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Building a 21st Century Union requires staying on top of the latest goings on in Canada and around the world. News items, photos and more to keep you 'in the know'.

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First Formula E electric motor race held in Beijing


E.Dams-Renault driver Nicolas Prost of France takes the lead in the Formula E Championship race in Beijing 13/09/2014Formula E cars can reach speeds of 225 km/h (140 mph) but the drivers had to change vehicle halfway through the race due to lack of battery power.

Competitors included the son of former Formula 1 champions Alain Prost and the nephew of his great rival Ayrton Senna.

UK tycoon Richard Branson and US actor Leonardo DiCaprio each backed a team.

The eventual winner was Brazilian Lucas di Grassi, after Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld crashed as they battled for first place in the final lap.

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Merger means good things for eastern Ontario solar power customers

The merger of two of the strongest solar power companies in eastern Ontario has created the biggest player in the market, according to Mike Perreault, CEO of SolPowered Energy Corporation.

His company has merged with iSolara Solar Power and Mr. Perreault said that means good things for customers in eastern Ontario.

“They benefit from more resources – being able to assist them, whether it be engineering, procurement, construction, financing, all the various services that we provided individually will now be offered by one combined team,” said Mr. Perreault.

He also said it means more high skilled jobs.

“The sky’s the limit here,” said Mr. Perreault. “I think the fact that we’re merging together will provide the opportunity to expand not only to become a stronger player in eastern Ontario but to expand throughout the rest of Ontario.”

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WindFloat Construction Timelapse

Watch this fascinating construction of the WindFloat, a floating support structure for offshore wind turbines by Principle Power. The WindFloat dampens wave and turbine induced motion, enabling wind turbines to be placed in previously inaccessible locations where water depth exceeds 50m and wind resources are superior.

It used to be garbage, but now it keeps the lights on

Creating power from leftovers is cooking up a worldwide energy revolution

Recipe for a power-hungry world: Take cheese whey, whisky mash, yeast-filled brewery water and sewage sludge and turn it into biogas to fuel electric power plants. Alongside other sources like unconventional natural gas, creating power from leftovers is cooking up a worldwide energy revolution − the distributed power revolution.

Distributed power is nimble. It’s based on small, independent power plants that can serve farms, factories and entire communities.  Unlike centralized power that reaches its users through the larger grid, both the power and the raw materials used to create biogas are relatively close, minimizing transmission and distribution costs.

GE’s Jenbacher gas engines devour the biogas that percolates through mountains of garbage at landfills. They gobble up gas produced by microbes feasting on grease and the by-products of breweries, cheese producers and food manufacturers. When there’s not enough biomass available, they can use natural gas, taking advantage of abundant new discoveries in places like Western Canada and the United States.

The lean-burning gas engines have been put to work in New York State, at the 2012 London Olympic Village and at a Guinness brewery in Nigeria, as well as at a Nigerian company that manufactures anti-malaria equipment such as syringes and intravenous needles. Distributed power’s market share is expected to rise in Germany, too.

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State-of-the-art clean power comes to campus

Heat and power system at UBC is fuelled by wood waste from tree trimmings and wood chips

A Community Heat and Power (CHP) System is now supplying clean, renewable energy to the University of British Columbia’s power grid.

It’s the first demonstration of its kind in North America of a community-scale heat and power system fuelled by biomass, in this case energy from wood waste (tree trimmings and wood chips) from local sources.

Nexterra uses gasification to convert waste biomass to a clean-burning synthesis gas, or “syngas,” as an alternative to fossil fuels. GE approached Nexterra hoping to find a biomass gasification system that could power its Jenbacher internal combustion engine. But syngas tended to choke the engine with tar.

So GE and Nexterra collaborated in developing a gas cleanup technology, which set the stage for the University of British Columbia facility, called the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF).

“We’re able to make community-scale plants cost-effective and clean enough to be in communities. It opens up all sorts of potential avenues because the gas we’re producing is clean enough to serve as a feedstock for higher-value fuels and chemicals. It’s potentially a gateway to renewable fuels, like hydrogen,” says Mike Scott, president and CEO of Nexterra.

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Don’t just go off the grid: Build your own

More communities and businesses are looking to their own micro-grids for a greener, more reliable electricity source

When we think about renewable energy, we are usually thinking of huge sources like the wind and the sun, but one of the most promising ways to use these sources is to think small – as in micro-grid-sized small.

A micro-grid is a miniaturized, local version of a centralized electricity system spanning a province or a state. Micro-grids do the same thing as the big grid, generating, distributing and regulating energy to homes, factories and businesses; but it all takes place within the confines of the micro-grid.

They offer several 21st-century advantages. By producing power locally, through wind, solar or small natural gas turbines, micro-grids help communities make their own decisions about building the system and encouraging conservation.

Their size also makes it easier for energy companies to deploy the latest, most advanced smart-grid technology − analytical tools and sensors that can measure power use more accurately, save money and tell the micro-grid when it’s necessary to draw additional large-grid power or, conversely, when the micro-grid can send its surpluses back to the big grid to earn revenues via Feed-In Tariff (FIT) programs. Smart tools are being installed across large grids too, but it’s easier to start if you’re investing in a micro- grid.

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Next-gen renewable energy: Harnessing the Bay of Fundy’s tides with underwater windmills

For anyone hoping to harness tidal energy, the most powerful force to be reckoned with is the tidal surge in the Bay of Fundy. The Bay’s Minas Passage in Nova Scotia is the focal point for the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE), an organization that has drawn together a consortium of technology developers, researchers, utility suppliers and government in an effort to harness clean, renewable in-stream tidal energy.

“We get a lot of jokes around ‘May the force be with you’,” laughs Matthew Lumley, communications director for FORCE.

While other projects are taking place in various corners of the world, the Bay of Fundy is unique in terms of the volume of water and the speed it moves, he explains. “It’s known to have the highest tides in the world. But what’s more important from an energy generation standpoint is water velocity, which has a direct impact on extractable power.”

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Putting Grid Management In EV Drivers’ Hands

The smart grid will only live up to its promise if utilities and grid operators spur innovation and engagement by relinquishing their tight control of grid data and consumer energy profiles; and if consumers who can store and generate energy are given true ownership credit and a piece of the revenue pie, driving interest and participation. Experience with deploying electric vehicles on the grid suggests to us that there’s a bright future for the EV and other smart grid appliances, but only if we tackle these core issues of data access and energy control.

The electric vehicle is one of those dramatic shifts in consumer technology that could help put the “smart” back into “smart grid.” Not only is this an appliance with substantial energy storage and powerful onboard computing, but it delivers huge and recurring value for the consumer. In other words, it’s not likely to end up on the shelf and ignored. As penetration continues to grow, an EV may end up being central to everyone’s personal corner of the smart grid. Already, we can see that even one EV in every third or fourth driveway can enable huge potential for consumer and grid energy services, in areas like ancillary services, energy, capacity, blackstart, reductions in demand charges, and increased solar penetrations. With traditional, more expensive providers edged out, we might then see real revenue flowing back down the wires from grid operator to utility to consumer as vehicle batteries are leveraged to deliver a safe, reliable, and clean energy system.

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There Are Now More Chargepoint Chargers Than McDonalds

Should humanity ever start a colony on Mars, you can bet the first fast food joint on the Red Planet would be a McDonalds. The ubiquitous golden arches can be found just about everywhere in America, with about 13,900 locations dotting the U.S.

That’s a lot of Mickey Ds, though Chargepoint isn’t impressed. That’s because the EV charging station supplier recently installed charging station number 18,000 meaning there are more than twice as many Chargepoint EV chargers as there are Starbucks, outnumber even the mighty McDonalds. Put that in your coffee cup and drink it.

Is this the tipping point for EV adoptions? We wouldn’t go that far just yet, but it’s certainly a major milestone when a Chargepoint charging station is easier to find than your local McDonalds. Granted, many of these charging stations are centered around major metro areas where EV adoption is particularly brisk, and Chargepoint still has a way to go before it rivals the over 100,000 gas stations occupying space in America.

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Why Going Green Means Big Business in the Construction Industry

Eco-friendly construction is no longer exclusively the jurisdiction of iconoclastic clients or small, hippie-run companies. As the housing market has recovered, the industry has lured talent from every sector and is now growing at a rapid clip--sealing its place on our list of the top industries of 2014. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, total revenue across the industry should grow to $245 billion by 2016.

We asked three small companies in the green construction industry how they broke into the business and what they learned along the way. Here’s what they had to say:

Keep Costs Low

The first thing to know is this: No matter how good it may be for the environment, very few people are willing to "go green" if the alternative is cheaper. That’s especially true in the construction industry where, for commercial buildings, traditional methods could be millions of dollars cheaper.

Ann Hand, CEO of Project Frog, learned that lesson the hard way. When she joined the company in 2009, taking over from its founders, Project Frog’s iconic modular buildings only came in one shape and size and were substantially more expensive than the alternative. But, in terms of green benefits, the buildings featured plenty of natural light, which both cut down on artificial lighting and provided warmth during daytime (i.e., peak) hours. And because they were manufactured off-site they almost completely eliminated waste from the building process. What’s more, they could be constructed in a matter of days.

The design earned Project Frog accolades and extensive media coverage, and the company landed deals with schools and healthcare providers.

Still, Hand had trouble scaling. "No matter how excited people were about this new green building, they'd say, 'My budget! My budget!'" she says.

So Hand scrapped the original building design and began prototyping a new model that could not only come in a variety of shapes but would actually be cheaper to build than traditional construction.

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The 8 Best Industries for Starting a Business (In Detail)

Some entrepreneurs are drawn to the New New Thing; they hunger for a first-mover advantage. To them we say, best of luck. Others want to enter a promising industry early on, but with some evidence that the industry actually exists and has room for new players. To them we say, welcome.
Our annual look at the best industries for starting a business is based on a range of research, interviews, and scouting reports. We’ve identified a cross section of businesses that call for a variety of skills, from technological expertise to retailing savvy to, above all, the ability to innovate. Think of these industries not as New New but as Hot Hot. They are up and running but still very much in their early days. If you have the right skills and focus, you have plenty of opportunity not only to jump on the bandwagon but to call the tune.

4 New Energy Maps Show A Lot About Renewables

When the U.S. Energy Information Administration launched its new U.S. Energy Mapping System last fall and upgraded it for use on mobile devices in early June, it powered a system allowing anyone to visualize some of the reams of data the EIA compiles on all things energy-related in the country.

That mapping system has a lot to show about renewables — critical to reducing climate change-driving greenhouse gas emissions —  and the spread of renewables development across the continent. Here are four cool things the new Energy Mapping System can show you about where renewable energy is being produced and where it has the potential to be generated in the future:

1. Wind Turbines Are Being Built In Places You May Not Expect

The wind farms in the U.S. and the wind power production potential of each state. The darker the shade of brown, the lower the wind potential. The light blue signifies higher wind potential and the dark blue signifies the highest wind potential. Credit: EIA

Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma have huge wind power potential, and giant wind farms, too. Large swathes of the East have very low wind power potential. But because Appalachian ridge tops see high sustained winds, the EIA’s maps show the pattern of wind farms that have been built throughout the Northeast in regions that otherwise have little wind power potential.

This is especially true in Pennsylvania, where wind farms sprawl along ridge tops in regions that, at first blush, look like there is little wind potential at all. But Pennsylvania generated 2.1 million megawatt hours of wind power in 2012, about as much as windy New Mexico, EIA data show.

New York, another Northeast state shown on the EIA map as having little wind potential, generated even more wind power than Pennsylvania in 2012. New York produced nearly 3 million megawatt hours of wind power in 2012, about half that of Colorado.

The maps also show large areas of the U.S. with high wind power potential going untapped, especially in South Dakota and along the Colorado Front Range near Denver. These areas are highlighted in bright blue on the map.

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Renewable Energy Saves Fortune 500 Companies Over $1 Billion

Renewable energy is dismissed  by some as being only for ‘greenies’ or as some kind of fringe technology, but a recent report has shown mainstream Fortune 500 companies are using it to save hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Collectively, they are saving about $1.1 billion dollars, according to the report put out by Ceres, David Gardiner & Associates, Calvert Investments, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Image Credit: QNR, Wiki Commons

Some of the companies and their annual savings mentioned are:

  • UPS ($200 million)
  • Cisco Systems ($151 million)
  • PepsiCo ($120 million)
  • United Continental ($104 million)
  • General Motors ($73 million).

AT&T has installed 11 MW of renewable energy (as of 2013). Hewlett-Packard purchased 13% of their electricity from renewable sources in 2012. IBM has saved about $477 million from its efforts to conserve energy. Both Wal-Mart and Dell could save about one billion each through similar efforts.

“The world’s largest companies are demonstrating that investments in clean energy drive strong returns. Setting and meeting renewable energy targets helps companies and their shareholders to address clear risks and seize concrete opportunities, explained Bennett Freeman, a sustainability research and policy executive at Calvert.

UPS doesn’t invest in renewable energy because it is a ‘nice’ thing to do. They see it as a viable business opportunity, “At UPS, investment in renewable energy production is subject to a rigorous for return on investment. UPS has created a viable business model by developing, engineering, purchasing, overseeing construction, and operating the solar panel arrays in-house. By utilizing a direct ownership approach, UPS has uncovered valuable best practices to produce a strong return on its investment in current and future developments.”

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Fossil Fuels, Utilities & Gas Cars To Be Obsolete By 2030

Last year, in an interview with Stanford University’s Tony Seba, we foreshadowed the remarkable conclusions of his new book: that energy and transportation as we know it will be history by 2030.

That book, the Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation,tony seba book is now published, and it has even more dramatic prognosis: Silicon Valley will make oil, nuclear, natural gas, coal, electric utilities and conventional cars obsolete by 2030.  And Australia – with its high solar penetration – will lead the way be the shape of things to come.

What’s more, Seba says it might happen even earlier than 2030.

He’s not the only person to predict this transformation. Jeremy Grantham agrees, and many in the utilities industry see the same risks. Paul Gilding has made similar predictions.

“Clean energy (solar and wind) is free,” Seba writes. “Clean transportation is electric and uses clean energy derived from the sun and wind. The key to the disruption of energy lies in the exponential cost and performance improvement of technologies that convert, manage, store, and share clean energy. The clean disruption is also about software and business model innovation.”

Seba says the energy architecture of the future will be completely different from the one today.It will be distributed, mobile, intelligent, and participatory and will overturn the existing energy architecture, which is centralized, command-and-control oriented, secretive, and extractive.

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The Ugly Duckling: Can Duckweed Find Its Way to Bioenergy Commercialization?

Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) — one of the smallest and simplest freshwater plants known — generally gets a bad rap. That’s because the millimeter-sized floating plant thrives on the worst sort of livestock and human wastewater, basically garden-variety sewage. In fact, in the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, it’s frequently used to clean such wastewater.

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Enerkem launches world's first, game-changing full-scale waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility

EDMONTONJune 4, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - Enerkem ( officially inaugurated today its first full-scale municipal waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility in Edmonton, Alberta. This announcement was shared by Enerkem's CEO, Vincent Chornet, Mayor Don Iveson from the City of Edmonton, and the Honourable Robin Campbell, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and Government House Leader, representing the Government of Alberta.

"Our breakthrough technology uses garbage instead of fossil sources for the production of chemicals and liquid transportation fuels. We are proud of the inauguration of our first full-scale biorefinery facility as it is the culmination of more than 10 years of disciplined efforts to scale up our technology from pilot and demonstration, to commercial scale, said Vincent Chornet, President and CEO of Enerkem. The completion of this game-changing facility is by far one of the most significant development the waste and biorefinery sectors have seen yet. We are thrilled that it is becoming a model for many communities and industries around the world."

This facility, operated by Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, is among the world's first commercial facilities to be built for the production of renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels. During its construction, more than 600 direct and indirect jobs were created for the modular manufacturing of the facility's systems and their on-site assembly.

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Buffett Ready to Double $15 Billion Solar, Wind Bet

Warren Buffett briefly lost track of how many billions of dollars his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is spending to build wind and solar power in the U.S. That didn’t stop him from vowing to double the outlay.

Describing the company’s increasing investment in renewable energy at the Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention in Las Vegas yesterday, Buffett had to rely on a deputy, Greg Abel, to remind him just how much they’d committed: $15 billion.

Without missing a beat, Buffett responded: “There’s another $15 billion ready to go, as far as I’m concerned.”

Such bold remarks are common for the Berkshire chairman and chief executive officer. He frequently talks about hunting for “elephant”-size acquisitions and making multibillion-dollar stock purchases.

Still, the comment speaks to the kinds of investments that are increasingly appealing to the billionaire now that his Omaha, Nebraska-based company is the fifth-largest in the world by market value. With dozens of units spinning off cash, Buffett has been allocating funds to regulated, capital-intensive businesses such as railroad BNSF and power companies.

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Perovskites: The Future of PV?

A new material has entered the emerging low-cost photovoltaics arena and is threatening to blow much of the existing competition away. Power conversion efficiencies (how efficiently incident sunlight is converted to electrical power) inperovskite-based solar cells have increased from a starting point of 3.8% in 2009 to a staggering 19.3% by May 2014. Such rapid improvement is unprecedented, and signs are promising for perovskite solar cells to very shortly exceed the efficiencies of established thin film technologies such as cadmium telluride (record certified efficiency 20.4%), CIGS (20.8%), and, more pertinently, to approach those of the market-dominating crystalline silicon solar cells (25%), all at a fraction of the cost. This breakthrough is a useful spark for the emerging PV field, and the excitement is widespread – so much so that the editors of the journal Scienceselected perovskite-based solar cells as runner-up for Breakthrough of the Year 2013, and the journal Nature highlighted these materials in their summary of what’s in store for science in 2014.

The perovskite family of materials is itself not new. Perovskite, named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski, refers to any material sharing the crystal structure of calcium titanate (CaTiO3), based on the general formula ABX3. When used in solar cells, A is typically a small carbon-based (organic) molecular cation, B is a metal ion such as lead, and X is a halide such as iodide, bromide or chloride. These “organo-metal halide” perovskites were studied extensively throughout the 1990s but were overlooked for solar cells until 2009, when researchers at the Toin University of Yokohama used these materials in liquid electrolyte dye-sensitised solar cells. However, the liquid electrolyte dissolved the perovskite, rendering the solar cells highly unstable. In 2012, our group in Oxford, at the same time as researchers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, replaced the problematic liquid component with a stable solid-state version, paving the way for dramatic improvements in efficiency.

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A Huge Utility Says Wind Power Now Costs Less Than Fossil Fuels

For decades we’ve been told by politicians and fossil fuel companies that clean energy is an expensive luxury incapable of competing with good ol’ coal, gas, and oil. And, if you didn't count the massive health and environmental costs of mining and burning those fossil fuels, that was mostly correct.  But over the past few years, the technology has improved, mass manufacturing has brought costs down and renewable energy sources like wind became drastically cheaper. So much so, that one of Europe’s largest utilities recently declared wind to be the most inexpensive energy source of all.

“It is clear more and more that our product [wind energy] is good,” João Manso Neto, head of renewables for Portugal’s EDP, told analysts in London. “Not only because it’s green…but because it’s more competitive, it’s cheaper.”

EDP calculated that wind was one-third cheaper than coal and 20 percent cheaper than gas. This is remarkable, especially because these figures come from an energy giant that profits from coal, gas, hydro and renewables. In other words, EDP has no incentive to exaggerate the benefit of renewable energy.   

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Tesla puts electric car patents into public domain

Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors has released all its patents to the public domain in a bid to accelerate development of electric vehicle technology.

In a blog post Thursday, CEO Elon Musk wrote that Tesla has removed the patents from the wall at the company's Palo Alto headquarters in the spirit of the open source movement.

“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” he wrote in the posting.

Musk said Tesla took out the patents because it feared big car companies would copy its technology, but then discovered the traditional motor industry was not moving swiftly into this area.

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