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Bringing Efficiency to the Infrastructure

Steve Lohr, New York Times
IN the mid-1990s, the Internet took off because its technological time had come. Years of steady progress in developing more powerful and less expensive computers, Web software and faster communications links finally came together.

A similar pattern is emerging today, experts say, for what is being called smart infrastructure — more efficient and environmentally friendlier systems for managing, among other things, commuter traffic, food distribution, electric grids and waterways. This time, the crucial technological ingredients include low-cost sensors and clever software for analytics and visualization, as well as computing firepower.

Wireless sensors can now collect and transmit information from almost any object — for instance, roads, food crates, utility lines and water pipes. And the improved software helps interpret the huge flow of information, so raw data becomes useful knowledge to monitor and optimize transport and other complex systems. The efficiency payoff, experts say, should translate into big reductions in energy used, greenhouse gases emitted and natural resources consumed.
(29 April 2009)

Military embraces green energy

Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
A Mojave Desert Army base is full of plug-in cars, solar panels and new experiments. Liberal agenda? Nah, it’s about saving money, even lives. But the Defense Department could cement a national trend.
(26 April 2009)

A Potential Breakthrough In Harnessing the Sun’s Energy

David Biello, Yale Environment 360
New solar thermal technology overcomes a major challenge facing solar power – how to store the sun’s heat for use at night or on a rainy day. As researchers tout its promise, solar thermal plants are under construction or planned from Spain to Australia to the American Southwest.

David Biello has been covering energy and the environment for nearly a decade, the last three years as an associate editor at Scientific American. He also hosts 60-Second Earth, a Scientific American podcast covering environmental news. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, Biello wrote about how geothermal technology can contribute to the world’s energy needs and the the resurgence in dam construction worldwide.
(27 April 2009)

The cost of wind, the price of wind, the value of wind

Jerome a Paris, European Tribune
I’d like to try to clear some of the confusion that surrounds the economics of wind power, as it is often fed and used by the opponents of wind to dismiss it. As I noted recently, even the basic economics of energy markets are often wilfully misunderstood by commentators, so it’s worth going in more detail through concepts like levelised cost and marginal cost, and identify how different electricity producers have different impacts on electricity (market) prices (which may or may not be reflected in retail prices) and have different externalities. Value for society of a generation source may also include other items that are harder to acount in purely monetary terms (and/or whose very value may be disputed), such as the long term risk of depletion of the fuel, or energy security issues, such as dependency on unstable and/or unfriendly foreign countries or vulnerable infrastructure.

Depending on which concept you favor, your preferred energy policies will be rather different. Follow me below the fold for a tour.

(1 May 2009)