Alternative energy technologies ‘indispensable’ in the global landscape, report says

Investing in alternative energy technologies is perhaps more important now than ever before. Global climate change is impacting ecosystems around the world. Sea levels are rising, leading to floods when powerful storms make landfall, like what happened in New York City when Hurricane Sandy struck recently.

The International Energy Association (IEA) has released its "World Energy Outlook 2012" report, in which it predicts green energy will account for roughly one-third of the total global electricity output by 2035.

"Renewables become the world's second-largest source of power generation by 2015 (roughly half that of coal) and, by 2035, they approach coal as the primary source of global electricity," the report says.

According to the IEA, renewable energy is fast-approaching its day in the sun, thanks to falling technology costs and rising fossil fuel prices. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Barack Obama devoted roughly $90 billion to the alternative energy technologies industry.

The United States also happens to be one of the 28 member countries in the IEA, signaling a strong vested interest in the success of those developing the latest green renewable energy systems.

If renewables in fact end up accounting for a third of the global electricity output by 2035, as the IEA projects, we are at a critical juncture where manufacturing ingenuity must continue to drive the cost of these technologies downward. This includes cutting-edge solar cell soldering methods and hermetic sealing for underwater systems that generate power via ocean waves.

What we do today will ultimately determine the future of energy production and the state of our environment on a global scale.

Is the cleantech industry about to turn a corner?

Yesterday's presidential election meant a great deal to a great many for a great number of reasons. There are countless issues that divide Americans today, but there is one that should unite the masses: the need for innovative clean energy technologies.

The roughly $90 billion investment in the alternative energy industry from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act came up more than a few times in this campaign cycle. Both candidates advocated the importance of advancing this industry, though Governor Mitt Romney said that $90 billion was too high and that much of that money could be used elsewhere to aid the economic recovery.

President Barack Obama – who won another four years as commander-in-chief late last night – defended his decision to invest so heavily in the clean energy sector, arguing that it helped create thousands of jobs while benefiting the global environment.

Both political parties are dedicated to the betterment of the nation. They just have different ideas about how to reach the same goal. But, what we now know going forward is that federal funding for solar, wind and other alternative energy technologies will not be cut any time soon.

Yesterday, in an article for GigaOM, Katie Fehrenbacher reflected on the past, present and future of this forward-thinking industry.

She said that there exists "a chance of survival for next-gen energy innovators and startups, which have had an extremely difficult past 18 months. Many of them will now at least continue to have an opportunity to compete on their merits … I think cleantech will soon start turning a corner."

From cutting-edge solar panel construction to the bonding of battery terminals for new environmentally friendly vehicles, clean energy technologies are poised to make major breakthroughs in the next few years.

Solar-powered generators could save U.S. military lives

Electricity tends to be in short supply when one is in the middle of the Iraqi desert or the mountains of Afghanistan. It's not like there is an electrical outlet in the side of a big rock on the ground. But U.S. military personnel stationed on the frontlines must be able to operate everything from coffee pots to laptops and radar systems.

Small comforts for servicemen and women, as well as the equipment their lives depend on, all need power sources. Currently, they use generators running entirely on diesel fuel. But, hopefully that will soon change as Raytheon, one of the largest defense technology contractors in the country, has secured a contract from the Office of Naval Research to develop a better generator.

The Hybrid Dish/Engine Expeditionary Generator (HyDE-2G) will use a combination of diesel and solar power and is being designed with several goals in mind, the first of which is to save a minimum of 40 percent on current fuel costs. Doing so not only saves money, but it has the potential to safeguard lives around the world. Beyond the environmental benefits of burning less fuel, the HyDE-2G will actually reduce the threat of attack on U.S. personnel.

Fuel must be transported to forward-deployed warfighters via convoys. These convoys are high-value targets for enemy forces. But, with the HyDE-2G, the military can significantly reduce the amount of diesel fuel that they must transport through hostile territory.

"Delivering fuel to remote locations, whether transported over land or through the air, is expensive and puts warfighters at risk," said Joe Biondi, vice president of Advanced Technology for Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems business. "Through the HyDE-2G program, Raytheon will help the Marines reduce operational costs and manning; minimize logistical vulnerabilities; and, most importantly, safeguard our warfighters."

In order to make this possible, manufacturers must use cutting-edge technologies, including methods of solar module soldering. Maximum efficiency and reduced weight are essential to make hybrid generators a viable alternative to the devices in use today. American innovation can literally save lives.

Jimmy Carter’s place in alternative energy history

On this day 88 years ago in a small Georgia farming town, James Earl Carter Jr. was born. He would later be known as Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States of America.

Carter would serve only one term in the White House and his effectiveness as commander in chief would be the subject of criticism and debate for years to come. But, whether one is a supporter or detractor of the former president, his legacy will be defined in large part by the creation of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Much of the 1970s was plagued by what would be referred to as the "Energy Crisis." Fuel prices soared, trade-in values on cars dropped and, for the first time, people really started to get concerned about the effects of the world's energy sources on the environment.

In a televised speech on April 18, 1977, Carter outlined several principles that American energy policy should be built on. Among those tenets were:

    •  Healthy economic and jobs growth must be spurred by the energy industry
    •  It must protect the environment
    •  It must work to conserve resources that are scarcest
    •  It must help develop new, unconventional sources of energy.

Jimmy Carter was the first president to emphasize the importance of innovation and devising new alternative energy technologies. This was the genesis for wind, solar and wave power programs that are now poised to make game-changing breakthroughs.

From making our cars more efficient and environmentally friendly with new methods for the bonding of battery terminals to metal soldering techniques that reduce the cost of solar power equipment, we are making real strides forward. For that, Mr. President, we wish you a Happy Birthday.

Former Twitter CEO dedicated to green technology

In recent years there have been a number of hurdles environmentally friendly technology innovators have had to overcome. From the much publicized and politicized collapse of Solyndra to the Great Recession, the flow of money into this sector lost a lot of momentum post-2008.

A GigaOM article points out that there have even been debates over whether the industry should be referred to as "cleantech" or "greentech." This may seem trivial, yet when facing a myriad of other obstacles, branding is important. A biofuel entrepreneur may not want to be lumped into the same category with a solar or wind energy company that has run into some difficulties, leading to a fragmented industry whose members share similar visions with different approaches.

As these groups do their best to set themselves apart from one another, we may see a new paradigm where there are more individualized and vertical industries, rather than one large umbrella that encompasses them all.

What matters most, however, is that the innovation never stops. Creative individuals pushing technology forward will help to unclog those cash flow streams and bring back the interest investors had prior to the economic crisis that began in the latter half of 2008.

Speaking at the opening of Climate Week in New York City last Monday, Evan Williams, CEO of the Obvious Corporation and former CEO of Twitter, said green technology is both "technologically possible and economically superior."

Williams went on to stress the importance of finding ways to speed up development and then scale up these technologies. In so doing, greentech or cleantech, whichever moniker you prefer, will be affordable and efficient on massive scales.

It starts with something as simple as a car battery. Innovative methods used in the bonding of battery terminals can drastically improve efficiency while making automobiles more eco-friendly. No matter which type of alternative energy or technology the discussion is about, it is always forward-thinking manufacturing methodologies that serve as the catalyst for the next big breakthrough

Department of Energy invests heavily in renewable resources

For years, the research and development wing of the Pentagon known as DARPA has employed some of the greatest minds in the world to push science fiction closer to science fact. So it makes sense to learn that the U.S. Department of Energy is looking to capitalize on this model by creating its own version – ARPA-E.

ARPA-E essentially acts as a sort of venture capital firm, investing in cutting-edge, innovative research and development related to renewable energy technologies. While it has been proven that alternatives to fossil fuels like wind and solar power do indeed work, developing cost-effective ways of harnessing these resources has been the ultimate challenge.

Michael Grunwald, a veteran reporter for TIME Magazine and author of the book "The New New Deal," chronicling the history and impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – or the stimulus package, as it has come to be known – recently sat down for an interview with The Atlantic. Grunwald examines alternative energy research today, noting that roughly $90 billion of federal stimulus money flowed into this sector, revitalizing it at a time when it was near collapse.

"That money has really launched a silent green revolution," he said. "For example, the renewable electricity industry was on the brink of death after the 2008 financial meltdown; the Spanish wind developer Abengoa had shut down its U.S. projects, and turbines were literally rusting in the fields. The day the stimulus passed, Abengoa announced it was investing $6 billion in U.S. wind farms."

Alternative energy technologies are becoming more affordable as innovative American companies push forward, developing manufacturing methods that improve efficiency while reducing cost.

As methods of soldering solar cells advance, solar energy becomes a more viable option in reducing dependency on foreign oil. The same goes for bonding dissimilar metals on wind turbines.

There are countless renewable energy projects funded through ARPA-E that could change the American landscape forever. This blog will explore several of them in the coming weeks and months.

New underwater generator could power 1,000 homes via ocean waves

In light of an ever-expanding global population and fluctuating petroleum prices, research into clean, renewable energy sources is perhaps more important now than ever. Politicians and environmental analysts alike expect a reduction in dependency on foreign oil to help improve air, soil and water quality while simultaneously strengthening the American economy.

In order for this research to pay off, however, there is a need for innovative and cost-effective approaches to harnessing alternative energy. Enter companies like Ocean Power Technologies. This New Jersey-based company is preparing to launch the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy generator in the country sometime in early October.

According to The New York Times, the 260-ton device will be positioned more than two miles offshore of Reedsport, Oregon – and underwater. The goal is to siphon power generated by ocean waves and transmit it back to land via underwater cables, providing electricity to roughly 1,000 homes.

Jason Busch, the executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Wave Energy Trust, told the Times of the launch's importance. The organization alone has contributed upward of $430,000 in grant money to the project.

"All eyes are on the O.P.T. buoy," he said. "It has to survive."

Parts of the generator and other equipment operating at depths of 100 feet or more below the ocean's surface need to be hermetically sealed to avoid damage. They also need to be able to withstand extreme sea conditions generated by severe weather. Reliable metal joining methods are essential in making sure that devices can hold up under pressure and maintain high levels of productivity.

While the importance of renewable energy is clear, it cannot be harnessed without forward-thinkers who make such equipment not only possible, but affordable.