Environment Forum

The race for U.S. smart-grid cash

Utilities across the United States are rushing to a federal stimulus program that is doling out money to create a “smart grid” — systems that will upgrade the electricity grid.******In this story, Reuters correspondent Eileen O’Grady looks at the tough job facing the U.S. Department of Energy: They have to divvy up $4.5 billion in smart-grid money among some 565 applications.******Smart grid technology measures and modifies power usage in homes and businesses and improves grid reliability. Experts envision that it will open the door to a new era with “smart” appliances that turn themselves on and off, electric cars, more renewable energy and more efficiency on power lines.******San Diego Gas & Electric is one of the utilities hoping to launch a smart grid through the federal program and has applied for $100 million in stimulus funds.******Their plan would build micro smart grids at the University of California, San Diego and a residential community in San Diego County. They would work with companies like IBM, Cisco and Itron on the system technologies, software and hardware.******”They not only have to talk with each other but we have to make sure the entire network is secure. So from an intellectual security standpoint, we’ll ensure that we have that set-up, that we have the ability to communicate from one device and we make it seamless for the customer,” said Michael Niggli, chief operations officer at San Diego Gas & Electric.******Another major issue the utility hopes to solve is what happens when energy from renewable resources is intermittent, with its power generated fading or spiking.******”If the wind stops blowing or if the sun has clouds that intervene, so you can be in a situation where the power supply is affected,” Niggli said in a phone interview with Reuters.******”That’s a lot different than what we have today … where it’s like driving a car. If you want to go faster, you push the accelerator.”******Niggli envisions a system where customers can control their home energy use remotely, turning on the air-conditioning from a computer through the Internet or even on  their handset.******Some companies that are partnering with utilities are not putting all their eggs in one basket in the race for the smart-grid stimulus funds.******IBM is working as a vendor with a dozen utilities that have applied for money.******If the smart grid is done right, then customers won’t even notice a difference, said IBM’s Stephen Callahan, who leads the company’s Intelligent Utility Network unit for the Americas.******”Those customers shouldn’t see anything but improvement in cost, reliability, all those things,” Callahan said.******We wanted to know what readers think about the federal program to jump-start smart grid projects. What should the DOE prioritize? What kind of projects would you like to see?******(Photo: The sun is shown as it rises between power transmission lines in Burbank, California. Photo credit: Fred Prouser/Reuters)*********************

IBM supercomputer reuses heat to warm buildings

IBM’s latest green venture is a highly efficient supercomputer that uses water to siphon off  waste heat, and then uses the excess energy to warm up a building.

High-tech giants from Microsoft to Google are eager to cut the huge amounts of power used to run their data centers, particularly now that the recession has companies leaving no stone unturned to slash costs and global warming is driving them to think green.

Developed by IBM jointly with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) — a sort of Swiss version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — the new supercomputer’s microchips avoid cooling with energy-sucking air conditioning.

Nike wins, restaurants lose on list of climate-friendly companies

nikeshoes.jpgCan the running shoes we buy really help protect the environment?

According to a new list by nonprofit group Climate Counts, Nike ranked first among the world’s most climate-friendly companies.

In its second annual report, Climate Counts ranked companies based on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support of global warming legislation, public disclosure of their efforts to address climate change, and whether they measure their impacts on the environment.

Nike ranked well in all those areas, garnering a score of 82 out of a possible 100 points. Stonyfield Farm, IBM, Unilever, Canon, General Electric, Toshiba, Procter & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard and Sony rounded out the list’s top 10.

  •