Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guest post: Solarthon comes to Madera & GRID Alternatives celebrates women in solar

Solarthon comes to Madera on April 21. The community solar installation event is GRID Alternatives’ biggest fundraiser and brings together hundreds of sponsors, job trainees and homeowners. GRID Alternatives' mission is to empower communities in need by providing renewable energy and energy efficiency services, equipment and training.

Erica Mackie, co-founder and executive director, and the folks at GRID Alternatives put this together to highlight some of the achievements of women in GRID.

Mackie says, "When I was in engineering school, there were only three other women in my class. Construction and engineering, both major pieces of the solar picture, are dominated by men.

"But at GRID Alternatives, we believe that solar is for everyone. From our construction crews to our volunteers, clients, donors and staff, we have an amazing base of women who get out there and get the job done. And those who have volunteered with us know that getting experience in solar can open up all kinds of doors in the industry, not just on the installation side, but also in sales, client support and project management."

Carmen Valles, Coachella Valley volunteer

After working for years as a bank executive, Carmen decided it was time to reinvent herself. Her requirements for starting a new career included two things: an up-and-coming industry with room for growth and something she would be passionate about.

Carmen enrolled in College of the Desert’s photovoltaic class to learn about solar because, in her words, “Why not use what’s right in front of us?” She began volunteering with GRID Alternatives in June 2011, and since then has participated in over 21 solar installations throughout the Inland Empire.

She became a GRID Alternatives Ground and Roof Team Leader in early September 2011. “I have gained a wealth of knowledge — more knowledge than I could have gained in my classroom setting alone,” she says. Carmen has now taken that experience and, along with a business partner, launched her own solar PV and solar thermal installation company.

Angela McCormick, Templeton homeowner

Angela was painting doors and installing weather stripping the day a team of GRID Alternatives volunteers came to install her new solar system. She wanted to help, but she had her hands full. A single mother of two and full time deputy county clerk, Angie was also building her own home, from the ground up, through the People’s Self-Help Housing Program.

“I had never done any kind of construction work before,” says Angie. “But I fell in love with it.” She and her neighbors, thirty-two other families who worked in teams to get the neighborhood built, will all receive solar systems through GRID Alternatives.

“The GRID volunteers are just awesome!” Angie writes in her blog. “They took every opportunity to educate me in solar energy, what they were doing, what my system is capable of.” Angie, her son (and construction partner) Shorty, and her daughter Angelina will move into their new home this week. “My hope is that once we are settled, I can take the GRID Alternatives volunteer orientation and volunteer on another installation,” she says.

Lara Ettenson, Bay Area donor and volunteer

“GRID leaves fingerprints all over my life,” says Lara Ettenson, a long-time GRID Alternatives donor and volunteer.

Lara has participated in over 10 solar installations for Bay Area families to date, and says she still can’t get enough. As director of energy efficiency policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, she is no stranger to renewables, but there is something about the GRID Alternatives model that moves her -- the engagement with the homeowners, the sense of community among the volunteers and the green job training.

Lara became a GRID Alternatives donor back in 2007 when she was fresh out of graduate school and still looking for work.
Jasmine Shepard, Bay Area volunteer and training associate

When Jasmine got her her degree in electrical engineering, she decided to apply her skills to changing the culture of consumption she grew up with in her hometown of Augusta, Ga. Jasmine started researching career opportunities in California and in 2009 moved to Oakland for an AmeriCorps VISTA position.

She found GRID Alternatives later that same year. “I got waitlisted too!” she says of her volunteer experience. In 2011, she got an AmeriCorps position at GRID Alternatives. Jasmine is also a teacher’s assistant at Laney College in the Environmental Control Technology Department, a freelance web designer, and a talented pastry chef (GRID staff is particularly happy she has this hidden talent.)

Her favorite part of working at GRID Alternatives? “The volunteers. They come from all different backgrounds and are so enthusiastic and inquisitive. I learn so much from them!”

Gustine goes green with energy efficiency

The City of Gustine can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Or, in this case, in the street.

A total of 53 brand new light emitting diode, or LED, street lights have been installed, casting a brighter glow on City streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 23,962 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $3,047 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Gustine joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

The City worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which installed the lights through its LED street light retrofit program.

Oakdale goes green with new tech and lighting

The City of Oakdale will be saving thousands of dollars each year through new energy efficient street lights and by adding new technology to its water wells.

A total of 184 brand new street lights with induction-style bulbs have been installed, casting a brighter glow on city streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

The City also has installed variable frequency drive, or VFD, units at three of its water wells, enabling significant savings by controlling energy to the pumps and thus regulating their speed and consumption of power. A VFD allows for smoother operation, acceleration control and different operating speeds for various operations.

“This project will help us, as a City, lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower our electricity bills, and turn back on some of the street lights that have been dark for years now,” said Anthony Smith, Oakdale Administrative Analyst. “In addition, the new variable frequency drives will allow us to lower energy consumption and better respond to changes in demand in the water system.”

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 204,159 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $25,000 a year and a greenhouse gas reduction about the same as taking 29 cars off the road.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

The money that makes the majority of the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Oakdale joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Frito-Lay purchases Stockton, Calif.-built electric trucks

Electric Vehicles International is at it again.

The Stockton, Calif.-based company has inked a deal with Frito-Lay North America that will send an additional five of its electric-powered EVI-MD delivery trucks to the snack food giant. Frito-Lay completed a test of one of the trucks in Alameda, Calif. and plans to use the additional trucks on routes in Northern California.

“The EVI electric vehicles give Frito-Lay another promising option to help meet our long term goal of being the greenest fleet in North America,” says Mike O’Connell, senior director of Fleet Capability at Frito-Lay, in a statement.

This is just the latest from EVI, which has been creating electric powertrains for the past 20 years. In August 2011, the company finalized a deal with UPS for 100 delivery trucks, and it hasn't slowed down. In January 2012, it expanded its California manufacturing operation with new equipment and 30,000 square feet, and in March the company announced it opened an office in Southfield, Mich., which is 15 miles north of Detroit.

However, another deal hardly makes a trend. Charis Michelsen of cleantechnica.com says, "It’s definitely a promising start, but let’s wait to see how far Frito Lay North America goes in converting its massive fleet to something cleaner and greener." As evidenced by Michelsen's story, the deal did get attention. Expect the clean energy press to be watching closely.

For Frank Ferral at the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, expansion of EVI is a good thing because he says the company hires local. Ferral is also a board member of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.

Frank Jenkins, EVI vice president of sales and Marketing, acknowledges the potential of the most current deal. “Frito-Lay is a leader in the adoption of zero emission delivery vehicles and is the ideal customer and fleet application for our medium duty, return-to-base trucks,” he says.

EVI, which has been producing such powertrains for 20 years, says its all-electric drivetrain in the Frito trucks is "seamlessly integrated" in a Daimler Freightliner M2. The truck offers a 90-mile range and top speed of 65 mph. It uses a 99 kilowatt hour lithium phosphate battery system from Austin, Texas-based Valence Technology.

Other stories of interest:
Stockton electric truck company scores big with UPS

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

San Joaquin finds savings in energy efficiency

The City of San Joaquin has brightened up its buildings and streets while saving money through a reduction in energy consumption.

A total of 35 brand new light emitting diode (LED) street lights have been installed, casting a brighter glow than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced.

Other related projects include programmable thermostats and occupancy sensors; together with the new street lights, the City can expect to reduce their energy consumption by 14,910 kilowatt hours producing an estimated savings of $1,790 per year.

Mayor Amarpreet Dhaliwal says this project is a big deal for the City as it isn’t costing the City a dime and it is leading the way in efforts to reduce energy consumption which is keeping with the goals of the City’s Local Government Partnership, a joint project with PG&E, whose purpose is to educate residents and businesses on energy conservation in order to generate reductions in energy consumption.

The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

San Joaquin joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

Corporate America's secret truth about energy




Did you know you work for an energy company?

It doesn't matter if your employer is a retailer, an insurance company or a manufacturer of widgets. If energy isn't influencing corporate decisions, it will soon.

From a new Deloitte Touche report: "Every company is an energy company. This might come as a surprise to many of them. But a decade from now, a company without an 'energy and sustainability' department could be as unusual as one without a human resources department. Either that, or it might be out of business. "

The sustainability movement is growing. Sure, it's in infancy, but energy can account for up to 20% of a corporation's expense sheet, and is increasingly unreliable and hard to budget. So, the motivation to slash costs and become more efficient while decreasing the carbon footprint is there.

Sustainability, at its heart, is just good business. "The most crucial spur for action may be the risk that a company’s operations could be disrupted by energy shortages, outages, or an unplanned and unmanageable rise in the price of energy," Deloitte says.

"The sooner companies begin to understand and actively manage their energy use—and their energy sources, including possible ways to produce their own energy—the faster they’ll enter a more enlightened world, one with the potential for a number of advantages including significant savings, a better bottom line, greater customer loyalty, a cost-edge over competitors, lower business risk, and a company-wide awareness of sustainability that can rein in resource waste across the board."

I particularly like the phrase, "Enlightened world." It's true, judging from our vantage point as a nonprofit involved in energy efficiency work with cities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, and with educational partners. People want cleaner air and energy.

And, perhaps, more employment possibilities. Check out this story about building energy rating and disclosure, which is close to our heart, and this one about growth and salaries.

Environmental enlightenment is growing. Well, maybe not in Congress, but Corporate America (Honeywell is doing something cool), the military, professional sports, schools, local governments and, yes, even NASCAR are picking up the theme. Even my teen-age daughter references the carbon footprint when I suggest she go pick up something I forgot at the store.

"I don't want to increase my carbon footprint," she says from her position on the couch.

Ok, so that isn't exactly what I mean, but you get the picture. Sustainability is "in", despite what you hear from politicians running for election, and could be a solution, not a problem. Even Warren Buffett, one of the world's richest men and most famous investor acknowledges it here.

Deloitte suggests ways to enhance corporate sustainability efforts, suggesting directors make them a mandate. They should measure progress, offer incentives to employees who improve efficiency and then springboard off their sustainability efforts to build their brands.

"The drive to sustainability is a drive to creativity and innovation," The Deloitte report states as its final paragraph." May the cleanest, most energy efficient corporations win."

Raisin Capital shines under new lights




The City of Selma can be viewed in a new light.

The City has 144 new light emitting diode, or LED, street lights casting a brighter glow than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

“In these challenging budget times, it is a great assistance to have new street lights provided through a grant that will help the City of Selma reduce its utility bills, as well as provide brighter lighting for residents, said Ken Grey, Mayor

This means significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits, when complete, will save the City about 66,700 kilowatt hours of power and about $8,500 in energy costs per year. The amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere annually would be roughly equivalent to that produced by 9 passenger vehicles.

And those are big deals in these economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money came from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to receive grant funding for this project. Without the funding for purchase and installation of the lighting, we would not have the chance to do this replacement project,” said George Rodriguez, Mayor Pro Tem.

Selma, which is known as the Raisin Capital, joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

The City worked with Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which installed the lights through its LED street light retrofit program.

photo of Selma Raisin Festival by City of Selma

Monday, March 26, 2012

Firebaugh finds green beyond its verdant fields

The City of Firebaugh is now home to a total of 81 brand new light emitting diode, or LED, street lights, and they’re casting a brighter glow on City streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced.

The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 26,516 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $3,372 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

The project is one of several the City is pursuing to improve its future. The west-side Fresno County community of 7,000 hasn't let size get in its way of its ambitions, attracting solar and biofuel interests and pursuing sustainability.

Firebaugh's long-term strategy is to lower its greenhouse gas footprint and improve its quality of life. The City is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through its Sustainable Communities Initiative. The goal of the program is to provide equitable development, planning and development approaches for achieving shared prosperity.

The City also launched an effort to better connect with the free-flowing San Joaquin River. The community began as a ferry crossing when most traffic into the Valley traveled via a much more robust waterway.

For the street light project, Firebaugh joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

The City worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which installed the lights through its LED street light retrofit program.

Riverbank develops energy efficiency, can jobs be far behind?


The City of Riverbank has delivered bright economical lights to one of the city’s largest buildings and biggest potential job creators.

A total of 138 brand new light emitting diode, or LED, lights have been installed in the Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant, casting a brighter glow on the building’s cavernous interior than the old metal halide fixtures they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City and business tenants much needed cash on their utility bills.

“Thanks to this innovative financing opportunity, the City was able to provide real, bottom line, measurable savings to conscientious businesses at the Army Plant through the installation of energy efficient lighting that reduces their utility bills,” said Jill Anderson, Riverbank City Manager.

What this is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 107,890 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $12,947 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

The City is using the 700,000-square-foot former munitions production buildings for economic development and as a kind of business incubator, attracting tenants that need inexpensive space to develop businesses with serious job-creating potential.

Riverbank joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

Dos Palos saves money with energy efficiency

The City of Dos Palos is greeting the spring a little greener than usual.

A total of 11 brand new light emitting diode, or LED, street lights have been installed, casting a brighter glow on city streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. City buildings also are scheduled to receive a lighting face-lift. The new lights are significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

Energy efficiency measures continued with replacement of air conditioning units, putting in place modern systems that use much less electricity.

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 25,275 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $3,030 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Dos Palos joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

The City worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which installed the lights through its LED street light retrofit program.

Photo: Joshua Orizaga

Matt Falcon: Confessions of an e-bike rider in Fresno, Calif.

We ran across electric-bike enthusiast Matt Falcon via Pete Moe, who is one of the organizers for Fresno Earth Day 2012, which is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 14 at 2672 E. Alluvial Ave. in Fresno. I'd just completed a post on e-bikes. The concept of independent power (other than a 2-cycle engine) on a two-wheeler fascinated me ever since living in rural Fairbanks, Alaska and having to peddle 10 miles of hills just to get to the outskirts of town.

I asked Falcon to answer some questions. He's a trailblazer in a trend that Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says is "being driven by macroeconomic trends such as the growth of urbanization and the increasing need for low-cost transportation in developing markets."

 Matt Falcon: I'd be SO happy to be part of this! In all my years of being an online activist (don't say it ... don't say it ... "Slacktivist" ... OK, FINE, I said it!), I haven't ever really even been as much as quoted by someone else ... which is kinda sad! Really wish more people could see my experiences. I think a lot of people could benefit from a change in perspective every once in a while ... :)

San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization: What’s your profession and full name and any other biographical information about yourself you can think of?
Falcon: My name is Matt Smith, although I often prefer to go by Matt Falcon due to my almost embarrassingly generic full name. I'm an IT guy for Lance-Kashian & Co. (in Fresno, Calif.), which I refer to as "the company that owns River Park" (though I'm not speaking on their behalf; this is all personal experience). I'm a "geek." I can fix pretty much anything involving electronics or computers (don't throw anything out -- it can almost always be fixed!)

Most of my belongings, including the laptop I'm writing this on now, were junk-pile discards due to some malfunction or blown-out part -- usually failed capacitors from the 2003-2007 years. I take these things in, figure out what's wrong with them, fix them up (for the laptop, I literally baked the video card in an oven for 5 minutes while monitoring it with an IR temperature probe), and put them back to use. I recover data from peoples' computers that think they "lost it all," and I breathe new life into computers that were messed up from peoples' friends who think they know how to "fix" a computer by carrying around a Windows installation CD! I also do a little bit of web work and built the websites falconfour.com and hostfile.org, among a few others -- though I don't do that as a business due to the work involved in writing it by hand.

I've also got a particular "soft spot" for F-16 fighter planes and a sort-of secondary interest in aviation, although bare-essentials finances keeps me from actually pursuing my interest in aviation. F-16s may seem kind of strange for an "eco-geek" like me to admire so much, but, hey, we all have our quirks, right?

Personally, I love them not for their blowing-stuff-up abilities but for their elegant, beautiful design and flying capabilities -- the most stunning ones I've seen are unarmed with nothing hanging from the wings! Also, as the name might imply, I really admire birds of prey - particularly the peregrine falcon - as my sort of personal "symbol." Truly a magnificent and beautiful bird, although I have yet to actually see one in person. Hopefully that'll change some day!

SJVCEO: How did you get interested in electric bikes?
Falcon: I literally just Googled it one night, thinking, jokingly, "yeah right. If they exist, I could never afford one." I've always been an advocate of battery-powered electric vehicles and swore up and down I'd make my first car an electric car since I was about 10 years old (when the EV1 was just coming around). They're geek, they're chic and by all scientific metrics, they are the definitive solution to our energy and oil problems. But my first car ended up being (and still is) an '87 Fiero, that gets roughly 16 miles per gallon with short trips around Fresno, but about 25 mpg on the highway. My trip to work is so short, the engine would barely get warmed up -- and while the engine is cold, the engine sucks up twice the amount of fuel while idling and driving.

There had to be a better way -- for a while, I rode an '07 Kawasaki Ninja 250 on my daily commute and got around 60 mpg, but that ended in disaster when an ex-roommate's druggie friend came and set fire to our motorcycles over a feud I wasn't even involved in. No insurance since I wasn't exactly expecting arson to be the cause of my bike's demise. So I got $100 from the scrapyard for it, and lost $4,000 of a sub-10,000 mile bike. Police refused to take a report and wanted me to fill out a "vandalism report." Crushing. But with that, I couldn't invest in a new motorcycle, and I certainly couldn't afford an electric conversion for my car.

A bike, maybe? No way. I'm a geek, not a jock -- I can't even jog more than 2 minutes without collapsing for breath! Riding a bike is an exercise in futility -- it'd get shelved and I'd go right back to the car. I remembered the idea of mopeds, and I got to wondering "is there such a thing as an electric bike?" When I Googled it, Google's shopping results popped up a shocking almost-typo-esque price tag - $350! "Say whaaa?" And the rest ... well, you can imagine. I first ordered my bike from Best Buy, but after placing the order, they went on "back order" with a 30-day window. "Waah ... I want it NOW!" It was really that exciting for me! Amazon had it for $450 (free expedited shipping with Prime - yes, even for an 80-pound bike!), and I made a deal with my roommate/friend to buy my gaming laptop for ordering the bike (and a few hundred more, later). Done.

SJVCEO: What’s the make of your e-bike and why did you choose it?

Falcon: It's the Currie Technologies eZip Trailz bike. I chose it strictly for its price tag and the whole "electric" thing, which I started eagerly talking to everyone I knew about from the moment I ordered it. I've never really had any decent experience on a bike and didn't own one for more than 10 years before buying this, so I had no idea what to shop for! Absolutely no regrets, though. After assembly and set-up, the thing has been a dream ever since.

SJVCEO: What’s it like battling traffic in some of Fresno’s toughest streets, for instance the high traffic of Blackstone Avenue?

Falcon: I think the best way to describe it is "semi-organized chaos." The streets are well designed for cars, but bikes are often less than an after-thought in street planning and striping. (More often than not, it's a striping problem!) Blackstone is a mess, hopping up onto the sidewalk and back down into the street as lanes widen and narrow, pushing me into the potential path of cars going 40 mph (while I'm doing 17).

Then, sidewalks have control boxes and fire hydrants strategically placed in clumps to make it a fighter-pilot-like test of steel nerves and driving skills to avoid getting part of the bike caught on while passing through at 10-15 mph. (I've failed once, almost broke the pedal getting caught on one of those dang boxes in the sidewalk). Bike lanes are few and far between, but are still a godsend. I can stop worrying about being in the way of someone turning or passing, since it's clearly defined for them.

Problem with many Fresno bike lanes is that they're such an afterthought. Many streets are wide enough for them (Blackstone, for example) but don't have them marked. Others come and go on wild whims over "county islands" like Sierra/Fresno and Herndon/Fresno, where huge dirt/weed lots break up the easy-going ride into nervous chaos.

I actually mucked up the bike mechanics pretty bad trying to get from the corner of Fresno/Herndon to Blackstone/Herndon through the dirt "sidewalk path" (where a sidewalk should be) at the 41 onramp, and getting stuck in some mud. The street is too narrow to ride on, and the path is too unstable to ride through, though it's supported on both ends of the dirt path by sidewalks. It's like someone intentionally said, "Ha-ha! We hate bikes."

Another common problem with bike lanes is that they end into right-turn lanes at intersections, putting "Me Versus the Cars" while cars have a poor driving habit of slowing down in the last 10 feet to stop, they approach the ending bike lane at 30MPH and I'm still slowing down at 14. Then, I'm nervously either stopped in the rightmost straight-through lane, or (as I'm often doing now) taking the sidewalk to stop at the crosswalk, then crossing back into the bike lane or edge of the road when the light turns green. That's been my safest and least obstructive option so far.

All in all, once I get a route planned, it's easy cake. Only unfamiliar streets tend to have these problems, and the only problems that come from them are from drivers that don't realize I'm doing 16-17 mph and try to zip past me to get into that right-turn lane instead of just slowing down to pass safely behind me. It's not too bad, and with the electric motor, it's easy to stop on a dime and zip back up to speed to avoid problems without any major inconvenience.

SJVCEO: How frequently do you ride?

Falcon: Every. Single. Day. It's completely replaced my car, which the roommate is now borrowing while he gets his car fixed. I ride to work every day (as was the original plan). And with a home-made lithium-polymer (LiPo) battery upgrade instead of the stock SLA (lead) battery, I'm excited to take it around and show off its power. I ride to work, I ride to friend's houses, I ride just to get out and find some place to go. At work I even find excuses to go visit the River Park management office and say, "Hi," and zip around River Park without pedaling, turning heads. It's always fun to hop up a curb at low speed without pedaling. The motor is powerful enough to get both tires up the curb with just a little jerk of the front wheel!

SJVCEO: If you are not already, would you consider commuting to work? If you already are, what’s it like?

Falcon: Absolutely. I ride to work every day it's not raining. (And I've even rode in the rain!) It's routine now after three or four weeks of riding almost every day (except the recent rains). The route passes by a gas station on the way, and I sometimes let off the throttle a little late, showing off that electric "zzzz" as I approach the stop sign! It takes roughly 15 minutes to get to the office from my front door, for about a 3 mile trip.

SJVCEO: Do you get stares when people figure out there’s something different about your bike?

Falcon: Ah, I had that "Don't talk to strangers" thing beaten into me when I was young and in school, which made me somewhat of a keep-to-myself person in public. I never really notice. But when I'm stopped, I think I've had one or two people ask me about it. I really rely on the battery pack on the side, the lack of pedaling, the speed, and the sound of the motor to answer peoples' silent questions about it.

SJVCEO: What do people say when they find out?
Falcon: The obvious, usually, "An electric bike?"... No, it's powered by unicorns! ... "What's the range on one of those things?" ... Infinite, as long as you can pedal -- but about 10 miles with my 260-pound, 6-foot 1-inch (frame) being hauled around on pure electric power. ... "How fast does it go?" ... Legal speed, which is under 20 miles an hour (le sigh). And of course, "How much does one of those cost?" which is surprisingly one of the less common questions. And, of course, I quote it as $450, since that $350 one at Best Buy was out of stock. People often sound interested, like they didn't know this thing actually existed.

SJVCEO: What’s the range?

Falcon: I've found it can be determined roughly by "1 amp-hour per mile." So if you've got a 10Ah battery, it's about 10 miles of electric power. It varies based on your weight, though -- 1Ah/mile is what I get. Friday (March 23) I took it out with the new lithium pack I built (10Ah, 25.9 volts), and the original SLA battery (10Ah, 24 volts) in tow as backup, all the way along the Sugar Pine trail from start to end. Around Old Town Clovis at the 10-mile mark, the lithium pack reached its end. So I wired up the SLA batteries to the charger I use (iCharger 208B+) and fed the lithium pack with 10 amps (I added heavy-duty charge wiring inside the pack - much thicker than the stock wires) and kept riding, while the battery charged when I let off the throttle or stopped.

After the trail (very abruptly!) ended along Clovis Avenue into a dirt trail, I took it down to McKinley/Clovis to catch a passing glimpse of those F-16s I admire. It got me the rest of the way home with a little dead-battery pedaling when they both went dead. When I got home, the trip meter (calibrated and tested to its wheel size) indicated 25 miles on that trip. What a day!

SJVCEO: Do you have it configured to carry cargo?

Falcon: It comes with a little metal strap-down rack in the back. And I used the elastic-cord cargo net from my old Ninja days to strap down my Solo "Smart Strap" laptop bag (retracting shoulder strap, so it doesn't hang loose on the bike). That holds my laptop and various other things for work, and I take it every day. I've also routinely used it for carrying groceries and other shopping goods, as long as I've got that strap. It's a really basic setup, but it works great!

SJVCEO: Do you use it to shop?

Falcon: Absolutely. Can't stack a whole lot on it, but I have done some grocery shopping and even carried home a new pillow hanging off the handlebar! I haven't started up the car in over a week, especially now with the roommate driving it.

SJVCEO: What about locking it up? Are you concerned about somebody taking it, and what measures do you take?

Falcon: Shoot, I'm worried sick about getting it stolen! I've watched surveillance footage of some people going up to a bike, pulling bolt cutters out of a backpack, clipping a lock off, and riding off with the bike. Because it's so easy to break a simple cable lock, I originally bought both a cable and a U-lock - the cable lock to go from the frame, through the front wheel, to the rack; the U-lock then goes through the wheel to the rack to hold it all in place.

The cheap $15 U-Lock at Target was so poorly constructed, though (shame on you Master Lock for putting your name on that thing!), that the key broke off in the lock a week after buying it, with almost no pressure! I got the key part out, soldered it back together (did you know keys can be soldered? I only found out by trying it!), and got the lock off to return it. Now I lock it up at work with a Kryptonite Kryptolok Series 2 cable/U-Lock combo -- a very thick cable and a very thick U-lock with a sturdy key, from Amazon for only about $30. For short term lock-up, I just use the cable lock.

As an additional security measure, though, I also have photos of the bike and the serial number, as well as photos of the home-built battery pack (and its cells I bought online), and pay $20 a month for personal property insurance with a $100 deductible through Wells Fargo. If the bike ever gets stolen, as I understand it, it should be covered. But I really don't want to have to see if that's true. ;)

SJVCEO: Would you recommend electric bikes to others?

Falcon: Ab-so-friggin'-lutely! I scoff mercilessly as I see Hummers and huge hulking SUVs on the road that pass me just to stop at the upcoming red light. They must love their gas bills. I've saved over $60 in gas in the month I've owned this bike so far, just by not having to burn any gas at all. Charging the battery literally only costs about $0.04 per charge in electricity, and that's being generous. If more people rode electric or drove electric, there'd be a lot less use of foreign oil.

Since electricity is generated here in the good ole' USA -- you can't import electricity, but you CAN generate it yourself -- we wouldn't be tearing up forests in Canada to extract bitumen for tar sands oil over the Keystone XL pipeline. And we wouldn't be polluting thousands of towns' groundwater by fracking for natural gas to be used in processing that dirty oil either. There's a long, long line of benefits, both economic and environmental, to driving or riding on electric power that can be generated with nearly anything that moves, turns or heats. It's just tough breaking a century of old habits and perceptions.

SJVCEO: What advice would you have to a new buyer? (and anything else you can think of)

Falcon: If you're in the market for a new car, check out the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, the plug-in Prius or the upcoming Tesla Model S. But if you're not in the market to drive electric, at least ride electric. You can do what I did and buy the $450 Currie eZip Trailz, or one of the other reasonably-priced offerings from Currie. Or you can keep your eye out for other options.

Most electric bikes are insanely, senselessly and prohibitively overpriced in the $1,000-3,000 range, while really offering nothing that the eZip doesn't. They may be hand-crafted and one-off manufactured, but so were cars before Henry Ford figured out how to do it cheaper. There are also conversion kits available, such as hub-motors (motor inside the wheel) and chain-drive conversions for existing bikes with a quick Google search (I'd imagine "e-bike conversion"), in the $300-$500 range.

In terms of battery technology, you get what you pay for. Lead batteries are 150-year-old technology and are cheap but have a limited lifespan. They HATE being fully discharged and hate staying that way even more! (Lead batteries are) quoted around 200 charges, but the performance decreases pretty dramatically over time.

Lithium batteries will pretty much last forever, but e-bike manufacturers put the price around $200-300 for a pack. The Currie-manufactured lithium upgrade pack/charger for the eZip is on Amazon for $400. Not sure where they got that price from. Converting my SLA (lead) pack into lithium cost me $150 in LiPo 5Ah cells from Hobby King, and about 6 hours of rather tedious and mind-altering (yay, soldering fumes!) assembly and testing. So the price isn't exactly unjustified; they're just expensive. Well worth it, though. The power boost is incredible. Lithiums don't "drop out" under load like leads do and can power the bike so rapidly, I can keep up with accelerating cars at a green light. And the pack will last pretty much forever if you treat it right (quoted around 8,000 cycles).

Get a decent lock to protect your bike, as mentioned above. Get a speedometer/computer for keeping track of your speed and miles, for your range monitoring and your own information. Last but not least, keep everything maintained. I found my tires went from 60 psi down to 25 psi over the course of riding for a month, and the speed and range went down as well! After a month, brakes were covered in road dust (and mud, from that ugly dirt-lot mishap), and squealing like nails on chalkboard. Chain was grinding with dirt and gunk. Air compressor, wet paper towel, and chain lube, and it's much happier.

If you don't like high gas prices, stop buying gas! :)

Another post of interest:
Sick of traffic? Try peddling an e-bike

Grant opportunity for biomass, biofuel research


The federal Departments of Agriculture and Energy, continuing research into biomass and biofuel, are funding projects that combine three program areas: (A) Feedstock development, (B)Biofuels and bio based products development, and (C) Biofuels and bio-based products development analysis.

The agencies are accepting grant applications through April 24 for projects that research or demonstrate the conversion of feedstock and cellulosic biomass into biofuel and bio-based products such as chemicals, animal feed and co-generation power.

Successful applications will consider cradle-to-grave impacts, including environmental, social and economic implications. Nonprofits, universities and businesses are invited to apply for the grants. More information can be found here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fowler lights up its streets in a green way

The City of Fowler can be viewed in a new light.

A total of 51 brand new light emitting diode, or LED, street lights have been installed, casting a brighter glow on City streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 31,192 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $3,791 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Fowler joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership assists with the grant paperwork.

The City worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which installed the lights through its LED street light retrofit program.

Sick of traffic? Try peddling an e-bike

Plan to leave downtown San Francisco in a car at rush hour?

Forget about it. Drivers are instantly locked in a metallic struggle pumping out CO2 while inching toward the Highway 101 on ramp.

A solution may be to pick up a bike. Maybe a 2012 Kalkhoff Sahel Pro S11 electric bike. A little pricey, but definitely more maneuverable.

In the United Kingdom, sales of the rather pricey bike are picking up as gas prices push the $10 per gallon mark.

"The big petrol price hike is happening right now and the phones are much busier than we would expect this early in the year," said an official of UK-based 50cycles.com via web chat. And is it a trend? "Too early to tell, but the signs are good."

Battling traffic

Commuters' battles with traffic congestion can shave years off their lives. Many stagger their drive time. Arrive early, leave early. They figure out a drill. Seattle to New York City, it's all the same.

However, change is coming with higher fuel prices and a cultural shift. No longer does everyone want to live in far-flung suburbia. The allure of a cookie-cutter home on a street named Willow Brook Lane and surrounded by a stone wall and electronically controlled black metal gates is growing a bit stale to the younger generation.

There's growing demand for homes closer to work, shops and mass transportation. Home builders, redevelopers and even some urban planners are beginning to see opportunity, fueling a growing sustainable communities movement.

Sustainable living

The voices for rethinking urban living are growing stronger. For instance, even the American Society of Landscape Architects says urban development should be guided by a sustainable planning that promotes interconnected green space, multi-modal transportation systems and mixed-use development. In other words, it should be people friendly.

New York City entrepreneur Mark Gorton is a big proponent of getting more bikes and fewer cars on the road. Controlling traffic and improving the quality of urban living is the goal of his Rethinking the Automobile project. Gorton, whose credits include forming almost a half dozen investment firms and other ventures, says what's good for a person -- a safe, slow and not very directional environment -- is not what's good for a car.

And mixing the two has created urban environments that cater to cars and trucks and "hostile for people," he says.

Bike riding open to new riders

So, should you buy a bike? The question until now has been generally "No." But that could change with the advent of technology that allows a relatively out-of-shape person on the aforementioned Kalkhoff to blast up to 40 miles on a charge on a electric-powered bike.

50cycles Ltd., which markets the Kalkhoff in England, explains it this way in a recent statement: "Unpowered bikes are great if you're super fit, in no big hurry or relaxed about wearing acres of day-glo Lycra. Electric bikes encouraging a new and broader range of cyclists to take to the roads."

Nicely put. I've commuted via bike. Not bad but getting to work covered in a sheen of sweat doesn't necessarily blend with the necktie.

Here's a testimonial also provided by 50cycles.com:

Mike Sandford bought his Kalkhoff Agattu electric bike to continue riding into his 70s. The official of the London Marathon modified the bicycle to precisely measure the course distance before last year's race. "It is perfect for this," Mike says, "because it flattens the hills and overcomes the wind. I no longer get tired and very slow as I did in my 60s."
There you have it.

E-bike players increase

German-made Kalkhoff is hardly the only one in the game. The company markets the bikes in this country through the Portland, Ore.-based Kalkhoff USA. The Sahel costs a little south of $3,500, about the price of a really nice road bike or about 35 times the price a meth head would charge on the streets. But his are stolen.

I digress.

Another is Currie Technologies, a Chatsworth, Calif.-based developer and distributor of electric-powered bikes and scooters marketed under the IZIP and eZip brands.

And there is Optibike, a company that engineer and tri-athlete Jim Turner started out of his Boulder, Colo. garage. His vision, according to Optibike's website: "Make the world's best electric bicycle, with no compromises in quality, performance or style." Price for the Commuter is $5,995 and a range of 20 miles.


Truly, another e-biking offers another option. But it's one that may evolve into a successful sector in the already burgeoning battery-powered market. Cars are coming online rapidly, either as full-on electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. The jury's still out, but gas prices certainly have people thinking about alternatives.

Other stories of interest:
People can adjust to friendlier streets, fewer cars
Coda ships first car; electric vehicle news accelerates

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coda ships first car; electric vehicle news accelerates

Coda is shipping its small electric cars to customers.

Mercedes, meanwhile, has confirmed that it will begin building an electric version of its SLS super car .

And recharging stations are popping up. Oregon's got a 160-mile section of Interstate 5 covered with eight recharging stations, enabling electric-car drivers to conquer range anxiety. Even in California's sunny and fossil-fuel dominated San Joaquin Valley, such docking stations may be on their way.

"Change is coming," writes John Voelcker, senior editor of Green Car Reports, in a piece about the declining price of electric car batteries that touched on EV trends. He advises taking the long view of the industry and forecasts a price decline in batteries of about 7 percent a year.

Developments continue

Activity in the electric car sector -- despite the lackluster sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in recent months -- has been nothing short of frenetic. Automakers and parts and component manufacturers just keep announcing developments, far beyond the prototype stage. And while Coda's deliveries are about a year and a half later than initially promised, the cars are on their way to a dealer network. Tesla's also planning to bring its Model S sedan to market in big numbers next year, and its Model X SUV is in the works.

Even the resurrected DeLorean Motor Co. is back with an electric version of its flagship gull-wing "Back to the Future" car.

Now there's even an option for the person of means. Say this average high-brow consumer has a little spare cash, maybe something north of $200,000, for a unique environmentally conscious ride. The Mercedes SLS E-Cell would be the perfect selection.

Indubitably.



Electric cars can perform

And it will be U.S. made. Brian Dodson of gizmag.com says the offering from Mercedes-AMG has been "confirmed for production in Detroit in January will be available in 2013."

Dodson says the E-Cell accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds, just a hair shy of its gas-powered counterpart, which covers the same distance in 3.8 seconds. The e-version tops out at 155 mph, while the other can manage a whopping 197 mph.

"You will not believe the performance," says David Coulthard, former Formula One race car driver from Scotland and sometime TV commentator. That's him in the video.

Another sports car heavyweight, Porsche, has a monster of its own in development, the 918 Spyder. It boasts two electric engines, one for the front wheels, another for the back and an 8-cylinder engine. In all the hybrid offers up 770 horsepower, says Damon Lavrinc in jalopnik.com.
Smaller market larger

OK. So most people will be thinking smaller. Coda comes to mind. And the Tesla Model S does 0 to 60 mph (about the same as 100 kilometers) in 4.4 seconds.

The intent of Benicia, Calif.-based Coda Automotive appears to be the average, environmentally minded consumer who's not afraid of dealing with occasional range anxiety. The targeted consumer would see the car as a plus, a way to save gas on perhaps about 90 percent of his or her routine travel.

Ben Coxworth of gizmag.com says three buyers snapped up the Coda soon after its debut, two from the Los Angeles dealership and another in Northern California. He says the car reportedly averages 88 miles on a charge despite a maximum listed range of 125 miles.

Market for the Coda

The Coda has an understated and rather generic look, bypassing the otherworldly unique design of the Leaf and the custom and aggressive stance of the Volt. In a somewhat counter intuitive move not likely to attract a thrifty audience, the Coda has been priced at $44,900, higher than the Leaf at $35,200 and the Volt at $39,145.

"As an upstart automaker, Coda Automotive always faced an uphill fight against electric cars like the Nissan Leaf," says Chuck Squatriglia of wired.com's Autopia. "Slapping a $44,900 price tag on its forthcoming EV has made the road ahead that much steeper."

Federal tax incentives for electric vehicles shave up to $7,500 off the sales price. Residents of California can qualify for a $2,500 tax rebate through the state's Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.

EV forecast cloudy

The reign of the electric car remains somewhere in the future. Coda and struggling competitor Fisker, which also recently rolled out its first cars, don't appear likely to alter that forecast. Escalating gasoline prices enhance consumer interest, but the American public is notoriously fickle and resists change.

However, Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research projects that by 2017 "more than 1.5 million locations to charge vehicles will be available in the United States, with a total of nearly 7.7 million locations worldwide."

About a third will be home-charging units

Charging centers coming

Infrastructure to support electric cars is beginning to materialize. A $200,000 grant issued by the California Energy Commission to the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District will enable the regulatory agency to study the best locations for plug-in recharging stations and assist jurisdictions in crafting permitting processes. The Air District plans to set up a coordinating council to help promote the use of the cars in the politically and fiscally conservative region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has offered up a new grant program intended to take a bite out the diesel and natural gas big truck market. The agency, which has done quite a bit promoting the electrification of the highways in the past several years, has made up to $10 million available to proposals that "demonstrate and deploy electric transportation technologies for cargo vehicles, such as trucks and forklifts."

The Energy Department's intention is to help reduce the nation's reliance on gasoline and diesel and diversify the nation's energy portfolio. Money would go to "demonstrate cost-effective zero emission cargo transport systems and collect detailed performance and cost data to analyze the benefits and viability of this approach to freight transportation."

Getting electric power into cargo transportation is the goal. The move, if successful, would significantly cut consumption of fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Integration takes coordination

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working a different angle with similar intent. The nonprofit succeeds the Pew Center for Global Climate Change and generates analysis and seeks to find solutions to avert global warming.

The center, in the report "An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid," says electric cars could become an important part of the U.S. market if given "a fair chance to compete with conventional vehicles."

It proposes standardizing regulations as they relate to the electrical grid. These are multi-tiered involving everything from commercial recharging stations, home chargers and the finance of such infrastructure to protecting the grid, rate structures and encouraging beefing up the system for demand.

Jacking the grid

Between a major new source of energy consumption (electric cars) and power generation (solar, wind and other renewables), utilities will have a heck of a time sorting it all out while providing a steady stream of consumeable current over power lines. Analysts expect changes at many levels with smart grid technology emerging as an important element to maintaining system integrity.

This includes integrating smart meters, meter networking and communication, in-home energy management, demand response, meter data management, other smart grid software and services and related gear into an outdated and often overtaxed grid, according to Jeff St. John of greentechmedia.com.

"The smart grid market continues to move ... to a wide swath of new, advanced applications ranging from consumer behavior analytics, to next-gen control and protection, to greentech integration and grid optimization," St. John writes.

How all this turns out is anybody's guess. We were talking with our friends at the Air District about the subject, and the conclusion is that we probably won't be seeing noticeable change, at least in the San Joaquin Valley, any time soon.

Other stories of interest:
The DeLorean is back and this time it's electric
Electric car sales ramp up, is change coming?
Stockton electric truck company scores big with UPS

California farmers harvesting the sun and wind






The sun is nature's most abundant resource, especially in the world's salad bowl - the San Joaquin Valley. The sun shines up to 300 days per year here, and summer temperatures can reach I-can-feel-my-hair-catching-fire levels.

Utility bills soar in the summer when energy use is high. So much, in fact, that an acquaintance once wrote in despair on his Facebook page, "Are power bills supposed to have commas in them?"

Agriculture is the leading industry and a major employer here, and farmers have an up close and personal relationship with energy. By some estimates, the food system in the United States consumes around 16% of the nation's energy.

"from the manufacture and application of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and irrigation, through crop and livestock production, processing, and packaging; distribution services, such as shipping and cold storage; the running of refrigeration, preparation, and disposal equipment in food retailing and foodservice establishments; and in home kitchens," notes a March 2010 study by the federal Economic Research Service entitled, "Energy Use in the U.S. Food System."

So, cutting energy bills makes sense for farmers, who also can reduce their sometimes heavy carbon footprints. Which explains why agricultural operations in the San Joaquin Valley are embracing renewable energy, most commonly solar power.

Onion grower/processor Varsity Produce of Bakersfield is among the latest. Part of the energy for its packing and cold storage operation comes from the sun. “After looking at solar for several years, we finally saw numbers that made a lot of economic sense and we can now feel really good about decreasing our carbon footprint," Operations Manager Brent Rhodes said in this news release that appeared in greentechmedia.

Varsity Produce is hardly alone in its pursuit of alternative energy. Cenergy, the solar provider For Varsity, has installed several solar arrays in agricultural operations throughout the Valley and state. Here is more.

And Cenergy isn't alone in the crowded agricultural solar market. REC Solar, SolFocus and others are staking out positions. Ryan Park, Director of Business Development at REC Solar, says in this blog post that farming operations are more than a niche for his company. Sierra2theSea gives a nice overview in this post.

The federal government is adding fuel with its Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP. Since President Obama took office three years ago, the USDA REAP program has aided 74 projects totaling 15.3 million kilowatts in California, most of them distributed generation developments that produce or save power on site, according to this just-released report.

The California projects included 61 solar arrays, four wind turbine developments and three energy-efficiency upgrades. Lyall Enterprises of the San Diego area and Roberti Ranch north of Lake Tahoe, for example, used REAP loan guarantees and grants to install solar-energy systems to power their irrigation pumps.

Most of the agriculture operations use small on-site operations, but solar developers in California, which has an ambitious 33 percent renewables goal by 2020, are applying for large utility-scale solar operations in the San Joaquin Valley, the high deserts of Kern County and the desert regions of Southern California.

The proposals have sparked opposition from agriculture groups who fear losing prime farm land and environmentalists who worry about disrupting habitat. Thus, individual counties, such as Fresno, are developing solar policies. Here is what Fresno County Supervisors designed, according to The Fresno Bee.

It appears farmers are harvesting much more than just crops.

Chowchilla installs new ‘green’ street lights

The City of Chowchilla has shined a new light on its streets.

A total of 159 brand new light emitting diode, or LED, street lights have been installed, casting a brighter glow on City streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

“The City is happy that we’re saving money by being more efficient and green,” says City Administrator Mark Lewis. “This grant offered us the opportunity to provide better lighting for our residents and save money at the same time, all at no cost to the City.”

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the City about 108,258 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $8,171 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the City a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Chowchilla joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

The City worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which installed the lights through its LED street light retrofit program.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kings County goes green to cut costs

Kings County has launched several projects that will save energy and money.

County crews have installed more than 2,800 lights and 300 ballasts, casting a brighter glow on office workers. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the County much needed cash on its utility bills.

Another projects included installing hundreds of occupancy sensors that automatically shut off lights in rooms when there is no activity. The County also has hired a contractor to replace 21 existing HVAC units on County-owned buildings with modern and efficient units.

“I wasn’t sure we could utilize just the grant monies to complete the lighting and HVAC upgrades, but we decided to try to do as much as time and grant monies would allow,” said Gerry Showers, Kings County Building Maintenance Superintendent. “I have exceptional staff members in my maintenance department, and they once again proved it by completing the lighting installation of 2800+ tubes and 300 ballasts in house.

“We also went out for competitive bids on replacing 21 HVAC units and the installation of approximately 300 light sensors. We have utilized all the grant monies and did not have to match any funds, and the projects finished on time and under budget. I want to thank the grant administrator and staff for their work with us on the EECBG and the opportunity for us to save our tax payers money by us utilizing the grant monies.”

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to County coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the County about 235,747 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $28,290 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the County a dime. The money that makes the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Kings County joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

A push to expand the green economy in the West





The first task in identifying opportunities in the green economy is to define what that means. Just what is a 'green economy" anyway, and what careers are included in that?

A new joint report and jobs plan by the governors of three western states and British Columbia says the green economy is more than just a subset or industry segment. Rather, it is the introduction of new technology and processes in all industries that reduce the consumption of scarce natural resources, reduce environmental impacts and improve efficiency.

"The focus should be on the 'greening' of all industries and all sectors, a more broad-based approach that is essential to accelerated investment attraction and job growth," contends the report entitled, "The West Coast Clean Economy".

Not surprisingly, the ramifications of such a technological overhaul are mammoth. In 2010, the clean economy on the West Coast totaled $47 billion and counted more than 500,000 jobs. Considering the population of the combined region was 50 billion, the potential for growth is huge, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said. He said the clean economy could triple by 2020, "given the right policies."

Worldwide, it's huge. A clean economy is the "single most important global opportunity on the medium-term horizon," with revenue expected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2020, according to the study, which was commissioned by The Pacific Coast Collaborative (a joint entity consisting of leaders of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia) and completed by GLOBE Advisors (GLOBE) and the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS).

Not alone

This study reinforces others that contend energy efficiency and green building offer the best employment opportunities. Retrofitting older buildings with the most energy-efficiency equipment and using green construction techniques generate the biggest bank for the buck.

The commercial, institutional, and residential green building market in the US is projected to reach $128.6 billion by 2013, more than double its value of $52.3 billion in 2009. The values include building retrofits and renovation, as well as construction. Annual growth rates could reach 24.3% and 26.5% for the commercial and residential sectors respectively.

Energy-efficiency retrofits represent the “low hanging fruit” in this area, according to the study. That's because money saved on energy costs can be spent elsewhere in the economy. The Edison Foundation's Institute for Electric Efficiency says in this report that the cost of energy-efficiency measures averages 3.5 cents for each kWh saved in the United States. CleanEdge cites that data in this report, and notes that energy efficiency measures are the cheapest source of power.

The Edison Foundation said efficiency programs saved over 112 TWh in 2010, enough to power more than 9.7 million U.S. homes for one year, and avoided the generation of 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Buildings are responsible for more than a third of energy use worldwide, accounting for up to 80 percent of carbon emissions in large urban regions, CleanEdge states. Most U.S. buildings were constructed before 1990 and still use outdated energy technology. "Retrofitting the built environment has become priority number one for energy-efficiency advocates." CleanTech says, citing UCLA data that energy costs could be slashed an average of 22 percent through retrofits.

Finding a job

Energy efficiency is perhaps the most promising employment and growth segment, but The Pacific Coast Collaborative has a whole jobs plan in place, sealed with an MOU. It calls for establishing a green highway, sharing best practices, developing coordinated initiatives and a host of other programs. Other promising opportunities are in the following categories, according to The West Coast Clean Economy and CleanEdge studies, are:

1/ Environmental Protection & Resource Management
a. Recycling;
b. more efficient infrastructure;
c., conservation;
d. restoration of damaged ecosystems;
2/ Clean transportation
a. Electric and alternative-fuel vehicles;
b. enhanced public transit;
c. lower-carbon fuel sources such as natural gas;
3/ Clean energy supply
a. Distributed energy system;
b . Smart grid infrastructure and transmission;
c/ Ehanced integration of energy from clean and renewable sources.
4/ Knowledge and Support
a. Educational institutions for workforce skills development and strengthening centers of excellence that build on the knowledge base of the clean economy;
5/Waste-to-energy
a/ Municipal waste in the U.S. totals 435 million metric tons each year and two-thirds of the developed world's garbage ends in landfills and incinerators. Waste-recovery technology is attracting financing, strategic partnerships and support.
6/Energy storage
a. Lots of interest, but costs have to decline

Not dead

The CleanEdge report suggests that headlines proclaiming the demise of clean energy are over reaching. The combined global market just for solar, wind and biofuel in 2011 was $246 billion, up from 2010. The industry is experiencing growing pains, and some companies are finding they can't compete with China.

"But clean tech isn't withering on the vine as some would proclaim," CleanEdge says., "But instead is continuing its rapid expansion, witnessed by the growth of green buildings, smart meters, hybrid electric vehicles, distributed and centralized renewables, LED lighting, and a host of other clean-tech breakthroughs that are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. "

Photo: Kings County Unified School District electric bus (the first in the nation) in front of Capitol with director of transportation John Clements


Energy efficiency changes light up Kerman





Kerman streets have a new hue.

A total of 617 new light emitting diode, or LED, streetlights have been installed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co, casting a brighter glow on City streets than the old high-pressure sodium bulbs they replaced. The new lights are also significantly more energy efficient, saving the City much needed cash on its utility bills.

Public Works Director Ken Moore said the project was accomplished through a variety of programs that included grants and on-bill financing. “We are very happy with the quality of improved lighting this project provided and the help we received in getting it funded,” he said. “The project was very successful and is beneficial to the citizens of Kerman.”

This means significant savings to City coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits are saving the City about 204,200 kilowatt hours of energy and shaving roughly $26,000 from its annual power bill. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is roughly equivalent to removing 27 vehicles from the road.

Those are big deal these days.

An Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant paid for 143 of the lights through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Kerman joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

For more information, contact Public Works Director Ken Moore at 559-846-9388, or kmoore@cityofkerman.org.

Photo: City of Kerman fair display courtesy of City of Kerman

Mr. Eco seeks to launch spring school tour

Mr. Eco, a Cal Poly student from Fresno, Calif. trying to raise green awareness, is going on a middle/elementary school tour this spring and is looking for a little financial assistance.

His tour is to span five school districts with the potential of reaching "THOUSANDS of kids with a potential of over 20 school visits this Spring," he says.

"Some schools say that they are willing to pay for my performances, but I would like to complete this tour with no cost to the schools," Mr. Eco says.

His project has been posted on http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/74628798/get-green-or-die-trying-elementary-middle-school-t/, a funding platform made especially for creative projects.

Those who pledge can receive items such as a signed copy of the parody album, "Get Green Or Die Trying," Mr. Eco reusable bags, Mr. Eco shirts, a DVD of Mr. Eco's videos, items from his original costume, "a personal rap made just for you" or even a performance at the site of the donor's choosing.

"I think what Mr. Eco is doing is brilliant - making all this environment awareness fun and educational," says Shannon Bryan-Ruggiero at Creston Elementary School in San Luis Obispo County, in a testimonial supplied by Mr. Eco. "In a time of a LOT of unhealthy influences on kids (and people as a whole for that matter in the media, etc) his message, his humor, his info, the whole thing, is so positive and so needed in today's world, and especially for today's youth."

For more on Mr. Eco, go to http://www.mrecomusic.com/.

Video: Behind the Scenes of "You Can't Find Me in the Tub."