Love Cakelove!

Posted on May 4, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

This week’s Clean Currents customer spotlight is on CakeLove in Washington, DC.  Warren Brown (owner) answered our questions below:

1.  Why did you think it was important to support clean, renewable wind energy?

I’ve followed issues of climate change for years, but was moved to tears when I watched Inconvenient Truth. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere scare me and I wanted to begin working to change my habits to reduce what I’m responsible for. Wind energy makes sense to me. In the bakery we have a lot of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, but we have to have refrigeration, so clean energy helps me live up to my responsibility to the planet and my community.

2.  Why do you care about global warming and clean energy solutions?

Climate change threatens the existence of the human race, much more than it threatens the existence of the Earth. The planet will survive, but we won’t–certainly not as we know it with more unchecked and uncontrolled global, carbon based, industrialized growth. Caring about global warming is as much about saving ourselves as it is about saving other species. And our goal shouldn’t be just to survive or barely get by with acceptable levels of pollution. A neutral impact ought to be our standard.

3.  Why did you pick Clean Currents?

Gary Skulnik – he made a compelling case for Clean Currents years ago and helped make the switch easy. Clean Currents represents the heart and soul of the Green Revolution. Thoughtful community activism focused on a clear need with a very reasonable solution.

4.  What are actions in your personal or professional life have you taken to reduce your climate impact?

We recycle at work/home. We unplug unused fixtures often – at work and home. I changed to a 35mpg car instead of a 15 mpg pick-up truck. We switched bulbs at home and some at work. I use mass transit when I can (although it never seems to work as well as its touted to).

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Competitive Electricity Markets and Innovation

Posted on February 24, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

A few of us from Clean Currents metroed down to Capital Hill this afternoon to attend the COMPETE Coalition’s briefing on competitive electricity markets and innvoation.  The speakers discussed a recently published white paper by KEMA on the subject. The main conclusion of the paper is that three main elements of competitive markets drive innovation:

  1. Fair market rules that foster competition and allow entrepreneurs to participate.
  2. Accessibility to markets for new participants that can meet evolving customer needs.
  3. Risk and reward dynamic that incentivizes entrepreneurs to take risk in hopes of making a profit.

In the discussion of these three elements, speakers from several companies that are living proof of competitive markets encouraging innnovation took the stage.

Allen Freifeld, a Senior VP of External Affairs for Viridity Energy spoke about a project his company is working on with the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA- Philly’s version of WMATA) to harness the electricity generated when trains brake. Currently, this electricity is not being utilized in the SEPTA system. Viridity Energy will use battery technology to store this electricity and work with SEPTA to determine the optimum use for it at any given moment. The options include selling it into various PJM markets (PJM is the regional transmission organization or electricity market that our area is part of ) or keeping it for use within the SEPTA system. This stored electricity provides the valuable service of regulating the frequency of the PJM system and makes the whole thing run more efficiently. Efficient operations can lower the carbon footprint of the region’s electricity usage while at the same time, saving SEPTA millions of dollars annually.

Viridity Energy is able to provide this service because market deregulation has seperated out the various components of electricity supply into seperate competitive markets. These markets, under the auspices of clear rules established by PJM and FERC, allow entrepreneurs to address very specific challenges . This allows them to be nimble and flexible in dealing with problems.

Gene Hunt, Director of Communications at Beacon Power, compared the small suppliers’ felxibility to steering a powerboat, while operating an intergrated utility is more like navigating a giant freightliner. The small suppliers can quickly adapt to changing situations while utilities are often one or two steps behind of what is actually happening. Beacon Power is also working in the storage field and has recieved a Department of Energy Loan Guarantee to implement its flywheel technology as an alternative to battery-based short term storage. Flywheels utilize magnets and can harness excess electriticity (acting like load) or release it to the grid (acting like a generator), just like batteries. Under the Massachusetts RPS, flywheels can even earn Renewable Energy Credits by helping reduce the need for fossil-fuel balancing resources.

Technologies that can help balance and regulate the grid are becoming more and more important as renewables enter the picture. Since renewables produce electricity intermittently (the wind is not always blowing), batteries and flywheels are necessary to keep the system in balance. Balancing technologies have great potential to optimize electricity consumption and eliminate inefficiencies.

These innovations hold promise for the future of electricity. However, as the moderator of today’s event, William Massey, former FERC Commissioner and Counsel to the COMPETE coalition pointed out, these technologies will take time to implement and get right. There will be a degree of experimentation and adaptation along the way. With competitive electricity markets provide a stable climate for entrepreneurs, innovations will continue to improve the way we use electricity.

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Solar at no Upfront Cost…on the East Coast!

Posted on January 24, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Sure we’ve heard about how residential homeowners in California and other West Coast states have gone solar thanks to generous incentives and creative financing programs (not to mention abundant sunshine!)

But now, Marylanders and other East Coast residents will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of solar without having to pay for the installation up front. California based SolarCity, the country’s largest residential installer has entered the market by purchasing the solar division of Clean Currents.

SolarCity was the first company in the US to introduce the solar lease option in 2008. SolarLease allows homeowners to pay for their solar installation in monthly lease installments instead of all at once. Most of the time, the savings on the customer’s electricity bill outweigh the lease payments resulting in an overall decrease in energy costs. Also, as electricity rates rise (which is the usual trend), the savings increases. So its a pretty cool option for homeowners that want to go solar, but don’t have the cash for an upfront payment.

SolarCity’s East Coast operations will be based in the Clean Currents Solar offices in Silver Spring Maryland. For more details see the official press release and coverage in the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the Washington Business Journal.

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A Green Start to the New Year

Posted on January 4, 2011. Filed under: Questions, Recommendations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Its that time of the year again…time to make a resolution and stick with it (at least this week!!) You’ve probably already made your personal resolution, but this year, why not also make an environmental resolution too? Keep it simple and small or think big!

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Support wind power at home. If you live in Maryland, DC, DE or PA, you can choose to support wind power by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) at home through your electricity bill. Sign up for Clean Currents and choose 50% or 100% wind power. Signing up takes 5 minutes, and our rates are competitive with utility rates, so it’s a pretty painless resolution. Learn more about wind power for home here.
  2. Get a water bottle.  Toting a BPA-free water bottle  is a great way to stay hydrated and reduce your use of plastic water bottles and disposable cups.
  3. Cut out disposable coffee cups. Use of those gift cards to get a reusable mug you like and carry it around with you when you think you’ll need to stop for coffee (so definitely Monday morning).
  4. Commit to reusable shopping bags. The fold-away ones are really portable and fit in your pocket or purse. If you’re driving keep them in your car for unexpected grocery runs. Also, even when you forget your bag, just ask yourself if you really need one. It seems like most cashiers just toss your items in a bag, no matter how small it may be. Just say “no thanks” if you’re going to throw the bag away in 45 seconds anyway.
  5. Embrace the CFL! If you havent already done so, switch out your old incandescents and commit to buy CFL bulbs instead. These use 75% less electricity (which saves you $). Done that already? Here are lots of easy ways you can save money by cutting back on usage.
  6. Research a solar install at your home. By installing a solar system at your home, you can generate your own power and cut your electricity use, as well as your carbon footprint. This option is definitely not for everyone, as the up front costs of solar are still significant. However, if you are in the position to make an investment, the payback might be better than you think. With government incentives and financing options, solar is becoming a more affordable option. Ready to go? Start with a free solar evaluation.

What are your environmental resolutions for 2011?

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Clean Currents Cycling: DC Velo

Posted on December 16, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

For several years now, Clean Currents has been the title sponsor of the DC Velo cycling team, a leading cycling club in the DC metro area. Here are some pictures of this years team.

Congrats on a great season!

Full Team

Jason and Mark: Winners of the 30+ and 50+ Team Pursuit

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Oversubscribed SREC Market Threatens Future Growth of Solar in DC

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

Solar installations in the District of Columbia have been growing rapidly over the last several years thanks to the District’s popular Renenewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) as well as numerous Solar Co-Ops that have sprung up around the city. But the growing number of residents and businesses in the District taking advantage of solar is also growing because of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS requires electricity suppliers to generate a certain percenatage of their load with renewable energy. The solar carve out DC’s RPS requires suppliers to include .028% solar in 2010 and escalates to require .35% in 2019.

 How does this impact people who want to install solar? In order to meet these requirements, suppliers purchase Solar Renewable Energy Credits from solar installations. For every 1000kwh a solar system generation, one SREC is created. Owners of a solar installation are paid for these credits as long as electricity suppliers need to buy them to meet the RPS. The price of credits varies based on the Alternative Compliance Payment that utilities must pay if they do not meet the RPS as well as the supply of SRECs in the market.

Currently, the DC market is in trouble. According to Sol Systems, the market is severely oversupplied with over 16,000 more SRECs being created than required by the RPS. 10,000 of these are out-of-state SRECs from a large 10MW solar generator in Illinois. This generator was accepted into the DC market because at the legislation is currently written, generators from the PJM region can sell SRECs into the DC market.

If amendments are not made, it is likely that the DC SREC market will crash in the near future and an important source of financing for DC solar installations will decline or dissappear.

The solar community lead by Sol Systems and the Mt. Pleasant Solar Co-Op are reaching out to DC Council members to push for legislation that will change the RPS regulations to expand the DC SREC market and include a carve out for SRECs produced in DC.

If you’re a DC resident, let your elected official know that you support solar in DC through a strong SREC market. Clean Currents has joined Sol Systems and others in the solar community in reaching out to Councilmember Mary Cheh about on this issue and hope she will be an advocate for improving the DC RPS.  Stay posted for Action Alerts from Clean Currently if (when!) important RPS legislation is considered by the DC Council.

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Greenwashing (?) Strikes Again

Posted on October 21, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

The Clean Currents team is super pumped for this weekend’s DC Greenfest. We’ll giving away prizes for visitors to our booth who take the Eco IQ quiz. The grand prize is the Thames and Kosmos Power House kit that we got from our wind power customers at Toy Kingdom. We were really excited about this give away that comes with 10 green building projects including a solar array, greenhouse and wind power generator and guide for 30 alternative energy and sustainability focused experiments.

When we took the house out of the box to assemble it last week, we got an unpleasant surprise. The entire model was made out of styrofoam! The instructions and a representative at Thames and Kosmos justified this choice as a lightweight, low cost and durable material for the model. Though this is true, we feel that the company should really make it clear that the product they are selling to promote sustainable living is not at all sustainable. When asked about the company’s environmental policy, the customer service rep referred us to the president. Here is the email we sent:

Dear Ted,

My company just purchased a couple of the Thames and Kosmos Powerhouse models as giveaways at our booth at the DC Greenfest. We were really excited about this model, but were very disappointed to find that it is made out of Styrofoam, a petroleum based material that is rarely recycled, does not decompose well, and is produced in a co2 intensive process.

I spoke with Tim at Thames and Kosmos and he gave me the justification for why Styrofoam is the material of choice. While I see that Styrofoam is practical because it is low-cost, durable, and lightweight, I still think it is a problematic choice for a renewable energy toy that is marketed as “green”.

Does Thames and Kosmos have an environmental mission statement? I would hope that a company selling “experiments in sustainability” and “green essentials” would have some sort of interest in preserving the environment. If you do not have such a policy, I would hope that you would be willing to consider thinking about some steps you can take to make your operations more sustainable. If you would like, I can offer some suggestions on how you can get started with this!  

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.


Update: Here is the thoughtful response from Thames & Kosmos. We appreciate this further explanation.

Dear Tanya,

Thank you for purchasing two of our Power House kits, and for your dedication and passion to environmental issues, which is clear from your blog and concern about the materials in our kit.

 First of all, I feel it is necessary to explain the material choice in our Power House kit: There is no Styrofoam® in the kit. Styrofoam is a brand name for a material called extruded polystyrene foam trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company. The polystyrene foam in this kit is actually not Styrofoam, but rather a material called expanded polystyrene foam (EPS).

            A number of the experiments in this kit deal with energy efficiency and insulation. In order to make these experiments work, a good insulator is necessary. EPS is a very economical and efficient insulator, with a high R-value. It is 95 to 98 percent air, so it is very light and uses very little material relative to its volume. If we were to have used wood, cardboard, or paper for these experiments, we would have had to have used such a heavy quantity of those materials that the fossils fuels burned by shipping the products around the country would negate the savings obtained from not using EPS. Also, the house model is meant to be used again and again, so we chose a material that would endure through many experimental sessions.

            In addition, the EPS foam tray protects all of the other parts in this kit from damage during shipment and storage. This saves a lot of energy and material because fewer parts are damaged. The EPS parts are not intended to be discarded quickly, and because EPS is lightweight and low density, it is actually a very economical and environmentally favorable material choice.

            Interestingly, the kit was designed in Germany, where they are years ahead of the U.S. in terms of energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy usage. It is common practice in Germany to wrap homes in EPS to significantly increase the energy efficiency of the home. In the U.S., for whatever reason, there is a gut reaction to EPS that is, quite frankly, disproportionately negative compared to the reaction to other types of plastic. All petroleum based plastics are equally unsustainable: once plastic is made, it can never be unmade (not in the human time frame anyway).

            Polystyrene can be recycled like other plastics. It falls into recycling category 6. The curbside recycling programs in most cities in the United States do not yet accept this category of plastic. However, you can do a simple Internet or phone book search for recycling centers and drop-off sites in your area that will accept expanded polystyrene.

            So, you see, our choice is scientifically substantiated. We would not endorse the use of EPS for disposable food packaging, for example, or hot beverage cups, because there are perfectly good alternatives (for example, a reusable ceramic plate or a reusable metal bottle).

Second, I would like to address the assertion on your blog that Thames & Kosmos is “greenwashing.” 

We have never made any claim that the Power House kit is sustainable. The kit teaches users about sustainability issues, energy conservation, and other scientific topics, through hands-on activities. While we make smart and economic material choices, none of our kits are sustainable. The concept of declaring any consumer product “sustainable” is problematic in and of itself, because the practice of sustainability is inherently anti-consumption. 

            We have made the practical and ethical determination that teaching children today about environmental science, alternative energy, chemistry and physics, is utterly critical to the future inhabitability of this planet for humans. If children cannot come to trust the empirical wisdom of the scientific method, the country will continue to produce adults who are scared of science, mistrustful of scientists, and skeptical about climate change, and human life as we know it will be doomed. We already do not have enough time to entirely stop the climate change brought on by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and still some huge percetage of the country won’t believe it is happening and won’t even begin to change their behaviors. The impetus behind our mission is to change this.

            From your blog, it sounds like you understand that sometimes one has to make compromises in one’s approach in order to achieve a goal. You say yourself, “There’s nothing like sensible pragmatism to achieve grander goals.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is exactly the justification behind the choices made in bringing all of our kits to market. I could move to Maine and live in a passive house almost completely sustainably (actually it sounds quite nice), but we all couldn’t do that. Earth’s not big enough to support all of us this way. So we have to be smarter. We have to innovate. We have to use science and technology to help solve our environmental problems. But first, we have to have a general population that understands basic science in order to support this.

            We are both on the same side of the issues here. I do not call your blog “greenwashed” even though I can assume with almost complete certainty that it was not written on a sustainable computer that was delivered to you in sustainable packaging by a delivery truck powered by biodiesel. Wordpress’s server farms aren’t sustainable. No amount of carbon offsets you buy can change that. But, like our Power House kit, your blog is important enough to justify the use of those resources. We are educating people. We are working towards a better future.

 Lastly, I would like to answer your question as to whether or not Thames & Kosmos has an “environmental mission statement.” 

 Our mission concerns informal science education, not the environment. We are a small business and do not have a formal written environmental mission statement. I am more than open to hearing your suggestions for what should be included in one, and would be grateful if you were to send those to me, but I do not think having a written environmental mission statement by itself does anything to change a company’s behaviors. I can, however, tell you about all the “environmental” (for lack of a better word) activities we have been involved in over the past 10 years:

            1. Since 2007 I have volunteered countless hours on the board of a local non-profit called the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living, which has the lofty mission of making RI the first sustainable state in the nation. 

            2. One percent of the retail sales of our Renewable Energy Kit “Wind Power” has been donated to Apeiron, since 2008, and 1% of the retail sales of our Hydropower kit has been donated to the RI chapter of Clean Water Action since 2009.

            3. From the time Thames & Kosmos was founded and began selling the fuel cell car kit in 2001, we have been focused on teaching kids about alternative energy, conservation of natural resources, sustainable living, and environmental science. We have helped educate millions of children on the topics of fuel cells, hydropower, wind power, solar power, global warming, sustainable living, energy conservation, chemistry, biology, and physics. 

            4. We have moved our office to a more central urban location so more employees can take advantage of public transportation and shorter commutes. We would love to convert the building to alternative energy (solar/geothermal) over the next 10 years.

            5. I have invested $50,000 into environmental remediation at the new building site to bring it up to today’s DEM environmental standards.

            6. We reuse office paper and recycle paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass.

            7. We had our fluorescent lighting switched out with lower energy compact fluorescents, and in fact, the building has such great natural light that most of the day we do not have the overhead lights on at all.

            8. We are always evaluating the materials used in our products and whether there are more environmentally friendly alternatives.

I realize full well that this is just scratching the surface, and we are dedicated to doing more as we continue to grow.

I appreciate your feedback and will continue to take it into consideration.


Ted McGuire


There are lots of good points in Ted’s letter. It is certainly true that sometimes sacrifices are necessary to achieve progress towards a goal and of course we make sacrifices all the time (Clean Currents staffers do often feel guilty about driving around to various events, but we understand that by attending festivals and meeting all over the region, we are spreading the word about sustainability and green power to more people, which is hopefully worth the carbon emissions). And hopefully, since consumers of the Power House will only by buying one model, they will learn enough about sustainable living and renewable energy from the kit to make up for it.

However, although “EPS can be recycled like other plastics”, it is unfortunately not widely recycled. Montgomery County, MD, where our offices are headquarted, is a very progressive county in a pretty progressive state. However, according the county government, “We are not aware of any very local opportunities for recycling or reusing those blocks”

So yes, it seems like Thames and Kosmos is doing a good deal to benefit the environment, and we trust they dont drive around in Hummers drinking out of styrofoam cups all day, so maybe the greenwashing claim was a bit too strong. But EPS is still an unfortunate choice for a sustainability kit…

Readers, what do you think?

Speaking of sustainable Styrofoam…

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Photo Ops: Clean Currents 10-10-10 Events

Posted on October 12, 2010. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This Sunday, the Clean Currents Team got to work around the area for multiple events to mark the International Day of Climate Action.


Here are some pictures from the various events:

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CCAN’s Photos from 10-10-10

WAMU spot on Georgetown Solar Install

Pictures from Live Green’s Peace Potluck

Video from Silver Spring house:

Video from 350.0rg

We Got to Work.

Global Work Party

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Clean Currents 1st Annual BIG Company BBQ- Carderock Park

Posted on August 27, 2010. Filed under: Events | Tags: |

Clean Currents staff and families had a blast at the first annual company BBQ at Carderock Park yesterday! There was certainly no shortage of food including: Peruvian potatoes, baked beans, pasta salad, mac&cheese, quinoa salad, burgers&dogs (veggie too of course), mexican layer dip heated in a solar cooker, brownies, cookies, banana pudding (yes, its delicious) and so much more! Are you hungry yet?
We tried to encourage people to bring plates, flatware, cups and forks from home to avoid one time use items, with about an embarassing 30% success rate. Lets go for higher next year!
We also had a blast playing cornhole, volleyball and various other park-y sports.
Thanks to all the chefs and attendees and especially Katherine K. from the solar team for pulling it all together!

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Going Green is the new trend

Posted on July 22, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Consumers who care about the environment are a prime target of green washing, fake “green” companies. This is no surprise. Environmentally conscious consumers are generally well educated and well off. They are a great target market and thus tempting to companies that might otherwise have no green interest (environmental “green,” that is).

You have to do a little additional homework to separate the truly green companies from the green washers. I propose this simple three part test to figure out who talks “green” and who actually walks “green:”

1. Does the company only offer green products or is a green product part of a group of products, including polluting products?

Are they promoting “wind power” on the one hand, while selling massive amounts of coal or nuclear power on the other hand?

2. Are the company’s operations certified as being sustainable by a legitimate third party entity, which performs an actual on-site audit?

For example, when Clean Currents got certified by Montgomery County Maryland’s Department of Environmental Protection, we had auditors visit our office to ensure we are doing everything we claimed we were. Any kind of “green registry” that does not require a third party audit is worthless.

3. Does the company work with advocacy groups to support environmental legislation beyond legislation that would directly improve the company’s business?

A solar company that advocates for increased solar incentives does not count. That’s pure self interest. But companies like Clean Currents that push for broad legislation that reduces carbon emissions, or that cleans up the Bay make a real difference beyond their immediate self interest.

So, if a company claims they are sustainable on their web site, ask them for proof. If they say they donate money to non profits, or support planting trees or something like that, tell them that’s not enough. Even Exxon Mobil donates to charities like that. The true test is what are they doing to change the laws of this nation (or of their home states or cities)? Voluntary green actions are great, and they are important in terms of making a difference. Environmental consumers have the power to change the way business is done, to ensure that every company becomes a true green minded entity instead of a green washer trying to make a quick buck on the latest fad. By purchasing products only from green companies that pass the simple green test, you are ensuring that there will be a growing industry of truly green businesses that protect the planet while protecting their bottom line.

From Garys blog!
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