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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beyond Sustainability

Our Choice

Finding Durable Prosperity

Is there such a thing as sustainability? Some environmentally concerned thinkers are questioning whether there is a need to rethink the concept, to better define the true mission statement required to attain a healthier more naturally balanced world.

Sustainable means "capable of being kept at one level; maintainable." The problem with sustainability as a buzzword is that nothing stays the same in nature. The natural world is described by a dynamic which is ever changing. Nothing can be sustained. Nothing is static. The world can only change. In regards to the quality of life for the inhabitants of this planet, there can only be change - for the better or for the worse. It cannot remain the same.

We as humans are a powerful natural force for change. How we go about bringing this change relates directly to whether the outcome is for a better world or a degraded one. Cynics will say, it doesn't matter how we act. If we don't take the most selfish actions, providing the most immediate short term gains, then we are fools because someone else will. Yet, this point of view is beyond cynicism, it is self-serving denial, making pathetic excuses for destructive behavior. If we deny the importance of taking responsibility for the outcomes of our actions, then we are likely to be self destructive, poisoning our own environment, laying waste to our own nest, and dragging down the rest of the natural world as well.

So if "sustainable" is an unrealistic expectation in a world where change never ends, what is the healthy optimal mission for humans. What is the right way to live, that avoids suffering, and assures that the results of our initiatives build and strengthen, instead of tearing down, the fabric of this incredible world?

Instead of "sustainability" how about if we talk about prosperity. Prosperity is the condition in which nature, including the humans, can thrive, be nurtured, be fulfilled, bringing forth a cornucopia of healthful results for the whole natural order. Prosperity is continuous change for the better. More health, more education, more wisdom, more fulfillment, more caring, more connection, more enlightenment, more beauty, more hope, more finesse, more richness to life.. Along with these increases we can look for ever more appropriate use of materials, an ever lighter footprint upon the earth, a way of living that is integrated with nature rather than at war with it. Out of this "light on the earth" approach to living, will inevitably come rising standards of living for humans and a healthier world for all of the inhabitants of this planet which is, after all, our total life support system, our only home.

If we can imagine this kind of prosperity, perhaps we can continuously set out to attain it. Then should we undertake this mission, perhaps we can find durable prosperity, in which we use our creative powers to bring about continuous change for the better.

There is no question that we have influence in the natural environment. We bias the outcomes at every step. What we do every day is important. Our intention or our obliviousness changes the world. What if we were to start taking full responsibility for the creative power which is our legacy? What if we simply accept that not only must we change the world, but that we must make it better.

History shows that "golden ages" occur from time to time in which durable prosperity abounds and results in a flowering of human potential. Can we have this happen in our times? Yes we can. We can have durable prosperity by unleashing the creativity of the people, by encouragement and education - by challenging ourselves to meet or exceed our highest standards. Then, if our creativity is interwoven with responsibility for the elements of nature that we have influence over, a flowering of human potential in balance with nature will inevitably arise.

This dream of our highest nature is as much a part of being human as the nightmare of humankind as the scourge of the world. So, who determines which aspect of our nature rules? We do.

In Hawaii, it is said, "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness." The opposite is also thought provoking. "The life of the land is terminated in selfishness."

Our choice.

Jonathan Cole

Riding with the sun

Delft University Team Wins Solar-powered Car Competition

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2007) — The Nuon Solar Team were first past the finish, crossing the line at exactly 16:55 local time. This means that the Nuna4 has now won the World Solar Challenge for the fourth time running. The final day of the race went well, with only one tire change. The vehicle completed the final leg of 760 km in just eight hours.

Nuon solar car from Delft University won the Panasonic World Solar Challenge in Australia. (Credit: Source: Panasonic World Solar Challenge, Photogapher: Hans-Peter van Velthoven)

The eleven Delft students who make up the Nuon Solar Team tested their new solar-powered car, Nuna4, at the Daf circuit in Sint-Oedenrode. The practice helped the team’s drivers win the Panasonic World Solar Challenge.

The new car’s predecessor, Nuna3, and others of its type have now proven beyond doubt that it is possible to cross 3000 kilometres of Australia on solar power alone.

Last year the Nuna3 more than matched speed of an ordinary car. In so doing, it reached the original target set by the organisers of the World Solar Challenge. That is why they have decided to add new elements to the competition.

From now on, the solar-powered vehicles have to meet specifications closer to those of a normal family car. And they must run on fewer solar panels. But the students have risen to the challenge, designing and building a new car from scratch to comply with the revised rules.

How does the new car differ from last year's Nina3?

  • Its solar panel is smaller, measuring 6m2 instead of 9m2. This means that it will be slower than its predecessor. It is also smaller than Nuna3.
  • The driver sits almost upright. In previous Nuna cars he was lying down.
  • The driver is protected not only by a tough canopy, but also by roll bars and a helmet.
  • Nuna4 has a steering wheel. Previous versions were steered by levers.
  • Nuna4 is higher. That makes it frontal surface area rather bigger, but the consequences of that are partially offset by even better aerodynamics.

Adapted from materials provided by Delft University Of Technology.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sunny Profits in Germany

WITNESS: Money falls from the sky in Germany

By Erik Kirschbaum

(Erik Kirschbaum, a U.S. citizen, has worked for 18 years as a Reuters correspondent in Germany, Austria and the Balkans.)

BERLIN (Reuters) - My father warned me "money doesn't grow on trees" and he was right, of course.

But I have discovered that money can fall out of the sky -- if you have the equipment to catch it.

In an age of global warming, rising fossil fuel prices and dwindling natural resources, I've learned that in Germany and a growing number of countries, solar power can give you more than just a feeling of "doing something" for the environment.

It can also give you a steady stream of income.

My roof has been turned into a cash machine, thanks to a state-mandated "feed-in tariff" that requires utilities to pay anyone who installs a photovoltaic system more than double the market rates for the electricity produced for the grid.

The 34 sleek black panels, measuring about 1 meter by 1.5 meters (yards) each, lie inconspicuously on the slopes of the roof as they quietly harvest enough power for two households -- and generate annual revenues of some 3,600 euros ($5,300).

In other words: Every day about 10 euros ($15) worth of energy from the sun (or even daylight) lands on the roof and is converted into electricity through the wonders of photovoltaic.

The local utility is required, by law, to buy it off me at a fixed rate of 49 cents per kilowatt -- guaranteed for 20 years.

The entire supply of rooftop power spins through the meter into the grid at the elevated rate and the power used returns through another meter in my basement at the market rate of 20 cents per kilowatt.

A London friend who installed a PV system on his roof earns the market rate of 9 pence (13 cents) per kilowatt that he feeds into his grid and has to pay 12 pence (17 cents) for what he takes in from the grid.

It annoys him that Britain is one of the few countries without a higher feed-in tariff to promote private investment in the green technology. He reckons in the long run his outlay was still worthwhile because it added value to his house and freed him from the whims of power company price increases.


Yet no one should feel any pity for the utilities paying out the higher feed-in tariffs for they simply pass along the costs (nearly 1 billion euros a year in Germany) to their customers.

Thus, those with no solar panels are subsidizing those who have them. I'm not sure that's fair. But it's the law.

About 47 countries -- including Spain, Greece, Portugal, France and Italy -- have adopted laws modeled on Germany's 2000 "Erneuerbares Energie Gesetz" (Renewable Energy Act).

It may not be the silver bullet the world is looking for to solve climate change but the abundance of solar energy means photovoltaic produces fast results in reducing CO2 emissions.

Germany now has more than 300,000 PV systems and that is projected to triple by 2013. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says he will put a PV system on his roof at home.

Even though Germany is often covered by clouds, the EEG has helped the northern European country become the world's leader in PV and eliminate 10 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Some 55 percent of the world's total PV output comes from Germany.

Some farmers in Germany derive more income selling the electricity collected from solar panels on their barn roofs than they do from their harvests or livestock.

Germany gets 3 percent of its electricity from photovoltaic.

The total worldwide peak power of installed PV was about 6,000 gigawatts (more than 3,000 from Germany) at the end of 2006 and was forecast to rise to 9,000 gigawatts this year. In Germany, some predict 100,000 gigawatts of PV within 10 years.


The idea of installing solar panels had been on my mind for years but there were always reasons not to do it -- it seemed costly, my roof was not pointed south, and there was always a worry solar panel prices might later plunge.

But when I took a close look, I saw I could turn a profit.

So instead of a just plundering my savings for a 3 kw system to produce enough for a family, I got a bank loan to double the size of the investment to about 30,000 euros for 7 kw.

Ever since I've been happily answering a deluge of questions from neighbors, strangers and colleagues about the nuts and bolts of whether it really works. It does. It's magic.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

30% Efficient Commercial Solar Technology?

SunFlake Breakthrough?
Published: 19 December 2007 05:00 PM
Source: The Engineer Online
Danish research has discovered a new material, nano flakes, which could revolutionise solar power, making it far more efficient to generate electricity from solar energy.

Researcher Martin Aagesen is a PhD student from the Nano-Science Center and the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen. During his work on his PhD thesis he discovered the novel material.

‘ We believe that the nano flakes have the potential to convert up to 30 per cent of the solar energy into electricity, and that is twice the amount that we convert today,’ said Aagesen.

‘I discovered a perfect crystalline structure. That is a very rare sight. While being a perfect crystalline structure we could see that it also absorbed all light. It could become the perfect solar cell.

‘The potential is unmistakeable. We can reduce the solar cell production costs because we use less of the expensive semiconducting silicium in the process due to the use of nanotechnology. At the same time, the future solar cells will exploit the solar energy better as the distance of energy transportation in the solar cell will be shorter and thus lessen the loss of energy.’

Aagesen is also the director of SunFlake, a company founded to exploit the technology in the development of a new solar cell.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

German ship fights climate change with high-tech kite

Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:50pm EST

By Erik Kirschbaum

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Turning ocean winds into gold while cutting greenhouse emissions in the process might sound like some sort of alchemy for the 21st century.

But unlike futile earlier efforts to convert ordinary metals to gold, two fast-growing German companies have worked together developing a high-tech kite system to pull enormous ships across the oceans -- and save enormous amounts of money.

The 132 meter (433 ft) long MV "Beluga SkySails" will make its maiden voyage in January across the Atlantic to Venezuela, up to Boston and back to Europe. It will be pulled by a giant computer-guided 500,000-euro ($725,000) kite tethered to a 15-metre high mast.

It is a throwback to an earlier maritime age, harnessing the winds that fell out of favor over a century ago when sailing lost the battle for merchant shipping to modern steam power because it was seen then as primitive and unpredictable.

But now, in the age of climate change, wind power is making a remarkable comeback thanks to modern technology.

"This is the start of a revolution for the way ships are powered," Beluga chief executive Niels Stolberg said in an interview with Reuters on the windswept deck of his new ship MV Beluga SkySails. "It's a small but crucial step for the future."

To latch onto the powerful winds prevailing well above the surface, the kite attached to the high-tech steerage unit flies up to 300 meters high to tug the 10,000-tonne ship forward, supporting its diesel engines and cutting fuel consumption.

Under favorable wind conditions, the 160-square meter kite shaped like a paraglider is expected to reduce fuel costs by up to 20 percent or more ($1,600 per day) and cut, by a similarly significant amount, its carbon dioxide emissions.

Burning fossil fuels cause CO2 blamed for climate change.


A driving force for Beluga -- and other shippers already lining up to buy the system if it delivers on its promise -- is the fuel price, which has tripled for shippers in recent years.

While it might seem almost too simple -- or too good -- to be true, SkySails inventor Stephan Wrage and German engineers have spent more than five years perfecting the system and they will tell you that it is anything but pie-in-the sky technology.

"At the heart of this all for me, the real motivating factor is to get to the crossroads of ecology and economics -- and to prove it pays to protect the environment," Wrage said in an interview on the ship so new it still smells of fresh paint.

While some political and industry leaders complain about the financial burdens of fighting climate change and cite costs in resisting CO2 reduction efforts, Wrage said SkySails is proof that the opposite can be true: there's money to be made.

"If our calculations are right, our clients will not only have considerably greater earnings but also substantially reduce their CO2 output as well," the 35-year-old added after a ceremony to christen the new ship in Hamburg port on Saturday.

"To be able to make a contribution to fighting climate change makes us all proud," the SkySails managing director said as the sail made of ultralight synthetic fibre and as big as a medium-sized passenger jet unfurled in a breeze above the deck.


SkySails developed the kite propulsion system that Beluga Shipping only just finished installing on the new cargo ship. Both firms aim to prove on a commercial scale what years of testing on smaller vessels showed: you can turn wind into cash.

Wrage, who got the idea as a 16-year-old while flying kites and wishing he could tap their power to make a small sail boat go faster, is optimistic even greater savings can be achieved. He said larger kites should cut fuel usage by 30 to 50 percent.

Two 320-square meter kites will pull two more Beluga ships by 2009 and after that 600-square meter kites will be added.

"That's where the savings get really interesting," he said.

But the immediate impact on cutting CO2 caused by ships will be limited. Shipping carries more than 90 percent of the world's traded goods. There are more than 50,000 merchant ships carrying everything from oil, gas, coal, and grains to electronic goods.

They emit 800 million tonnes of CO2 each year -- 5 percent of the world's total. They emit high levels of sulphur dioxide.

Yet Wrage is confident the demand will take off. There are three orders in hand and if the savings achieved on a smaller 55-metre long prototype are confirmed by the "Beluga SkySails", he said others were lined up to buy systems.

"We're planning to equip four to eight ships next year, provided the first voyage turns out as well as the trials did," he said. "In 2009 we expect to sell at least 35 systems. After that, we want to at least double every year."

The target is 1,500 vessels equipped by 2015.

"I've had a lot of meetings where shippers have said to me 'If it works out on the Beluga SkySails we're going to buy one, two, four or 10 systems'," Wrage said. "Believe me. If we're successful now, it won't be hard to find buyers."