The London Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympics issued a challenge to official automotive sponsor BMW—provide a vehicle fleet that emits an average 120 grams of carbon per kilometer traveled, a full 18 grams less than the mean produced by the rest of the cars in Britain.
The task demanded that zero-emission electric vehicles (EVs) be part of the picture for the company, which is providing 4,000 cars for the event that runs from July 27 to August 12.
And BMW—which has already begun plugging in its fleet—says that 200 of the cars will indeed be electric, including 160 flagship 1-Series ActiveEs and 40 Mini E two-seaters. Clean diesels and a 5-Series hybrid will make up the rest of the automobiles. There are motorcycles and 400 bicycles, too.
It’s easier to imagine a world without waste than it is to actually accomplish it. And that’s what the planners of the London Olympics are finding out—their vision doesn’t quite match the situation on the ground.
Zero waste is, at heart, a simple concept —“garbage” is treated as a resource, to be used as fuel or as raw material for new products, and any diversion to landfills or incinerators is reduced to a trickle. No country has achieved zero waste, but New Zealand is unique in setting it as national policy in 2001.
Some good news for the burgeoning population of urbanites around the world: safer streets with less crime won’t require huge investments in new technologies. Instead, urban planners and researchers say that controlling crime in the future means looking to the past and up into the trees.
“We need to make our urban spaces walkable again,” says Dr. Jack Nasar, a professor of city and regional planning and editor of the Journal of Planning Literature at The Ohio State University. “In terms of safety—people living together, they know who belongs, and they’re more likely to interact with each other and build a sense of community. Get people back out onto the street.”
Despite all of the excitement about the declining cost and increasing performance of photovoltaic solar, the nation’s homeowners have been lackadaisical about putting panels on their roofs. Last year, there were a record 40,000 residential solar installations in the U.S., but that number is a tiny fraction of the 130 million total homes in the country.
A team of engineers from General Electric, the sponsor of this magazine, want to increase the number of homes with solar roofs by halving the cost of a standard 5-kilowatt (KW) installation, which can provide about 85 percent of the average home’s electricity needs.
The project, called the Smart Grid Ready Residential Solar System, partners GE Global Research and its Industrial Solutions businesses with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The goal is to put 10 easy-to-install, low-cost systems on roofs in Syracuse and Albany by August.
Meanwhile, a similar project in San Diego — which is part of a separate program called the California Solar Initiative – has crews performing energy audits on 10 homes, in addition to the rooftop solar installations. The project is a partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric.
Both projects are the result of the engineers’ detective work into why solar is so expensive to install, said Charles Korman, the chief technologist for solar energy at GE Global Research. It isn’t the manufacturing cost of the technology: “Solar is as cheap as it’s ever been,” he said. Rather, it’s because there are so many different products available for rooftop arrays that every job is effectively a custom installation. And then there are the high labor costs. Most systems require specially trained electrical contractors to connect high-voltage systems.
Think cloud. Now think rain. Now think spring. Now think green.
Now think again.
The term “cloud computing” may create associations of environmental harmony, but just like real clouds, cloud services are unpredictable, difficult to quantify, and prone to sudden bursts of growth and activity. These qualities have researchers and even some advocates questioning how green cloud computing is and how green it can be. The answer seems to depend almost entirely on how we use it.
Several years ago, when the auto industry faced government pressure to minimize its environmental footprint by reducing fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions, manufacturers turned first to hybrid-electric and then battery-electric powertrains that now move Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs.
Today, confronted with substantially the same environmental mandates, the aviation industry has begun gearing up to use those same green power plants to propel aircraft.
The electric car is so yesterday; electric airplanes are coming.
EADS (European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company), the parent firm of Airbus, for example, has been flying a battery electric-powered ultralight aircraft for the last year, and at the recent Paris Air Show it introduced a series-hybrid motor glider as well as an ambitious future concept for an all-electric, 50-seat passenger plane powered by superconducting drive motors. Last fall, Boeing released details of a NASA-funded effort to use a hybrid battery-electric/gas turbine propulsion system to power a future 737-class commercial transport. A few months earlier, at the 2010 Oshkosh event, both Cessna and Sikorsky announced plans to fly some time this year electric-powered demonstrators—respectively, a light plane and a light helicopter.
We ask a lot of our cars – heat me, cool me, be silent, be comfy, be exciting and, increasingly, propel me without costly and polluting gasoline. It’s the latter request that confounds, since batteries, the most obvious replacements for gas, are heavy and have limited energy storage.
But what if the energy storage burden was shifted from our overworked cars to the road?
Researchers at the Energy Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University are working on just such a solution, called electrified roads.
Electric vehicles, or EVs, could pick up small amounts of electricity as they drive over charging pads buried under the asphalt and connected to the electrical grid. Researchers say that a continuously available power supply would allow EVs to cut battery size as much as 80 percent, drastically reducing vehicle cost.
“Basically you get power directly from the grid to the motors as the car moves,” said Hunter Wu, a Utah State researcher who was recruited from The University of Auckland in New Zealand, where the technology was pioneered, to further develop the concept. “You can travel from the West Coast to the East Coast continuously without charging.”
Nicola Tesla first discovered the principles of wireless charging, or inductive power transfer, in the late 19th Century. It works by creating an electromagnetic charging field that transfers energy to a receiving pad set to the same frequency.