6 things you need to know about Tesla’s Model X, launching today

6 things you need to know about Tesla’s Model X, launching today

At an event outside its Fremont, California factory later today, Tesla will at long last deliver its first batch of production Model X crossovers to early pre-order customers. This has been a hell of a journey: the vehicle has been kicking around in concept form for practically as long as the Model S sedan has been on the road, and was originally supposed to launch in 2013 – but challenges with design and manufacturing have pushed it way, way out. (Considering that the order waitlist is into next year, that doesn’t seem to have had much effect on demand.)

As with the Model S before it, very early buyers of the Model X are getting a Signature Edition, which is pre-specced with almost every option. (It’s not unusual for automakers to do a run of similar or identical cars when a new model comes out, which lets dealers stock a standard show car and gives the factory some runway to iron out production kinks.) Needless to say, the Signature Editions are sold out, and buyers are paying a premium for the privilege: more than $130,000, which puts this car in the upper echelon of Model S pricing. Full pricing information won’t be revealed until tonight, but considering the more complex mechanisms in the car, it’s almost certain that you’ll be able to spend more on this than you can on a fully loaded S.

So as you get ready for Tesla to unveil a new car – something that only happens once every few years – here are some interesting facts to consider.

A car this big shouldn’t be able to move this quickly

It is, in many ways, just a bigger Model S. The similarities between the S and X go well beyond the strong familial resemblance. Remember the launch of the dual-motor Model S last year, Tesla’s first all-wheel-drive vehicle? That powertrain was already being developed for the Model X, which made it easy for engineers to bolt it onto the sedan, too. The result is one of the quickest sedans in the world – and a car that is far more appropriate for winter climates than the original rear-wheel-drive version.

It will have three proper rows of seating. For families, this is likely to be a big deal. The Model S can be optioned with a sort of vestigial rear-facing seat in the trunk area, but it’s definitely not the sort of thing you’d want to have to use on a regular basis. If you’ve got five or more people in your posse, the X is going to be a more comfortable option than the S could ever be.

It’s still ridiculously (ludicrously?) quick. The X uses a version of the dual-motor powertrain from the Model S, which means it’s able to bend light almost as effectively – it’s only a little slower because it’s a bigger, heavier car. With the Ludicrous Mode option, the Model X will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in an estimated 3.2 seconds. That’s the same as a $151,000 Porsche 911 Turbo. It is liable to terrify your dog, your children, their friends, and whatever else you’re hauling to the Little League game.

It has less range than the Model S, but not way less. According to preliminary EPA numbers, the Performance version only gives up 3 miles of range against its Model S equivalent; the non-Performance version gives up 13 miles. Regardless of configuration, you’re getting at least 250 claimed miles of range with a 90kWh battery pack. Combine that with Superchargers, home charging, and the occasional Level 2 charge around town, and that should be just as livable as the Model S.

It will have the craziest doors of any family car ever put into production (and it’s not even close). One of the Model X’s defining features is its “falcon wing doors,” which allow enormous openings into the second row of seats – convenient if you have to throw a big Ikea box back there, or a child seat. They’re also hinged so they can be opened inside a garage without hitting the walls. They are nuts, and they made it to the production version of the car, which is doubly nuts. This is the kind of feature that typically falls by the wayside as engineers make the transition from concept to reality.

This is the last extremely expensive car Tesla will be launching for a while. Next on Elon Musk’s agenda is the Model 3, a vehicle more important than the S and X combined. Why? It’s easy to forget that both of Tesla’s current models are very, very expensive cars – the overwhelming majority of car owners can only dream of owning something this pricey. The 3 is expected to be a mass-market vehicle that will deliver long, practical range for around $35,000. If Musk can deliver on the promise and make enough of them, they’ll sell far better than the S and X can ever hope to.

The event kicks off at 8PM PT / 11PM ET this evening – including a livestream – and we’ll have all the news for you.

Wyoming Vertical Farm Produces 37,000 Pounds of Greens on the Side of a Parking Garage!

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, may not be a place many people pick out on a map to travel to, let alone even know exists.

The town experiences long, cold, bitter winters, resulting in its produce taking a huge hit because quite simply, residents can’t grow much of anything due to the harsh weather.

In the past, Jackson Hole had to rely on neighboring states and even other countries to import fresh fruits and vegetables, but a new project called Vertical Harvest is hoping it can help feed the town’s residents in a more efficient manner.

Vertical Harvest is a multi-story greenhouse built on the side of a parking garage, a rare vertical farm capable of growing tomatoes, herbs, and microgreens.

How It Works:

Vertical Harvest’s 30 foot by 150 foot plot of land features carousels that keep plants moving the length of the greenhouse, giving them equal time in natural light, and also allowing workers to pick and transfer the crops.

Hydroponics enables the initiative to produce over 37,000 pounds of greens, 4,400 pounds of herbs, and 44,000 pounds of tomatoes!

Best of all, Vertical Harvest uses 90 percent less water and 100 percent fewer pesticides than traditional farming.

One of California’s Reservoirs Is Now Bone-Dry

In a normal year, when California’s record drought isn’t sapping reservoir levels around the state, clearing some debris from an outlet valve of a 5,800-acre reservoir like Mountain Meadows wouldn’t spell catastrophe.

But this year, for thousands of fish left without water to swim in, it did.

The reservoir is located just south of Lassen National Forest in the Northern California town of Westwood. It’s been a popular fishing hole for recreational anglers and an important source of energy for nearby residents.

Owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the reservoir sits at the top of the energy company’s hydroelectric dam system, connected by the Feather River. On Sept. 13, Mountain Meadows Reservoir, also known as Walker Lake, was already sitting at dangerously low levels when a maintenance crew reportedly cleared out a clogged drainage valve.

By the next morning, the water was gone. All that remained was a field of dead fish and angry residents asking what happened.

There’s More to the Drought Than How Much Water It Takes to Grow an Almond

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“We’ve been in a really bad drought, so that’s really the main contributor to this whole thing,” said Nils Lunder, director of the Mountain Meadows Conservancy group based in Westwood. “But this was also a poorly managed situation.”

Instead of keeping outflows to a minimum early in the year and letting the lake fill up, Lunder said PG&E kept the lake level low. And with little to no snowpack, inflows over the summer were basically nonexistent.

PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno told CBS News that the company had stopped using the dam for power and had been running outflows at the minimum allowed levels since March. The draining was an unfortunate consequence of the times.

“It’s the situation we worked hard to avoid, but the reality is we’re in a very serious drought, and there’s also concerns for the fish downstream,” Moreno said.

With scientists linking California’s severe drought with human-caused climate change, dried-out reservoirs like Mountain Meadows could become the norm. Water concerns are leading to adaptations in industry and home life, with farmers, residents, and regulators taking steps to reduce use and preserve a resource that is projected to become scarcer as temperatures increase.

For Lunder, the empty reservoir is a chance to start over. For the first time, representatives from PG&E and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will meet with community members to answer questions about what happened.

“Before this, we didn’t have the representation we needed as a community,” Lunder said. “Hopefully, with talking about our concerns, we can avoid this situation in the future.”

In First Address In United States, Pope Francis Spends Most Of His Time Talking About Climate Change

In his first public address during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis spent the majority of his time harping on one issue: Climate change.

Speaking before a massive crowd outside the White House Wednesday morning, Pope Francis began his talk by referencing his immigrant heritage, noting, “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” He then offered an aside praising the merits of religious liberty, asking the U.S. government to pay heed to the beliefs of American Catholics and “respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”

But just three paragraphs into his prepared remarks, Francis pivoted sharply to the another issue near to his heart – the environment.

it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”

“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” Francis said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”

Francis twice quoted his own encyclical on the environment, a papal document released earlier this year that made headlines because of its bold call for global action on climate change.

“When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living at a critical moment of history,” he said. “We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.’ Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies.”

“To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it,” Francis added, quoting the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. “We know by faith that ‘the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home’. As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”

President Barack Obama, who spoke before Francis, praised the pontiff’s environmentalism.

“Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet – God’s magnificent gift to us,” Obama said. “We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.”

Francis’ rhetoric isn’t inspiring everyone, however. At least one Catholic Republican – Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) – is boycotting the pope’s speech to Congress on Thursday because he disagree’s with the Holy Father’s stance on climate change.

Apple’s Electric Car Could Ship By 2019, According to the WSJ

Apple’s electric vehicle project, once a blurry rumor, is coming into increasingly clear focus. A major scoop from the Wall Street Journal today gives us details about the car’s team, manufacturing, and a ship-by date-of just four years.

The sources of the Wall Street Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi are anonymous-he citied “people familiar with the matter”-but Wakabayashi has already given us most of what we know about the project. His sources say Apple is not only accelerating work on its car, but that car could hit the market as soon as 2019. The company has given the so-called Project Titan team a mandate to increase in size to 1,800 team members, compared to its current 600-strong team.

Does Apple plan on actually manufacturing this car itself? That’s one major unanswered question, and Wakabayashi has his doubts, pointing out that Apple traditionally hasn’t manufactured its own gadgets. On the other hand, the company is one of the few on Earth with the cold, hard cash to do it:

Manufacturing a car is enormously expensive. A single plant usually costs well over $1 billion and requires a massive supply chain to produce the more than 10,000 components in a car. Elon Musk, chief executive of electric-car maker Tesla, complained last fall that it is “really hard” to make a car amid the company’s struggle to ramp up production of its Model S sedan.

The expense is a barrier to entry to many potential competitors, but would be less of a hurdle for Apple, which reported holding $178 billion in cash as of Dec. 27, 2014.

Another not-altogether-surprising detail of the report is that the first iteration of the vehicle won’t be totally autonomous. That’s no surprise, given the ship date cited-another detail that the WSJ is careful to hedge, pointing out that this terminology could simply represent the finalization of the product, rather than an in-store sell-by date; what’s more, “there is skepticism within the team that the 2019 target is achievable.”

So we’ve got plenty of caveats to these specifics-but Wakabayashi’s report isn’t the only new evidence we’ve got about the project. Over the past few months, we’ve seen evidence of major movement happening on Project Titan, and just a few days ago, reps from California’s DMV said they had met with Apple about the project. Apple’s car is coming-the question, now, seems to be when.

Contact the author at [email protected].

The Vietnamese University that Plants Paradise Where There Could Be a Parking Lot

Verdant lawns and shady groves of trees lining the quad-that kind of landscaping is common on America’s college campuses. But once construction on FTP University’s new campus in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is completed, the city’s 8 million residents might have a tough time figuring out where the buildings start and the greenery ends.

The private, technology-focused institution has commissioned Vo Trong Nghia Architects, a Vietnamese firm that specializes in green architecture, to build a 14-square-mile campus. Plans for the campus include terraced buildings tricked out with tree-covered rooftops and balconies, as well as courtyards filled with plants. The images resemble pyramids rising out of the jungle.

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“To engage the city in a different way, FPT University appears as an undulating forested mountain growing out of the city of concrete and brick. This form creates more greenery than is destroyed, counteracting environmental stress and providing the city with a new icon for sustainability,” the architects said in a statement. “Environmental stress is observable through frequent energy shortages, increased pollution, rising temperatures, and reduced greenery,” they continued.

Thanks to development and industrial construction, 60 percent of forested areas in the Southeast Asian country have been destroyed, according to a 2011 report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Ho Chi Minh City illustrates these issues, having only 0.25 percent of the entire city covered in greenery,” according to the architect’s statement.

“Cities, especially in thriving countries like Vietnam, are growing at such a speed that infrastructure is unable to keep pace,” added the architects. The deforestation-fighting concept certainly resembles a tropical paradise. It’s unclear when the firm expects to complete the project.

Giant Fans Will Soon Suck CO2 Out Of The Atmosphere and Turn It Into Fuel | Big Think

While some may associate CO2 pollution mainly with industrial plants and giant chimneys releasing the gas into the atmosphere, the reality is that emissions from the transport sector, represent about 24% of global CO2 emissions and have the highest emissions growth of all. They are also harder to limit and capture – while there are existing technologies for trapping CO2 out of a smoke stack, for example, there haven’t been solutions for capturing the already released into the atmosphere (by cars, trucks and panes) CO2 that is 300 times less concentrated than the one coming out of a smoke stack. That is until now.

In the beginning of this year, in Squamish, British Columbia, the privately owned (and backed by Bill Gates) company Carbon Engineering began the construction of the first air capture CO2 demo plant. For years, the company has been developing the technology that is now ready to be implemented on a larger scale.

Like trees, air capture technology traps CO2 from the ambient air. However, as the team of Carbon Engineering points out, “planting enough trees in the numbers needed would require diverting vast amounts of agriculturally productive land. In fact, to absorb enough CO2 as an air capture facility, trees would require roughly a thousand times more land.” Unlike trees, however, air capture plants can be built on land that cannot be cultivated, such as deserts.

David Keith, a professor at Harvard University School of Engineering and the president of Carbon Engineering, together with a team of scientists have been doing CO2 capturing at a Prototype Contactor at the University of Calgary for several years already. The prototype system can absorb emissions from about 14-15 vehicles or about 100 kilos of carbon dioxide per day.

Simplistically put, the way the system works is this – after the air enters into the facility, it passes through a CO2 absorbent liquid that traps about 80% of the carbon dioxide into a solution for further processing.

In the full-scale facility that is being built now, the CO2 will be recovered from the carbonate solution and integrated it into the production of liquid hydrocarbons that are fully compatible with today’s transport infrastructure, but have a low (or even zero) carbon intensity.

The construction of the pilot plant by the end of this year will be the last step for CE before building a first-of-a-kind commercial air capture plant by 2017 aiming to close the CO2 cycle.

Photos: Carbon Engineering

Big Win for Beekeepers as Court Voids Insecticide

A United States appeals court ruled on Thursday that federal regulators erred in allowing an insecticide developed by Dow AgroSciences onto the market, canceling its approval and giving environmentalists a major victory.

The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, is significant for commercial beekeepers and others who say a decline in bee colonies needed to pollinate key food crops is tied to the widespread use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 against the Environmental Protection Agency by a number of organizations representing the honey and beekeeping industries. The groups specifically challenged the E.P.A. approval of insecticides containing sulfoxaflor, saying studies have shown they are highly toxic to honeybees. Sulfoxaflor is a neonicotinoid subclass, according to the ruling.

Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, first sought approval for sulfoxaflor in 2010 for use in three different products. Brand names include Transform and Closer.

“It’s a complete victory for the beekeepers we represent,” said Greg Loarie, a lawyer for the American Honey Producers Association, the American Beekeeping Federation and other plaintiffs in the case. “The E.P.A. has not been very vigilant.”

Dow said in a statement that it “respectfully disagrees” with the ruling and will “work with E.P.A. to implement the order and to promptly complete additional regulatory work to support the registration of the products.” The agency said it was reviewing the decision and would have no further comment.

Honeybees pollinate plants that produce roughly a quarter of the food consumed by Americans. The demise of the bees has become a hotly debated topic between agrochemical companies, which say the insecticides they sell are not to blame, and those who say research shows a direct connection between neonicotinoids and large bee die-offs.

The White House has formed a task force to study the issue, and the E.P.A. has said it is trying to address concerns.

In its ruling, the court found that the E.P.A. relied on “flawed and limited data” to approve the unconditional registration of sulfoxaflor, and that approval was not supported by “substantial evidence.”

In vacating the agency’s approval, the court said that “given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the E.P.A.’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.”

The E.P.A. must obtain further data on the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees before it grants approval, the court said.

The Agriculture Department said this year that losses of managed honeybee colonies hit 42.1 percent from April 2014 through April 2015, up from 34.2 percent for 2013-14 and the second-highest annual loss to date.

Agrochemical companies that sell neonicotinoid products say mite infestations and other factors are the cause of the bees’ demise.

Things you should know about Fertilizers!

What exactly is fertilizer? And, why do plants benefit from it?

Fertilizer is simply a material added to soils or directly to plant tissues that contains nutrients essential to the growth and health of the plant. Usually, this means Phosphorous, Nitrogen, and Potassium. These basic elements are usually in the form of chemical compounds that can be converted by the plant to access the needed elements. For instance, plants require Nitrogen, but use it in the form of larger compounds like ammonia (NH4) or nitrate (NO3-). Soils naturally contain these required chemical compounds, but often there is an imbalanced ratio. Fertilizers are inputs that farmers and gardeners can use to increase the amounts and balance the ratios of these essential chemical compounds.

Soil is not dirt. Soil is very much a living, breathing, organic system of nutrients and matter, which plants draw from to build themselves. When you look at a plant, and think of all the matter making up that plant, you realize that all of it came from three places: air, water, and soil. In nature, those plants will die and decompose back into the soil, helping to return much of that matter. In farming and gardening, the plants are removed from their location, to be consumed. This means that all of that matter has now exited the soil permanently. Over years of use, soils become less nutritious. To mend this, we add inputs back into the soil. Often times, this is in the form of a fertilizer.

Replacing and fortifying nutrient levels is key to maintaining healthy soils. Check out our awesome infographic below for a visual guide to understanding some fertilizer basics!


EPA Urged by Nearly 100,000 Americans to Redo Highly Controversial Fracking Study

The public comment period for the highly controversial U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) fracking study ends today. Food & Water Watch, Environmental Action, Breast Cancer Action and other advocacy groups delivered nearly 100,000 comments from Americans asking the U.S. EPA to redo their study with a higher level of scrutiny and oversight.

The study produced significant controversy due to the discrepancy in what the EPA found in its report and what the agency’s news release title said. The study stated that “we did not find evidence” of “widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but the title of the EPA’s news release said, “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources”-a subtle but significant difference that led to most news coverage having headlines like this one , “EPA Fracking Study: Drilling Wins.”

In addition to the misleading EPA headline, the groups were also quick to point out that the study had a limited scope and was conducted with a lack of new substantive data. “Concluding that fracking is safe based off a study with such a limited scope is irresponsible,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. “How many more people must be poisoned by the oil and gas industry for the EPA to stand up and protect people’s health? It’s time for the agency to do its job and stop letting industry shills intimidate it.”

The groups emphasize that despite the limitations of the report, the agency still found numerous harms to drinking water resources from fracking. For instance, the EPA found evidence of more than 36,000 spills from 2006 to 2012. That amounts to about 15 spills every day somewhere in the U.S.

“By downplaying its findings of water contamination from fracking, the EPA ultimately provided cover for the fracking industry to continue to poison our drinking water with chemicals linked to a variety of health problems, including breast cancer,” said Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action. “When the EPA finalizes its study, they need to focus on protecting public health-not the fracking industry-by highlighting and condemning drinking water contamination from fracking.”

But still, groups claim that there was huge oversight in the report. “The EPA’s report clearly shows that fracking pollution harms our water supplies, but the agency also turned a blind eye to some of the biggest risks of this toxic technique,” said Clare Lakewood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s bizarre and alarming that the EPA report refused to look at the harm caused by the disposal of toxic fracking waste fluid into unlined pits and underground injection wells. The EPA needs to get serious about the threat of fracking and look at every pathway to water contamination.”

Jennifer Krill, Earthworks ‘ executive director, agrees. “In its June study on fracking’s impacts on water, EPA cited more than 140 waste spills alone that contaminated water. And they found those instances despite industry obstruction, and despite not looking in places where community complaints and EPA’s own investigations suggested such pollution was occurring.”

Costa Rica Is Shutting Down All Zoos And Freeing Every Animal In Captivity

Costa Rica has announced that it will be the first country in the world to shut down its zoos and free the captive animals they hold. Costa Rica is an especially biodiverse country, holding about 4% of the world’s known species. Sadly, the country is contractually obligated to keep two of its zoos open for another decade. Still, after that, they plan to shut it down in favor of a cage-free habitat for the animals to live in.

Treehugger reports that the nation, which also recently banned hunting for sport, will close the last two zoos in the next 10 years and give the animals a more natural habitat in which to exist. They want to convey to the world that they respect and care for wild animals.

Environmental Minister René Castro says, “We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way.”

We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

Any animals currently in captivity that would not survive in the wild will be cared for in rescue centers and wildlife sanctuaries. No new zoos will be opened.

U.S. Navy Invests in World’s Largest Solar Farm

The U.S. Navy is investing in what will be the largest solar farm in the world in order to provide power for 14 of its bases.

The climate of Arizona, where the two earlier phases of the Mesquite solar farm are already up and running, provides 300 days of sunshine a year. And the Navy’s deal to extend the farm is the largest purchase of renewable energy ever made by a U.S. federal government agency.

The solar farm project is one of a growing number being installed across what is known as the American Sun Belt-the southern states of America, which have expanding populations, plenty of sunshine but also large areas of arid and unproductive land.

Solar Prices Fall Farm

The price of solar panels has now fallen so far worldwide that, in sunny climes, they can compete on cost with any other form of energy generation. This new generation of huge solar farms produces as much power as a large coal-fired plant.

China and India are also building similarly massive installations, taking advantage of their own sun belts and desert regions. It is doubtful that Mesquite 3, huge as it is, will manage to remain the world’s largest for long.

Barren Land

In the same week that the U.S. Navy disclosed its plans, the central Indian state of Madya Pradesh announced it was to construct a 750 MW plant (one megawatt is roughly enough to supply 1,000 typical British homes) on barren, government-owned land in the country’s Rewa district.

It is claimed that it would be the world’s largest solar plant and the state’s energy minister, Rajendra Shukla, says the plan is to have the plant up and running by March 2017.

A number of other giant projects are also in the pipeline in India, as part of government plans for a dramatic expansion of the industry, although they have yet to be constructed.

REPO Calidornia US Nacy Invests Solar InfoGraphic

Mesquite 3, which will be sited 60 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, will provide the Navy with 210 MW of direct power. This means the installation of more than 650,000 extra solar panels, which will move to track the sun as it crosses the sky, to get the maximum value from the intense desert sunshine. The Navy says it will save $90 million in power costs over the 25-year lifetime of the contract.

Some solar power plants in India have caused controversy because they need teams of people to wash off the layer of dust and particles from air pollution to keep the panels efficient. This uses a lot of scarce water.

However, in the cleaner desert air of Arizona, this is not a problem. The Navy boasts that Mesquite 3 will require no water, so saving “this precious resource for other needs.”

The building of the plant will require 300 construction workers but it will create only 12 long-term jobs. The plant also avoids controversy because it is sited on “previously disturbed land” and so is not damaging a pristine environment. It is also near existing power plants and transmission lines, so the plant will not need additional infrastructure.

Reduced Emissions

The Navy estimates that the station will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 190,000 tons annually—the equivalent of taking 33,000 cars off the road.

Ray Mabus, the Secretary of State for the Navy, who opened the project, has been pushing hard for renewables to be used for military power generation.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense was instructed by Congress to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025 but Mabus accelerated that goal and directed thatone gigawatt (1,000 MW) should be procured by the end of 2015.

The new contract adds to a 17 MW installation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and another of 42 MW at Kings Bay, Georgia. The Navy says that, in total, its renewable energy procurement will be 1.2 GW by the end of 2015, which is well ahead of target.

It will use the power for Navy and Marine Corps shore installations in California and surrounding states.

Opening the project at one of the installations, the Naval Air Station North Island, in California, Mabus said the project was “a triumph of problem solving” and would help increase the Department of the Navy’s energy security by diversifying the supply.

This Ingenious $20 Lamp Gets All Its Energy From Gravity

The ingenious GravityLight-a light that gets all its energy from its own weight-first appeared about three years ago. We wrote about it as it was launching on Indiegogo and went on to raise $399,590.

It provides free light (after you’ve bought it). It’s cheap. And it has none of the environmental or health side-effects as do other light alternatives in the developing world. But even all those things aren’t necessarily enough if it’s to reach its potential. If the company and foundation behind the device are to make it a success, they need a reliable product; they need to distribute it in places where distribution can be difficult; and, more fundamentally, they need to explain why someone should buy a GravityLight when there’s plenty of good, cheap solar on the market today.

Thankfully the company seems to have most of the questions answered, as least so far.

The light has a gear-train and DC generator. As a heavy object pulls down on one side, it creates a force that’s converted into electricity. The lamp can last for hours on a single lift to one side, and, of course, that lift is renewable: When one side drops to balance, you just hoist it up again. With a string of mini-lights attached, it can illuminate a small room. And, importantly, without the problems that come with kerosene lamps (fumes, fire), which are still widely used in off-grid places.

After the first campaign, GravityLight sent the device to organizations and individuals in 26 countries. They tested it and reported back about what they liked and didn’t-feedback that’s now been incorporated into a version two. Children apparently liked swinging on it, meaning it could break, and some families complained that lifting 22 pounds was too much for them. The new version, which launches next spring, has a stronger plastic housing, and a new pulley system that effectively reduces the weight by three-quarters. It also comes with auxiliary mini-lights, or “SatLights,” that can be extended in series.

“The SatLights have really revolutionized the experience,” says commercial director Caroline Angus. “Now someone can be reading while someone else is cooking, rather than there just being this one light on that one person, or a narrow part of the room.”

This story is part of our series, How’s That Working Out For You, where we check in on projects we’ve covered in the past to see if they’ve come to fruition, or turned out to just be vaporware.

With the proceeds from a second Indiegogo campaign, GravityLight is now setting up an assembly line in Kenya. The lamp will cost $20 and be distributed through door-to-door ( Avon Lady-type) networks, farmer groups, and more traditional market stalls.

Angus sees a wide range of people buying the product, from families who currently use kerosene lamps, to people who have have grid power but are afraid of blackouts. “It’s everyone from people on $2 a day to the slightly more affluent who are just conscious of the next power cut because maybe they haven’t already charged a solar light,” she says. The GravityLight is more dependable than a solar lamp, she says. It’s on-demand, whereas solar power is dependent on the weather, or your foresight in charging up a battery ahead of time.

It certainly sounds like GravityLight has answers to the big questions. But, it’s still early days, and we won’t know for sure until the new product hits the streets next year.

Google Maps can now tell you if it’s worth installing solar panels on your roof

Google wants to help you harness the power of the sun. A new service called Project Sunroof aims to provide a “treasure map” of solar energy with the help of Google Maps. Sunroof gives homeowners detailed information about how much solar power their roof can generate and how much money they could save on electricity costs by adding solar panels.

Sunroof uses data from Google Maps that previously had no practical application. For instance, Sunroof uses Maps’ 3D-modeling to calculate the amount of space a building’s roof has for solar panels. The service also analyzes the positioning of the sun over the course of a year, as well as the type of cloud cover and temperature the neighborhood usually experiences. It even considers the amount of shade cast by nearby objects.

Switching to solar energy can be a win-win scenario for many households. Harnessing a free power source can help save money on the electric bill while ever-so-slightly decreasing the world’s dependance on greenhouse-gas-producing fossil fuels. But it’s possible your home doesn’t get enough sunlight, and it can be hard to know exactly how much money you’ll save. Sunroof can tell users how many hours of usable sunlight they’ll get a year, as well as how much available space they have for solar panels on their roof.

If a family decides those cost-saving benefits are good enough, Sunroof will suggest installers nearby who can load the panels. Installing solar panels isn’t cheap, costing upwards of $20,000, but the average homeowner can save about $20,000 by switching to solar energy – if their home is in the right spot.

Right now, Project Sunroof is only available for people living in Boston, San Francisco, and Fresno, but Google plans to expand the service to the entire country.