Monday, July 30, 2012

Rare earth rocks Congress, clean energy industry

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act recently passed 256 to 160 in the U.S. House mostly along party lines with GOP voting primarily in favor.

Haven't heard of it?

Hardly surprising. Metals and mining don't usually inspire excitement amongst the general public. The act would make it easier to begin mining the obscure minerals used in solar, wind and other green industry applications. Production currently is dominated by China.


An exception to this apathy for all things mineral is epitomized by my 15-year-old son Kiefer. He's addicted to the online game Minecraft, which involves seeking out various ores used to build and create structures, transportation networks and whatever else resides in the gamer's imagination. Kiefer, along with about 6.7 million others, purchased the game. They build entire civilizations, often while linked to other gamers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unleash the Toxic Avenger on climate change

The year 1984 may be famous -- especially amongst high-schoolers -- for the angst of Winston Smith. He's the guy trying to cope with illegal daydreams of individual freedom in the repressed collective created by George Orwell.

But 1984 also brought "The Toxic Avenger," a low-rent cinematic romp with environmental themes. Described as an action comedy horror film, it broke new ground by being surprisingly entertaining and launched the B movie careers of directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz.

Mitch Cohen, who later appeared as a bit player in Kevin Smith's incomparable "Clerks," stars in Toxic as Melvin, the Tromaville Health Club mop boy. Cohen's Melvin "inadvertently and naively trusts the hedonistic, contemptuous and vain health club members, to the point of accidentally ending up in a vat of toxic waste," says Cinema Fan on

For the good of the people

Rather than becoming a mindless monster, as would normally be the case in this genre, the "transmogrification effect" turns Melvin into the Toxic Avenger, royally irritated by "corruption, thuggish bullies and indifference."

Imagine then Melvin's response to climate change. Truly pissed.

Climate change has emerged as a summer blockbuster this year with more than half the United States experiencing drought. Still a far cry from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, the phenomena is increasing popular awareness of the fragility of the environment. And rising average temperatures appear all but a certainty at this point, giving credence to predictions of future difficulties.

Nate Seltenrich of the East Bay Express writes about how sea level rise, brought on by climate change, would affect the San Francisco Bay region. He says the toxic legacy of polluted old industrial sites ringing the bay could unleash some particularly bad news for residents.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Trial Blogs

As previously mentioned, we are hiring.  Specifically we are hiring for an energy and grants project manager. It's not Mike's soon-to-be old job, but it's close.  In addition to the grant funded projects the position will also include oversight of our social media platform, which includes our blog, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.  The linchpin being our blog.  It is important to have a feel of a candidate's writing style and research ability.  Therefore, we have asked our potential future coworkers to complete a trial assignment for the blog.

The top candidates will be given an assignment prepare a trial post for one of five topics.  The posts will be between 500-750 words and include image(s).  *Right now I have to admit I appropriated this concept from my favorite blogger, Belle over at Capitol Hill Style.  She took a similar approach with potential interns and I loved the process so much I decided to use it!* Our existing blog has a definite 'voice' and there is no expectation that it will be replicated.  My hope is to see individual style.  Once we have all the submissions--and permission of the authors--I will post their work for you all to read.

I think you'll be pleased, as I know our whole team has been so far.  Even Mike.  And if Mike likes it, well it's either totally obscure or really, really good.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Farewell Mr. Nemeth

Mike Nemeth and Sonic, blogging.

At SJVCEO we’re hiring.  Now, I’d love to say we are growing at such a rate that we have to staff up to meet the need.  The truth is our Mike is leaving us.  Mike Nemeth, resident blog master and EECBG project manager is moving on to the San Joaquin Valley Air PollutionControl District

Mike’s passion for energy and news provided the perfect combination to build the SJVCEO social media platform which has become a go-to resource for clean energy interests in the Valley.  While with the SJVCEO Mike oversaw the Clean Energy Partnership which provided technical experience to local governments resulting in millions of dollars in project retrofits and a savings of nearly 8 million kWh.  Mike’s last day with SJVCEO will be Monday, July 30th

From September 2009 to the present, Mike worked as Project Manager on the Clean Energy Partnership, serving as the liaison between the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, two Investor Owned Utilities, and the 36 local governments that make up the Partnership.  Mike also worked with the cities of Ceres and Delano on their Department of Energy direct-fund EEBCG projects.

In addition to his EECBG work Mike jumped headfirst into the world of green workforce development, leading our collaboration with West Hills Community College on the Valley Legacy Grant.  In this role, he narrowed the communication gap between educators and employers, contributing to an improvement between workforce development training and employers needs in the Valley’s “green” industry.  Mike’s efforts on the project helped to establish a beneficial and enduring working relationship with WHCC allowing the two entities to work together to improve the training for future workers and build capacity of locally-grown employees. Fortunately for our office, Mike chronicled his work on the WIA SJVCEO site,, which provides useful resources for students, teachers and job seekers. The online repository provides lesson plans, studies, white papers as well as links to career sites and green employers—it even is home to a clean energy video vault.  Should you ever want to experience the view from atop a 25-story wind turbine without climbing one, the video vault can make it happen! Because of Mike the SJVCEO has received national praise for the service:

"It looks to me like you have done an invaluable service for the clean energy education community (really).  I was particularly interested in your work because it is so fresh, making it particularly valuable as I am sure you appreciate how dynamic the web environment is on this subject."                                                                    
--James Sulzen, PhD., Wesleyan University

I know I speak for our whole SJVCEO team in saying Mike’s departure will leave a large hole that will never be completely filled.  We wish him the best of luck in his new position as an Air Quality Specialist, and take comfort in knowing he will be less than a mile away!  

Thank you, Mike for your contribution to the organization, driving the fish truck full of LED Christmas lights, obscure references to things like Troll Hunter and the education you've provided us on all things Alaska.  You will be missed.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Benchmarking: Shooting hoops for energy efficiency

Benchmarking sounds a little like being the sixth man on basketball team.

You're not in the starting lineup, but you're good enough to provide the spark off the bench. The player who can make a difference down the stretch. There's Ricky Pierce, a Seattle Supersonic and two-time NBA sixth man, or -- to get more current -- Dion Waiters from Syracuse or Michael Dixon of Missouri.

But the kind of benchmarking I'm describing has none of the former's run-and-gun offense. In fact, it's downright dull. No points are scored here. A smothering defense keeps the excitement quite low.

Managing energy use

However, the practice of recording energy data, tracking changes and producing reports reflecting those alterations has become extremely popular in the past several years.

"We've had exponential growth," says one official on a recent webinar explaining the latest in data benchmarking.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started its Portfolio Manager program in 1999, signing just a few buildings that first year. Since then, it's grown to about 300,000 buildings, and the rate of expansion is expected to continue.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Solar Impulse electric plane flies into Madrid

Photo courtesy Altran Group.
The plane Solar Impulse landed in Madrid, Spain on July 7 on its return trip from Morocco.

The 17-hour flight had some turbulence and challenges for pilot Bertrand Piccard, but nothing he couldn't handle.

"After flying towards Tangier and over the Strait of Gibraltar, the solar aircraft steered in the direction of Seville," officials said in a statement. "Because of strong crosswinds over the Iberian Peninsula, the pilot found a holding area west of Seville where he waited for the right moment to continue his journey towards Toledo."

The footage from news service EFEverde shows the Solar Impulse cruise silently in for a landing. Its lights illuminate the broad but lightweight frame something akin to a UFO.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I, Robot: Machines manuever into the living room, assembly line

Asimov wrote about the Three Laws.
Humanity creates a robot to clean up the space debris enshrouding the Earth.

It's sometime in the future, and the broken-down satellites and other trash in orbit threaten to derail the fast-expanding colonization of the region outside the atmosphere. World leaders settle on a solution, a relatively small and unimpressive but strong and highly mobile machine.

At first, the robot does its job perfectly. However, its obsessive drive for perfection puts it in conflict with humans. After all, they caused the trash and continue to contribute.

By the time the robot has finished its directive -- creating a massive metal orbiting sculpture that reads "PEACE," it has killed nearly every human on the planet. Job well done.


Heavy Metal
Maybe not. I believe the story comes from one of the earlier issues of Heavy Metal magazine. (I have every single issue in boxes in order in the garage, something my wife Peggy is not impressed by.)

But it's a robot story. And that makes it cool.

Robots are starting to pop up more frequently. They're common on assembly lines, in medical centers and all over many technical processes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Off the grid: TV tries on extreme energy efficiency

The cast of Falling Skies.
The Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" chronicles the last days of Earth through the eyes of two women.

Stuck in an apartment building, they try to hang on as the planet heats to an inferno.

A man with a gun steals their water, which is invaluable as most of it boils off into the atmosphere. He apologizes. Then the thermometer bursts, oil paintings melt and the women pass out.

A surprise ending reveals that the earth is actually spinning away from the sun, becoming inhospitably cold. The overheated scenario is revealed to be a fever-fueled nightmare of one of the women. Everybody's going to die but by freezing, not frying.

A darker view of the future

That TV show originally aired Nov. 17, 1961, near the height of the Cold War when many could see the end of the world, or at least imagine it. The Twilight Zone was hardly alone reflecting the fears rife within popular culture. Horror films with political overtones experienced a renaissance. The anti-hero emerged. And negative realism supplanted much of the just-so attitude of the previous decade.

The economic collapse, the unknowns surrounding climate change and the threat of a finite supply of fossil fuels appears to be giving rise to similar doomsday sentiment. TV has taken up the challenge of answering the question: "What if life as we know it collapsed?" with a couple of slickly produced shows.