Todd Woody

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

New EPA map shows the year in eco-enforcement

‘Tis the season for the annual year-in-review column, beloved by writers and editors desperate to fill pages and screens of blank space during these slow news weeks.  I’m going to forgo that annual holiday journalism tradition — sort of. While perusing various year-end and year-ahead trend story pitches that had popped into my in-box since Thanksgiving, I came across one from the United States Environmental Protection Agency that caught my attention. The EPA was releasing its annual enforcement stats for 2009. Usually that’s a big yawn, given that for most of the past decade prosecuting polluters was not high on …

The jobs of saving energy

Could AlertMe be the Apple of energy efficiency?

AlertMe iphone app.Photo: Courtesy of AlertMeI’m sitting in a conference room at a PR agency on the San Francisco waterfront when the chief executive of AlertMe, a British energy management startup, pulls out his iPhone to check on a colleague’s kilowatt consumption back in the U.K. The executive, who has the Vonnegutian name of Pilgrim Beart, taps the “history” icon on the screen. “I can see that his wife has arrived home,” he says before touching the energy button. “They’re watching TV right now,” Beart notes, staring at the iPhone screen. “I could turn the TV off if I wanted …

Turmoil Down Under

Political smarts key to success for Australia’s green tech industry

As I boarded my flight back to California in Brisbane, Australia, last Wednesday, I received an email alert that the Australian Senate had just defeated the Labor government’s climate change legislation. Only days earlier victory seemed all but assured, allowing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to go to Copenhagen with an iron-clad, albeit weak, agreement in hand to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which per capita are among the highest in the world. New Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott.Photo courtesy cinephobia via Flickr Then in the course of 24 hours the conservative opposition Liberal Party sacked its leader — who …

GoodGuide scanner makes healthy food shopping point and click

Last year, a colleague suggested I check out a startup with the intriguing, and so-very-California, name of Tao It. Founded by Berkeley professor Dara O’Rourke, Tao It aimed to tap a multiplicity of databases to rank consumer products according to their health and environmental attributes. The idea: If people could instantly learn online whether there are bad chemicals in their food and other goods, they would start buying green, putting pressure on companies to make more environmentally friendly and healthier products. When Tao It emerged from stealth mode, it was rebranded with the blander but apparently more marketable moniker GoodGuide. …

Up on the roof

Solar’s rapid evolution makes energy planners rethink the grid

Photo courtesy OZinOH via Flickr California’s ambitious goal of obtaining a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 has spawned a green energy boom with thousands of megawatts of solar, wind, and biomass power plants planned for … the middle of nowhere. And therein lies the elephant in the green room: transmission. Connecting solar farms and geothermal plants in the Mojave Desert and wind farms in the Tehachapis to coastal metropolises means building a massive new transmission system. The cost for 13 major new power lines would top $15.7 billion, according to a report released in August by …

Take it with a grain of salt

SolarReserve’s 24/7 solar power plant

Photo: SolarReserveAt Rocketdyne’s San Fernando Valley headquarters outside Los Angeles there’s a whiff of the right stuff — of crew-cut guys in short-sleeve white shirts and skinny black ties — in a vast room that holds the massive rocket engines that propelled John Glenn and the Apollo 11 crew into space. In one corner of this corporate space museum stands something different, though. It’s a scale model of a solar power tower, technology Rocketdyne developed a couple of decades ago as a spinoff of its work for NASA. Here’s how it works: An array of mirrors called heliostats focuses sunlight …

technically good ideas

Cleantech Open winners get it done quick and cheap

The annual California Cleantech Open startup competition is always a fun event to attend, because you just might be present for the debut of the Google of green energy or the General Motors of electric cars. Beyond that, the competition serves as a leading indicator of emerging green tech trends. And given that the Silicon Valley establishment judges the event, it’s an opportunity to gauge which way they see the wind blowing. This year the Open dropped California from its name as it expanded the competition to the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain region. But at heart, it’s still …

Interns saving the world

Climate Corps interns save Fortune 500 firms $54 million

Climate Corps. Photo: Environmental Defense FundBack in May I wrote about the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps, a cadre of 26 MBA students who were then prepping for summer internships at Fortune 500 companies. Their mission was to green up corporate operations to save money and cut carbon emissions. With winter on the way and school back in session, I checked in to see how successful the Climate Corps was at combining the students’ financial smarts, technological know-how — half are engineers by training — and environmental ethic. Pretty successful, it turns out. According to EDF, the interns identified …

Clean tech reality check

Paging Dr. Chu, venture capitalist

Silicon Valley is by nature an optimistic place. After all, inventing the carbon-free future and making boatloads of money along the way is fun. And even though California is slouching toward apocalyptic collapse these days, there’s always another innovation wave to ride. In Chu We Trust? It may take big bucks from the U.S. Dept. of Energy to fun some of the renewable energy projects that California entrepreneurs have on the drawing boards.Photo Illustration / Tonya RicksSo it’s always interesting to get a more-or-less unvarnished assessment of the state of green tech, as happened last week when a group of …

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