PICTURED ABOVE: Bosleav farmers in front of the commune’s first solar-powered water pump.
Cambodia: Water management goes solar
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Bamboo bikes hit the pavement in Ghana
In Ghana, a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, making frames of bicycles out of bamboo could be the key to promoting sustainable development. It also makes stronger, longer-lasting bikes.
This is according to Bernice Dapaah, the executive director of Bamboo Bikes Initiative, which trains young Ghanaians to build, fix, and market bamboo-framed bicycles.
“We are into women, children, and youth’s empowerment. And the project reduces carbon emissions and contributes to traffic decongestion, so using it is also a form of reducing climate change,” she said in an interview with IPS.
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VIDEO ABOVE: Professor David Carroll has developed a fabric-like material that generates electricity. CNN’s Anna Coren reports.
Fabric turns body heat into electricity
Researchers have developed a way to turn body heat into electricity meaning your mobile will never go dead again. Power Felt can keep your phone going for up to 20 per cent longer just through the power of touch. Mobile users can even sit on their phones to make the ‘connection’ - passing electricity through their own body to the device.
The technology has been created by Professor David Carroll of Wakeforest University’s Centre for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials in the US.
He said that it could be the first wave of inexpensive ways to produce electricity that were far more affordable than current renewables such as solar, which was being held back by the high cost. Power Felt is also extremely versatile and could provide emergency electricity for a radio or a torch meaning it would be vital during power outages.
Professor Carroll said he began his experiments after finding there was no naturally occurring material which was able to conduct electricity in the way he wanted that was affordable and flexible.
Instead he and his team used nanotechnology to put tiny carbon nanotubes into miniscule plastic fibres and made them look like a fabric. Explaining the mechanism worked, Professor Carroll said, “If you grab one end of a bar of metal, the electrons that heat your hand become warm. As they warm, they seek out the cold spots, which would be the other end of the bar. So (the electrons go) rushing down to the other end of the bar. So I have an excess of electrons on one side, and a depletion of excess electrons underneath my hands, so I have a voltage between the two which is called the thermal voltage. And that’s what Power Felt generates.”
Even if there is no big temperature difference Power Felt can still pick up power from noises such as the vibration of the car, he added.
So far he has already made a shirt that charges batteries, but the first way the technology could be used is toys. Sports clothing could also have a range of gadgets to monitor a person’s performance built into it, all powered by the individual’s own electric charge. Professor Carroll told News Observer, “Kids absolutely love this stuff because you can put it all places and get power.
“You run little motors and stuff. … You can make little toys run. You can make little cars run around from a pad. Those are the fun things, because kids begin to imagine really wild places to start using this. … they’re interested in how it works, but they’re more interested in what can they do with it. It seems to be a property of children: ‘Can I put it here, or can I make it do that?’ They kind of want to fiddle with it, and that’s great. There’s loads and loads of science behind this, but that’s not the fun part of Power Felt. The fun part of Power Felt is playing with it.”
World’s biggest offshore windfarm planned off Scottish coast
The world’s biggest offshore windfarm could be built off the northern Scottish coast, after a scheme with enough capacity to power 40% of Scottish households was submitted for planning permission.
The £4.5bn complex would have 339 turbines covering 300 square kilometres off Caithness, making it 50% bigger than the giant London Array scheme off Kent. It is expected to be the first in a series of deep water schemes under “Round 3” licensing. The renewable industry has hailed it as a watershed moment but warned these new deep water farms might only be fully realised if the government provides policy stability by pushing through its proposed Energy Bill.
The 1.5-gigawatt farm is being developed by Moray Offshore Renewables, a joint venture between Spanish oil company Repsol, and an arm of Portuguese power group EDP, which has recently become partly owned by China’s state-owned Three Gorges Corporation. It has already attracted controversy because it is opposed by American billionaire Donald Trump, who says the 200-metre-high turbines will spoil the view from his planned new golf course. Dan Finch, project director for the scheme due to come on stream in 2018, said working more than 12 miles from shore allowed it to take advantage of the excellent wind resource in the outer Moray Firth.
“We estimate that the project will be capable of supplying the electricity needs of 800,000 to 1m households … Each year this development could save between 3.5m and 4.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with coal fired generation, and between 1.5m and 2m tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with gas fired generation,” he said.
The industry body, RenewableUK, said a further 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind schemes should follow into the planning process this year with a total of 18 gigawatts expected to become operational over the next eight years. But Maria McCaffery, RenewableUK’s chief executive, emphasised that this progress could only be achieved if the policy certainty laid out in the upcoming Energy Bill was achieved.
“We’re marking a watershed moment as Round Three starts to become a reality with this planning application. It’s the first of many coming forward. As well as delivering secure supplies of low carbon electricity to British homes and businesses, our global leadership role in offshore wind can provide tens of thousands of jobs across the country, building and maintaining these turbines.”
The Moray Firth wind farm, which will be given significant subsidies, compares with the 1-gigawatt at the London Array, which is currently in the construction phase, and compares with the largest British coal-fired plant, Drax in northern Yorkshire of 4 gigawatts, and the planned new EDF nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset with a combined output of 3.2 gigawatts and a bill of at least £10bn.
China Three Gorges Corporation acquired a 21% holding from the cash-strapped Portuguese government in Energias de Portugal, EDP, for €2.69bn (£2.13bn). The Beijing-based energy company was responsible for construction of the also controversial Three Gorges Dam-project, the world largest hydroelectric power plant, that went into operation in 2008.
Switzerland’s solar-powered Islas office is an energy-storing battery building
The Islas Commercial Office Building in Samedan, Switzerland hides a secret inside - it’s actually an energy storage facility. Like a battery that stores electricity, Islas stores energy in the form of heat. Designed by Mierta & Kurt Lazzarini Architekten, the office makes use of concrete floors, underground water tanks and a large solar system on the roof to soak up the sun’s energy and store it inside for later use.
The Islas Office Building is located in Samedan between the Inn River and Kantonal Road. Mierta & Kurt Lazzarini Architekten took inspiration for the building’s facade from the nearby riverbed and the stepped hillsides in the distance.
The wavy rusty iron sheet and the glass facade reflect the surroundings and the ever-changing light. The four-story structure includes a central atrium and circulation core for each of the four businesses within: migrolino-store, a dental surgery, a beauty clinic and an architecture office.
A clever energy-saving system is integrated throughout the entire building, and intelligent controls manage all the equipment. On the roof, a large solar photovoltaic system soaks up the sun’s energy, which is stored in water tanks under the building. Similarly, each level features concrete floors, which absorb the sun’s heat during the day and transfer that heat to the interior of the building for use later in the night.Also, rejected heat from the migrolino store’s refrigerator system is moved throughout the building for heating elsewhere. Thanks to these systems, very little additional heating is needed during the cooler months.
It looks like a giant, glass marble. But this globe is no game. It’s a sun-tracking, solar energy concentrator.
This sun-tracking glass globe is able to concentrate sunlight and moonlight up to 10,000 times and that the system is 35 percent more efficient than traditional photovoltaic designs that track the sun.
Electric car breaks 500 mile barrier
The arguments against an electric car are growing fewer. A vehicle in development by ECOmove – a consortium of Danish car builders – has unveiled a car that can travel 500 miles without refueling. Once a sticking point for electric vehicles, distance could be ticked off the list of grievances the driving populace has with electrics. Fuel prices have moved drivers to turn to hybrid and clean diesel but advances in electric technology could signal the rise of electrics as a space for entrepreneurs and established companies alike.
ECOmove’s car, the QBEAK, can reach 75 miles and hour, uses electric motors and a fuel cell that converts a bio-methanol and water mixtur into electricity, which charges the battery.
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The world’s eight largest development banks said on Wednesday they will invest $175 billion over 10 years to support low-emission transportation programs, such as car sharing or rapid bus systems, in Asia, Latin America and Africa, whose cities are bracing for population growth of 1 billion people over next two decades.
The Asian Development Bank, World Bank and six other multilateral banks announced the $175 billion commitment of loans and grant at the U.N. Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), where they called for sustainable transportation to be set as a priority in the U.N.’s development agenda.
The banks said they are making the financial commitment at a critical time for the transportation sector, as cities in Africa and Asia are expected to add hundreds of millions of people to their populations.
The pace of urban growth will require new transportation systems to help these cities prevent patters of urban sprawl and congestion, according to the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), a partnership including UN-organizations, the development banks and other development organizations.
“The breakthrough that we are witnessing allows us to plan for the one billion people who will move to cities over the next 20 years and the one billion people still living in poverty,” says Cornie Huizenga, an organizer SLoCaT’s Rio+20 campaign.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the development banks said that with more people driving in developing countries as incomes rise, a lack of efficient transportation in some rapidly growing cities has caused major congestion, which has resulted in lost time and higher transport costs that range from 2 to 5 percent of GDP.
The banks also said that if current trends continue, the transportation sector will become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, accounting for 46 percent of global emissions by 2035.
“These unprecedented commitments have the promise to save hundreds of thousands of lives by cleaning the air and making roads safer; cutting congestion in hundreds of cities; and reducing the contribution of transportation to harmful climate change,” said Joan Clos, executive director of U.N.-HABITAT, a U.N. agency focused on urban development.
The development banks estimated that between 2010 and 2020, developing countries in Asia will need more than $2.5 trillion in transportation investment, while Latin America will require $0.7 trillion.
In Africa, transport investment requirements of $18.3 billion annually will be needed for the period up to 2020, the development banks said
Enel Green Power, Italy’s biggest renewable energy company, has started production at four new solar power plants in Greece to take its installed capacity in the country to 245 megawatts.
EGP also said on Tuesday that ESSE, a joint venture with Japanese group Sharp, has started production of two solar plants in Greece with a capacity of 2 MW.
EGP, controlled by Europe’s No. 2 utility Enel, is focused on countries that have clear regulatory frameworks and plentiful renewable resources such as solar and wind power.
“Positive signs for a recovery in competitivity and growth are coming from the country … despite the difficulties Greece has respected all its remuneration commitments on renewable plants,” an EGP spokesman told Reuters.
Greek political parties meeting on Tuesday said they expected to form a coalition government soon and then seek concessions to the painful austerity measures tied to the international bailout deal keeping the country from bankruptcy.
Shrinking power demand, bad debts and poor regulation has created a 350 million euro hole in the finances of Greece’s energy system, which depends on imported electricity and gas.
EGP’s new Greek plants, which have an installed capacity of 17.4 megawatts, are all in the Peloponnesian region where it also has wind and hydro capacity.
EGP shares were up 2.2 percent at 1130 GMT, compated with a 0.2 percent higher European utility index.
“The American Dream: Phase II
“Sprawl … It’s the American dream unfolding before your eyes.”
That’s L. Brooks Patterson’s irresistible description of sprawl, proving yet again how masterful the stalwarts of the status quo are at messaging that which they hope to preserve in amber.
In a speech to his constituents earlier this year, Patterson, the county executive of Oakland County, Mich., continued to wax poetic on the topic: “I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it. Are you getting the picture? Sprawl is not evil. In fact, it is good … [it] is new jobs, new hope and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.”
Patterson’s rousing stump speech for sprawl is emblematic of how we as a culture are far too invested in a vision of the American dream that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. Over the past 30 years we’ve stripped away the supporting mechanisms of sprawl but have continued to create it.
We’ve built more houses than we’ve needed — and built them farther away from jobs. This has led to longer commutes, which has created more traffic. In response, we built more highways, increasing fuel consumption and, as transportation planners acknowledge, doing little if anything to reduce traffic. It’s a vicious, seemingly endless cycle, and at its core is the notion that the American dream can exist only within the framework of the single-family home on a large lot.
Indeed, we’ve become so fixated on this as the sole delivery mechanism of that American dream that we’ve spent a disproportionate amount of our collective energies (home-) improving it without considering meaningful alternative visions — or devoting at least a smidgen of attention to what’s outside the front door or down the block. Everything in our culture today reinforces this idea of home as castle (or fortress) rather than home as part of a larger whole (i.e., neighborhood). We need to find our way to the latter view, and part of that means finding a better way to talk about it.
The good news is that more and more people are.
It’s true that for years, homebuilders and home-sellers were touting Patterson’s sprawl-friendly sales pitch. If you were to walk into the sales center of any subdivision or master-planned community, from Modesto, Calif., to Tampa, Fla., the first question you’d be asked was, “How much square footage are you looking for?” Not “What kind of community would you like to be a part of?”
But increasingly, many of those looking for places to live found that the market had nothing for them. Houses were too big, too isolated, too generic, too hard to maintain. Or they were designed for the quintessential nuclear family that exists more in our cultural imagination than in reality. Few homes offered options for aging in place, for returning college kids or elderly parents, or even decent home office space. Would-be residents lamented the lack of amenities like a café or a playground within walking distance in master-planned communities of 5,000, 10,000 or even 40,000 homes (!), an absence often explained away with “a community of this size couldn’t support it.” For years, I heard from builders and developers who said they knew there was a market for smaller, more sustainable properties — they just couldn’t get such projects to pencil out.
Now, it seems those pencils have been sharpened.
“The giants of the building industry, the creators for decades of massive communities of cookie-cutter homes, cul-de-sacs and McMansions in far-flung suburbs” are doing an about-face, suddenly building smaller neighborhoods in and close to cities, noted an article in USA Today last month.
The market slowdown, the article went on to explain, “has given builders time to assess sweeping demographic changes that are transforming the way Americans want to live.”
In short, builders are recognizing that buyers (and renters, too!) value the neighborhood as much as — if not more than — the house. And what they want from that neighborhood might not be McMansions and four-car garages after all. Resale value may not in fact trump all else. Young and old, whether they’re in the city or the suburbs, want to walk to places like restaurants and shops. (And let’s stop talking about the integration of things like cafes, public transit and bike racks as “urbanizing” an area, which only reinforces the divide between two entities that are divided enough already.)
People have begun to wake up to the fact that the more time spent in the car means poorer health and less time with their families — and they’re seeking shorter commutes. They’re interested in smaller homes that are easier to maintain (and less expensive to heat and cool). Young millennials and older baby boomers are also showing less and less interest in car ownership and a corresponding greater interest in public transit, walking and biking. And again, it’s likely that we’re all less interested in continuing to discuss “urban” and “suburban” as dueling polar opposites — and more interested in recognizing there’s mutual benefit to some overlap.
The aforementioned changes point to the fact that a paradigmatic shift in our concept of the American dream is underway. And this shift is not just because of the recession, says Gregory Vilkin, managing principal and president of MacFarlane Partners, quoted in that USA Today piece, “It’s no longer the American dream to own a plot of land with a house on it and two cars in the driveway.”