Worldwatch researchers recently returned from Haiti as a part of the Energy Roadmaps for the Caribbean Project. One exciting idea that grew out of our meetings with government, utility, and private sector officials is the potential for wind and pumped-storage hydro systems on the island of Hispaniola.

A wind and pumped-storage hydro system is an old technology with a new twist, and it is a technology that is being explored on several small islands around the world.

A model of the wind and pumped-storage hydro system on El Hierro (Source: ThomasNet News and Gorona del Viento El Hierro)

For the past half century, countries including the United States have used excess electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear power plants during periods of low power demand to pump water uphill to be stored in reservoirs as potential energy. Then, when demand peaks the reservoirs are opened, allowing water to pass through hydroelectric facilities to generate the needed electricity to meet power demand.

Read the rest of this entry

Caribbean, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy security, Green Technology, Haiti, hydropower, Innovation, low-carbon, renewable energy, wind power

Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping is playing a vital role inWorldwatch’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap project in the Dominican Republic. 3TIER – a company that performs renewable energy risk analysis and develops high-resolution mapping – has assisted Worldwatch by providing GIS data and maps for solar and wind resources in the Dominican Republic.

Generally speaking, GIS is a tool that can be used to integrate geographically referenced data. This computer-based system facilitates the collection, storage, manipulation, analysis, and display of information in a geographically organized manner. It is often employed to help visualize patterns, trends, and relationships amongst data and to compare the suitability of many locations for a specific project.

GIS mapping begins with a simple geographic map of a real-world location. Then, any number of datasets can be added to this baseline map, taking the form of additional map layers. Often, GIS maps are interactive. Users can change the amount of information they see in a map as well as zoom in and out.

Read the rest of this entry

Caribbean, Dominican Republic, electricity, Innovation, low-carbon, renewable energy, solar power, wind power

For the millions suffering through the recent heat waves blanketing the United States, geothermal heating and cooling systems may be of interest. Although such systems are by no means new, they have experienced tremendous growth recently. Last year alone, 50,000 new systems were built in the United States, increasing the total number of U.S. geothermal heating and cooling installations to 150,000.

The frequent and extreme heat waves and cold spells of the past decade have put utilities under greater pressure. Just last week, three regional transmission organizations (RTOs) set all-time highs for daily electricity demand. Unfortunately for electricity consumers, rising electricity demand also translates into rising electricity prices. So what does this have to do with geothermal energy? For home and building owners, geothermal systems offer an opportunity for cleaner and cheaper heating and cooling services.

What services can a geothermal heating and cooling system provide?

As the name might suggest, geothermal heating and cooling systems provide heating and cooling for buildings. Less obvious is that these same systems can also provide humidity control and water heating services. This means that installing a geothermal system lowers the demand on furnace, air-conditioning, and water heating units.

Read the rest of this entry

emissions reductions, energy efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, renewable energy, technology series

Metros with clusters across the United States

There are 2.7 million clean economy jobs in the United States, according to a recently released report by the Brookings Institution entitled “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment.” Brookings hosted an event to announce the release, at which one panel explored the fascinating and increasingly important role that Regional Innovation Clusters (RICs) play in fostering the clean economy.

The report shows that the majority of green jobs (defined as jobs with a direct or indirect environmental benefit) are in conventional sectors like manufacturing, waste management, and mass transit. But the fastest growing sector is clean technology, which includes renewable energy, smart grid, and energy efficiency. While 64 percent of green jobs in the U.S. reside within the 100 largest metropolitan areas (which hold 66 percent of the U.S. population), the same metros hold an outsized 74 percent of the clean tech jobs created from 2003 to 2010. The Brookings report takes this as evidence that metros have strong industry clusters that boost clean economy growth.

Read the rest of this entry

brookings, clean economy, cleantech, clusters, economic development, emissions reductions, energy, energy efficiency, finance, green economy, green jobs, Green Technology, Innovation, low-carbon, nortech, Obama, regional innovation clusters, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable, technology series, United States

Some cities have enacted idling bans

If your car is idling for as little as 10 seconds, you would save gasoline by turning it off. Americans waste 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline per year from voluntary idling (idling that doesn’t result from traffic congestion), emitting over 12,000,000 metric tons of CO2. Utilizing what is called start-stop technology, already common in Europe and costing as little as a few hundred dollars to include with a new car, would eliminate this and other gasoline consumption at no inconvenience to the driver.

In a car with start-stop technology, sometimes referred to as a mild hybrid or micro-hybrid, the engine turns off when the car comes to a stop instead of simply idling. When the accelerator pedal is pressed or, in a manual car, the clutch engaged, the engine turns back on automatically. While the engine is off, stored energy in the battery keeps the car’s auxiliary functions—lighting, heating and air conditioning, and the radio, for example—running normally. Estimates (by automakers, start-stop system manufacturers, and industry analysts) of the fuel economy improvement from this technology range from 5 to 15 percent.

Read the rest of this entry

Innovation, technology series

In a small but critical victory for energy efficiency, Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives failed to garner the two-thirds majority vote necessary to repeal light bulb efficiency standards set to go into effect in January 2012. Although the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act did receive a simple majority vote of 233-193 last Tuesday, it is unlikely to progress any further in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The U.S. Department of Energy website displays the range of light bulbs that meet the upheld standards.

The U.S. Department of Energy website displays the range of light bulbs that meet the upheld standards.

The campaign by House Republicans to block light bulb efficiency standards was characterized by misinformation. Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann and other GOP leaders presented the standards as an overreach by the Obama administration to allow intrusion into consumer decision-making by the federal government. While the current administration has indeed demonstrated strong support for upholding the efficiency standards, they were originally passed as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) which received strong bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Read the rest of this entry

energy efficiency, energy policy, Innovation, light bulbs, U.S. Congress, United States

This entry is the latest in a Worldwatch blog series on innovations in the climate and energy world.

Natel's SLH turbine, courtesy of

According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy for 2011, global hydropower consumption set an all-time high by growing 5.3 percent in 2010, led by China and Canada. The 2010 International Energy Outlook, developed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, projects that renewable energy will be the fastest growing source of electricity through 2035, 53 percent of which will be hydropower (mostly in non-OECD nations). But in the United States—the world’s second largest consumer of electricity—hydropower potential is almost fully tapped, and the future of energy is in natural gas and other renewables.

Isn’t it?

A recent innovation by Natel, a California-based engineering firm, can produce power from ‘low head’ dams and other existing structures.

Read the rest of this entry

electricity, emissions reductions, energy, hydro, Innovation, low head, Natel, renewable energy, technology series

Solar Compactors in Chicago

This entry is the latest in a Worldwatch blog series on innovations in the climate and energy world.

Like any major city, Philadelphia generates a lot of municipal solid waste (MSW). The trash cans in the central downtown area collect 30–40 tons every day. Where that waste goes, and how it is dealt with, are important issues, with greenhouse gas and other environmental ramifications. But simply managing the waste collection is a daunting task as well.

Until recently, Philadelphia had to make pickups in the city center three times a day, which stretched the city’s already thin municipal resources. Installing solar-powered trash compactors, however, has allowed Philadelphia to reduce its trash pickup burden dramatically, with associated savings and ancillary benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less crowded streets, and increased recycling.

Read the rest of this entry

Innovation, technology series
Imagine if all cars were charged with electricity from renewable energy!

Imagine if all these cars were charged with electricity from wind!

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic must make their transport sectors cleaner and more sustainable in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With 1,590 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year emitted in the United States, 145 million tons in Germany, and 5,470 million tons worldwide, transportation is one of the major contributors to global warming. In relative numbers, cars, trucks, buses, planes, trains etc. generate a third of the United States’, 17 percent of Germany’s and 23 percent of the world’s total CO2 emissions.

There are multiple ways to reduce the sector’s emissions, such as encouraging people to use public transportation, convincing industry to switch from road to rail, or by making current transportation technologies and fuels less polluting. Regarding the latter, the efficiency of petroleum-based engines in cars has improved considerably, particularly in periods of high oil prices such as 1975-1987 and the last few years. However, in the future it is a new technology, electric vehicles, that is seen as the route to a low-carbon transportation system. If charged with electricity from renewable energy, these cars have the potential to make individual transportation almost carbon-free.

Read the rest of this entry

climate, e-cars, e-vehicles, electric vehicles, emissions reductions, energy, Germany, Green Technology, Innovation, low-carbon, renewable energy, transport, United States

This entry is the latest in a Worldwatch blog series on innovations in the climate and energy world.

Soon to be obsolete?

The Nissan Leaf proudly advertises that it can go 100 miles on a single charge. Chevrolet, Toyota, and other car companies have promoted their plug-in gas-electric hybrids as the more rational alternative, since you can switch to the gasoline option when you need extra range. But what if charging your electric car were as easy as filling your gas tank?

For electric vehicles to become the dominant mode of personal transportation, the charging process will have to evolve: it will need to be either much faster, or far less frequent. In a recent article in Nature Nanotechnology, scientist Paul Braun and his research team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describe their blueprint for a new battery with a greatly reduced charging time. Their most successful lithium-ion prototype reaches a 90 percent charge in just two minutes.

Read the rest of this entry

battery, electric vehicles, Innovation, lithium, lithium-ion batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries, Nissan Leaf, technology series