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Alexis Madrigal chats about the crazy greentech history you’ve never heard

This is the first in a series from my conversation with Atlantic tech channel editor Alexis Madrigal about themes and stories from his new book, Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. DR: What were the first glimmers of the book? AM: It was about 2007. At the time, Bruce Sterling had just said, "green will never be sexier than it is right now." And that was true. I kept hearing these apocryphal stories about renewable energy projects of the past. The first one I heard about was Luz solar plants out in the Mojave. As someone …

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whew, the coase is clear

Debunking myths about free-market environmentalism

Money makes the world go ... green?Cross-posted at The PERColator, a project of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). A recent post on Grist attempted to dismantle the intellectual foundations of free-market environmentalism -- the application of markets and property rights to solve environmental problems. But far from toppling a burgeoning movement within modern environmentalism, it succeeded only in misrepresenting the subject. To recap: Clark Williams-Derry claimed that while free-market environmentalism may be effective in some areas of the environment (e.g., fisheries management), its reliance upon unrealistic assumptions about the real world largely relegates it to useless intellectual theorizing. …

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Crowd-sourced radiation maps put the hivemind to work for public health

Map: RTDN.org and Google Maps What if Foursquare were good for something? It might look a little like this. Crowd-sourced maps of radiation in Japan allow anyone with a radiation detector to log their reading, resulting in real-time information with potentially as many data points as there are users. RTDN.org, put together by Portland's Uncorked Studios, took three days and zero dollars to get running, and in addition to telling users how to upload data it also provides info on buying a detection device. Map: Stubbytour.com and Google Maps Korean firm ISELSoft's Stubby map doesn't use Everyman Power -- its …

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Dumbing down smart meters

PG&E to let customers disable their smart meters — for a price

Over the past year, a revolt against the rollout of utility Pacific Gas & Electric's smart meters has swept through Northern California as some customers claimed the devices' wireless transmission of electricity data was harming their health. In response, city councils in a number of cities tried to ban their installation. On Thursday, PG&E, acting under orders from state regulators, unveiled a proposal to let customers have their smart meter's radio turned off -- for a price. PG&E would charge a one-time fee ranging from $105 to $270 and then customers would pay between $14 and $20 a month for …

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A dollar that's what I need

Giving clean energy developers cash works better than tax credits, stupid US policy notwithstanding

One of the great undercovered aspects of U.S. energy policy is the fact that most of it happens through the tax code. That's one reason it's so unbearably lame. Why do we do energy policy this way? There are many reasons, but a big one is that decades of conservative agitprop have made it almost impossible to spend money (eek, big government!) on a particular industry (eek, picking winners!) in a way that's transparent and democratically accountable. Oh, we still direct money to favored industries, of course; we've always had industrial policy and always will. We just don't do it …

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Sears Tower to become giant solar farm

The Sears Tower, lately unceremoniously renamed the Willis tower, is about to pioneer a kind of crazy-innovative window, one that produces power without obstructing the view or letting in appreciably less sunlight. It's way too complicated to explain in mere words, so hopefully this image will help. If it doesn't, feel free to be a troll in the comments, since that's the designated toilet for whatever sublimated rage you're feeling over your crumbling marriage. At first the Willis tower will only replace windows on the south side of the 56th floor; eventually, the whole south face of the building could …

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Life is meshy

Can peer-to-peer sharing green the planet?

It's all about the connections.Photo: Côte d'AzurBy the third day of any conference, one's eyes begin to glaze over. But Lisa Gansky provided an intellectual jolt on the final morning of the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco this week when she appeared on stage to talk about "the Mesh." That's what Gansky, a veteran Internet entrepreneur, calls the confluence of social networks, GPS-enabled mobile technology (smartphones, iPads, and the like) and the tagging of physical objects with chips that pinpoint their location. "The Mesh is a fundamental shift in our relationship to the things in our lives," said Gansky, who …

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Keeping it clean

This year’s Cleantech Forum: Less sexy, more efficient

Looking for new ways to get in the cleantech game.Photo: emilydickinsonridesabmxIt's a rite of spring, the annual Cleantech Forum in San Francisco. Venture capitalists, startup entrepreneurs, and various hangers-on gather at an upscale hotel to network, pitch, and hopefully clinch some deals. There are scores of these green biz conferences, of course, and after awhile they all tend to blend together in a mashup of hype and prognosticating. Still, the Cleantech Forum is one I make an effort to attend, and not just because it's a short BART ride from Berkeley. Over the years, I've found the confab to be …

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The sun rises in the East

Solar: It’s not just a California thing anymore

Texas installed 22.6 megawatts of photovoltaics last year.Photo: Duke EnergyThe United States solar businesses boomed, as usual, in 2010, growing 67 percent to $6 billion, according to an annual report [PDF] released Thursday by an industry trade group. That's been the story for the past several years, but what's notable is that solar is no longer just a California thing. The industry is expanding to the East. Back in 2004-2005, California accounted for a whopping 80 percent of the U.S. market. In 2010, that share fell to 30 percent, with 258.9 megawatts of the 878.3 megawatts of photovoltaic power installed …

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TV star

Meet the zero-energy transparent TV

A zero-energy TV you can see through? I know what you're thinking: "That's called a pane of glass." But this transparent screen, which Samsung unveiled at an expo in Germany, isn't just glass, it's FUTURE GLASS. For starters, the screen uses so little energy that it can be run by solar panels that feed off the ambient light in the room, like those old-school solar calculators. And while it can play regular TV images, it can also project pictures or data onto an otherwise transparent screen. That means it could be used for all kinds of crazy sci-fi applications -- …