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Energy Efficiency

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How China will force Americans to drive electric cars

For all the Republican blather about keeping gas prices down with domestic production, pretty soon the U.S.’s effect on the market price of oil will be totally swamped by demand from the developing world. As energy futurist Chris Nelder observes at Txchnologist, nowhere is this trend better exemplified than the fact that auto sales in China recently exceeded auto sales in the U.S.

Chart source: Feng An, Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation, Beijing, 2010.

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Everything that is good for the environment is a job

Van Jones. (Photo by Zach Gross.)

In his newest book, Rebuild the Dream, green economy pioneer Van Jones reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider, shares intimate details of his time in government, and provides a blueprint for reinventing the American Dream. Along the way, he contrasts the structure and rhetoric of the 2008 Obama campaign, the Tea Party movement, and Occupy Wall Street. The following excerpt from the book focuses on a new green economy.

Many politicians want us to lower our expectations about the economy. I say it is time to raise them. We should go beyond the shriveled thinking imposed upon us by today’s mania for austerity. The time has come to propose solutions at the scale of the problems we face. We can and we must revive the economy -- in a way that respects people and the planet.

For too long, we have acted as if we had to choose between strong economic performance and strong environmental performance. We have been torn between our children’s need for a robust economy today and our grandchildren’s need for a healthy planet tomorrow. We have been trapped in the “jobs versus the environment” dilemma.

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The White House’s secret plan to make American households more energy-efficient

In the spirit of keeping a positive, bright outlook on life and politics (ha), we're going to ignore for the moment the Obama administration’s embrace of the Cushing-to-Texas branch of Keystone XL. Instead, let's talk about another announcement the White House made today, this one about how they're going to convince Americans to use less energy.

Back in January, the White House launched a program called Green Button. It's an "industry-led" program in which utilities make energy-use data available in standard formats. This means a couple of things: 1) It's easier for people to access information about their household's energy consumption and 2) it's easier for software developers to design applications that will help people understand energy use.

The big news the White House wants to share today is that the number of households that will have access to this sort of data will more than double, from 12 million to 27 million in total.

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Soon, your toilet could heat your apartment building

Now you can dump energy waste just by, well, taking a massive dump. Green tech company OriginOil is working on a project that uses toilet wastewater as a way to heat apartment buildings.

OriginOil, a start-up based in Los Angeles, CA., has begun a pilot of its urban algae farm concept at the La Défense complex near Paris. Wastewater from buildings nourishes algae growth; algae is processed to make heat. The company is attempting to prove that integrating algae production into large building complexes will help bring them closer to net zero.

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The only solution to high gas prices — with charts!

About a year ago, when the last episode of Gas Price Mania was gearing up, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) gave an extraordinary speech on the floor of the Senate. He explained that the price of gasoline is tied to the price of oil, the price of oil is tied to events outside America's control, and the only way to reduce vulnerability to gasoline and oil prices is to use less gasoline and oil. It's a simple truth, rarely spoken among national politicians.

Last week, Bingaman did it again, using handy charts blown up on poster board. First, he explained that the U.S. has very little control over oil and gasoline prices:

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New Melbourne restaurant runs on your pee

Melbourne’s Greenhouse restaurant wants your patronage. But more importantly, it wants your pee.

That’s right -- this pop-up restaurant, which is open from March 2 through the 21st in honor of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, wants you to get all up in its custom-made toilets. The green eatery is collecting human urine and using it to fertilize soybean and canola crops. The restaurant, which is designed by Joost Bakker who is clearly a maniac, then uses unrefined canola oil to generate electricity for all of its operations.

Urine may seem an unorthodox energy source, but it is actually a great source of fertilizer when diluted. According to Bakker, “Urine is incredible for nitrogen, it’s so valuable -- you only need the urine of 25 people to provide fertilizer for a hectare of crop.”

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Gimme bomb shelter: FEMA pushes for disaster-proof green buildings

Photo by Rob Sheridan.

When people say, “Call the National Guard,” they really mean Craig Fugate. As head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he’s the guy who swoops in after a tornado or flood to clean up the mess with executive muscle and a pool of cash from the federal treasury. So perhaps it’s no great surprise that he supports efforts to create buildings that are essentially apocalypse-proof: For this guy, every day is another disaster.

Of course, there’s also the fact that FEMA has actually been working on credit. “I owe you a lot of money from the National Flood Insurance Program -- about $18 billion,” Fugate told a group at the National Press Club last week. “Those are payouts from 2005 hurricane season.”

You may remember that season for its unruly offspring: Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. And climate scientists tell us there are many more to come. “We cannot afford to continue to respond to disasters and suffer impacts -- particularly looking at large-scale catastrophic disasters -- under the current program,” Fugate said. “It will fail.”

The solution? Get smarter about how and where we build.

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Frank Lloyd Wright goes solar, posthumously

Taliesin West. (Photo by Artotem.)

Taliesin West, the iconic desert home created by Frank Lloyd Wright, is about to go net-zero, which means it will produce as much energy as it consumes. It's a fitting update for a structure that was way ahead of its time.

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Ask Umbra: Is it bad to leave chargers plugged in?

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

I know it’s supposed to be bad to leave your cell phone charger plugged in when it’s not charging, but here’s something I find myself wondering often: Is it as bad to leave it plugged in with your phone attached after it’s been charged? And what about my laptop charger? Does that leak energy? Can’t remember if you’ve covered this before.

T.G.
Oakland, Calif.

A. Dearest T.G.,

I have indeed covered some of this before, once or twice, but your question is timely: Just last month, your fine state adopted new energy-efficiency rules for chargers, citing potential residential and commercial savings of $306 million a year. Also, I am all zinged up by your question about leaving chargers attached to gadgets when their job is done -- an important, but often overlooked, variable in this multi-pronged energy equation.

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High school boys record green rap video

Man, this video really induces high school flashbacks. A group of seniors at Atlanta's Marist School created it as part of the Green School Alliance's Green Cup Challenge. These fine, upstanding young fellas won the video part of the challenge by adapting Outkast's So Fresh, So Clean to a greener message. The part where they hug trees is the best. Also this part:

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