Electric cars can be smooth, quiet and environmentally friendly. But they still need fuel.Many have asked — and invested according to their answer — whether that fuel will come from batteries, utility grids, curb-side charging stations or some other technology.Drivers in California have a new option, if they drive a Tesla electric vehicle. And it’s extra environmentally friendly.SolarCity, which installs residential solar systems, is building a charging corridor between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There will be five 240-volt stations along the highly traveled Highway 101 that will juice up electric vehicles in one third the time of other charging stations. One of the chargers — in Santa Maria — is solar-powered.SolarCity is working with the U.S. branch of Holland’s Rabobank to install more solar power systems at the stations, which would make the corridor the first to be entirely solar-powered.We wanted to know if readers think this is how electric cars will roll across the country — with solar power? Or are your bets with battery technology or another type of charging station?
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)*********************
California may be the Golden State, but it’s New Jersey where U.S. residents get the best deal on their solar power systems, new research shows.A survey by Global Solar Centertried to give an “apples to apples” comparison for the cost of solar power in all 50 states, the center’s chairman Jack Hidary told Reuters.The common denominator turned out to be the cash payback, or how many years it would take a residential or commercial customer to recoup their investment and start seeing real savings, Hidary said.“That takes into account the cost of the system, the sun at that spot, the incentives of that region, utility rates. It blends in everything all together,” Hidary said.The center analyzed the date using new software and found that New Jersey had the fastest payback — 1.5 years — for residential systems, followed by New York and Delaware with paybacks of three and six years, respectively. California tied for fourth place with Maryland, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, all with payback hitting seven years.Rankings changed when the center looked at commercial solar power systems.For commercial projects, Colorado, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Ohio and Oregon all share the top spot, with a 1.5 year payback time, according to the survey.The center also found that solar hot water systems have a one-year payback in sourthern Texas and Florida.”To put this all in context, five years ago you couldn’t find a state with less than a 10 or 15 year payback,” said Hidary, who also is a board member of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He said the steep fall in solar panel prices and more government incentives have helped speed up the return on investing in a solar power system. Government incentives turned out to be the biggest factor driving the cost of solar systems for customers, Hidary said. Utility rates were the second biggest factor. In states where power is very cheap, it’s harder for solar power to compete, he added. Hidary believes one of the biggest uptakes of the study was for the investment community to reassess smaller-scale or distributed solar power systems. (Photo: A home under construction uses new solar technology that allows thinner solar wafers to be designed into the shingles in Temecula, California. Photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake)
Every year in Hollywood when the long, hot days of summer set in, some story comes along to shake up the media, and reporters seem to bite into it like a dog with a bone. Absent anything else going on in town, that story is becomes the tale of Hollywood’s summer.So far, early in this summer of 2009, the story has been celebrity deaths. When Karl Malden died yesterday, he was added to a growing list of celebrities who either died after long illnesses or suddenly, topped off by the King of Pop himself Michael Jackson.When Jackson died last week, fans across the world went into shock and are still waiting news of an official funeral or public memorial.Also catching fans by surprise was the strange demise of “Kung Fu” actor David Carradine, who was found in the closet of his Bangkok hotel on June 4. A pathologist who oversaw a private autopsy told Reuters the cause of death was asphyxiation, but so far an official cause has not been released by Thai police.However, most of the stars who have passed on to that major studio in the sky were in poor health or had a serious illness.Farrah Fawcett, the 1970s icon who captivated teenage boys with her smile and golden wavy hair, ended her struggle with cancer on June 25, the same day Jackson died.Ed McMahon, America’s favorite sidekick on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” died on June 23 at 86 and had battled a series of illnesses.Karl Malden, who won acclaim for his roles in “A Streetcar NamedDesire” and “On the Waterfront,” had been in failing health inrecent years. The actor, famous for playing ordinary guys, died in his sleep on July 1. He was 97.And over the weekend, there were three other deaths: impressionist and singer Fred Travalena, who could voice nearly everyone from Bugs Bunny to George W. Bush; pitchman Billy Mays; and 1950s sitcom star Gale Storm. Maybe they were not all on the A-list. But they were well-known during their time.The real question is whether the stretch of celebrity deaths is over? There is an old saying that celebrity deaths come in threes, and so far, we’ve had far more than three.