The Week in Clean Tech News: Oil Spill Victims, New Electric Cars, China Steps Up on Wind

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The Oil Spill’s Unlikely Victim: As oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, it tarred the feathers of an endangered creature: the climate bill. Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced a retooled American Power Act on Wednesday to little fanfare. Perhaps that’s because the media’s klieg lights were already divided between the grilling of oil executives on Capitol Hill or the so-far hapless efforts to plug the leak. Or maybe it’s because the two senators took to the dais without their erstwhile Republican ally, Lindsey Graham. Nevertheless, it was ironic to see a solution to our fossil-fuel addiction pushed to the side because of a fossil-fuel disaster. Must we cap the gusher before we get a cap on CO2?

More Electric Cars Roll to the Starting Line: You’ve heard that the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are on the way, but how about the Think and the Wheego? Wheego, a maker of electric putt-putt vehicles based in Atlanta, hopes that 200 highway-ready copies of its Whip Life will roll off the assembly line by August, months ahead of the well-publicized launch of the Leaf. Meanwhile, the Norwegian carmaker Think raised $40 million this week and plans to start assembly of the tiny Think City in Elkhart, Indiana in early 2011.

How Is an Electric Car Like an iPad? The CEO of Coda Automotive announced a novel approach to manufacturing and selling his company’s electric car — less a come-on-down dealership blitzkrieg and more like a visit to Apple’s Genius Bar. “We are looking at this not as a new-car-model introduction, but as a new-technology introduction,” CEO Kevin Czinger told a transportation conference in Ohio. But that’s just one way Coda is creating an auto company on the cheap. Models will be partially assembled at a factory in China, imported to the U.S. as “parts” to avoid import duties, and finished near company headquarters in California. Coda will have just one dealership in Los Angeles but seven satellite stores where the curious can come for a test drive — kind of like the way Steve Jobs warmed people up to the iPhone and the iPad. Models are due in 2011 for $30,000 to $40,000.

Toyota Bets on Hydrogen: Toyota surprised everyone by announcing it would debut a somewhat affordable, hydrogen-powered sedan by 2015. By whittling down the use of expensive materials like platinum, the company’s engineers dropped the cost of production by a factor of ten, and said they could offer the car for $50,000 and get within striking distance of a profit after launch.

How Does Power from Nantucket Sound? Less than two weeks after winning its hard fight for approval, the Cape Wind wind farm off Nantucket Sound closed a deal to sell half of its electricity. National Grid, the utility for a chunk of the Eastern Seaboard from New York to New Hampshire, will buy power at 20.7 cents per kilowatt-hour — a rate that will increase the average homeowner’s bill by about $1.59 a month. The $1 billion project is expected to start feeding power in 2013.

China: Winds of Change. U.S.: Pocket Change. The Department of Energy announced some nice grants for renewable energy projects this week. Investments include $13 million in seed money for projects that will help make industry emit less CO2, $62 million to develop concentrated solar power, and another $33 million on the way for innovations in biomass-to-fuel. That’s $108 million. Not bad!

Then China Longyuan Power Group, one of the largest wind-energy concerns in China, announced its own investment to become the world’s leader in installing wind turbines in five years. The amount? $13 billion.

Innovation Watch: Australia works on the world’s first biofuel helicopter; MIT grads invent a shock absorber that generates electricity; and Dell wonders if it could prosper without ever building another data center.

Article by David Ferris appearing courtesy Matter Network.

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