Holy Desertec: $555B Solar Saharan Project Finds a Dozen Backers

solarthermalgeneric2Ever since the news came out about Desertec, a $555 billion project to build solar thermal plants in Northern Africa’s Sahara desert to funnel solar power to Europe, we’ve been scratching our heads about what to make of it. The sheer size (supposedly large enough to supply up to 15 percent of Europe’s electricity needs), cost and timeline (over 40 years) is so utterly massive and ambitious, the project will no doubt look very different when — and if — it ever makes it to light. But despite the “fantasy” nature of the plan, a dozen serious and respected companies have signed a memorandum of understanding today to investigate how to build the project.

Participants include German engineering company Siemens (s SI), German insurer Munich Re, Deutsche Bank (s DB), German utilities RWE and EON, Spain’s power company Abengoa, Zurich’s electricity grid builder ABB, Algerian firm Cevital, European bank HSH Nordbank, engineering company M+W Zander, and solar firms Schott Solar and Solar Millennium.

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Smart Fridges to Invade the UK

If our appliances get too smart, can they still be unplugged? People in the UK are about to find out, as smart grid technology will make its way into their kitchens under a new government program that will give away 3,000 smart fridges in the country (hat tip to the Guardian). UK energy utility npower, part of Germany’s RWE, is working on the project with UK smart-energy startup RLtec, which will provide “dynamic demand” technology. The fridges are expected to be rolled out next year.

The new appliances are designed to be easy to use, involving little or no user input, and are expected to save people a significant amount of cash on their energy bills. One recent study from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford found that energy management systems can help cut residential electricity use by up to 15 percent. Read More about Smart Fridges to Invade the UK

iGasUp: Find Cheap Gas

While the price of gas has been dropping from $4.00 down towards $3.00 in recent weeks, I still pay attention to which stations offer lower prices when I go to fillup. I’ve found differences of up to 20 cents per gallon between stations that are just within a mile or two of my home in Colorado. That savings can add up quickly if you’re careful about where you buy gas.
There are a couple of iPhone apps that attempt to help you find the cheapest gas, wherever you happen to be, by combining pricing information from the internet with the location services of the iPhone. I looked at GasBag, iGasUp, and Where to see which one would help me find cheap gas, particularly when I was in an unfamiliar part of town. In my usage for a week, I found iGasUp to have the most complete and the most current pricing info, even if it was a little glitchy in map mode. It had more stations in my area (Denver, CO) and the pricing was consistently more accurate than the other apps.
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Daimler to Electrify Autobahn With “e-mobility Berlin”

Berlin’s autobahn will be getting a charge from the “e-mobility Berlin” program Daimler AG officially unveiled today. The automaker is working with German utility RWE to put more than 100 electric cars on the city’s roads by 2010. Under terms of the joint venture, Daimler will provide electric vehicles from its Smart and Mercedes-Benz lines while RWE will install some 500 charging points around the city.

The announcement gives no legs to the rumors circulating about Daimler’s possible partnerships with a slew of cleantech startups. Last week, the Financial Times reported that electric car poster child Tesla Motors would be supplying the batteries for the Smart cars, but the release doesn’t say whose batteries will be in them. Read More about Daimler to Electrify Autobahn With “e-mobility Berlin”

Tesla to Charge Daimler’s Electric Smart Cars?

Tesla Motors will be charging up Daimler’s electric Smart ForTwo cars with its own lithium-ion battery technology, the German edition of the Financial Times reports (hat tip Autoblog Green). According to the report Tesla will supply the batteries for the 150 cars Daimler plans to deploy first in Berlin; Daimler subsequently aims to expand that test fleet up to 1,000 cars across several European cities. The batteries will give the mini electric cars an urban driving range of more than 90 miles.

We got in touch with Tesla in the hopes of getting more detail, but they declined comment.

The deal is reportedly part of a larger initiative Daimler is reportedly unveiling today with German utility RWE to create a network of some 500 public charging stations around that country’s capital. Daimler has been running a similar pilot project in London where some 100 electric Smarts have been zipping about since late last year. The pilot fleet currently has charge times of eight hours, but Daimler reportedly hopes that with Tesla’s newer batteries and a utility helping with infrastructure, the charge time could be reduced to two or three.

We heard back in June that Daimler and Tesla were getting cozy. At the time, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche wouldn’t comment on the California startup but did announce electric Mercedes and Smart models for 2010. Zetsche also said that Daimler was in talks with Shai Agassi’s electric car infrastructure startup, Better Place. Today’s news of Daimler’s deal with RWE doesn’t rule out a roll for Better Place, but it could mean the German auto maker might be trying to electrify the German autobahn without Agassi.

Firefox Kid’s New Start Up, Parakey

Blake Ross, one of the more high profile members of the Firefox team, has been quietly working on a new start up for a while. He has been successful in keep the wraps on his new startup, Parakey, but now it seems is close to revealing plans for his next big idea.

Ross and Hewitt had started the company back in February 2005 with seed funding from Sequoia Capital, and since then have kept a very low profile. In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, he reveals some details about the core offering of his startup he co-founded with Joe Hewitt.

Ross describes Parakey as a WebOS that does what a traditional OS can do. It allows you to set up a site that can be shared by say all member of the family, and can be accessed from within a web browser. In order to make it work, you need to download a small application that turns your local machine into a server. You can decide which part of the Parakey site is viewable to the outside world.

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Verizon to debut VCAST Music at CES

Verizon Wireless and partner Microsoft are set to announce the launch of a new online music store, VCAST Music, at CES. The new service will go live January 16th and offer music downloads a la iTunes. Verizon intends for the new service to extend their current VCAST video service for mobile phone customers. The new music service will allow customers to download music direct to their enabled cell phone and transfer them to the PC. Verizon has partnered with Microsoft for the new service, which runs on Windows Media Player 10 technology.

(via CNET)

Lafayette votes today for city-wide fiber optic network

The citizens of Lafayette, Louisiana vote today to approve the funds needed to build a city-wide fiber optic network for high-speed internet connectivity.  The city won a legal challenge by the two private sector companies that serve Lafayette earlier and if the voters choose to approve the network this city in the heart of Cajun country could be the impetus to other cities throughout the country. 

If Lafayette is successful in winning support for its network, it could help rally citizens in the 14 states where municipal networks have already been banned or limited, said Joey Durel, president of Lafayette Parish.

"What the cable and phone companies do a lot better than provide service to customers is work politicians," he said. "Unless towns like Lafayette get moving, I’m afraid that more states could pass laws limiting these kinds of networks. If this referendum passes here in Lafayette, I think we’ll start to see some states undoing those laws."

(via CNET)