Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Me and my beard, talking clean energy in Germany [VIDEO]

A few weeks ago, I visited Germany to learn more about its clean energy programs and progress. The folks at EnergyNow! called me up to chat about some of the things I saw, lessons I learned, and schnitzel I ate. Here’s the video: If you’re keen to read more, here are the posts that came out of my trip: Germans pay extra for clean energy—is it worth it? Visiting a house in Germany that generates more energy than it uses Germans happily pay more for clean energy. Why don’t Americans? Underground environmentalism in communist East Germany

Climate Change

Building the economic case for climate action

The Economics for Equity and the Environment Network convened a recent meeting of economists [PDF] at the Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to discuss the role of economics in building support for climate action in the U.S. The economists who convened view climate change as a civilizational challenge that demands immediate action to protect the quality of human life today and in the future. They recognize that conventional economic thinking has failed to envision a way through the climate crisis, but believe firmly that economics can and must provide critical skills and insights. These economists take as their …

Portland, Maine, to save 50,000 gallons of oil a year with geothermal heating and cooling

Portland, Maine's new airport expansion is to be the first in the country to use a dead-simple but often overlooked technology to significantly reduce its heating and cooling bills. They're calling it a geothermal system, but it's not like the kind that produce power in Iceland; it's more properly called a "ground-source heat pump." The system will use the ground beneath an employee parking lot as a giant heat sink. To transport energy to and from the sink, the system will run fluid through pipes snaking through 120 wells dug 500 feet into the ground. Below a meter or two, …

Climate Policy

Want people to get on board with a shift to clean energy? Shield them from economic insecurity

Some risks are more immediate than others.Photo: A SynYesterday I ran across a pair of posts that got me thinking about risk and resilience. (Confession: Almost everything these days makes me think about risk and resilience.) First there’s this extremely smart piece from economist Jason Scorse. It makes an argument that I wish had gotten much more attention during the fight over the climate bill, to wit: “people are much more willing to support environmental policies that come with large risks and disruptions to their way of life when other policies are in place to shield them from excessive risk …

Business & Technology

Dirty clouds: Greenpeace ranks tech giants on their data centers’ coal dependency

Tech companies have something hanging over their heads.Photo: The SharpteamAs I sit here at the Local 123 café in Berkeley on Earth Day, a dozen hipsters are transfixed by their Macbooks, their heads lost in the cloud. According to a Greenpeace report [PDF] released this week, all those presumably green and well-meaning digital workers-slash-slackers are contributing to global warming every time they update their Facebook status, scan their Twitter stream or check their Gmail. That’s because all those apps live in massive data centers — a.k.a. “the cloud.” In the “How Dirty is Your Data?” report, Greenpeace analysts estimate data …

Wind Power

Google to buy 100.8 megawatts of Oklahoma wind energy

Google’s Oklahoma wind farm will be built this year.Photo: Marcin WicharyIt’s getting a bit hard to keep up with all of Google’s green investments these days — $168 million put into a big solar power plant project one week; $100 million for the world’s largest wind farm the next. But this week’s big money move — the third so far this month — is different. It also involves wind but is a power purchase agreement (known as a PPA in the utility trade) rather than a direct investment in a specific project. The deal with wind developer NextEra Energy Resources …

Energy Policy

Germans happily pay more for clean energy. Why don’t Americans?

In the U.S., any policy that raises taxes on anyone or causes anyone to pay more for anything — at least in a way that’s visible or traceable — has become verboten. It’s axiomatic in American politics that you can’t do it. The populace will revolt, right-wingers will demagogue you, you’ll be driven from office. There was even an amendment in Congress last year that would have disavowed any policy that would raise energy prices by even a cent (and every Republican voted for it!). This is, of course, a mind-bendingly stupid and myopic constraint to put on public policy. …

Energy Policy

Germans pay extra for clean energy — is it worth it?

Germany has become a world leader in renewable power thanks in part to its Renewable Energy Act (EEG), which came into force in 2000. It established a feed-in tariff program that guarantees producers of carbon-free power an above-market rate of return for 20 years. EEG pays tariffs to solar PV, concentrated solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, and landfill or sewage gas. The tariffs vary according to capacity and level of technological development; they drop every few years based on the latest costs and level of penetration. German electrical ratepayers fund the program through a small fee that amounts to about 15 percent …

What if the $152 billion to clean up Fukushima were spent on geothermal instead?

Here's a crazy idea: why not use the enormous geothermal resource under Japan — which is after all sitting on a "ring" made of "fire" — as a source of nearly always-on baseload power? I asked Alex Richter, an Icelandic financier of geothermal energy projects, how much geothermal energy $152 billion would buy. (That's the projected total cost of the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and doesn't even include the cost of building and maintaining it in the first place.) Using a conservative scenario — namely the cost of geothermal power in the U.S., which is more expensive …