Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Frog Calls Inspire a New Algorithm for Wireless Networks

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 12:00 AM PDT

 
Male Japanese tree frogs use a method of calling that allows them to use their calls at the same time but in a way that allows the females to distinguish between them. (I’m sure you knew that, right?)

Now, researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia have mimicked this form of calling behavior in the creation of an algorithm that assigns colours to network nodes, the use of which can be applied to developing more efficient wireless networks.

frog

The ‘desynchronised’ calls of the Japanese tree frog has inspired the development of an artificial intelligence algorithm. (Image Credit: Tree Frog via Wikimedia Commons)

This new research draws on the ‘natural self-organization’ of competing male Japanese tree frogs. The males practice a form of ‘desynchronization’ that makes calls distinct from the calls of other males, without any central authority organizing this.

The researchers created “a new algorithm for assigning colours to network nodes ensuring that each pair of connected nodes is not the same colour. The end goal is to generate a valid solution that uses the least amount of colours.”

This study falls under the growing field of ‘swarm intelligence’, a form of artificial intelligence based on multiple ‘agents’, similar to the collective intelligence seen in groups of birds, ants, frogs, fish, etc.

For the full news release, head on over to Page2.

 

 


Aussies Scramble for PV System Kickback

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 11:30 PM PDT

 
Hordes of Queensland residents are trying to get in on the 44 Australian cents per kilowatt hour government kickback for homes that export power back to the electricity grid. Beginning on July 9, solar PV incentives dropped to 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

According to Australian power company Energex, at the end of May, there were 139,500 meter-connected solar PV systems in South East Queensland. The company expected to exceed 150,000 applications by the beginning of July!

 

 

The feed-in tariff is a officially known as the Queensland Government Solar Bonus Scheme.

Solar PV Popularity Grows in Leaps and Bounds

The popularity of solar panels in South East Queensland has exploded in the last few years. Energex said that, in late 2008, when the solar incentive schemes were just beginning, there were less than 1,000 systems in the area. Three years ago, about one in 300 had solar systems installed. These days, one in six homes have solar PV.

In June, Energex Customer Advocate Mike Swanton said the company was connecting between 300 and 350 meters a day for new solar electricity systems. Swanton estimated that if all the new applications result in solar installations, 20 percent of Queenslanders will have PV systems.

How the Payout Works

No matter the rate of pay, the Solar Bonus payout works the same way. The Queensland Office of Clean Energy explains that meter readers visit customer homes and businesses quarterly to record both energy imported from the main grid and the surplus electricity exported to the grid. The amounts are then used to calculate a user’s bill.

The quarterly Solar Bonus payment for the surplus energy exported to the grid is deducted from the customer’s total grid-supplied bill. If the energy exported is greater than grid-consumption chargers over a year, the customer can decide to have the balance refunded instead of maintaining an on going credit.

Surplus energy is exported to the grid any instant when the customer is using less energy than being generated by the PV system.

Sources: The Courier-Mail, Energex, Queensland Office of Clean Energy
Image: Fabio Berti via Shutterstock


Wheelchair Car is 100% Electric

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 11:00 PM PDT

 

A Hungarian company has created a car specifically for wheelchair operators with a top speed of 30 mph. The tiny vehicle can also travel up to thirty miles on a single charge, and weighs over 600 pounds without batteries.

Called the Kenguru, it can be backed up to a curb with the rear hatch open so a wheelchair user can roll him or herself into it. It also has a small ramp which lowers to allow a wheelchair to be rolled down or up for exiting or entering.

Once inside, the wheelchair can be locked down, so it does not move. In fact, the engine will not start until the wheelchair has been secured, and the rear door closed.

The car’s controls can be operated from within a wheelchair. Steering is accomplished with a motorcycle-style handlebar, and there will be a joystick option available some time in the future.

The Kenguru is classified as a scooter because of its light weight, so a car driver’s license is not required. Head lamps and turn signals are built into the sleek design, so it can be driven on city streets safely.

The Kenguru is small enough it can be driven right up to doorways with wheelchair ramps. People who are restricted to wheelchairs could use the tiny car for shopping, work, attending school or socializing — in other words, to participate more fully in life. Loss of mobility is socially isolating, which in turn can be depressing.

Being 100% electric, the car is also relatively green.

Made by a company that has been creating aids for the handicapped since 1915, it  will be available in the UK soon.

Image Credit: Kenguru Cars

 


Climate Change Adaptation Tech vs Climate Change Abatement Tech

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 09:01 PM PDT

 
This is a very interesting post on adaptation tech and funding versus abatement tech/solutions (i.e. some stuff we typically don’t write about vs. the kind of stuff we typically do write about). The post has a bit of dry, fun humor in it, as well. Thanks to Tim for passing it along. Check it out:

by Tim Whitley

The Climate Corporation website screenshot.

One startup that recently caught my eye is The Climate Corporation, which offers weather-related crop insurance, targeted to U.S. farmers.  Crop insurance, and insurance in general, are good things and neither is anything new.

But one thing even the untrained eye will immediately notice is the company's URL, www.climate.com. Over here at COTAP.org, we've had countless bottom-feeding cyber-squatters out there trying to sell us "COTAP.info" and the like.  Climate.com was likely quite valuable, was probably registered by such a squatter patiently waiting for a payout, and sure enough somebody came along with a lot of money and paid them for it.  That's the first tip-off that someone sophisticated and with some long-term plans might be involved with TCC.

Then it dawns on you that the pretty and approachable homepage is just proper marketing engineered to fit TCC's target, the American farmer, and that innocent little startup is the one thing this is not.  Formerly known as "Weatherbill," The Climate Corporation is headquartered in the heart of San Francisco's South of Market district (SOMA), which is pretty much the heart of Silicon Valley.   Per LinkedIn, they're rounding the corner on 100 employees, many of them ex-Googlers.  And there's the de rigueur addition of former public official Senator Dorgan to its board, to keep up with the likes of C3 Energy's Condoleezza Rice, lest all other things appear equal as the tech giants shop for their next acquisition.

TCC's mission is to "help the world's people and businesses adapt to climate change."  While making lots of money off of weather insurance.  Per their CrunchBase profile, they've gotten $58.9 million in funding back in February 2011, most notably from Khosla Ventures and Google Ventures.  VC's expect big returns and over fairly short time spans.  That means they expect this company to generate lots of cash.  Lots of cash from an insurance entity means lots of premiums, so in other words that means lots and lots of farmers rushing to TCC in search of weather-related crop insurance.

It's one thing to hear James Hansen or Al Gore talk about what's in store.  It's quite another to watch the most sophisticated VC's in the world place a $60 million bet on it.  TCC and their investors understandably view climate change adaptation as a very, very large business opportunity and they're simply going after it.  And TCC is just one example of many such bets.

TCC's backers are doing their best to spin themselves as some sort of innovative play in "Big Data." That's not untrue, but make no mistake, what's also happening here is a new category of startup that should be referred to as "Adaptation Tech," a mutation of "Clean Tech" but where climate change and its consequences are a forgone conclusion and the next big opportunity, to some, is solutions which treat the symptoms but not the root cause.  There's money to be made off of climate change in this way, in the same way there's money to be made off of borrowers in payday lending schemes.  They might as well be a construction company specializing in sea walls.  It's definitely not illegal, but it's not right, either.  If TCC and their backers aren't doing it, others eventually will.

Carbon abatement startups like C3 EnergySilver Spring Networks, and of course COTAP, are much more my style.  I'd much prefer that instead of untold millions being pumped into "Adaptation Tech," that our society point that money towards abatement in general and, wherever possible, into the pockets of the poorest people in the world.  They're already proving themselves by doing a great job of getting rid of the surplus CO2 that's the root cause of this problem, as opposed to some of the already-rich whose mission is to "help the world" adapt to the problem's symptoms. Through COTAP, you can be their VC.

Tim Whitley is founder and CEO of Carbon Offsets To Alleviate Poverty (www.COTAP.org), a 501(c)3 nonprofit startup and crowdfunding platform based in Oakland, CA.  COTAP empowers individuals to address both climate change and global poverty by connecting their unavoidable carbon footprints with accredited forestry projects in least developed countries which create wages for the world's poorest people.  COTAP's initial project portfolio in Mozambique, Uganda, and Nicaragua is poised to generate over $890K for poor rural communities, an amount COTAP seeks to scale to $30M annually by 2015.

You can address your CO2 emissions while improving livelihoods for the world's poorest people at COTAP.org/donate.

And, if you’re interested, here are more ways you can get connected with COTAP:
COTAP e-newsletter signup
COTAP's Facebook page
COTAP on Twitter

 


Morocco Stays Renewable Energy Course Amidst Arab Spring

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 08:00 PM PDT

 

As longstanding ruling regimes shake and fall around them, Moroccans to date have been able to steer a moderate, comparatively peaceful course of socio-political change that’s seen the establishment of a new constitution based on modern pluralist democratic principles tolerant of social, political, and religious diversity. Encouragingly, with regard to energy policy, that’s included moving forward with a progressive, proactive national renewable energy and energy efficiency strategy that includes renewable energy sources meeting 42% of electricity demand by 2020.

The ramifications of working to reach that goal are deep and far-reaching. In doing so, Morocco’s government believes it can steer a new course of socio-economic development that will yield big, long-lasting dividends not only in terms of energy security and self-reliance, but in terms of social equity, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability.

In a July 12 interview, the director of Morocco’s new renewable energy agency, Agence Nationale pour le Developpement des Energies Renouvelables et de l’Efficacite Energetique (ADEREE), Saïd Mouline, laid out in more detail the aims, underpinnings, and means by which Morocco is working to realize its renewable energy and energy efficiency goals. Taken at face value, they appear ambitious and impressive, yet also practicable.
 

 

Renewable Energy: Morocco’s Solution to a Mix of Interrelated Problems

At present, some 95% of Morocco’s total energy demand is met by imports, primarily of oil, coal and natural gas, Mouline told CleanTechnica. That’s been a big drain on the country’s balance of trade and foreign exchange reserves, which has only surged higher with the run-up in petroleum prices that began around the mid-2000s. The social, political, and environmental ramifications associated with its dependence on fossil fuel imports compound the problems associated with fossil fuel dependence, he noted.

On the other hand, the cost of electricity from renewables — wind and solar, in particular — is already at or very near parity with grid power from fossil fuel power plants. Newly installed wind power is already cost-competitive with conventional electricity from Morocco’s grid, and new solar power is nearly there, as costs have declined sharply in the past few years, Mouline pointed out, and that’s just looking at renewables from a purely hard and narrow dollars-and-cents perspective.

The cost of electricity for individual consumers in Morocco is based on a sliding scale, Mouline explained: 7 US cents/kWh for the first 100kWh moving up to 16-17 cents per kWh if you consume more than 400kWh per month, “so the heavy users pay proportionally higher." Many Moroccan homes, he added, consume very little electricity as compared to their European counterparts (and much less than US residents) – less than 400kWh per month.

There's another sliding scale of electricity billing for industry. Rather than being linked to consumption, it’s linked to time-of-day power consumption, he continued. For commercial/industrial consumers, electricity rates range from 7 cents to 10 cents per kWh.

Morocco believes developing its considerable renewable energy resources and enhancing energy efficiency can go a long way towards addressing all these interrelated issues, Mouline said, even to the extent, in terms of the energy sector, of transforming the nation from a fossil fuel importer to a “green” energy exporter to Europe.

Morocco’s renewable energy and green economy ambitions don’t stop there, however. In addition to investing in solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects and infrastructure on both the small and large scale, Morocco is marshaling its own resources while working internationally with other governments, development organizations, and foreign companies in establishing not only the infrastructure, but also the critical legal framework and educational and vocational training capacity, to build a “green” energy economic sector that it projects will create some 50,000 new jobs by 2020.

The environmental benefits aren’t being overlooked, either, Mouline continued, noting that Morocco has a national CO2 emissions monitoring authority that enables renewable energy project owners to qualify for UN Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) carbon offset credits. The owner of Morocco’s first wind power project, a 60-MW wind farm in south-central Morocco, was able to sell CDM credits at $13 per metric ton for every metric ton avoided. More impressively, all 300-MW of wind power capacity up and running in Morocco today has qualified for CDM carbon offset credits.

Mouline acknowledged the challenges and magnitude of change required to realize the country’s renewable energy/energy efficiency strategy goals.

“It’s a drastic change. We managed to convince the government and others to enact the renewable energy/energy efficiency policy by convincing them it’s time to have a new strategy because of our resources and our needs. It’s not only a matter of energy capacity and production, but a matter of energy independence, which is very important today, as well as protecting the environment and stimulating economic and jobs growth.”

–> On to Page 2


Philadelphia Gets Green Boost with New Energy Benchmarking Bill

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 07:00 PM PDT

 
From the good folks over at the PennFuture Energy Center (image added):

Philadelphia skyline via Shutterstock 

Ignorance may be bliss, but it can be costly when it comes to energy usage. Commercial buildings in the U.S. account for 36 percent of total energy use and 65 percent of electricity consumption. Even small reductions in usage can help lower costs to building owners and tenants. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), decreasing energy costs by 30 percent in commercial real estate is the equivalent of increasing net operating income by 4 percent. It would appear a no-brainer to invest in energy efficiency to reduce consumption and save money, yet many commercial building owners have no idea how much energy they use and how they stack up.

Thanks to Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown's Energy Benchmarking Bill, which passed unanimously on June 21, 2012, city government and landlords will now have a much better understanding of energy usage in commercial buildings and how best to reduce consumption. The legislation requires commercial building owners with more than 50,000 square feet to record their yearly water and energy usage in EPA’s Portfolio Manager, which will enable property owners, tenants, prospective purchasers, lessees, and the public at large to compare energy and water usage among comparable buildings. The law goes into effect on June 1, 2013 and will be administered by the city’s Office of Sustainability. Failure to comply would be punishable by a $300 fine for the first 30 days and $100 per day after that.

With knowledge in hand, property owners can make informed decisions on how to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, and tenants can factor in energy performance before signing a lease. Similar benchmarking laws are already in place in New York, Washington, D.C., Austin, Seattle, and San Francisco.


Student Hydrogen Racecar Vies Against Fossil-Fuel Competitors

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 09:00 AM PDT

 
The world's first hydrogen racecar apparently competes quite well with petrol-powered racecars.

Forze V hydrogen racecar

Get yourself ready for the clean and quiet side of the auto-racing circuit. Instead of petroleum and the internal combustion engine, hydrogen is the fuel of choice for Forze, a hydrogen racing team from Nederlands-based Delft University of Technology.

According to the Forze blog, the team recently competed "…the first entry ever of a hydrogen fuel cell racing car in the Formula Student competition." The race, part of the Silverstone circuit, featured the team's hydrogen vehicle vying against approximately 100 petrol-powered cars.

"Between the loud sounds of roaring combustion engines, the clean and silent car had a successful debut," writes the Forze blog. Interesting thinking about the future of auto racing sans the traditional roar of internal combustion engines.

The student team has experience with hydrogen racecars, having previously competed in a dedicated racing series. But this is the first year the team entered its Forze V in this particular competition where 132 teams from universities across the world entered. While most competitors entered combustion engine racers, there was an increased presence of battery-powered cars. Then, there was the Dutch car, which used a fuel cell. With this technology, hydrogen reacts with oxygen, producing electric current to power electric motors. On the green side of the equation, the only exhaust product is water.

Last Saturday, the teams debut of its fuel cell technology resulted in a tied-in-29th position. Not bad at all, considering this is a first. Since fuel cell technology is so new, the team is pleased with ending up high in the rankings.

The Forze V racing car uses a fuel cell to produce electricity to power two electric motors. The fuel cell gives out 18kW or 24 HP. When braking, the car uses the motors to regenerate and store energy. This allows for a temporary boost power of 60kW or 80 HP. The car reaches a top speed of 120 km/h (75mph) and accelerates from 0 to 96 km/h (0-60 mph) in under 5 seconds.

A full tank of 600 grams of gaseous hydrogen allows the car to race for about an hour at full speed. Quietly, of course.

Source: Forze
Photo Credits: Forze


NREL Helps Cut Building Energy Use 50%

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 05:29 AM PDT

 
From the wonderful folks over at NREL:

The Great River Medical Center in Burlington, Iowa, has energy consumption even lower than the 50% savings promoted in the Advanced Energy Design Guide for Large Hospitals. The lake plays an important role in the hospital’s energy savings.
Photo courtesy of KJWW Engineering Consultants

The blips of a heart monitor, the hum of an MRI, the intense lights of a surgical room: all can bring both comfort and fear — and all require a lot of power. But new hospitals are being filled with natural, calming light and are leveraging energy from the sun and earth to power the machines, instruments, and tools medical professionals use to help patients recover.

Hospitals use a lot of energy to save lives. In fact, they use more than 836 trillion BTUs of energy every year and produce more than 2.5 times the carbon dioxide emissions of commercial office buildings.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Commercial Buildings Program and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are working with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the buildings industry (see sidebar) to find ways to reduce the energy intensity of large hospitals, schools, and retail buildings by 50%.

“The Advanced Energy Design Guidelines [AEDG] series represents the best practices in industry for energy efficiency in buildings,” NREL Senior Research Engineer and AEDG Project Chair Shanti Pless said. “Our job is to develop those best practices, along with the professionals in the industry, and put them together in an easy-to-implement guide. NREL created the modeling and optimization software used to determine that what is going into the guides achieves a 50% savings goal.”

The NREL commercial buildings team of Pless, Eric Bonnema, and Matt Leach led the development of the Large Hospital, Retail, and School 50% Savings AEDGs. Pless was chair of the project committees of industry experts, and Bonnema and Leach provided efficiency expertise and energy modeling optimization support.

U.S. hospitals spend more than $5 billion annually on energy, often equaling 1% to 3% of a typical hospital’s operating budget. “Healthcare is a big opportunity for energy savings,” Pless said. “We felt this industry needed resources, and there weren’t many out there helping them to achieve 50% savings in energy.”

The 50% AEDG series is a new group of publications that builds on previous successes. Collaborators including DOE and NREL published a series of six 30% AEDGs covering structures ranging from small office buildings to highway lodging to self-storage buildings. Between the 30% and 50% AEDGs, there are roughly 450,000 copies currently in circulation. The full series of AEDGs is available as a free download at www.ashrae.org/aedg.

“ASHRAE, a professional organization consisting of 60,000 mechanical engineers who work on energy efficiency in buildings, is an excellent organization through which we disseminate the guides,” NREL Principal Lab Program Manager for Building Energy Technologies Ron Judkoff said. “ASHRAE also maintains commercial building standards for industry.”

But Don’t Just Follow Code

Geothermal coils are visible in a partially filled heat rejection lake at the Great River Medical Center in Burlington, Iowa. For buildings that are predominantly in cooling mode, lake source geothermal can provide substantial energy savings.
Photo courtesy of KJWW Engineering Consultants

The building code is the baseline for the least energy-efficient building an owner can construct. Fortunately, there is nothing in building codes to stop building owners and construction companies who want to go for the most energy savings they can find — and that’s where the AEDGs can bridge the gap.

“There is a lot of interest out there for 50% energy savings in buildings because just about anyone can do it, if they are paying attention,” Pless said. “And it doesn’t have to cost more if you are using streamlined design and construction processes.”

The AEDGs are written for owners, design teams, and contractors — the professionals who will be constructing these buildings. If they don’t have experience in energy efficiency, they can look to these guides for examples and details on how to do it themselves. The guides have recommendation tables for all climate zones in the United States.

AEDG recommendations are also built on technical support documents written by the national labs that accompany the design guidelines. These support documents cover the details of the energy modeling used. For instance, while daylighting works well in almost all climate zones, heating and cooling can require different solutions from zone to zone, especially in hospitals because of the high demand for fresh air.

“Hospitals have strict ventilation requirements, and they bring in a certain amount of fresh air along with a certain amount of re-circulated air,” Bonnema said. “There is a huge potential for savings if you set up your system differently, since most hospitals are using energy to cool the air and then heat it back up.”

Jeff Boldt is the director of engineering for KJWW Engineering Consultants, and he was also a project team member for the Large Hospital AEDG. “It’s really interesting when you look at a large hospital energy model; the biggest use of energy is the reheat. It’s because you have to dehumidify all the air. For instance, you cool it down to 52 degrees in order to dehumidify it. Then, your boiler comes on to reheat the air. That process is usually the single largest use of energy in a hospital. This guide figures out how to get that reheat for free or cause the reheat not to happen at all.”

According to Boldt, the AEDG will help the healthcare industry understand that there are practical ways to design a building that uses 50% less energy. “I like that they are prescriptive because a lot of people aren’t comfortable with energy modeling. With the AEDGs, we’ve done all the energy modeling, and you can hand this to your design team and say ‘I want you to follow the items in this AEDG,’ and your team can go from a checklist and know what they are getting.”

Running those energy models and finding climate-by-climate solutions wouldn’t be possible without the computer modeling muscle at NREL. “From our optimization tools to mass modeling capabilities using 16 climate zones and five building types, all running different ‘what if’ scenarios, we are able to do all the modeling on a pretty condensed timeline,” Pless said.

Schools are Ahead of the Class

The Evie Garrett Dennis K-12 campus in Denver, Colorado, includes four academic buildings. The high school built as part of this project is the first for Denver Public Schools in the past 30 years; the common area is pictured above. Built to meet the Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 Schools, the annual energy use for the entire site is 33.4 kBtu/ft², with 5.1 kBtu/ft² of that coming from renewable energy sources. The campus sees an average 38.1% energy savings each year.
Photo courtesy of Mike Rogers, M.E. GROUP

“Research has demonstrated that the quality of the physical environment affects student performance,” Pless said. “An environment that includes appropriate lighting, sound, temperature, humidity, and air quality can help students learn better. In many cases, improving these can also reduce energy use.”

Schools can have similar heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) issues as hospitals — specifically, decoupling of ventilation air from space heating and cooling. If engineers are able to provide the heating and cooling separately from ventilation, this basically eliminates the issue of reheat in schools. NREL and the AEDG team have also produced a guide for K-12 Schools that includes:

  • Three different HVAC system types that achieve significant energy savings
  • Different ways to daylight 100% of the floor area of classrooms, resource rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and multipurpose rooms for two-thirds of school hours
  • Recommendations for computers, vending machines, kitchen cooking equipment, walk-in refrigeration equipment, kitchen exhaust hoods, and service water heating.

The K-12 Schools AEDG was one that NREL chose to do early on because a number of schools are at the 50% energy-savings level, and there were many case studies to draw from. Pete Jefferson, a principal with Denver-based M.E. GROUP, was on the project committee for the K-12 Schools AEDG. He said the guides give professionals a solid starting base for energy design.

“These guides are a great shortcut for anybody who is working on a school. You can jump to the AEDG recommendations and start from there and see how much further you can go as a design professional,” Jefferson said. “When we do our energy models, we use the AEDG recommendations as our new baseline to see how we can improve from there.”

The 50% Advanced Energy Design Guides (AEDGs) bring together professionals from industry and government. The guides are developed by:

  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA)
  • U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

To date, four 50% AEDGs and six 30% AEDGs have been published and are available for download at the ASHRAE website.

Some schools are even pushing the envelope to net-zero energy levels — which is something the team hopes to tackle in the next round of design guides. A net-zero energy building is one in which annual on-site renewable energy production is equal to or greater than energy use.

“Net-zero makes a lot of sense for schools. They are built to last for 50 years, and a lot of effort goes into making them robust,” Pless said. “There are also teaching opportunities with energy-efficiency features and on-site renewables. So there are net-zero schools popping up, but having a design guide with best practices is key to helping them become widespread.”

The NREL team sees a need for a complete net-zero design guide series. “Industry is starting to understand that it can be done,” Pless said. “Having a net-zero office design guide is needed. There are examples across the country of offices that are attempting to do this.”

The United States adds 2% every year in new buildings and only tears down 1%, which means the nation continues to add to its energy use when it comes to buildings. The AEDG team sees the opportunity to make the new buildings more energy efficient and sees even greater opportunities when it comes to deep retrofits, because the recommendations in the guides can apply to both.

“At these building rates, over the course of 20 years, you’ve touched over half of the buildings in America through retrofits or bringing new construction to 50% savings,” Pless said. “That’s measureable impact on the 40% of the nation’s energy that gets used in buildings.”

Another area where the AEDGs have had an impact is the town of Greensburg, Kansas. After a 2007 tornado leveled nearly the entire town, DOE and NREL helped the town leaders create a newer, more efficient Greensburg. In this case, a whole town was constructed that was able to achieve 50% energy savings. “Greensburg was kind of a demonstration for us that if 50% energy savings can be done here, it can be done anywhere,” Pless said. “It exemplifies all the AEDG work that has been done.”

Learn more about NREL’s commercial buildings research.

—Heather Lammers

 


Fossil Fuels = Extreme Weather (Obviously)

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 04:58 AM PDT

 
Here’s a great guest post from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, written by Executive Director Dr. Stephen Smith. It covers a few stories that I nearly wrote on here on CleanTechnica and sister site Planetsave, as well as several others. The video at the top comes from the always excellent Peter Sinclair:

"Welcome to the rest of our lives."

This is a quote from an interview with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, as he describes the extreme weather we are experiencing with rapidly increasing frequency and intensity across our country and the world. Faced with shocking numbers of record high temperatures and natural disasters, experts are saying that there has never been anything like it in recorded history.

Welcome to climate change in action. What we are seeing is not only a change in the day-to-day weather we experience, but rather the cumulative result of the increasing destabilization of our planet's climatic systems; the same systems we all depend on for our very survival.

Nashville 2010 Thousand Year Flood Photo

Downtown Nashville flooded in 2010.

Never in my lifetime have I seen such an apocalyptic parade of extreme weather events. Who can forget the 1,000 year flood in Nashville in 2010the killer Tornado that swarmed across the South in 2011, and this year's missing winter in the South? Videos of these catastrophic events – such as this one from last year's tornado disaster – are found all over the internet, and it seems like every week brings another catastrophe worthy of news attention. Climate change alters the conditions in which our weather forms, and significantly increases the opportunity for these extreme events to unfold with devastating consequences.

Now it's summer once more, and we're facing an extraordinary heat wave; already we have broken over 2,116 high temperature records in a one week period between July 2 and July 8. Even before this poignant example of the effects of climate change, Climate Nexus was already finalizing a study on the topic of extreme weather. Their recently released report, Climate Signals Extreme Weather Guide, details the reasons behind these extreme weather events.

These four maps illustrate the potential for future drought worldwide over the decades indicated, based on current projections of future greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some highlights from their research:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports an increase in billion‐dollar weather disasters across the U.S. in recent years, with an astonishing14 weather disasters totaling over $50 billion in damages in 2011 alone.
  • Four out of five Americans live in counties where natural disasters have been declared since 2006.
  • While natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather much more frequent and more intense. Sixty years ago in the continental United States, the number of new record high temperatures recorded around the country each year was roughly equal to the number of new record lows. Now, the number of new record highs recorded each year is twice the number of new record lows, a signature of a warming climate, and a clear example of its impact on extreme weather.
  • The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has found that within 20 to 30 years, areas in the U.S. will face unprecedented drought at levels far beyond the worst of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s if carbon pollution continues at only a moderate pace.
  • The 2011 Dixie outbreak produced the largest swarm of tornadoes on record (175) and was ranked the deadliest outbreak of the modern era. Seven tornado outbreaks in 2011 each incurred over a billion dollars in damages, for a total of $28.7 billion.

These are just a few of the more astonishing findings of the report, but all of them are evidence of the following realities:

Reality #1: We are seeing the effects of climate change occur at a faster rate than many thought possible.
Our future and our children's futures are looking more uncertain and foreboding with each passing month.

coal plant fossil fuelsReality #2: We know why this is happening.
Burning fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – release carbon dioxide (CO2) that is collecting in our atmosphere in increasing concentrations. Today's CO2 levels, now 395 parts per million (ppm), is significantly higher than at any other time in recorded human history; it has been consistently less than 300 ppm going back over 600,000 years. This significant increase in CO2 is "trapping" the heat energy from the sun in our atmosphere, making it impossible for that heat to radiate out into space, and subsequently causing an increase in our temperatures.

These raised temperatures are changing the balance of our climate and fueling the extreme weather we see playing out in real time. That is why I call these extreme weather events, "Fossil Fueled Extreme Weather." [Editor's note: that's the original title.]

Reality #3: We have the power to change this future.
Like someone with high cholesterol, we must make changes to our habits to reduce our risk of unhealthy living. The best scientific minds agree that we must return our CO2 atmospheric concentrations to 350 ppm. To reduce unhealthy levels of CO2, we must significantly reduce the amounts of coal, oil and gas we burn.

In the South, coal is known for having been a dominant fuel for electricity production since the middle of last century. Even in a "down" year, Southeastern coal plants produce around 500 million tons of CO2, in addition to other harmful pollutants. However, utilities are now slowly moving away from their oldest coal plants. DukeTVA and, to a lesser degree, Southern Company have set targets to close their older coal plants.

While this is a good start, the speed of the extreme weather events we are witnessing make it clear that these targets are simply not enough. If we want to get back to safe levels of CO2, then utilities must do much more than what they are currently projecting. We need a plan to cut coal-burning power plants' CO2 emissions to over 50% below 2010 levels by 2020 and establish a guideline to phase out coal by no later than 2050.

There are, however, very wealthy people who have profited and continue to profit from the business-as-usual approach to energy production and consumption. Their money and influence pollutes the public policy and political process as they and their companies spend extraordinary sums to perpetuate misunderstanding and undercut, obstruct, and mislead those who are attempting to take action to address the source of climate change. I call these people the Executives of Climate Change. They are a big part of the problem–we need to know who they are.

The Executives of Climate Change Tom Fanning Charles McCrary Paul Bowers

The Executives of Climate Change – Tom Fanning, Charles McCrary, and Paul Bowers.

Southern Company and its affiliates have been slow to address their role in reducing carbon pollution. They stubbornly cling to coal and continue to invest in high risk new nuclear and coal projects. Now that American Electric Power (AEP) has announced thousands of megawatts of coal retirements, Southern Company is moving up to be the number one utility in burning carbon-intense coal in the United States. This company, its CEO, Tom Fanning, and its leadership team, which includes Charles McCrary of Alabama Power and Paul Bowers of Georgia Power, have continued to steadfastly resist the ideas of significantly reducing their use of coal and supporting clean safe alternatives. Not only that, but they are also fall behind other regional utilities when it comes to energy efficiency investments and targets. They even fight private efforts to invest in renewable energy in their service areas. Southern Company outspends other utilities by putting millions of dollars toward lobbying against protective standards to reduce pollution.

The Executives of Climate Change Charles Koch David Koch Rex Tillerson

Charles and David Koch and Rex Tillerson.

They join other Executives of Climate Change like Charles and David Koch, who continue to be major players in obstructing action to address the cause of climate change. Of course, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, also makes the list. Just a few days ago, he basically said, don't ask my company to change its business plan in order to stop disrupting our planet's climate; it's manageable and people can adapt.

Given the realities of looming catastrophic climate change and the stubborn dogma of those fighting for the status quo, it must be our imperative to demand better from our utilities and public officials, and ensure that they are working for the general well-being, not just looking out for shareholder profits or political clout. At some point, when summers are even more scorching hot than the current heat wave and the wells have run dry, even the staunchest of climate deniers will wonder if they were on the wrong side of the climate debate. It's up to us to make sure that they never have that opportunity by pushing them to take action now, before it's too late.

 


Technology that Saves Energy

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 03:00 AM PDT

 
The world has become a remarkably technologically-advanced place to live. Electronically-minded people 15 years ago were simply amazed to send texts to friends on their chunky mobile phones — and desktop computers were behemoths that often resembled the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey (except white, not black).

Now, it’s a whole different story: tablets just millimetres thick can allow people to take face-to-face calls over free wireless internet in public, while mobile phones have more computing power than a top-of-the-range PC that graced even the proudest gamer in 1997. However, this dependency on technology comes at a price — especially with higher utility bills, which have risen seemingly exponentially in recent years.

As such, it’s important to take stock of how you can fight against larger bills and — of course — play your part in saving the environment at the same time. Ironically, it may be best to keep buying technology to help you, as there are a surprising number of solutions at hand that can lower your ecological impact.

The Standby Buster

As the main choice of money.co.uk, the Standby Buster is a gadget recommended by the Energy Saving Trust in the UK. The offering allows you to switch off any electrical appliance left on standby with the simple use of a remote control. Each Buster allows you to control up to four plugs with each remote, meaning sockets around the home can be controlled to switch off TVs, game consoles, and more. Reportedly, just one Standby Buster plug could save you up to $50 a year.

The Battery Wizard

The Battery Wizard can be used to recharge standard batteries up to ten times each.

Given that each recharge will cost all of two cents’ worth of electricity, and with the Battery Wizard costing around $15, money will be made back in moments!

Amazon Kindle

It’s a product everyone’s heard of, but perhaps haven’t considered the full benefits of. Amazon’s e-reader is more eco-friendly than paper books. According to environmental consulting firm Cleantech, a single book costs 7.5kg of CO2; the Kindle is 168kg, meaning the 23rd e-book — if you’re a big enough reader — will be the one that neutralises your carbon impact. The battery can last for months, too.

Blinds via Shutterstock

Clever Energy-Saving Blinds

It may sound ridiculous, but made-to-measure, clever energy-saving blinds really work. Energy-saving roller blinds feature high-tech solar films that decrease glare, giving extra comfort in the home and help insulate your windows. This means the temperature of your house can be well-regulated all year round.

Shower head via Shutterstock

Water-Saving Shower Heads

These clever shower heads control the flow and spray pattern of water, using a lot less water than usual. It doesn’t affect the experience of showering, either — the power of the jets makes up for any possible perception of having a worse, or less clean, experience!

Keep your eyes out for other little ways to save money — solar chargers, manually-powered (wind-up) electronics, and such can be readily bought in shops around the world!


States Lead in Freeing the Grid for Small-Scale Renewable Energy

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 01:51 AM PDT

 

American energy policy is often said to take shape in the states before being adopted across the country – especially when it comes to renewable energy. Considering this, it's a good thing we've got Freeing the Grid 2.0.

The interactive guide, now in its sixth year, highlights states with pro-renewable energy policies and promotes best practices to states lagging behind in getting projects built and connected to the grid. States are awarded grades from A to F, based on their policy landscape.

Freeing the Grid focuses on two of the most important yet least-understood policies powering new rooftop solar and small-scale renewable projects – net metering and grid interconnection procedures.

 

 

Little-Known Policies, Well-Known Impacts

Net metering, which guarantees solar owners are paid for unused power flowing back to the grid from their arrays, has gotten a lot of attention lately. California, the nation's largest solar market, recently extended its existing cap of five percent aggregate customer peak demand. The limit was being pushed up against by record solar growth in the state. But, now extended, it should cover about 2.1 gigawatts (GW) of additional projects.

Interconnection, however, is much more complicated, and refers to the legal rules and procedures that connect a renewable energy system into the power grid. Power generators work within a set of rules established by state public utility commissions to determine who connects to the grid, under which circumstances, to ensure a reliable level of electricity supply to meet demand and prevent blackouts. Many interconnection standards, determined by monopoly utilities operating in each state, created significant barriers to customers being paid for excess electricity flowing onto the grid.

From the Head of the Class to Summer School

Now, with all the technical jargon out of the way, which states lead the country in pro-renewable energy policies?

Somewhat surprisingly, only three states received A’s in both net metering and interconnection policy: Delaware, Massachusetts, and Utah. 2012 is the third consecutive year with all A's for Massachusetts and Utah, and the second year in a row for Delaware.

A total of 11 states received all A's and B's, indicating a little extra studying could boost them to the head of the class. California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia were ranked as strong distributed generation markets, up from 10 in 2011.

Consistent and unbiased policy is key, says the report, because "uniform net metering and interconnection rules unleash innovation, lower costs, and make it easier for customers to invest in renewable energy."

Unfortunately, ten states received at least one "F" or have no statewide net metering/interconnection policies in place, meaning they could flunk renewables 101. Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee – please report to the principal's office.

School analogies aside, its no surprise the most inconsistent or anti-renewable policies are found in some of the most fossil-dependent states. "It is entirely possible to stymie the development of renewable generation in an entire state by including one or more counterproductive provisions," says the report. "Net metering and interconnection rules are only as strong as their weakest link."

For more information, check out this animated video explaining the report:


Wind Energy More Energy Efficient than Fossil Fuels

Posted: 18 Jul 2012 12:00 AM PDT

 
Here’s something that may surprise you. Wind energy is more efficient than carbon-based fuels. That’s despite all the best efforts of the dirty fuels industry to trick us into thinking that wind energy can't match the efficiency of fossil fuels in producing electricity.

Photo Credit: wind turbine in Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, UK via Shutterstock

A recent article I read on the matter pointed to some very interesting information. The article's talking points came from UK government data. The article pointed out that renewable energy supplies 4%, or 14 Terra-Watt hours (TWh), of the nation’s electricity. What is even more interesting to note was that, despite renewable energy only providing a small fraction of Great Britain's electricity, not even 1% of its energy is lost. In other words, wind and (and other renewable energies) are VERY, VERY efficient.

Now, contrast that to fossil fuels used to supply the electricity. Gas supplies about 48% of the country’s electricity needs, with 372 TWh. However, gas also loses 54% of its energy as heat.

The article notes it's a very similar picture for coal and oil. Coal supports 28% of the UK's electricity supply (297 TWh), while losing 66% of its energy as heat. Oil only supplies 3%, but it loses even a bigger chunk, 77%. Nuclear power supplied 16% of the U.K.'s electricity, while it lost 65% of its energy as heat.

Zoe Casey, from the European Wind Energy Association, and author of the article, made some interesting points as to why the fossil fuel industry has it wrong with regards to wind energy and efficiency:

"Wind energy opponents centre their arguments on the 'capacity factor' of a wind farm. The capacity factor of any power plant is a measure of the amount of energy it actually generates compared to its theoretical maximum output in a given time. No power plant operates at 100% of its capacity.

Wind farms do not operate at wind speeds of less than 4 metres per second, and they are shut down to prevent damage during gale force winds of 25 metres/second or more, or for maintenance. But conventional power stations also do not operate all the time – they stop generating electricity during maintenance or breakdowns.

Comparing the outputs of both sources does show that conventional power stations produce power at a level compared to their theoretical maximum that is currently higher than the level for wind energy. Wind power's capacity factor is around 30% onshore and 40% offshore, increasing year on year as more wind turbines come online and technology improves. Meanwhile, data from the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (Bundesverband der Energie und Wasserwirtschaft) shows that fossil fuels are often below 50%, even in winter."

Furthermore, as noted above, converting wind to electricity doesn’t result in the staggering losses of energy as heat.

Wind energy's cost are coming down, while the United Kingdom and other places get a big bang for its buck with wind energy. Let’s hope that trend continues.

Source: Renewable Energy World


Aerographite — New Lightest Material in the World

Posted: 17 Jul 2012 11:57 PM PDT

 
Aerographite, is the name of the new lightest material in the world. Composed of a network of porous carbon tubes that are three-dimensionally interwoven at nano and micro level, it only weighs 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimetre. That’s 75 times lighter than Styrofoam, but it’s actually a very strong material.

aerographite

Image Credit: TUHH

The research was done by scientists from Kiel University (KU) and Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH).

The material “is jet-black, remains stable, is electrically conductive, ductile and non-transparent.” These unique properties and the material’s very low density allow aerographite to greatly outperforms all similar materials.

“Our work is causing great discussions in the scientific community. Aerographite weights four times less than world-record-holder up to now,” says Matthias Mecklenburg, co-author and Ph.D. student at the TUHH.

The previous record holder was a nickel material that is also constructed of tiny tubes. The primary difference is nickel has a higher atomic mass than carbon.

Aerographite also has tubes with porous walls, making them even lighter. The material is highly resilient though, it can be compressed up to 95 percent and then be pulled back to its original form with no damage. The addition of weight stress actually makes the material even stronger, to a point.

The researchers think that the new material could allow for great reductions in battery weight, leading to more efficient electric cars and bikes. Other possible uses mentioned by the researchers include in aviation and satellites, thanks to its high tolerance for vibration, and for use in water and air purification.

The full press release can be read on Page 2.

 

 


1 comment: