‘The Cloud’ Drives Investment in Alternative Energy

Searching The Planet To Find Power For The Cloud

You hear the term “the cloud” or “cloud computing,” and you picture something puffy, white, clean and quiet. Cloud computing is anything but.

Adair Iowa Wind Farm

MidAmerican Energy’s wind farm in Adair, Iowa. Facebook is working with MidAmerican to build a similar wind farm near Wellsburg, Iowa, where it will help power Facebook’s planned data center.


from NPR, read the original story »

Even from a distance you can hear the hum of a modern data center. Last week, NPR visited one of the largest in Santa Clara, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s called SC1, is owned by DuPont Fabros Technology and is about a quarter-mile long. “It’s about the same size and length as a Nimitz aircraft carrier,” says Paul Hopkins, a regional vice president for the company, shortly after buzzing me through the door.

The entrance is guarded, and employees need fingerprint scans to get in and out. Hopkins has agreed to show me around. SC1 isn’t fully built out yet. But when it is, it will use enough electricity to power more than 57,000 homes. Just inside the door, there is a corridor that stretches in a straight line for more than 1,000 feet. “The guys that work here, a lot have their own little Razor scooters to get around,” Hopkins says. “It’s a heck of a long walk if you’re walking back and forth all day.”

DuPont Fabros is one of a half-dozen cloud storage providers you’ve probably never heard of. But their business is to build out these enormous buildings that house and cool millions of computer servers. This company’s customers include Microsoft and Facebook. And this building is massive. Picture dozens of cavernous ballrooms lined up in a row. Now elevate the floors, run superpowered air condition systems underneath, and then stuff the space with as many racks of computers as you can possibly imagine. “In one of these rooms here, we could fit 450 cabinets. Each cabinet has 30 to 50 servers — just a ton” of computing power, Hopkins says.

All those machines running full out use a huge amount of energy and throw off a lot of heat. SC1 has a half-million-gallon chilled water tank to cool off the machines if the regular air-conditioning system fails. The tank looks like a small office building, easily six or seven stories tall. But when the servers are running at capacity, they produce enough heat to evaporate all of that water in just 30 minutes. Researchers at Greenpeace estimate that if the cloud were a country it would be one of the biggest consumers of electricity on the planet. “It would rank around sixth in the world,” says Gary Cook at Greenpeace. “That is right after Russia and right before Germany.”

Read the full article at NPR.org »

Solar Systems Integration

We recently discussed the concept of integrating solar power directly with transmission and communications systems. As it turns out, this is a very cutting edge idea with various research projects taking place around the country.

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The idea is an excellent infrastructure solution, especially overseas. In particular, the islands of Indonesia would benefit greatly from having solar micro-grids with transmission and communications technologies fully integrated.
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Here are some findings:
 This integrated approach is highly efficient and maximizes the usability of the land available.
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John Kerry Remarks on Climate Change in Jakarta

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On February 16, 2014, the US Secretary of State John Kerry addressed an audience of top policy-makers in Indonesia, urging them to consider the detrimental effects of climate change and to plan ahead for their eventualities. “Luka di kaki, sakit seluruh badan,” he quipped in Bahasa; “when there’s a pain in the foot, the whole body feels it.”  As deforestation continues in many parts of Indonesia, Secretary Kerry reminded those present of the wealth of resources they have available at their fingertips.  In particular, the Green Prosperity program will “help address deforestation and support innovation and clean energy throughout the country.”

The full transcript of Secretary Kerry’s remarks can be found online.

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Forbes Asia: Chinese Investment in Western Solar Technology

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Chinese Billionaire Li Hejun Has Swooped On Cheap Western Solar Technology. What’s Next? When the world’s eyes were fixed on the Beijing Olympics five years ago, China cleaned up the capital’s famously polluted air.  Since then, things have gone from the previously bad to the progressively worse. Pollution is sometimes so thick that the American embassy advises staying indoors. This year a study backed by prestigious Tsinghua University found that Chinese living north of the Huai River–an area that includes Beijing–on average die 5.5 years earlier. The nation’s current energy and resource mix is toxic.Production facility

At his headquarters in the China Olympics Forest Park, trying to do something about it, is Li Hejun, chairman of China’s largest clean energy business, Hanergy Holding. Li arrived in the city as a college student in the 1980s from Guangdong Province. Later he found his way into hydropower, acquiring and building small dams back home until he put together what would make his career: western China’s Jin’anqiao Hydroelectric Project, the world’s largest privately owned hydropower station. The total power business generates $500 million a year of free cash flow for a Hanergy arm, according to Li and a report by Macquarie Securities. “I could stop working ,” Li smiles in an interview. “I like golf.”

But Li, at 46, is a man with a larger mission. He wants to expand his renewable-resource business, in particular solar. More than half of the world’s energy will come from renewables in 2035, he predicts. The sun is “everywhere”–even behind that Beijing muck.

For a China dependent on imported oil and battling horrific coal smoke, it’s a wonderful big dream, the stuff of new President Xi Jinping’s rhetoric. Rather than the silicon-based technology that fostered the rise and fall of many solar companies, including Chinese, Li is focused on what is known as thin-film. It’s lightweight but can be combined with other materials to power buildings.

A crash in the price of thin-film technology in the U.S. and elsewhere in recent years has beset still other firms and paved the way for Li to swoop in at vulture prices. Reportedly, a thin-film company that Li bought last year for $30 million, MiaSole, received $500 million of venture funding from, among others, Silicon Valley heavyweight Kleiner Perkins (which didn’t respond to a request for a comment). Li in the past year also bought Solibro from German solar equipment maker Q-Cells and Global Solar Energy of Arizona.

solar_workers“It’s very smart,” says Gary Rieschel, a managing partner at Qiming Venture Partners in Shanghai, which includes green-tech firms among its $1 billion of investments “You have to take him seriously.” Li says he’s still looking to buy more businesses.

This story appears in the October 28, 2013 issue of Forbes Asia.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.com »

 

Genome of Palm Oil Sequenced

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The genome of one of the world’s key commercial crops, the oil palm, has been sequenced.  The plant’s oil is used in many food and household products, but has caused controversy because large areas of rainforest have been cleared to make way for plantations. Through deciphering the crop’s DNA, researchers have identified the genes that could help to produce a more sustainable crop.  The oil from palms has a wide variety of uses and is found in food, soaps and shampoos and biofuels.

“These large plant genomes are very challenging to sequence… we had to use some very advanced technology to do this”
Prof Robert Martienssen Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory

But as demand for the product has grown, rainforests, particularly those in South East Asia, have suffered. Trees have been felled to make way for the crop.

Now though, scientists say an insight into the plant’s genes could help.

An international team sequenced the genome of the oil palm, deciphering 1.8 billion “letters” of DNA.

Prof Robert Martienssen, from the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in the US, said: “These large plant genomes are very challenging to sequence, in part because of the size, but also because they have a lot of repetitive sequences, which makes it difficult to put the jigsaw puzzle together.

“We had to use some very advanced technology to do this.”

Within this code, the researchers found a gene that made some of the trees produce more oil than others.

Dr Rajinder Singh, from government agency the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, said: “The oil palm has three fruit forms. We have the thick-shelled type – the Dura; those that don’t have any shell – the Pisifera – but are not used for commercial production; and we have a third form produced as a cross between the thick shell and the one without the shell, which is known as the Tenera.

“It has a thinner shell, but more of the fleshy fruit to produce the oil, and it is the one used for commercial production. And we identified the gene producing this trait.”

From the BBC, 24 July 2013

Read more of this story at the BBC »

Yale University Unveils Energy Studies Program

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Starting in the fall of 2013, undergraduate students at Yale University can combine their majors with the Program in Energy Studies, in an interdisciplinary approach facilitated by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute (YCEI). One major benefit of the new Energy Studies Program is that it will allow undergraduates to complete a capstone project during their senior year, whether it be an essay, a research study, or a summer job or internship in an energy-related field. Among the standard majors partnering with Energy Studies are Environmental Engineering and Geology and Geophysics, both of which boast strong research support at Yale.

The D-Lab at MIT

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The D-Lab at MIT allows MIT students to bring sustainable, scalable technology into the developing world. A former D-Lab student and educator, Dr. Amy Banzaert is bringing her unique brand of engineering enthusiasm to Wellesley College. A recent article profiles Wellesley’s efforts to expan.d it’s engineering offerings. While Wellesley already offers joint programs with both Olin College of Engineering and MIT, the newly offered courses on the Wellesley campus will offer introductions to Engineering to science majors and non-majors alike.

One of the new courses, “Making a Difference Through Engineering,” will focus on sustainable energy technologies, among other improvements, that could be readily implemented in places like Nicaragua and Cape Verde. The class will include feasibility studies to determine the most appropriate technologies for a given community, and the chance to work with community partners both locally and abroad, much like the D-Lab Energy Course. Dr. Banzaert reflected on her time at the D-Lab after defending her PhD thesis “Viability of Waste-Based Cooking Fuels for Developing Countries: Combustion Emissions and Field Feasibility” in fall 2012.