Hello, Sunshine!

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Link suite overview on solar scale up: better tech, lower costs, variety, better batteries and bottle bulbs

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The shades may have been drawn on Solyndra, but the sun still shines on solar. Despite Big Carbon’s industry front group-funded campaign to sell us on a fossil-fueled future, solar is going mainstream fast. Even heads deeply buried in tar sands can sense the shift.

There is no “one” solar answer. Solar comes in all shapes and sizes: from rooftop panels and peel-and-stick window film, to boats and backpacks, solar “ivy” and solar “leaves,”  giant concentrated solar arrays and recycled plastic bottles. Almost daily there is news of improved efficiency, better batteries and more products available off-the-shelf.

Costs are tumbling, too—and not just because the Chinese have heavily subsidized the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, undercutting everyone else in the market. Solar, finally, is enjoying the benefits of scaling up.

This year, the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon saw home construction costs come in third cheaper than in 2009. The expense and learning curve of prototypes has  given way to the savings of lessons learned.

There are also more jobs—and better-paying local jobs, too—in installation than in manufacturing, lessening the sting of market share  loss to China. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, groups such as the Make It Right Foundation created “a teachable moment,” to train builders and appliance installers to work with greener technologies. Even the cleanest of coal (energy’s reigning oxymoron) cannot compete against a smartly designed solar home whose monthly electric bill comes in under $30.

It is that kind of bargain-happy free market decision-making that has Chevron—yes, Chevron—scrapping pricey natural gas in favor of a concentrated solar power (CSP) array to heat water for steam to to make heavy crude oil thin enough to pump: new sun to mine ancient sun. Beyond the obvious irony, this promises to quickly ramp up into a multi-billion dollar business.

Elsewhere, vast arrays of photo voltaic panels are sprouting everywhere, from  a capped garbage dump turned “energy park,” to a Victorian-era London bridge. Both are pilot projects, but expect many more to follow. There are an estimated 100,000 aging landfills in the US prime for PV.

Cutting right to the chase—no power generation required—in the Philippines, soda bottles are being recycled into 55 watt wireless lights through an ingenious design courtesy of MIT’s D-Lab. “Bottle bulbs” inserted into tin roofs bring free daylight into otherwise dark interiors, reducing the need—and expense—of air-fouling kerosene.

So let there be light! And power. And cheaper energy. And a cleaner planet, too.

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Hello, Sunshine ranks among one of the larger TrackerNews link suites, with more than 40 stories. Among the highlights:

(All links on the aggregator become part of the TrackerNews searchable database.)

Nature as Nurture: A Paradigm Shift at TEDxMidwest & Our Place in the Greater Scheme of Things

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On humans as animals, the dawn of the anthropocene, designing nature, nature-mediated design, culturally smart rainforest restoration, doing right by orangutans and energy positive skyscrapers

Go Meave Leakey! With the addition of a single word tucked into a sprightly 6-million-year time-travelogue of our species’ history, the reigning matriarch of archeology’s most famous family blithely breezed past the troublesome—and artificial—division between man and nature: “Homo sapiens and other animals…,” said Leakey.  Not man and beast, but man as a beast, too. Which isn’t to say we are not unique. Noted Leakey, “We are the only species capable of destroying the biosphere,” which may very well be the most dubious distinction ever.

This shift away from an “us versus them” mindset emerged as a subtle but important theme at the recent TEDxMidwest conference in Chicago. From design and architecture, to conservation and reforestation, a new paradigm is emerging, one that offers genuine hope for slowing climate change, biodiversity loss and even improving health care.

Leakey’s casual comment may not have seemed all that radical, but it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Look up the word “zoonosis” and you will learn it is an animal disease that can also affect humans. By implication, then, humans are not animals. This is what every doctor is taught.

The arrogance of the definition regularly comes back to bite us—sometimes literally. Nearly 2/3’s of human maladies are zoonotic, including ebola, SARS, influenza, plague, cowpox and West Nile virus. Yet despite countless “teachable moments” over the last several years, budgets and databases, along with veterinarians and doctors, remain largely segregated. Score one for the pathogens…

NATURE AS NURTURE

Our connections to the environment are likewise profound, sometimes arching over eons. “The oxygen exhaled by stromatolites is what we all breathe today,” explained photographer Frans Lanting, during the first talk of the conference, a presentation of his famous Philip Glass-scored slideshow,  “LIFE: A Journey Through Time.”

So no stromatolites, no us.

Lanting spent seven globe-trotting years, seeking out scenes true to Earth’s earliest history and evolution for his photographs. Three billion years ago, curious little stump-like structures created from massive colonies of cyanobacteria—stomatolites—ruled the world. Today, the last remaining “living fossils”  are found only off the coast of Australia. Since they flourished before “before the sky was blue,”  Lanting photographed them in twilight.

Stromatolites / "LIFE: A Journey Through Time" / Frans Lanting

BY DESIGN

Fast forward to the present and humans have bumped the stumps off the pedestal of champion planetary engineers. You would have to look far beneath the surface to underground lakes, deep sea thermal-vent ecosystems and Verne-imagined center-of-the-earthscapes to find somewhat pristine wilderness. Even there, though, since the weight of rising sea levels caused by man-mediated climate change has altered pressures along geological fault-lines, our collective carbon footprint can be felt.

The holocene era, according to a growing cadre of scientists, has given way to the anthropocene, a new geological age defined by human impact on the world’s ecosystems. Maps charting “anthromes”—biomes that take human influence into account—reveal the extent and speed of our species’ global conquest. In a few short centuries, we have tilled, industrialized, deforested, drilled, paved and sprawled our way into just about every nook and cranny. Changing the world may be what we do best.

Maps shows human impact on the world's biomes / created by ecologists Erle Ellis and Navin Ramankutty, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

For designer and TEDxMidwest speaker Bruce Mau, who has spent good deal of his career thinking about Massive Change, separating man from nature is absurd. “It’s not about control, but responsibility If we don’t openly design to nature, we destroy it.”  So far, we seem to be leaning heavily toward the latter. However, and encouragingly, two other presenters offered templates that could, if not return us to Eden, at least help pull us back from the brink.

RAINFORESTS, APES (HAIRY & OTHERWISE) & ECOSYSTEMS THINKING

Willie Smits first wow’ed the TED crowd with a talk in 2009 outlining a scheme to rebuild Indonesian rainforests using the sugar palm: a prodigious sap-producer that thrives on degraded land and only grows in polycultures:

  • Unlike the oil palm, which lends itself to vast plantations that shred biodiversity and produce only palm oil, a sugar palm-based polyculture produces dozens of forest products, from ethanol and fruit, to sugar and wood.
  • Oil palms require fertilizers and pesticides. Sugar palm polycultures enrich and stabilize land.
  • Rainforests burned to make way for oil palms have bumped tiny un-industrialized Borneo to the #3 spot for global CO2 emissions. Planting sugar palms can re-start the “rain machine,” promoting cloud formation and cooling.
  • Run-off from oil palm plantations fouls watersheds and contributes to flooding. Sugar palm polycultures soak up heavy rains and help keep watersheds healthy.
  • Oil palm plantations mean the extinction of orangutans and almost every other native forest inhabitant. Sugar palm polycultures are about stability through complexity. The more, the merrier, bio-wise.
  • Sugar palm polycultures produce more jobs than monoculture oil palm plantations

That last point is key. “The real issue is how to make it useful for people,” noted Smits. The sugar palm juice must be tapped daily, a labor-intensive proposition, which means steady jobs. The polyculture “recipe”—a plan for what to plant where and when, tweaked for specific sites—is designed to include food crops, which are especially important in the early years before the sugar palms start producing. The cascade of harvests starts quickly.

Willie Smits and orangutan orphans

Smits developed techniques to keep the fast-fermenting sugar palm juice stable for 24 hours and designed a processing plant that can be packed into three containers, flown into the jungle via helicopter and set up with almost “plug’n’play” ease. Once a village commits to the plan, it is fairly straightforward to jump-start resilient, eco-friendly economic development.

This is as much a jobs program as it is a reforestation project, and a way to help save our red primate cousins. It is about helping people where they live, rather than forcing them to uproot and become economic migrants competing for work in ever-expanding cities. The human cultural component is an integral part of habitat restoration.

BIOMIMICRY AND BIG TALL BUILDINGS

While Smits focuses on finding village-level answers in the rainforest, Chicago-based architect Gordon Gill seeks to “green” cities by reimagining the quintessential nature-defying structure: the skyscraper. A whopping 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are building-related, so it is a promising area for serious move-the-dial improvement. Rather than simply try to reduce a building’s carbon footprint, however, Gill would like to see it disappear altogether. Better yet, he wants buildings to go net positive, generating more energy than they consume.

No longer does form follow function. Gill has updated Louis Sullivan’s famous dictum for the 21st century: Now form follows performance, driven by a “synthesis of nature and technology.”

The 71-story Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, set to open next year, generates its own energy through wind turbines integrated into the building’s structure. The design funnels air into the turbines, serendipitously lightening the load, saving enough money to cover construction costs of half a dozen stories. Vertical solar panels accent east and west-facing facades. Everything about the building relates to its environmental context. It is literally shaped by forces we cannot see.

Pearl River Tower, designed by Gordon Gill for Skidmore Owings & Merrill

The massive Masdar Headquarters project in Abu Dhabi is 103% efficient, mining sun and wind energy and recycling water on site.

The Federation of Korean Industries Tower in Seoul, which just broke ground, sports an accordion-style glass facade, with solar panels angled up to the sun and windows angled down to improve thermal efficiency.

Federation of Korean Industries, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, architects

Closer to home, Gill’s firm, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, developed the Chicago Central Area Decarbonization Plan, which promotes retrofits of older buildings and redirecting surplus energy back to the grid. According to their estimates, retrofitting half the commercial and residential buildings over the next 10 years could cut the city’s energy use by a third. Retrofitting the 10 largest buildings in the Loop could cut downtown emissions by 10%.

Gill’s firm itself is set to take on the largest green retrofit project in the city, or indeed, anywhere, ever: Willis (nee Sears) Tower. The estimated $200-to- $300 million project includes replacing 16,000 windows, installing more efficient lighting and plumbing systems and planting some experimental green roofs. The payback is expected to take 26 years, but enough energy will be saved to cover the needs of a proposed high-rise hotel to be built next door.

Willis (Sears) Tower retrofit: rendering with proposed hotel, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill architects

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It is liberating, empowering and deeply inspiring to see what a dramatic difference a shift in perspective can make: We are part of a greater whole, not the lords of all we survey. By finding ways to work with nature and understanding ourselves as a part of nature, there may yet be a way to turn things around. There is no time to lose.

RELATED READING, VIDEO:

The Future? Fossil Fuels Are So…Yesterday: On Post-Oil Possiblities, TEDxOilSpill, Amory Lovins, Reinventing Fire & Small People Power

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"Burning oil on the Gulf of Mexico," from the TEDxOilSpill expedition, June, 2010, photo credit: James Duncan Davidson; For more information on June 28 event: http://www.TEDxOilSpill.com

Despite my general rule that once a day is designated for a cause, the cause is likely lost (or at least in serious trouble), I found myself rooting mightily last Saturday for Solarday. Missed it? It is only in its second year, but with global aspirations and the power of the sun on its side.

The power of new sun that is, not the fossil kind captured by plants millions of years ago and transformed into oil, coal and gas. Old sun is best left underground, underwater, under salt seals, in mountains and far, far away from tail pipes and smokestacks. Old sun warms the Earth in all the wrong ways. New sun offers a way out of Dodge.

The “teachable moment” in the Gulf, now stretching into its third month and threatening to stretch for years, frames the debate in the starkest of terms: oils spills versus sun spills. Which one would you prefer to soak up?

We have loads of clean / cleaner energy options beyond solar (photovoltaic, water heating):

  • wind power (macro and micro)

Every week journals burst burst with news on ever-niftier applications for existing technologies (the solar light bulb) and breakthrough improvements, such as MIT professor Daniel Nocera’s efforts to biomimick photosynthesis for “personalized energy,” all the while improving water use and quality:

Energy start-up Sun Catalytix aims to scale up Nocera’s work in the lab for real-world application.

DEMAND: THE OTHER PART OF THE EQUATION

As Nocera points out, unless we get a hold of demand, energy supply is always going to be a game of catch-up – as it is for resources of every kind. Casting the issue in terms of per capita usage actually provides a perverse incentive for over-population.

Rather, the question isn’t how to most equitably divvy up a finite fossil fuel pie, but how much energy is needed for people to live happy, healthy, productive, environmentally-compatible lives.

The education of women in developing countries, which has been shown to correlate to family-planning, along with easier access to contraceptives, are key for a successful global energy strategy.

Business-as-usual means that “every three years, a new Saudi Arabia needs to be discovered and exploited just to maintain the level of output,” according to Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow at British think tank, Chatham House and co-author on a new report co-produced with insurance giant Lloyd’s of London on business-smart energy strategies: Sustainable Energy Security: Strategic Risks and Opportunities for Business.

Global energy use is expected to climb a staggering 40% over the next two decades. Even if there were no risks or downsides to deep water drilling and tar sand mining, this would be a tall order to fill. “In an energy insecure world, resilience is an absolutely key function,” says Froggatt.

So how do we put more “bounce” back in the system?  Clearly not by continuing to pour money into vulnerable pipelines, pirate-friendly tanker ships, inefficient central power generation plants, “dumb” grids and top-down one-size-fits-all answers driving an ever-depressing downward spiral, greased by oil spills.

How do we transition to the dazzling variety of better technologies that are either already on the shelf or on the near-term horizon? This is a business and logistics question, not a technical question (which is not to say that substantial and steady R&D funding isn’t required – it most definitely is).

If the Chatham House report is right, things will start to get really dicey by 2013, when China’s domestic oil production is expected to peak and competition for global supplies becomes even more fierce.

REINVENTING FIRE

Few people have been as tenaciously focused on saving the world from its fossil fuel addiction as Amory Lovins, chief scientist and cofounder of the Colorado-based “think and do tank,” Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). For over 30 years, Lovins, a geek’s geek, has relentlessly and with trademark statistic-laced cheer, shown how saving energy is almost always cheaper than generating it (“negawatts” and “negabarrels”) and how thoughtful design can translate, often immediately, to the bottom line.

When Detroit declared that cars were as efficient as they were ever going to be, Lovins set about reinventing the auto as a “Hypercar,” experimenting with carbon-composite plastics (light-weighting and saves on “paint shop” costs), LED lights, hydrogen fuel cells, better insulation to cut A/C needs and low drag design.  While the team was at it, they did away with the steering wheel in favor of joystick, too. Voila! 100 mpg.  Many of the technologies (though, so far, not the joystick) have been adopted by major manufacturers (video).

Green building design has always been a central part of the RMI’s work, starting with Lovins’ own home, The Banana Farm, nestled in the Rockies of Snowmass, CO. The most ambitious project so far: a $13.2 million retrofit of the Empire State Building, designed to save just under $4 million in energy costs per year.

As impressive as these projects are, they are the warm up for what may very well be Lovins’ masterwork: Reinventing Fire. RF, a new research initiative just getting underway,  builds on work from an earlier project, “Winning the Oil Endgame,” a business-driven road map for weaning the U.S. off oil by 2050. Lovins explains in this TED talk from 2005:

For Reinventing Fire, once again Business is targeted as the engine of change, with competitive edge as the carrot motivating Business. CO2 and pollution reduction are almost incidental benefits. Rather, RF aims to make virtuous circles possible: Do the right thing and all kinds of good things follow.

With the clear-headed cunning that comes from decades at the front lines, the RMI team has carefully chosen its battles:

In the web of interconnections spanning how energy is produced, transported, distributed and used, all the points along the way are fair game for intervention. But decades of research into how energy moves from fossil-fuel sources to uses have revealed key leverage points in four sectors: transportation, buildings, industry and electricity.

Although RF’s focus is on the U.S., the lessons can be applied anywhere and everywhere. The good news only gets better.

SMALL PEOPLE POWER

There is no need for the rest of us to wait on the sidelines while Business gets its profit-priorities in gear. Plenty of revolutions – maybe most – start with “the small people,” as English-as-a-second-language-challenged BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg dubbed us.

In addition to seeking out energy-smart products, insulating our homes and lobbying for more and better public transportation options, we can begin to think more about what we eat and where it comes from.

Much of what appears an America’s dinner plates took thousands of miles to get there. Calves born in Florida might be “finished” in a feedlot in Nebraska and shipped as hamburger to a grocery story in Illinois. Fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer about the bounty of season, but flight logistics. The loss of shrimping in the Gulf from the oil spill doesn’t only mean lost jobs, it means more imports from overseas.

From running farm machinery, to inputs for pesticides and herbicides and, of course, shipping, an enormous amount of fossil fuel goes into food. It is time we put a fork in it: “Small people for locally or regionally-produced food!” If we can up the percentage to just 25% of our collective plate, not only would it force a change in production logistics, but we would be healthier for our efforts. A lot of vitamins get lost in transit…

The urban agriculture movement, which puts farms in the middle of cities, shortens the loop about as much as it can be shortened. As pioneered by MacArthur fellow Will Allen at Milwaukee- based Growing Power’s flagship farm, fish can be added to the harvest through a closed loop aquaponics set up where plants filter water while fish fertilize plants (see TrackerBlog post: “The Farm Next Door”).

BP: BEYOND PROPOGANDA

In a recent interview with the New York Times, the wife of a Gulf coast oil worker spoke about her conflicting feelings between the need for  jobs right now and the high environmental costs of drilling.

“I mean, eventually we might figure out a way to switch over to something else for us to use for energy,” she said. “But is it going to be affordable for everybody?

If we remain loyal to oil, it is a sure thing that it will not be affordable for all. There is simply too much global competition, too much geopolitical risk and no deadline for “eventually.”

Jon Stewart / "The Daily Show": Presidents promising energy independence...

Imagine what the present would have looked like if Nixon (!) had delivered on his promise for energy independence by 1980. Or his successors been a bit more successful pushing green alternatives. What wars might have been averted? What industries would be creating jobs? What would Nigeria look like? And what hole in the ocean floor wouldn’t be gushing?

There is no time left for “eventually.” You want that better future back? Let’s go get it.

RELATED READING/VIEWING:

  • TEDxOilSpill: June 28, 2010 – livestreaming from Washington D.C.

PopTech 2009 Take-Aways: On Amateurs, Mining Cross-Disciplinary Gold, FLAP Bags, Science Fellows, $12 (well, $10) Computers, the Solar Hope, a Few Ideas for Next Year & Some Darn Fine Fiddling…

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poptechblogIt was a wonderful little bubble while it lasted. Getting up before dawn. Dressing in easy-to-peel layers for whatever the day might bring. Walking over to Boynton-McKay, a diner of rare perfection, where the wi-fi was as reliably good as the pancakes (a boon in connectivity-challenged Camden…) Ascending the stairs and more stairs of the town’s famous 19th century Opera House. A few minutes to mingle-navigate among tables of nibble-food before settling down for a morning of things worth thinking about.

But first, a little music. Logan Richardson’s soulful, playful, questioning sax riffs on “America the Beautiful” one day. Zoe Keating’s clear, deeply layered, architecturally precise, transcending cello pieces another. How lovely to start each day by not thinking. Just being. In the moment. Together. Brilliant.

And then it was off and running, from economics to education, urban decay to urban agriculture, environmental catastrophe to conservation hope, design theory to food design, cardboard robots to paper diagnostics, communications to comics, art to dance to music. To, to, to…

But as the last note of the Mark O’Connor-anchored jam session finale faded into festive applause and we trundled off in buses through the rainy dark to a cavernous transportation museum for one last party, the bubble had begun to weaken and thin. Faces, now familiar, circled by against an improbable backdrop of vintage automobiles, sci-fi bicycles and disconcertingly disembodied airplane parts.  A few final conversations and business cards. Some hugs and toasts. Promises to keep in touch, follow up, finish that thought. We stayed up until we couldn’t. By morning, the bubble was lost in the dazzling clarity of a New England fall day. One by one we left the the small town – Maine’s answer to Brigadoon – journeying back to the chaotic urgency of our daily lives. With each mile down the highway to Boston, and each minute in the sky back to Chicago, I could feel experiences recasting into memories, ready for sorting and analysis.

TAKE-AWAYS

Throughout the conference, Michelle Riggen-Ransom, Rachel Barenblat, and Ethan Zuckerman were absolutely brilliant live-blogging the talks and I recommend reading their posts, along with Kristen Taylor’s, on the PopTech blog to get a more detailed view of goings on.

Among the overarching themes: the serendipity of the amateur and the common sense of a cross-disciplinary approach. In short, the easiest way to see outside the box is to be outside the box. Continue reading

PopTech: Day 1 – Reimagining and Beyond Imagining

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Blame it on the birds. And the elephants, lions, biochar, Indonesian agroforestry, dirt batteries, mechanical caterpillar waves, global maps, messenger bag-cum-lighting systems, a cyber-dance experience and one very lovely essay about migration. But not too far into the first day of PopTech, the conference’s “Reimagining America” theme disappeared. Which was fine. It seemed too limited for a confab about Big Thoughts, even here in a small, charming  American town (that could use a little reimagining itself – connectivity way, way too spotty). In any case, you can’t really reimagine, or even imagine, America without including the rest the world in the equation.

And nobody brought that point home with more heart-wrenching eloquence than Chris Jordan with his slide show of photographs of dead albatross on Midway Island, killed by a diet of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Photograph after photographs of birds, heads twisted by pain, guts split by a bounty of all too familiar bottle caps – perky shades of reds and blues favored by marketers – had the audience in shock and *this* audience in tears. This wasn’t an isolated occasional bird tragedy, but the picture of a extinction-in-progress. And because it took so darn long for anyone to discover the Garbage Patch, a ghostly-insidious man-made chemically-enhanced primordial soup the size of at least a couple of Texas’s (Texi?), it is far too late to do much about it – at least for the albatross (“Midway Journey” project blog – notes & videos).

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Save the microbes! Save the plankton! Save the food chain!  Who knows? We might just save ourselves, too.

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The day was filled with jolts of Overwhelming Problems paired with Glimmers of Hope.

John Fetterman, the myth-come-to-life mayor of Braddock, PA, a bankrupt rust-belt town that had been all but written off. A strikingly tall bald figure, with dates tattooed on his massive arms to remember the victims of violent crimes (thankfully, no new tattoos in over a year), Fetterman’s unvarnished recitation of all that had gone wrong coupled with some very basic ideas of what can be done had the crowd on a can-do upswing. Renovate those $5,000 homes (average price – since the recession, they’ve lost value). Add artists. LOTS of artists. Plant urban gardens. Hold lots of family-friendly it-takes-a-village-to-make-a-village. Clear debris and make a park. Then came news of a major hospital closing, which will not only take jobs from the area, but leave the population – mostly poor and minority – in a health-care desert. It is hard to make money taking care of poor people. So much for the greater public good or, for that matter, public health.

I began to wonder whether some of the health solutions being tested in the developing world –  many driven by cell phone tech – wouldn’t be appropriate here, too? (e.g., PopTech Fellow Josh Nesbit’s FrontlineSMS: Medic & Hope Phones).

Indeed, one of the conference’s most intriguing themes to emerge so far is this concept of two-way innovation: developed to developing world and vice-versa. (Note to makers of One Laptop Per Child: I really really REALLY want one of those computer screens designed for use in full sun…)

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On the Glimmers of Hope front, the PopTech Fellows were batting it out of the park. From Jason Aramburu‘s efforts to commercialize biochar, a carbon negative solution that also improves soil fertility, to Eben Bayer’s nifty mushroom-mediated compostable alternative to landfill-choaking styrofoam, Aviva Presser Aiden and Hugo van Vurveen’s “dirt batteries” and Emily Pilloton’s no-nonsense determination to enlist an army of young designers to come up with Better Answers, there was a sense that it’s still not too late. We can, just maybe, turn this thing around and not go down the climate change tubes.

FLAP – Flexible Light and Power – a prototype of a portable lighting system stitched into a Timbuktu messenger bag – also caught the crowd’s imagination. Designed by MIT’s Sheila Kennedy, it’s a simple idea that could radically change the way we think about solar deployment, opening up the space to all kinds of new ideas. No longer would solar be consigned to rooftop panels or a strip on a pocket calculator. It can almost literally be woven into the fabric of our lives, turning us into portable “plants,” photosynthesizing as we go about our daily business. (More from Erik Hersman on field-testing the design in Africa.)

Indonesia-based Willie Smits also has big plans for photosynthesis, with a scheme that would not only reforest the world’s rain forests, but generate jobs and an array of crops, supply power to poor villages, restore biodiversity and wildlife habitat and dramatically reduce demand for foreign oil. Smits “Tapergy” plans is an integrated system that works with Nature to increase the productivity of land while capping CO2 “volcanos” that result when millions of acres of land, particularly peat-lands, are cleared from monoculture oil palm plantations. (read more about Smits work in “Trees for Trees” post – page down to section on “You Had Me at Organgutan” – includes videos)

There was much more to Day 1. But Day 2 is about to begin. So, connectivity willing, follow on twitter: #poptech / @trackernews.

LEDs Will Light the Way

LED There Be Light

CFLs (compact florescent light bulbs) may have become the symbol for greener lighting over the last couple of years, but  LEDs — those ubiquitous light emitting diodes on everything from digital alarm clocks to laptops — are poised for a global come-from-behind take-over. The key stumbling point has always been the cost the production. That’s about to change.

LEDs  use only a tiny fraction of the energy needed by florescents and can last a decade or longer, but manufacturing complications require the use of sapphire, a rare and expensive material. Now research at the University of Cambridge promises a super-cheap alternative. Once that pesky little problem is solved, CFLs — and their inconveniently un-green mercury residues — will soon go the way of….incandescents.

(The EPA’s clean up guidelines for broken CFLs are Hazmat-thorough and energy intensive, which begs the question why anyone living in an earthquake-prone area, or with young children in the house, would want to use them.)

Despite high costs, though, there is strong and growing demand for these energy-miser bulbs both the developing world where the electric grid has yet to reach, and in the developed world where grid-liberation is the goal.

SOURCES & STORIES

Below is a round-up of links that have been featured on the TrackerNews site:

  • Light Up the World Foundation: Started by University of Calgary professor Dave Irvine-Halliday, LUWF has pioneered the installation of LED lighting units in the developing world that are powered by renewable sources (solar, wind, even pedal power). The goal is two-fold: bring light to some of the 2 billion people without electricity and provide an alternative to smokey, dangerous, ineffective kerosene lamps. “The Man Who Lit Up the Mountains” is a short video about LUWF and its first project in Nepal.