Archive for September, 2009

Bethesda Green Grand Opening Tomorrow, Friday and Saturday!

Posted on September 30, 2009. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , |

Join Clean Currents at the Grand Opening of Bethesda Green at the Education and Green Business Incubator (Corner of Woodmont and Cordell Avenue: 4825 Cordell Ave. Suite 200 Bethesda).

Thursday: 10:30 am, Ribbon Cutting Ceremony; 12- 4pm, Business is Going Green Open House; 5-7pm Happy Hour featuring local food and wine

Friday: 12-4pm, Focus on Sustainable Living Open House

Saturday: 10-4pm, Focus on Community Sustainability

For the full schedule, click here. There will be some awesome speakers at the grand-opening including Seth Goldman, President of Honest Tea! Bethesda Green brings together residents, government and business to promote sustainable community development in Bethesda.

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Abundance and Scarcity: The Conflicting Nature of Renewable Technologies

Posted on September 30, 2009. Filed under: News, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

The New York Times had a great story yesterday on a very important issue that is sometimes overlooked in all the excitement around renewable energy technologies, particularly solar.

Sunshine is abundant in hot, dry and typically arid places, like the Southwestern United States, making them ideal solar sites for solar power. However, large scale solar power plants require an abundance of another resource, that is often lacking in areas where sunshine is plentiful: water.

In solar thermal plants– a cheaper alternative to solar panels– mirrors and sunlight heat water to create steam. This steam powers turbines and generates electricity. It  must be cooled and recondensed in order to be reused. The cheapest way to cool the steam is with water, butdry cooling is possible–at a higher cost.

In Amargosa Valley, Nevada,  a German company planned to build 2 solar farms, which thrilled residents with the promise of clean energy and green jobs. However, the excitment died down when it was revealed the plants would use 20% (1.3bn gallons) of the valley’s available water annually.

This dilemma is not unique to solar thermal technologies either. As the New York Times sums up:

“Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

The issue of water scarcity is certainly one that will drive future policy and the development of future technologies. Although water efficient renewable technologies may be less cost competitive now, they may be safer bets in the future.

One venture capital investment firm, VantagePoint Partners Inc,  is already taking water use into consideration for its investments. CEO Alan E. Salzman explained a recent decision to invest in a solar thermal company that is working to make dry cooling less cost prohibitive, 

 “Our approach is high sensitivity to water use…we thought that was going to be huge differentiator.”

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Get Inspired by Illinois’ Local Food Action

Posted on September 29, 2009. Filed under: News, Recommendations | Tags: , , , , |

Grist reported last week on a law recently passed in Illinois to promote local and regional food infrastructure. The law establishes a fresh farm council and encourages the state government to support local food by allowing state agencies to pay up to 10% above the lowest bid for purchases of local produce.  The goal is to have 20% of money spent on food by the state of Illinois be on purchases of food grown in the state.

According to Grist, only 4% of money spent by Illinois residents on food is spent on products grown in the state. In other words:

“Illinois has tens of thousands of farmers and only one half of one percent of them sell their products in their home state.”

As Grist points out, by encouraging local food consumption, Illinois is helping farmers diversify the crops they grow. Currently, Illinois is the number two commodity corn producing state in the country (behind Iowa). Corn is a safe crop for farmers to grow and they continue to grow it and sell to the national market if they have no incentives to do otherwise. By allowing state agencies to pay a premium for local crops, farmers will have the incentive to grow different crops (they are guaranteed a market, and they are guaranteed a higher price) as opposed to sticking with corn.

Local food consumption has numerous benefits (reduced greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, fresher produce, etc) From a strictly economic standpoint, buying local helps boost the local economy more than other consumption. Check out this graphic from Yes Magazine:

Benefits of Buying Local from Yes Magazine

Benefits of Buying Local from Yes Magazine

All this has implications for all those notorious subsidies to mid-western farmer. A 2001 report by Grist contibutor Ken Meter found that if consumers in the mid-west bought,

“15% of their food from local sources, it would generate as much income for the region as two-thirds of farm subsidies

Added to the recent support of the local food movement from Michelle Obama and the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, encouraging local food infrastructure, the Illinois law could be indication of a mindset shift on local eating.

Feeling inspired? Check out Edible Chesapeake’s latest issue for recipes featuring seasonal local ingredients from our area. The pasta with tomatoes and swiss chard and the gingerbread pears sound delicious!

Where can you find local ingredients? Check the Washington Post’s directory of DC area farmer’s markets. Also, look out for locally grown products at your grocery store.

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Some Utilities are Seeing the Light on Climate Change

Posted on September 28, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

Utilities have been making news recently. Last week, Green Inc. tracked Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) withdrawal from the US Chamber of Commerce due to disagreements with the organization’s position on climate change. The Chamber has insisted on a  re-examination of the scientific evidence around climate change and has threatened to sue the EPA if a new investigation is not started.

The Chairman of PG&E, Peter Darbee, explained the decision in a letter to the Chamber last week:

“We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.”

As of today, Green Inc. reports that 2 other utilities have followed PG&E’s lead: PNM Resources (announcement last week) and Exelon (announcement today).

A spokesman for the US Chamber of Commerce offered this comment to Green Inc.:

“We’ve never questioned the science behind global warming.”

He went on to say that the Chamber had issues with the EPA’s finding that  greenhouse gases are a public health hazard and that they should be regulated. The Chamber supports the reduction of greenhouse gases in principle, but opposes regulation by the EPA, stating on their website:

“We support sound policies that incentivize innovation and new business opportunities rather than the approach coming out of the House and the EPA which will strangle business with thousands of new regulation and stifle America’s competitiveness”

Incentives for innovation and new business opportunities- that sounds great! But how can we do these things without a price on carbon? It seems to me (and this is in no way a unique thought) that as long as the environmental impact is not a factor in the bottom line for business, climate friendly technologies will not be able to compete with conventional ones. And as for America’s competitiveness, many experts believe that we are already falling behind in terms of green technologies. Check out this graphic Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, posted on his facebook page:

Disagreements about climate change legislation also prompted the withdrawal of Duke Energy (the country’s third largest utility) and Alstom from the American Council for Clean Coal Electricity earlier this month.

And just today, Duke Energy joined Florida Power and Light in announcing that all their fleet vehicle purchases would be plug in hybrid or fully electric by 2020!

SO it does appear that some utilities are taking climate change’s to hoping the idea will catch on.

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Electric Cars (and Ben Stiller) at the Clinton Global Initiative

Posted on September 25, 2009. Filed under: News, Questions | Tags: , , , , , |

Tesla Roadster electric car by Renault-Nissan

Tesla Roadster electric car by Renault-Nissan

Green Inc reported on the “lively panel discussion on the future of clean energy infrastructure” at the Clinton Global Initiative Summit in New York yesterday. The panel featured the chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers and the head of GE, Jeffrey Immelt. It also drew celebrities like the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, and even recognizable ones like Ben Stiller.

A key number thrown around was 1.5 billion. This is the number of vehicles that are expected to be in use in the near future as developing countries catch up with their developed counterparts. The number today is 700 million, so the projected increase is significant. Ghosn, of Renault-Nissan, quoted these numbers and said that his company believes, “the time is now” for electric cars. According to the BBC, Renault-Nissan is investing 4 billion euros (~$5.9billion) into electric vehicles hoping to become the world leader.

However, industry experts say this is a less than certain bet which could make or break the company. The future of electric vehicles is by no means universally agreed upon. According to Takeshi Uchiyamada, head of R&D and environmental technologies, at Toyota:

“The electric vehicle has become a fever and everyone is talking about it…but in the 1990s, lots of vehicle manufacturers launched electric vehicles, and Toyota did too…and if the question is if there have been any major technological developments since then, the answer is no.”

To this point, Ghosn argues that there certainly have been advances in battery technology in the past 10 years- and that current models suit the needs of 95% of the world’s drivers who travel less than 100 miles per day.

Another crucial question for electric cars discussed at the Clinton Global Initiative Summit is the challenge of infrastructure development and the source of electricity. The goal of reducing vehicular carbon emissions is lost if the electricity that powers electric cars is generated by coal.

When looking for a large scale low carbon technology capable of powering 1.5 billion vehicles, it is hard to avoid considering the nuclear option. According to the BBC, even in Germany, a world leader for renewable technologies:

“Without massive investment, it is inconceivable that renewable power sources can emerge fast enough to replace Germany’s nuclear power plants”

GE’s Immelt supports the development of nuclear power in the US as well, but broadly argues that instead of picking winners, the government should put a price on carbon and let the market decide which technology is most efficient. He believes that infrastructure must be sustainable, replicable and scalable to succeed.

This debate leaves many questions unanswered: What is the future of electric cars? What will the release of the Chevy Volt late next year mean for the car industry? Will the development of infrastructure prove to be as big of a barrier as it seems? Is Renault-Nissan’s gamble a good one?

Maybe a piece of the answer is that cars should not be considered as a necessary part of the equation for everyone. May electric cars can be a good alternative to fossil fuel powered models, but what if we need less of them? Minimizing the reliance on cars, and planning development based on sustainable community design and high speed public transportation systems will reduce that 1.5 billion.

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IBM’s Smart Grid Test Run Results

Posted on September 23, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , |

Greenbiz reports that the results are in for IBM’s smart grid test run in Armonk, NY. An average 15% decrease in power usage was recorded for the 100 businesses and homes that were part of the 6 month study, with some users recording up to a 40% drop. IBM partnered with Consert to install control devices on appliances and other big-ticket energy use items. The local public works commission tracked energy consumption through these controllers and was able to control electricity use during peak periods. According to Greenbiz: 

“Personalized, web-based displays for each business or residence that allowed facility managers or homeowners to log in and see how much energy their appliances and gadgets are using in real-time...[This] highlight[ed] the energy used by “ghost” devices: air conditioners, water heaters, and other devices that are using electricity even when no one is around. With the instant information provided by the smart meters, individuals and businesses are able to see when unecessary energy is being used, and turn those devices down or off.” 

IBM has announced several new projects to take smart grids to the next level as part of its Smarter Cities initiative. A key part of this project will be to partner with a city of 60,000 residents in Iowa to scale back its environmental impact. Sensors installed throughout homes and businesses will help city officials and residents be aware of power and water consumption. 

By providing user friendly information to consumers, projects like Smarter Cities can increase awareness about energy and water use that leads to more conscious (or smarter) consumption. As IBM’s Vice President Chris O’Connor put it,

“The only way we’re going make energy grids greener is to add instrumentation and intelligence. Projects like these illustrate that with the right technology and partnerships, it can be done” 

Consert’s Promo Video about Energy Management:

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Offshore Wind for Maryland?

Posted on September 23, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |


Offshore Wind (From Wind Guys)

Offshore Wind (From Wind Guys)

The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) announced last week that it was planning to explore the offshore wind potential for its coast and Outer Continental Shelf region.


So far, the state is just beginning to gather information and speak with relevant experts, including European companies. Also last week, Maryland representatives attended a European Offshore Wind Energy Conference in Sweden. The conference featured a session called, “Maryland: An Accelerated Strategy to develop 2000+ MW of Off-shore Wind Energy” put on by the MEA. 

There is certainly a lot of optimism about the feasibility and utility of offshore wind for the state. Governor O’Malley offered these remarks: 

“Offshore wind energy offers vast potential to create jobs for our workers and to help stabilize electric costs for our families while also increasing grid stability…the benefits of the clean energy generated from offshore wind may prove to be vital for our State’s energy and environmental future.”

A viability study will continue to build off the work of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Nature Conservancy. MEA Director Malcom Woolf explained that offshore wind could help Maryland satisfy its Renewable Portfolio Standard of 20% by 2022 and noted that: 

Offshore wind has the potential to supply more renewable energy than any other resource in the region” 

Beyond the economic feasibility, the study by the Nature Conservancy and the Maryland DNR is meant to evaluate the impact of the turbines on marine life, birds and bats. Additionally, communities along the shore have concerns about the appearance of the wind turbines. The Baltimore Sun reported

“State officials, meanwhile, plan to huddle with local leaders to test community sentiment in Maryland’s beach resort to having turbines visible on the eastern horizon–though wind developers say their generators would appear no larger than a toothpick at those distances”

Woolf commented that he hoped to avoid long-standing community debates that stalled the development of offshore wind like those in Cape Cod

It will be interesting to follow what happens with the viability study and track the public reaction to this plan…Will Maryland follow New Jersey and Delaware in supporting offshore wind resources? 





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DC Car Free Day Tomorrow, September 22nd!

Posted on September 21, 2009. Filed under: Events | Tags: , |

Join the team here at Clean Currents and thousands of other DC metro residents that are pledging to make tomorrow, September 22, a car free day!

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What would you do if gas was $20 a gallon?

Posted on September 21, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |


Future Gas Prices?

Future Gas Prices?

Will gas prices ever reach $20 a gallon? If so, how would that alter the way we live? These questions were posed to authors Mark Millis and Matthew Steiner in a recent episode of NPR’s On Point, covered by the Clean Techies Blog


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Town of Edmonston, MD: Powered by Clean Currents

Posted on September 18, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Yesterday, the Gazette reported on Edmonston, MD’s town council approval of a measure for the town offices and streetlights to be powered by  100% wind energy from Clean Currents! As the article pointed out, the town is making the switch to Clean Currents to reduce their carbon footprint by supporting wind power AND save money!

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