Friday, August 24, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica


Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Engensa Debuts ‘Pay-as-You-Save’ Solar Loan

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 03:01 PM PDT

Paying for the upfront costs of renewable energy options is usually too high a hurdle to cross for many people interested in making the move to green energy.

Engensa may have an option for such people in the UK, however, according to a recent article in BusinessGreen. The solar specialist has officially launched an option that allows households to install solar panels with no upfront costs.

The offer, reported to be available to homeowners to the south of Birmingham from August 1, will be rolled out nationwide from October. It wiil provide households with an unsecured 10-year consumer loan worth up to £50,000 at an APR of 7.9 per cent.

UK solar panels on home via Shutterstock

The loan can be paid off at any time during its lifespan for no extra cost. Engensa says the loan is structured to ensure most homeowners generate savings as soon as the solar system is installed.

“Even at the new August feed-in tariff rate of 16p/kWh most families will make money,” the company said in a statement. “[They will be] generating more in savings and feed-in tariff payments than their loan repayments from day one and will receive the financial benefit in its entirety once the loan is paid off.”

An example put forward by the company suggests that a family purchasing a 4kWp solar PV system for £6,800 would have to make loan repayments totalling £9,755 at a rate of £81 a month. However, the system should generate 3,732 kWh of electricity a year delivering £702 through the feed-in tariff incentive scheme and £284 in savings on the property’s electricity bill, equating to a new income of £82 a month.

Embrace of Renewables in Heartland Wows Execs

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 07:12 AM PDT

Here’s a great guest post by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on renewable energy success stories in the US Heartland:

Executive Energy Leadership Program (Energy Execs) participant Mark Dow checks out the wind turbines at the John Deere dealership in Greensburg, Kansas.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Seventeen executives traveled through middle America last month and came away amazed by the can-do spirit alive in the heartland, in awe of how those connected to the land overcame disaster and economic crisis to embrace renewable energy.

The 17 were members of the 2012 class of the Executive Energy Leadership Program (Energy Execs) run by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Each of them — representing private business, local, state, and federal government, and nonprofits — will use the program to bring back to their workplaces an idea to enhance sustainability or build renewable energy projects. The field trip complemented classwork done at the NREL campus on the practical outgrowth of research in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The Energy Execs traveled by bus from Denver to Lamar, in the southeast corner of Colorado, to meet with economic-development and community leaders and see one of the largest wind farms in the nation. They then rode on to Greensburg, Kansas, site of a devastating 2007 tornado — and now site of the most LEED Platinum energy-efficient buildings per capita of any town or city in the world.

“To see them embrace these technologies, to bring their care for the land and their conservation values to the newest technologies … that’s pretty impressive,” said Charles Allison, Jr., an associate professor in finance, energy policy, and sustainability management at the New School in New York City. “Understanding who they are goes a long way toward knowing how to integrate energy efficiency into their towns.”

Old Windmills and New Wind Turbines

Bob Emick, center, with back to camera, speaks to the Energy Execs at his ranch in Lamar, Colorado. The ranch hosts a wind farm with 98 1.5-megawatt wind turbines, powerful enough to provide electricity to tens of thousands of households. Bob’s son Greg, at the right, wearing a cowboy hat, told the group that the turbines provide the family with a steady income.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

In Lamar, the Energy Execs visited the Emick family ranch, where 98 1.5-megawatt wind turbines rotate at speeds of up to 24 rotations a minute, bringing electricity to tens of thousands of homes — and where in the blazing sun, cows find shade in the turbines’ shadows. It’s part of a 150-turbine wind farm that spreads from Prowers County to Bent County to the east.

“NREL approached my dad and said they wanted to put up some meteorological towers to study the wind,” rancher Greg Emick earlier told a gathering of the Energy Execs, the Prowers County Economic Development organization and other policymakers from Prowers and surrounding counties. “They spent five years studying the wind, and they found that we had a really good wind resource here.”

Xcel Energy got interested, and in 2003, during a six-month span of busy construction, the Colorado Green Wind Power Project built 98 turbines on Emick’s land, with another 10 on nearby property. In addition to the Colorado Green Project, Lamar Light & Power generates electricity from their own two turbines.

The wind farm gives the Emick family a steady income and adds $400,000 a year to Prowers County’s coffers. That “may seem insignificant, but down here that is very significant,” said County Commissioner Gene Millbrand. During construction, there were 250 jobs; now there are about 20 well-paying jobs. “I don’t know how our county could have survived this recession had it not been for the stimulus and the revenue we get from this wind farm.”

Emick and Millbrand said there was near-universal agreement among residents that wind energy would be a good thing. Why? Well, there are the jobs and the tax revenue, and besides, said Emick, “It beats ranching.”

The tour of the Emick farm provided an unexpected historic perspective when family patriarch Bob Emick presented his barn containing dozens of antique but freshly painted windmills, each a work of art in itself, adorned with the finest in 19th-century script. Another 40 of Bob Emick’s windmills are on display at the American Wind Power Center in Lubbock, Texas.

“I just can’t get over the irony of Mr. Emick being into those windmills, collecting them for 30 years, and the serendipity of having 98 wind turbines put on his land,” said David Warner of NREL. “His own hobby and interest played out for him and his family in a very big way.”

Town Embraces Its Values to Rebuild

Energy Execs visit the barn where Bob Emick keeps his collection of vintage windmills near Lamar, Colorado. Participants said it was a pleasing irony that a rancher who has one of the nation’s best collections of ancient windmills now hosts 98 modern wind turbines on his acreage.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Then it was on to Kansas.

Greensburg, Kansas, is about 100 miles west of Wichita, in Tornado Alley — no more so than the evening of May 4, 2007, when an EF-5 twister smashed into town, destroying 95% of the structures.

It was just one more slowly dying rural Kansas town until then, its chief attraction the Big Well, the largest hand-dug well in the nation, said Superintendent of Schools Darin Headrick.

The destruction was too much for some, who relocated, dropping Greensburg’s population from about 1,400 to fewer than 1,000. But those who remained were steadfast.

At the first post-tornado town meeting a week later — attended by 500 people — a proposal to turn the town into a sustainable, tornado-safe paragon of clean energy caught fire.

As part of a DOE rebuilding team, NREL scientists, including Shanti Pless, came to town to advise on energy efficiency and the prospects for wind energy. Residents said yes to the grand vision, even though it meant months-long delays in getting back into permanent housing in the town.

At a meeting with town leaders and Energy Execs, Daniel Wallach, executive director of the nonprofit Greensburg GreenTown, said: “After this disaster, it would have been easy to say ‘let’s fold this whole town up.’ But if we were going to survive and be a player and bring business here, we had to do this.”

“Our ancestors were the original recyclers,” Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson said. “They farmed, they ranched, they didn’t waste. It was so much in their nature, and it’s so much common sense. Why import energy when we have abundant solar and wind resources?”

Today, Greensburg has nine LEED Platinum buildings, including the K-12 school, the city hall, the county hospital, and the biggest employer in town, the John Deere dealership. Each uses half or less of the energy of a standard building of its type. The Deere building employs skylights and natural daylight, captures and recycles water, uses geothermal heating, and draws power from its own wind turbine.

“It takes a lot of courage, when you’ve lost everything you had, to not just want to get back to a sense of normalcy, but to wait and do it right,” Greensburg City Administrator Ed Truelove said.

Energy Execs Inspired to Take Action, Collaborate, Innovate

Wind turbines power the Best Western Hotel in Greensburg, Kansas. Greensburg rebuilt after a devastating 2007 tornado and now has nine LEED Platinum buildings, each using half or less of the energy of standard building of its type. The LEED Platinum buildings include the K-12 school, the city hall, the county hospital, and the biggest employer in town, the John Deere dealership.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

On the ride back to Denver, the Energy Execs reflected on what they had learned and how they can bring clean energy to their workplaces.

Raimone Roberts, an executive with a large construction company, wants to help rebuild inner-city Detroit, one energy-efficient block at a time. “I learned that simple systems can work very well, and that you need to be very clear about the vision, about showing how the project reflects community values,” Roberts said. “They inspired me to not be afraid to ask questions, no matter how ludicrous, because if you ask enough questions you come up with innovations that can lead to great change.”

Manisha Patel, deputy assistant director for regulatory policy at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said: “We no longer have to change the way people think about renewable energy. The mental change has happened. What isn’t there is an infrastructure that will allow renewables to truly penetrate into our delivery system around the country.”

“I was awestruck by the human ingenuity and the perseverance of the human spirit, how driven people can be,” Patel said. “The things I’ve seen make me personally want to be a better person. I’m going back and sharing these stories. I’m energized, and I want to do things.”

“When you hear about American spirit and innovation, it is often just rhetoric. This trip showed me that it isn’t just rhetoric. It can be real.”

Keith Hay of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission said visiting Greensburg convinced him to be more ambitious with his clean energy project. “How do we take energy efficiency from the status quo to deepening it, taking it to the next level? I want to help the commission figure out how we move to more integrated solutions.”

Finding Sustainability Fans Everywhere

Kiowa County Memorial Hospital administrator Mary Sweet, front, leads the Energy Execs on a tour of the LEED Platinum hospital in Greensburg, Kansas. Today, Greensburg is the world leader in LEED Platinum buildings per capita.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Patrick Hamel of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will redouble his efforts to win approval for a rooftop solar project for the Argo Mine in Idaho Springs, which would cut energy use by 40%. “I saw a sign in the new school that stuck with me” when touring Greensburg’s new K-12 school, Hamel said. “‘Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, but your actions do.’”

Carol Dollard, an energy engineer at Colorado State University (CSU) who wants to build a small wind farm at a CSU cattle research center on the Eastern Plains, was impressed by “the whole green building thing in Greensburg.

“Did I see anything I hadn’t seen before? No. But they just got it. They weren’t content with one LEED building that could be financed with government help. They have the mentality that you should do it right every time.

“The most remarkable thing for me was the human ingenuity,” said Dollard, who lives in a neighborhood recently devastated by the High Park wildfire. “It started with individuals and spread. They wanted to do what was right for them, but also what was right for their community and for the future.”

Karen Hancock joined the field trip after the theater shootings in her city, Aurora, Colorado. “I had to ask, ‘Aren’t you just traumatized by what happened to you?’”

Greensburg residents said they did experience trauma, and some are still feeling it, Hancock said. “But they said the rebuilding of the town was a kind of green therapy that took them away from their problems. They were able to make their community better and their personal lives better out of a tragic event.”

Dick Hemmingsen, director of renewable energy initiatives at the University of Minnesota, said the can-do spirit of the people in Lamar and Greensburg — and their embrace of conservation — reminded him of his own great-grandparents, who built sod huts with green roofs, using the warmth of the earth to survive.

“It’s just another way to get back to the future,” Hemmingsen said. “It’s an inspiration to see people rolling up their sleeves to get things done that have to be done.”

Learn more about Greensburg’s recovery.

— Bill Scanlon

Upcoming Solar & Clean Energy Webinars

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 06:10 AM PDT

Vote Solar, an awesome solar advocacy organization, consistently puts on some great solar and clean energy webinars. I just listened in on one last night focused on energy subsidies. The main take-home point on that one was very clear — even the “most comprehensive” energy subsidy evaluations out there leave out a ton of subsidies, and especially subsidies that benefit fossil fuel industries, unfortunately.

Here are a couple more upcoming Vote Solar webinars you might want to check out:

Looking Back on the Stimulus: What did it mean for clean energy?
with Michael Grunwald, TIME Magazine

Much has been reported on the Recovery Act's sweeping provisions for renewables, yet few truly understand this ambitious and controversial piece of legislation. Michael Grunwald, journalist and recent author of The NEW New Deal, will share his account of one of the most sweeping bills in U.S. history― how it happened, how it's transforming our energy economy, and how it's being distorted by the Washington fun house.
August 29th
Details & registration here. 

Solar 101 – A Conversation with Vote Solar:
We're fighting for solar-friendly policies in states nationwide, and we can't do it without you. Vote Solar staff will talk through policy trends, our priority campaigns, and ways you can help us win. If you have burning solar policy or advocacy questions for us, now's your chance to ask!
September 19th
Details & registration here.

Mitt Romney Has Some Ideas About Energy

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 05:49 AM PDT

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is unveiling a new energy policy blueprint for America today, but all you need to know is already right there at the top of the “Energy” page on his campaign website. You don’t even have to read anything, because it’s a logo. I’ll wait while you check the link.

Got it? Unless they took it down, you’re not hallucinating. Yep, it’s a light bulb. At a time when energy technologies and energy jobs are rapidly transitioning to a new future, Mr. Romney visually summarizes his energy plans with a technology that has barely changed  since horses and buggies ruled the streets. As for the new policy blueprint itself, it all goes downhill from there…

Romney energy plan offers nothing new

Romney to America: Drill Baby, Drill.

Ben Geman over at The Hill provides a good overview of the plan, which was released to the media yesterday. As Geman describes it, the goal of the plan is to achieve “energy independence” by 2020, essentially by providing states with more leeway to increase oil and gas drilling, as well as coal mining.

Where to begin? Let’s say you were given the goal of sending a space rover to Mars, and to accomplish this mission you were given a limitless supply of Lego blocks. Good, now go for it!

The essential problem with the Romney plan is that it presents the wrong tools for the job. The job is national energy independence, but oil, gas, and coal markets are global. Unless a Romney administration is willing to impose tight federal restrictions on domestic prices as well as imports and exports, we could rip up the whole United States from top to bottom for fossil fuels and U.S. consumers would still be at the mercy of global market forces, including disruptions caused by unrest overseas.

Romney to U.S. Troops: Uhhh…

The Department of Defense has been unusually vocal on the subject of energy for the past several years. The agency’s main point is that continued dependency on fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic, will cripple the effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces into the future.

There are two main thrusts to DoD’s argument. The first is fiscal planning. The Department of Defense is an energy consumer, and just like any other consumer, its ability to deploy resources is affected by price spikes and supply disruptions in the global fossil fuel market. Fuel diversity is the only long-term solution to this problem.

More importantly, continued dependency on fossil fuels is literally costing lives. The Pentagon has made no bones about the waste of human life involved in military interventions related to global fossil fuel supplies, as well as the U.S. troops killed while guarding fuel convoys, or put at risk because they are dealing with outdated, cumbersome supply logistics in conflict zones.


Hey pssst, Mitt, the Pentagon Already Has an Energy Plan

The Department of Defense is literally staking lives on the transition out of fossil fuels and into cleaner, safer, more reliable forms of energy. The legislative framework for this transition was established under the Bush Administration, and the Obama Administration has continued to make progress in this direction.

Here at CleanTechnica we’ve covered numerous alternative energy initiatives by the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and DARPA (aw heck, just google “cleantechnica military”) since 2008. They touch all the bases, from utility-scale installations at U.S. bases to gear that can be stationed at forward operating bases and carried into combat zones, as well as foundational research for next-generation technology, too.

For a glimpse of what the energy future of America would look like under a rational energy plan, check out the Army’s Net Zero Vision. In the Net Zero program, public health, safety, and community well-being are vital factors in a broad program to wean Army bases off the grid and into sustainable energy, water conservation, and waste disposal strategies.

Looking for signs of that in the Romney energy blueprint… still looking… let me know if you find anything….

Image (cropped and rotated): Light bulb. Some rights reserved by Creative Tools.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

How Paul Ryan Bankrupted a DOE Energy Loan Recipient, and How They Bounced Back

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 03:54 AM PDT

When Beacon Power applied for the Section 1705 loan guarantee program, they probably had no idea that that painted a target on their back. After all, they weren't even a solar or wind business. Beacon had perfected and patented adaptations to an old nuts-and-bolts flywheel technology, spending $200 million to engineer reliable energy storage and frequency regulation for the electrical grid.

But their mistake was to be the second company after Solyndra to be awarded a Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee under the Section 1705 Loan Guarantee Program. By October last year, a few months after Solyndra, they were bankrupt. Here's the tale.

The grid needs energy storage that can ship power on and off the grid — faster — as it adds more solar and wind. Even without renewables, the technology is needed for moment-to-moment grid stability to prevent blackouts. 

Gas peaker plants can't do that in five minutes. Beacon Power developed a technology that could do it in five seconds. Again and again. And not wear out like a battery.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has recognized this increasing need for faster energy storage. Under FERC Order 755, which comes into effect in October 2012, grid operators must pay more for faster storage.

So, how could a company that is making faster storage fail?

That's what I asked Scott Harlan, managing partner at Rockland Capital, the private equity company that bought Beacon’s assets after it went bankrupt.

"Under the old FERC pricing regime they just weren't getting paid enough to service the debt," Harlan told me. "The pricing system just didn't work for Beacon — or any kind of fast-response system regulation service, in the past."

Beacon thought FERC’s long-heralded higher payments for fast storage would have been in place earlier. "Once the FERC order is implemented," he pointed out, "the pricing will be much better in this country for these fast-response resources. At that point, the market across the country is much improved."

But even so, to make it till this October, Harlan said, Beacon would have needed only "something on the order of ten million, not a lot of money." They just needed to cover operating expenses of the company and service the debt till the FERC order was implemented, and they couldn't raise outside capital to do it.

So, why didn't they go back to the DOE and say we just need $10 million till the FERC order comes into effect?

"I suspect that would have been a tough conversation, given everything that was going on with the DOE at the time," explained Harlan. "Unfortunately, events at the time conspired against them."

This was last September, just as the Solyndra witch hunt was in full swing, and the DOE was having to testify in front of almost weekly hearings. The hysteria made it difficult not only to get more help from the DOE, but also in trying to raise further funds in the market. Former Beacon CEO Bill Capp told AOL Energy after the bankruptcy that remarks Paul Ryan made at the time were particularly unhelpful.

"In addition to Solyndra,” Paul Ryan said on Fox News in September of 2011, "Beacon Power and First Wind Holdings offer examples of other instances in which the federal government backed risky and financially unstable firms, using taxpayer money to fund an ideologically driven pursuit of unproven energy sources."

There's nothing "financially unstable" about a company that invents and builds a product that out-competes gas peaker plants. I don't know much about investors, but surely the "invisible hand" is smarter than to listen to a rabid politician before investing?

"When you have stuff in the press that's very negative, it can become difficult to convince the public markets to invest the money," Harlan told me. "You're at the mercy of retail investors like teachers unions and such."

As a private equity company, he said, they are different. "We're able to make a rational decision, based on real information. As a private company, we make the decisions. There are a few of us, we talk to the company to decide when to put money into it and when not to. It's a much simpler decision-making process."

It seemed to me from what Harlan was saying, that Steven Chu's DOE was right to have funded the company, that they had "picked a winner."

"Oh, absolutely, yes," he agreed. "The technology is great. It solves the problem the utilities have in balancing the grid; particularly as you have more wind and solar power coming on the grid — the ability to manage the frequency of the system is somewhat compromised."

"This is going to prove to be a technology that was very worthy of the DOE's choice to invest in. We wouldn't have made the investment in the company if we didn't think so, because if the DOE doesn't make money then I'm not going to make money." In the bankruptcy, Rockland Capital assumed the debts. Income from the now completed 20MW Stephentown flywheel project at the new FERC rate will pay back the loans.

"We plan to continue to own and operate Stephentown, which is fully completed now," he explained. "It was mostly completed and we just put a little capital in to finish the project. I think it was one and a half million, something like that."

So, it turns out Beacon Power is "another Solyndra" in that it was another attempt by the Obama administration DOE to use the Section 1705 Loan Guarantee Program to get more clean power on our grid, which is what the program was intended.

In any other time, an innovative company like this, that had been recognized by the DOE as a worthy investment, would have been able to borrow the small amount of additional money to keep going. We live in interesting times, however.

But the company gets to live on, and is expanding, anyway, given new life by Rockland Capital, which kept on 75% of the employees.

"It's a good company that has great prospects and a great technology, and tremendous intellectual property," Harlan concluded. "We're looking to expand. Now we're now looking at building a project in Pennsylvania using the flywheels and actively looking to expand it across the rest of the country."

Infograph: Renewable Energy’s Growth Over the Past 15 Years

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 03:42 AM PDT

Green Mountain Energy decided to put a nice little infographic (below) to celebrate its 15th anniversary. The infograph has some interesting points on how much renewable energy has advanced in a decade and a half. One fact that stood out to me, for example, is that 96,000 electric vehicles are on the road now, compared to just 4,400 in 1997.

Here is hoping there’s much more growth to come in the future for the renewable energy and other clean technology sectors.

us clean energy growth

Source: Green Mountain Energy

Global Electric Bus Sales Expected to Rise 26% Annually through 2018

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 03:37 AM PDT

One recent trend that is nice to see is the increased interest in electric buses (or e-buses). As countries and cities look towards more sustainable ways of mass transportation, a new report by Pike Research confirms a real serious interest towards e-buses.

The new report shows the electric bus market between now and 2018 will increase at an annual compound growth rate of 26%. The report also noted 75,000 e-buses will be up and running by 2018.

As the electric bus market continues to mature, there have been many challenges for e-buses trying to find their way into the commercial markets.

"The biggest challenge for electric drive technologies has been the cost premium over conventional diesel buses or buses that run on compressed natural gas," said Lisa Jerram, senior research analyst in with Pike Research in the statement.

"This premium has maintained for hybrids, even as they have seen significant adoption in the North American market. Fuel economy savings are critical to making the case for bus operators to pay more, especially in developed countries that are facing increasing austerity in their public budgets. Typically, hybrid buses need to show fuel economy improvements of around 40 percent, at current U.S. diesel prices, to pay off the price premium over the life of the bus," she said.

It's expected that emerging markets will see strong demand for e-buses as they become more and more cost-competitive. Such markets include Latin America and Eastern Europe.

TheGreenCar Website, discussing the report, mentioned that much of the Latin American demand will come from Brazil, with some underlying support from other countries in the region, specifically Uruguay.

The report points to the Asia-Pacific market seeing the strongest growth. It's expected that, in 2018, 15,000 e-buses will be sold in the Asia-Pacific region, about 75% of e-bus sales that year. Meanwhile, North America e-bus sales in 2018 will fall just short of 2018, the statement said.

Despite North America lagging in the future compared to it's Asian counterparts, The Greencar Website did give some interesting insight on the report on overall bus sales in both North America and Europe:

"It suggests that North America will enjoy a rebound in a few years when the economy stables; while sales of electric drive buses in Western Europe should see steady growth – at a rate of 20 per cent – as the hybrid market begins to take off."

Overall, the report really gives some clear insight on where the strongest sales for e-buses will be: the emerging markets of Latin America. That shows yet again the potential for leapfrogging technologies that will allow these countries to have solid modern transportation using cleaner electrons.

Sources: Business NewswireGreen Car Website
Image Credit: hybrid electric bus image via Shutterstock

Is FedEx the World’s Most Sustainable Shipping Company?

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 03:12 AM PDT

In 2008, FedEx announced an ambitious plan to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of its aircraft and boost the fuel efficiency of its vehicles 20 percent by 2020. Less than four years later, the company not only announced that it has nearly hit those marks, but is setting even more aggressive sustainability targets.

The company's fourth annual Global Citizenship Report reveals FedEx is well on its way to meeting the 20 percent by 2020 goals. The global shipper has reduced its aircraft emissions intensity 13.8 percent and improved vehicle fuel efficiency 16.6 percent by the end of fiscal year 2011 – both ahead of the required pace. In addition, FedEx recycled 47.9 million pounds of waste at its facilities in 2011, an increase of 6.4 million pounds compared to 2011, and launched a carbon-neutral envelope shipping program now being used on more than 200 million shipments annually at no extra cost to consumers.

Not content to rest on its laurels, the company is setting the bar even higher, increasing its aircraft emissions reduction goal 50 percent to a 30 percent overall reduction in 2020 compared to 2005. FedEx will also look to fly its aircraft cleaner, sourcing at least 30 percent of its jet fuel from renewable sources by 2030.

While its progress to date and future goals may seem daunting, the key has been a mantra of "reduce, replace, revolutionize" for fleet management. "We have been constantly on the lookout for those solutions that make sense for the future," said FedEx executive Mitch Jackson in an interview with GreenBiz. "There's not a single solution, there's a series of solutions."

This mantra has led to wide-scale turnover of the FedEx shipping fleet for more efficient options, starting with aircraft emissions. By 2015, the company will have replaced its older 727 aircraft for more fuel-efficient 757 models, and is introducing Boeing's 777F aircraft, which is 18 percent more efficient than older models. In addition, more than 30 different programs reduce aircraft fuel consumption and emissions during takeoffs and landings.

FedEx also drove with fewer emissions last year. The company increased the size of its alternative-fuel vehicle fleet 18 percent in FY2012, with 364 hybrid-electric and 118 electric vehicles currently in service. To date, these vehicles have traveled 12.1 million miles and conserved 345,000 gallons of fuel.

Sustainability doesn't just mean fuel efficiency for the company. FedEx has generated over 18 gigawatt-hours of solar electricity at six solar farms, reducing CO2 emissions an estimated 6,858 metric tons. FedEx also purchased more than 33,000 megawatt-hours of renewable energy credits in FY2011, an effort that has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership program.

Stack it all up, and you get a company that's actually moving toward a sustainable future instead of just mailing it in. Of course, saving money from fuel boosts the bottom line and there's a clear business decision to FedEx's environmental efforts. But with $43 billion in annual revenue and 300,000 employees, the sheer scale of the company's actions are making a massive difference and setting the pace for all other shipping companies to follow.

FedEx electric vehicle image via Shutterstock

MIT Creates Superbug that Squirts out Biofuel

Posted: 23 Aug 2012 03:06 AM PDT

A team of scientists at MIT has tweaked a common bacteria into producing biofuel the way a cow produces milk: without having to be squished. The new bacteria simply expels biofuel into its growing medium instead of retaining it within its body. If the process can be scaled up to a commercial level, it could be far more economical than conventional systems, in which the microorganism must be destroyed in order to recover the fuel.

MIT tweaks bacteria to release biofuel

Milking Microscopic Cows for Biofuel

The MIT team used the soil-dwelling bacteria Ralstonia eutropha as its subject. According to MIT writer David Chandler, when the bug is starved for certain nutrients it will stop growing, but it will continue to produce and store complex carbon compounds.

In its natural state, R. eutropha stores the compounds as a type of bioplastic.

The team has engineered a new strain that will release the compounds in the form of isobutanol, which is beginning to find use as a drop-in replacement for gasoline.


More Green Jobs for Microbes

The Department of Energy’s ARPA-E cutting-edge-technology funding arm is behind the MIT research, and the agency sees a lot of promise in bio-based isobutanol. In addition to funding outside projects, DOE’s BioEnergy Science Center is developing a way to convert woody plants into isobutanol with the help of a cellulose-destroying microbe called Clostridium celluloyticum.

Environmental restoration, fuel cells and bioplastic production are some of the other ways in which the natural processes of microorganisms are being harnessed to replace petrochemicals and other potentially toxic substances.

Sustainable Biofuel Farming

Algae biofuel is already providing the biofuel industry with an opportunity to go big, without impinging on land needed for food, conservation, or habitat preservation. Biofuel from bacteria fits into this category, too.

Like algae, bacteria biofuel farming could lend itself to urban farming, potentially making use of derelict sites under the EPA’s brownfields-to-clean energy program.

Also like algae, a bacteria biofuel farm could be sited at active industrial facilities, where it could capture carbon dioxide as a nutrient.

In that regard, we are still a bit far off from free-flowing fountains of bacterial biofuel. According to Chandler, MIT’s bug is currently chugging away in the laboratory on a rather dainty diet of fructose.

The next step is to get it to use carbon dioxide as a carbon source. Agricultural and municipal waste are also potential sources.

Image: Green water. Some rights reserved by fox_kiyo.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

New Aerogel-Based Plaster Developed that Provides Twice the Insulation of Currently Used Renders

Posted: 22 Aug 2012 07:15 PM PDT

A new Aerogel-based plaster has been developed that provides twice the insulation of the currently used insulating renders used to insulate old buildings. The product is expected to come onto the market next year.


In Switzerland, there are currently one and a half million old buildings, yet these old buildings are difficult to insulate and expensive to heat. The country’s energy consumption is increasing, according to the Federal Office of Energy. 4.5 million tonnes of light fuel oil and 3 million cubic metres of natural gas are imported every year, 43 percent of which is used for heating.

Cutting down on the heating necessary for old uninsulated buildings would go a long way towards reducing total fossil fuel use. But how do you insulate old historical buildings without ruining them?

‘Rendering’ is the most desirable way to maintain the look of an old house while increasing the insulation. The alternative, cutting and installing custom-shaped boards to line the winding staircases, round arches, and supporting walls of historic building isn’t cost-effective.

“An inner lining of insulating render is considerably quicker to apply,” says Empa building physicist Thomas Stahl. “The render also lies directly on the brickwork and does not leave gaps where moisture could condense.”

“Stahl and his colleague Severin Hartmeier from Fixit’s central laboratory made it their task to take the insulating properties of render to a new level, and to develop a render that provides as much insulation as a polystyrene board.”

And now, after years of research, their work has finally paid off: “The product has come through laboratory testing, and initial trials on buildings started in July 2012. If the new insulating render holds up to its promise, the material could come onto the market in the course of next year.”

The render devised was a new aerogel-based plaster, somewhat modified from previously used versions. Aerogel, also known as “frozen smoke” because of the way it looks, is composed of around 5 percent silica and 95% air. “Aerogel was used back in the 1960s for insulating space suits, and has 15 entries in the Guinness Book of Records, including ‘best insulator’ and ‘lightest solid.’”

Source: EMPA

Florida Legislature Is Out of Touch with Voters

Posted: 22 Aug 2012 06:43 PM PDT

There is significant voter interest in the development of renewable energy in Florida that is not being reflected by the state’s government representatives. A recently conducted poll has highlighted this disparity. Strong support was shown for many of the same policies becoming common in other parts of the country, though this support has not been expressed by the legislature.

Out of all of those surveyed, 69 percent said that they support legislation that would require utilities to produce a greater percentage of electricity from renewable sources.

And even with the economic slump, 57 percent still said that they were willing to pay at least 50 cents more per month on their electric bill to help fund renewable energy development.

Source: Business Wire

Germany and Morocco Establish New Renewable Energy Partnership

Posted: 22 Aug 2012 06:26 PM PDT

A joint declaration of the intent to found a bilateral energy partnership was recently announced by Germany’s Federal Minister of Economics and Technology and Morocco’s Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment.

Their partnership will primarily be focused on the continued growth and expansion of renewable energy and the political backing of the Desertec project. The partnership will also help to expand power grids, energy efficiency, and energy research.

“The German Government welcomes the energy partnership between Germany and Morocco. Morocco offers especially favourable conditions for wind and solar energy. With the only electricity line across to Europe, and with its ambitious plans to expand renewable energy, Morocco is an ideal partner for Germany and can serve as a suitable host for the launch of Desertec projects. Here, Morocco can benefit from the wealth of experience of German technology-based companies, especially in the field of renewable energy. The energy partnership will generate substantial advantages for the energy security of both countries.”

Source: Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology

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