Eternal dilettante Jimmy Wales, the playboy founder of Wikipedia, has a new girlfriend-of-the-moment: Mother Nature. His for-profit offshoot wiki startup, Wikia, has launched Wikia Green, an edit-it-yourself guide to all things environmental. Like his past launched-and-abandoned efforts — anyone remember Campaigns Wikia, Wales's political supersite? — Wikia Green likely won't go far.But it will give Wales something to chatter about the next time he runs into Bono or Sir Richard Branson at a party. We'd bet his celebrity friends are too polite to ask the notoriously cheap Wales if he's actually springing for carbon offsets to make up for all of the emissions he generates through his nonstop round-the-world jet travel. Oh, and should we get into the contribution to global warming he makes through all the hot air that issues from his lips?
In a recently filed patent application, Google details plans to build a "Water-based Datacenter," complete with an array of pontoons to generate electricity from the motion of the ocean. The abundant water could also be used to cool the servers, and power could be further augmented with wind energy. But the real gains aren't greentech, necessarily — in international waters, the company can more profitably invade you privacy free from evil governments and their tyrannical taxes and laws. [USPTO]
A rash of solar panel thefts has hit the Bay Area and Sacramento according to a report from local news station KPIX. Recently hit was the Hearst Elementary School in Pleasanton. Best part of the story? The main suspect in the case, a Pittsburg, Calif. resident, is alleged to have used Craigslist to fence the goods. According to reporter Jeffrey Schaub, each panel can fetch from $800 to $1000, much more than stolen copper piping or the platinum from catalytic convertors in car mufflers, which are also hot items. Putting it all together — the East Bay, late-night theft and Craigslist — my money is on meth addicts.
If Burning Man were still held at Ocean Beach, it would be a lot greener. Eighty-seven percent of the 27,000 tons of greenhouse gases generated by this year's party on the playa come from participants driving and flying to and from the event, according to the Cooling Man project. Cooling Man wants Burners to spend ten dollars each to buy carbon offsets. As a former theme-camper, I know money is tight for attendees this week. So I found you a discount to $9.07:
The antipollution device bolted onto your car's exhaust pipes contains platinum, an expensive metal. Some recycling shops will pay $200 for a used converter — whether it comes from a junked vehicle or was freshly sawed from beneath a Toyota Land Cruiser at the Stanford Shopping Center. I typed up the best parts of a not-online report by the San Francisco Daily Post:
Nth Power founder Nancy Floyd, whose firm invests in clean-energy solutions, spoke at the Democratic convention last night. I tracked down her full speech. Nth Power's investments haven't exactly threatened Kleiner Perkins on ROI. But Floyd has a plan to fix that. Wanna guess? Don't miss the part where she panders to the DNC's Mac fans.Nth Power has invested $420 million in 35 companies in the past decade. Most optimize existing energy resources, rather than trying to create alternative power sources. But today, Nth Power only has a piece of one public company that hasn't gone transformers-up: Comverge, which builds load control and advanced metering systems. Floyd's speech envisioned a future of clean, efficient energy. Energy delivered by hungry startups. Startups funded by Nth Power. And by President Obama's administration.
"I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels," House speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Meet the Press Sunday. She said it again, just to be sure. We know what she meant, but dumb little mistakes like this are the general public's equivalent of Valleywag's Google cafeteria reports. I waited a couple of days to see if Pelosi's quote would quietly fall off the radar. Silly me! A sampling of the backlash so far:Rush Limbaugh: "This would get somebody laughed out of a high school classroom. Yeah, not anymore maybe." John C. Dvorak: "Even Bush knows better." Naturalgas.org: "Natural gas is the cleanest of all fossil fuels." (Photo by AP/Richard Drew)
"Energy-efficient computers powered by sunshine. This will be an instant hit," grouses chief bitterness officer Ted Dziuba in his latest opinion column for The Register. "There will be greenhouse gas output dashboards with neat little Ajax widgets." Mystery contributor theodp points out that IBM already sells it.
Click to view Makani Power, the company founded in part by Larry Page and Sergey Brin's kitesurfing buddy Don Montague, has scored another $5 million in investment from Google as part of a second round that could net as much as $20 million. That's on top of the $10 million already invested in the startup's plan to create electricity from high-altitude air currents. This money, like the first round, presumably comes from Google.org's project to tap into renewable energy that's cheaper than coal. I may have to revise my opinion of Google.org as just another corporate venture fund and green PR ploy.Considering how CEO Eric Schmidt funnels money to his real estate-developer wife Wendy Schmidt through charitable organizations and cofounder Sergey Brin's wife Anne Wojcicki cashed in on Google's money for her vanity gene-sequencing startup 23andMe, Google.org seems more like another vehicle for the Mountain View advertising firm's executives to lavish money on friends and family.
We don't need any energy technology breakthrough to solve the climate-change problem. At least, that's the Tthesis posited by The Economist in a debate sponsored by everyone's favorite multinational oil company,
British Petroleum Beyond Petroleum. The ayes are having it so far. Joseph Romm from the Center for American Progress takes the pro, Peter Meisen of the Global Energy Network Institute takes the con, and Earth2Tech's Katie Fehrenbacher argues the corollary for conservation through increased efficiency.
San Francisco alone consumes 850 continuous megawatts of electricity during the day. How much is that? The two supersized solar arrays planned for 2013 won't be enough to run SF — they'll produce 800 megawatts total. Gavin Newsom's pet project, the tidal power generator, will only piddle out 55 megawatts — one-fifteenth of the city's needs. Meanwhile, the Golden State's two operating nuclear sites each crank out more than 2,000 megawatts — day or night, high tide or low. What really drives the greenies crazy? They're safe.An FYI for everyone terrified of nuclear power: Chernobyl can't happen again. The RBMK model reactors — only used in Russia — were retrofitted for better control, containment and mitigation years ago. Three Mile Island, in hindsight, turns out to be a classic media scarefest. A post-action review at MIT found that "The melted nuclear core was contained and any radiation released was minimal. Thus, the plant design and safety protocols actually worked, despite numerous operator mistakes." Thirty years later, Westinghouse has designed a nuke that doesn't even need backup generators to stay cool if there's a power outage. We should be worried about nuclear waste disposal, not a China Syndrome-style meltdown. Nuclear waste processing has been engineered for the type of waste (LLW, MLW and HLW) that has been produced and effective strategies are working successfully right now. The real problem is that people gladly use the electricity cranked out by nukes, but freak out if there's a waste site within 2,000 miles of their backyards. Meanwhile, I wonder how many greenies know that fossil fuel releases radioactive material when burned? Uranium ore and other radioactive material are stored naturally in coal ore, from which America still gets about half of its electricity. Compared to the old choke factory at Hunter's Point, Diablo Canyon sure is pretty.
Google, everyone's favorite search-engine monopoly, has spent $10,739,521 on three geothermal power projects, including investments in AltaRock Energy, Potter Drilling and a grant for the geothermal labs at Southern Methodist University. The idea? Dig a hole two to six miles deep, pump it full of water and then use the steam produced by the heat to power a turbine (and, presumably, capture the steam in order to recycle the water). It adds geothermal power to wind and solar generation projects funded through Google.org's project to generate renewable energy that's cheaper per kilowatt-hour than power generated through burning coal. All in an effort to make sure that consumer markets can continue apace, because heaven help us if we had to actually conserve energy. (Photo by World Island Info)
Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr, ever the indulgent father, has stopped showering tears on his 17-year-old daughter Mary, and switched to cash instead. Mary Doerr's nonprofit, Inconvienient Youth, is a Ning-based social network that's supposed to make Al Gore's global warming presentation more "teen-friendly," according to VentureBeat.We're all for not turning our atmosphere into an oven, but adolescent admonishments will swiftly grow even more wearisome than Gore's original. Children are now encouraged to scold their parents for crimes against the climate — such as using your dryer on a warm August day — with "Climate Crime Cards." Annoying, yes. But easily remedied. Just remind the offspring that bringing them into life increased the family's carbon-dioxide output by the equivalent of 620 round-trip flights between London and New York. Inconvenient youth, indeed.
Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla's 15-year old son Neal, a student at ritzy San Francisco prep school Lick-Wilmerding, is refusing to eat any vegetables. "The only vegetable he has had this week is a single, lone piece of onion that snuck into his fajitas, despite spending the majority of dinner carefully picking all the vegetables out of his food," according to his sister Nina, who IM'd Valleywag this morning in desperation. The family has gotten Neal to agree to eat vegetables, but only if a Facebook group they've set up garners 1,000 users.Father Vinod, who is now backing startups which turn vegetable matter into energy, has suggested that all women stop talking to the young master until he relents. With the habit of "coughing freely and infrequently washing his hands," reported by his sisters in the Facebook group's description, I can't imagine many women who would talk to him in the first place. What are some of the effects of malnutrition? Well, a lack of vitamin C or ascorbic acid, which can be found in onions among other fruits and vegetables, can lead to scurvy. And trust me, no pubescent teen with scorbutic gums is getting to first base any time soon. We won't even get into what this is doing to his father's cleantech investments.
What's cooler than a solar energy plant 10 times larger than any ever built? Two of 'em! Two plants to be built in San Luis Obispo County will deliver a planned total of 800 megawatts to PG&E. That's four times the output of San Francisco's Hunters Point plant, or enough to run 800 big Wal-Marts. The bad news: They won't be fully online until 2013. (Photo of Israeli solar farm by Getty Images/Uriel Sinai)
Greenwashing — the practice of gussying up old-fashioned capitalism as newfangled Earth-saving — is an art form. I used to think local greenwashers Pacific Gas & Electric and spam-prone solar shill Steve Westly were the masters. But they look like rank amateurs compared to Oklahoma native T. Boone Pickens. The man is a case study in how to effectively cloak your greed in green. As a result, he's won plaudits, taxpayer money, and eminent domain over private property. The latest example?Pickens and Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon are about to convince California voters to fork over $5 billion in a ballot proposition called the "California Alternative Fuels Initiative." It's really a giveaway to natural gas developers like Pickens and McClendon. Good thing he's sticking to energy, an industry he understands. When last we heard from the iconic corporate raider, he was busy losing piles of money on Yahoo and cursing the company's management. That debacle forgotten, of late he's has been getting more media attention for his role in massive projects under the catchy "Pickens Plan." Part of that plan is California's Proposition 10, due for a vote in November. Pickens and McClendon have spent only $3.7 million so far promoting the $5 billion bond measure, according to the Wall Street Journal. If it passes, that's one heck of a return on investment. The plan will ultimately cost taxpayers $8.9 billion and raise sales taxes with no guarantees that the state will actually see much of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. You'd think environmentalists would have seen through Pickens "reformed oil man" facade, but you'd be wrong: With less than three months until the issue is due for a vote, no formal opposition has emerged. Pickens is a pro at bending state politics to his will. His plan to drill for groundwater in the Texas panhandle and sell it to Dallas residents met with opposition from ecologists and landowners, since it required a 250-mile straw to drink up the Ogallala aquifer's milkshake. So Pickens slapped some wind-turbine generators onto the plan, and with the help of some changes to local laws, managed to place himself at the head of a new water district with the power of eminent domain in order to seize the necessary land across the dusty Texas plains for the pipeline. It's the kind of move that you would think would provoke bipartisan disgust — natural-resource exploitation, to offend the liberals, with the abuse of eminent domain for private gain, to piss off the conservatives. Instead, the longtime Republican who helped swiftboat Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry is winning green points amongst conservatives by promising "energy independence" from foreign oil. And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D.-San Francisco, is an investor in Pickens's Clean Energy Fuels. As such, she stands to profit from the deal as well, effectively silencing the state and national Democratic Party on the issue Our ten-gallon hats are off to the man for suckering both sides of the aisle into giving him what he wants and the public into thinking he's motivated by anything more than greed. Well played, Mr. Pickens, well played.
Click to viewKevin Rose, the Casanovative founder of Digg, is concerned about the effect that all his whizbang gadgets are having on precious Gaia. He proposes that the heavenly father of the Jesusphone, the almighty Steve Jobs, develop an "iPower" system to monitor a home's electrical system. When your iPhone's GPS detects that you've left the house, the AirPort base station would trigger relay switches in power outlets around the house to shut off, saving precious joules from being wasted — something that a number of other companies are already developing, Rose readily admits. That's not a problem: Like all of Rose's ideas, this one involves someone else doing all the work. My only concern? Considering all the fecund females who've been associated with Rose over the years, it's only a matter of time before this dream becomes a reality — and then an awful nightmare. Because what happens when Robot Steve Jobs is given complete control over your home?