Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"The End" Is Not Good In Global Warming

By definition, "the end" is pretty final.

In a movie, there's nothing more to see. In a book, you run out of words to read. In climate change, "The End" is a little more serious: “We are facing at this moment the end of history for some of us,” a representative of the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States said at the Cancun climate conference being held in Mexico.

Antonio Lima, representative of Cape Verde and alliance vice chairman, said Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and Maldives are the most threatened. “All these countries are struggling to survive. They are going to drown. I have mountains in my country. I can climb. They cannot climb," Bloomberg Businessweek quoted him as saying.

Obviously, small island nations have much to lose if global warming is not restricted. Members of the alliance want temperature increases limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but representatives of the United States and European Union said they don't expect a treaty from the talks - settling instead for verifying actions to cut emissions, creating a $100 billion green fund to help finance clean energy projects and protecting forests.

The U.S. delegation, according to this account in The Guardian, is taking a firm stance on some of those issues, and has threatened to leave the talks early if developing nations don't agree.

About 190 nations are represented at the 12-day conference. Among the representatives from the United States are 40 students from Yale. They are from The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and the Yale Law School - and are attending as observers and delegates, The Yale News reported.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cancun Climate Talks Open With Space-Age Solutions

The expectations for any sort of meaningful result from the Cancun Climate Change Conference are low, but that doesn't stop talk of some high-flying measures. Really high-flying - like in space.

United Nation scientists are looking at what they call "geo-engineering" options to reverse global warming. That could include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight or sprinkling iron in the oceans to fertilize algae and suck up CO2, according to reports in The Telegraph.. It sounds pretty futuristic, but that might be what it takes to combat the possibility of what one scientist called "catastrophic warming within the next 50 years."

Worst-case scenario studies, released Sunday, say world temperatures could climb 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060, and result in an annual investment of billions of dollars to contain rising sea levels.

The goal of the conference, which representatives of some 190 countries are attending under heavy security, is to reach agreements that lead to significant investment for developing nations and green technology that helps shift away from fossil fuels. The 12-day session concludes Dec. 10. Here is a link to the conference Web site.

It didn't take long for the first fissures to appear. African nations are taking a hard stance against the European Union because they believe the more developed nations are too wishy-washy when it comes to climate change. Meanwhile, the U.S. and China are taking fire because they can't or won't commit to legally binding targets on cutting carbon, according to reports.

So, it is up to other nations to take charge without the United States, scientists said, adding that the political situation in the U.S. prevents any kind of comprehensive program out of Washington, at least in the near term, although the government did say it will adhere to an earlier pledge to cut emissions 17% by 2020.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press lists some of the impacts of global warming in this story.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Electric cars: Drum solo for Coda

Tis the season of the electric car.

On the radio, I hear commercials for the Chevy Volt: "At a car dealer near you soon." The Nissan Leaf won best in class for mileage from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And now the latest: Coda inks deal with Hertz.

Coda still reminds me of the last Zep album and that ripping John Bonham solo, Bonzo's Montreau. But I digress. I must adapt my thinking.

Executives of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Coda are pumped by their news.

"The 100 percent electric CODA was designed to meet the needs of most Americans with dependable, all-season range, and fast, convenient charging," said Mark Jamieson, CFO & COO of Coda Automotive, in a statement. "With one of the world's largest rental car fleets, Hertz is uniquely positioned to catalyze the adoption of all-electric vehicles and infrastructure supporting electric mobility."

That means a big boost for the electric car company that has yet to hit the market with its flagship sedan. If Hertz is cool with the car, others likely will be too.

Many people are like me. Rent a car, enjoy the experience, then buy one.

Coda officials said their sedan hits the market sometime next year. No specific date was given. Here's what they said about it: "The Coda is designed to meet the day-to-day needs of most Americans, featuring space for five passengers, a full-size trunk and a dependable 90-120 miles of range during any season."

They also said the sedan's battery system has "at least 40 percent more usable energy than any all-electric sedan on the market in 2011."

Take that Leaf. Actually, the Leaf offers about the same performance. It goes on sale in California next month.

And neither will make anything like the sound my well-carburated 1974 Bug makes, especially burning the tires on a rainy day.

And this is the best read post on this blog. Amazing. Wonder if it has to do with the Coda reference that has nothing to do with electric cars and everything to do with "The Song Remains the Same."

Home builder tests water efficient housing

A Los Angeles home builder has embraced water conservation, at least on a trial basis.

KB Homes has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, building the first homes in the nation to be certified by the agency's WaterSense program, agency officials reported. The four homes are in Roseville, Calif. and are expected to help families save 20 percent over the run of the mill home, or an average of 10,000 gallons of water and at least $100 on utility costs each year.

“The construction of the first WaterSense labeled homes, and the plans to build more, mark the beginning of an innovative approach that gives homeowners the chance to cut their water and energy bills and protect a vital environmental resource.” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, in a statement.

The program, which seeks to help home buyers cut their water and energy use, serves as another indication of where the industry appears to be headed. Energy efficiency and water conservation are big in California and gaining prominence throughout the West and South where water allocation issues appear to be cultivating nothing less than high anxiety.

I'm reminded of Jack Nicholson in the movie "China Town," in which John Huston, as villain Noah Cross, says, "Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water."

It's all about water. Was then and it is now.

Frank Ferral, who heads the Recycling Energy Air Conservation program for the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, has been spreading the conservation message to business -- and anybody else who will listen -- for the better part of the past decade. His point is relatively simple: Saving energy and water and keeping waste out of the trash makes economic sense.

Hundreds of businesses have signed up for his program in which a team of experts goes through a building and identifies areas that can benefit from installation of energy efficient lighting, water saving devices and waste diverting practices. The REACON program in Stockton has helped develop an industry manufacturing products out of former debris.

With a recent grant, Ferral has been expanding his program and message throughout California's Central San Joaquin Valley. His concept has been to team up with chambers of commerce and offer them up the team energy audit concept so the chambers can provide it as a value-added product to members.

I tagged along on a couple of audits in Fresno, one at a bank and another at a business in an old downtown building. The lighting expert said he could get immediate savings of about 20 percent on the bank and more than 30 percent on the older building. The water savings were more basic, adding a 1.2-gallon flush toilet among other measures.

The EPA has entered into a consumer friendly realm with its WaterSense site, which offers tips and quantifies retrofit measures. Each of its WaterSense houses includes aptly labeled plumbing fixtures, an efficient hot water delivery system, water-efficient landscape design and other water and energy-efficient features.

EPA officials estimate that if the approximately 500,000 new homes built last year had met WaterSense criteria, the homes would save Americans 5 billion gallons of water and more than $50 million in utility bills annually.

Yeah, it's in the water.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

EU, US push toward energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is going global.

It's not just a bunch of true believers pounding fists on tables.

Last week in Lisbon, Portugal, the year-old U.S.-EU Energy Council brought up energy efficiency and clean energy technologies in a joint statement from the council and U.S. State Department, saying the concept has "effects across our foreign, economic and development policies."

The council ordered its Energy Security Working Group to pursue an aggressive list of clean energy issues. Officials said they "highlighted the importance of enhancing cooperation on energy efficiency in the buildings sector and products," recognizing "the mutual benefit of working towards common standards, convergent regulatory frameworks and effective incentives for the deployment of emerging clean energy technologies."

Also targeted were electric vehicles, energy storage, cellulosic and algal ethanol, and carbon capture and storage. The council praised the working group for its research into hydrogen and fuel cells, solar power and even nuclear fusion.

The emerging international consensus embracing the value of energy efficiency follows that of California. The state has successfully championed energy efficiency as a way to diminish the need for new energy generation since the anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s. Consumers, the federal government and a bunch of movers and shakers in corporate America have jumped aboard relatively recently.

By working together on energy, officials involved with the council say the U.S. and Europe can increase "mutual security and prosperity; underpinning stable, reliable and transparent global energy markets; and coordinating our regulatory regimes and research programs to speed the deployment of tomorrow’s clean and efficient energy technologies."

The bottom line? Economic growth and job creation. At least that's the line from the U.S. State Department. Climate change goals also factor in.

The U.S.-EU Energy Council brought together Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy; EU High Representative Catherine Ashton; EU Energy Minister Freya Van den Bossche; and EU Commissioner for Energy G√ľnther Oettinger.

Heavy hitters. But this is politics, and the actual effect of the effort may be minimal at first. This is especially true in this case. While energy efficiency received top billing, there was also quite a bit of time given to Ukraine's natural gas transmission and Nigeria's oil fields.

Still, my impression is that the more that energy efficiency is publicized, embraced and instituted, the more the common Joe and Josephine will give it a try. It's like my recent post about LED bulbs being hawked at hardware stores across the nation. They're a little expensive to install but worth it in the long run.

Times are changing.

Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & EU Foreign Affairs & Security Policy High Rep./European Commission VP Catherine Ashton

State Ending Rebates For Certain Appliances

After Dec. 6, Californians will no longer be able to receive rebates for replacing certain appliances under a federal stimulus program that is phasing out.

Rebates for refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers and room air conditioners expire Dec. 6. Applications for rebates for water heaters, heating, ventilating and air conditioning units must be postmarked by Dec. 31, state officials said.

The rebates are offered through the California State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program - otherwise known as "Cash for Appliances" - that used $35.2 million in federal stimulus money to encourage the purchase of more efficient appliances.

About $4.5 million remains, and state officials said they will close part of the program to ensure all rebates can be paid. Consumers have until Dec. 6 to file rebate documents.

Almost 217,000 rebate applications have been filed, with clothes washers and refrigerators accounting for 69% of the current total, according to the Cash for Appliances Web site.

Monday, November 22, 2010

UC Davis Sets Ambitious Lighting Efficiency Goals

Lighting accounts for about 25% of all electrical use in California. With that in mind, University of California, Davis, plans to cut its lighting energy usage 60% or more by 2015.

It makes sense that UC Davis would set such an ambitious goal. After all, it is home to the California Lighting Technology Center, which develops energy-efficient lighting systems.

The objective, program officials say, is to be a model for
"virtually anyone who uses electric lights in California." In other words, everyone.

Many many campuses and state and national agencies are already using innovations developed by UC Davis, according to this press release.

The lighting project at Davis will cost about $39 million, about $4 million of which will come from the California Statewide Energy Partnership Program. The remaining $35 million will be paid through the estimated $3 million per year in cost savings. At that rate, the payback will be about 11.6 years.

Experts say that upgrades and retrofits are the most cost-effective and fastest way to cut energy bills. The upfront costs are less and properties with energy improvements are more valuable and often sell faster than comparable buildings without the advancements.

Certainly, that is true in the San Joaquin Valley, where power bills run high, incomes run low and a reduction in energy costs can lead to significant monetary savings. Energy efficiency also is a key component of Gov-elect Jerry Brown's job-creation plan.

Bringing Sun Power To The Golden State

Solar is coming to California in a big way. Recent weeks brought announcements of a huge solar plant breaking ground in Southern California, another biggie that could get under construction next year on 2,000 acres in San Luis Obispo County, the biggest school solar project in the nation, and more rooftop systems.

None of these are puny. The two utility-scale developments in Southern California and San Luis Obispo County could potentially supply renewable power to a combined 240,000 houses, and the deal with Mount Diablo Unified School District in San Jose covers 51 schools, 11.2 megawatts of solar capacity and is expected to save $192 million in power costs over 30 years.

That comes on the heels of a 9.6 megawatt $52 million solar schools project in Lancaster, which is in the high desert of Southern California. That development is expected to save $40 million in energy costs over 20 years, according to this report.
In the Inland Empire portion of Southern California - where warehouses stretch for miles - solar power is becoming more prevalent on rooftops. Last week, Southern California Edison announced 16,300 solar panels on a 436,000-square-foot warehouse in Rialto are producing power.

Similar installations are in place in Fontana and Chino. Over the next four years, about 100 buildings in the region could become power producers, according to The Solar Home & Business Journal.

The deals are good for the property owner because it gets lease income, and for the utility, which must meet renewable-energy requirements.

A new rooftop system in Fresno isn't as spectacular, but the solar displays at its convention center buildings will cut costs 15%, or $42,600 per year. Last year, the power bill at the center was $942,822. About 1.7 megawatts of added solar-generated power will come from the devices on the roof of Selland Arena, Valdez Hall and carport structures, city officials said in a staff report.

In Fresno, the city does not own or buy the solar systems, but agrees to purchase the power from a private developer over 20 years. The price is less than what the city pays currently to Pacific Gas & Electric.

This is the city's third solar project. The others at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Municipal Service Center total about 3 megawatts. Both are cash-flow positive.

Solar developers are eyeing other city-owned buildings too, as well as dozens of other areas in Central and Southern California. Gov-elect Jerry Brown has an ambitious solar and green-jobs program, but whether it all comes to pass remains to be seen.

There's a little matter of a $25 billion budget deficit. This Arizona State study suggests California is way down the list as top spots for solar, and the Los Angeles Times reports that Brown's plan might have some costly upsides.

Nonetheless, California, as Hollywood and Silicon Valley prove, has a history of innovation.
(Photo of Rialto warehouse solar project courtesy of sbsun.com)

Friday, November 19, 2010

LED? Low wattage comes with a price

Lowe's this week announced it would begin hawking a light-emitting diode, or LED, bulb.

It's the perfect substitute for the good-old 60-watt incandescent standby. However, the price is a bit off-putting at $39.98. But new technology comes with a cost. A really cool flat-screen TV can run up to $3,600 at Costco.

Of course, I still have an old tube TV and still burn some low wattage incandescents.
Lowe's version is from Osram Sylvania. Home Depot sells a similar unit for about the same price from Phillips.

Cool? Sure. Will I use one?

I thought about that. I live in a somewhat respectable area in Clovis, Calif. But it's a place where if you put anything at all valuable on the curb, it disappears. I've actually timed this practice. I put an old washing machine out, and it lasted 15 minutes.

Even scrap metal disappears relatively quickly.

So I imagined how quickly my outside lights would disappear should I plug in LEDs. Three outdoor LEDs could fetch one of my friendly roving recyclers a good return.

I tried going with compact fluorescents. But even with stores' increased eco light selection, I can't seem to find any that don't blow out with photo-cell lighting.

Photo-cell friendly compact fluorescents do exist, but I couldn't find them on the shelf. I ended up buying 38-watt incandescents. They work fine but stay on all night.

The key for greater usage is versatility, or, in my case, conformability. I may have to break down and buy some new fixtures.

Many have said the incandescent is on the way out and in fact may be banned by energy efficiency seeking regulation. But the price differential for that efficiency remains high.

Martin LaMonica of Green Tech on cnet.com said change may be coming. "Some lighting company executives forecast that within two years, LED bulbs in the 800 lumen category will cost less than $10," he wrote.

PG&E Signs Agreements With Six Solar Plants In Central California

Kings, Tulare and San Luis Obispo counties could get a combined six new solar plants under power-purchase agreements approved by the California Public Utilities Commission Friday.

If built, the developments would add substantially to the Valley's emerging solar-hub status. They could start generating up to 170 megawatts of power as early as 2012, according to this press release from the CPUC. That's enough to power from 85,000 to 170,000 houses.

This announcement comes on the heels of a deal between PG&E and North Star Solar for a proposed 60-megawatt plant in Mendota that could be operational in mid-2013.

The state wants utilities to get 33% of their power portfolio from renewables by 2020. The deserts of Southern California are also receiving much interest from solar developers.

(Photo of Ivanpah solar project in Southern California by BrightSource Energy)


17 win investment or cash in ecochallenge

This past summer, General Electric Co. launched a $200 million innovation challenge to encourage ideas that would create a "smarter, cleaner, more efficient electric grid."

This week, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company announced five "innovation" winners, each nabbing $100,000. Officials said the challenge attracted about 4,000 ideas.

GE also announced a dozen winners that will share investment of $55 million put up by the company and its venture capital partners. Details of how the money will be disbursed was unclear. The company said this is the first of several rounds of innovation funding planned.

My former co-worker Jeff St. John at earth2tech.com said in a post that "while the contest was marketed as a way to open the VC floodgates to greentech startups not already in the pipeline for corporate cash, the list is full of some already well-funded companies, including several GE is already investing in."

St. John said that didn't mean GE and its Ecomagination VC partners, which include Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and RockPort Capital, didn’t pick well.

Investment winners included Sentient Energy of Burlingame, Calif., which makes intelligent sensor technologies; Soladigm of Milpitas, Calif. for efficiency windows; SustainX of West Lebanon, N.H. for compressed-air energy storage; ClimateWell of Stockholm, Sweden, which makes efficient appliances; Consert of Raleigh, N.C., which makes energy management systems and software; FMC-Tech Ltd. of Shannon, Ireland, which produces intelligent sensor technologies; The Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University in New York for its electric vehicle charging stations; JouleX of Atlanta, which produces energy management systems and software; OPOWER of Arlington, Va., which produces energy management systems and software; Scientific Conservation of San Francisco, which produces energy management systems and software; SecureRF Corporation of Westport, Conn., which provides utility security; and SynapSense Corp. of Folsom, Calif. for data center services.

Innovation winners included an inflatable wind turbine, a turbine blade de-icer, a water meter that generates power, a two-way grid communication system and a system that prevents outages.

“We launched the Challenge to encourage new thinking and spur innovation at every level of development,” said Beth Comstock, GE's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, in a statement.

Challenge advisor and Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson said the nation's electrical grid is where the Internet was a generation ago, with its potential still largely untapped.

"Just as we did with the Internet, we can make them smarter and more efficient, using the power of collaboration, open access and a hugely expanded range of entrepreneurs," he said. "The Challenge was designed to accelerate this, and show that good ideas can come from anywhere. And the number and breadth of ideas we received was indeed inspiring."

More detail on the winners is available here and in the following paragraphs for the innovation award winners.

Carrollton, Texas-based Capstone Metering for its intelligent water meters. Officials said: "The company’s IntelliH2O is self-powered and delivers real-time water system management, which helps conserve water and eliminates the need for manual meter-readings."

Salem and Hollis, N.H.-based ElectricRoute for its secure communications network for the electric grid. Officials said: "Recognizing the substation's unique location in the electric grid, ElectricRoute created a communications gateway point for transmission and distribution systems. Its cyber-secure, communications network infrastructure eliminates duplicate sensors and thousands of copper lines running inside the substation."

Givatayim, Israel-based GridON for its device that controls power quality in electric grids. Officials said: "GridON created a fault-current-limiter to protect the electric grid from disruptions and power outages, increasing the grid’s reliability and enabling load growth and generation expansion from alternative energy sources."

West Lebanon, N.H.-based IceCode for its anti-icing and de-icing technology for wind turbine blades. Officials said: "Seeking to break one of nature’s strongest bonds, IceCode’s technology removes ice by using high-power pulses to apply heat from the inside out. Employing this technology for wind turbines substantially reduces the amount of energy used for de-icing and eliminates downtime for ice removal and inspection."

Kiryat Yam, Israel-based WinFlex: for its inflatable wind turbines. Officials said: "WinFlex produces rotors for wind turbines from light, flexible and inexpensive cloth sheets made out of composite materials. This flexible rotor design reduces installation costs by at least fifty percent and shortens the return on investment to three-four years, without subsidies."

Photo: Soladigm windows.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Carmaker GM To Invest Millions in Green Technology

General Motors, the iconic car maker that is getting a do-over with a new IPO, is also going to be a large investor in green technology.

The company said today that it will invest $40 million in programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Among the possibilities: energy-efficient technology such as smart energy sensors and solar panels to schools and other community-based facilities; wind and solar farms; capturing flammable methane from landfills to deliver clean energy; and forestry projects.

Chevy, which has introduced the Volt electric car, says it wants to set an example for other businesses, according to this story in The Sacramento Bee.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mendota Could Get Another Solar Project

A new power purchase agreement between Pacific Gas & Electric and North Star Solar could lead to a second solar project in Mendota, a West Fresno County community struggling with high joblessness.

North Star says in this press release that the plant, which could be in operation by mid-2013, would generate 60 megawatts of power, enough to power 30,000 to 60,000 houses. The project, which is still subject to regulatory and financing approvals, would be the second solar project in the Mendota area behind a 5-megawatt, 50-acre plant run by Meridian Energy.

Mendota's unemployment rate is nearly 40%, and some experts think renewable energy, especially solar, could be a way to create jobs in the sun-drenched San Joaquin Valley. A professor at University of California, Merced, reported that renewable-energy and high-speed rail projects proposed for the Valley could produce 100,000 jobs if constructed.

The majority of those would be energy related. Dr. Shawn Cantor studied approved and proposed biomass, hydrogen, solar and wind projects, concluding that up to 79,512 construction jobs are possible over the next decade. That does not include payrolls created from smaller-scale projects on houses and buildings.

Photo of Meridian project in Mendota.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Electric car countdown begins

Is that an EV in the lane near you?

It may be should consumers get over their sticker shock over electric cars. A new survey by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says 44 percent of respondents would be "extremely or very interested" in buying a battery-powered unit.

With nearly three dozen plug-in electric models expected to be introduced by 2012, that's some serious potential market activity. Maybe it'll open up room at the pump.

Nissan's Leaf and Chevy's Volt are on their way. And Ford announced this week the first markets selected for its Ford Focus Electric's debut next year. They are: Atlanta, Austin and Houston, Texas; Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh Durham, N.C.; Richmond, Va., Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

"This is the first step in rolling out the Focus Electric," said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.'s president of the Americas, in a statement. He said Ford would evaluate markets as demand grows and "the country continues to build up its electric vehicle infrastructure."

The news comes on the heels of an announcement by General Electric that it will convert about half of its global corporate fleet to electrics and will partner with fleet customers to deploy a total of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015. Most of those will be Chevy Volt sedans.

“By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale, and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action," said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in a statement.

In the same release, FedEx Chairman, President and CEO Fred Smith said GE's move helps ramp up production and lower prices of electric vehicles, bringing elevated visibility and acceptability to the public at large. FedEx is also incorporating electric trucks and alternative energy vehicles into its fleet.

It means the quiet vehicles will be increasingly common.

Pike Research said its survey "found that, based on Americans’ driving and commute patterns, PEVs should be a strong fit for a large number of consumers." In fact, 81 percent of respondents said better fuel efficiency would be an important factor when purchasing their next vehicle.

However, Pike officials found some drawbacks. They said consumers may have a difficult time justifying the increased cost of purchasing an electric vehicle even when they pay nothing for gasoline. The savings at the pump could take many, many months. Unless, of course, you replaced the aging Bentley with a Leaf.

Photo: Ford Focus chassis.

An Energy Trust Could Help Jump-Start A Green Revolution

The big themes in government in this post-election environment revolve around curbing expenditures and cutting deficits. The chatter is loud and the emerging green industry must figure out a way to be heard.

Energy conservation saves money in the long run, but businesses, homeowners and local governments have to find ways to finance the initial costs. The Center for American Progress says it has found at least a partial solution.

Create an Energy Independence Trust.

The Trust would be able to borrow from the U.S. Treasury and help businesses and the rest of the private sector finance clean-energy ventures. That could be combined with regulatory reform to help create jobs and markets, and transmission infrastructure to accelerate development of a green development strategy.

"By encouraging private investment and reforming the energy marketplace, Congress can immediately take action to drive down the cost of clean-energy innovation for consumers, while improving American manufacturing competitiveness and technology leadership," according to the report called, "Cutting The Cost of Clean Energy 1.0."

The study concludes that this approach does not add strain to the federal budget because there are no direct appropriations. As proposed, the Trust would would contain enough reserves to protect the Treasury from loan losses and would offer a variety of financing options, loan guarantees and tax credits that would draw private equity into green energy.

"linking a low-cost financing vehicle with efforts to rationalize and simplify federal and state energy regulations and increase demand through bold clean energy standards could help to organize the broader energy market...," the report states.

The authors don't say this approach should supplant climate legislation, but is a way to help jump-start a new industry that could move the economy into a new direction.

The Center acknowledges the skeptics who will argue that any kind of energy legislation is unlikely with the new Congress, but said that precedent shows otherwise. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law two years after the Republicans gained a strong foothold during the Clinton Administration.

The emerging clean power and energy efficiency industry could benefit us in the San Joaquin Valley in a big way. We have high power bills, low incomes, double-digit unemployment, and huge swaths of former farmland that can become sites for solar and other forms of green power in one of the nation's dirtiest air regions.

Studies show that minimal investment could yield maximum returns, especially in cutting power bills. The Valley also is ripe for an explosion of green-energy jobs, according to this report from a University of California, Merced, professor.

Saving money, conserving energy and creating jobs. What a combination.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Report Touts Energy Efficiency And Rural Green Energy

The latest in a string of reports that says improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings is the fastest and easiest way to create clean-energy jobs and to save money also gives a little boost to rural farming regions such as the San Joaquin Valley.

"Rural communities, plagued by some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, have unique strengths that can capture clean-energy investment and create quality jobs in projects such as wind and solar farms, biodigesters and the cultivation and processing of sustainable non-food biofuels," The California Apollo Program says in a just-released report.

The study, a product of a new alliance of California business, labor, environmental and community leaders, suggests that farmers and communities could ultimately own and benefit from the generated power.

The Apollo report follows this study by a University of California, Merced, professor who projects the Valley could easily create 100,000 clean-energy jobs - and also substantiates studies that claim improving the efficiency of existing and new buildings is the most effective component of a clean-energy program. Combining efficiency program with a 33% renewable sources goal could produce 566,000 jobs statewide by 2020, according to the report.

We've written time and again about the power of energy-efficiency upgrades. They are the low-hanging fruit of the green movement. And their power is magnified in the San Joaquin Valley, where soaring power bills and low incomes squeeze consumers.

As online Green magazine Grist says, "Efficiency is the cheapest form of energy."

Modernizing California's out-of-date power grid should be part of the effort. At least six transmission lines must be built by 2030 to support projected demand and new renewable-energy projects, the authors say, citing the California Independent System Operator, the non-profit entity that controls the majority of the state's power grid.

The Apollo authors note that California leads the nation in the number of clean-energy jobs, businesses and patents, and accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. venture capital in renewables technology. As the eighth-largest economy in the world, California has the leverage to mobilize investment and ingenuity in the emerging industry.

A huge deficit and crushing recession complicates matters, of course, but California voters showed in the last election that they support clean energy. Plus, Gov-elect Jerry Brown is a supporter and has developed his own jobs plan.

Who knows what will happen, but could clean energy be the next technological innovation in California? And, if so, will the San Joaquin Valley reap the benefits?

Friday, November 12, 2010

High cost, high speed and environmentally friendly?

High performance luxury cars going green? Really?

The concept sounds wrong. The whole deal behind a macho sports car is that it can go faster and cost more doing it than anybody else on the road. Nobody's considered making a low-geared high-mileage diesel Hummer for instance.

But Wall Street Journal reporter Vanessa Fuhrmans addresses the potential trend in a story this week. She quotes Enrico Galliera, commercial and marketing senior vice president at Ferrari, as saying: "When we approached customers and said, 'Here's a way you can still have that and be greener,' the reaction was extremely positive."

Many of my high school friends had a poster of a Ferrari Testarossa alongside Farrah Fawcett on their walls in the 1970s. They weren't concerned with mileage any more than they were concerned with Farrah's overabundance of sexuality.

Yet, Galliera also told Fuhrmans: "When you consider buying a Ferrari, you're considering it for the performance."

That I can believe. But the story also lists efforts by automakers to become more environmentally conscious in a number of areas. For instance, Ferrari unveiled a green coupe for California that cuts emissions up to 23 percent and has a feature that shuts the engine off at stoplights.

Next year, Bentley's Continental GT Coupe will offer a V8 that emits a reported 40 percent less carbon dioxide than the V12.

Perspective is everything.

In addition, Porsche plans a plug-in hybrid, BMW has approved production of a plug-in hybrid supercar, Audi has embraced clean diesel, Mercedes may go electric on its gull-winged SLS AMG and others like Lotus, Lamborghini, and Jaguar are looking to bark up the same tree.

First of all, Tesla beat them all. That performance car does it all with no fossil fuels. But the company still hasn't posted a profit and sales aren't yet meeting optimistic hopes.

Whether the market's there will be determined relatively soon. I just read Steve Forbes noting something I've been watching for some time. He said fossil fuels will be around longer than many think. Drilling techniques have opened up vast natural gas fields.

We may see a conversion to natural gas rather than battery/hybrid power.

It's definitely better than when my best friend Eric Storms purchased a 1964 Dodge Coronet with a push-button transmission and a V8 that blew blue smoke out the tailpipe. We both fell in love with the car. It burned the tires and got everybody looking. Unfortunately, they stared because of the roiling plume of smoke that poured from the vehicle as we drove by.

We sat in it planning. We would paint it, toss in some new rings, maybe put in a back seat.

We never did. Just parking it probably kept the global temperature from warming 10 degrees by now. If we'd continued our plan, we'd be driving up to Prudhoe Bay to see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in December.
So, here's my thought. Want a green car? Buy a small displacement daily driver. Then, if you can afford it, buy something that can pound my friend Al's Trans Am and its confoundedly fast big block.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Madera Joins Ranks Of Solar-Powered Treatment Plants

More cities and special districts are using the sun to help power their water-treatment plans in an effort to reduce energy costs.

As this story from Sign On San Diego notes, water is heavy and has to be moved around a lot. Plus, water plants have plenty of room for solar panels and suck up much power.

One project in San Diego has 4.3 acres of solar panels, and more agencies are getting into the game. In Santa Cruz, thousands of solar panels at three water treatment plants will shave $1 million off power bills over 25 years, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

Madera city officials are using 94 panels mounted on a dual-axis structure that tracks the sun movements. Over 20 years, the city will cut about $3 million off its sewage-treatment power bill, according to The Fresno Bee.

Expect more projects like these.

Roads As Energy Producers! Not As Crazy As It Sounds

Rooftops, light poles and bus shelters are doubling as power generators, so is it really such a stretch to think that roadways could do the same thing? Thousands of miles of roads in this nation bake under hot temperatures. Surely there is a way to tap into that.

There is. Scientific American has already written about it, and Clean Technica has a fascinating piece on how researchers are starting to harvest energy from America's roads. Researchers in Rhode Island say solar panels can be affixed to median barriers and the little strip of roadway alongside them.

Existing technology also could heat the underside of bridges, melting ice and creating a power source for nearby buildings and power plants. There also is research into using new materials - think pig poop - to make roads, thus relying less on petroleum-based products.

California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown is thinking along the same lines. He wants to boost the state's green-energy profile and creating a solar highway is one way to do that, he says in his new jobs plan.

Political and budget challenges are ample, and who knows where all this will lead. But California has severe water and air pollution problems, and voters in the recent election sent a message that a future with clean energy is important to them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Global warming -- or cooling aerosols?

The subject of global warming remains a political hazard largely due to its perceived uncertainty and the drastic solutions proposed to keep it at bay.

Energy companies believe fossil fuels are king and reject measures that would hamstring their dominance, while renewable energy gurus say, "Too bad, it's gotta be done."

Meanwhile, J.Q. Voter, wavers. He likes clean air but wants a stable economy, jobs and the San Francisco Giants back in the World Series.

"Where the proof?" he asks.

The California Air Resources Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe they can track down a piece of the answer through a relatively massive project measuring the pollutants and greenhouse gases fouling California's once azure skies. The $20 million CalNex project dispatched airplanes, ships and researchers to, as officials said, "examine the nexus between air pollution and climate change."

The project took three years to plan. Monitoring started in early May and continued through June, involving four airplanes, NOAA's ocean-going research ship the Atlantis, two land-based air monitoring super sites -- one in Kern County -- and more than 150 highly trained scientists.

Eileen McCauley, manager of the research division at the Air Board, said she expects some preliminary results from the CalNex 2010 study will be presented at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco in December. She said the California Air Resources Board plans to continue research to produce a report for policy makers on CalNex findings.

The follow-up report is meant to address "emissions (both greenhouse gases and ozone and aerosol precursors), important atmospheric transformation and climate processes, and transport and meteorology," according to documents.

Determining the effects of a warming environment is complex in the extreme. The white paper describing the CalNex project touches on the difficulty researchers have determining how to separate out the cloud of cooling aerosols over population centers from the warming swirling nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and microscopic particulates.

But just about anybody who spent any time around the subject realizes it won't be easy to solve or explain. Our habits as consumers, travelers and entrepreneurs have led us down a comfortable path. Now that road looks a little like the a highway in Canada's Yukon Territories at night in a snowstorm at 35 below -- uncertain at best.

350.org explains that scientists believe that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity, but the site places the current level at 388 ppm.

“The goal is to provide decision makers with the information they need to develop win/win strategies that address both climate and air quality,” said A.R. Ravishankara, director of NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division, in a statement.

Officials said the CalNex data will help scientists better understand atmospheric-chemical transformations and climate processes and help the Air Board measure greenhouse gases, traditional air pollutants and their causes.

But don't expect miracles even after results are posted and regulations announced. Coming to terms with the state of the environment is something many of us would rather avoid. The answer might mean we'd have to adapt.

Not that it can't be done. It's just not easy.

Feds Unveil Energy Efficiency Recommendations

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization tout the power of energy- efficiency improvements. Changing windows, adding insulation, sealing air ducts, installing efficient lighting and other upgrades can go a long way toward reducing power bills.

Such improvements - the industry calls them "retrofits" - are the low-hanging fruit of the green-energy movement. It's been shown time after time that a minimum investment can result in maximum returns. At my house in Fresno - where summer temperatures hit triple digits and the air conditioner runs all day - the power bill is the second-largest expense behind the mortgage.

If I can cut energy expenses, I save money. It sounds so simple, but the federal Department of Energy says energy conservation is not a pressing issue for most people. So, the agency is trying to come up with a plan that would encourage energy conservation among homeowners.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have unveiled some recommendations for prodding homeowners down the energy-efficiency path, and for guiding the government's future efficiency programs.

  • Sell something people want: identify an issue such as health, financial savings, energy security or comfort to attract public interest;

  • Target the audience and tailor messages accordingly. A blanket marketing campaign won't work;

  • Partner with local organizations and local leaders, and build on existing relationships;

  • Language is powerful: avoid using words such as "retrofit" and "audit." Focus instead on concrete examples, personalize the material and frame statements in terms of loss rather than gain;

  • Contractors can be used as program ambassadors;

  • Make it easy, make it fast: package incentives, minimize paperwork and pre-approved contractors;

  • Repeat the message: advertising studies show that people need to be hit with a message at least three times before being convinced. Energy efficiency can be a tough sell because homeowners have to spend money to reap the benefits. Plan a multilayered campaign;

  • Rebates, financing and other incentives do matter;

  • A well-qualified workforce is essential: promoting a program before contractors can handle the workload leads to disgruntled customers;

  • Be patient: programs need to last for more than a year or two to be successful;

  • Use pilot programs to test strategies.

Lawrence Berkeley's report came out one day after Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a new federal program that offers certified contractors new software to show how much energy homeowners are wasting and to offer low-cost financing to finance improvements.

Dubbed "Recovery Through Retrofit" (thus going against the recommendation listed above to abandon the phrase "retrofit"), the software produces an energy score for each homeowner.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Biofuel & batteries bolster Golden State

Manufacturers of sorghum biofuel, electric trucks and lithium-ion battery packs are among eight to receive about $9.6 million in grants from California, reportedly producing a potential 2,500 jobs.

The money comes from the California Energy Commission's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Transportation program and is reported to be beefed up with $11,969,855 in private funds.

Energy Commissioner Anthony Eggert said in statement the idea is to tap partnerships to rebuild California's manufacturing base. The projects, he said, "will improve California's economy and its environment by fostering green, clean advancements in transportation."

The projects include:

Great Valley Energy LLC gets about $2 million to test sweet sorghum as a biofuel crop. The salt-tolerant crop needs one-third less water than cotton or corn and can yield as much ethanol per bushel as corn. Match funding of about $2 million will help install a pilot sorghum separation and testing facility in Hanford. "If the testing is successful, the team will consider building smaller-scale ethanol plants distributed across the Valley to be close to the sorghum fields to lower transportation costs," officials said. Each of the commercial refineries could create an additional 20 jobs. By 2020, Great Valley Energy estimates it could have 15 small dispersed plants. Total annual production would be more than 47 million gallons.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here is the Green of Brown's Jobs Plan

Now that Jerry Brown has prevailed and gets a do-over as California's governor, we are posting the green portion of his jobs plan. It's on his Website, but here is a link to it.

It calls for investment in renewable energy, which he says produces up to three times as many jobs per dollar as gas, oil and coal, and in energy efficiency - "the cheapest, fastest and most reliable way to create jobs, save consumers money and cut pollution from the power sector."

Here are the highlights of the plan, which, of course, is constrained by an economic recession and multibillion-dollar deficit:

  • Develop 12,000 megawatts of local energy by 2020 by installing solar systems on roofs of warehouses, parking structures, schools and other commercial buildings; putting solar panels along state highways; and through a feed-in tariff program of incentive payments for power projects;

  • Prepare a renewable-energy plan that speeds permitting of the highest-priority generation and transmission projects;

  • Reduce peak-energy demands and develop energy storage so that wind and solar energy, which is intermittent, can be used when needed;

  • Establish a timeline and plan for new houses and commercial buildings to use onsite renewable energy;

  • Continue the fight for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs that enable property owners to finance energy upgrades through property tax assessments;

  • Develop more cogeneration projects, using incentives;

  • Appoint a clean-energy czar, directly accountable to the governor, to ensure that goals and deadlines are achieved.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prop 23 failure irks industry

Reading the clean energy press and blogosphere, a reader would think the failure of California's Proposition 23 was foregone.

Not so. The petrochemical industry had a very different opinion of the move to postpone the state's climate change laws.

"It is the wrong medicine at the wrong time for California's ailing economy," said Charles T. Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, in a statement. "The defeat of Proposition 23 will hurt families across California by destroying jobs and raising the costs of gasoline, diesel fuel, electricity and more."

Proponents of California's Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, say it's the best hope for reducing the build up of greenhouse gas and pollution in a state whose blue skies have often been colored gray or light brown.

However, the fourth paragraph of the initial press release issued by Drevna's group appear to offer a bone to AB 32 proponents. Drevna is quoted as saying:

"The severe economic pain and hardship caused by the extreme mandates of Proposition 23 will accomplish absolutely nothing positive in terms of climate change. They will result in the relocation of jobs and businesses from California to other states and other countries, along with the relocation of carbon emissions produced by those businesses and people. Since every state and nation on Earth share the same atmosphere, moving carbon from one location to another will not bring about any reduction in greenhouse gases."

Huh? (Sub AB 32 for Prop 23 in first sentence in paragraph above and it sounds better.)

I sent an email to the NPRA contact, and David Egner responded, "Thanks. Yes, we caught it and PR Newswire has put out a corrected release at my request."

I receive PR Newswire alerts for anything energy related and am on the mailing list for releases like this one. And after 24 years in the newspaper business, I know a misplaced word or keyboard strike can definitely be a pain.

Of course, electronic fixes are a lot faster than those in newsprint.

Photo courtesy NPRA

Energy efficiency movement gains steam

Energy efficiency doesn't boast the sex appeal of solar or wind power, but it gets results.

And influencing more people to champion the cause could siphon off a large resource of untapped energy savings. At least that's the conclusion of a study released this week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

After all, the nation’s largest single user of energy -- accounting for about half -- is homes and commercial buildings, said William Fay, executive director of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, this week. Fay made his remarks at the Final Action Hearings for the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday where building officials from across the country voted for a series of new building energy codes expected to improve energy efficiency in new buildings by 30 percent, according to BrighterEnergy.org.

The ACEEE study's authors said programs that motivate green behavior could lead to significant savings and should be implemented with greater zeal. "We need to design and build programs that change habits as well as light bulbs," they said.

The sentiment reflects that of Art Rosenfeld, the nuclear physicist and California energy commissioner, a pioneer and tireless advocate of energy efficiency. He was dubbed the Godfather of Green by KQED and told CBS news in a past interview that the United States' descent into an unrepentant energy guzzler can be explained simply: "Energy in the U.S. is dirt cheap. And what's dirt cheap is treated like dirt."

Rosenfeld adopted the position advocated by ACEEE early on, successfully working to change consumers' wasteful habits in California.

The state got the message -- with Rosenfeld's help -- back in the 1970s at the height of the anti-nuclear movement. To avoid building another reactor, the state went with energy efficiency, improving building and appliance standards. The result: the Rosenfeld Effect, which resulted in the flattening of the state's per capita energy use.

ACEEE's researchers made a number of recommendations for enhancing the acceptance of energy efficiency. One was increasing the visibility of energy using behaviors. One particular program, already offered by PG&E's smart meters, allows consumers to see more clearly how much power they consume.

The smart meter on my house enabled me to monitor power consumption of my new SEER 13 air conditioning unit. I had switched from an evaporative, or swamp cooler, and was worried about ballooning electric bills. Fortunately, those didn't come to pass, and my family was able to keep summer cooling bills relatively low, keeping the thermostat on 78 degrees.

We're still not great about dealing with vampire power -- the electronic devices all over the home constantly sucking energy and consuming as much or more than 10 percent of a home's power demand.

Changing habits can make a big difference to the environment, not just the bottom line. As Rosenfeld said, "To delay global warming, you get halfway there with efficiency."

Energy efficiency is what many refer to as the "low-lying fruit" in the move to clean energy. For instance, a recent report by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research estimates potential annual energy savings of more than $41.1 billion if all U.S. commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a 10-year retrofit program.

The next step in the clean energy movement is more costly.

Rosenfeld said renewables like solar and wind should be pursued once energy efficiency is addressed. "But renewables cost you money, while efficiency saves money," he said.

Merced College Picked To Share In Clean Energy Grant

Merced College will develop classes and training opportunites for students interested in the emerging green-energy industry thanks to a national grant that includes the San Joaquin Valley campus.

The college is one of nine schools in California picked to share a $3 million National Science Foundation grant. Merced College will receive $81,000 annually for four years for curriculum development, technical support, supplies and assistance.

College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita received the grant through its innovative California Regional Consortium for Engineering Advances in Technological Education (CREATE) program, which will provide technical help to Merced College and the others.

The other participating schools are Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, College of the Canyons, Santa Barbara City College, Cerro Coso in Ridgecrest, Pierce College in Woodland Hills. In addition, Oxnard College, Porterville Community College and Lompoc High School are included.

Together, they will establish a regional "renewable energy center" to create training programs.

In Merced, the new center will work in conjunction with the college's established and expanding Industrial Technologies program, said James Andersen, dean of Career Technical Education and Agriculture.

The school also will create a "Green Council" of business representatives to help shepherd curriculum development.
(Photo by mccd.edu)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Veterans District Gets Biggest Solar Project In Clovis

A rescheduling of priorities is allowing directors of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District to get a solar electricity system that will shave more than $3 million off their power bills over the next 25 years.

Installation of the $1.3 million system on the Old Town building is being made possible by shifting work projects. It is believed to be the largest solar project in Clovis, according to stories in The Fresno Bee and The Business Journal..

That is yet another example of the region's increasing interest in solar and clean energy. In 2009, the Fresno-Clovis metropolitan area ranked second among California cities behind San Diego in the number of solar installations, The Bee reported.