Inhabitat's Week in Green: self-sustaining homes, wooden wind turbines and the world's first solar-powered nation


The planet is in rough shape. A new report from the Renewable Energy Industry Institute found that total levels of global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high last year. And we’re starting to feel the consequences of all that carbon output as climate change leads to freakish superstorms likeHurricane Sandy. As New York City prepares for more large, destructive storms, many urban planners have raised the possibility of installing giant Rotterdam-style floodgates to protect the city. There are no current plans to install floodgates around NYC, but given the increasingly unpredictable weather in the region, it might be a good idea. In a different answer to rising sea levels, Dutch studio Whim Architects produced plans for floating, self-sustaining homes made from plastic waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Scientists also found that climate change is actually affecting satellites that are orbiting the planet, and a separate study warned that climate change could wipe out coffee production by 2080.

When a disaster like Hurricane Sandy knocks out the lights, it’s essential to have a source of off-grid power for communication devices like cell phones and radios — to this end we showcased several portable charging technologies that generate renewable energy. Nokero’s SunRay Pro Power solar charger is perfect for keeping a cell phone charged, and for every Emergency Power Kit Voltaic sells it is donating a kit to an individual in need. A team of researchers at Virginia Tech at Blacksburg have developed a new kinetic charger that makes juicing up your phone as easy as shaking your hand. For a different solution to the same problem, a pair of New Yorkers came up with The Charge Cycle, a proposal to put phone-charging stationary bikes on street corners around NYC. Meanwhile, students in Norway produced a texting jacket that provides emergency responders with critical information.

In alternative energy news, the remote Pacific Island territory of Tokelau (population: 1,411), which previously relied on diesel generators for electricity, officially became the world’s first solar-powered nation. In a surprising bit of news, we learned that Germany is set to export more energy than everdespite its nuclear energy phase-out, because of the country’s heavy investment in green energy. Meanwhile, Darwin, Australia is preparing to set up the Southern Hemisphere’s first tidal energy facility. Solar developer Lark Energy obtained permission to install the UK’s largest solar farm and Siemens unveiled its Turbina Sapiens, a new 6.0MW wind turbine that uses 50 percent fewer parts than its rivals. German company TimberTower celebrated the installation of the world’s first wooden wind turbinetower in Hanover, and for the annual Glow Festival, Eindhoven unveiled an impressive glowing dome made from 30,000 LEDs.

In green transportation news, LA Metro announced an exciting new program that will harvest energy from subway trains. At the nearby El Mirage Lake dry lake bed, the solar-powered Lightning Motorcycle set a new speed record for production motorcycles. Tesla’s Model S was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, and after receiving the award Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that an electric pickup truck might be in the company’s future. But what to do with EV batteries once they expire? General Motors unveiled a new modular unit that uses the power from five used Chevy Volt batteries to provide up to two hours of electricity for three to five average homes.

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