panel business.  “The big news as I see it is the demand — demand keeps growing everywhere,” says Kenedi, vice president of Sharp Solar, the renewable energy arm of the Japanese conglomerate. “What really amazes me every day is how much demand has grown throughout the world.” Kenedi is not one for Pollyannaish optimism — he started in the business around the time Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the White …

iMeter

Smart meters save energy, water, and dollars

Flickr via Pink Sherbet PhotographyThe other day I came home to find a colorful flyer on my front door proclaiming, “Your meter just got smarter.” While I was out and about in Berkeley, a worker from my utility, PG&E, slipped in the side gate and gave my old gas and electric meter a digital upgrade. So-called smart meters allow the two-way transmission of electricity data and will eventually let me monitor and alter my energy consumption in near real-time. I’ll be able to fire up an app on my iPhone and see, for instance, a spike in watts because my …

Thar she blows

A gust of energy

Photo courtesy obrien26382 via Flickr The great hope for powering a sustainable world is renewable energy. The great barrier to powering a sustainable world is the cost and complexity of building a new national transmission grid that will transmit the carbon-free electricity generated by remote wind farms and solar power plants to population centers. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report that concluded the United States could obtain 20 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2030. This week the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory issued a study that shows how the eastern half of …

The next great leap forward

China powers the global green tech revolution

Forget Red China. It’s Green China these days — at least when it comes to making big renewable deals. eSolar power plant. Friday night, a Chinese developer and eSolar of Pasadena, Calif., signed an agreement to build solar thermal power plants in the Mongolian desert over the next decade. These plants would generate a total of 2,000 megawatts of electricity. It’s the largest solar thermal project in the world and follows another two-gigawatt deal China struck in October with Arizona’s First Solar for a massive photovoltaic power complex. Altogether, the eSolar and First Solar projects would produce, at peak output, …

IT'S BEEN SEEING THE MOON ON THE SIDE?

Solar energy’s dirty little secret

Solar energy has long been one of the great hopes for fighting climate change and liberating the world from fossil fuels. And it’s easy to see why solar has captured the collective imagination: All those photovoltaic panels look so shiny, futuristic, clean, and green. Producing solar PV modules involves a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals. And spooky fog for good measure.That’s not quite the case. Any form of energy production has its dirty side and solar is no exception. While its impact is nowhere near that of coal-fired power plants, photovoltaic modules are made from a witch’s brew of toxic …