Apple Rated Poorly For Its Massive Energy Use

Large corporations often own many factories and warehouses from which their products are produced. This means consumption of energy, and lots of it. Greenpeace has been keeping tabs on mega corporations and grading them based on the amount of energy their factories consume.

Among these corporations include Apple. While this tech company may be the leading brand in mobile devices, it does not fare so well when graded according to the energy it uses to fuel its production line. While Apple’s score did improve in recent months, it is still not receiving a passing grade. When it came to infrastructure siting, Apple was given a “D,” an improvement from the “F” that it received a few months prior. It also improved from a “D” to a “C” when it came to greenhouse gas mitigation, energy efficiency and renewable energy investment.

To give the company a little credit, it is showing efforts that it is dedicated to making its facilities more eco-friendly. It just recently announced that it has plans to make one of its data centers run entirely off of renewable energy by year’s end. This includes the addition of bio gas fuel cell and solar array installation. A spokesperson for the company announced that its two main data centers in California and North Carolina are expected to be completely independent of coal by February of 2013.

Greenpeace has praised Apple for its commitment of making its facilities run off of renewable energy sources but continues to chide the corporation for its overall dismal record. It also blasted Apple for its apparent lack of transparency, as the company has consistently been beating around the bush when it came to releasing energy consumption records of its facilities.

In terms of grading, Apple falls against other mega giants. Corporations like Yahoo, Amazon and Google all received better grades from Greenpeace.

U.S. Navy Goes Green

More people are beginning to realize that the planet is in a dire state. Scientists are on the scramble to look for alternative fuel sources that leave a lighter imprint on the environment. Not only are everyday citizens and corporations getting involved, but even the U.S. military is now getting with the program.

The U.S Navy is now resorting to biofuel
to help power its warships and aircrafts. One of the ships, the USNS Henry J. Kaiser, carries with it around 900,000 gallons of biofuel mixed with petroleum to supply power to its jets and cruisers. This carrier is being labeled the Great Green Fleet and is the first of its kind to rely partially on alternative fuel.

While the move towards biofuel is a step in the right direction for the environment, not everyone is happy with the change. Some lawmakers are fuming over the cost. Conventional fuel runs at about $3.60 per gallon. The biofuel being used costs a staggering $26 a gallon. Some politicians believe the price tag is simply too high, especially at a time when the economy is struggling.

Some in Congress simply feel that the military is not a place to be experimenting with green energy policy, which has been largely pushed by the Obama administration.

Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus, supports the movement and says that the military needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels, which it currently uses at a rate of about 300,000 barrels a day. His hope is that the military will continue to use biofuel, which will increase the demand and lead to more biofuel plants being built. This will eventually help to drive the cost down.

The question really is a matter of whether the green movement has any place in the military. It is an issue that politicians will have to continue to debate in congress.

Twin Creek Introduces Thinner Cheaper Solar Cells

The world of solar energy is one of the most vibrant energy production technology on the horizon. The reason is simple, it’s a green technology, providing power without any of the current side effects of coal burning or other methods used today. As such, it’s not surprising that many companies are trying to get solar energy production to be more efficient, and putting a lot of thought into manufacturing models. It seems now that Twin Creek, a small company in California, found a way to reduce the code of producing solar cells by almost half, and create these cells to be flexible, which would allow them to be integrated into buildings without the need to find perfect angles.

The basic problem with solar cell production is that when a silicon wafer is created in order to create the solar cells, it’s hard to get it thin enough. The current limit is around 200 microns, under which the silicon sheet starts to brittle. But now, Twin Creek has developed a new manufacturing technology, and a new machine that can create these wafers to be around 20 microns. The process uses hydrogen protons which get sent against the sheet of pure silicon, and creates bubbles which helps peel off sheets off of the material, without causing problems. The method isn’t new, and has been observed before, but the production of solar cells presented unique challenges that hadn’t been overcome before. By using modern engineering and technologies developed in-house, the company managed to create a brand new type of solar cells, and the whole process saves money on the material cost, which means the resulting solar cell costs just 50 cents instead of 85 cents.

Hyperion, the name of the machine producing these new cells, is being evaluated now by several leading solar manufacturers, and CEO Siva Sivaram is confident that it will enter production next year. The company is filled with experienced engineered, and backed by a $93 million investment from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, DAG Ventures, and a Taiwanese funding group, along with $30 million from the state of Mississippi, where they built a demonstration plant. If the machine is adopted by manufacturers, it would make solar energy much cheaper to install, often times going lower than current power consumption, which could be a breakthrough for getting a lot of people and businesses to adopt a green technology. The initial investment to actually buy the machines still involves millions of dollars, and it’s unsure yet how many manufacturers will be ready to take the jump.

Whether this advancement is what’s needed to get governments and organizations to embrace solar power fully or not, there’s no question that scientists around the world believe that humankind needs to move to cleaner, more renewable energy models, instead of relying on things like gas, petrol and coal. Technology breakthroughs like this certainly help move the world in the right direction, and make solar energy a more attractive proposition for boards and caucuses around the world.

US – China Trade War Over Solar Panels

Trade wars initiated by trade sanctions are nothing new. In fact they happen in many industries, especially those that are highly competitive. But it may be a surprise to learn that a trade war over solar panels may be about to begin, over potential sanctions put on China imports. What is already happening in many other industries may bleed over into the renewable energy business, and this could have severe consequences on US customers who want to adopt a green energy system and install solar panels, and may affect a lot of jobs.

It all started when SolarWorld, a German based company operating in the US, filed a complaint with the trade commission on behalf of all the US based solar panel manufacturers. The complaint said that China manufacturers were getting major subsidies from their government and dumping these panels in the US at a much lower price, so that US companies couldn’t compete.

This isn’t a new story, and it’s something that happens all the time in all sorts of industries. Trade is governed by a series of treaties, and one stipulation says that while a manufacturer in one country can sell its goods in another country, if that company gets an unfair advantage, such as having large government grants, then it’s unfair to the companies in the second country who do not have that advantage. That’s when a complaint is made, and when trade tariffs are added. Any time an imported product, such as lumber wood, food, etc, has a special tax added onto it when it comes into the country, it’s usually because of these trade sanctions.

Here, solar panels have so far been clear of sanctions, until now. The government will need to review the complaint and make a decision. Either it’s not true, and everything will stay as it is, or Chinese companies are getting an unfair advantage, in which case the rules of the game may change. But what does it mean for US customers? Well, it means China based solar panels will suddenly raise in price, for a start. So higher prices are clearly on the horizon, which is obviously bad news. However, the reason for these trade sanctions is that without them, US companies couldn’t compete, which means they might go out of business, and a lot of people may lose their jobs. So with these higher prices, you may see companies stay in business. In fact, what often happens is that they now get room to grow, and local employment goes up. So it’s a double edged sword.

As you can imagine, the possibility of trade sanctions is a very hot topic, and a lot of people are upset with what SolarWorld did. There’s people and companies arguing on both sides of the fence, and ultimately it’s the government that will need to make a decision in this case. It could take a while however, a few years in fact, but there’s little doubt that this situation will not go away until a final decision is made.

US Licenses First Nuclear Reactors Since 1978

Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of two new nuclear reactors for the Southern Company, to be added to their existing Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. These reactors are the first to be added in the US since 1978, before the Three Miles Island incident. As such, it made the news and was a highly debated decision, both on the NRC panel, among scientists and in the media. The final decision was made on Thursday and it wasn’t unanimous, with the chairman voting against the other members. After the events in Japan from last year, this is sure to cause a lot of controversy around the country.

The licensing that was just approved covers $14 billion worth of reactors, two in all, to be added to an existing facility. This is part of the company’s aim to reduce energy dependence on cold burning and other unclean energy sources, and keep growing their nuclear facilities. But in the aftermath of Fukushima, not everyone sees things this way. The public confidence in nuclear power has been shaken. The chairman wrote “I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened. I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.” But the other members of the NRC panel voted yes because they believe the recommendations made after the disaster are well under way to be implemented, and the industry has learned those lessons.

According to scientists, those recommendations are mostly aimed at the current reactors, who adopt some of the same design from the Japanese one. New constructions like these two new reactors are different. The CEO of Southern Company said “There will be issues that apply to the U.S. nuclear fleet, but they apply much more closely to the current fleet, not this newest generation of nuclear technology.” Still, not everyone is on the same side. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group of scientists that say they want improved security in the nuclear standards, said that it’s too soon to be approving new reactors, and more time is needed to fully comprehend what happened in the Tsunami disaster. The Obama administration is for nuclear power, and as such now that the decision has been made, it’s unlikely to be repelled. Construction has already begun and the new reactors are expected to be online in 2016.

In the end, it seems like an increase to the US nuclear fleet is going to happen, and older coal plants may see themselves being replaced by even more nuclear reactors in the future. The public concerns are apparently being addressed, and all of the reactors around the country are being checked by regulators to make sure they are compliant with the latest regulations. Nuclear power currently provides around 20% of the energy in the US, and is likely to grow in the future.

Renewable Energy Deals Hit Record High in 2011

There’s no question that our current energy sources aren’t sustainable. The scientists have sounded the alarm years ago now, and politicians along with businesses are slowly starting to catch up. Still, the transition to renewable energy sources is happening, and now new numbers from 2011 show that renewable energy deals hit a record high during this past year. These figures show some interesting improvement in how companies are rapidly switching around and adopting strategies that ensure new constructions and new projects use renewable energy.

According to the numbers that came out, global renewable energy deals climbed around 40% to a high of $53.5 billion last year, from $38.2 billion in 2010. This is a surprising amount, showing that more conversions were done than ever before. These figures include both solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency by those firms. It shows that spending has gone up, which may be due to several factors. Of course the realization that they can’t rely on gas and oil for much longer, but also the global economy slowly returning to normal levels, after a long depression, may contribute in this type of trading becoming more popular, and with more money spent. Often, new installations require these types of deals in order to get the needed solar arrays or turbines, since the fields are still pretty young.

This is all proof that the renewable market is maturing. What’s the future looking like? Last year, one in three deals were for solar energy, and with prices going down in the equipment needed to produce that type of energy, it’s likely that we’ll see that particular source take a more central role. However, not everything is looking green. China right now is having a lot of over production problems, and many factories are being left at overcapacity, which will reduce the cost of traditional energy, making renewable energy less attractive financially. It remains to be seen whether the companies that have been making a concrete effort to go into renewable sources will keep doing that when the financial situation changes, and it becomes much more economical again, at least for a certain time, to go with what China has to offer.

Overall, there’s no doubt that the renewable energy market will keep growing, and as such these numbers will keep going up. The only question now is how fast, and whether it will be enough to save the few natural resources we do have on the planet. Solar energy in particular will certainly prove a pivotal role in the way we produce and consume energy throughout the world, and the civilized countries will likely have to lead the way for the others to follow.

Google Receives the first Ford Focus Electric

Ford has been producing its Focus model since 1998. During the last two years the company has been showing different model variations to take advantage of power systems that don’t eat gallons of gas at the pumps, especially since the cost doubled recently. Their latest version, the 240 volt electric version, rolled off the production line just in time for Google to receive an early Christmas present: the first model off the line.

The customer demands a car that doesn’t take a week’s pay out of every month to fill the gas tank, but whether Ford (and its competitors) is responding to customer needs or customer wishes, the race is well and truly under way to produce a vehicle that is both low in fuel cost and drives like a superior auto.

The first item on most vehicle owners’ checklist isn’t how green the auto is, although that is the desired discussion after purchase. The running cost is now the main priority for most drivers, but the extra expense to buy a so called green vehicle will keep oil production booming for years to come.

What will it cost?
You will need $39,200 to purchase the vehicle, but you can deduct the $7,500 federal income tax credit. The regular Ford Focus usually arrives at between $16,000 and $22,000. Do the math. Once you know how much each recharge is going to cost you (including adding that 240 volt electric connection to your home) you will find that the extra cost is equal to around 3,000 gallon of gas at the pump.

If you previously managed 35 miles to the gallon, your new Ford Electric will need to run for just over 100,000 miles to reach the breakeven point. Is the standard vehicle owner going to wait that long just to purchase a green alternative? Are you expecting to sell the auto to make a new purchase before you reach 100,000 miles? If so, that negates the financial benefits?

No more gas station visits
If you can afford to buy this green car, you will be entering a world of many advantages. You won’t need to visit a gas station again, unless you run out of charge and electric charging stations increase around the US.

You will avoid buying that extra cola drink and chocolate bar that you can’t help collecting when you thought you were only paying for your gas.

You won’t need to discuss miles per gallon with your friends ever again, although Ford has been quick to bring you a display to show you the equivalent miles per gallon in its range view monitor, showing you how far you can drive on your electric charge.

On the plus side, charging the Ford will take 3-4 hours, less than the Chevrolet Volt. Included in the purchase price you will receive a cord which will plug into your 110 volt supply, but for a longer charging period.

A brake coach display will show you how to use your brakes to recharge your batteries as you drive. That piece of fun should keep your eyes off the road, just as miles per gallon displays do with gas powered autos when you accelerate hard.

For those who long for one of those fun start/stop buttons on the dashboard, this Ford gives you one. As long as you have the key fob in your pocket or close to the vehicle, you can press the start button to start the silent motor.

Top speed?
For those more interested in how the auto drives, you can run 100 miles on a fully charged battery pack reaching a maximum of 84 miles per hour top speed. That should aid a large amount of the population to get to work and back and remain inside the speed limits.

The new lithium-ion battery system is designed to reduce energy loss and heat generation while reducing your carbon footprint substantially. Finally Ford gets to the part we are really all interested in – what part can society play in reducing the high oil element of gas production just to move people and products around the country and how much are you prepared to pay for that privilege to stay within your confines of enjoying your auto drive?

The vehicle will be a real winner for all but the oil companies when the price becomes sensible. Until then, the real world of going green with your auto stays a myth for most Americans unless you are a celebrity and must be seen in your gas/electric Prius.

Olivia Lennox is an eco-conscious freelance writer based in London, UK, where electric cars are just starting to become practical. She travels by G-Wiz and sleeps on a tempurpedic mattress with organic linen – truly

Energy Efficient Christmas Lights

Christmas lights are one of the biggest features of the season. If you are the kind of person that loves draping your home with Christmas lights, you might want to consider an energy conscious alternative this season. With the advancement of energy saving lights, many people are opting for energy saving Christmas lights during the holidays. Christmas lights are usually left on for 12 hours or more and can put a slight increase into your energy bill. Upgrading your lights to more energy efficient Christmas lights are a smart option for a green holiday.

LED Christmas lights are the most energy efficient. Light-emitting diode lights are known to use a fraction of the energy that traditional lights use. Most of these lights will have a 50,000-hour bulb installed. The best feature of these lights is the fact that they don’t get hot when they are lit.

LED lights can be found at local department stores such as Target or Home Depot. Net lighting is another option for people who would like to decorate their homes with lighting that is energy efficient. Net lights are best for hanging from your home’s mantles or overhangs outside.

Garland is a staple of the holiday. If you are considering hanging garland from your stairs or from your mantle, you can invest in LED garland. LED garland can also be put onto your Christmas tree to replace your traditional Christmas lights. If you are more of a “decorate my yard” kind of family, you can invest in some LED snowfall tubes. Snowfall tubes are designed to look like falling snow. They are usually hang from tress but they can also be hung from the overhangs on your house to look like snow is falling.

Icicle string LED lights are another choice. These are meant for the overhangs on your home as well and look like icicles are hanging down. You can find these in different styles and colors. Some of these have multiple colors while others will be white to look like snowflakes. The best feature of these lights is the fact that they are very bright.

You don’t have to sacrifice your holiday spirit by keeping your home green. You can combine both of these and save a little money this year with energy efficient Christmas lights. There are several models and styles that you can choose from so weigh you different options and decide what will go best with your home.

Beacon Power – Another One Bites The Dust?

The Tyngsboro, Massachusetts-based Beacon Power Corporation of filed for Chapter 11 protection on Sunday in bankruptcy court in Delaware, listing assets of $72 million and debts of $47 million. The energy storage company that received a $24 million federal stimulus grant and a $43 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy has now officially filed for bankruptcy protection.

Beacon makes flywheel energy storage systems used to set power frequency in place on electrical grids by absorbing all of the excess power, before returning the energy when needed. The firm says that its long-term financial prospects are strong, however, efforts to build its business have been extremely capital intensive, and that those costs have contributed much to operating losses.

The company has drawn $39.1 million from last year’s DOE loan guarantee for the construction and operation of a 200-flywheel, 20-megawatt frequency regulation facility in the town of Stephentown, New York.

The company was awarded a $24 million Smart Grid stimulus grant in 2009 to build a similar facility in the town of Hazle Township, Pennsylvania with that state kicking in an additional grant of $5 million.

Beacon also received a whopping $4.6 million loan from Massachusetts in 2008 for expansion of its Tyngsboro facility; that comes, however, with an outstanding balance of $3.45 million as of last summer.

DOE officials were decidedly hasty in drawing distinctions between Beacon and Solyndra Incorporated, a California solar energy company which sought bankruptcy protection in Delaware after receiving a half-billion-dollar loan guarantee from the Obama administration.

While, Beacon is seeking to reorganize and to continue operations at the Stephentown plant; now the subject of an investigation by congressional Republicans and the FBI and Solyndra has halted operations upon filing for bankruptcy in September and is now planning to sell its manufacturing assets.

Also, while a February loan restructuring for Solyndra gave priority to taxpayers for repayment of more than $69 million in private loans, the DOE now has a first priority lien on the assets of Beacon’s Stephentown facility.

Also, DOE and Capp officials noted that an October 20 ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should prove favorable to Beacon’s bottom line. The ruling ties the market price paid to frequency regulation providers to the speed at which they respond to changes in supply and demand for the electrical grid.