A breath of fresh air from coal country

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Earth Day has everyone thinking “green” this week, so we thought this would be the perfect time to talk about a coal mine in Wales.

No, we’re not going to dig up the tired old “canary in a coal mine” analogy to underline the dire environmental condition of our planet. In this case, the coal mine is the canary, and it’s singing a happy tune.

The last active deep coal mine in Wales shut down recently. This may be bad news for the miners, but it’s good news for the rest of us, especially when one takes a trip along the “Renewable Energy Route Map” that the Welsh Assembly Government is busy implementing.

Tapping into a rich and creative vein of alternative energy research and development, the country in the southwest corner of the United Kingdom is determined to make a huge impact in “clean and green” technology.

Wales may be a relatively small place, but its planning is big and bold. It intends to get all its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and to become a net exporter of clean energy within the same timeframe. Projects moving forward include:

— A 10-mile dam stretching from the south of Cardiff, Wales to Somerset in England that would harness the immense tidal power of the Severn estuary. Experts estimate that the $17 billion project, which was first proposed in 1849 and briefly discussed in the 1980s, could eventually supply up to 5% of the U.K.’s electricity.

— The world’s first “tribrid” buses. These triple-hybrids are powered by a combination of hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and ultra-capacitors, linked by sophisticated computer controls that constantly monitor energy requirements of the vehicle and adjust power accordingly. The prototype, a 16-passenger bus based on the commercial Iveco design, is expected to have a range of 150 miles per charge.

— A car you can park in your hallway. This one-meter-wide, two-passenger concept vehicle, appropriately called Narrow Car, will get 100 mpg, achieve speeds of up to 85 mph, and, not surprisingly, “leans into corners like a motorbike.” In case you are wondering, the passenger sits behind the driver, so a narrow waist is not a requirement to drive the Narrow Car.

The Welsh Assembly also has mandated that beginning in 2011 all new buldings in Wales be constructed to zero carbon standards. It’s Energy Route Map is accompanied by an equally bold introduction:

“The Assembly Government fully recognizes the importance of minimizing future global warming and is very determined to show how Wales, as a small but clever nation, can be at the global forefront of the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Clever indeed. Jolly good show, Wales. Happy Earth Day.

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