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Does Facebook deserve the hell it’s catching from Greenpeace?

David Roberts, Grist
Social networking giant Facebook has been taking heat from enviros recently for its decision to site a massive new data center in Prineville, Ore. The issue? Pacific Power, the utility that serves Prineville, gets most of its power from coal, the enemy of the human race. Greenpeace International has started a Facebook group opposing the move.

Facebook, clearly feeling some heat, responded to the controversy over the weekend. Its new data center will involve all sorts of efficiency efforts, but the company’s main argument is that the dry, temperate climate in Oregon will allow it to forego any mechanical chillers or air conditioners (an evaporative cooling system will be used instead).

… Anyway, from my non-expert perspective, it looks like Facebook is getting a bit of a raw deal here, PR-wise.

However! I still like Greenpeace’s campaign, for a simple reason: it reinforces a social norm. You shouldn’t use coal. You should use clean energy. Not everyone is able to control where they get their electricity, of course, but when a choice presents itself, choosing clean energy is the right thing to do. There’s more to it than short-term economics, namely social responsibility and reputation.

There’s immense power in changing social norms. Economists don’t know quite how to capture their impact in models, but history reveals their potency.
(21 February 2010)

Saudi Arabia to export solar power soon, US says

Abdul Rahman Shaheen, gulfnews
Riyadh: US Energy Secretary Steven Chu expects that Saudi Arabia will emerge as a major exporter of solar energy and this could reach the current level of the kingdom’s oil exports.

He also dismissed fears of a looming crisis caused by dwindling oil production.

Chu, a strong backer of alternative energy, said that there is big scope for Saudi Arabia to tap into its vast solar energy sources.

“The kingdom’s drive to invest a portion of its oil revenue on scientific and technical research will enable it to strengthen diversification of energy sources and promote renewable energy programmes.

“This will contribute to achieving remarkable growth in its industrial output and increasing productivity potential,” he said.

Chu made these remarks during his meeting with a number of senior government officials and media persons following a lecture at the office of the International Energy Forum here on Monday. He also held talks with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.

Speaking to reporters with regard to oil supply, Chu said the market would adjust even if supplies were to decline. “I don’t see any peak in oil,” Chu said, dismissing the idea that global oil production was at or near a peak and is expected to slide because depletion was outrunning new discoveries. “I see a transition to more expensive forms of oil like that produced from harder-to-access fields and secondary recovery schemes.
(24 February 2010)

Energy expert Lovins brings conservation message

Hugh Fisher, Salisbury (NC) Post
Amory Lovins has been preaching energy efficiency for decades.

He co-founded Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit entrepreneurship group focused, among other things, on growing efficiency and alternative energy sources.

People from across the region packed Keppel Auditorium Tuesday night to hear Lovins share his presentation, “Reinventing Fire.”

“Tonight, I invite you to re-imagine the world,” Lovins said to start his talk.

His primary message: Saving fuel costs less than buying fuel.

And old-fashioned engineering and outdated ideas about power and transportation are costing the world lots of money.

… “Our whole society is fueled with primeval swamp goo and dinosaur poop,” Lovins said.

However, he dismisses doomsday scenarios of “peak oil” — the theory that oil shortages will lead to economic collapse and wars — with studies showing that worldwide oil usage is dropping slightly.

“In short, oil is becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices.”

Even so, Lovins said that a combination of new systems could further improve efficiency.
(24 February 2010)
Lovins seems to blow hot and cold on peak oil. He was talking about it many years ago, but in the comments reported in this article, he seems to be downplaying its effects. -BA

The new wave: Harnessing the power of the ocean

Producing electricity using the power of the oceans could start a new wave in renewable energy. But some fear that “wave farms” could damage the livelihoods of fishermen by rendering coastal waters off limits.

Hydropower accounts for 19 percent of the world’s electricity, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and mainly uses the power of falling water at man-made dams.

But wave power is still an untapped resource, which some believe could one day generate a tenth of the world’s renewable energy.

Off the coast of Hawaii, Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) is looking to produce electricity using the island’s famously wild surf.

The U.S. Navy is backing OPT’s research on the PowerBuoy 40 — a wave energy converter that is 16 meters high and 14 meters in diameter, most of which is submerged in the ocean.

A float on the PowerBuoy bobs up and down with the waves, working an internal plunger that is connected to a hydraulic pump. The pump drives a generator to produce electricity, which can be sent to the shore via an underwater cable. Once it’s connected to the energy grid this spring the buoy will produce 40 kilowatts (kW) of electricity — enough to power 20 to 25 homes.

Charles Dunleavy, CEO of OPT, told CNN, “One of the big advantages of wave energy is it’s close to shore, and as you look around the world the majority of the world’s population is very close to shore.”…
(25 February 2010)