Bingaman and Brownback to Introduce Stand Alone RES Bill

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

**Update 9/22** Bingaman, Brownback and supporters introduced the RES bill yesterday afternoon. View The Hill’s coverage here.

Senator Bingaman (D-NM), chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Senator Brownback (R-KS) will introduce legislation for a 15% Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) with a group of non-partisan senators including Sue Collins (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

According to Bingaman’s staffers, the bill is similar in structure to the one introduced by the Senator last year in that it requires states to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen by 2021. Up to a quarter of this can be met through energy efficiency measures.

In July, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled renewable energy targets from his energy bill out of concern that it would not gain the 60 votes necessary to pass the senate. However, Bingaman has indicated that he is confident that this new legislation will be able to pass saying,

“I think that the votes are present in the Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard…I think that we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward.”

Yesterday, Senator Bingaman penned an op-ed for Politico in which he expressed the dire need for progress on clean technology and energy in the US. In this piece, Bingaman called for a Clean Energy Development Administration (CEDA) to provide sustainable financial support to developing renewable technologies. Part of this is a “patient capital” approach to funding, which would stimulate the development and scaling up of new technologies, allowing the US clean tech industry to compete on the global level with emerging powerhouses like China. Senator Bingaman sums up the urgency of moving forward despite the political difficulties:

“A broad comprehensive energy bill may not be possible in this Congress. But action on common-sense bipartisan proposals like CEDA should not be put off. If we want to realize the energy security, environmental security and economic benefits of the clean energy revolution, then the investments we need in clean energy technology deployment cannot wait…The investment choices we make now will dramatically shape the world in which our children and grandchildren live. The longer we wait to address our clean energy challenges, the higher the hill they will have to climb.”

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Green Roofs and Solar

Posted on September 17, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

I came across this video on CNN about Atlanta’s High Museum’s new green roof – one of the largest in the United States.

Green roofs have fascinated me for years. Commercial roof-tops across the country are most commonly finished and sealed with black tar. When direct summer sun hits these roofs, temps can often soar well past 150 degrees F. This leads to a greater need for building cooling, which in turn leads to an increase in the demand for power (of which coal is the most common source). These common roof-tops are also the largest contributor to the urban heat island effect.

Green roofs are surprisingly simple and their positive effects can be huge. They limit rainwater runoff, improve water quality, conserve energy, reduce the urban heat-island effect, extend the life of roofing materials underneath, and provide habitat for plants and animals.

But what’s even more interesting is the recent innovation in hybrid green / solar roofs. Just as it sounds, a hybrid roof combines roof-mounted solar power systems with a green roof. This combination is beneficial because the green roof can actually improve a solar system’s efficiency.

As the green roof cools ambient temperatures around the solar panels, the solar panels are able to stay cooler and function better. So not only can the green roof lead to improved efficiency of the panels, but a green roof also helps a building conserve energy (especially in cooling), thus reducing the workload for the solar system.

If you are interested in learning more about green roofs, check out:

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China’s New Solar City

Posted on May 24, 2010. Filed under: News, Recommendations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Many solar panel companies have developed in both Europe and United States, and now more developing countries wanted to want to lower their carbon footprint as well, using solar panels. China has invested 34 billion dollars on both solar panels and wind turbines, double the amount of money as the United States.

In Dezhou, a city located in northern China, was acknowledged for raising poultry, and however now is known as ‘China’s Solar City.’  Huang Ming (president of Himin Solar Energy) has created the Himin Solar Energy Group, which is now currently ‘the biggest solar energy production base in the whole world.’ Some of the company’s products include solar lights, PV lighting products, solar panels, solar water heaters, and solar collectors. Huang Ming also created a low carbon five star hotel and now working on eco friendly apartment complexes. He mentions, in an interview at his corporate head quarters, “renewable energy doesn’t mean people have to be uncomfortable.”

At first, Huang Ming was an oil industry engineer, working at a petroleum research institute; however, he did not feel right about the impact oil had on the environment.  Thus, he created this company as a kind of ‘experiment’ to see if it would be successful in China. His heating devices and solar panels became quite popular in the city of Dezhou. Many villagers, especially farmers can now use hot water for showers regularly, rather than using communal bathrooms a couple times a month.

Some argue, that solar panels will help the economy minimally and decrease China’s carbon footprint to a certain extent. They believe that China will still rely heavily on fossil fuels for a lot of their energy. Huang Ming admits this argument, but later says “solar energy a drop in the ocean,” but has big plans for the future!

See article here

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2010 MD General Assembly Wrapup

Posted on April 15, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

The 427th MD General Assembly has wrapped for the year.  Several important renewable energy bills were heard (and voted on) this year.

Clean Currents would like to thank those elected officials who remained committed to green issues.  We would also like to offer a “spanks” to those officials who continued to deny the urgency of pressing for greater renewable goals.


Thanks and Spanks for the 2010 Maryland General Assembly Session

The Maryland General Assembly has wrapped up for the year and now the politicians are about to enter full campaign mode. Who was good for clean energy, and deserves a “thanks” from us and who was bad and deserves a “spanks” from us? The number one priority of Clean Currents and the environmental plus solar business community was Governor Martin O’Malley’s solar RPS improvement. Thanks to the hard work of Governor O’Malley and his people at the Maryland Energy Administration, plus our staff here at Clean Currents and hundreds of likeminded supporters, the bill passed. This is a huge accomplishment in an election year session. Big Thanks to Governor O’Malley! The bill increases the value of Solar Renewable Energy Credits and requires more solar installations in the state. This means more money for homeowners and businesses that want to go green with solar panels.

In all, Clean Currents supported nine bills and opposed one as our top priorities for the session. Our record on these bills was pretty good. Of the nine we supported, four passed and will be signed into law, one passed the House but died in the Senate on Sine Die, and four were killed. The one bill we opposed was killed.

The bills that passed include the above-mentioned solar RPS bill (SB 277), as well as a bill to force the utilities to pay consumers for excess green power they generate via net metering (SB 355) and a bill to make it easier to install solar on master metered properties (SB 538).

BIG THANKS These are our big champions for the 2010 session:
Governor O’Malley, Senator Rob Garagiola (Potomac), Delegate Sue Hecht (Frederick)

THANKS These folks were consistent supporters of Clean Currents legislation, rock solid on solar and green energy.
Del. McHale came up with the amendment that saved the Governor’s solar RPS bill in House Economic Matters. Sen. Catherine Pugh (Baltimore) Sen. Kathy Klausemeier (Baltimore) Del. Herman Taylor (Silver Spring) Del. Roger Manno (Silver Spring) Del. Brian McHale (Baltimore)

BIG SPANKS There’s really one “superstar” of the anti-solar, anti-green energy side of the equation: Sen. EJ Pipkin (Eastern Shore)

SPANKS These folks voted against the Solar RPS bill and/or were not supportive of green electricity bills:
Sen. Delores Kelley (Baltimore) Sen. Alan Kittleman (Howard) Sen. Norman Stone (Baltimore County)Sen. Roy Dyson (Southern Md)Del. D Stifler

Finally, I want to give a big thanks to all who wrote letters, emailed, or called about the vital pieces of legislation we supported for a cleaner, greener future.

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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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Sun + Wind= Renewables Working Around the Clock

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

Green Inc reports on a new project planned by Southwest Solar Technology that incorporates both solar and wind technology to overcome the difficulty of storing electricity. As Matthew Wald, the reporter from Green Inc, puts it:

“Electricity from renewable sources can be like a perfect luncheon served at 4 a.m., a nice thing but far more appreciated at a different hour. Electricity is hard to store, though, which is why nearly all of it is consumed at the instant it is generated, and energy storage is still in its infancy.”

Already, a potential method of storage is compressed air technology. Excess energy is taken from the grid at any time and used to push air into an underground cave. When electricity is needed, the air is released to push a turbine and generate electricity. In the southeast, the Alabama Electrical Cooperative has been using the technology since 2000. In its plant, the air is heated with natural gas to better drive the turbines.

 Southwest Solar Tech is working on working off of the existing compressed air technology to heat the air with solar power and intergrate wind farms into the mix. A solar dish will be used to heat a container of liquid to up to 1700 degrees fahrenheit. This will heat the air that is pushed into a cave by wind turbines at night, when the wind farm is generating surplus electricity that is not accepted by the grid.

This project is currently only in the planning stage, but as contintue renewables play a bigger role in US energy supply, the issue of storage will grow in importance.

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Solar Cells that Work Underground?

Posted on December 1, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Treehugger reports on 3-D solar cell technology developed at Georgia Insitute of Technology.

Here’s Treehugger’s explanation of the technology:

“Using optical fibers common to the telecommunications industry, researchers seeded them with zinc oxide nanostructures–much like the white stuff found on a lifeguard nose. Those nanostructures were then coated with a dye-sensitized material that converts light into electricity. The electricity is then captured using a liquid electrolyte surrounding the nanostructures.”

One of the cool things about this development is that the fibers can be placed underground, and still generate electricity as long as the tip is exposed to sunlight. This provides much more flexibility in where to install these cells, because the fiber is only about the width of a human hair and can be integrated into building design. Because the light bounces back once it reaches the end of the fiber, the chances of absorbption are actually doubled. A 10 centimeter fiber produces about .5 volts of electricity and the fibers can be cut into various lengths.

So far the efficiency of these new cells is only about 3% and the goal is to increase this to 8% in the near future. This target is still less then the 12% efficiency of silicon PV cells which are common in rooftop installations. Still, the advantage of these cells, along with other dye-sentisized versions, is that they are much cheaper to produce and require much less heat. As ABC Science puts it,

“Efficiency can take a backseat to ease of production. Conventional solar cells with the highest efficiencies are generally expensive to produce, require temperatures of several hundred degrees, and can be damaged relatively easily by rocks or hail.”

Other added benefits of the 3-D cells include their dynamic design potential and the fact that they are more 6-times more efficient than other dye-sensitized cells because of the ability of the light to bounce back for added absorption.

Any way we can figure out how to harness the tremendous power of the sun as directly as possibly is certainly a step forward and this new technology may help integrate solar power to meet more of of energy needs.

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Powered by Clean Currents: Solar Installation Continues at Bullis School

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

As the Gazette reports, the Bullis School of Potomac, MD has already been recognized as the top individual school green power purchaser, and now the school is stepping up its committment to clean energy by installing a 110.7 kw solar system on the roof of their arts building. Before Thanksgiving, the Clean Currents crew unloaded 540 panels and hoisted them on the roof with a crane. Now the team is in the process of installing the panels and hope to have the project completed by the end of the week.

Once the installation is complete, the system will provide about 20% of the building’s electricity. To finance the $700,000 project, Bullis is working with Washington Gas and Energy Services (WGES). WGES gets tax benefits from the project, and Bullis has agreed to purchase back the power generated by the system from WGES at an established rate for 20 years.

Students that walked by the arts building were definitely interested in what the giant crane was unloading on the roof. Soon physics students in Brittany Reed’s class will get a chance to learn more about how the panels work and even monitor the sunlight absorbed through a computer program. According to Reed,

“The idea is to get them to see that what we’re learning is more than just equations and problems we see on a sheet, that there’s actually real world applications for them…They always want to know, ‘Why do we care about this?’ This is one thing we have at our school that gives us that connection.”


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Climate Change Special Issue in Yesterday’s WaPo Outlook

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

The Washington Post isn’t always equated with progressive commentary on climate change.  At least one regular columnist has been known to mis-interpret and mis-report the science of climate change. Nevertheless, yesterday’s Outlook special issue on climate change featured some decent coverage on the issue.

The contributors included Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, Ralph Izzo, CEO of the Public Service Enterprise Group, and Bill McKibben, one of the founders of, as well as Washington Post writers that contributed columns on the topic.

Izzo’s article, “Let’s go with Cap and Innovate” talked about the efforts his energy company, PSEG, is taking to stay ahead of the curve on carbon cutting initiatives inlcuding energy efficiency program and solar and wind technologies. Izzo advocates a national carbon tax as envisioned in the house and senate climate legislation as a way to move forward on an international agreement and encourage domestic innovation and technological adaptation.

McKibben’s piece urged President Obama to “feel the heat” of climate change and to respond to it with the same vigor he expressed during his campaign. Although he acknowledged that Obama has done more to advance the US response to climate change than his predeccesors, but

“But doing more than George W. Bush on global warming is like doing more than George Wallace on racial healing. It gives you political cover, but the melting arctic ice is unimpressed.”

McKibben contrasts Obama with President Nasheed of the Maldives, another young, well-spoken and “change” oriented politician. Nasheed’s response to climate change has been inventive and vigorous, at least partly due to his small country’s precarious position in the middle of the ocean, highly vulnerable to any rise in the sea-level. McKibben applauds Nasheed’s enthusiasm inlcuding a recent underwater cabinet summit committing pledging to make the country carbon neutral by 2020. In his opinion, Obama could take a lesson from Nasheed and use rhetorical and presentation skills to get some fire back into the climate change policy.

He states:

“They both may go to the U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Copenhagen next month, but Nasheed will be there to say: Seize the moment. And if Obama makes it, he will be there to spin, to say, no doubt elegantly: Chill.”

Brown’s article warned about the consequences of climate change on global food supply which could lead to global instability.

Another interesting article looked at Germany’s climate change legislation and how it effected a blue-collar family in a small former coal town. The family was benefitting from green jobs, but had a hard time keeping up with high energy costs associated with being on the grid because they were unable to invest in solar or geothermal due to high up-front costs.

The section also featured a section look at ads that have been designed by various groups to try to convince diverse audiences to take action on climate change.

Here is one from the WWF:

You can view the rest of the ads here.

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64% of US States Could Use In-State Renewables to Cover Energy Demand

Posted on November 9, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Last week, Treehugger picked up an interesting study from the Insitute for Local Self Reliancy. The study found that 64% of US states could be energy self sufficient with homegrown renewable fuels and that an additional 14% could get 75% of their energy from instate renewables.

The study examines local power generation options (see graphics below) and out the cost to the consumer from local power generation. The conclusion is:

  “The cost of constructing new transmission lines to carry that power and the electricity losses during transmission could result in an electricity cost to the customer that is about the same, or higher, than local generation with minimal transmission upgrades.”

This is definitely an exciting finding for proponents of decentralized energy generation (like the Institute for Local Self Reliancy), but Treehugger points out that although we no a lot of about the pros and cons of centralized generation but a lot less about the actual costs and feasibility of decentralized power production. But with “buy local” and “eat local” movements gaining strength for their obvious benefits to the local community in terms of job creation and environmental benefits to fossil fuel reductions,  perhaps a “local power” movement will really take off.

Here are some graphs about local potential generation for wind and solar from the ILSR study.


For more info on decentralized power generation, take a look at this article from AlterNet and the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy (WADE).

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