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The Unsung Solution
What rhymes with waste-heat recovery?

Bill McKibben, Orion magazine
From his desk in an office in Chicago, Jeff Smith has a bird’s-eye view of the American landscape. Combing through a huge database of information compiled by the EPA, he can, almost literally, peer down every smokestack in the nation and figure out what’s going on inside.

And what he sees is heat. Waste heat-one of the country’s largest potential sources of power, pouring up out of those smokestacks. If it could be recycled into electricity, that heat would generate immense amounts of power without our having to burn any new fossil fuels. By immense, I mean, speaking technically, humongous. Even after he’s winnowed the nation’s half a million smokestacks down to the most likely customers, that leaves twenty-five thousand stacks. “An astronomical number,” Smith says.
(November/December 2007 issue)
Recommended by Erik Hoeffner at Gristmill: McKibben on waste-heat recovery

Kenyan slum saves trees, cleans streets with big trash oven

Rob Crilly, Christian Science Monitor
A new UN-sponsored program is placing giant, garbage-burning ovens in one of Africa’s biggest shantytowns.

Nairobi, Kenya – Deep in the sprawling slum of Kibera, volunteers shovel a stinking pile of garbage into one end of a giant concrete oven while a queue of people clutching packets of tea and saucepans tries to ignore the acrid smoke wafting from the cooker.

“It might smell a bit but it doesn’t make our food taste any different,” says Virginia Wamaitha, as she pours sugar into her steaming pan of chai – the gently spiced tea loved by Kenyans. “It will taste just like chai should.”

The garbage-burning oven is part of a UN-sponsored move to clean up Kenya’s slums while preserving the country’s dwindling forests, which are cleared to provide wood and charcoal for cooking. If successful, the pilot project could be a model as the world faces an explosion in urban living, and the waste it creates.
(1 November 2007)

How to Build a Local Energy Economy

Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs and Jason Mark, AlterNet
…Q: Why does local control of energy make sense?

David Morris: Local control of everything makes sense. But local control of energy makes sense for two reasons: one is that ten cents on the local dollar of the community goes directly to pay for fuel, and all of it is imported. Only between ten and fifteen cents on the dollar spent on that fuel stays in the local community. So from an economic development standpoint, it is probably the worst expenditure that you can make in a community. The other reason is that you don’t have to. Cities, unless they are high-density cities, can in fact generate much, if not all, of their own energy, either internal to themselves or within 50 to 100 miles.

Q: What has been the federal government’s role on these issues? Is it getting better or worse?

DM: The federal government has not been wise on these things, ever. On the issue of decentralization and energy being produced from the bottom up, the federal government’s policies undermine it at almost every level. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s been Democrats or Republicans; there has been no change in that whatsoever. The federal government wants more energy, but they are either indifferent to where the generation occurs, or they encourage large absentee-owned facilities in most of their incentives and regulatory policies.

Excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark.
(30 October 2007)

Mammoth wind farm slated for South Dakota

Joe Kafka, Associated Press
Plans for the world’s largest wind farm, proposed to be built in South Dakota, have become more grandiose.

South Dakota is officially rated No. 4 in the nation for the potential capacity to make electricity from wind, although the ranking is more than a decade old. Many industry officials believe the Great Plains state is the windiest of all.

Clipper Windpower of Carpinteria, Calif., intends to erect enough wind turbines in several South Dakota counties to produce up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity, said Bob Gates, the firm’s senior vice president of commercial operations.

That would be eight times larger than the biggest wind farm in the world…
(28 October 2007)

Team assesses viability of Antarctic windfarm

NZPA, New Zealand Herald
Wellington is a tougher proposition for a wind farm than Antarctica, says a team exploring the possibility of building turbines at Scott Base.

Experts from Meridian Energy have flown to the world’s windiest continent to conduct feasibility tests around Scott Base, which three years ago was hit by a storm with wind gusts that exceeded 200km/h, destroying the base’s wind vane.

Iain Miller, Antarctica New Zealand’s Antarctic services manager, said if the windfarm went ahead, it would help power Scott Base and also the neighbouring United States base, McMurdo Station.

“Interestingly enough, because of turbulence created by the landscape, the wind at Scott Base and McMurdo isn’t as brutal as parts of New Zealand where there are windfarms,” he told The Press.

“Meridian is planning one on the southwest coast of Wellington where the wind speed and turbulence are worse.”

If approved, the Antarctic windfarm would augment the diesel generators used to power the two bases.

The high cost of transporting fuel to Antarctica, including use of icebreakers to create a shipping channel for the tanker, made wind energy a more economical prospect than in New Zealand.
(24 October 2007)

‘Wall of money’ set to flow into Asian renewable energy

William Barnes, Financial Times
Green investors, pension funds and private equity managers have a “wall of money” poised to flow into renewable energy ventures in Asia where demand for energy is growing exponentially, say observers. Investable opportunities may remain frustratingly elusive but the sector could soon explode into life.

Few doubt that sustainable energy in Asia could be lucrative, offer acceptably safe returns and be environmentally appealing with energy consumption in the region currently rising at almost 30 per cent a year – if regional authorities were not so focused on typically cheaper traditional fossil fuels.

“We are kind of stuck at the moment. We’ve got quite high-risk capital coming in but not much in the way of investment one step up from that,” says Melissa Brown, executive director of the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia.

“It’s the classic Asian dilemma: immense potential but you don’t know when you are going to get the commercial structures to make it work,” adds Ms Brown.

Biofuel has fallen out of fashion, with controversy raging over its efficiency and its potential to damage food supplies. Some Asian governments, notably India and Thailand, have already said they want no food crops diverted into biofuels.

In Europe, wind and solar power as well as biomass generators have flourished because government targets, such as the European Union’s goal that 20 per cent of all energy should come from renewable sources by 2020, have created opportunities. Asia’s high-stakes energy scramble has a decidedly more hard-nosed, mercantilist edge with the energy demands of the big emerging economies needing immediate solutions.
(29 October 2007)