- US Virgin Islands Launches 15-Year Energy Initiative to Reduce Fossil Fuel Use 60%
- “Pimp My Elevator” Retrofit Turns Clunkers into Energy Savers
- Creating Jobs in Homebuilding: What Will it Take?
- Cincinnati Could Be Completely Powered By Renewables This Year
Posted: 19 Feb 2012 08:58 AM PST
100% renewable energy future. A similar initiative is underway in the US Virgin Islands.Targeting new, emerging technologies in locations and environments where they can make the greatest impact makes a lot of sense, and when it comes to renewable energy, island communities, cities and states fit the bill. A clean, renewable energy movement is afoot in Hawai’i, where proponents are laying out a path to a
Like Hawai’i, the USVI – at great and increasing costs – depends on oil imports to produce most of its electricity, nearly 100% of it in the case of the USVI. As a result, the Caribbean island territory’s 110,000 residents pay some $0.47 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity – some 4-5x more than consumers in the continental US. USVI residents also depend on foreign oil to produce freshwater via seawater desalination.
USVI Governor John P. de Jongh Jr. and his administration are trying to change all that. Working with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Interior Dept., has crafted a planning framework, the goal of which is to reduce fossil fuel use on the islands by 60% in the next 15 years.
Meeting a Long-term Challenge: The Rewards of Reducing Fossil Fuel Use
The USVI depends on tourism for some 80% of economic activity. Tourists from other climates tend to really like their a/c. That makes reducing fossil fuel usage even more of a huge challenge, one that requires active support and participation all along the electricity production and consumption value chain–from consumers to power producers. Not the least among them is efficiently integrating a mix of intermittent, renewable energy resources into the grid and assuring a ready supply of high-quality electrical power. Another key aspect of achieving the program’s aims is winning lasting support from the islands’ residents and businesses.
The rewards are numerous, substantial and lasting, however. Success in the USVI would not only yield multiple, long-term benefits economically, socially and environmentally, it would lead to replicating the means and methods in the continental US.
NREL has worked with USVI government, utilities, public and private groups to map the island territory’s renewable energy potential in order to craft a workable plan that would result in renewable energy resources meeting its electricity needs by 2025. The plan calls for building out a mix of six different technologies. By far the single largest source of potential fossil fuel reduction will come from another source, however– energy efficiency improvements.
The high cost of using oil to produce electricity and freshwater has put increasing strain on residents’ pocketbooks, low income residents and retirees in particular. Their reduced personal income and spending has also constrained economic development.
USVI’s Fossil Fuel Reduction Plan: Energy Efficiency and a Mix of Renewable Energy Resources
The USVI burns 2.6 million barrels of oil every year to generate electricity and desalinate seawater. Reducing this 60% by 2025 can be achieved by the following mix of renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, according to the USVI-NREL plan:
“We think 60 percent is very realistic,” Knight said. “The government established that goal in collaboration with NREL and the Island Nations global partnership. They challenged Gov. de Jongh to be aggressive in his goal-setting and he took them up on it. We established the aggressive goal because we spend so much on energy. The only thing that people in the Virgin Islands talk about is the size of their electric bills.”
Improving the energy efficiency of the USVI electric utility is the most cost-effective, “low-hanging fruit” that should be taken advantage of, explained NREL’s Karen Petersen. Other measures that “will help immensely” are as simple as turning off lights in buildings and lowering the air conditioning in tourist hotels. “We’re working to create a whole cultural shift,” Petersen said. “They’re very conservative in their use of energy because of need, but it doesn’t necessarily revolve around an environmental ethic.”
Posted: 19 Feb 2012 05:41 AM PST
Forget about turning your car into a rolling DJ booth, the ThyssenKrupp Americas Elevator company has just launched the vertical version of the MTV hit show from a while back, "Pimp my Ride." The company is offering a new elevator retrofit package, which transforms an old clunker into a smoother, faster, high tech ride that collects and recycles the energy it creates from friction while braking.
Better Elevators for Better Buildings
Coolness factor aside, building retrofits like this could play a significant role in President Obama's Better Buildings Initiative, which kicked off last year. The initiative seeks to "mine" buildings as a significant new source of energy. According to the Department of Energy, buildings used about 40% of the energy in the U.S. economy, costing more than $400 billion a year. The Better Buildings Initiative aims to make a dent in that with a goal of 20 percent savings for commercial and industrial buildings by 2020. In a way, that’s like discovering a whole new oil patch.
Planning more efficiency into new construction is part of the solution, but much of the focus is on energy efficiency upgrades for existing buildings. Last December, the President announced a $4 billion package for energy efficiency upgrades in federal and private sector buildings.
The Empire State Gold Standard
To cite just one iconic example of the energy-mining potential in building retrofits, the Empire State Building in New York City is in the final stages of a retrofit that earned it a LEED Gold rating. The initial, $13 million phase involved upgrading thousands of windows and the steam heat system, yielding a savings of $4.4 million per year for a quick payback on the investment. In the next phase, the Otis elevator company is upgrading the building’s 68 elevators. Like ThyssenKrupp, Otis’s upgrade package also includes regenerative braking.
Capturing Energy on the way Down
ThyssenKrupp's system saves energy in two ways. The regenerative system harvests the energy from braking, of which elevators do a lot. According to ThyssenKrupp’s promotional materials, a conventional elevator machinery can lose more than 30 percent of its energy in the form of waste heat. Tricked out with a new retrofit, the loss is only about five percent. The rest gets shunted back into the building's electrical system to reduce its demand on the grid.
Regenerative energy capture is becoming common in systems that are characterized by stop-and-go motion, whether laterally or vertically. That includes delivery vehicles, commuter rail lines, and shipping cranes.
Saving Energy in the Machine Room
The second part of the savings is a direct consequence of the first. In a conventional elevator system, excess heat collects in the machine room, which then requires air conditioning to keep the machinery from overheating. That doesn't apply in a regenerative system, since most of the heat is captured and put to use elsewhere in the building.
The trick behind the system is a gearless technology based around a permanent magnet AC motor. According to the company, a gearless machine operating at less than 240 rpm can reach the same speed as a geared machine at 1,800 rpm.
For additional savings, the motor does not consume energy unless the elevator is actually in use, and the retrofit can include high efficiency LED lighting in the cab.
More Benefits of New Elevator Technology
Only a building manager could appreciate some of the other aspects of a gearless system. It takes up less space in the machine room, eliminates oil and carbon dust, and significantly reduces noise.
As far as the passengers go, when you step into a retrofitted elevator ThyssenKrupp claims you will experience less vertical vibration, smoother stops and starts, a more precise match between the floor of the elevator and each floor of the building, and of course, a faster ride.
Sorry, folks – no hydraulics.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 19 Feb 2012 04:44 AM PST
Paul Krugman wrote on February 6th that January's favorable jobs report may be a harbinger of economic recovery. But he lists a precondition: that housing must recover.
"The main thing standing in the way of a housing bounce-back is a sharp fall in household formation — econospeak for lots of young adults living with their parents because they can't afford to move out."
Why can't they afford to move out? There are two related answers that are key to making the economy grow and generate jobs. The first answer is that the kind of housing that we have been constructing in America before the housing bubble burst truly is and will remain unaffordable. Most new housing was built in suburban sprawl: locations where driving to and from the house over the life of the mortgage will cost $350,000—more than twice the cost of the house itself. Many young adults truly cannot afford this.
And the second answer is that the new generation by and large doesn't want this kind of housing anyway. Where the market is underbuilt—where most of these young people want to live—is in more compact and transit-served neighborhoods. These areas generally cost a little more, but the difference is more than paid back by the reductions in transportation costs, often reductions of 50% and more.
The problem is that lenders do not recognize this increased affordability. So they subject borrowers to the same income limits and credit score limits when their transportation obligations are small as when they are large. In other words, if you (truly) can't afford to make your mortgage payments after paying over $11,000 a year on your cars, then the lender assumes you also can't make the payments even if you are spending only $5,000 a year on transportation. Even if you really can afford this choice!
Thus recovery is being held back by these obscure but important regulations on lending. These regulations force choices on consumers that they don't want to make as well as compromising the quality of the mortgage loan. They could be changed next week if anyone wanted them to be. It is very simple: lenders simply subtract the monthly savings in transportation costs from the monthly mortgage payment when determining if the borrower has enough income to qualify for the mortgage.
Fannie Mae ran a pilot project that did this over a decade ago, calling it the Location Efficient™ Mortgage program. It was a great success in retrospect: none of the Location Efficient™ Mortgages went into default.
But now it seems no one cares. Or at least that no one in the lending industry is willing to do the homework of evaluating how transportation (and energy) costs affect the risk of default. And no one in the Administration wants to require them to. So we keep being stuck with a lending system that does not allow the nation to build housing where the market wants it.
Perhaps as a result, even Krugman's optimistic case does not have employment returning to normal till 2019.
Should we be willing to settle for that?
David B. Goldstein has worked on energy efficiency and energy policy since the 1970s.
Dr. Goldstein has been instrumental in the development of energy efficiency standards for new buildings and appliances currently in effect at the regional and national level in the United States, Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.
David B. Goldstein received a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California at Berkeley, is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the recipient of its Leo Szilard Award for Physics in the Public Interest. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002 and the California Alumni Association's 2003 Award for Excellence in Achievement.
This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard.
Posted: 18 Feb 2012 01:32 PM PST
Powering any city with 100 percent renewable energy sources without any significant cost increase for consumers is a no-brainer, right? The answer is definitely “yes” in Cincinnati, Ohio, where city officials are working on a deal that could have only renewable electrons flowing across the city by this summer.
The Queen City is moving toward a renewable-only portfolio through a power aggregation deal with regional power providers. In Ohio, local communities are allowed by law to pool their citizens together to increase buying power and solicit lower prices for natural gas and electricity.
Cincinnati decided to take its aggregation move a step further and require power providers to include quotes for both the cheapest electricity available and cleanest electricity available. The city council has urged the administration to choose suppliers that offer only renewable energy.
If it works, officials could make their city the largest in the United States to have a 100 percent renewable energy supply – a significant swing considering 85 percent of Cincinnati's electricity currently comes from coal.
Sentiment in the region seems to be shifting toward clean sources of energy. Nearly 100 people testified in favor of the initiative at a recent public hearing, and Greenpeace recently flew a "Cleaner Is Cheaper" blimp over the city to highlight the externalities associated with coal power, annually estimated at 200 deaths, 313 heart attacks, and 3,200 asthma attacks in the community.
"The biggest thing impacting our carbon footprint is how we get our electricity," said Larry Falkin, director of the city's office of environment quality. "This is probably the biggest opportunity we'll have over the next several years to reduce Cincinnati's carbon footprint."
City officials are currently in the process of issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) to power providers to meet their electricity needs. If the responses do not come back to include 100 percent renewables without significant cost increases, city officials may be able to structure the deal so that individual consumers can choose between the cheapest electricity option and a completely renewable electricity option.
Source: Cincinnati Business Courier
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