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California solar has a sunny week

A rendering of the future Ivanpah solar plant. Photo: BrightSource EnergyIt's only Tuesday but two milestones have been reached this week in the long march toward a carbon-free future. On Monday, BrightSource Energy became the first solar power plant developer to complete the financing of a large-scale project in two decades. The United States Department of Energy finalized a $1.6 billion loan guarantee BrightSource's 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System solar thermal power plant now under construction in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. (The feds initially had pledged $1.37 billion but threw in another $230 million Monday.) As the …

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Google goes all in on solar — to the tune of $168 million

Google has saved you from getting lost, running out of email storage space, and not knowing trivial facts about 90s TV shows. And now it’s going to help save you from a dystopian Mad Max future by investing in solar energy. The company just bet $168 million on solar tech, in the form of the Ivanpah “power tower” plant in the Mojave Desert in California, which should be finished in 2013. Power towers are simple: lay out an array of mirrors -- 346,000, in this case -- and aim them at a tower full of water. On a sunny day, …

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Car parts made out of mushrooms will — wait, what?

Man, is there anything mushrooms can’t do? They make a damn fine fake meat, they make Mario bigger, caterpillars smoke hookahs on them, the whole nine yards. And now, thanks to a company called Ecovative, they can be used to replace styrofoam in some of Earth’s most persistent enemies: packing materials and car parts. The fake foam actually grows itself -- Ecovative fills a mold with a mix of mushroom spores and a waste material like oat husks, and over a few days the mushrooms grow and the roots glue themselves together into a strong and lightweight material. Like styrofoam, …

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Solar-powered wind turbines not just a joke

April fools led to a bunch of fake posts that made us die a little inside, and at least one that seemed like kind of a good idea: the solar-powered wind turbine. Turns out that the notion of harvesting the maximum amount of energy from the immediate environment is good enough that the combo of solar and wind power actually exists! And the U.S. military is all up in its grill. Because nothing says “we should start producing our own power” like losing yet another fuel convoy to insurgents. Its maker, SkyBuilt systems, just won an Edison Award for the …

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Can the Keynes notion of ‘spontaneous optimism’ help U.S. investments in clean energy?

This post originally appeared on the Great Energy Challenge blog, in partnership with National Geographic and Planet Forward.  John Maynard Keynes, a giant in modern economic theory, famously wrote, "Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits." This notion, laid out in his seminal book, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, was meant to push back on the notion that people behave in an purely economically rational manner, that many of our decisions …

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New wind now costs the same as new coal — the tiebreaker is one of them kills you

The radical environmentalists at Bloomberg have declared that the world's best new wind projects now produce electricity that costs about the same as electricity produced from new coal-fired power plants. A lot goes into these calculations, but here's the bottom line: wind costs $65 a megawatt-hour, while power from new coal-fired power plants costs about $68 an hour. Coal would be much cheaper if there were no environmental controls on it. So if you like asthma, poor air quality, and premature death, be sure to vote for whichever politicians are all about rolling back environmental controls.

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Putin test-drives, makes fun of radical new hybrid

Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's richest man and owner of the New Jersey Nets, has bankrolled an all-Russian natural gas-electric hybrid car called the ë-mobile (pronounced yo-mobile), but that wasn’t enough to impress Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his tiger blood. Putin: "This yo-mobile of yours, I hope it won't fall into pieces, will it?" Before a test-drive of the ë-mobile, the famously butch-tastic Putin also joked about whether it had the range to make it all the way to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's house. Ha ha, puny hybrid! But the car held it together, so when the rest of the world …

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How to prevent climate change: Blot out the sun

As Montgomery Burns reminds us, since the beginning of time man has yearned to destroy the sun. That’s lucky for the top brains who attended Sunday’s conference on climate change and geoengineering -- deliberately tweaking the Earth, sea, and atmosphere for improved performance. Of the several geoengineering solutions they discussed, only one promised to alter warming on a global scale: "solar radiation management," otherwise known as blocking sunlight. No word on whether they discussed sending the Planet Express ship to drop slabs of ice into the ocean. The likely SRM technique doesn’t look much like Mr. Burns’ sun-blocking machine -- …

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Americans are crap at recycling mercury-containing CFLs — here’s how to do better

Update: Turns out the original story on which this post is based is bunk. Check out an update direct from the EPA here: CFLs are not a significant source of mercury, says EPA Every year, Americans recycle only 2 percent of the compact fluorescent light bulbs they toss an unknown proportion of the CFLs they toss. The unrecycled portion leads to the release of four tons a negligible amount of mercury into the environment annually. That’s almost 10 percent of the amount of mercury released by coal fired power plants, which are this country's No. 1 source of the fish-and-pregnant-woman-contaminating pollutant. The problem is …

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Powering up: Green tech investment surges

The money's coming in for green tech.Photo: MoneyblognewzSome good news on the environmental front for a change: Global investment in green technology in the first quarter of the year spiked 52 percent compared to the previous quarter, to $2.57 billion. That's according to a report released Tuesday by the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco research and consulting firm. The increase represents a 13 percent jump over the first quarter of 2010, and indicates that investors' appetite for renewable energy, electric cars, and other green technologies continues to rebound from the recession. But the numbers aren't exactly good news for entrepreneurs …