Batteries not required: Wireless sensors promote building efficiencies

ECO 100 power generator and PTM 230 transmitte...

EnOcean's Eco 100 power generator and transmitter. Image via Wikipedia

Wired’s Gadget Lab is reporting on a clever wireless energy sensor developed by EnOcean that can help manage energy efficiencies (and cut costs) in commercial buildings.

EnOcean is a spinoff of Siemens focused on making energy harvesting wireless sensors and transmitters. These devices harvest energy from the mechanical movement of light switches, swipe card readers, and door handles, or use the Peltier effect to extract energy from the temperature difference between surfaces, to power tiny transmitters. These transmitters can communicate on TCP/IP networks allowing for whole-building control.

“Most buildings today are dumb,” says EnOcean Chairman Graham Martin, “meaning they completely lack automation systems to manage energy use.” With EnOcean’s easy-to-install switches and thermostats in place, any internet-enabled device can communicate with the sensors to turn down the heat or shut off lights. And since the whole system is wireless, there’s no need to rip holes in walls to install automation systems.

While currently focused on commercial uses, EnOcean has its sights on more mainstream applications, such as homes. You can read more about how their technology works on their website.

China’s energy consumption will level off?

One of the biggest bugaboos in the west about the rise of China has been the concern over an exponential increase in Chinese energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. A new report by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is now challenging that assumption.

As reported in ScienceDaily, report co-author and director of LBNL’s China Energy Group Mark Levine says, “There’s been a perception that China’s rising prosperity means runaway growth in energy consumption. Our study shows this won’t be the case.”

The labor-intensive study developed a “bottom-up” model of energy use providing a more detailed look at energy demand patterns than standard methodologies. It looked at the drivers of energy consumption and the implications of efficiency policies. It also allowed for improvements in the efficiency of equipment as well as the reduction in demand as more households become saturated with appliances.

What the researchers (Nan Zhou, David Fridley, Michael McNeil, Nina Zheng, Jing Ke, and Mark Levine) found is that China’s energy consumption will begin to flatten in 2025-2030 and will fall by mid-century. Once everyone has a refrigerator, they won’t need another one each year. Once a highway or commercial building has been built, it will have a certain life period before needing to be replaced. The reason China’s energy demand is so high now is that it has to build up much of its infrastructure, as well as meet the demand for appliances from an increasingly wealthy populace, but that won’t last forever. China will eventually fall into the pattern of more developed countries where energy demand is flat even though standards of living continue to rise.

While this is good news, even if China’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions level off, they will still be far above their former levels.

You can read the report here.

Ready, set, innovate!

Back in March, we mentioned that the Department of Energy had a new idea to help jump-start energy startups – The ‘America’s Next Top Energy Innovator’ Challenge.

Well guess what, folks? Today marks the start of the Challenge! From now until December 15, entrepreneurs and companies can apply for up to 3 of the Department of Energy’s 15,000 unlicensed patents for only $1,000 up front and with much less paperwork required.

The idea is to expedite the process of bringing new energy technologies to the U.S. marketplace. “Our goal is simple,” said Secretary Chu, “unleash America’s innovation machine and win the global race for the clean energy jobs of the future.”

If you’re interested, you can look through the available technologies and learn more about the process on the Department’s Energy Innovation Portal. You can also see a short powerpoint document the Department compiled that answers the most commonly asked questions.

Now get out there and innovate!

Total and SunPower enter into strategic solar energy partnership

SunPower, the Silicon Valley-based solar manufacturer, has announced that it is entering into a strategic partnership with French oil and gas company Total. Under the terms of the agreement, Total will launch a friendly tender offer for up to 60 percent of both SunPower’s outstanding Class A Common and Class B Common shares. The offer price of $23.25 per share for each class represents a 46 percent premium over the Class A closing price and 49 percent premium over the Class B closing price. In addition, Total promises to provide SunPower with up to $1 billion of credit support over the next five years.

The boards of both companies have already approved the transaction, but the deal still needs approval from the anti-trust authorities of both the U.S. and the European Union. After the agreement is in place, the two companies will enter into a research and collaboration agreement focusing on advancing photovoltaic technologies in multiple research and development projects. With China currently leading in the increasingly competitive solar industry, the partnership should give a needed boost to the efforts of both Total and Sunpower.

“With Total’s $1 billion credit support agreement, solar research and development investments and the other resources available through its global network, we have taken the next step in positioning our business for continued growth and long-term success, ” said Tom Werner, SunPower’s CEO. “Our relationship with Total will improve our capital structure enabling SunPower to accelerate our power plant and commercial development businesses, and expand our manufacturing capacity with lower cash requirements.”

“The world future energy balance will be the result of a long-term transition in which renewable energies will take their place alongside conventional resources,” said Philippe Boisseau , President, Total Gas and Power Division. “Over the past years, Total has built up sizeable renewable energy activities. Today, Total is executing on its strategy to become a major integrated player in solar energy. We evaluated multiple solar investments for more than two years and concluded that SunPower is the right partner based on its people, world-leading technology and cost roadmap, vertical integration strategy and downstream footprint.”

What’s Google doing in the energy sector?

Another view of the south side of the Googlepl...

Google headquarters. Image via Wikipedia

There was a lot of buzz last year when Google created Google Energy LLC, a subsidiary of the search engine giant that is focused on reducing energy costs and consumption for the company but that can also produce and sell clean energy.

Prior to the formation of the company, Google had already been investing in wind, solar, and geothermal projects, including a 1.6 megawatt (MW) solar panel array at its Mountain View CA headquarters. Google Energy has since invested $38.8 million for wind farms generating 169.5 MW in North Dakota, agreed to purchase 100 MW of wind energy in both Iowa and Oklahoma, joined a group of investors building an undersea cable in the Atlantic to carry wind energy from future offshore wind farms to transmission grids, invested $168 million in BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar thermal plant being built in the California’s Mojave desert and capable of generating 392 MW of solar power, and put money into a variety of smaller greentech startups. Google said that with the Ivanpah deal, its investment in clean power has hit $250 million.

With so much money going into support for renewables, it’s ironic that Greenpeace recently knocked Google in a recent study looking at data centers and the dirty energy powering them. Greenpeace later issued a special statement to the press praising some of Google’s clean energy efforts.

So what is Google up to? In an article at Gigaom last year, Google’s Niki Fenwick said that the creation of Google Energy was an attempt to proactively address hurdles the company might face in its plans to be carbon neutral. By buying and selling clean energy from its investments, Google would help offset the carbon emissions associated with its data centers and other operations. Owning its own power generation will also allow the tech giant to lower its energy costs.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Google’s green energy czar, Bill Weihl, said that the company had reduced energy consumption by more than 50% over the last five to six years at their server and data centers. Moreover, he said that Google Energy was interested in improvements and efficiencies, but also what he called “additionality.” In Weihl’s words, “Basically, we ask: will our purchase [of power from a renewable energy provider] result in something new happening beyond business-as-usual.”

Google is famous for aggressively pursuing side projects that don’t seem to have a clear connection to its core business. Google Energy, however, makes sense: it provides clean energy for data centers, the investments offer good returns for the capital, and, as noted by Fenwick, it positions the company to proactively address issues that might rise in the future.

Cape Wind is finally a go

The natural resource of wind powers these 5MW ...

Offshore wind turbine. Image via Wikipedia

After a decade of bureaucratic red tape, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. has finally received approval to start construction. The Cape Wind project, located 5 miles off the coast in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, will begin construction of its 130 turbine, 468 MW generating wind farm this fall.

The project has suffered a series of environmental and regulatory road blocks since it first began public hearings in 2001. Concerns over impacts to wildlife, worries of radar interference impacting air travel, and anger over the result the project would have on ocean views were just a few of the battles Cape Wind has had to overcome. The project earned powerful opponents as well, including Senator Ted Kennedy.

Although the project has finally earned permission to begin construction, the battle is far from over. Only half the anticipated generated energy has an identified buyer and opponents are still pursuing lawsuits. The fight over Cape Wind has been long and tedious and doesn’t offer much hope for similar projects in the future. Although offshore wind farms are capable of providing more generation capacity (due to larger turbines), the powerful Not-In-My-Back-Yard contingent makes it more likely that the wide open spaces of the Midwest and West will continue to be the sites for future wind farms.

To read more about Cape Wind, visit their website.

A new VW van for climate-conscious hippies

Original VW van. Image from Wikipedia

The iconic VW van, known and loved by hippies, college kids, and campers, has been updated for a new market of climate-conscious consumers. Volkswagen’s microbus, the Bulli, first debuted in 1950 and was produced through 1967. Other versions of the popular bus followed on the heels of the Bulli, but now the company has reincarnated the original in the hopes of bringing back the sense of freedom inspired by the original.

The all-electric Volkswagen Bulli

The new Bulli, a concept vehicle shown at the Geneva Auto Show, is all-electric, can go up to 186 miles on a single battery charge, and can reach speeds of 87 miles per hour. Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, told Automobile Magazine that although the vehicle is just a concept, it was “number one on my unfunded projects list.” Still, experts don’t rate the chances as very high that the vehicle will go into production. We hope they’re wrong!