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Now on Facebook: your grandma, mailman, and … the solar industry

You just got poked by the sun.Photo: diogo dubiellaYou have a new friend request ... from the sun! OK, it's actually from a company selling solar panels. "Solar service providers ... are increasingly turning to social media tactics in an attempt to create engaged communities around the sunny clean power," says Earth2Tech. Solar startups are harnessing the power of Jesse Eisenberg's brunette tendrils  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in the hope of boosting business and creating word-on-the-street evangelists. One such company, Sungevity, already has cred with the hip green kids, so its embrace of social media is no surprise. The company …

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Ask Umbra on turning plastic garbage into gasoline at home

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, Not long ago, I saw a video of a Japanese scientist who had created a small machine that converted discarded plastics back into fuel. He was demonstrating it to schoolchildren. Is something happening with this technology? If it is true it could certainly help to save us all. Judy G.Bowler, WI I'm still waiting on the hovercraft ...A. Dearest Judy, The Japanese scientist you speak of is most likely Akinori Ito of Blest Corporation. The technology you’re referring to is the "Waste Plastic Oiling System," seen in this video. This machine converts …

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New wind and solar sectors won’t solve China’s water scarcity

JIUQUAN, China -- Business for wind and solar energy components has been so brisk in Gansu Province -- a bone-bleaching sweep of gusty desert and sun-washed mountains in China's northern region -- that the New Energy Equipment Manufacturing Industry base, which employs 20,000 people, is a 24/7 operation. Just two years old, the expansive industrial manufacturing zone -- located outside this ancient Silk Road city of 1 million -- turns out turbines, blades, towers, controllers, software, and dozens of other components for a provincial wind industry already producing more than 5,000 megawatts per year. Photo © Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty …

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Report: Californians paying too high a price for renewable energy

Is solar costing Californians a wad more than it should?Photo: Andrew MagillAre Californians forking over too much green for green energy? A new report [PDF] from a ratepayers advocacy group found that the price of electricity in 59 percent of renewable energy contracts signed by the state's three big utilities exceeded the market price referent, or MPR for all you utility junkies. Without getting into the nitty-gritty regulatory calculus, the market price referent is based on the price of electricity from a 500-megawatt natural gas-fired plant, the dominant power source in California. The MPR is a benchmark to gauge the …

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Another Silicon Valley solar startup to build a factory in Oregon

A SolarWorld worker making panels. Photo: SolarWorldAnother Silicon Valley startup is planting a tree in Portlandia's solar forest, thanks to a United States Department of Energy loan guarantee. SoloPower, a San Jose, Calif., company that makes thin-film photovoltaic models, on Thursday snagged a $197 million federal loan guarantee to build a factory in Wilson, Ore., about 25 miles southwest of Portland. The startup is the second Silicon Valley thin-film solar startup to make the move north over the past year. Last July, San Jose's Solexant announced it would build a factory in Gresham east of Portland to make photovoltaic modules …

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The energy [r]evolution has begun

Access to energy is vital for our economies, but energy is one of the main sources of the greenhouse gas emissions putting our climate at risk. It follows that we need to transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy mix. That aspiration is frequently debated -- at times encouraged, often mocked -- but it bears emphasizing: the energy revolution is already underway. Greenpeace, the German Space Agency (DLR), and the European Renewable Energy Council -- representing over 400,000 renewable energy workers -- joined forces back in 2007 and have since published more than 40 global, regional, and national Energy [R]evolution scenarios. …

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Futurist Ray Kurzweil isn’t worried about climate change

Ray Kurzweil.Photo: JD LasicaBy Lauren Feeney Author, inventor, and futurist Ray Kurzweil famously and accurately predicted that a computer would beat a man at chess by 1998, that technologies that help spread information would accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that a worldwide communications network would emerge in the mid 1990s (i.e. the internet). Most of Kurzweil's prognostications are derived from his law of accelerating returns -- the idea that information technologies progress exponentially, in part because each iteration is used to help build the next, better, faster, cheaper one. In the case of computers, this is not …

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Alternative energy plants aren’t just smart, they’re good-looking

Why is our country so enamored of coal and oil? Well, it sure ain't for their looks. Unless you're a near-pathological industrial-porn enthusiast, there's nothing attractive about an oil refinery or a coal-fired power plant. But alternative energy plants are being designed to be not only better for the environment, but less of an eyesore as well. These are buildings people might not mind living near, or even making a special trip out to see. For starters, check out this solar power tower in Seville, Spain: Don't be fooled by the radiant beams of light, the gleaming white structures, or …

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Silicon Valley solar firm buys East Coast’s biggest photovoltaic installer

Volunteers install a solar PV array in Brooklyn, N.Y.Photo: 350.orgCalifornia solar companies are continuing their eastward expansion, with Silicon Valley's SolarCity on Wednesday acquiring the residential operations of one of the East Coast biggest solar installers, groSolar. With the acquisition, SolarCity, California's largest residential solar installer, will move into Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. SolarCity is on something of a spending spree­ -- in January, the company bought Clean Currents Solar, a Washington, D.C., solar installer, and expanded its operations to the nation's capital and Maryland. Meanwhile, Sungevity, an Oakland, Calif., solar installer, raised $15 million from investors …

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Busting 4 myths about solar PV vs. concentrating solar

Although both produce electricity from the sun, there are significant differences between solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar thermal electricity generation. This guide provides answers to the most pressing questions about the two solar technologies. 1. Isn’t concentrating solar power cheaper? No. Five years ago, the two technologies were relatively comparable, but in 2011 there’s no doubt that distributed solar PV is cheaper than concentrating solar power.   A concentrating solar power plant has a capital cost of $5.50 per watt without storage, and $7.75 per watt with six hours of thermal storage. The levelized cost of electricity from a Mohave …