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Talking about all things energy, from clean tech, to biofuels, and policy.

China Inching Forward with Electric Cars and Hybrids

Although China has fallen far short of its ambitious goals to manufacture hundreds of thousands of all-electric and hybrid cars and buses each year, the country is taking tangible steps toward increasing the use of these alternative vehicles, according to an article in the New York Times. Each year, China can produce several thousand hybrid and all-electric cars and buses, the Times reports, a far cry from the 500,000 the country was aiming for by the end of 2011. 

Demonstration projects currently are taking place across the country, which may signal how the Chinese auto fleet will evolve in the near future. According to the Times, in an interesting twist, the state-run electric companies are behind the push to boost all-electric vehicles. This is in contrast to the U.S., where efforts are being led by the auto manufacturers themselves. 

As the Times reports:

"With China expected to surpass the United States in the number of all vehicles on the road by as early as 2020, the government-run utilities see it as their job to provide an alternative to imported oil as a way to power several hundred million cars, trucks and buses..."

"Although automakers in other countries have supplied charging equipment to be installed at homes and parking lots, China’s power industry has already made it clear that it wants to dictate when and how plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids and all-electric cars are charged, by owning the charging equipment and setting technical sta...

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Exploring the Prospects for Airborne Wind Energy

Wind energy is growing in popularity — as illustrated by the growing number of wind turbines popping up across the country — largely because its greenhouse gas emissions are negligible. But that isn’t the only reason. It’s also valuable because we’re not about to run out of wind anytime soon.

But there is something unfortunate about all the new turbines being built across the country: they aren’t capturing the most powerful winds available.

Typical turbines are about 100 feet tall, but the real action is a few thousand feet above the Earth’s surface. Up there, and at much higher altitudes, the winds blow more strongly and a lot more consistently, and that means there is a lot more energy up for grabs.

“We find that there’s more than 100 times the power necessary to power civilization in these high altitude winds,” explains Stanford University climate scientist Ken Caldeira, in this recent video. The video, produced by QUEST from Northern California’s KQED network, shows how some researchers are exploring ways to access the high altitude winds, with turbines that fly through the air like kites. 

One company profiled in the story, Makani Power, is just one of several companies exploring high altitude wind energy. Sky WindPowerMagenn, and Joby Energy each have unique designs they think have potential to capture energy thousands of feet in the air. All the companies are still testing small-scale prototypes, however, so it’s going to be years before large comme...

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A Post-Solyndra Snapshot of Solar Energy In America

A solar energy farm in St. George, Utah is just one of hundreds of solar arrays across the country. The solar industry is growing exponentially, but it still makes up just a fraction of our total energy supply. Credit: Carl Berger/flickr.

Since the solar energy technology manufacturer Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in late August, there’s been mounting concerns about whether America’s "green jobs" are at risk, and if renewable energy subsidies from the government are in jeopardy. But the pessimism and partisanship in Washington regarding Solyndra (and other cutting-edge energy firms that have received Energy Department loans) is clouding the bigger picture: solar energy is actually one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and there are more people working in solar technology today than in greenhouse gas intensive coal mines and steel factories. 

With so many companies in the solar game, this controversy may well be just a small hiccup along solar’s path to becoming a major source of America’s electricity.

But what is solar energy's timeline? Is it already on the verge of replacing fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, or will it take decades before we see solar energy contribute a significant proportion of the nation's energy supply?

Well, that depends a lot on how hard the U.S. pushes policies that would boost cleaner, renewable sources of energy.

Here’s a snapshot of the current state of solar energy in America.

Today, there are about 3.1 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity in the U.S., which can supply energy to up to half a million homes. Yet, compared to coal and natural gas-fired power plants, which emit harmful greenhouse gases, solar provides a tiny p...

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Wedges Reaffirmed

By Rob Socolow

Robert H. Socolow, Professor at Princeton University. Credit: Princeton University. 

In August 2004, Steve Pacala and I published a paper in Science about climate change mitigation. Its core messages are as valid today as seven years ago, but they have not led to action. Here, I suggest that public resistance can be partially explained by shortcomings in the way advocates of forceful action have presented their case. Addressing these shortcomings might put the world back on the course we identified.

Let’s review the messages in our 2004 paper. The paper assumes that the world wishes to act decisively and coherently to deal with climate change. It makes the case that “humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century.” This core message surprised many people, because our paper arrived at a time when the Bush administration was asserting that, unfortunately, the tools available were not suited for addressing climate change. Indeed, at a conference I attended at that time, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham insisted that a discovery akin to the discovery of electricity was required.

Our focus on “the next half century” was novel; the favored horizon at the time was a full century — and still is. We argued that "the next fifty years is a sensible horizon from several perspectives. It is the length of a career, the lifetime of a power plant, and an interval whose technology is close enough to envision."

In a widely repr...

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Interactive: Meeting Obama’s 2035 Clean Energy Goals

In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve America's energy security, President Obama has laid out a goal for the U.S. to generate 80 percent of its electricity from "clean" energy sources by 2035. To replace coal, which is currently the dominant source of electricity, we would need to rely on other energy sources. By Obama's definition, "clean" energy options include burning natural gas and combining carbon capture and sequestration with current coal-burning operations (but recent research shows that burning natural gas may not reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as previously thought, compared to burning...

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2013 Tornado Drought The number of tornadoes per county, January-April 2013, compared to the average.

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