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By Alex Leff
Tico Times Staff | aleff@ticotimes.net

A new Costa Rican solar power plan will see the light of day thanks to an approximately $9 million gift from Japan, officials from both countries said this week.

The “Project to Introduce Clean Energy through Solar Electrical Generation,” proposed last year by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), will enable Costa Rica to have its first solar power plant, which officials expect will help steer Costa Rica closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2021.

The first phase of the plan is called the “Miravalles Solar Project,” which will join ICE geothermal and wind power plant in Miravalles, in the northwest province of Guanacaste. ICE officials said the state-run institute has enough land there to install a micro solar generator capable of cranking out 400 kilowatts, which will help provide electricity for rural communities in the region.

Phase 2 of the plan – the “Solar Sabana Pilot Project” – will be built at the ICE headquarters in the western San José neighborhood of Sabana Norte. Workers will install solar panels on the institute’s high-rise building to “show residents of the greater metropolitan area the possibilities offered by solar energy,” according to a statement from ICE.

The institute has not set a date for these projects to start, as both phases are pending final details of the donation, ICE said.

Costa Rican Foreign Ministry officials expressed gratitude for the donation from the “nation of the rising sun,” Japan.

“This cooperation will allow us to achieve 100 percent use of clean, renewable energy, reducing part of our carbon emissions, with the goal of being the first developing country to become carbon neutral by the year 2021,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno said at the signing ceremony.

The donation comes through Japan’s Cool Earth Partnership, which is a $10 billion program to “cooperate actively with developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions, such as efforts to enhance energy efficiency,” according to the program’s Web site.

“I hope through our cooperation that friendly nations such as Costa Rica can have access to technologies developed in Japan to combat climate change and achieve their objectives,” said Japanese Ambassador to Costa Rica Hidekazu Yamaguchi, who signed the agreement Tuesday along with Stagno.

Renewable energy – whether through hydroelectric, geothermal or wind power – makes up 94.6 percent of the total energy generated for Costa Rican consumption, according to Roger Carvajal, director of ICE’s Corporate University Division.

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By Megan Treacy

While the BLM is facing a virtual clog of large, desert-based solar project proposals, smaller, distributed solar projects are popping up at an impressive rate. In just the past few weeks, 1,300 MW worth of these projects have been announced or approved, which could equal about the same energy output of a big nuclear power plant.

The larger, more ambitious solar power plans have many environmental and land-use hurdles to clear, while these smaller plans, set to occupy commercial and residential rooftops, areas near electrical substations and urban areas, don’t have the same obstacles in their way. Also, the smaller projects are cheaper, meaning more utilities can afford to implement them as they’re scrambling to meet renewable energy mandates.

Arno Harris, the CEO of Recurrent Energy, a company that has signed a contract with Southern California Edison for 50 MW of small-scale solar, summed it up like this:

“Distributed solar is faster on permitting, on environmental issues and interconnection to the grid. It offers a safety valve for utilities who don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.”

The projects, anywhere from 50 to 500 MW each, are mainly concentrated in California, though New York Power Authority is planning 100 MW installation around the state as well.

via Green Inc.



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Katherine Goldstein
Huffington Post

While debates about the economy, unemployment and the effectiveness of the stimulus plan continue to rage throughout the country, their appears to be a bright spot for proponents of clean energy stimulus spending.

According to Whitehouse.gov, the release of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) 4th Quarter 2009 industry assessment(PDF) indicates that stimulus spending is directly responsible for turning a potential 50% decline in growth in the wind power sector into a 39% increase in growth in the country’s fleet of wind plants in 2009 alone.

“The U.S. wind industry shattered all installation records in 2009, and this was directly attributable to the lifeline that was provided by the stimulus package,” Denise Bode, the trade association’s chief executive told The New York Times Deal Book Blog. “The second half of the year was extraordinary. But manufacturers didn’t see much growth because they had built up so much inventory.”

The White House also points out the environmental benefits to this economic growth: “America’s wind power fleet will avoid an estimated 62 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equivalent to taking 10.5 million cars off the road. ”

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) co-author of the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill, praised the results of the assessment: “In 2009, America’s wind capacity grew by nearly 40 percent – blowing past the expectations that existed prior to the passage of the Recovery Act, These numbers show the potential for growth in clean energy, if only our country will make a commitment to these technologies.”

The AWEA report also points out, however, that “The wind manufacturing sector has the potential to employ many more Americans in green jobs, but without a renewable electricity standard to provide a long-term market, the sector will be slow to grow.”

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Written by Susan Kraemer

Not only do off-shore wind turbines not harm marine life, but they actively encourage more of it, a very encouraging study has just concluded, after closely following the effects of the off-shore wind farms being built off the European coast.

A Swedish Scientist at the Stockholm University’s Zoology Department studying the effects of off-shore wind turbines discovered that marine life has become more abundant and diverse near the foundations. Dan Wilhelmsson found that offshore wind turbines constitute habitats for fish, crabs, mussels, lobsters and plants.

The seabed in the vicinity of the wind turbines had higher densities of fish compared to further away from the turbines and in control areas. This was despite that the natural bottoms were rich in boulders and algae. Blue mussels dominated on the wind turbines that appeared to offer good growth conditions.

“Hard surfaces are often hard currency in the ocean, and these foundations can function as artificial reefs. Rock boulders are often placed around the structures to prevent erosion (scouring) around these, and this strengthens the reef function,” says Dan Wilhelmsson.

Not only were the foundations giving a boost to marine life, but interestingly, we might be able to build-in features to them in such a way as to enhance conditions to favor those species that need more protection.

“With wind and wave energy farms, it should be possible to create large areas with biologically productive reef structures, which would moreover be protected from bottom trawling. By carefully designing the foundations it would be possible to favor and protect important species, or, conversely, to reduce the reef effects in order minimize the impact on an area,” says Dan Wilhelmsson.

Come to think of it, this shouldn’t come as such a surprise. There are many instances of sunken boats, planes and other metal and concrete objects having been thoroughly repurposed by the creatures of the deep for their own needs. We already use artificial reefs to rebuild populations of marine life.

Image: Flikr user Shappell
Source: Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
More from Susan Kraemer: Journalists on Twitter

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By Joel Makower
My longtime friend and colleague Bill Green changed jobs recently. That’s not normally newsworthy — friends and colleagues do that all the time.

But if you’re concerned about the future of clean technology — in particular, how we’re going to fund the massive scale-up of renewable energy, clean water, and the other infrastructure changes needed to build a clean economy — Green’s career move warrants more than just passing interest.

Green is a seasoned environmental entrepreneur, with more than 20 years of management and investment experience. He has led five companies, including Ecolink, one of the first firms to produce alternatives to ozone layer-depleting chemicals, and the Strategic Chemical Management Group, an environmental management company. For seven years, he was in venture capital, a co-founder of VantagePoint Venture Partners’ CleanTech practice, among the largest cleantech VCs, with more than $1 billion dedicated to the sector. (In 2003, Green invited me to join VantagePoint’s Cleantech Advisory Council, where I still serve.)

Last week, Green announced that he was joining Macquarie Capital Funds as a senior managing director. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know much about this company, part of The Macquarie Group, a massive Australia-based global investor and manager of infrastructure, real estate, and other businesses. The Funds division manages more than US$116 billion in assets around the world, much of it large infrastructure projects.

Why is this particular job change worth singling out? Green’s evolution from environmental entrepreneur to venture capitalist to a senior director of one of the world’s foremost investment banks mirrors the trajectory of the cleantech movement itself. What began in the 1980s and 1990s with a handful of scientists, engineers, and idealistic entrepreneurs, funded by a small circle of friends, came to life during the 2000s with the infusion of tens of billions in venture capital, private equity, and corporate and government investments. That gave rise to the thousands of growing companies that today are manufacturing everything from solar cells to electric cars — and all of the batteries, fuels, engines, controllers, software, and other components that make these things work.

Now, as a new decade begins, it’s time to take things to the next level: ramping up proven technologies at massive scale.

That’s where Green and Macquarie come in. They are at the leading edge of large investment banks that have the financial firepower to unleash mature technologies globally, financing the wind farms, solar fields, and energy storage facilities that will be needed to bring renewables to scale.

Bill Green describes this evolution in terms of a “corporate lifecycle.”

“In the beginning you’ve got an entrepreneur who comes up with an idea that is transformative in its promise and can attract venture capital,” Green explained recently. “The entrepreneur builds a team, develops a product that is what I call ‘pre-commercial’ — they have a product that works, by whatever definition their sub-category requires, and they’ve built one of them. They then face the challenge of building their first fully commercial deployment. Once there is an example of a fully commercial deployment, they can think about replicating at commercial scale — what in the semiconductor industry is called ‘copy exact’: Build a factory, build an identical one somewhere else, build a third somewhere else.”

That first commercial deployment is the most difficult to get funded. Once it’s proven itself — that it can perform reliably and generate a predictable cash flow — it is more or less a matter of “copy exact,” stamping them out from place to place. This is a role for project financing — as distinguished from company financing — and is the realm of investment bankers.

Deploying even one commercial-scale plant can require more capital than most people imagine. Consider BrightSource Energy, which builds and operates large-scale solar thermal plants, in which massive arrays of mirrors beam sunlight to a central tower, boiling water to create steam to run a generator. BrightSource (which happens to be funded by VantagePoint, along with Morgan Stanley, BP, Chevron, Google, and others) has contracts to build several of these plants, at $2 billion to $3 billion a pop. And then there are wind farms. Building one will set you back anywhere from $150 million to $1 billion or more. So, too, a biofuels refinery. Real money, as they say.

Big as those price tags are, cleantech projects are relatively small compared to other infrastructure projects — airports, bridges, toll roads, and the like — making them less appealing to large banks that prefer large projects. Moreover, a lot of investment bankers haven’t yet developed expertise in renewables. “Renewables is still a sector that is largely the province of a small group of people who have devoted many years to understanding the sector, who have grown up in the sector in various ways,” says Green. “And the sector has yet to fully mature to the point where every institution has developed the capabilities to invest in it. So, many bankers have taken a view that says, ‘If this is not my specialty, I would rather back the larger transaction.’ That leaves a tremendous opportunity for those of us who both understand and elect to focus on this subsector.”

Green and Macquarie view the cleantech sector as ripe for their style of banking. “There’s still a gap between Silicon Valley and Wall Street when it comes to understanding the complete capital-formation value chain from venture capital through to equity and debt,” says Green. Put another way, the VCs and the bankers haven’t yet become a well-oiled machine in handing off venture-funded companies to those who can take their technologies and products to scale — the way, say, a new microprocessor chip can go from R&D to commercial development, with manufacturing plants deployed around the world in relatively short order.

As he sets now out to find and fund proven commercial technologies, Green says he will focus on wind farms, utility-scale solar, utility-scale solar thermal, and geothermal energy. Beyond that, he says, “I’m interested in finding the opportunities that are a bit less obvious but that come in the form of more traditional infrastructure.” Transmission, for example. “We believe that there may be opportunities for Macquarie in the emerging conversation around how renewable energy is moved from point of generation to point of use. This has been a real puzzle piece that’s starting to get more attention, but I think it’s still underserved from the standpoint of capital development.” Wastewater purification and landfill waste-to-energy technologies are two more interesting infrastructure opportunities, he says.

Of course, it’s not just the financial opportunity that interests Green as he starts this next phase of his career. “I am so excited to be able to point to steel in the ground and tell my son that our company participated in bringing that wind farm or that solar field into existence. I deeply enjoyed the years that I spent in conceptual conversation around bringing to life things that were only the dream of an entrepreneur at the time I first saw them. Now, I’m ready to see these things deployed at scale all over the place, and this is the absolute best platform that I could imagine to make that happen.”

It will be interesting to watch. As the financial heft of national governments hit their limits, we’ll need the big financial machines — which funded the Internet, cellular networks, highways, bridges, water systems, and mass transit systems — to make clean technology part of the global fabric. Macquarie isn’t the first investment bank to jump into cleantech, but it has made clear that it wants to be at the front of the pack.

As if to underscore his excitement for his new role, Green leaves me with a few parting words not typically associated with the dry world of large-scale finance: “It’s really cool,” he says. “Really cool.”

Joel Makower is Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com and chairman of Greener World Media, Inc.

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Frugality and quality are the new mantras in our changing world. Gone are the days of “the one with the most toys wins.” And good riddance. Earth911 has put together 10 simple things each of us can do to conserve, not only to save the environment, but to regain an appreciation for the things on which our lives depend.

by Earth911

How can you go green at home? Here are 10 simple steps to green up your life and change the planet.  (Photo: Schipul.com)

1. Buy Only What You Need

  • Plain and simple—don’t over purchase.
  • However, when buying items that you use daily or in large quantities, consider buying in bulk. You will save money and packaging. Consider splitting bulk purchases with neighbors or friends to get that savings but not the full quantity of the purchase. Sometimes we can’t always use 50 rolls of toilet paper!

    Going green doesn’t have to require a ton of money or time. Simple changes to your daily routine can make all the difference.

2. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!

  • Earth911 offers recycling, reuse and proper disposal options for more than 250 different materials, everything from plastic bags to construction materials.
  • Remodeling? Don’t forget to look for recycling and reuse programs for your household items—windows, doors, tile, etc. New technology has enabled some companies to recycle old porcelain toilets and tubs into beautiful counter tops and tile.
  • Don’t forget the last step in the recycling loop—buy recycled! In order for recycling to be sustainable, we need to purchase recycled-content materials! Look for and purchase post-consumer recycled content packaging and products whenever possible.

3. Change a Light, Change the World

  • When your incandescent light bulbs stop working, replace them with the new, energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) CFLs use 2/3 less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs and last 10 times longer. Making this switch will save you money and energy.
  • Some incandescent light bulbs may contain mercury, so remember to dispose of both properly at your local household hazardous waste facility.
  • Take the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR pledge to save energy and help reduce the risks of global climate change by replacing at least one light in your home with an ENERGY STAR qualified one.

4. Bag It Up the Green Way

  • Plastic bags are getting the “thumbs down” in several communities around the country because of litter problems. When going to the store, consider bagging your own groceries in cloth, reusable bags. Many stores sell reusable bags and charge to provide plastic grocery bags.
  • When walking your dog and cleaning up after then, use a biodegradable bag rather than a plastic bag.
  • If you decide to use plastic bags, remember to recycle them. Thousands of locations are available across the country.

5. Green Your Gadgets

Electronics become “outdated” so much more quickly than 10 or 20 years ago. To insure you are responsible with your gadgets, consider doing the following:

  • Resist the urge to upgrade every time a “newer” or “cooler” gadget comes out. Reduce at the source—you save money and the time (and frustration) to learn how to operate and program the new gadget.
  • Donate working electronics to charities or school programs resell or refurbish them.
  • Completely broken? Recycle! Electronics are the new “hot” item being recycled across the country.
  • Refill or recycle your inkjet or toner cartridges.
  • Close the recycling loop and buy recycled, post-consumer content paper for your printer. Most local office supply stores, such as Staples, offer a growing selection of environmentally friendly papers.
  • Keep in mind even computer game equipment and iPods now have reuse and recycling programs available. G4 TV offers a new campaign encouraging e-gadget reuse and recycling.

6. Make Every Drop Count

Even though 70 percent of the world is covered by water, we should conserve all that we can. Here are some quick tips to save that last drop:

  • Turn off the water faucet when brushing your teeth.
  • Use your dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full. Try to avoid small, partial loads.
  • Compost food scraps instead of using your garbage disposal. You’ll save gallons of water every time and have a great soil amendment for your garden.
  • Clean your driveway or sidewalk with a broom instead of hosing it down with water. You’ll save at least 80 gallons of water every time.
  • Don’t use running water to thaw food.

7. Turn Up the Savings

  • A few degrees can make all the difference in your energy savings and your wallet. In the summer raise your thermostat two degrees. In the winter lower your thermostat two degrees. You probably won’t notice the difference, at least until your utility bill arrives!
  • Use a ceiling fan to cool off a room or house. It consumes as little energy as a 60-watt bulb, which is about 98 percent less energy than most central air conditioners.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to better regulate the temperature in your house through the day and night. Remember to recycle your old, mercury containing thermostats.
  • When replacing an appliance, be sure to look for one that is more energy efficient. Always look for the ENERGY STAR symbol and compare water and energy usage to ensure you get the best product and environmental savings to suit your needs.

8. Clear the Air

  • Carpool, ride the bus, use public transportation or bike to work
  • Telecommute. Employee productivity will increase.
  • Trip chain! Save fuel and time by planning ahead and consolidating trips into one trip. Also, vow to only go to certain, far away stores less frequently.
  • Keep your tires inflated to the appropriate air pressure level. This will extend the life of your tires and give you better gas mileage.
  • Drive the speed limit.
  • Service your car on a regular basis per the manufacturer guidelines.
  • In the market for a new car? Consider one of the new hybrid or fuel efficient vehicles.

9. Save A Tree

  • Save paper, time and postage, and pay your bills online.
  • As the price of paper cards and postage increases, consider e-mailing e-cards.
  • When printing documents, print on both sides of paper. You can cut your paper consumption almost in half.
  • E-mail documents and information instead of printing and mailing them.
  • Save documents on your computer or on a disk instead of in a print copy in your filing cabinet. You’ll free up lots of space.

10. Home Sweet Home

  • Clotheslines are making a comeback. Dry your clothes on the line instead of in the dryer. They will smell better, and you will save money.
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. They can be used over and over again and thrown in with your weekly load of towels.
  • Make your own less toxic cleaning alternatives using baking soda, soap and vinegar.
  • When repainting a room, be sure to look for paint that is low VOC (volatile organic compounds). Several manufacturers now offer VOC paints and they don’t leave that paint fume smell.
  • Open the doors and windows to let the fresh air in! Indoor air quality is often times worse than the air outside. Open doors and windows daily to circulate fresh air in and germs and smells out.

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Jeff Rubin, the former Chief Economist of CIBC World Markets and the author of Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller built his reputation as one of Canada’s top economists.  In this video, he explains peak oil, de-globalization, re-localization, and pollution as they relate to the current recession and the economy overall.

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