Archive for January, 2010

Just in case . . .

Posted on January 28, 2010. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , |

If you missed President Obama’s State of the Union last night there were several points during his 70 minute speech where he focused on America’s energy future. 

Hopefully, partisan bickering will not get in the way of the President’s call for clean energy and climate protection.

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Return of the Ice Age

Posted on January 27, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

The Southern California Public Power Authority and Ice Energy (a Colorado based company) are in talks over a strategy to deploy “ice air conditioners” on a broad scale in the Southern California region.  The unique caveat is that the burden of paying for a new air conditioner would fall onto the utility, rather than the building owner.

These ice air conditioners serve as a distributed energy storage system that enables a powerful change in how and when energy is consumed for air conditioning.  Ice air conditioners work by effectively shifting the power required to run conventional air conditioners from the middle of the afternoon (when power costs the most and demand is highest) to nighttime, when utilities often have to dump the power they generate because of slack demand.

The ice air conditioners make ice at night.  As it melts throughout the day, the chill is transferred to heat exchangers and distributed through a building.  The six hours of chill the ice can provide can ideally get most buildings though the bulk of the day, thus reducing peak energy required by conventional AC systems.  AC energy demand – typically 40-50% of a building’s electricity use during peak hours – can be reduced by as much as 95%.

Collectively, the ice air conditioners slated for deployment in Southern California could lead to 53 megawatts worth of energy storage.  Put another way, the air conditioner/energy storage units could provide 64 gigawatt hours of daytime power each year.  Fifty megawatts of power can be shaved from daytime demand with about 5,500 of the company’s Ice Bear units, executives have said.

Still, ice air conditioners represent only a fraction of the market.  Ice Energy has been pushing to accelerate sales by changing incentives and ownership structures. The company used to sell the systems directly to building owners.  Unfortunately, payback can take years, if at all.  Utilities, however, consistently benefit from them because of the reduction in peak power demand they can create.  As a result, Ice Energy shifted strategies and began to sell its units to utilities as devices for peak shaving.  In this light, the ice air conditioners function like demand response systems, eliminating a chunk of daytime power needs, without the networking.

Three U.S. representatives last year proposed a bill that would provide business owners and consumers a 30 percent tax credit for installing ice systems as well, which would help spur demand in places where utility-based programs don’t exist.  It could also help defray costs for the utility.

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Into the Eye of the Wind

Posted on January 26, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Despite the global economic downturn through 2009, total wind capacity in the U.S. grew by nearly 10 gigawatts – enough to power 2.4 million homes – representing a 39% increase from 2008. 

In contrast, solar installations for ’09 amounted to 400 megawatts.  And while wind and natural gas accounted for roughly 80% of the new generating capacity in the U.S. in 2009, it is expected that solar will grow at a 50%/year rate for the next few years (according to GTM Research).

Texas has more wind installations than any other state, with 9.4 gigawatts in the ground.  That will likely continue to expand, as A-Power Technologies from China has announced plans to build one of North America’s largest wind farms in the state.  Iowa is second place, with 3.7 gigawatts.

However, the AWEA warned to not get too complacent.  A lack of a national policy, mounting inventories, and the continuing troubled economic climate resulted in a decline in domestic wind manufacturing for 2009.  This is in stark contrast to the situation in 2007, when long waiting lists existed to get turbines.

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“Change Happens Here”

Posted on January 25, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will be kicking off the 2010 Washington Auto Show at noon on Tuesday January 26 at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center.  She will be speaking at the “Advanced Technology SuperHighway” – a 65,000 square foot display of the most innovative advances in automotive technology, including hybrid, electric, diesel, natural gas, advanced petroleum, biofuels, hydrogen, and safety technologies. 

The 2010 Washington Auto Show will showcase more “green vehicles” than any other major auto show this year, so it is only fitting that the public official most committed to the environment will be involved in the opening ceremony.  This year’s addition of the “Advanced Technology SuperHighway” will serve to foster greater collaboration between automotive industry executives, key administrative and legislative officials, and the public. 

The Washington Auto Show is the largest public show in Washington and will run until Sunday January 31.

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Solar Aid to Victims of Earthquake in Haiti

Posted on January 19, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Image from Christian Science Monitor

As aid workers and volunteers scramble to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that hit the country last week, Environmental Leader reports on several companies are donating solar supplies to help the effort. Sol, a solar lighting provider, is working with its suppliers to bring over $400,000 worth of solar powered lighting to hospitals and clinics that will allow them to extend the hours they can treat patients after the sun goes down.

See the news report about Sol’s efforts in Haiti.

To help improve communications, Digicel and Intivation are donating 1, 000 solar powered phones the recovery effort. Intivation’s solar phone can operate completely on solar power when it is not possible to reach another electricity source. Digicel, a cellular service provider in the Carribbean, is also granting credits to users in Haiti to help them communicate during this difficult time.

Both the solar lighting technology and the solar cell phones will help relieve the stress on Haiti’s electricity grid which has experienced severe power shortages as a result of the earthquake.

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Are Americans moving away from cars for good?

Posted on January 7, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

In a really interesting post, Earth Policy Institute reports via Sustainablog that the US car fleet shrunk by 4 million in 2009, the first time since World War II that cars scrapped have exceeded new car sales. This finding is pretty significant, but is it enough to conlcude that, “The U.S. fleet has apparently peaked and started to decline” permenantly?

Auto graveyard

As the Earth Policy Insitute post notes, a major cause of the decline in new car sales is the economic depression, but they identify other trends that are car sales low, at least for the medium term. Among these are:

  • Market saturation
  • Increasing urbanization and trend for younger people to prefer other modes of transportation.
  • Oil price uncertainty leading to fluctuating car prices
  • Increasing concerns about environmental impact of cars and climate change
  • Increased concerns about traffic.

According to Earth Policy Institute, this first reason, market saturation is likely the most signifcant. Currently, there are 5 vehicles for every 4 licensed drivers!

Though cars are a necessity in the strip mall suburbs, 4 out of 5 Americans now reside in cities. And many cities are expanding public transportation and promoting alternatives like biking and walking to work, while at the same time limiting options and increasing costs of parking to discourage drivers and ease congestion.

It also seems that the car is no longer the idolized symbol of teenage freedom that was so central to young adult life in the past. In fact, the post points out,

“Many of today’s young people living in a more urban society learn to live without cars. They socialize on the Internet and on smart phones, not in cars…Despite the largest U.S. teenage population ever, the number of teenagers with licenses, which peaked at 12 million in 1978, is now under 10 million.”

And young-adults, as well as older people, have less disposable income to spend on vehicles in trying economic times.

All these trends lead Earth Policy Insitute to conclude:

“The United States is entering a new era, evolving from a car-dominated transport system to one that is much more diversified.”

Hopefully this is true and the US will follow in the footsteps of Japan, where car ownership peaked in the 1990’s and has since steadily declined, encouraged by public transportation alternatives and urbanization. Will this recession convince Americans that have 5 cars for every 4 drivers may not a fulfilling expression of the American dream? Or will this just be a temporary blip that will be reversed as the economy recovers?

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