Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Homebrew your way to an energy-efficient, neo-noir, sci-fi pad

When I first remember watching Blade Runner, it wasn’t the computer you could talk to and have it turn 2D pictures into 3D, or the cars that could drive and fly, or the humanoid robots that didn’t know they were robots, but rather the apartment lighting. Call me weird. As Harrison Ford was walking around his apartment, each room he entered dimmed up its fluorescent lighting, and dimmed to off as he moved away. This motion-sensing awesomeness was probably most engrained in my memory because I was often reminded by my parents to turn the lights off when I left the room. A good lesson and a constant annoyance to me, but I’m sure I was to them too. I probably still am.


Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard hunts down humanoid-like robots, and better ways to conserve energy.

This past weekend I read about this company called Ubiquiti Networks. Like their name suggests, they make networking equipment, like wireless internet antennas for long distances. But they also create energy managing devices, like power strips, power outlets and dimmers and switches.  The cool thing about these devices is that they wireless connect to the network, creating an Internet of Things.  And they can be programmed.  This is where the fun begins.


I might never have to flip a switch ever again.

By connecting motion sensors to your network, and replacing your light switches, you can now program the lights in any room to ramp up or down depending on the activity on the room.  And with time already a part of the system, you can have the lights dim up to a lower level at 4:15 in the morning so you don’t have to shield your eyes from the fury of instant-on brightness.  Another benefit is that each device monitors the energy usage of what is connected to it.


Now I can let prank callers know if my fridge is running anytime I’m away from the house.

You can know easily track energy usage of your lights and even plug loads, which can be pretty difficult.  If you have your electrical outlets replaced with theirs, you can also use a motion sensor in the kitchen to not only dim up your lights, but also to turn on your devices that have phantom loads!  I hope to one day purchase these when I buy a home so I have a much better picture of how much energy my home uses and, well, not have to worry about forgetting to turn off the lights.


My parents would be so happy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What is this Term…Demand Response?


In the realm of energy efficiency the term demand response is being brought up more every day. Many business owners and/or homeowners do not know what the term means. Well let me dive in and break down what demand response is and how you can benefit.

What is demand response? Demand response, in lamens term, is when a customer gets paid for not using energy. These utility programs work to actively engage consumers in how they modify consumption, all while reducing peak demand and avoiding system breakdowns. Customers are able to receive incentives or discounts for participating in demand response programs through their utility supplier.

So how does demand response work?   For those not in the utility industry here is the cliff notes version of how demand response works. A utility offers credits to a consumer to install an automated device on an outside air conditioning unit. The utility is then able to turn the unit off at intervals of peak demand. Some individuals do
not care for the automated program controlling   their energy usage so utilities do offer other programs that fall under demand response. Other systems can detect when energy is at a high usage point, and then reduces voltage without cutting power altogether. [i]

Why is demand response important? Demand response is the country’s current answer to increasing energy demand.  By participating in demand response you are actively helping our utility grid work more efficiently. Predictions are that demand response can cut up to 15% of energy demand in the U.S. all while helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Oh and the savings of about 50% by only decreasing power use by 5% does not hurt either.


What’s the future of demand response?
The idea of demand response seems to be spreading faster than wildfire, pardon the phrase Californians. Automakers are now working on the idea for electric vehicles. Several utilities have run tests to see if cloud computing would be compatible in transporting a message directly to electric vehicles. The message is designed to ask that the car’s owner briefly suspend charging to boost grid stability. If the car owner agrees to participate, they are compensated for their energy reduction.[ii]

Whether you are a fan of the idea or not, demand response will be something to keep your eye on in the future. With the developments in only the past couple of years I am sure that there will be a lot more to come down the road.        



[i] “Demand Response- An Effective Program To Reduce Costs And Help The Environment”, Nov. 3,2014, http://www.energybiz.com/article/14/10/demand-response-effective-program-reduce-costs-and-help-environment
[ii] “ The Newest Demand Response Participant: Electric Vehicles”, November 2, 2014, http://theenergycolle.com/sbattaglia/2149791/newest-demand-response-participant-electric-vehicles ctive

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Green Teams Part I

America’s favorite pastime is watching sports. Nearly every day of the year, tens of millions of us spend a few hours watching our favorite teams and athletes do what they do best either on huge, flat screen TVs at home or live, in facilities large enough to make each of us feel like an ant. I am one of these people who lap up and get lost in every bit of these crazy, energy-sucking shows. While there has been a lot of negative news surrounding some of the national sports leagues lately, I want to talk about this industry and its concentration on going green in a short series. I know it sounds a bit ironic, but bear with me; it's actually an uplifting and inspiring tale.

Remember these days?
Photo source: ign.com
Bright lights, jumbotrons, packed stadiums. This industry has changed drastically from the small-scale games played in fields and streets and does not sound (or look, if you’ve ever been to a major sporting event) energy efficient in the least. On the surface, it seems like an energy black hole and if I were unaware of everything the industry has been doing over the past few years to increase their energy conservation, I might feel like a hypocrite, supporting the industry so whole-heartedly while I simultaneously sit here rallying for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs every day. But I know some secrets. May I let you in on them?

The NRDC caught on to this new trend in sports to go green and put together a report in September 2012 outlining some of the industry’s greatest efficiency achievements. I love the NBA like it’s my job, so I’ll briefly mention some of its activity first. The Miami HEAT and the Atlanta Hawks were the first two NBA organizations to have LEED certified arenas; the HEAT is on track to further their energy efficiency goals and be re-certified in 2014. The Staples Center in Los Angeles, which hosts hundreds of events attracting millions of fans each year (and is home to my beloved Lakers), received an ISO 14001 certification (for environmental management standards) in 2010, the first arena in the US to do so. The NBA started greening their All-Star games in 2008 with recycling and composting programs, organic cotton apparel for the athletes and basketballs made of recycled materials. The Association also sponsors Green Week each year and launched an awesome website to create awareness and promote their Green Week community projects (beach cleanups, home refurbishments). I knew there were reasons for my love of the NBA beyond my obsession with the game!
Photo source: CONCRETE jungle

This is only a taste of what is happening in this unexpected merger of sports and energy responsibility. The report presents case studies of several other teams and venues from all major sports leagues.

The posts that follow will ensure that all those torn between their love of the game and their devotion to saving the world (or just curbing energy use – no difference really) will never feel like an outcast in either circle again. I promise.

Friday, October 31, 2014

EEK-O-Friendly Halloween

It's Halloween time, and if you know me well, you’ll be surprised to hear that I was once terrified of what eventually became one of my favorite holidays. I used to hide under my family’s kitchen table every time the doorbell rang. I’m not kidding; it really was that bad. That was long ago, though, and by the time I was in first grade, I ventured out in my Jasmine costume and faced the world of trick-or-treating, which has, since then, become a lot more realistic and spooky.

My peacock costume
Halloween 2011
I’d like everyone to give my mama a big round of applause, because nearly twenty years ago, she was ahead of the game, making Halloween a reuse and recycle kind of holiday. My Jasmine costume was ribbon wound around the legs of old baggy sweatpants paired with the matching boat-neck sweatshirt. A few years later, she made me Piglet ears using scraps of poster board and a headband. This has rubbed off on me, and never, in my entire life, have I purchased a Halloween costume nor have I used anything but a spare pillowcase to carry my candy. Sure, I bought a pair of cat ears here and a pair of wings there when I was in a time crunch, but for the most part, I LOVE making my Halloween costumes and in recent years my costumes have only become bigger and more extravagant art projects (see pictures) using things around the house or a few small findings at a fabric store.

Making Pebbles and Bamm-
Bamm costumes in 2012. Yes,
I used real chicken bones.
DIY costumes are one way to cut down on waste and consumerism, especially if you’re using old clothes and things around the house. If you’re not the sewing type, however, costume swaps have gained tons of momentum around the country. Throw a costume swap party with a bunch of your friends… you’re bound to find something you like or something you can easily turn into this year's Halloween costume of your dreams! Making your own face paint is a good way to be green, too, not to mention a good way to avoid carcinogens and chemicals. As long as you look into natural food coloring or make your own (to prevent any potential allergic reactions), you can just add a few drops to unscented lotion or pure cocoa butter (found at your local health food store) and you’ve got face paint!

Sugar-free, useful AND fun!
Photo Source: ebay.com
I’m pretty sure candy and Halloween treats are the hardest thing to give up. Personally, I can’t resist a Snickers or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. However, there are ways to make your Halloween healthier while simultaneously indulging yourself a little bit. Plus, you'll cut down on the number of wrappers going into a landfill this year. Our old SJVCEO coworker, Maureen, has a clever approach: she buys candy she doesn’t like so she’s not tempted to eat it all. Once my sister and I both left for college, my mom only bought two or three bags, set aside a few pieces for my dad, and closed up shop once the bags were empty. Another good idea is a combination of both of the above: buy a limited amount of candy that you won’t crave, get rid of it Halloween night and makesome funky AND healthy treats to keep around the house. School supplies, like fun pencils, are another sugar- and wrapper-free alternative. Or if you, like me, are a dark chocolate fiend, you can just get dark chocolate in bulk. It’s healthy so you don’t have to feel bad about sneaking some for yourself OR dishing it out to the neighborhood.

Here’s to a safe, fun and GREEN Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Do You Need a Energy Tune Up?

Currently I live in a house with 3 housemates. The house was built in the early 90s and is about 1,800+ square feet. One of the housemates owns the house and has the responsibility of bills, bills, bills and taxes (yuck). What came into discussion late this summer was the wretched PG&E bills, which some might say is as hard a pill to swallow as taxes. It is safe to say that in the city of Fresno, residents are most dependent on their air conditioners around the June through August summer months. Our bill was no exception as we experienced an average of $278 a month with August reaching as high as $320. I sat with the homeowner in awe as to wonder what on earth we were doing that the bill was so high. After all, the house is empty 5 days a week between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm and we felt that was a significant amount of time to not be using any electricity that the bill shouldn't put us into traumatic shock.
                                                                         
After asking the homeowners several questions about the house: water heater, air conditioning, fridge, dishwasher, washer and dryer, windows, insulation and anything I could think of, I finally contacted my local Central Valley Energy Tune up (www.cvetu.com). This FREE service provides education to homeowners about energy savings opportunities in their homes through a variety of free energy efficiency service offerings.[1] I requested that we have the comprehensive “Whole-House Home Energy Survey” option which would include their inspection of the entire house including air conditioning system and attic. While the homeowners have not received their detailed reports, the “energy inspectors” did have input that provided some insight into how they could save on their energy bill.

First, the house faces south-southwest, so that means the 2 bedrooms that face the front of the house have direct experience with the Fresno summer sun from about 3:00 pm – to 6:00 pm where the average temperature this summer is in triple degrees side of the thermometer. So we have two rooms that have “sauna-like” temperatures that the house has to work harder to cool down. The proposed solutions: a) keep the door open so hot air doesn't stick; b) get low emissivity windows.

The second opportunity was definitely a shock and considering that I personally am not a homeowner, I find it interesting to discover that there lazy contractors did half of the job with the insulation. (See photo below)

Just randomly, the in the front part of the house, where the sun faces, the thermal imager registers that there’s no insulation. Hmm. Homeowners had no idea.While I am all for energy efficiency and insulation is one method to get there, I am baffled at the randomness and sloppiness of the contractors/installers themselves. Why would they all of a sudden just not finish insulating the house?  We’ll never know.

So here’s the lessons learned. First, Central Valley Home Energy Tune Up is FREE. You really can’t lose having an inspector review your home and receive a detailed report providing you with what’s going on with your home. Second, contractors suck.




[1] “Home Energy Tune-Up”, accessed October 13, 2014, http://www.cvetu.com/home-energy-tune-up

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

BioCNG™ For Your Car

Biogas used to be considered a non-reusable waste product, but over the last decade or so, a number of benefits of the gas have come to light and biogas is now recognized as a renewable energy source for fuel, electricity and thermal energy.

The folks at Unison Solutions in Dubuque, IA have created BioCNG™, a system that converts biogas into a gaseous fuel for vehicles, much like your typical clean natural gas (CNG). Jan Scott, President of Unison Solutions, gave a webinar – “Converting Biogas into Vehicle Fuel” – for Sustainable City Network about his company’s work, the process of turning biogas into usable vehicle fuel and some interesting facts about this renewable energy source.

The customary process for turning biogas into a renewable energy source seems simple enough. A lot needs to be removed from biogas after it has been extracted from landfills and digesters and before it can be used for energy. First, the biogas goes through hydrogen sulfide removal and then it is compressed. The gas needs to be completely dry, and so the moisture removal process is crucial. Once this is complete, the gas enters a Siloxane, Volatile Organice Compounds (VOC) and Carbon Dioxide removal process and then the fuel is ready for use in boilers, turbines and internal combustion (IC) engines. Unison Solutions notes that BioCNG™ is ready for use in CNG vehicle fueling stations and CNG vehicles at this point as well.
Source: BioCNG™

Jan Scott presented a bunch of inspiring tidbits about CNG in his webinar. The one that shocked me the most is that the US ranks 17th in the world for number of CNG vehicles on the roads (120,000 compared to more than 15.2 million worldwide). There are several existing reports about how much further along Europe is than we are in the states with these vehicles, but you’ll be interested to know that no European country is in the top five either. Nearly 19% of all CNG vehicles in the world are in Iran! Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and India complete the top five. Most of these countries are developing nations, yet they’ve managed to bring far more clean vehicles and the infrastructure that supports them to their roads than we have.

In 2011 alone, CNG vehicles offset the use of over 350 MILLION gallons of gas. AND 40% of all waste haulers purchased in the same year were CNG. Imagine what we could do if we took alternative fuel and vehicles a little more seriously in this country. To top this all off, CNG costs at least $1.50-$2.00 less per GGE (Gasoline Gallon Equivalent: 120,000 BTU/Gallon) than gasoline does. That’s huge! (Source: Jan Scott's webinar)

Source: Unison Solutions

So, not to sound like a broken record, but we have a lot of concepts and technology out there to get cleaner vehicles on our country's roads. This stuff is far from untapped, but it can certainly seem that way when I look at how much other countries have accomplished in this area. America… let’s do better. Seriously.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Look For Your Climate Credit in October





       
Look for a Climate Credit from the State of California on Your October Utility Bill

This month your electricity bill will include a credit identified as the "California Climate Credit." Twice a year, in April and October*, your household and millions of others throughout the state will receive this credit on your electricity bills.  

The Climate Credit is a payment to Californians from a program designed to fight climate change by limiting the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that our largest industries put into the atmosphere.
This program is one of many developed as a result of landmark legislation called the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which puts California at the forefront of efforts to battle climate change. Other programs under this law increase clean, renewable forms of electricity, promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses, and require cleaner fuels, and more efficient cars and trucks.
Together, these programs will aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere–helping to clean the air and protect our food, water, and public health, as well as the beauty of our state.

The Climate Credit is designed to help you join with California in its efforts to fight climate change and clean the air. You can use the savings on your electricity bills however you choose, but you can save even more money by investing the bill savings from your Climate Credit in energy-saving home upgrades, including more efficient lights and appliances. You can find more information and receive rebates for these and many other energy efficient choices for your home at www.EnergyUpgradeCA.org/credit.

California's greenhouse gas reduction programs provide a range of powerful solutions to help slow climate change, one of the greatest challenges facing society. By gradually reducing emissions each year and moving to cleaner forms of energy, we are taking an important step to preserve the health and prosperity of our state for generations to come.

* Billing periods vary by utility and may not always coincide with a calendar month. If you don't see a Climate Credit in the bill that arrives in October, it will appear in the bill you receive in November.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric companies and serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy. For more information about our work contact us at:
news@cpuc.ca.gov, 800-253-0500, or visit www.cpuc.ca.gov

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SJVCEO Monthly Update

Our SJVCEO team continues to master the art of energy efficiency within our participating jurisdictions and put projects into motion. Each day we come to work with a new scope of work to tackle to save others dollars and energy, and enjoy every minute of it!

                A few of our team members have completed hands on training for integrated demand side management. This course was presented by Southern California Edison and was centered on response programs that can benefit municipality’s utility bills. The presenter also discussed distributed generation and energy storage technologies. The demand response historical data is currently being incorporated into the project tracking database that SJVCEO is creating for its municipalities and utility partners.

                Lastly, a few of our team members attended the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley Summit. 

Sarah Farell, our program administrator (and head of our Seattle office) was in town to attend the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley annual summit. This event provided an opportunity for individuals, local governments, educational institutions, and businesses alike to share currents about the Valley as well as potential and up-and-coming events and projects in industries such as agriculture, water, housing, workforce development, energy, transportation, health care, and education. The event also celebrates the work of a variety of groups. This year, a “kudos” award went to the co-chairs of the San Joaquin Valley Electric Vehicle Partnership, Jeannie Lam of Nissan North America and Terry O’Day of NRG eVgo. This Partnership was set up through the WIB RICO grant by its Action Team which includes the SJVCEO, Fresno State Office of Community and Economic Development, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Cities Coalition, Kern Community College District, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

As we move into the month of October our team is ramping up for all ten of our community outreach events. During these events our team goes out into the community and shows residence how easy it is to become energy efficient and save! Also, we have some great giveaway items that draw in the crowds and in return they walk away with a bit of energy knowledge. Stay tuned to the SJVCEO and VIEW website to see what upcoming events may be taking place in your neighborhood.

                With the mention of the website, that leads us to a very exciting update on our website work. SJVCEO and the VIEW partnership will be receiving a website an update this year. We will be rolling out both of our websites in the coming months, so stay tuned. All of us here at SJVCEO are very excited and we hope that you are too!


Stay tuned for next month’s update on what the SJVCEO team has been up to!


               

                

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Energy Use Tracking Now at Your Fingertips


Tracking your energy usage in the past has been a pain for many home owners and business owners alike. Now in 2014 there are many options available for download on your smartphone. Having your energy usage at your fingertips can make it easy to see when and how you can conserve and SAVE!

Most applications offered are compatible with iPhone and Android operating systems. Most of all they are generally FREE! We have done some investigating and found the top 5 ranking energy tracking/efficiency apps available today. (Note: these apps are not listed in ranking order)

1.      Kill-Ur-Watts
This app allows you to track your monthly energy usage month-to-month as well as show you what your carbon footprint may be. The app will also make recommendations for how to conserve energy based on your energy usage.

This app lets you put in the wattage information of your appliances so that you gain a clear picture of what it costs to operate them. The cost is based on watts, hours of use and the cost of electricity in your area.

3.      VELObill
This app works as a dashboard of energy usage for the consumer. It will give you insight into where your energy consumption is coming from and how you rank compared to your neighbors. This app goes beyond the others and allows you to measure water and natural gas usage if you have those as well.On top of it all the app will help you identify trouble areas and propose ways to reduce your overall utility bill.

4.      Electrify
This app has a main focus on energy efficient home improvements and lowering monthly utility bills. It will provide you with a range of calculators and guides that will help reduce your energy consumption and energy loss.

5.      Leafully
This app will allow you to see your energy use habits and alert you when your usage is out of the ordinary. It also allows you to see how many trees it will take to offset your carbon footprint.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Advanced Transportation RICO Grant Overview

The California Workforce Investment Board and the California Energy Commission are working with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency to fund the AB 118 Regional Industry Clusters of Opportunity (RICO) grant program. If you’re unaware of Assembly Bill 118, it created an ARFV (Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle) technologies program that funds innovative fuel and vehicle technology projects so that California’s climate goals can be met.

I know that was all a mouthful, but consider this: the RICO grant program will develop and implement ways to strengthen local economies and build the alternative fuel and vehicle workforce in California.

What does that mean and who cares, you ask? Well, transportation fuels account for 38% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. So if we build the ARFV industry, we’ll find cleaner, more efficient ways to transport goods and people. To design and manufacture these new methods of transportation, we’ll need skilled engineers, chemists, machinists, salespersons, etc. Hello new, expanded workforce! And hello stronger economies!

Photo Source: http://www.energy.ca.gov/
The San Joaquin Valley has been taking charge when it comes to developing new alternative fuels and new fuel production methods. For example, an old beet sugar plant in Mendota is making a comeback with a new output. Instead of converting sugar beets into various forms of sugar, a team of farmers are using a state grant to turn beets into ethanol. The demo plant is set to start production early next year and, if it’s successful, a commercial plant will follow in 2016-2017. Production at both would use local beets and run all year long.

The SJVCEO’s role is to promote and generate focus on this grant program through education and outreach. Now that we are nearly a year into this grant process, we have found several industry employers all over the Valley interested in our efforts. We launched a CNG Partnership, a Biofuels Partnership and an EV Partnership. While the EV Partnership has had the most success, we are still dedicated to expanding the efforts of all ARFV industry employers throughout the Valley. Our air is so polluted and we contribute to it daily with how much we all individually drive, it has only become necessary to bring alternative and renewable fuels and vehicles to this region.

Keep an eye out for press releases about Partnership meetings and join us! We hope to see you and hear from you about our efforts and how we can expand this industry in the Valley.