Plug-in Car Conversion Startups Spared by Cali Regulators, For Now

PHEV conversion companies, which turn hybrid vehicles like the Prius into plug-ins, snagged a big win in Sacramento on Friday. The California Air Resources Board, which had been considering new rules for emissions tests and warranties on aftermarket conversions, decided to separate regulations for the emerging industry from a larger package of emissions testing requirements. Representatives of startups like EDrive Systems, OEMTek, and Plug-In Conversions Corp. now have several weeks to put together an alternate set of rules for the board to consider.

Cali Air Regulators Seek Emissions Waiver, Again

A letter sent today by California air pollution controllers to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson could mark the beginning of the end of federal interference with the state’s push to enforce tighter tailpipe emissions standards. Signed by Air Resources Board (ARB) chairman Mary Nichols, the letter asks the newly appointed Jackson to reconsider the agency’s March 2008 denial of a waiver granting California authority to curb greenhouse gas emissions by way of vehicle standards. (You can download the full letter here.)

EPA, under the former administration, ruled that the Clean Air Act — which gives California power to create its own vehicle emission standards, and other states the option to adopt either federal or California standards — limits California to restricting pollutants with local and regional impacts. In other words, no global warming funny business.

In her confirmation hearing, Jackson vowed to put science first — and this may be her first test. As the New York Times reports, Jackson evaded Senators questions about whether she would immediately approve the California waiver, pledging only a speedy review of the issue.
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Solar Takes to the Seas in First Sun-Propelled Cargo Ship

Japanese shipping giant Nippon Yusen K.K. and oil distributor Nippon Oil Corp. today launched the first-ever cargo ship with a propulsion system powered, in part, by solar energy. The freighter, which left a port in Kobe carrying vehicles by Toyota (s TM), sports $1.68 million worth of solar panels — enough to provide only 0.2 percent of the energy needed for propulsion, AFP reports.

Even that small percentage represents a significant first step for the shipping industry, which accounts for 1.4-4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Historically subject to few controls because it operates on international waters, the industry may soon face tighter emissions standards closer to shore if regulators follow the lead of California’s Air Resources Board. The board’s new strategy for reducing emissions, adopted earlier this month, includes requiring ships to turn off engines and use cleaner power systems while docked at port. California air regulators also adopted a rule this summer prohibiting the use of “bunker fuel” within 24 nautical miles of the state’s coastline beginning in 2009.

Already, the 168 member countries of the UN International Maritime Organization have agreed to a series of sulphur dioxide emissions cuts to be phased in along protected shorelines by 2015 and at sea by 2025. In October, when that agreement was reached, International Chamber of Shipping Secretary Simon Bennett told Reuters, “The big question will be whether or not the oil refining industry will be able to deliver this new demand for distillate [a less-polluting type of fuel] that is going to be created for shipping.” Now the question may be whether or not the shipping industry will adopt a renewable alternative.

California Passes Landmark Climate Plan, Adopts Cap-and-Trade

The California Air Resources Board has unanimously approved a sweeping plan for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels — an average cut of four tons of annual emissions per person — by 2020. Outlining rules for nearly every sector of California’s economy, the plan represents the country’s most comprehensive strategy for curbing climate change and fostering a low-carbon (read: cleantech) economy.

ARB chairman Mary Nichols, who looks like she’ll be passed over for a spot in President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration, called the plan “California’s prospectus for a more secure and sustainable economy.” She added that the scheme would encourage investment in energy efficiency and renewables while creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs in California.

Today’s vote came about as a result of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, or AB 32, which set the 2020 emissions target and required the air resources board to develop a plan for meeting it. Since a draft of the plan first appeared on the board’s web site in October, it has been downloaded more than 250,000 times and staffers have received more than 43,000 comments. Here’s how the board explained the key elements in today’s release:

An important component of the plan is a cap-and-trade program covering 85 percent of the state’s emissions. This program will be developed in conjunction with the Western Climate Initiative, comprised of seven states and four Canadian provinces that have committed to cap their emissions and create a regional carbon market.

Additional key recommendations of the plan include strategies to enhance and expand proven cost-saving energy efficiency programs; implementation of California’s clean cars standards; increases in the amount of clean and renewable energy used to power the state; and, implementation of a low-carbon fuel standard that will make the fuels used in the state cleaner.

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Tesla’s Ze’ev on CARB’s “Misguided” ZEV Mandate

Tesla’s president and CEO Ze’ev Drori has exercised his civic duty via the age-old agent of democracy — the strongly-worded letter. Drori posted a letter on Tesla’s blog to Mary Nichols, Chairperson of the California Air Resources Board, that vehemently disagrees with the Board’s decision to slash the zero emission vehicle mandate by 70 percent.

Critics say that at the behest of large automakers, the Board drafted a new mandate, which requires a mere 7,500 ZEVs on California roads between 2012 and 2015. The ire of Drori’s letter boils down to his assertions that the board is “misguided” in its fact finding process, which led to the “erroneous” conclusion that an electric vehicle wouldn’t be commercially available until 2012. Drori is quick to point out that Tesla is already delivering ZEVs and lists Nissan, Daimler, BMW, and Mitsubishi as other automakers who have announced plans to sell ZEVs in California by 2010.
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A Double-Edged Camera: Jimmy Justice and the NYPD

Jimmy Justice‘s approach to justice is an intimate one: just a man and his camera, roaming the streets in search of cops parked illegally — and once he discovers them, confronting them. “I’m using a video camera as a weapon,” he says. “I believe a video does not lie.”

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Keith B. Richburg interviewed the self-appointed vigilante while connecting him to other recent instances of citizen-documented police misconduct, such as this video of a Critical Mass bicyclist being assaulted by the NYPD

When I watched the Critical Mass clip more than once, it seemed fairly obvious that the officer in question wasn’t paying enough attention to the onslaught of bikes coming towards him, and reacted instinctively when he and the bicyclist nearly collided. I’ve been hit by bicyclists while on foot: it’s scary and it hurts. But many people disagree, including the NYPD — Officer Patrick Pogan has been stripped of his badge and put on desk duty pending a review of the incident. Meanwhile, Christopher Long, the assaulted bicyclist, was also charged with assault and resisting arrest. And according to Pogan’s statement, while resisting arrest Long made statements like, “You are pawns in the game, I’m gonna have your job.” The facts here, as always, are tangled and complicated, and a grainy YouTube video does not hold all the answers.

I’m very much in favor of citizen journalism, but it’s important to remember what it isn’t — specifically, a replacement for properly fact-checked journalism. By holding cops to the standards of the law, Jimmy Justice may be providing a valuable service to the community. But Jimmy is mistaken on one point: While a camera can indeed be a weapon, it can also lie.

California Maps Emission Cuts

California introduced an ambitious energy road map today to achieve the state’s goal of cutting emissions by 28 percent. The policy mandates that a third of the state’s energy should come from renewable sources, and also boosts the efficiency of appliances, buildings and automobiles. Facilitating this entire process, the California Air Resource Board has proposed a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions from utilities, the power industry and businesses. The plan represents one of the most aggressive economy-wide cap-and-trade systems in the U.S.

This plan provides the details for the state’s 2006 decision to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which Schwarzenegger signed into law but left to regulators to figure out. The plan does not estimate the burden of the cost on the effected industries, though Mary D. Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, tells the New York Times their “macroeconomic analysis” shows the plan will actually boost California’s gross domestic product by one percent.

While the plan might hit traditional fossil fuel industries hard, it will be a boon for cleantech companies across the board. An aggressive renewable portfolio standard in California has already driven a lot of clean power innovation in the state. And companies selling energy efficient products and services could potentially generate revenue for businesses through carbon credits salable on the newly minted carbon market.
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Wikitecture for the 3-D Web Developer

wiki-treeAs an active resident in Second Life as part of my Web work, I am fascinated by the exploration of virtual world environments as platforms for “wikitecture” which essentially is collaborative planning and design. The process is being tested by architects and urban planners, but for anyone building in 3-dimensional spaces, wikitecture could be the next wave of collaboration.

One of the companies exploring wikitecture is Studio Wikitecture, creator of an open-source, 3-D Wiki plug-in for Second Life in partnership with i3dnow that facilitates the creation of a “wiki-tree” to design objects such as building models.

In June, the company’s entry placed third in an international competition hosted by Architecture for Humanity on the Open Architecture Network. The company demonstrated their application by bringing together dozens of web workers from around the world to collaboratively design and build a 3-D model of a medical center in rural Nepal.

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How to turn web-apps into “desktop” apps

GoogledocsapplicationMy migration away from Microsoft Exchange to Google’s Gmail has started to push me more towards “cloud” computing and web apps. When I combine the availability of reasonably featured software applications with a nearly always available WWAN connection on any of my devices, I see a powerful productivity platform evolving. Once challenge is having web-based applications run inside the browser. While tabbed browsing is now commonplace and makes it easy to run multiple apps, if the browser crashes, the potential is there for lost work.A new approach to this issue is to turn your web-apps into pseudo-desktop apps. By doing so, you can have shortcuts to your web-apps in your program launcher and they’ll run in an isolated program space, just like a real desktop app. Additionally, since they’re treated like a desktop program, they’ll show up in task switching utilities for quicker navigation.If these benefits sound appealing to you as a web-app user, you’ll want to check out Prism from Mozilla and Fluid from Todd Ditchendorf. Fluid is specific to the Mac OS X Leopard operating system and was inspired by Mozilla’s Prism project. Essentially, both Fluid and Prism offer the same benefits stated above, but Windows or Linux users will have to go with Prism.


Each app asks for a few simple items such as the URL of the web-app, the name you want to give it and a few other small configuration options. Both are in a free beta and I’ve been using Prism for most of the afternoon since I’m now using Google Docs exclusively for my offline and freelance writing.(via TUAW)