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Alexis Madrigal chats about Danish wind power and how to fail well (also, sensors)

This is the fourth 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: Something that comes up again and again in your book is this seemingly irreducible mystery of wind and how it moves. The wind industry starts with all these windmills on farms, then up to the big turbines, all in the absence of any sophisticated scientific knowledge about how wind works. AM: There's this big debate in the history of technology around the role of …

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the answer is blowing in the wind

Ask Umbra on flatulence and climate change

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, The other day I was sitting on the couch after a day of eating an onion-rich diet and wondered ... how much impact can a person have on climate change by avoiding flatulence-producing foods? Resourcefully yours,Rob D. Troubled by your bubbles?A. Dearest Rob, I appreciate your desire to not turn the Earth into a Dutch oven, Rob. So let me cut to the cheese, if you will. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse of the National Institutes of Health, "most people produce about 1 to 4 pints a day and …

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Wisconsin gov. Scott Walker ruins everything, including wind power

Can you get much more low-down than Scott Walker and his cronies? It's not enough that the Wisconsin governor stripped collective bargaining rights from unions in pretty much the slimiest way possible, or that important people who support him have been advocating both violence and fake violence as a way to silence opposition. No, he also had to go and kill wind power. Energy developer Invenergy has twigged to the fact that Walker is a scumbag in general and an anti-environment scumbag in particular, and has pulled out of its plan to build a new large-scale wind farm in Wisconsin. …

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Das ist gut

Germany continues breaking clean energy records

A German wind farm.Photo: Dirk Ingo FrankeAs the nuclear reactor accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to dominate the world's attention, Germany has quietly broken more renewable energy records. The conservative government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, struggling to stay ahead of public attitudes toward nuclear power in the run-up to regional elections, issued its annual report on the contribution of renewable energy to the German energy market in 2010. Wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, solar cells, and biogas digesters now provide nearly 17 percent of Germany's electricity. Meanwhile, the German network agency Bundesnetzagentur issued its final update on the installation …

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Cats and wind turbines vie for the title of ‘biggest avian menace’

Finally, we are starting to get answers to that universal question: Who would win in a fight, cats or wind? If the fight is "who can kill the most birds," the cats are way ahead, says a new study in the Journal of Ornithology. For sheer avian death tolls, wind turbines can't even hold a candle to the feline contingent -- they kill 440,000 birds a year, to cats' 500 million. Even with expanded wind power over the next 20 years, turbines are only expected to kill a paltry million of our feathered friends. I've bumped off that many in …

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Nuke nukes

What we can learn from Japan’s nuclear disaster

Nuclear plants: unsafe, uneconomic, and unnecessary.Photo: Thomas AndersonCross-posted from the Rocky Mountain Institute. As heroic workers and soldiers strive to save stricken Japan from a new horror -- radioactive fallout -- some truths known for 40 years bear repeating. An earthquake-and-tsunami zone crowded with 127 million people is an unwise place for 54 reactors. The 1960s design of five Fukushima-I reactors has the smallest safety margin and probably can't contain 90 percent of meltdowns. The U.S. has six identical and 17 very similar plants. Every currently operating light-water reactor, if deprived of power and cooling water, can melt down. Fukushima …

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cool hand nuke

Lesson from Japan: We don’t need nuclear power to solve the climate crisis

Anyone watching the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan can see: The human and ecological costs of nuclear power far outweigh those of any renewable energy.Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0. On March 14, an editorial in The New York Times stated, "This page has endorsed nuclear power as one tool to head off global warming. We suspect that, when all the evidence is in from Japan, it will remain a valuable tool." I want to argue that, to the contrary, the lesson to be learned from the catastrophe in Japan is that nuclear power is not even part of a sustainable solution to …

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leader hosen

German sustainable energy lobby steps up to fill the nuclear hole

Can we replace fossil fuels without going nuclear? One German company says so. Unlike nuclear power, coal doesn't have to wait for failed safety features to pollute the groundwater, pollute the air, and make people sick for miles around. So getting off fossil fuels is a priority -- but now a lot of people are thinking twice about nuclear. Germany, which got 23 percent of its power from nuclear last year, is shutting down reactors left and right. To the rescue: The German renewable industry lobby. It says that renewable power -- wind, hydro, solar, and biomass -- would be …

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on a winding road

Wind power surges forward around the globe

Scotland expects renewables to meet all of its electricity needs by 2025.Photo: Kari GibsonFor many years, a small handful of countries dominated growth in wind power, but this is changing as the industry goes global, with more than 70 countries now developing wind resources. Between 2000 and 2010, world wind electric generating capacity increased at a frenetic pace from 17,000 megawatts to nearly 200,000 megawatts. Measured by share of electricity supplied by wind, Denmark is the leading nation at 21 percent. Three north German states now get 40 percent or more of their electricity from wind. For Germany as a …

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real genius

MIT geeks pull energy solutions out of their pocket protectors

Photo: Jon PariseHarvard hasn't cornered the market on inventing the future, starting businesses, and all the other Zuckerbergian things people do when they're not getting laid. At this year's MIT Energy Conference, students and grads came out of their nerd caves to serve up a Jabba-sized heap of tech: personal turbines, wind-collecting balloons, bathysphere batteries, and a way to convert commercial fleet vehicles into hybrids. Witness: StranWind makes arty little turbines that you can install at home, to produce up to 4 extra kilowatts of energy. Altaeros Energies is developing giant helium-filled donuts that hang out 2,000 feet in the …