The Week in Review: Smart Grid, Recycling, Hybrids & LEDs

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Top News: This week, President Obama startled both his allies and critics with a plan to permit drilling for oil off the Southern Atlantic states and in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile the Secret Service, in a stroke of karmic justice, denied the president’s request for a hybrid limo.

On Saturday, Apple’s long-awaited iPad emerged to great fanfare, and with it some schwag and a initial smattering of green apps.

Wising Up to the Smart Grid: After years of talk and speculation, several big U.S. companies revealed that the smart grid lies at the center of their business plans. At the New York Auto Show, Ford and Microsoft announced energy-management software designed for the thousands of people who will plug in their electric cars or hybrids at home. Connecticut Light & Power applied for permission to scrap its flat-rate price structure in favor of one that penalizes customers for overloading the grid. Under the proposal, Connecticut electricity would be ten times cheaper at night than it would be in the middle of the day, when the A/C units are cranking.

Also, Google spearheaded a lobbying effort, joined by Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, Comcast and other firms poised to make a mint from the smart grid. In a letter to President Obama, they asked for the government to “democratize access to energy” by tilting regulations in favor of energy networking.

Do the Right Thing: Starbucks, in an effort to make all of its cups recyclable or reusable by 2015, asked coffee-drinkers everywhere to crowdsource the solution. Target announced it would place recycling centers at the entrances to each of its 1,740 stores, and the board at Intel voted to make “corporate responsibility and sustainability performance” part of its corporate charter.

Meanwhile, the foodmaking giant ConAgra, maker of Chef Boyardee and Orville Redenbacher and a longtime laggard in acknowledging global warming, promised to make big cuts to its carbon emissions, water use, solid waste and packaging by 2015.

Traffic Jam in the Luxury Lane: So many carmakers are preparing high-end hybrids that dealerships in Palo Alto and Ann Arbor might get a little crowded. Hyundai said it would produce a six-speed, powerful Sonata Hybrid Bluedrive in 2011. Nissan’s luxe brand, Infiniti, announced the M35 Hybrid, while Mercedes hinted that its entire S class line of large sedans may go hybrid. Auto dealers reacted with dismay, worried that their customers would rather drive fast than save a few bucks on gas.

Troubled Waters: China’s neighbors questioned if China’s dam-building binge might be contributing to the biggest drop in water levels on the Mekong River in decades. In the U.S., researchers discovered that waterways from the Colorado River to the Potomac are steadily getting warmer, especially near cities, with unknown impacts on river health.

The Latest Inspiring Inventions: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory created an LED with a green tint — not the ethic, but the actual color — and opened up whole new uses for the brave little bulb. Marine scientists got a better look at tiny sea life with high-definition audio, and the propellerheads at MIT made a leap forward in lithium-air batteries.

By David Ferris appearing courtesy Matter Network

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