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Bright lights in clean tech Add to ...

On the dusty plain just west of Seville in southern Spain, a monolith has been lately erected, a sun temple, standing almost six full storeys taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza. The 20-megawatt solar thermal power plant is one of a cluster of new technologies being test-bedded on Abenoa Solar's Solúcar platform.

Near the German port city of Cuxhaven, meanwhile, a small forest of giant steel tripods, painted an exuberant yellow, rest next to their manufacturing plant. Their colossal prongs tower 24 metres above the tarmac, waiting to be crowned atop gleaming white pillars, far out to sea, where they will surpass the height of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. More importantly, they will be the most powerful wind turbines ever installed.

These are not one-off green initiatives or feel-good demos, but rather the first vigorous wave of a whole new industrial economy. It has emerged primarily in those places where climate change has been acknowledged not just as a fundamental fact of life and the defining crisis of the 21st century but also as an opportunity-the fulcrum for a lever that will launch the second Industrial Revolution. Notwithstanding whatever muddled consensus may emerge from the high-minded climate talks in Copenhagen this December, the nations and companies leading this second wave will continue with installations and innovations at a breakneck pace. And they will do so because building this new generation of infrastructure is a smart business move, based on sound economics.

In Germany alone, the renewable energy industry has created more than a quarter of a million new jobs in the decade since the Bundestag passed the world's most ambitious green-power legislation in 2000-this without introducing any new taxes and at a total cost to the average German household of about $50 per year. This "feed-in tariff" model, which requires utilities to purchase renewable electricity at above-market prices, has been quickly copied across Western Europe, most of which is at least a generation ahead of Canada in the shift to a sustainable low-emissions economy.

Canada was a global leader in environmental issues-the main broker, for example, of an international ban on ozone-depleting chemicals-up until the 1990s. In recent years, however, the country has fallen from the front ranks to become one of the world's most conspicuous laggards in greenhouse gas reduction and a virtual nonentity in the clean-tech boom. This isn't just bad news for the planet; it's bad business for Canada.

Perhaps recognizing this long-standing oversight, the Ontario government passed an ambitious new Green Energy Act this summer-an overt copy of Germany's pace-setting model. The new policy has vaulted the province to the forefront of North America's green economy, virtually overnight. It might just be a model for a wider Canadian awakening.

-Chris Turner



Tide change

It's just shy of a century since engineers at Acadia University began thinking about harnessing the tides in Minas Basin, the mighty estuary that divides most of Nova Scotia from the mainland (and which the university overlooks). The basin, just off the Bay of Fundy, holds an enormous amount of water, which passes through a bottleneck-water rushes to and fro every day. Its potential as a power supply has always been tantalizing. Now, the tide may be turning for so-called moon power.

A trial project is just getting under way in Minas Basin that will see three experimental turbines-each from a different company-dunked beneath the waves. Unlike unpredictable wind and solar energy, the rhythm of the tide has been banging away on our shores for as long as the moon has been pulling it. By placing an underwater turbine in a tidal estuary, steady electricity could be generated around the clock.

The first technology to be deployed belongs to the privately held utility Nova Scotia Power, but was designed and built by OpenHydro, an Irish firm. The turbine, recently unveiled before a Dartmouth crowd, looks like nothing so much as a rusty jet engine, mounted in an elaborate cradle. It will rest on the seabed, pinned by its own weight. A single turbine should produce about one megawatt of electricity, enough to power up to 400 homes.

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