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U.S. infrastructure needs a $2 trillion make-over

Like those bridges and roads and trains tracks you've got there? Want to keep them? That'll be $2 trillion. That's how much the Urban Land Institute estimates the U.S. needs to invest in infrastructure just to keep what's already in place from falling apart. Everybody else in the world gets this. In Europe, countries realize that investing in infrastructure might just create jobs while promoting economic growth further down the line. India, China, and Brazil are investing in roads and sewer systems and dams at a pace that will quickly outstrip the one set by our huff-puffing, faltering empire. To …

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An underwater grid for offshore wind, funded by Google

I have a feature story in the latest issue of Popular Science: "Hundreds of Miles of Wind Farms, Networked Under the Sea." It's about the Atlantic Wind Connection, a new project (funded, in part, by Google) that would lay high-voltage transmission lines beneath the sea floor along the mid-Atlantic coast, opening the area up to offshore wind developers. I managed to get through the article without using the tired term "game changer," but ... this is a Big Deal. Here's how the story begins: During the last ice age, glaciers a mile high pushed several dozen cubic miles of rock, …

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Texas to install world’s largest wind energy storage system

The Notrees wind farm.Photo: Duke EnergyThey like to do things big in Texas, so it's no surprise that the Lone Star state will launch the world's largest wind battery storage project. Duke Energy is not a Texas company, but it owns the aptly named Notrees wind farm in the Texas panhandle. The North Carolina power giant is teaming up with an Austin area startup called Xtreme Power to install a 36-megawatt battery at the 153-megawatt Notrees Windpower Project near Kermit, Texas. That's one big battery. Such technology is likely to become crucial as wind farms become ever larger but erratic …

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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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If Watson can win Jeopardy, can IBM make cities smarter?

Photo: Rodrigo SennaIBM has generated a lot of buzz lately for Watson, its game-show-playing supercomputer that recently bested a couple of skin jobs on "Jeopardy." Less high profile is the expansion of Big Blue's computer and software systems designed to monitor and control municipal water, energy, and transportation systems. Developed under the umbrella of IBM's Smarter Planet effort, such systems are designed to cut water and energy consumption and save cities money. On Monday, IBM announced a series of projects showing that in the future, public works may be just as much about sensors and cloud computing as pipes and …

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Philips wants to reward some innovative urban ideas

A rendering showing how rooftops in Sana'a, Yemen, could be used to collect water.The ideal of smart cities -- technologically advanced, forward-thinking, and green -- is big in corporate circles these days. IBM has its "Smarter Cities" program, Cisco has its "Smart+Connected Communities," and the giant electronics corporation Philips has been promoting the concept of "Livable Cities" lately. (This webcast they put together with participants including urbanism guru Richard Florida and former London mayor Ken Livingstone gives a good overview of what they mean by that.) Philips is currently sponsoring a "Livable Cities Award" ("designed to generate practical, achievable ideas …

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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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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 …

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The Recovery Act: the most important energy bill in American history

If the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) had been an energy bill, it would arguably have been the single-most important piece of clean energy legislation in our nation's history. It drove unprecedented new investments -- both public and private -- into modernizing America's clean energy infrastructure. And its clean energy provisions alone have already saved or created 63,000 jobs and are expected to create more than 700,000 jobs by 2012. Now that ARRA has run its course, we need to stay committed to these investments to keep building the U.S. clean energy industry and remain globally competitive. Newly elected …

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Knowing what you spend on energy can cut usage by more than half

Feedback: It works for robot monkey arms and Scientology auditing, so shouldn't it work to help you save electricity? Networking company Silver Spring Networks and Oklahoma Gas & Electric think so (and so do we). They've teamed up for a year-long experiment in Norman, Okla., to test smart grid solutions, allowing users to get feedback on their energy consumption using different technologies and pricing plans. The result: The right combo of gadget and pricing plan helped people cut peak household energy use up to 57 percent. Energy-tracking technology saves: Smart thermostats, which can self-adjust based on energy needs, prices, and …