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Toshiba Plans to Build Major Solar Plant in Bulgaria

Toshiba and Tokyo Electric Power plan to take on a Japanese government-sponsored project to build a large-scale solar plant in Bulgaria, AFP reported Friday.

The massive power station will be constructed in Yambol, a city in the southeastern region on the Tundzha river, and will cost over 100 billion yen ($1.2 billion).

The project, slated for a March 2012 completion date, comes as the Eastern European nation scrambles to meet uncompromising European Union carbon emissions cuts. The new regulations aim to slash 1990 levels by 20 percent by the year 2020.

Bulgaria currently draws seven percent of its nationwide power from renewable energy sources. With the addition of the ambitious solar station, it hopes to increase that number to 16 percent.

The plant will reportedly generate about 50,000 kilowatts to start. That output capacity will be upped to 250,000 kilowatts in five years.

Toshiba and Tokyo Electric will team up with Japanese trader Itochu and the government backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan to set up a local joint venture worth about 50 billion yen, AFP reports.

About 20 billion yen in the joint venture will come from CEZ Group, the seventh-ranked European energy company.

AFP reports that Japanese Economy and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda and Bulgarian Economy and Energy Minister Traycho will agree to back the venture at a meeting early next week.

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Cincinnati Zoo to Install Innovative New Solar Canopy

The Cincinnati Zoo says that a new large-scale canopy of solar panels will supply a fifth of the park’s energy by April 2011.

On Wednesday workers began installing the first of the 6,400 panels, which the zoo says will make up the largest urban solar array accessible to the public in the U.S.

“It’s literally four acres of solar panels,” said Mark Fisher, the zoo’s senior director of facilities, planning and sustainability, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The $11 million project was developed by green energy company Melink Corp., based in nearby Clermont County. Melink will also own and operate the 1.56-megawatt system.

The solar power installation will provide about 20 percent of the park’s electricity, or about $150,000 worth of annual utility costs.

Zoo visitors will get a chance to learn more about the solar array through an interactive kiosk, which will explain how the system works and how much energy is being produced.

The Cincinnati Zoo claims to be “the greenest zoo in America.”

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Solar Panels: Pentagon Must Buy American

A new military appropriations bill signed by President Barack Obama on Friday will require the Defense Department to purchase solar panels exclusively from the United States.

The “Buy American” provision may add to the list of growing tensions with China, which is the world’s largest exporter of green energy materials.

U.S. leaders believe that China unfairly subsidizes its clean energy sector, taking business away from the American solar and wind industries. The Obama administation has ordered an investigation into the matter and brought the issue before the World Trade Organization on Dec. 22.

The solar panel provision passed the House and Senate during the tail-end of the lame-duck session of Congress before the holiday break, and was carefully written to agree with WTO rules so that China will have less of a chance of getting it overturned, the New York Times reports.

The measure also imposes a Buy American mandate on other green technologies such as “energy savings performance contracts, utility service contracts, land leases, and private housing contracts.”

Despite China’s criticism of such stipulations in the past, the nation required in the spring of 2009 that the entirety of its $600 billion economic stimulus be spent within China.

The new rule comes as Chinese President Hu Jintao prepares for a visit to the U.S. next week.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Solar0 Comments

Global Trade: U.S. Challenges China’s Clean Energy Subsidies

The U.S. on Wednesday filed a case against China before the World Trade Organization, claiming that Beijing has unfairly provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of subsidies to Chinese wind power companies.

The accusation follows a petition filed by the United Steelworkers in September, which claimed that China buoys its clean energy sector with subsidies, allowing Chinese businesses to sell wind and solar equipment at a lower rate on the international market.

The WTO request alleges that the funding is in violation of global trade rules.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Wednesday that the Obama Administration is targeting China’s wind power production grants, because they seem to require that Chinese manufacturers use only domestically-made parts.

“Import substitution subsidies are particularly harmful and inherently trade distorting, which is why they are expressly prohibited under WTO rules,” Kirk said in a statement. “These subsidies effectively operate as a barrier to U.S. exports to China.”

The case comes weeks before Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit President Barack Obama.

U.S.-China relations are already tense: the two superpowers are arguing over a number of trade issues, including China’s currency policy and Chinese barriers against U.S. beef imports.

During trade talks last week, the U.S. persuaded China to loosen restrictions on foreign contributions to the booming Chinese wind power industry. Foreign suppliers will no longer require previous experience in the Chinese clean energy sector.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard expressed the union’s satisfaction with the Obama administration’s decision to submit the WTO request.

“Today’s announcement by the administration comes as an early note of holiday cheer for those workers in the alternative and renewable energy sector,” said Gerard in a statement. “The goal is not litigation; it’s to end their practices.”

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Giant, Distant Galaxy Cluster Found

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 14 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say they’ve discovered the biggest galaxy cluster ever seen, a massive grouping of hundreds of galaxies 7 billion light-years from Earth.

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found the cluster using the South Pole Telescope, a Harvard release said.

“This galaxy cluster wins the heavyweight title. It’s among the most massive clusters ever found at this distance,” said Mark Brodwin, a Smithsonian astronomer at the center.

Because it’s 7 billion light-years distant, we’re seeing it as it was 7 billion years ago when the universe was only half its present age and our solar system didn’t exist yet, researchers say.

“This cluster is full of ‘old’ galaxies, meaning that it had to come together very early in the universe’s history — within the first 2 billion years,” Brodwin said.

The Harvard-Smithsonian team said it expects to find many more giant galaxy clusters once the South Pole Telescope survey is completed.

“After many years of effort, these early successes are very exciting. The full SPT survey, to be completed next year, will rewrite the book on the most massive clusters in the early universe,” Brodwin said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Comet Watchers Waiting for Show

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (UPI) — A comet rapidly approaching Earth should put on a good light show when it nears our planet and the sun in late October, U.S. astronomers say.

But a NASA spacecraft will get the best view of all when it flies within 430 miles of the icy solar system wanderer on Nov. 4, reported.

Comet Hartley 2 orbits the sun ever 6.46 years and will come within 11 million miles of Earth, about 45 times as far away as the moon, on Oct. 20 when it will be visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere as a fuzzy object in the constellation Auriga.

Sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere will get their best chance to glimpse it as it moves away from the sun in November.

Images of the comet taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in September reveal a solid core not quite a mile in diameter with a highly regular-shaped coma, the comet’s tail of gas and dust.

NASA’s EPOXI mission will capture close-up images during its November encounter with the comet.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Second Asteroid Found to Contain Water

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 7 (UPI) — The discovery of water on a second asteroid suggests water and ice may be more common in the solar system than previously believed, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida, who caused excitement among scientists in April for showing the first evidence of water ice and organic molecules on an asteroid, have discovered a second asteroid contains the same material, a university release said Thursday.

“This discovery suggests that this region of our solar system contains more water ice than anticipated,” University of Central Florida Professor Humberto Campins says. “And it supports the theory that asteroids may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water and the building blocks for life to form and evolve here.”

The newly discovered asteroid, 65 Cybele, is somewhat larger than 24 Themis, the first one discovered by the researchers. Cybele has a diameter of 180 miles, while Themis has a diameter of 124 miles.

Both are in the same region of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Campins will present the teams’ findings during the 42nd-annual Division of Planetary Sciences Conference in Pasadena, Calif., which concludes Friday.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Probe to Eye Martian Atmosphere 'theft'

BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 7 (UPI) — A NASA mission to Mars will study how the sun has stolen the planet’s atmosphere, condemning it to a cold and sterile existence, researchers say.

Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface, scientists believe, but somehow that thick atmosphere got lost in space, a NASA release says.

The sun with its solar wind is the principal suspect.

All planets in our solar system are constantly blasted by the thin stream of electrically charged gas that continuously blows from the sun’s surface into space. Earth’s global magnetic field shields our atmosphere by diverting most of the solar wind around it.

“Mars can’t protect itself from the solar wind because it no longer has a shield, the planet’s global magnetic field is dead,” said Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder, principle investigator for NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) probe.

Earlier Mars spacecraft missions such as NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft have caught glimpses of the phenomenon.

“Previous observations gave us ‘proof of the crime’ but only provided tantalizing hints at how the sun pulls it off — the various ways Mars can lose its atmosphere to solar activity,” said Joseph Grebowsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“MAVEN will examine all known ways the sun is currently swiping the Martian atmosphere, and may discover new ones as well,” he said.

MAVEN is scheduled for launch between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7, 2013, NASA says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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U.S. Approves 'power Tower' Solar Project

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) — The United States has approved the first large-scale solar energy project on public lands that will use “power tower” technology, government officials said.

The proposed project, to be located in San Bernardino, Calif., could produce up to 370 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power 111,000 to 277,500 American homes when it is completed in 2013, a U.S. Department of the Interior release said Thursday.

“Power tower” technology uses fields of mirrors to focus solar energy on tower receivers near the center of each array. Steam from solar boilers in the towers drive a turbine that generates electricity for the transmission grid.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System after an extensive review that significantly altered the proposal in response to public comments in order to minimize environmental impacts.

“I am pleased with the changes we have made to improve this project,” Salazar said. “It is important that we learn from our experience to ensure that environmentally-responsible clean energy is developed wisely and in the right places.”

“Ivanpah is one of several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will help California and this nation build a clean energy economy,” Salazar said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Sun Study Yields Unexpected Results

LONDON, Oct. 6 (UPI) — The sun’s activity has recently affected the Earth’s atmosphere and climate in unexpected, unpredictable ways, U.K. and U.S. researchers say.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Colorado found that a decline in solar activity does not always mean the Earth becomes cooler.

It is well known the sun’s activity increases and decreases in an 11-year cycle, and the study of activity from 2004 to 2007, when the sun was in a declining part of its cycle, yielded the unexpected result, an Imperial College release said.

Contrary to expectations, the amount of energy reaching the Earth at visible wavelengths increased rather than decreased as the sun’s overall activity declined, causing a warming effect, researchers said.

After this surprising finding, researchers say they believe it is possible the reverse is true and periods of increasing overall activity on the sun tend to cool, rather than warm, the Earth.

“These results are challenging what we thought we knew about the sun’s effect on our climate,” said Professor Joanna Haigh, head of the Department of Physics and member of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.

“However, they only show us a snapshot of the sun’s activity and its behavior over the three years of our study could be an anomaly.

“We cannot jump to any conclusions based on what we have found during this comparatively short period.”

“However, if further studies find the same pattern over a longer period of time, this could suggest that we may have overestimated the sun’s role in warming the planet, rather than underestimating it.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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