By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Other than the 2012 Olympics, it’s been a discouraging hot, drought-y month this July.  Greenland ice sheets are melting ominously.  India plunged into darkness and panic amid two days of massive electrical outages. Cargill recalled about 15 tons of tainted hamburger in the Mid-Atlantic and the New England states.  And there are disheartening reports about crop failures in the mighty U.S. “bread basket”.

Where’s the hope? We found it clinging to the edge of the screen in lesser headlines and in a few viral postings by perpetual optimists on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. We’re not sure these few nuggets of positive action are enough to save the planet, but they did make us feel better, briefly.

Here are some of those promising developments and discoveries from the summer of 2012.

1 – A bipartisan energy plan   

Jeanne Shaheen, (D-N.H.) has proposed a bipartisan energy efficiency bill with Sen. Bob Portman (R-Ohio).

Yes, you read that right, the words ‘bipartisan” and “plan” in the same sentence, a sign we could be breaking deadlock on energy issues.

The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 1000), co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sen. Bob Portman (R-Ohio), aims to save American consumers $4 billion per year in energy costs, while adding 80,000 jobs by 2020, with savings growing to $20 billion per year and 159,000 new jobs added by 2030.

All this would happen through benign energy efficiency measures such as requiring more energy efficient building construction and retrofitting. Voluntary stricter building codes would reduce energy use in residential and commercial buildings, which consume 40 percent of all energy used in the U.S., and in the industrial sector, which consumes more energy than any other sector of the  economy.

In addition, the law would require that the nation’s single largest energy consumer, the federal government, adopt better building standards and smart metering.

‘Course it hasn’t been passed yet.

Bob Portman (R-Ohio) has teamed with Shaheen on S. 1000.

If S. 1000 does make it through Congress, it would help manufacturers finance energy-efficient production technologies and practices, in part by expanding the existing Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program to include efficiency retrofits. (See a summary of the bill from Shaheen’s office.)

This plan is far from being an omnibus energy bill that would set national renewable energy standards or strip subsidies from fossil fuel providers to level the playing field for clean energy, but it is a step that seeks middle ground, and should appeal to cost-cutters and environmentalists. Both groups live on planet Earth and could celebrate that this law would bring a projected reduction in CO2 emissions of 108 metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of keeping 21 million cars off the road.

2- Solar Film that’s super thin and clear

Transparent solar polymer developed by UCLA team. (Photo: UCLA)

Solar power in the U.S. has suffered from scandals over government funding, cost thresholds that have curbed acceptance and what some see as unfair dumping by manufacturers in China.

But scientists aren’t giving up on solar technology. UCLA researchers announced last week that they have produced a new organic nearly clear film that produces electricity from infrared light. This solar film, a potential game-changer according to a report by veteran environmental writer Dean Kuipers in the Los Angeles Times, improves on similar products because it is virtually clear and could conceivably be painted or draped on a variety of buildings and products.

But wait, there’s more. This film could be used as a coating on electronic devices, effectively helping them power themselves, and it won’t cost that much to produce, according to team leader Professor Yang Yang.

“Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible,” Yang said in a UCLA release. “More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.”

Made using silver nanowires, the solar film collects only infrared rays and is less efficient — converting 6 percent of solar rays into electricity compared with 11-12 percent by existing PV panels. But its compact size and transparency, compared with the blue or black color of silicon solar panels, opens the door for many new applications.  On a window, for instance, it could simultaneously produce electricity and filter out damaging light.

3 – A City that’s Seizing Solar Power

CPS solar panels near San Antonio. (Photo: CPS)

San Antonio,  the nation’s 7th largest city, has moved a step closer to becoming the solar powerhouse it envisions becoming.

Last week, the municipally owned CPS Energy  signed a deal with OCI Solar Power that will support five solar plants  to be built in and around San Antonio or in West Texas, where the energy can be collected for use by the city. These solar farms are expected to produce 400 megawatts of power, enough to supply 70,000 households with all their electricity needs.

The new deal  will be supported by a $100 million high-tech manufacturing plant, estimated to create 805 new jobs, to be built by Nexolon America  on the city’s southern side, according to a city report.

The agreement between CPS and OCI calls for the utility company to buy all of OCI’s power for 25 years, providing a powerful incentive for full build-out of the solar installations.

San Antonio’s Mayor Julian Castro has promoted clean energy as a way for sunny San Antonio to grow and remain economically strong. Other Texas cities could take their cue from Castro, whose trailblazing might just wake up the rest of the state, which also enjoys tremendous solar potential.

“San Antonio continues to see economic growth with good-paying, sustainable jobs,” said Mayor Castro, in a prepared statement on the OCI deal.  “CPS Energy’s pursuit of clean energy and energy efficiency has attracted seven clean technology companies and a commitment, thus far, of a million dollars to local education. Those are the kinds of partnerships we welcome as we focus on our city’s current and future needs.”

4 – The Energy EGG

The Energy Egg turns it all off.

Four years in the hatching, the TreeGreen “Energy Egg”, developed by a British father concerned about rampant home energy use, will soon be distributed in the U.S..

The Energy Egg concept is simple — when it senses a room is empty, it turns off all the electronics — TVs, computers and games — using wireless technology.

A story in The Mail explains that software engineer and 37-year-old dad Brian O’Reilly, conceived of the idea as he roamed the house each night shutting down electronics and computers that his three daughters and wife had left on.

“So Brian went to his workshop and hatched an idea for the ‘Energy EGG’, which uses clever technology to sense when a room is empty and turn off unused electrical devices,” according to The Mail.

This summer O’Reilly signed a deal to distribute 100,000 in the US.

5 – Overpasses and underpasses that help wildlife safely cross highways

An overpass in the Netherlands invites animals to cross without risking their lives.

These aren’t new, but they’re making a splash on the Internet this summer, due to a story on The World Geography website.

Europe seems to be leading the pack with these humane bridges that assist wildlife in avoiding dangerous highways. The Netherlands, which helped start the trend, has more than 600 of these wildlife crossings, according to the story.

Wildlife corridors over roads also turn up in the United States (crossings in Montana and Washington are pictured), Canada and Australia. Nice.


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