– Source for quality information on efficiency, conservation, and clean energy

February 28, 2007

Hot Technology Series – Stirling Energy Systems

Concentrating solar makes sense. If you concentrate the sun using mirrors (a well understood and cheap technology), you have more light and heat to work with, and the actual collectors can be smaller.

So check out Stirling Energy Systems (SES)!

Sterling Energy Systems dishSterling Energy System’s product is a 37′ sun tracking mirrored dish with a sterling engine mounted at the center. The sun is focused on the engine, which powers a generator creating electricity. What’s hot about this technology?

  • Standardized manufacturing – As SES ramps up production, they will be able to crank these out by the hundreds. Efficient to produce, and easy to install, these will lower the cost of solar electricity.
  • Proven technology – Mirrors clearly are proven, and sun tracking systems have been around for decades. The sterling engine is also proven and has been in industrial use for many years.
  • Low maintenance – The sterling engine is a closed cycle system that uses a working fluid. There’s no intake, no exhaust, no explosions, or any of the things that cause engines to need intensive maintenance. Maintenance only involves lubricating the tracking mechanism, and washing the mirrors occasionally.
  • Low impact – Besides creating shade, these collectors have no impact. They use no water (except for washing), there no drilling, there are no emissions.

SES has signed two major contracts for installations, one for a 300 MW system with San Diego Gas and Electric, and a second for a 500 MW system with Southern California Edison. In March ’06 they were rated #1 in Fast Company magazine’s “Fast 50”.

February 27, 2007

Good news everywhere you look

Category: General – Dan 6:36 am

I will say that since I’ve gotten proactive in gathering information on alternative green energy, I’ve discovered an incredible amount of innovation. There are countless startups creating new solar, wind, control, battery, automotive, and other technologies. And local and state governments nationwide are taking action.

The driver here isn’t necessarily carbon reduction. Cost is a big one:

“In July, 17% of companies reporting weaker earnings in a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey blamed rising energy costs. In response, businesses are raising prices, conserving energy, and, increasingly, turning to alternative fuels.” [Business Week]

And so is energy independence and the trade deficit, a large portion of which is driven by energy imports:

“Gov. Joe Manchin [West Virginia] is trying to persuade the rest of the nation’s governors that individual states should eliminate their dependence on foreign energy instead of waiting for the federal government.” [Business Week]

I’m not saying that we’re out of the woods with respect to global warming, but I still wake up in the morning in a hopeful mood!

Of course, while business, local, and state governments are making forward progress, you still get depressing news from the feds. In the Feb 26 ’07 issue of Business Week that just arrived, there’s a sidebar titled: The Budget – Not Much Fuel for Energy R&D. Bottom line:

The White House’s 2008 budget released on Feb. 5, asks for just a 1% increase in real R&D spending in energy, transportation, and the environment. The total amount, $7.5 billion, looks paltry compared with what was spent in the past. In real terms, it is almost 19% lower than in 1994 and about 40% less than its 1979 peak.

February 26, 2007

Wind power wimpy? NOT

Category: Wind power – Dan 10:07 pm

Critics use a variety of ways to discredit the potential contribution of wind power. Consider this text on the front page of

“As people start to examine whether such impact is justified, they find that the promoters of big wind are unable to show even minimal benefit. Despite decades of experience and substantial installations in Denmark, Germany, and Spain, the giant turbines have not been shown to reduce the use of other fuels — such as coal and nuclear, let alone gasoline and heating oil — or thus to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming or pollutants that cause acid rain and health problems such as asthma.”

Wow. Sounds depressing. How then, can Denmark product 18%[1] of their electricity with wind and Spain over 6%[2]?

The fact is wind power has come a long ways. A single wind generator can exceed 2 MW, and a wind farm with 300 windmills can match the output of a typical coal-fired generating facility.

Wind power is variable, and critics will argue this is a reason that wind can never be significant. Yet there are several factors that mitigate this issue:

  • While one windmill may be quite variable, a wind farm will average out the variations.
  • While the power output from one wind farm will rise and fall with the available wind, multiple farms in multiple locations balance this variation to some extent.
  • Wind isn’t the sole source of energy. When other sources such as biomass, hydropower, and natural gas are added to the mix, a modern power grid can efficiently utilize power from wind sources.

Wind power today is the fastest growing source of renewable energy. Why? In the words of Javier Garcia Breva (recent director general of the Spanish Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving, a part of the Spanish government):

“…at the first analysis, the renewable energy plan has focused on increasing energy independence in Spain.” with a second goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in line with the goals of the European Union.[2]

Cost is also a driver. Wind power is already competitive in many locations at about 4 cents per kWh and are expected to drop to under 3 cents per kWh by 2030.[3]

But what about the viewscapes that will be destroyed? What about the birds that will be killed? These will be topics for a later post!

Welcome to Smart Green Energy

Category: Uncategorized – Dan 2:00 pm is designed as a clearing house for accurate and timely information on smart energy and efficiency solutions. The goal of this site is to help people better understand the often complex issues associated with reducing the world’s carbon footprint, and by better understanding be able to participate in the debate and advocate solutions that make sense and are good for the environment and our future.

This site strives to get beyond hype and pure opinion, and provide information based on researched data available from a variety of (usually documented) sources. Opinion, where it does appear, is noted as such.

The information itself is located in three categories:

Blog Entries Quick Summaries FAQs
Every day or two, new entries are added into the Blog on a variety of smart green energy topics. Entries are filed under specific technologies (example: “Wind Power”), and there are also special categories for New Technologies, Exciting Companies, and Mythbusters. This category contains short pieces on specific topics of interest, for example “About Plug-in Hybrid Cars”, that will each provide a short layman level summary of the technology to help with understanding. The FAQ section will, for a variety of topic areas, provide a growing list of questions received on the topic with clear answers.

The overall goal is to show a coherent approach to energy solutions that are both SMART (i.e. make business sense) and GREEN (i.e. sustainable). These concepts are looked at within a “big picture” framework (see the post “The Energy Big Picture” for the introduction to this discussion). Rather than focus only on point technologies like solar cells or electric cars, smart green energy means focusing on the entire energy supply chain:

  • Sources: This is the “how” of energy: where does it come from?
  • Transmission: This is the “where” of energy: how does it get to where it is needed?
  • Storage: This is the “when ” of energy: how is the energy stored until it’s needed?
  • Use: This is the “why” of energy: to what purpose will the energy be used for?

The site is managed by Dan Leighton, who has a background and long experience in environmental engineering, as well as software product management and marketing. You can send mail to Dan at dan[at] (be sure to replace the [at] with an “@” sign!). You are also invited to visit Dan’s business consulting site at


Category: General – Dan 8:14 am

Well, every blog has to have a first post, so this is it!  Welcome to  My goal for this site is to provide a clearing house for information on smart energy and efficiency solutions.

The rhetoric on these topics can get pretty heated, and the facts can quickly be lost amid emotion and extreme positions.   My hope is that this site can be a resource for accurate information, and help the advocates of green energy show how we can reduce carbon emissions in a timely fashion and in ways that make good business sense.

It will take the world community to address the global warming challenge, and it won’t happen without discussion and a will to move ahead together.   If you find this information useful, tell your friends.  And if you disagree, post a comment and let the community discuss the issue!