Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nissan reveals more about LEAF rollout, Hawaii sales

Nissan on Tuesday unveiled more of its strategy for selling the all-electric LEAF.

The automaker announced an agreement with the state of Hawaii to build a charging network throughout in the state. Nissan also revealed its plan for sending out the first of its vehicles later this year.

Consumers who reserved the cars -- about 18,600 -- received more information about available options, color and trim packages. The price tag for the SV package was listed as $32,780, while the SL package was $33,720. The SV includes a photovoltaic spoiler, rearview monitor and universal transceiver.

A quick-charge option on the SL costs an additional $700, enabling the driver to charge the LEAF to 80 percent in 30 minutes at high-voltage public charging stations.

Those who signed up first get preference, the company says.

The deal with Hawaii was announced at the week-long Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo in Honolulu. The cars will be available in Hawaii in January 2011.

Nissan said last month it will debut its all-electric LEAF in California and four other states in December. General Motors is expected to allow consumers to drive off in its Chevy Volt this fall.

Hawaii created a $4,500 state tax credit toward the purchase of an electric vehicle and a $500 state tax credit toward the purchase and installation of a home charging station. That paired with an available $7,500 federal tax credit, could bring the price of a Nissan LEAF to as low as $20,780 for Hawaii consumers, company officials said.

"Nissan is a global leader in electric vehicles, and the state of Hawaii has shown similar leadership through its progressive policies and focus on clean energy," said Brian Carolin, senior vice president of sales and Marketing for Nissan North America, in a statement.

The Nissan and Hawaii charging infrastructure deal should ease concerns about cars going dead on an extended trip. For many, the lack of range is a big concern that may push some to opt for Chevy's Volt.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle was pleased with the plan. "Nissan is playing an important role in helping us achieve the goal of reducing our dependence on imported oil," she said.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye said more than 90 percent of the fuel and energy consumed in the state is from imported oil. "Hawaii should serve as a model of what is possible when government and business collaborate to plan a path forward into an energy efficient future," he said.

The Nissan LEAF is a five-passenger compact that has a top speed of 90 mph. Its lithium-ion batteries provide the car with a range of 100 miles, which Nissan officials estimate will be enough to satisfy the daily driving needs of more than 90 percent of Americans and to circle Oahu.

Housing Administrator Puts Foot Down Re: PACE

The New York Times is reporting that homeowners who financed energy-efficiency upgrades through PACE-type programs will have to repay the "loans" before they can refinance their properties.
Property Assessed Clean Energy programs allow homeowners to finance improvements through a line item on their property tax. A lien is placed against the property, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said today that borrowers with equity have to pay them off before they can refinance loans. Those without equity can refinance with the lien in place.

PACE proponents contend the assessments are not loans, and shouldn't be subject to those rules.

t's obvious that the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Freddie and Fannie, isn't interested in resolving the dispute over PACE. It's important because Fresno and Kern counties were to participate in a pilot program that would have allowed homeowners to finance improvements.
Here's more from the Times' blog.

Algae research taps electricity, fuel

Algae is more than just pond scum.

It's a potential power source. The green glop that forms in fetid pools and in nutrient soaked ground fed by overflowing septic systems increasingly is being investigated for properties beyond the "ugh" factor.

At Stanford University, a team of scientists has figured a way to extract a tiny portion of electrical current from algae cells. Gwyneth Dickey at the Stanford News Service wrote that the team was "able to draw from each cell just one picoampere, an amount of electricity so tiny that they would need a trillion cells photosynthesizing for one hour just to equal the amount of energy stored in a AA battery."

The power comes from photosynthesis, the process through which a plant converts sunlight to energy.

Dickey quoted WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters, as saying he believes the Stanford team is the first to extract electrons from living plant cells. However, Ryu said there is a long way to go to put such power generation to any commercial use. "We're still in the scientific stages," he said.

However, in Nano Letters, he offered a more effusive account: "This result may represent an initial step in generating 'high efficiency' bioelectricity by directly harvesting high energy photosynthetic electrons."

University of California, Merced graduate student Patrick Wiley is also investigating the power potential of algae.

Wiley will work in Santa Cruz cultivating algae in ocean-floating bags and with a University of California, Berkeley group also developing ways to generate power with algae.

Here's what Elliott told us in a past post: "The synergistic opportunity that is most apparent to me for the Valley is between wastewater and algae biofuels. Finding cost-effective ways to produce algae biofuels is a real challenge. The San Joaquin Valley may be a good place to think about economic solutions where existing algae wastewater ponds can be combined with algae biofuels production."

And last month, Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research said algae is among the substances being investigated with "significant investments" for commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.

Research into algae, especially as it relates to biofuels, has been going on for years and is expected to continue. UC Berkeley Professor Kris Niyogi said the amount of energy required to produce fuel from algae is an important question, as it is for any type of alternative energy.

"Inevitably, there are going to be energy inputs that are necessary to produce a fuel from algae, just as there are for other biofuels, such as corn ethanol," he said in an interview with Nova on PBS last year. "For algae, energy will be needed to build the ponds or photobioreactors, to mix the water and provide carbon dioxide and other nutrients, to harvest and concentrate the algal cells from large volumes of water, and to make and transport the biodiesel product.

"I don't think there is a clear answer yet for algae. A lot of engineers are hard at work trying to minimize the energy inputs and maximize the net energy output."

Photo: Courtesy Wilson Lab at Auburn University.

Monday, August 30, 2010

New car consumers to get more than MPG

A proposed overhaul of existing fuel economy ratings would add environmental performance and cost comparisons to new cars' window stickers.

Vehicles also would be issued a letter grade.

That means along with checking out miles-per-gallon ratings, consumers at new car lots also would get the chance to study information on a model's smog production and its impact on public health. The proposals were issued Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We are asking the American people to tell us what they need to make the best economic and environmental decisions when buying a new car,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement. “New fuel economy labels will keep pace with the new generation of fuel efficient cars and trucks rolling off the line and provide simple, straightforward updates to inform consumers about their choices in a rapidly changing market.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said it's all about new technology: electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. “We need to provide consumers with labels that include fuel economy and environmental information so that buyers can make better informed decisions when purchasing new vehicles,” he said.

There are two proposed labels. The agencies request that those interested review the labels at http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/ and submit comments to newlabels@epa.gov.

The one that jumps out offers a letter grade prominently. How willing will consumers be to purchase a vehicle that pulls a D? Depends. Does that D also pull a big boat all the way to Shaver Lake or the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta? Or does it tow a horse or steer trailer in high winds up the pass?

Then the answer is: Give me towing capacity or I'll get a truck with a rebuilt 454.

DOT and EPA say the changes are part of an effort to follow the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which specifically calls on them to rate available vehicles according to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming pollutants. The new design also is to provide consumers with an estimated fuel cost savings over five years compared to an average gasoline-powered vehicle of the same model year.

For electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the agencies are proposing to show energy use by translating electricity consumption into MPG equivalent and energy use in terms of kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.

The moves are sure to generate a lot of debate. Here's a past back and forth on edmunds.com between folks who appear to be from the automotive press discussing the finer points of measuring fuel consumption and establishing ratings.

Community Colleges Going Green Summit

Community colleges such as West Hills in Lemoore, Firebaugh and Coalinga are on the front lines of the efforts to "green" America's workforce.

Toward that end comes the Green California Community College Summit Oct. 12 and 13 in Pasadena.

Speakers include Doug Henton, chairman and chief executive of Collaborative Economics, who will discuss green job development in California, and Alec Loorz, the teenage founder of Kids Vs. Global Warming.

Professionals in career technical education, workforce investment boards and economic development are encouraged to attend.
Participants will learn about CALGreen, the state's new green-building code that is effective in January 2011.

The event is at the Pasadena Convention Center. Information: Cindy Dangberg, summit director, 626-577-5700, cdangberg@green-technology.org.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wind Turbines Mess Up Military Radar

The Southern California deserts are proving popular with developers of solar energy. That's not necessarily the case with wind projects.

As this article from the New York Times says, the blades of energy-generating wind turbines can resemble storm systems on the military's weather radar, confusing pilots and controllers. No serious incidents have been reported, but the military is beginning to oppose wind-energy projects in regions close to military bases.

That's kind of ironic because another agency within the federal government, the Department of Energy, has been pushing wind and other types of renewable energy.

Wind energy isn't a huge player in the San Joaquin Valley, although Tehachapi east of Bakersfield is home to 5,000 turbines. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this issue has on development of wind energy. Some experts expect new types of coatings and construction materials could be a solution.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Housing Regulator Still Won't Support PACE

The agency that oversees Fannie Mae still doesn't like or will support PACE programs, telling Congress that the program is unlikely to go forward.

GRIST has all the depressing news in this blog post. PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy program, is an innovative way for homeowners and commercial landlords to pay for energy-efficiency upgrades through a property tax assessment.

It's not a loan, but the Federal Housing Finance Agency still can't seem to approve it. It matters to us because Fresno and Kern counties were getting ready to participate in a pilot PACE program and there was hope it would be rolled out to other cities and counties in the San Joaquin Valley - where families suffer from high power bills and low incomes, both of which PACE would help address through energy and cost savings.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Will clean energy dump the perception that it's too costly?

The concept that clean energy costs more than fossil fuels appears to be getting more holes by the day.

Energy efficiency retrofits provide companies near immediate relief, and even the feds predict the apples-to-apples price of solar will reach grid parity -- as in costing the same as run-of-the-mill utility power -- within five years.

But nothing offers the crystal clarity of this statistic, spelled out in big bold numbers by the International Energy Agency in a report released this summer. The IEA says its analysis has revealed that fossil fuel consumption subsidies amounted to $557 billion in 2008.

That's big money. Really big money.

Green energy, by comparison, gets a pittance. London-based research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance says, "governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits."

Perspective is everything. And the amount attached to fossil fuels is likely quite conservative. The IEA didn't factor in the cost of wars, environmental degradation and human suffering, not to mention the huge amounts traditional energy companies spend lobbying governments for favorable treatment.

Andrew Winston, author and environmental strategist, laid it all out on Huffington Post. "That 12-to-1 ratio of dirty-to-clean subsidies is surely understated," Winston wrote, also pointing that "the notion that fossil fuels do not rely on subsidies is absurd."

Winston argues that the fear that a green economy will kill existing jobs is short-sighted. He said that indeed some jobs will suffer -- those in the oil and coal industries perhaps. But studies have shown green energy has the potential to produce millions of new jobs.

Surveys of private sector corporations and small business show increased spending on energy efficiency and about a third hiring to beef up environmental departments. A study showed building green costs about the same as conventional methods and that more companies and businesses are signing on.

And earlier this year, a U.S. Department of Energy-funded report titled "Energy Efficiency Services Sector: Workforce Education and Training Needs" said the "green" sector will grow four-fold by 2020 to about 1.3 million jobs.

Many people out there may be wondering when and where, especially those out of work or in jobs that pay a fraction of their former salaries. The answer is uncertain and depends on a number of unpredictable variables.

But something will happen.

For instance, a recent story in Time says Recovery Act stimulus funds -- although slow to reach the public in many forms -- have served as a giant venture capital fund.

Michael Grunwald writes, "The Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S.

"The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet."

Grunwald acknowledges the poor performance of the weatherization program, which has so far show paltry progress, especially in California with .03 percent of stimulus funds spent as of earlier this summer. But he says its effect is unprecedented in the green sector.

Also joining in on the private sector have been big players like Wal-Mart. It pledges to seek sustainability and urges all its suppliers to do the same. It's a business decision.

"Creating new technologies and products, building greener buildings and businesses, and just plain using less energy to do it all: those actions will make almost all companies more profitable," Winston said.

Clean Energy Alliance Forms In California

So, here we are in Fresno, the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. It's hot, with high power bills (mine was almost as much as my house payment), is rich with renewable energy resources and has chronically high unemployment.

I can't think of a better place for clean-energy technology and energy-efficiency programs. Which is why a new alliance of California businesses, labor, community and environmental leaders sounds promising.

It's called California Apollo Program, and its goal is to create a comprehensive strategy for creating clean-energy jobs in a state famous for innovation and technological advancement.

Hopefully, the alliance will include representatives from the San Joaquin Valley, which can benefit more than most from new jobs and programs that reduce power bills and create alternative forms of energy for farmers and manufacturers.

"The Apollo Alliance will work with our diverse coalition of business, labor, community and environmental leaders to ensure our state seizes the opportunity to invest in California businesses and create new jobs producing the clean technologies of the future," said Phil Angelides, chairman of the national Apollo Alliance, a broader group with similar goals.

The formation of the new group comes when California's landmark climate bill, AB32, is under assault. Proposed legislation, Proposition 23, would suspend AB 32 and goes before the voters in November.

The Apollo Alliance has an ambitious agenda. Here is just a bit of it:

  • Generate 33% of California's power from renewable resources by 2020;

  • Retrofit existing buildings and ensure new construction is green;

  • Support public/private R&D partnerships;

  • Help manufacturers retool factories and retrain employees to produce clean-energy products;

  • Promote "Buy California: and "Buy America" policies'

  • Recycle and reuse in California.

A partial list of endorsers include SunPower Corporation, Natural Resources Defense Council, State Building & Construction Trades Council of California and California Energy Efficiency Industry Council.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Weatherizing: N.H. does good, California not so much

Vice President Joe Biden today extolled a Recovery Act milestone of 200,000 homes weatherized nationwide.

"Thanks to the Recovery Act, thousands of construction workers across the country are now on the job making energy-saving home improvements that will save working families hundreds of dollars a year on their utility bills," he said in a statement.

Biden made his comments while visiting the Manchester, N.H. home of the Dumont family, which is expected to save over $600 a year on its utility bills. The vice president picked New Hampshire because of its success with the program, which is a component of stimulus spending.

He did not choose California for his face to face with the media for good reason. The state has not done well spending Weatherization Assistance Program funds.

Gregory H. Friedman, Department of Energy Inspector General, issued a scathing report earlier this year ripping the state and many others for their lack of distributing money and implementing programs meant to get people jobs. Friedman said of the 43,400 homes California planned to weatherize, just a dozen of them for .03 percent had been retrofitted by the time his report was released Feb. 19.

"Because the consequences of the lack of progress by grantees in the implementation of the Weatherization Program were so significant, we found this data alarming," he said. "In short, the Nation has not, to date, realized the potential economic benefits of the $5 billion in Recovery Act funds allocated to the Weatherization Program."

Of course that was then. The California Community and Services Department has moved forward with other grants to spread the weatherization money, but little of it appears to have hit the street.

Not so in New Hampshire. The Manchester area organization weatherizing Dumont family home has already hired seven new full-time employees and an estimated 68 subcontractors.

Biden said New Hampshire has been one of the nation's weatherization leaders, ramping up quickly and effectively to reach their goals ahead of schedule, weatherizing more than 1,000 homes by June.

Here's to that momentum spreading elsewhere. Friedman was none too pleased with his review Aug. 11 of another Recovery Act program, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Program. It also has problems busting free of government regulation and getting to the street.

"Due to a number of institutional impediments at all levels, these goals have yet to be met," he said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Solar costs to drop by half in five years?

Quite a bit has been said about the price of solar. Even I was turned off by the up-front costs of between $20,000 and $26,000 to add panels to the roof of my house.

However, new data show the price of electricity generated by the sun could soon could cost no more or less than electricity from the grid, according to a report touting Recovery Act spending released by Vice President Joe Biden this week.

"The cost of solar is forecast to reach grid parity over the next five years in many parts of the country," the report said, citing information from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Technologies Program. "This means homeowners, who pay an average retail cost of about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, or kWh, for electricity from the grid, and utility companies, which have average wholesale power costs closer to 5 cents/kWh, can use solar power without paying a premium over fossil-based electricity."

Much depends on development of solar thin-film technology, which comes in two main varieties: cadmium telluride, or Cd-Te, and copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS. The report, "The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy Through Innovation," said this would cut existing prices for solar power in half.

Further price reductions are expected, they could take years.

"If breakthroughs in technology can bring costs down to $0.06/kWh by 2030, solar power will be cheaper than retail electricity from the grid, even without government incentives," the report said. "At that cost, an average household with rooftop solar panels could save more than $400 each year in electricity bills."

By 2030, I'll be 70. Wonder if I'll still care? Probably.

Stephanie Powers of investopedia.com takes on the topic in a recent post. Her conclusion: It's still too expensive. Citing a U.S. Energy Information Administration report, she wrote, "The average cost of solar power is almost four times as much as traditional coal burning electric generation. The costs are difficult to compare due to the widely disparate nature of individual technologies but the net result is that startup costs are steep."

Many consider coal a viable option with about 30 new electricity-producing plants planned. It's dirtier, but cheaper and at this point obviously makes economic sense to those putting up the cash.

We burned coal in Fairbanks, Alaska (city motto: "We're way cooler than Fresno") our first winter in 1969, and it left a layer of gray dust on everything. We moved from the rented two-car garage into a new log cabin we had built with thick walls, doubled-up multi-paned windows and wood heat. Much cleaner.

Wood was a little more expensive, but spruce and birch smelled better than the sub-bituminous coal from the Usibelli Mine just up from Mount McKinley Park.

The same analogy could be used on solar: a little more costly but it doesn't dust you up with guilt.

But solar's making headway. While the U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest figures released this month show that just 0.6 percent of California's power comes from solar -- and 3.7 percent from wind -- a post by my colleague Sandy Nax says a bunch of new projects could obliterate that number in the state.

And Katy Rank Lev of Mother Nature Network wrote earlier this month about a study by researchers at Duke University in North Carolina that says solar power has become cheaper than nuclear power. She writes, the researchers "found that the cost of 'producing photovoltaic cells has been dropping for years ... at the same time, estimated costs for building new nuclear power plants have ballooned.' Thus, it's cheaper to put solar panels on houses than to build a new nuclear power plant to service them."

So, while solar is about twice the price now of electricity from the grid, it is expected to drop. But it needs people to buy in. Demand drives innovation and all that. And I'm not even bringing up the not-so-hidden environmental cost of fossil fuels.

We'll be watching.

Energy Commission Licenses Big Solar Project In Kern

Earlier, we said that California could become a major player in the solar industry by placing projects on its vast expanses of desert and fallow farmland.

The California Energy Commission took a big step in that direction today when it blessed a large solar thermal power plant - the first in about two decades - near California City in Kern County, the New York Times reported. The license for the 250-megawatt Beacon Solar Energy Project was approved for more than 2,000 acres of former farmland.

The project was not without its critics. Water was an issue until developers agreed to pipe in recycled liquid. The developers are also without a power contract, but are currently negotiating a purchase agreement.

It could be the first of many projects to come.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley

Southern California Desert: Solar Central

It's supposed to be 110 degrees today in Fresno, where I sit in an air-conditioned office writing this blog about an even hotter portion of California - a region that could possibly become Solar Central.

Could the desert regions of San Bernardino, Imperial and Riverside counties become the world's largest solar resource? If approved, large-scale solar projects proposed for the isolated federal land will cover nearly 20,000 acres and, according to this New York Times story, generate enough power for 1.6 million houses.

The projects would triple the amount of solar energy produced in the United States, but issues remain. The nine projects, though being fast tracked, face a time crunch. To qualify for federal stimulus funds, they have to be under construction by year's end.

There also are environmental concerns with projects this big, including the existence of endangered species. In this case, the solar operators will have to relocate native desert tortoises.

Could this serve as a model for the central San Joaquin Valley? As more farmland goes out of production, solar companies are talking about moving in. The land is laser flat, close to transmission lines and, as this story says, isn't home to endangered wildlife.

The Westlands Water District already has a proposal in place. An emerging solar industry in the San Joaquin Valley would produce badly needed renewable energy and jobs in a region where power bills are high, incomes are low and the unemployment rate is among the highest in the state.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Grant expected for mobile biofuel producer

A Santa Barbara company that has developed a mobile biodiesel plant appears close to winning a California Energy Commission grant to further its technology.

Biodiesel Industries Inc. announced Tuesday that it had been selected for a $886,815 grant under the state's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program.

For the past seven years the company says it has worked with the U.S. Navy under a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement to "design, develop and deploy modular biodiesel production systems capable of processing the widest possible array of feedstocks."

The Biofuel Production Plants grant would provide funding to develop California-based biofuel plants and enhance existing plants with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the company says. Funding is contingent on other projects.

Biodiesel Industries' centerpiece is its ARIES Bioenergy Project. ARIES stands for automated real-time remote integrated energy system and networks the various components of biofuel production. Under the grant, officials say "the system will be adapted to fully integrate algaculture, anaerobic digestion of waste products and self-generated combined heat and power."

Russell Teall, president and founder of Biodiesel Industries, said, "The work that will be conducted under this grant will have broad-based implications in both the military and civilian sectors. Energy independence has positive economic, security and environmental impacts that apply to U.S. domestic conditions, to Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan, to impoverished rural areas in emerging economies.

"There is a global effect from creating renewable, sustainable energy systems."

Work primarily will take place at Naval Base Ventura County at Port Hueneme, Calif.

Photo: Biodiesel Industries Inc. portable production unit.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How shale gas is changing the world

Say something like "We've got gas" in a crowded room and you may send the wrong impression.

I'd get "the look" from my wife.

However, in this case, having gas -- lots of it -- is a good thing.

New technology has improved the ability to extract natural gas from very hard sedimentary rock called shale. Improvements in hydraulic fracturing in which the rock is split in the depths of the earth and injected with sand to provide a conduit for trapped gas reservoirs coupled with horizontal or directional drilling have given producers the tools to economically bring product to market, said Chris Jent, a spokesman for independent oil and natural gas producer Triple Diamond Energy Corp. in an article on ezinearticles.com. Triple Diamond is based in Addison, Texas.

"Much of the gas in the Texas Barnett Shale is lodged beneath the City of Fort Worth," Jent said. "Horizontal Drilling has helped create a financial windfall for the city."

These developments are such a big deal that they have given the United States an entirely new source for fuel.

"The U.S. shale gas phenomenon has transformed global energy markets," said David L. Goldwyn, U.S. State Department coordinator for International Energy Affairs at a briefing on the Global Shale Gas Initiative Conference in Washington, D.C. today. "Because we have discovered and we have the technology to develop efficiently large quantities of gas from shale, global prices of liquefied natural gas have decreased.

"Gas has become cheaper. Gas is now competitive with coal on a BTU basis, which means that countries that might use coal can now not make an economic choice, but on a competitive basis choose gas for their next level of power generation."

The conference drew representatives from 20 countries and a number of U.S. regulatory agencies. The purpose was to help other countries develop their own resources "safely and efficiently," Goldwyn said.

In light of the Gulf Oil Spill, safety has morphed into an even bigger concern when extracting underground resources.

Goldwyn called shale a terrific boon for global energy security. He also said many countries and hundreds of millions of people need access to electricity and diversity of energy supply -- making the issue of great concern to the State Department.

Another benefit, he said, is improving the climate.

Goldwyn said 10 percent of U.S. production comes from shale gas and that reserves have increased eight-fold over the past 10 years. He said projections from the National Security Council show about 30 percent of future gas supply in the United States, Canada and China coming from unconventional sources such as shale-type gas and coal bed methane.

"For the U.S., this has been a game-changer in the sense that we thought we were on the decline and now we’re very significantly on the rise," he said.

Graphic: lngpedia.com

Envelope yourself in sun power

Sci-fi writer Phillip Jose Farmer wrapped his best stories in fascinating and mind-boggling concepts.

In his Riverworld novels, everybody who died since the beginning of the human race reappeared suddenly on another planet to live without dying. In the Dayworld trilogy, man is allowed only to live one day a week because of overpopulation, spending the other six days in stasis.

Such concept story-telling aptly describes a technology under development by a team at the University of Southern California that eventually could mean solar T-shirts at the Gap.

"Imagine people powering their cellular phone or music/video device while jogging in the sun," Gomez De Arco, a team member, told alternative-energy-news.info.

Researchers combined organic photovoltaic cells, which use organic polymers to absorb light and convert it energy, with transparent graphene films to create the flexible power-producing material. "Graphene solar cells demonstrated outstanding capability to operate under bending conditions," according to a paper the team published in science journal ACS Nano. "Our work indicates the great potential of CVD graphene films for flexible photovoltaic applications."

Definitely cool. Apply a coating to Iron Man's suit of armor and all he has to do after battling a superfoe is fly into the sun to recharge. Or slap a layer of the stuff all over my 1974 Super Beetle and I'll never have a dead battery. Plus it might keep the paint from oxidizing further.

The USC team includes Chongwu Zhou, Cody W. Schlenker, Koungmin Rye, Mark E. Thompson, Yi Zhang and De Arco.

Alternative Energy wrote while the graphene-organic photovoltaics don't produce electricity nearly as efficiently as standard silicon panels, they make up for that lack with "low cost, conductivity, stability, electrode/organic film compatibility, and easy availability along with flexibility."

Farmer in his heyday could have worked with the possibilities and taken solar on graphene to even greater heights. Then again, 3M may do the same thing in a couple of years.

Who knows?

Photo: Worldchanging.com
Graphic: ACS Nano

Study: Clean Energy Is The Best National Defense

The San Joaquin Valley is home to Naval Air Station Lemoore, so anything military related is big news here. That should be even more reason to take notice of a study that makes some remarkable recommendations regarding energy, national security and what role the Department of Defense should play.

A military advisory board, in a recent report, says that the nation's dependence on fossil fuels leaves us "unacceptably vulnerable" to hostile nations, and is bad foreign policy. We've referenced the study previously, but dive deeper into it and you come up with some pretty startling stuff. Here's a sample:

"Economically, the nation's heavy oil dependence diverts hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy ($386 billion transferred overseas in 2008 and $350 billion in 2009) and leaves American businesses and governmental agencies vulnerable to unpredictable price volatility...Declining supplies combined with increasing global demand will have severe impacts on the American economy and our ability to remain militarily strong."

At the same time, the report, compiled by some heavy hitters in the military, suggests that a green revolution, while difficult to create, would present great opportunities. The Department of Defense, because of its size, extensive experience in technological innovation and the considerable amount of energy it consumes ($20 billion of its budget goes toward energy and every $10 increase in the per-barrel price of oil costs the department an additional $1.3 billion), is uniquely positioned to lead the charge.

The advisers suggest combining research activities, intellectual capital and budgets of the Departments of defense and energy to create a world-leading clean-energy program, using defense installations as test sites.

Mix in resources from private business, universities (hello, University of California, Merced), and NASA, and you've got a pretty powerful brain trust. In fact, some joint efforts are occurring. Today, the California Energy Commission tentatively approved a grant to help develop biodiesel at a Navy base in Ventura County.

Of course, it won't be easy, and the United States is already falling behind. Spain, Germany, China and even Abu Dhabi, which possesses nearly 10% of the world's proven oil reserves, have launched significant clean-energy initiatives.

Abu Dhabi apparently wants to attract investors and entrepreneurs and become the Silicon Valley of renewable energy.

Why can't we as a nation and California as a state take that leadership role? This state already leads in computer technology, movie making and agriculture. Clean energy could be next.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another company embraces solar

Here's another example of a major corporation jumping onto the solar bandwagon.

AT&T plans six projects throughout California that amount to 2 megawatts, officials said today.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was on hand to flip the switch at one of them, a 296-kilowatt roof-top installation in his city. The projects will be installed with solar energy services provider SunEdison and be completed by the end of next year.

While relatively small by corporate standards, the projects add to an increasing stable by major U.S. companies. Wal-Mart has undertaken a significant energy efficiency role with its facilities and those of its suppliers and says that it plans to eventually get 100 percent of its energy from renewable resources.

And other companies and governments are increasingly interested in offsetting electrical costs through sun power. The Gap has a 1-megawatt system spanning about 5 acres in Fresno, while California State University, Fresno added solar to covered parking and the airport installed solar to offset its costs.

Sanders said solar makes sense. "Our residents and businesses have embraced clean energy, which not only benefits our environment, but also our region's economy," he said.

Green jobs -- they just make sense.

Photo: Solar at Fresno State.

Electric vehicle anxiety: How will Joe Consumer spell relief?

The scarcity of electric cars on U.S. roadways is expected to change in coming months as two major automakers begin selling models geared to Joe Consumer.

But recharging remains an issue. Very few fast-recharge stations have been installed along Interstate 5, although a number are planned. That lack of recharge availability could result in something I'll call electric-charge anxiety:

"Will I make it, or will I run out of juice?"

Tow truck operators are ready. Believe me, I know. Owning a 74 Super Beetle as a daily driver meant I required wrecker services frequently.

Pike Research, a clean energy research consultant based in Boulder, Colo., has forecast that 4.7 million charging stations will be built in the next five years. However, there's a caveat in the wording of the Pike report summary.

The phrase, "This evolution will require the ongoing buildout," denotes that demand dictates the growth of "residential equipment to public, private and workplace charging stations" capable of charging a spent electric vehicle battery.

Should sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf prove lackluster, how will executives of Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment, a manufacturer of a fast charger, react? Will the company and others like it commit millions to develop road-side charging stations?

Or will charging stations be limited to clusters like those proposed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which plans to build 50 fast chargers and 2,000 public chargers around San Francisco? Jake Richardson of Care2.com called it a big step.

Hard to tell.

“The success of hybrid vehicles in the 2000s gave drivers a taste for propulsion by electric power,” said Pike senior analyst John Gartner in a statement. "And governments around the world are now highly focused on creating the charging infrastructure to support the arrival of EVs in significant numbers.”

Yet, Pike also said “the economics of selling a few kilowatt hours per charge are very challenging" and that development of charging stations largely will be done by government money. And that's a tough call in this economic climate.

Gartner said he expects that by 2015, more than 3.1 million electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, will be sold worldwide.

Pike did offer clarity to the private-sector charger free-for-all.

The company said the market for electric charging equipment is likely to become crowded by the end of next year. "While the initial wave of vendors was led by niche vendors such as AeroVironment, Better Place, Coulomb Technologies, and ECOtality, heavyweight technology players such as GE, Panasonic, Samsung, and Siemens are now making bold moves into the space."

Whether that's enough to put a recharger where you need one on a freeway or remote highway will be what commuters of electric vehicles will be asking.

Photo: Nissan Leaf due out this year.

Green Building Certifications to Grow

About 1.2 million square feet of commercial and campus structures between Merced and Bakersfield are LEED certified, but many more could obtain some sort of green certification in the next decade as environmental and energy awareness continue to increase.

A report by clean-energy consultant Pike Research says the amount of property certified as green could increase from 6 billion square feet worldwide to a whopping 53 billion square feet in only 10 years.

LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - is considered one of the highest ratings for sustainable construction. The number of structures achieving that rating, or other green certifications, should climb until 2020 because of new regulations, desire for better energy efficiency and lower power bills, the ability to command higher rents and property values and increasing awareness in all things green will drive the movement, researchers said.

"Green building techniques are increasingly becoming the standard within the architecture and construction industries," said research analyst Eric Bloom. . . "There are three major drivers behind green building certifications: environmental responsibility, reducing operating expenses through energy efficiency and regulatory requirements that mandate energy efficiency and certifications."

The "green" movement is expected to be evident in other industries too. Another report by Pike Research says investments in green data centers - in an effort to cut energy bills and carbon emissions - will climb over the next five years from $7.5 billion in global revenue to $41.4 billion - representing 28% of the entire market.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Shed more than a tear for clean water

One of the most iconic commercials I've ever seen shows a Native American in a hand-made traditional canoe paddling slowly from idylic natural surroundings into the garbage choked waterways of a big city port.

It ends with the Native American walking alongside a highway surveying what his country has become. A passerby in a car tosses a bag of garbage at his feet and he looks at the camera while the Dragnet-style voiceover says, "People start pollution. People can stop it."

The camera closes in on a tear sliding down his face.

To me, it said clean water and that image often comes to me anytime I'm around a river of any size whether it's the mighty Yukon in Alaska, the Skagit in Washington or the San Joaquin. And I wonder whether the river I'm looking at is getting better or worse.

Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its draft report on how it plans to keep that Native American and people like me from being disgusted when we look at a waterway.

The agency calls the effort Coming Together for Clean Water. The draft outlines how the EPA hopes to accomplish goals established by the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972 when President Nixon was in office.

I still have a pin that says, "Nixon: Now more than ever."

The EPA says, "We’re pleased to share this draft with you and welcome your comments." The approach focuses around "two thematic lines: 1) healthy watersheds, and 2) sustainable communities," the report says.

Solutions outlined include regualtion, of course, but also cooperation, partnerships and communication. It's all our business: corporation, business, resident, farmer, fisherman.

It's important stuff. Now more than ever.

The situation as outlined by the EPA sounds dire. "Recent surveys found that nutrient pollution, excess sedimentation, and degradation of shoreline vegetation affect upwards of 50 percent of our lakes and streams.

"In addition, recent National Water Quality Inventories have documented pathogens as a leading cause of river and stream impairments. Sources of these stressors vary regionally, but the main national sources of water degradation are: agriculture, stormwater runoff, habitat, hydrology and landscape modifications, municipal wastewater, and air deposition."

The report says pollutants have been detected in virtually all tested stream water and streambed sediment and about three-quarters of groundwater wells.


The draft strategy will be available for comment until Sept. 17. The EPA plans to have its final strategy by late this year. Until then, here's a link to Keep American Beautiful.

Stop by renewable energy festival if you're near Kempton, Pa.

It may be on the opposite side of the country from California, but another group with goals similar to the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is getting the word out on the benefits of going green.

The Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association for the sixth time plans its Pennsylvania Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Festival on Sept. 17 to 19 in Kempton, Pa. Organizers say the event draws thousands of visitors and has more than 100 presenters expected to "explore solar electricity, solar hot water, wind, micro-hydro, alternative transportation, energy efficiency and green building."

Agriculture is also a focus.

Similar to the SJVCEO's Farming Clean Energy Conference, which this season is scheduled to coincide with the World Ag Expo in Tulare on Feb. 8 to 10.

We figured it would be a good idea to give the group some ink (so to speak).

The Kempton, Pa. festival will feature about 200 exhibitors and "dozens" of alternative fuel vehicles, including Teslas, electric conversions, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. (Hmmm... looks like we've got to step it up this year.) The event also has a farmers market.

"We've got everything from highly technical talks on micro-hydro and green building to a sustainable fashion show and eARTh art gallery," said MAREA board member Karen George. "This year, the local chapter of the Sierra Club offered to manage our resource recovery efforts.

"There'll be stations around the festival for recycling, composting, and landfilling with facts at every station to help folks learn more about waste management that they'll use to complete a quiz and qualify for a prize. All of the food vendors are using compostable plates, cups, utensils, etc. The stations will be made up of receptacles donated by a local manufacturer/distributor. That's the other thing I love - that everyone comes together to give what they can to the effort to make the festival a success. It's amazing to be part of a such a huge collaboration."

7 Smarter - AKA "Greenest" - Cities in California

Seven municipalities in California - none of them in the San Joaquin Valley, where summer temperatures run into triple digits and residential power bills can reach four digits - have some of the best energy polices in the country, according to a recent ranking.

The Natural Resources Defense Council calls them "smarter" cities because they invested n green power, energy efficiency and conservation. Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Santa Clarita, all in the Golden State of California, made the list.

Here's why they did:

  • Long Beach: instituted first greenhouse gas emissions inventory in 2009 and founding member of The Climate Registry, an organization working toward greenhouse gas reduction and climate reporting;

  • Huntington Beach: Lots of green power, low per-capita energy consumption and policies to encourage energy generation;

  • Santa Clarita: Cutting usage of electricity by 1 million kilowatts and natural gas therms by 9,000 for a total savings of more than one million pounds of pollutants per year;

  • Oakland: Creation of Green Jobs Corps, which trains low-income residents in solar installation, energy-efficiency retrofits and green building;

  • San Francisco: Exploring the use of a wave farm;

  • Berkeley: Financing solar installation through a Sustainable Energy Funding District;

  • Santa Cruz: A green building program and Climate Action Teams, where groups of friends and neighbors calculate carbon dioxide missions of their actions.

All these cities should be commended for their efforts, but my favorite is Reno, a popular gambling resort in Nevada, not far from the border. It is more than 2,000 lights in its trademark 'Biggest Little City" arch with the LED variety and installed wind turbines atop City Hall.

I sure would like to city a San Joaquin Valley city on that list in the next few years.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

(Photo of Reno City Hall)

Toss old lessons about saving energy out the window

Growing up with a closet Jewish father raised in hiding in World War II Europe meant I learned a lot of life lessons.

Many were absolutely useless:
  • Don't turn on the furnace until Thanksgiving. He lived in Seattle, which meant ice-cold floors in the morning and layers of clothing at all times.
  • Save everything. The basement of my father's tiny house was crammed with plastic containers, old paint from 50-plus years of unfinished projects, a dismantled motorcycle, an old claw-foot tub filled with garden hoses, tables, our old foam-leaking sofa from the 1960s and pick-up load of empty egg cartons.
  • Turn off all lights. My Hungarian grandmother switched off all the lights and spent evenings using only the light of the TV to do her needlework.
There were more (just thinking about them makes me groan), but it's penchant for turning off lights that my family shared with a majority of the American public. A recent report that I first caught sight of on greentechmedia.com says that when asked for the most effective energy-saving strategy, most participants in an online survey mentioned turning off lights and driving less rather than installing more efficient light bulbs and appliances. This conflicts with experts’ recommendations, according to "Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings," a survey of about 500 by Shahzeen Z. Attaria, Michael L. DeKayb, Cliff I. Davidsonc and W√§ndi Bruine de Bruinc.

They hail from Columbia University, Ohio State University, Carnegie Mellon University and the editor came from Harvard. The study was published online this week in the scientific research journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They didn't paint an overly pretty picture of the general public's understanding of energy efficiency, through which energy savings of more than 30 percent can be achieved through better lighting, improved air conditioning and heating, variable frequecy drive electric motors, cool roofs and insulation.

"For a sample of 15 activities, participants underestimated energy use and savings by a factor of 2.8 on average," the study said. "If households effectively implemented all of (Gerald) Gardner and (Paul) Stern’s (who published "The Short List: The Most Effective Actions U.S. Households Can Take to Curb Climate Change" in Environment Magazine in 2008) recommended changes, U.S. energy consumption would be reduced by approximately 11 percent."

Big stuff. But at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, we know that. Using compact fluorescent lighting, dumping the old appliances for Energy Star units and upgrading the AC -- it all saves cash. And the upgrades pay for themselves relatively quickly.

"Those in the study also overrated the savings of many activities, including driving slowly on the highway, recycling glass containers or unplugging chargers when not in use," wrote Katherine Tweed of greentechmedia.com. "Even people who described themselves as having a high degree of pro-environmental behavior did not always report engaging in a large number energy-efficient habits and actions."

No surprise there. I like to think I'm pro-environment but I enjoy the comforts of fossil fuels, a warm house in winter and AC. Even so, all of us could do with a little painless energy efficiency retrofits. It'll get that foreign oil monkey on our backs to ease up a little.

Workshop on Solar Workforce Needs

State and workforce officials are sponsoring a public forum to identify labor and training needs in large-scale solar thermal and photovoltaic projects that could start this year.

The forum will be at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at the California Environmental Protection Agency Building, 1001 I St (corner of I and 10th streets) in Sacramento.

Representatives from several solar technology ventures will present valuable information about recent and upcoming projects, and discuss issues of importance. The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies will be on hand.
Also there will be Kern Community College District
and the California Workforce Investment Board will share their perspectives.

A period of public comment will follow. Information and agenda: http://gov.ca.gov/home/solar-workshop.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lots of Sun. Lots of Rooftops. But Not Lots of Energy. Why Not?

Commercial real estate agents and planners like to use the phrase "rooftops" when they talk about growth patterns.

When a shopping center is proposed, it's usually because the new "rooftops" in the area warrant it. New schools are considered when "rooftops" are projected to reach critical mass. But how often is the phrase "rooftops" linked with another phrase - "solar."

Not very often. By some estimates, less than one-tenth of a percent of the electricity in the United States comes from rooftop solar and solar power plants, according to this report. The percentage should be much higher, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, where temperatures reach triple digits and residential power bills have been known to contain a comma.

This article talks about solar and what is required to take it mainstream.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Solar foam and recycled plastic blocks battle for Earth Awards

Here's some foam that would be way out of place atop a cold beer.

A photosynthetic artificial foam that harnesses solar energy has been designed by University of Cincinnati Professor David Wendell and Dean Carlo Montemagno. The substance is one of a half dozen innovations up for an Earth Award, which could land the winner $50,000 and team the designer with investors.

The Earth Awards are billed as "a global design award backed by world-leading entrepreneurs" that identify innovations that have the potential to improve the quality of life.

Finalists like Wendell and Montemagno will pitch their projects to leading CEOs at the Investors to Innovators Summit in London on Sept. 16, according to officials staging the event. One of the judges is Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Nothing is impossible," said Ira Magaziner, a selection committee member and chairman of the William J. Clinton Foundation, established by the former U.S. president to identify and take action on global problems. "And nothing beats the power of partnership in realising dreams. That is the fundamental principle of The Earth Awards: to unite the world's greatest innovators with the business people and investors who can make their designs a reality."

Also up for the award are:

  • Sustainable Shells, which developer Professor Michael Ramage at the University of Cambridge Sidney Sussex College in England describes as "highly engineered thin-shell structural masonry built with locally-sourced pressed soil-cement tiles with very low embodied energy and high performance natural-synthetic wood-polymer composites."
  • Polli-Bricks by Arthur Huang, MINIWIZ Sustainable Energy Development Co. in Taiwan. The translucent bricks are made from recycled PET bottles and designed to interlock. "Each Polli-Brick can, structurally, interlock with others. So it can be used to build houses," Liu Zi-Wei, co-designer of Polli-Brick, told channelnewsasia.com. "We keep thinking of how we can reuse these bottles. We want to present them in a form that everybody can see, and see it immediately."
  • Kayu Sunglasses by Jamie Lim from San Francisco. Sfgate.com ran a story on the bamboo glasses that said, "For each pair sold, the San Francisco company donates the cost of one eye surgery needed to correct preventable blindness through the nonprofit Unite for Site."
  • AskNature by The Biomimicry Institute, represented by Megan Schuknecht. The institute describes the collaborative-building venture this way: "AskNature is a free, open source project, built by the community and for the community. Our goal is to connect innovative minds with life's best ideas, and in the process, inspire technologies that create conditions conducive to life."
  • The Butterfly Houses by Andreas Grontvedt Gjertsen, TYIN Tengestue, Norway were "created in response to the need to provide more housing for child refugees in Noh Bo, a small village along the Thai-Burmese border. Completed in February this year, the six cabins now offer hospitality to 24 orphans," said the blog Design Ideas.
Wendy Beckman at the University of Cinncinati said Wendell and Montemagno "are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species." She quoted Montemagno as saying the innovation "presents a new pathway of harvesting solar energy to produce either oil or food."

How I ripped off my roof and learned about solar

Earlier this summer, my wife said it was time: Rip off the roof and put on a new one.

Simple right?

Hardly. I'm still not done.

But it got me thinking: With a fresh, new 30-year composition shingles, what would it cost to put a solar system on the roof? Hmmm... So I called Julie at Solar City. I told her some of the details of my house -- that it's 1,278 square feet, that my kWh consumption according to my PG&E bill never exceeded 900 per month and that I was only looking to pick her brain for information.

Not a great way to get information, but at least I was straightforward. Julie told me a number of things I missed but did say I'd be spending between $20,000 and $25,000 for a system and that I could get a 30 percent tax incentive. One thing I would have that she said was important: a new roof.

Or at least I will have a new roof. Some day. Anybody ever watch an asphalt shingle melt in your hands? Not a pleasant experience. That means, when it's hot, don't roof.

That's -- mostly -- another story.

Solar panels affix to a roof with a series of hardware. Bolt them in, caulk up the mounts and you're off. The panels instantly convert the sun's rays into direct current, which is fed into an inverter, converted into alternating current and distributed throughout the house. At their peak, the panels can produce enough power to send excess back to the utility.

There are multiple styles and companies. You've got to choose your system, financing and installer. Or you can do it yourself. But there's a lot to know. Size matters. Do you want 18 75-watt panels or fewer 150-watt panels? Does your roof offer enough south-facing surface or will you need to convert north-facing area with complex hardware?

Solarexpert.com does a good job of explaining the types of solar panels:

  • Single crystal modules are the most efficient (10% to 17%) and the most expensive. The technology has been around longer than any other and has demonstrated long-term, 30-year stability and can produce power in everything from deep space, hot desert and marine environments. They are usually recognizable as the modules with polka dots or octagons.
  • Poly or multicrystalline units are less expensive but demonstrate lower efficiencies (9% to 14%). Polycrystalline modules are pure blue and its size is about the same as its more efficient polka-dotted single-cell cousin.
  • Amorphous or thin film cells are manufactured by vaporizing and depositing silicon on either glass, ceramic or steel. The process to manufacture this module is simple and cheap, but efficiency (5% to 7%) is so low that a very large area is required to produce the same kind of power made by the single or polycrystalline modules. This technology is most often seen in toys and calculators as well as in building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV), where the solar module is actually built into the roof or structure.
In the San Joaquin Valley, there are many companies offering the service. In addition to Solar City, the list includes REC Solar Inc., Unlimited Energy, Lifestyle Solar, Nova West Solar, Real Goods Solar, SolarWorld, ACRO Energy Technologies, SunPower Corp., Suntech Solar Inc., Arise Solar, Green Energy Consulting and a number of others.

Here's an hour-long video I found interesting in which a Google research scientist talks about his efforts to install solar with others in the industry. One speaker talks about doing it himself.

As for my own roof, I'm on the fence. I just got AC after four years of a swamp cooler, and keeping the house 78 degrees cost me $250 in July, about half that for June. Hard to make solar pencil.

Modesto Composting Program Is Growing

A friend of mine has a compost pile in his back yard. He throws food scraps, coffee grounds and tree trimmings in it, and, after it does its magic, uses it as a soil conditioner.

Composting appears to be gaining in popularity. Maybe it's due to emerging interest in energy efficiency and self-sustainability. Maybe it's concern over greenhouse gases and climate change. Or maybe, in the case of the city of San Francisco, it's being forced upon them.

Whatever the reason, I love it. I hope it picks up steam, especially in the resource-rich San Joaquin Valley, where agriculture is king and farmers are true stewards of the land.

The Valley already has some programs. The Chaffee Zoo is composting and could start selling zoo poo, and Fresno State has a Green-Cycle program that produces 700 tons of compost per year using animal waste, some food scraps and green waste. All Fresno State compost is used on fields and lanscaping, but the campus could eventually sell Bulldog compost through the Gibson Farm Market, said Michael L. Mosinski, director of agricultural operations.

One city that has embraced the concept is Modesto, which operates its own compost facility and sells the final product, MO-gro-PRO, in 36-pound bags at its senior center and the composting facility.

City officials say they shave $1.4 million per year off landfill costs. The Modesto composting plant takes in 150 tons of yard waste per day. There, employees sort the waste and remove any trash put into bins by mistake. Nutrient-rich yard waste is mixed with chipped branches to add carbon content and, after grinding, is put into windrows.

The rows are watered and turned to encourage the growth of helpful organisms, which turn the waste into a humus-like product. The temperature of the rows range from 136 degrees to 150 degrees, which kills weed seeds and bacteria.

The entire process takes about five months. Kind of like fine wine.

Compost can be used in vegetable gardens, flower beds, and for tree planting and new lawns. Even established lawns benefit from a top dressing.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

UC Merced Prof Studying Climate Change In Colorado

UC Merced is only a few years old, but is fast gaining cred as a prestigious research institution.

The central San Joaquin Valley campus, which wants to become a leader of all things "green," is well on its way to achieving that status. On the heels of being named the 39th-most environmentally sustainable college in the U.S., one of its professors is in the news for climbing 11,000 feet into the Colorado high country and planting seedlings.

The goal: test whether climate change will cause the timberline to recede up the mountain, according to this story in the Denver Post.

Dr. Lara Kueppers, an ecologist, is heading the research.

UC Merced, opened in 2005, has received honors for its sustainability and is noted for solar research. It will play a key role in developing clean energy and energy efficiency programs in the resource-rich San Joaquin Valley, and will be a shining star in the University of California system.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.