Thursday, June 30, 2011

San Francisco biogas energy conference highlights profitability & technology

The opportunities and payback for biogas development have never been better.

But don't take our word for it. Listen to what about two dozen experts have to say at the Biogas USA West Conference 2011 scheduled this fall.

The event is planned for the South San Francisco Conference Center, 255 South Airport Blvd., South San Francisco, Oct. 11-12. Attendees also can participate in a pre-conference seminar introducing them to biogas-produced energy and/or a post-conference seminar entitled "Biomethane for Transportation."

"This is a particularly good conference to attend because it has a strong international attendance, too, so attendees get to hear about what is really happening in the world of biogas and its technology," said Hanafi R. Fraval, chairman of Ag Biomass Center Inc. in Los Angeles and an advisory board member to the event.

Biogas has ties to the San Joaquin Valley, which has been called a Petri dish for clean energy. The region has sun, wind and a diversified agricultural base that makes it a natural for development of biogas and biofuels. The region already has a number of methane digesters, giving host farmers another source of income.

On the conference agenda is Lewis R. Nelson, public works director for the City of Tulare and a clean energy expert. Commissioner Jim Boyd, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, is the keynote speaker.

The event is being put together by GreenPower Conferences. Organizers said world markets for biogas are booming and operators are continuing to increase plant efficiency.

According to the American Biogas Council, there are more than 160 anaerobic digesters on farms and about 1,500 more operating at wastewater treatment plants in the country. But only about 250 of those wastewater plants use the biogas produced.

For more information and to register, go to

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Godfather of Green wins Global Energy Prize

Art Rosenfeld, perhaps more than any one person, advanced energy efficiency and the clean energy movement in California, setting an example for the rest of the country.

He's been at it for 40 years. Now the world is paying attention.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev presented Rosenfeld with the 2011 Global Energy Prize, which rewards innovation and solutions in global energy research and environmental challenges. The official ceremony took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Rosenfeld shared the $1 million prize with Professor Philipp Rutberg of Russia, who was recognized for his work developing energy plasma technologies which can convert waste materials into synthetic fuels, with minimal harmful emissions. Using this technology, a town of around 30,000 people could supply all its heating needs and a portion of its electricity needs using domestic waste as a power source.

"Arthur Rosenfeld embodies the spirit of the Global Energy Prize," said Igor Lobovsky, president of the Global Energy Prize Partnership.

Lobovsky called Rosenfeld the epitome of a socially and environmentally aware scientist and said his work has directly benefited humanity.

Those who know Rosenfeld, a nuclear physicist and California energy commissioner, say he's a modest guy who's great to work with. He's extremely practical about saving energy and a tireless advocate of energy efficiency. He was dubbed the Godfather of Green by KQED FM in San Francisco and told CBS News 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."

He's a hoot to listen to and offers practical lessons that make more sense than most. Here's a link to a recent "Cool Cities Cool Planet" presentation. Here's a shorter piece from CBS from 2007.

The Global Energy Prize is considered one of the world's most respected awards in energy science.  Rosenfeld received the prize in recognition of his pioneering energy efficiency work.

Rosenfeld helped establish energy efficiency standards for new homes, businesses and industrial buildings in California. According to a statement from the Global Energy folks, past U.S Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said in 2006 that Rosenfeld's legacy "yields an astounding annual savings of around $100 billion and growing."

In 2010, a new unit of energy conservation was named after Rosenfeld. The 'Rosenfeld' equals 3 billion kilowatt hours, or the energy savings needed to replace the output of one 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant in a year.

At the event, Rosenfeld said he was delighted. "The concept of energy efficiency has had a tremendous impact on the world, both economically and environmentally, and I remain excited about innovations, which will lead to even greater levels of energy savings."

He also repeated one of his catch phrases: "The cheapest form of energy is that which you don't use."

Photo: Art Rosenfeld on CBS News program Eye To Eye.

More Evidence That Going Green Pays Huge Dividends

The brainiacs at Google and manufacturers in Wisconsin came up with similar conclusions in different studies. Google gazed into the future and predicted the potential for billions in new GDP through green energy. The localized Wisconsin study reviewed a pilot program in place and found millions saved in energy costs and millions in new revenue.

What does all this mean? I'll let the Wisconsin authors respond in a quote from their report:

"The obvious potential for economic growth, environmental impact reduction and job creation simply cannot be ignored...The results clearly establish that economic growth and improved environmental outcomes are not mutually exclusive."

Here is a link to the Wisconsin report, which highlights the Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative launched in April 2010. Cost-analysis studies of 87 projects and 45 manufacturers calculated $4.1 million in annual savings (projected to $26.9 million over 5 years), $23.5 million in increased/retained sales and a 31-1 return on investment. Here's more.

This study by Google is a bit over my I-barely-made-it-through-geometry head, but I understand the conclusions: Innovation + clean energy policies = a major league economic boon.

Google, in its official blog, summarizes the study, which used McKinsey's Low Carbon Economics Tool to assess economic impacts. Conclusion: Billions in new GDP by 2030; at least 1.1 million new full-time jobs per year; reduction of nearly $1,000 in average annual household energy bills and a decline in U.S. oil consumption of about 1.1 billion barrels per year.

Google, which has invested millions in renewable energy and efficiency programs, also found that sooner rather than later is key, and that strong energy policy combined with innovation speeds up and expands results:

"...A mere five-year delay (2010-2015) in accelerating technology innovation led to $2.3-$3.2 trillion in unrealized GDP, an aggregate 1.2-14 million net unrealized jobs and 8-28 more gigatons of potential GHG emissions by 2050," the report states.

These studies are further evidence that a strong clean-energy program, which should include efficiency as well as innovation, could do wonders, or should I say "trillions," for deficit-wracked budgets.

Increasing revenue and cutting costs. What better budget plan is there?

(Photo of Madison, WI., by plasticboy)

Small stuff drives clean energy movement; but battles loom

My great-grandfather made and lost three fortunes and used to say, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

However, clean energy appears to thrive on the small stuff, despite or perhaps because of the fledgling sector's rather uncertain future. Incremental advances in solar and LED technology have dropped prices and are improving performance, while breakthroughs in biofuel technologies are encouraging the private sector to capitalize promising companies.

The U.S. Department of Energy has been in on the act, issuing rounds of small grants and encouraging clean energy development with seed money in the first half of 2011. The agency announced $11 million for the oft-overlooked geothermal sector, with $6.6 million going to California projects. The agency also committed a partial guarantee for a $1.4 billion loan to support Project Amp, which supports installation of solar panels on industrial buildings across the country.

The private sector, meanwhile, hasn't been sitting on its hands. Chicago-based S&C Electric Co. provided Southern California Edison with an electric storage device that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly on the scenic Catalina Island, Calif. The island is off-grid and relies on diesel generation for its power.

"S&C continues to innovate new solutions," said Jim Sember, an S&C vice president, in a statement.

On an entirely different front, but no less important, is San Diego-based Genomatica, which won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. Judges said, according to a statement, "By producing the exact same chemicals made today from fossil fuels, but from renewable feedstocks, Genomatica's technology has the potential for broad industry impact."

And the company may do it more cheaply. Major corporations are lining up.

The small stuff is especially important because the winnowing process in the energy sector is not expected to be resolved soon. The oil industry expects to remain dominant for decades and coal will continue to be a big player despite its environmental drawbacks.

Michael T. Klare, author of "Rising Powers Shrinking Planet," says in a recent post on TomDispatch that he believes it will take 30 years for "experimental energy systems like hydrogen power, cellulosic ethanol, wave power, algae fuel and advanced nuclear reactors to make it from the laboratory to full-scale industrial development."

Klare says some will survive, some won't. He likens the coming vetting process to the 30 Years War, between European powers in what is now Germany from 1618 to 1648. The sometime religious conflict was punctuated by fierce battles and loss of life. For instance, Klare says, an eventual shift from petroleum could be intensely risky and potentially fatal for the world's oil corporations.

Meanwhile, other corporations are doing what they can to reduce their exposure to energy costs. SC Johnson, the Racine, Wis.-based maker of Pledge and Glade products, is but one of many looking to enhance efficiency. The company says it reduced its greenhouse gas emissions from operations by nearly a third over the past six years by installing a methane and natural gas co-generation plant for its domestic operations, a palm shell generation system in Indonesia -- reducing diesel use by 80 percent and wind power.

In the United Kingdom, Ricoh has debuted a solar and wind powered billboard along London's M4 motorway that's lit only when the weather's conducive. The company already has a version up in New York's Times Square. And in Fresno, the city has added solar-powered parking meters that accept debit cards.

I'm not certain if we needed that last one. But the innovations keep coming. Whether there will be a battle of technologies similar to "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's the economy; Energy efficiency gains big believers

Bill Clinton said it best: "It's the economy, stupid."

The former president reiterated his economy comment in a piece in Newsweek, offering energy efficiency measures as several of 14 ways to jump start the U.S. economy and create jobs.

He's hardly the first. The corporate sector, utilities and governments are swapping out old lighting and inefficient energy-hungry systems like crazy. Why? It saves money.

This rapid embrace of energy efficiency over the past couple years has a lot to do with money. IBM says it's saved $50 million since 2008 through energy saving and conservation measures. "Bottom line; it pays dividends," the company said in a statement.

Converts are signing up in droves. Wal-Mart, an early believer in sustainability, played a big part in expanding the movement's reach. For instance, the retailer has provided more than 100,000 of its global suppliers with a sustainability survey and encourages them to embrace energy efficiency policies.

Utilities also are playing a major part, especially in California where representatives work one-on-one with clients to install retrofits and save money and kilowatt hours. While they are somewhat inspired by financial incentive, most of these reps have become some of the best educated on how to adopt energy-saving measures for the least amount of money.

Efficiency-aware utilities are hardly limited to the Sunshine State. On the north side of the continent, Yukon Electrical Co. and Yukon Energy launched an innovative program with Ottawa, Ontario-based One Change, a nonprofit that encourages people to adopt environmentally friendly behaviors, including energy efficiency.

One Change is helping the utilities get feedback from residents in far-flung places like Carmacks, Teslin and Dawson about what conservation measures they think will work in their communities, said Sara Haskill, the organization's marketing manager. Many of the communities in the program "are quite isolated and have limited resources. Yukon is also not hooked up to the North American grid."

But people who live in these harsh lands know better than most what works and what doesn't. When it's 50 below, a poorly insulated house requires three and four times what a super-insulated house needs in terms of heat. Northerners also tend to be quite careful (one mistake and you're a human Popsicle) and imaginative.

"We are definitely looking forward to hearing what the people in Yukon have to say," Haskill says. "We are expecting some innovative thoughts. Stay tuned to our web site/twitter/facebook in the coming months."

Who knows? The next big idea that creates 100,000 jobs might come from a Canadian in Old Crow.

In the meantime, here are some more traditional measures:

1. Lighting. Go with compact fluorescents, T8s or even T5s, using digital ballasts. Install occupancy sensors. Try LEDs. Their price is dropping. I bought my first bulb last week.

2. Insulation. Load up. HGTV's Mike Holmes tells his viewers to go overkill, R-40 in ceilings or more. Weatherize. I insulated my floor last winter. California home didn't have a thing. Reduces cooling costs, too.

3. HVAC. Yeah, it's expensive, but newer and more efficient air conditioning units or furnaces pay for themselves. Seal up existing duct work or add new stuff.

4. Electric motors. In this category, I'm thinking pumps and other items that draw a lot of power. Go with premium efficiency or variable frequency drive.

5. Roofs. Paint 'em white. Go with a cool roof if you can afford it. The savings payback works. Clinton offers up this one as well.

Speaking of Clinton, he's got a couple more in his Newsweek piece.

6. Copy the Empire State Building. The iconic structure is the epitome of energy efficiency these days after a costly makeover by its owners. The building now stands as a monument of how to successfully retrofit structures erected far before we came up with the concept of greenhouse gas or net-zero.

7. Utilities. Get them in on the energy efficiency retrofit action, Clinton says. "You wouldn’t even need banks if states required the electric companies to let consumers finance this work through utility savings."

And diversify. Waste Management, the company that hauls trash for many of the nation's population, is no stranger to clean energy. Waste Management pioneered landfill gas technology 20 years ago and recently cranked up renewable energy generation power plants McMinnville, Ore. and Arlington, Wash.

"These projects show Waste Management's increasing focus on green technologies that extract value from waste," said Paul Burns, a company official in Pacific Northwest, in a statement. It's efficient.

Analysts often advise clients to institute efficiency measures first. Then, they say, there's the option of adding renewable energy.

But I'll wait for the advice from the folks of Old Crow, via One Change. Last I checked on the web cam there was some work going on down from the John Tizya Center. The community is northeast of my old stomping grounds in Fairbanks, Alaska in the Yukon on the Peel River. People who live there are no doubt efficient, and tough.

Photo: Screen grab from the Old Crow, Yukon Territories web cam.

Big Blue Goes Dark Green Through Energy Efficiency

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Energy conservation is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to reduce a power bill. It works at home, and it works - really works - at the corporate level.

Check this out from IBM's just-released 2010 sustainability report. Energy-efficiency measures alone cut almost $30 million off Big Blue's power bill last year. That equated to a reduction of 272,000 megawatt hours of energy and 139,000 avoided metric tons of CO2.

The savings surprised the math whizzes in a corporation of math whizzes. They projected a 3.5 percent decline in energy use, but instead cut consumption 5.7 percent.

That's simply astounding. But we're not done. Energy-efficiency measures imposed since 1990 saved IBM $399 million - and those programs keep saving year after year. You tell me another investment with those kinds of returns?

On a smaller scale, but no less important is the city of Santa Barbara. Simply replacing motors and pumps at a pool saved $15,000 in annual power costs. Little things can have big results, especially to cities strapped for cash, businesses wanting to cut costs and homeowners looking for a break. Here is more on Santa Barbara's energy savings.

This is not surprising to us. Our nonprofit is working with 43 cities and counties in the I'm-spontaneously combusting-just-walking-to-my-car San Joaquin Valley to reduce energy consumption to the tune of almost 16,000,000 kWh. The cities are doing it through street light retrofits, installing more efficient lighting, changing out pumps and other relatively simple measures.

George Soros, Google and some big-money guys get it, but I'm not sure the pols in Washington D.C. do. While Corporate America is embracing energy conservation, legislation has been introduced to whack funding for clean energy and conservation by 40 percent.

Still, I'm hopeful. Big Business , the military and property owners are embracing efficiency. Billions of dollars can be saved, according to some reports. It makes so much sense. Eventually, the politicians will stop fighting over it, and energy efficiency will gain a foothold and take off.

I hope.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SCE Cool Centers Open For Service

The National Weather Service in Hanford has forecasted that the temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley will reach 107 degrees today. The County of Tulare, and cities of Visalia, Tulare, and Lindsay operate Southern California Edison COOL CENTERS every Monday through Friday, through October 15th.

Location: Boys & Girls Club of Tulare in Visalia
Address: 215 West Tulare Avenue, Visalia, CA 93277
Cross streets: W. Tulare at S. Encina Street
Phone: (559) 625-4422, George or Jenny
Ride assistance: bus passes avail.; 50 passenger van available too
Open: M-F, 10:30am to 5:30pm

Location: Claude Meitzenheimer Community Center
Address: 830 S. Blackstone, Tulare CA 93274
Cross streets: S. Blackstone just south of E. Cedar Ave
Phone: (559) 684-4310, MaryAnn or Cathy
Ride assistance: bus passes avail.
Open: M-F, 10am - 5pm

Location: Refresh (retail store) in Lindsay
Address: 115 East Hermosa Street, Lindsay, CA 93247
Cross streets: Hermosa Street btwn Elmwood and Mirage
Phone: (559) 756-1292
Open: M-F, 10am - 5pm

Location: St. Thomas Catholic Church *annex building
Address: 6735 Avenue 308, Goshen, CA 93227
Cross streets: Ave 308 just east of Road 67
Phone: (559) 734-9522
Open: M-F, 10am - 5pm

Location: Tulare Senior Center
Address: 201 North F Street, Tulare, CA 93274
Cross streets: N. F Street at W King Ave
Phone: (559) 685-2330 contact office
Ride assistance: bus passes avail.
Open: M-F, 10am - 5pm

Location: Farmersville Cool Center
Address: 160 W. Farmersville Blvd., Farmersville CA 93223
Phone: (559) 756-1644
Open: M-F, 10am - 5pm

During the summer months, Southern California Edison’s Cool Center Program provides safe, air-conditioned facilities where you can relax from the heat and avoid running your own cooling devices at home.

In addition to saving on your personal electric bill, Cool Centers offer great benefits:

• Help minimize the harmful impact against our environment by using less energy
• Reduce health hazards by avoiding extremely hot and uncomfortable temperatures
• Learn more about energy-efficiency practices and programs so you can keep saving

Cool Centers provide refreshments and snacks, as well as transportation. Feel free to bring reading material from home or participate in on-site activities, such as crafts, games and movies.
*This program is paid for by California utility ratepayers and administered by Southern California Edison under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission. Program is subject to change without notice

These Water Treatment Plants Won't Go to Waste With Sun Power

Increasingly, solar and water mix nicely.

Here in the sun-rich San Joaquin Valley, cities are looking at solar as a way to cut power bills at energy-sucking wastewater treatment plants. Tulare and Madera have them, as does Parlier, while officials in Atwater are on tap, so to speak. It would be the city's biggest-ever endeavor, but one that could save millions of dollars in years to come.

We've written about the proliferation of solar in and around water sources. Check out this blog from May.

It makes sense. Water is heavy, and wastewater plants, which are among the largest energy users in most cities, have lots of space atop and near their water tanks. In fact, Greentech solar asks in this article, "Are wastewater plants the new frontier for muni solar?"

(And maybe not just for solar. Here's a story about Bill and Melinda Gates financing technology that would convert converting organic waste sludge into biodiesel and methane.)

Maybe wastewater plants are just ONE frontier for the world's most renewable resource. Rooftop solar projects could abound across the country. Research into solar roads is under way, and some places are installing solar-powered street lights. Read about streetlight projects in Missouri and Florida here and here.

What does all this mean for the San Joaquin Valley? The possibilities are eye popping. The Valley's $20 billion agriculture industry is starting to embrace renewable energy, including solar.
The Valley already has dozens of proposed solar projects waiting in the wings, and cash-strapped cities and businesses are looking for ways to slash their power bills, especially during the my-shoes-are-melting-into-the-pavement summer heat extremes.

Meanwhile, solar energy prices are dropping, and coming close to parity. In a few years, the sun could be shining even brighter on the Valley's solar industry.

(Image of Tulare's wastewater treatment plant)

Monday, June 20, 2011

3 developments accelerate clean energy evolution

When I was 17, I discovered how fast my step-father's then almost-new 1976 SR5 Celica fastback would go.

105 mph.

Urging me on was a not-so-shabby Chevelle. It passed me heading out the deserted Glenn Highway near Mirror Lake going about 90. I blew past it at what I discovered to be top speed, catching a little air on the rolling frost heaves outside Anchorage.

I'm getting that same sense of wide-open acceleration now, watching developments in clean energy. Technologies appear to be testing just how fast they can move forward.

Solar and LED lighting threaten to go mainstream with price reductions. But other technologies also show exceptional promise.

1. Passive House. A house at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History designed with no furnace -- honest -- has been completed and is already catching attention. The residence, which uses "passive house" design and technology, cuts its greenhouse gas footprint and utility costs to the quick. SmartHome Cleveland received a national write-up from Renee Schoof of McClatchy Newspapers.

"Because the house is so well insulated, it can hold heat from sunshine, body heat, lights and appliances," she wrote.

I did a piece on the house while it was under construction in January 2011, explaining how the passive house movement is gaining a foothold in Europe and possibly finding its way into this country. Super-insulated homes are hardly new, especially in the North. I worked on one at 14 in 1975 in Fairbanks. But their adoption has been slow going.

That may certainly change when people paying hundreds of dollars a month in heating bills see an option for cutting that to near nothing.

The stakes are high. Buildings account for about half of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. And while there's a big push nationally and worldwide to address that with retrofits, upgrades and better building practices, finding the mainstream remains a challenge.

But I'm feeling positive, especially with efforts like the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED building certification system, which was designed to improve energy savings, water efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction. And more stringent building practices, now in play, would make a big dent in greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

2. Buildings that clean the air. This boggles the mind. Alcoa Inc. has developed a proprietary process, using a titanium dioxide coating, called EcoClean, that offers, in the company's words, "the world’s first coil-coated aluminum architectural panel that helps clean itself and the air around it."

Here's the way it works, according to Alcoa's website: titanium dioxide on Alcoa's EcoClean siding interacts with sunlight to break down organic matter both on and floating around the surface of the building panels, leaving the organic matter sitting on the surface. Rain washes it away. The Pittsburg, Pa.-based company says 10,000 square feet has the cleaning power of 80 trees.

Expect other companies to jump on the bandwagon. This is a simple way for corporate America to "green" their portfolios with minimal cost, and it could be a big deal.

3. Buildings that generate more power than they use. The IEEE released a report that says solar eventually could begin to challenge fossil fuels in electricity production. "Solar PV will be a game changer," said James Prendergast, IEEE executive director, in a statement. "No other alternative source has the same potential." The professional organization that promotes technological advancement says solar has been growing 40 percent a year over the past decade.

That means homeowners who install solar today may wind up selling their surplus capacity back to their utilities. This would create an entirely new dynamic and further advance the looks-like-it's-gonna-happen theory of Al Weinrub who wrote a fascinating report about how decentralized power generation through root-top and parking lot solar could be a game changer in California.

In Texas, Weinrub's vision is playing out. Dan and Karen Cripe of Round Rock, Texas are producing more energy than they consume in their energy efficient home, according to a story by ABC affiliate WOTV. "
Our electric bills have actually dipped into the negative range," says Dan Cripe. (A friend of mine sent the link.)

Expect to see more reports in this vein. That's why I used the Celica acceleration analogy. For one, that was a great car. Quite dependable. And it didn't go too fast, just fast enough to pass the Detroit standard-bearer muscle car.

Actually, there's more to the speeding story. The Chevelle took up my challenge and blew past me going about 120 mph. The driver and passenger were grinning, loving the race. Must have been headed to Palmer. Barely anybody lived in Wasilla back then.

Photo: SmartHome Cleveland courtesy Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Next Industrial Revolution

  • The evolution of clean energy could, in the eyes of Ernst & Young, become a revolution.

    An industrial revolution.

    That's right. The global auditing and analysis firm says the emerging green energy movement could be as revolutionary as the era that produced the cotton gin and steam engine.

    "The cleantech-enabled transformation to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy may be the next industrial revolution. As this transformation accelerates, global corporations are increasingly realizing that they must understand the impact of cleantech on their industries and develop strategic plans to adapt to this change," Ernst & Young says in this story on its Web site.

    Almost 90 percent of the companies that responded to its annual global survey of corporations with more than $1 billion revenue said cleantech is an "organization-wide or business-unit-level initiative."

    About a third of them said they plan to earmark at least 3 percent of their revenue over the next five years to clean technology, and 75% said their clean-energy spending will increase.

    More demand for energy, higher prices, security concerns and diminishing natural resources will be catalysts for the growing movement. In addition, Ernst & Young says, progress toward a low carbon energy-efficient economy presents an economic opportunity for investors and others.

    Ernst & Young cites these trends:

  • The price of solar and wind energy will fall as they grow in magnitude (Check out this blog from my colleague);

  • Going green is a strategic business decision;

  • More businesses are developing sustainability measures, and reporting them to stakeholders and customers.

    Of course, this won't happen overnight. The first industrial revolution spanned decades, and this one is stumbling along in its early stages. Ernst & Young says raising capital to fuel the transformation will be an issue, especially in these austere times.

    Interestingly, the Ernst & Young report was the second one this week to sound a similar theme. Pike Research cited a different revolution - the proliferation of the Internet - when it said the military's embrace of green energy could drive renewable energy into the mainstream of society. More on that here.

    None of this surprises us. We have witnessed over the past few years the bumpy beginnings of change. More homes, businesses, cities and farms are using the wind and sun to partially run their operations. Investment into potential biofuels is robust, and energy efficiency - the most cost-effective and fastest way to lower power bills and shrink a carbon footprint - is gaining a faithful following.

    Let the revolution begin.

    Image by

Going Green Tips: 5 Easy Things You Can Do at Home

by Ellen Bell

Going green, also known as eco friendly living, is a growing trend around the world.

Now more than ever, people are beginning to realize the impact their actions and decisions have on the world around us. Every time we get in a car, ride on a plane, or make a purchase at the grocery store, we know that energy is consumed, greenhouse gasses are created, and landfills get a little fuller.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the vastness of it all, but relax and take a step back. No one of us has to save the world alone. But what we can do is each take a few small steps every day. Small changes make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. With that in mind, we’re going to discuss a few easy things that you can do at home to make a big difference in the world around you.

1. Recycle. Experts agree that recycling is one of the best and easiest ways to make a difference. If every person on the planet recycled, we could reduce landfill waste and greenhouse gasses in a very significant way. Most communities have recycling programs in place already, making it easy to participate. If your city doesn’t, inquire with local officials about starting a program.

2. Don’t throw it away! We have a tendency not to think about items we throw away. They disappear from our sight, so they are out of our minds. But all those things that the garbage truck hauls away every week do have to go somewhere, and that place is a landfill. Landfills are a major cause of greenhouse gasses and ozone depletion. So next time you get ready to throw something away, ask yourself if you could possibly use the item in another way or donate it.

3. Turn off the water. U.S. households waste thousands of gallons of water every year. A significant amount of this water goes down the sink while we are brushing our teeth, washing our hair, or soaping up in the shower. Turning off the water during these activities can save a huge amount of water, which not only helps the environment, but also saves you money.

4. Ride your bicycle. For short trips around town, air up the tires and ride your bike. It will save you gas and give you some good exercise. If you don’t have a bicycle, you can walk, ride rollerblades, or even a skateboard.

5. Install low flush toilets and showerheads. This is another way to consume less water in the bathroom. Even better yet, if you’re getting ready to put in a new toilet fixture, look into composting toilets. These fixtures are clean and odorless, and will save you a significant amount of money in water and sewer costs.

While the suggestions above may seem like really small things, don’t underestimate the impact these changes can make. If every person in the United States made a conscious effort today to turn off the water while brushing their teeth or shampooing their hair, think how many millions of gallons of water would be saved!

Now multiply that over the course of 50 years, and the result is astronomical. So what are you waiting for? Now is a great time to jump on the going green bandwagon by recycling, saving some water and using less energy. The environment will benefit, and in many cases, your pocketbook will, too.

Ellen Bell is a freelance writer and part-owner of the Composting Toilet Store, an online retailer of compost toilets. For more information or to request a free catalog, please visit us at This is her first guest post for SJVCEO.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Falling solar and LED prices generate green jobs

The cost of clean energy is dropping.

Prices for solar panels are declining, and analysts and industry insiders believe solar energy generation will reach cost parity with fossil fuels in the next five years.

Joining solar's trek to affordability are light emitting diodes, better known as LED lights. For instance, San Joaquin Valley clients of an LED street light replacement program got better rates and will be able to replace more inefficient high-pressure sodium fixtures because of better prices offered by suppliers. And, yes, these are lights that meet federal Buy American requirements.

Big deal, and this has come in just the past 12 months or so.

President Obama singled out LEDs during a visit to a Cree Inc. plant in Durham, N.C. on June 13, 2011. Cree employs 5,000 manufacturing the lights and plans to add a new 400,000-square-foot facility and a second production line that will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"At Cree, you’re putting people back to work in a field that has the potential to create an untold number of new jobs and new businesses right here in America – and that’s clean energy," the president said.

The tour was part of an effort to address the nation's economic slide by meeting with the business leaders on the president's Jobs and Competitiveness Council. Obama got input from business leaders and presented ideas to accelerate job growth.

Obama may be getting beat up on the economy right now, but he staged his photo op in a sector of the economy he believes in. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act under his watch contributed $3.2 billion to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, mostly for the installation of energy efficiency retrofits, the most cost-effective clean energy investment.

Prices for LED lights remain high, but they're coming down significantly. I purchased a new 9-foot umbrella for my backyard outdoor table from a Clovis hardware store for $90. It was a good deal, but I had no idea it came with a solar panel that powers several configurations of LED lights. They're not overly bright but perfect for evening dinners. My son can't get over how cool they are.

Expect more products like that. At this point the LED replacement bulbs rated for exterior use would cost me $40 apiece. So I still use cheap incandescents. But the prices will drop.

That means it's likely manufacturers like Cree will be ramping up.

Phillips Lighting CEO Zia Eftekhar told Martin LaMonica of at the May 2011 LightFair industry conference in Philadelphia that the company expects half of its sales will be LED-related by 2015.

And SolarCity received an investment of $280 million from Google, giving it the chops to cover rooftops with solar panels. The money goes to a fund that enables homeowners to lease solar installations or sign power-purchase agreements for the energy produced on their rooftop solar systems.

From my perspective, Obama's on the right track, but he's still got a way to go as far as others are concerned. Republican candidates for president are tearing him up in the press. Even Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, wants more.

"The President has to have a bold jobs plan, with specifics," Reich wrote in the Christian Science Monitor. "Why not exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for the next year? Why not a new WPA for the long-term unemployed, and a Civilian Conservation Corps for the legions of young jobless Americans?

Bold? Specifics? Heck, clean energy appears to be doing pretty well on its own, with help from assorted rebates and true believers, of course.

The U.S. Solar Institute reported that solar in 2010 employed about 93,500 people and that growth in 2011 is expected to be 26 percent, tacking on another 24,000 jobs. Not huge, but the sector is surpassing steel, reports.

Expect more in LED lighting, wind and maybe even geothermal. The jury remains out on biofuel.

Photo: President Obama at LED plant flanked by Chuck Swoboda, chairman and CEO of Cree Inc., left, and Matthew Rose, chairman and CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, right. Courtesy White House blog.

Energy Conservation: Picking Low Hanging Fruit

Retrofits are one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce energy usage. Installing new pumps, programmable thermostats and motors, beefing up insulation and putting in more efficient lights and windows can reap huge benefits with a relatively modest investment.

Many case studies (like this) and research papers (such as this Pike report from last year, and these just released) extol the virtues of energy efficiency. In these tough economic times, finding an investment with those sorts of yields is tough. We are doing our bit by helping 36 cash-strapped cities and counties in the it-gets-so-hot-I-burn-my-hand-on-the-steering-wheel San Joaquin Valley save 5.4 million kWh of energy through retrofits, such as new streetlights.

Maybe those jurisdictions can preserve a job or two with the monetary savings. Even a journalism major such as myself understands the logic: If my power bill is reduced, I save money. That means I have more cash to invest, or to spend stimulating the economy and putting my daughter through college.

And maybe create a few jobs in the process. Energy conservation doesn't require the same beehive of labor as new construction, but look around you: How many subdivisions are being built? I counted five home builders in my east Clovis neighborhood in 2006; now there are two. Nearly 2 million construction jobs have disappeared since 2007.

In February, President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which was designed to encourage energy savings in commercial buildings. The goal is a 20 percent reduction in power usage by 2020.

A just-released report crunches national and industry data, and concludes the program would generate 114,000 jobs, with the greatest benefit occurring if tax incentives are used to encourage retrofits.

The analysis concludes the impact would trickle down. There would be direct employment at the job site, but suppliers and manufacturers would see a boost in business too.

The U.S. Green Building Council, Real Estate Roundtable and Natural Resources Defense Council have proposed a few tweaks to the policy to make it more effective: measuring energy savings to an existing baseline; linking the amount of incentives to actual energy savings; and tying a portion of the incentive to implementation of efficiency measures and a portion to demonstrated energy savings.

The last recommendation maximizes accountability: the building owner claims 60 percent of the incentive when the efficiency measures are put into place and the rest after two years of demonstrated savings are achieved.

Saving money and electricity, and producing jobs. There's a reason why conservation is often called the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Could Renewable Energy Be The Next Big Thing?

It is safe to say the Internet, which started as as a military application, revolutionized society.

Now, a new Pike Research report suggests a similar scenario is possible in renewable energy, which the Department of Defense is aggressively pursuing as it seeks to cut costs, reduce its carbon footprint and increase energy security. Going Green could be the next big thing.

"Pike Research sees the DOD as a key driver in a (renewable energy) revolution that will directly impact non-military sectors, much the way the Internet and GPS have progressed over the last decade," the study says, noting a caveat: the energy must be reliable, and meet extensive testing and certification standards.

The study projects the military's investment in the procurement and production of renewable energy will reach $3 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2030. As the largest power consumer in the world - using 80 percent of the government's total energy annually - the military's influence is immense. It's easy to see the logic behind Pike's projection.

Every branch of the military is going green. The Army is building solar arrays. The Navy and Air Force are turning to biofuels, fuel cells and hybrid-electric technology. Marines in Afghanistan have solar-powered equipment to avoid deadly oil-supply runs. Read more about that here.

The military also is testing wind turbines and geothermal, and conserving more energy by replacing pumps and lighting. The Department of Defense has about 450 clean energy projects as of early 2010. One of the most ambitious: creating net-zero military bases that produce as much energy as they consume.

But even the military, with all its resources and $809 billion budget (23 percent of all government spending), has limitations. This blog, written by a retired general and a green-minded business leader, notes that the private sector isn't developing the sought-after technology fast enough.

The Pike report cites some military/private sector partnerships, such as testing camelina-based fuel developed by a Montana company, but the bloggers suggest the military establish more relationships between the private and public sectors - just as past partnerships between military and business advanced the Internet and space travel.

The support of the military - and the increasing awareness by Big Business that sustainability pays off socially and economically - bodes well for the green movement in general. If renewable energy takes off like the Internet, the resource-rich and geographically blessed San Joaquin Valley in California's heartland could reap huge benefits.

The Lemoore Naval Air Station is on tap to get solar panels, but much more could come to the area. Dozens of solar projects are already proposed in the region between Stockton and the Grapevine, and the fast-growing Valley, blessed with land, sun, wind resources to its north and south and wedged between three major population centers, is well positioned to capitalize on the emerging green economy.

Photo from

What does a gallon of gas really cost?

This is worth a look.

The Center for Investigative Reporting produced this video to show what the true cost of a gallon of gas is when "external" costs such as pollution and health effects are factored in.

The amount is surprising and nearly four times the current average of about $4 per gallon.

I found this on KQED's Climate Watch blog site.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Top 8 clean energy job sectors for Class of 2011

Listening to the graduation speeches made my mind wander.

In between a lot of "hopes," "follow your dreams" and reminisces that could have been read from an old Archies comic, I thought of the reality facing the class of 2011. It isn't pretty. High jobless rates, declining wages and an uncertain economy add up to a fast-food career. For all the pundits know, the United States is on track to follow Japan's 20 years of economic malaise.

Yeah, I'm a cynic. Twenty-four years of journalism can do that.

So I tried to imagine a better spin. Where are the bright spots?

For almost two years now, I've worked on the outskirts of clean energy and energy efficiency, consuming all the news I can find on the direction of this business. From what I can tell, it's about to take off on a number of fronts. But the rush just isn't there -- yet. And some technologies may go bust.

However, some clean energy sectors show promise for job growth. Here's a look at some that crossed my desk recently that may even give a philosophy major a chance at a job:

1. Electric cars -- The era of a fossil-fuel free automobile provides untold opportunity and likely a dump truck load of challenges for engineers, planners, mechanics and sales people. Here's a mode of transportation straight out of movie version of a Phillip K. Dick sci-fi novel. How it's really going to work nobody really knows. But many of us have high hopes. Planners will have to figure out how to install sufficient recharging stations. I foresee business owners getting into the picture. Imagine ads like this: "Low on power? Stop by the Sports Grill. Free charge with two draft beers. Micro brews extra." And tow truck drivers should be in an excellent position to retrieve vehicles with bone-dry batteries.

2. Energy storage -- Should renewable energy continue its expansion and even accelerate its development, a big push will be on finding ways to sequester that power for later use. Wind turbines generate energy when the wind blows and sit idle when it doesn't. Likewise, solar panels don't do a lick of good when the sun sets. With nuclear looking like a dim variable these days because of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi disaster, utilities are scrambling not only with electrical grid upgrades but for a power source that can complement these down times. Ucilia Wang of Earth2tech reports on a promising development from General Electric that incorporates natural gas-fueled power plants with renewable energy. The natural gas kicks in when power generation from the other slows. "This hybrid power plant strategy could be even more effective in promoting renewable electricity generation than any plan to sell stand-alone solar or wind farm equipment," Wang writes. There you go. Other ideas like water storage for later generation need to be refined by engineers and the solutions marketed to cities and power companies across the nation. And here's one that boggles the mind: A pilot project for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority would use lithium-ion battery technology to store captured energy from rail cars "through a regenerative braking process and then utilize the energy for accelerating trains," according to a statement. This would supply "megawatt level energy storage" and potentially 32 more projects. Jobs would materialize in construction and across the board as projects of all sorts crank up.

3. Wind -- From offshore on the East Coast to farm fields in Eastern Washington, this sector is gaining speed. California's Sierra Mountains offer great promise of continued development. Construction has started on a 120-megawatt wind turbine project near Tehachapi started early in 2011, and the Tehachapi Wind Energy Storage Project was recommended by the California Energy Commission for $1 million in Public Interest Energy Research Program funds. Meanwhile, Southern California Edison has invested heavily in its Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which will deliver the energy to market. Construction on the project is now under way. And that's just a sliver of what's going on. Jobs in construction and maintenance are just the obvious ones. Development and innovation will continue, employing scientists, engineers and support teams.

4. Energy efficiency -- Long considered the "low-hanging fruit" of conservation efforts, energy efficiency is also the most cost-effective and simple to do. In fact, many solar installers ask homeowners to also get an energy audit. Auditors identify areas in a house where energy conservation measures can complement a new solar system. This sector extends to municipal buildings, commercial buildings and anything that uses power, like street lights. At the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, we administer energy efficiency projects for 36 jurisdictions in two of our grants that will save 5.4 million kWh. Jobs in this sector aren't huge unless weatherization is factored in. I also expect a massive shift in design as lessons learned in the past few years are incorporated into future building plans. That will mean more jobs for those who can develop and market products that enhance energy efficiency. Insulation companies may expect to do a bang-up business, for instance.

5. Building information modeling -- This may be a sleeper. Building information systems are expected to become increasingly important and complex, enabling programmers to optimize environmental controls and save money. Cost savings in a building with such features can save a third or more over a conventional building in which each thermostat, light and utility system is operated by hand. While it sounds like something out of "2001: A Space Odyssey," this management practice is all the rage in high-rise towers and smaller commercial buildings. Homes may not be too far behind. Jobs would be in computer technology, development, installation and operation and maintenance -- all relatively high-tech and well paid. Of course, nobody wants to hear the mainframe say something like HAL 9000 told spaceman Dave: "I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen."

6. Climate change -- This one may be contentious, but the data, melting polar ice and weird weather give even the biggest doubter pause. Nation magazine columnist Alexander Cockburn rightly points out the flaws in the technical arguments (read his "Anthropogenic Global Warming is a Farce" article for an blatant example of what opponents cite.) However, even if we're just experiencing a temporary warming trend similar to the "highly inconvenient Medieval Warm Period, running from 800 to 1300 AD, with temperatures in excess of the highest we saw in the 20th century," it will still mess with Bangladesh, New Orleans and any other seaside concentration of humanity. There will be huge challenges, leading to all sorts of suffering and economic disaster and, of course, opportunity for the forward-thinking municipal planners and entrepreneurs. Likewise, the air isn't getting any better and won't until we figure out a way to slow or stop pumping millions of tons of pollutants into the skies every minute. Jobs include scientists, movers, engineers and every level of medical practitioner.

7. Solar -- We came across a list of 93 solar projects representing 64,000 acres of panels planned for the San Joaquin Valley. These are the projects that have no problem passing state wildlife review. That's huge, and the scenario is likely being repeated elsewhere across the country where sunny days outnumber cloudy ones. I believe that once those Valley projects are built, others will follow. Analysts and people in the business agree that solar power will reach cost parity with fossil fuels in five years or less. That means solar will go nuts. Expect every rooftop in the Valley to have solar. At least owners will be scheduling installation or thinking about it after receiving the AC bill.

8. Biofuels -- This is one of my favorites. Advances in algae fuel are bringing the concept of farming pond scum for your car closer to reality. Isobutanol and cellulosic ethanol offer very real returns. And biodiesel from various crops shows increasing promise as crude oil prices creep up and show every indication of remaining high. Jobs? Who the heck knows? This is a big variable that could rattle the entire industry, shake up the Middle East and provide national energy security or go the way of cold fusion. I'm hoping for the former.

So there's hope. Jobs won't look like they did. But will evolve.

I often wonder what will become of journalism now that my beloved newsprint sector has dwindled to near extinction. Maybe the electronic newsroom will experience a resurgence and drag old veterans like myself back for another shot at daily news glory. Maybe not.

Whatever happens, I just hope clean energy offers our graduates opportunity. And decent pay.

Photo: My wife Peggy and son Calvin at Clovis High School graduation. That's me in the background with my granddaughter on my shoulders.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fiscal efficiency – Achieve energy efficiency while saving money

by Marlon Powell

If you have run into debts and are searching for suitable debt solutions, then you need to start saving money first.

In order to achieve this, one of the best ways is to adopt energy efficiency. A lot of money goes every month on utility and electricity bills. If you take measures to be energy efficient, then you can save a lot of money that can go toward paying off your debts. Some of these energy efficiency measures are listed below.

1. Combining utility services - You should approach companies that offer to combine your cable, Internet and telephone services. These services when combined together will not only cost less but having a single bill for all three of them will be convenient.

2. Use public transport - Try to use public transport or car pools when going for work instead of driving your own car. In this way you can save money on gas, parking lot charge and wear and tear on your car. Also this would help in decreasing the stress on environment.

3. Buy energy efficient appliances – When you buy an energy appliance, look for the Energy Star rating and how much energy the appliance is going to consume annually. More energy efficient appliances cost more, but they make it up throughout their lifetime by saving the cost on energy consumption.

4. Use CFL bulbs – Start using compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. These use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and have a lifetime that is 10 times longer. These cannot be used in every light fixture but try using them wherever you can.

5. Choose your supplier well – Cost of electricity varies from supplier to supplier; hence you should use online comparison site to check which supplier is cheapest in your area.

6. Use full loads in dishwashers and washing machines – When using dishwasher and washing machines, fill them up as much as possible before you switch them on. Using full load in both washing machine and dishwasher will help you save electricity and water.

7. Consider using solar panels - Although the initial cost of getting solar panels fitted can be high, they can save a lot of money in the long run. These solar panels will produce their own solar energy that you can use instead of electricity from the grid. You can also get solar to only heat water instead of the whole house as the cost of installing that is cheaper. You will anyway be able to save a considerable amount of money on water heating costs.

Along with following these you should take care to switch off all your electrical appliances like computer, television, DVD players and entertainment system when not in use. This not only reduces your electricity bills and provide debt solutions but also helps you in saving energy.

Marlon Powell is a web marketing analyst. This is his first guest SJVCEO post.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Looking Forward To A Green Future

Everyday, I find some reason to be hopeful about clean energy and energy conservation, despite fuddy-duddies in Washington who believe a cleaner planet and lower power bills are bad things.

Today's hopeful moment is brought to you by the trio of Cargill, Shell and Honda, three heavy hitters demonstrating that innovation is alive and kicking. Their combined research into the fuel-making possibilities of pine and corn waste is another example of Big Business taking the lead on green energy.

Recent announcements from Dow Chemical, AT&T , and General Motors are other reasons for optimism. Those businesses, and others, are discovering that green is good socially and economically.

GM is particularly impressive. It is recycling oil-soaked booms from the Gulf spill into air deflectors for its new electric Volt. Read more about that here.

Those announcements are coming at the same time that the San Joaquin Valley, here in California's resource-rich heartland, is on tap to become a leader in solar and other types of renewable energy.

Dozens of solar projects - big and small - are proposed for the region between Stockton and the Grapevine. In addition, research into possible forms of biofuel is under way in the west side of the Valley, according to this story by former Fresno Bee colleague Dennis Pollock.

Combine those efforts with cost savings achieved by energy-conservation measures, such as work we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are doing with budget-slashed cities and counties to help them replace inefficient lighting, motors and other items, and green will be more than just a color.

Photo from

Everybody loves a Blog Engage contest!

Blog Engage RSS and Contest Sponsorship Services


One of our latest forays is into the realm of Blog Engage,

We're doing this to get more hits and expand our readership. The idea is to spread the news of what the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is all about (and that's making our Valley a better place to live).

To that end, we're participating in the Blog Engage competition for the month of June. Here's what it's all about:

One of the requirements is listing sponsors, who are mostly bloggers like Sandy Nax and I.

We're all trying to develop professional online relationships and expand our readership and markets. In the case of SJVCEO, we're looking to get the name of the clean energy nonprofit out there and get some public recognition while advocating development of a budding industry.

The rest of these bloggers have similar intent. Brian Belfitt at has brought us together under his web umbrella so we could share our talents and create new awareness and synergies. How he finds the time to have an ongoing conversation with many of us, I'll never know.

I learned of Blog Engage from Alex Whalley (click on the link that says Make Money Online) and since have become a believer. I'm a traditional (downsized) journalist who started crime reporting in Alaska in 1982, when a friend of mine escaped jail outside Palmer. He tried and failed to sneak out and back to get a bunch of liquor at the Quick Rip. Snow slowed him down, he called me from jail and I started a career that lasted until 2009.

So this online linking, friending, following stuff is all alien. It took months for the basics to sink in, and new stuff pops up daily. Learning about it, navigating through the mess and profiting from the experience is what many of this contest's sponsors offer.

They're as traditional -- if that's the right adjective -- as social media master Extreme John or hip and politically aware as Angry Latino. I just shared emails with Nicole Fende, who identifies herself as chief numbers whisperer of the Small Business Finance Forum. Very friendly and supportive.

People like Alex, Nicole and Brian actually don't mind offering advice. it's what they do. And they're pretty good at it. Brian even asked me (me?) for feedback.

My advice? Get out there and blog with the best of them.

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Self Publishing Blog - Photo Mystic Digital Photography - Princessa's Royal Diary

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Work With Mike Rao - Extreme John - Technically Easy

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Work at Home Job Resources - A Health Blog - Jane Sheeba Blogging Tips - Healthy Times Articles

Share your Mistakes and Excuses

Monday, June 6, 2011

Federal Government Calls For More Rooftop Solar

The San Joaquin Valley, with ample sun and land resources and mid-state location, is ideally positioned to help California reach its new 33% renewable energy mandate. As a result, dozens of solar-energy development proposals are waiting in the wings that could, if they get approved, help create what UC Merced envisions as "Solar Valley."

To us, Solar Valley would be more than large-scale solar farms that provide electricity to thousands of homes. It would also include smaller-scale localized developments that power dairy farms, water-treatment plants, warehouses, packinghouses, universities and schools, office buildings and apartment complexes.

One way to do that is through rooftop solar, where panels are affixed to tops of parking structures and buildings. The systems are close to the power source, and can help reduce power bills.

We've written about the concept previously, but now the federal government is attempting to boost it by challenging cities and counties to cut red tape, update codes or otherwise make rooftop solar easier and cheaper to install.

Fresno and Tulare counties are home to dozens of warehouses and distribution centers that could accommodate rooftop solar. The region is growing rapidly, and presents robust future opportunity for developers and businesses to become power generators through innovative rooftop solar programs.

Al Weinrub, a leader in the rooftop solar movement, has more in this study. Solar Valley may not be so far away after all.

SCE rooftop solar project photo by

Friday, June 3, 2011

World Environment Day is Sunday; give Mother Earth a hand

The weekend approaches and with it an event I've never paid any attention to.

But maybe I should. World Environment Day (Sunday, June 5) sounds pretty interesting. What better time to address the needs of Mother Earth?

Sure is a heck of a lot better than humming the words to Rebecca Black's viral video: "Friday, Friday, Friday; Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend ..." But I digress.

The U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency sent out an alert that it's celebrating World Environment Day with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. All of them are partners in something else I've never heard of called America’s Great Outdoors initiative.

The initiative's theme this year is "Forests: Nature at Your Service." Not bad. The intent is to get people to spend the weekend enjoying national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and cultural and historic sites -- as well as neighborhoods and city parks, community gardens and school yards.

“Forests are one of our world’s greatest treasures, bringing us natural beauty, clean air and a place our cherished wildlife can call home,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says in a statement.

Of course, this comes straight on the heels of the news that carbon dioxide emissions reached a record 30.6 gigatons (giga is billion) in 2010, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, says the situation "represent(s) a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.”

A friend of mine, Wade Erickson, spent several days last month driving up the Alaska-Canada Highway and passing through some of the most beautiful and undisturbed country in North America. He made video posts along the way, posting them on And while I remember the grueling hours behind the wheel, the scenery brought back memories.

The boreal forest is gnarled and nasty, something out of a cautionary fairy tale.  Yet to me, it's paradise. Mushy tundra. Were-mosquitoes. Moose. Rabbits. Bent alder. Streams you can safely drink from. Kluane Lake is surreal. Color reveals itself in a canvas of tiny flowers. Birds flit everywhere.

There's a hot springs outside Whitehorse that's worth the dip even in the dead of winter.

Wade and his brother Paul love the outdoors and like me tend to feel more at home outside than on the couch. I grew up in rural Alaska -- Fairbanks, Kodiak Island and Valdez. But I must admit preferring the big city of Anchorage as I got older.

Much of this is under atmospheric assault. In Alaska, we like warm winters. The statement in Fairbanks, "It was below 20 below only a couple weeks this winter," meant you were living in the tropics.

But in reality, this ain't a good thing. "We now seem to be nearing tipping points past which truly cataclysmic damage would be inevitable," writes climate activist and author Bill McKibben. "The only good news is that we are now also beginning to see some political drive for real change."

McKibben's pushing the envelope with the a group he founded,, and through activism. I've begun to view him as a seer, taking in what he says and trying to adapt to a new way of looking at energy, life and particulate-laden air.

So, Sunday. Give going outside a shot. Hang out in a park. Go see the massive General Sherman Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. For me it's an hour away. So there.

World Environment Day was launched in 1972 back when I was 11. Must have missed that press release. Now it's celebrated, or at least observed in some way, in 80 nations.

Solar could unlock path to clean energy; the sooner the better

The man with gnarled hands was a legend in Skagit County.

Many in the Washington state farming region said he could find water in a desert. The man's name eludes me and I'm sure he passed from this world, but he developed a reputation for finding the shortest route to tap fresh ground water. He charged nothing, and people from all walks swore by his skills.

I feel like asking that old water witcher for his advice now. But rather than water, I'd ask him to work his magic on the clean energy industry. Maybe take that fresh-cut Y-shaped branch and point to the shortest route for unlocking thousands of jobs in the promising sector.

Kind of a wise man (or woman) on the mountain thing.

After several years of hype, the clean energy industry appears on the verge. Solar's finally looking like it's got the chops to compete. Biofuel breakthroughs may propel relatively cheap new sources of U.S.-made fuel into the domestic pipeline. And wind continues to kick up dust, not to mention a bubbly hillbilly cousin, geothermal.

Nuclear's Fukushima shuffle appears to have added shine to the green sector. Nuclear power's reliance on huge government subsidies don't help it much either. And Germany's backing off nuclear further burnishes renewables's image.

Clint Wilder, senior editor of Portland, Ore.-based consultant Clean Edge Inc., offers an explanation for the recent spate of news. "Follow the money," he writes in a post.

Businesses from a variety of sectors and borders are looking to cleantech for opportunity, Wilder says. Among the examples he mentions is a $1 billion investment by European oil giant Total in SunPower.

Adam Browning of reports that the global solar photovoltaic market went from $2.5 billion in 2000 to $71.2 billion in 2010. Browning also writes about how the New York Solar Jobs Act, which seeks to build 5 gigawatts of solar in the state by 2025, has attracted the promotional efforts of "The Bachelorette's" Ryan Park and spots on the CBS Super Screen in Times Square.

A number of sources predict solar will reach parity with fossil fuels, most recently General Electric's Mark Little, global research director, who in a recent interview with Bloomberg estimates five years.

The U.S. Department of Energy also has contributed to the effort, most recently allocating $27 million to standardize regulatory procedures, reduce fees and "reduce the overall costs associated with permitting and installation," officials say. DOE also has established a $12.5 million challenge to encourage cities and counties to compete to streamline and digitize permitting processes.

In California, my employer, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, which largely administers clean energy grants for local governments, has uncovered a list of 93 solar projects in our valley that are either in the regulatory process or being proposed, and, according to California Department of Fish and Game, have little or no environmental impact to wildlife resources.

The projects represent about 8,600 megawatts and would cover about 64,000 acres. That's real progress and furthers the University of California, Merced's declaration of this as Solar Valley.

And I came across a juicy statistic in a piece by Michael Moynihan on Huffington Post about the new guy President Obama wants as Secretary of Commerce. Nominee John Bryson, former CEO of Edison International. Southern California Edison, looks like a good pick for cleantech. His legacy? A subsidiary of Edison International, writes Moynihan, buys 65 percent of all solar power generated in the United States.

The San Joaquin Valley contributes a big portion of that sun-harvested energy and will provide more, soon. My colleague and I have been saying for the past year that our region is a Petri dish for clean energy, with all its attributes. I hope we're right. With jobless rates in rural parts of this region pushing 40 percent and national rates climbing, we could use the economic activity.

The need couldn't be greater. The International Energy Agency says that after a dip in 2009 because of the global financial crisis, "energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions in 2010 were the highest in history."

The IEA says it estimates that 80 percent of projected energy-related emissions in 2020 are "already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today."

But recognition of coming trouble is starting to dawn. While the topic remains ultra-controversial and mostly off limits in Congress, others in the international arena are less afraid to address the symptoms of climate change. The Associated Press reports that in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit officials from the World Bank and 40 cities from around the world pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is optimistic. "This unique partnership with the World Bank will help solve many of the problems that cities face in obtaining financing for climate-related projects," he tells the AP.

Sounds good, but it's likely just a drop in the bucket. Change, the saying goes, doesn't happen overnight.

We could use that old water witcher right about now. Maybe he's already here. Bill McKibben and his offer some pretty good directions on how to get there.