Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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We’re In The Record Books, But There’s No Trophy

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 01:21 PM PST


Greenland surface melt measurements from three satellites on July 8 (left panel) and July 12 (right panel), 2012. Source: NASA, 2012

We set another record last year, but not for the fastest mile, the most home runs, or a quintuple Axel, so don’t call Guinness. We may want to keep this one quiet. The record is for blithely pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at alarming rates in spite of four decades of increasingly dire warnings from the very people most qualified to recognize this type of threat, climate scientists.

The World Meteorlogical Orginazation (WMO) says that last year we reached 390.9 parts per million of CO2, which is 40 percent above the pre-industrial level. It’s been increasing by 2ppm for the last ten years.

That may not sound like much, but neither does gaining weight at the rate of five or ten pounds per year. That, too, seems reasonably innocuous, but after a year or two you don’t fit your clothes and after twenty you’re voiding the warranty on the wife’s pickup truck.

Yesterday, the World Bank, a strange source for climate change warnings, issued a gloomy projection of where we might be in 2100 with the continued increase in atmospheric CO2 and a worldwide average temperature increase of 4°C (7°F). There’s nothing comforting in the report, it’s not a forecast for a walk in the park or a day at the beach, especially when the park is a withered tangle of noxious weeds and the beach is forty miles inland.

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim commented about the report:

“It is my hope that this report shocks us into action. Even for those of us already committed to fighting climate change, I hope it causes us to work with much more urgency. This report spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes.”

I hope it shocks us, too, but I’m not expecting much. We’ve been warned by nearly every credible climate scientist; by one of the largest reinsurance companies, Munich Re, which is likely worried about the claims; by the US Department of Defense, which tells us that warming and its effects are a principle threat to national security; and by more Nobel Laureates than you can fit in the Kennedy Center.

I hope that the obvious increase in severe weather incidents and patterns, wildfires, drought, crop failures, and the appearance of tropical diseases in Saskatchewan will arouse public opinion to incite leadership to lead from the front rather than listening to the political winds in the rear.

But again, I’m not expecting much. If we continue with our environmental denial and energy profligacy, the oceans will continue to warm and acidify, the coral will steadily die, food sources (both flora and fauna) will diminish and disappear, and we will create a planet where we are no longer at the top of the food ladder and the critters on the lower rungs will survive by feeding on our scattered carcasses. But have a Happy Thanksgiving.

News Bonanza: EV News & Energy Efficiency News Link (& Picture) Love

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 07:43 AM PST

Here’s some more electric vehicle and energy efficiency news from the past week or two:


If the EV stories we’ve published in the past couple weeks aren’t enough for you (and you don’t already follow Gas2), here are a bunch of consumer-oriented EV stories for you from our wonderful sister site full of green gearheads (plus one from Green Car Congress and a couple from Autoblog Green):

Honda Micro EV Commuter

1. Honda Micro EV Ready For Road Tests In 2013
2. Honda Showcases Three New Hybrid Systems

Renault Twizy ZE

3. Europe's Best-Selling EV Is Barely A Car At All; Bow Down To The Renault Twizy

Toyota Supra Concept

4. Toyota Supra Successor May Be An EV, Have Tesla Roots

2013 Nissan Leaf Concept

5. Next Nissan Leaf Makes Japanese Debut With More Range, Low-Priced "S" Model

Chevy Spark with Odd (Ugly) Paint Job

6. GM Reveals Product Chevy Spark EV Ahead Of L.A. Auto Show
7. Fisker Planning "Entry Level" Chevy Volt Competitor, Could Align With Chrysler

8. Red is the New Green: Little Electric Ferrari Testarossa
9. Hertz Asks New York Residents Where They Want To Rent EVs

10. eBay Find: A Nissan Leaf Stretch Limo
11. DOE to Award $11M to 20 New Clean Cities Projects for Alt Fuel Cars and Trucks

Toyota Prius C Concept

12. Next Toyota Prius May Get All-Wheel Drive, Bold Look

Ford EcoBoost Going Through Airport Security

13. Ford Sends 1.0 Liter EcoBoost Through Airport Security
14. Next-Gen Mahindra Reva NXR Electric Car Spotted in India

2013 Fiat 500e

15. Fiat 500 EV Debuts, Details Still Lacking
16. Wheego Ready with LiFe EV Build Plan, 100 Due by End of 2012


Energy Efficiency

Sydney Power Deal to Cut Peak Use by 35MW: “NSW transmission network operator TransGrid has announced a new initiative to try to reduce peak electricity demand in metropolitan Sydney over the summer months – a move it says could cut power consumption by the equivalent of switching off around 50,000 air conditioners. TransGrid managing director, Peter McIntyre, revealed late last week that the company had reached an agreement with global demand-side response services company, EnerNOC, to provide 35MW of demand response capacity for the Sydney metropolitan area, and to work with Sydney's major energy users to shift their power usage out of peak times.”

Production Starts on GE's High-Efficiency Topload Washing Machines, Creating 150 New U.S. Jobs: “GE's Louisville, Ky. washing machine factory that has been spinning out topload washers since 1953 has added another cycle to its production‘overdrive.’ The factory that now employs 928 will keep producing current models at a rapid pace, and has started production of the most energy-efficient, feature-rich, topload washing machine in its history, which added another 150 new U.S. jobs in the process.”

SCIenergy, Triple-Threat Efficiency Startup, Lands Big Clients: “SCIenergy is a building energy efficiency startup with a lot to prove. It's raised about $50 million to date to tackle the building energy efficiency sector — first as San Francisco-based software provider Scientific Conservation, then as a software-plus-services company after its 2011 acquisition of Atlanta-based engineering firm Servidyne, and finally as a software, services and financing player with its March acquisition of Dallas-based Transcend Equity.”

News Bonanza: Solar Power News & Wind Power News Link Love

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 07:21 AM PST

Some more solar and wind power news from the past couple weeks:

Solar Power

Solar Price Hits All-Time Low In Australia: “The Solar Choice Price Index provides a monthly update of the cost of solar across Australia. It's a very useful tool for keeping up to date with Australia solar price trends, which are some of the most exciting in the world. Australia rooftop solar actually competes with German rooftop solar in some arenas…. The latest update from the Solar Choice Price Index shows that solar PV systems in my home country of Australia have reached an all-time low for residential and commercial customers.”

Solmessis Plans 20MW Solar Plant in Queensland – with No Government Money: “An Australian solar developer is proposing to build a 20MW solar PV plant in central Queensland, the first utility scale solar farm in the country  to be constructed without drawing on subsidies or incentives beyond the renewable energy target.”

Is the Solar Industry Being Blindsided by Utilities?: “Beware of people bearing gifts, the old saying goes. And beware of politicians bearing promises of a reduction in electricity bills.

“The Federal Government last Friday announced the early closure of its Solar Credits scheme which offered a multiplier in the number of renewable energy certificate issued for the output of a rooftop solar PV systems.

“It justified this on the basis that it would save Australian electricity consumers between $80 and $100 million in 2013. But this amounts to be just $10 a year, or 20c per household a week, in an average bill of more than $2,000. If the government were really serious about reducing the impact on electricity bills from the scheme, there were numerous other options.”

US Solar Market Insight: Quotes From the Solar Panels: “dozens of senior solar professionals served as panelists at the GTM Research Solar Market Insight event and offered a snapshot of today’s solar industry and some hints of what the solar industry will look like in 2013 and 2014. The panelists weighed in on soft costs, balance-of-system costs, product quality, and a new era in financing solar projects. Here are some viewpoints from the experts on this week’s panels.”

Concentrator PV (CPV) Supplier SolFocus Restructures for Sale of the Company: “SolFocus, Inc, one of the leading manufacturers of Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) systems, announced today that the company has restructured its operations in line with an effort to sell the company over the next few months. As part of its restructuring, the company has reduced its workforce to a core group who will take the company forward toward this goal.”

Principal Solar Institute Publishes White Paper Outlining Industry's Ratings System for Creating, Testing, Monitoring Solar PV Modules: Principal Solar has released an online reference center and resource guide for the commercial and utility scale solar market, "Solar Industry Goes Mainstream: New PV Module Rating System Empowers Solar Professionals." Not sold yet? Here’s some more info on the white paper: “The paper outlines the industry's first and only comprehensive, independent performance rating standard based on lifetime energy production of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, which is designed to assist large-scale solar consumers. The white paper was authored by Ken Allen, Rick Borry, Dan Bedell, Kirk Blankenship, and Matthew A. Thompson, director of The Principal Solar Institute.”

The CSP Storage Technology Race Heats Up: “The race for the lead in concentrating solar power (CSP) development accelerated in recent weeks with major advances from SolarReserve, BrightSource Energy and Abengoa, the three primary contenders. Each advance moves solar power plant technology closer to its future.”

New Solar Power Plant Completed In Modesto: “The Modesto Irrigation District in California is now home to the 25-megawatt McHenry Solar Plant designed and constructed by SunPower and currently providing power for approximately 6,000 homes.

“The project created nearly 150 construction jobs and is owned by K Road Power Holdings. SunPower is providing operations and maintenance services for the site, and the Modesto Irrigation District is buying the power generated by the McHenry Sola Plant under a 25-year power purchase agreement.”

ET Solar Builds 50MW Solar PV Projects in Romania: “ET Solar Group Corp. (“ET Solar”), a leading one-stop solar PV solution provider, [yesterday announced] that they have been awarded to build various PV plants in Romania totaling 50MW for Tinmar-Ind S.A. ("Tinmar"), one of the top Romanian power supplier and energy trading companies.”


Wind Power

Scotland Is Reportedly Getting a Wind Turbine Factory for French Nuclear & Renewables Company Areva: As reported previously here on CleanTechnica, Scotland has some huge renewable energy goals (it may get 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2015!), so it’s not all that surprising that a wind turbine factory is setting up shop there. Apparently, the factory is projected to create “750 engineering jobs at the new site and further jobs in the wider supply chain.”

Vestas receives 39 MW order in Italy: “Vestas has received an order for a total capacity of 39 MW consisting of 13 units of the V112-3.0 MW turbine for the Matisse wind power plant, which will be located in the Apulia region in Italy.”

Vestas Confirms 3,000 More Job Cuts: "However difficult it is to make further cost savings and also further reduce the workforce, it is simply necessary in order to create an even leaner and more agile Vestas to ensure the company's continued profitability in a very uncertain and unstable wind turbine market," says Ditlev Engel and concludes: "I am however pleased to say that we expect a part of these reductions to happen through divestments, which means that our employees will maintain their jobs, only they will be working for a different employer than Vestas."

Gamesa to Supply 47.6 MW to an Indian Wind Power Project of SJVN, a Joint Venture with Goverment of India: Gamesa has signed an “Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract to build the project and supply 47.6 MW to a wind farm from SJVN Limited, in District Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India. SJVN is a Mini Ratna CPSU (Central Public Sector Undertaking) and a joint venture with Government of India and Government of Himachal Pradesh.”

Image Source: David Clarke

News Bonanza: Clean Energy News, Climate Change News, and Clean Energy & Climate Policy News Link Love

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 07:09 AM PST

Here’s some more clean energy, climate change, and policy news from the past couple weeks:

Clean Energy (In General) & Climate Change Policy

Iowa Scientists Warn of Need for Climate Change Action: “A group of scientists in the top U.S. grain-growing state of Iowa said on Monday that this year’s harsh drought was a sign of things to come and should spur more action to prepare for the challenges of a warming climate,” Reuters reports.

“We don’t face a choice between our economy and the planet. The choice is between addressing the causes and effects of climate change or spending ever more money cleaning up from events like we’ve seen in the past several years,” said Dave Courard-Hauri, chairman of Drake University’s Environmental Science and Policy Program, at a press briefing.

Learning from the Hurricane Sandy (Global Investors Call for Climate Action): “The fallout from Hurricane Sandy will be with us for years, and it will extend far beyond the devastation in New York City, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast.

“The immediate cleanup costs and economic losses are alarming. Current estimates are $33 billion in New York alone. But a far bigger challenge lies ahead: preparing for a future in which storms like Sandy and Irene are likely to occur more frequently. It is gargantuan task with no parallels, and there are millions of people and trillions of dollars worth of property sitting in harm's way.”

California Hails Cap-and-Trade a Roaring Success: California now has the second-largest carbon market in the world. (Yes, California is a green giant.) And the results from the first auction are in: “California has hailed its first ever carbon auction as an unqualified success, even though the permits sold at a level barely above the asking price following an 11th hour lawsuit from businesses to block the sale…. According to ARB, the state sold all 23.1 million V2013 CCAs at $10.09 each, the vast majority of which went to utilities and large industrial polluters that must comply with the scheme during its first two years.”

How Germany Is Getting to 100% Renewable Energy: Much of what is covered in this post has been covered by CleanTechnica many times, but I still think it’s worth a read, and there are some fun stats in there, like the following:

  • “Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass.”
  • “The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to "energy transformation," estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.”
  • Individuals and cooperatives own 65 percent of Germany's renewable energy capacity. In the U.S. they own 2 percent. The rest is privately controlled.”

Also, notably, it seems the Germans are very thankful to Jimmy Carter for their energy revolution. "This is a very American idea," Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a press conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. "We got this from Jimmy Carter."

GreenStart's Fall 2012 Demo Day Launches 4 Cleantech Companies: If you just love learning about the latest and most promising cleantech startups, this is a post for you. As a teaser, here’s the great intro from Pattie Kettle: “GreenStart is a force to be reckoned with – a digital technology force for good, that is.  Good which disrupts, democratizes and improves nearly every aspect of life on earth.  With a focus on energy and transforming the way humans generate, transport, consume, and buy energy is the challenge GreenStart has chosen to tackle.”

How Energy Efficiency and Renewables Can Save the Planet (If We Hurry): Do we have time still? Hard question, but the IEA think so. “The International Energy Agency has raised hopes that time can be bought for the world to finally get its act together on climate change – as long as it implements a rapid uptake of energy efficiency measures.” One can only hope. “In its latest World Energy Outlook, the IEA says energy efficiency could buy the world an extra five years to reach conclusive and effective climate change policies. Without such measures, it says, the world by 2017 will have exhausted its carbon budget to try and keep the world to an average rise in global temperatures of 2C. It says 81 per cent of that budget has already been used.”

Big Coal's Trillion-Dollar Fear of Climate Policies Un-Masked by IEA: “So, here's the problem. If you've ever wondered exactly why the global coal industry has argued so vehemently – first against the science of climate change and secondly against doing anything about it – the International Energy Agency lays it all out in its latest World Energy Outlook.

“Basically, the WEO data suggests, there are a trillion reasons for the global coal lobby to resist change. That's one trillion dollars each and every year – the loss in annual revenue for the coal industry if the world takes serious action to prevent global warming, rather than just continuing on in business-as-usual.

“The WEO is considered to be the annual reference point for the global energy industry, and has been since the IEA was first created in the 1970s in response to the global oil crisis. In the last few years, however, the conservative agency has expressed growing alarm about how the world's energy policies are hurtling the world toward's catastrophic climate change.”

Fraunhofer Calculates that Energiewende Is Affordable: Surprise, surprise — renewable energy really is affordable. (Who knew?… other than CleanTechnica readers.) “Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems has looked into which technology (PDF in German) combinations will provide the least expensive outcome, and they not only looked at the power sector, but also at the heat sectors (process heat for industry was not included, however); the transport sector was not dealt with. The main finding is that a complete switch to renewables would not be more expensive than Germany’s current energy supply even assuming that the cost of fossil fuel remains stable. And the assumptions for the cost of new technologies are based on the IEA’s assessments – not an organization known to be friendly to renewables.”

Oil Lobby and Koch-Backed Groups Spent $270 Million on Anti-Obama Ads: One of the most surprising questions I get from time to time here on CleanTechnica is why we are so “lopsided” in our promotion of Democrats over Republicans. It’s surprising because I think it’s completely obvious: almost all Democrats (politicians) support renewable energy over fossil fuels, while the huge majority of Republicans (at least, in Congress and presidential races) support fossil fuels over renewable energy. Really, this is something anyone following the sector should be aware of. There’s a reason why the oil lobby and Koch-backed groups spent $270 million attacking Obama in ads in the final weeks of the presidential race. There’s a reason why over 80% of the oil industry’s and mining  industry’s Congressional donations go to the GOP. It’s pretty obvious that fossil fuel industries are investing in retaining their absurdly high, society-busting profits.

How Would We Implement A Carbon Tax? (Almost) Everything You Need To Know: A carbon tax, though politically unlikely, is something we’ve been giving a bit of attention to lately (partly because conservatives have been giving some positive attention to it… and then sometimes backtracking when called out by fossil fuel giants). If you’re curious to learn more, Richard Caperton of The Center for American Progress has “everything you need to know” about implementing a carbon tax, after attending a conference on the matter that hosted “over 200 attendees, many of whom stood for half the day.”

10 Reasons a Carbon Tax is Trickier than You Think: As the title implicates, David Roberts of Grist runs down a good “top 10 list” of what makes a carbon tax much trickier than it sounds. If you’re interested at all in climate policy, have a read.

The EU’s Energy Chief Has Come Out In Support Of A Stronger 2020 EU Renewable Energy Goal: “The European Union needs new binding goals on renewable energy and on cutting carbon emissions to succeed green policy targets that expire in 2020, the EU’s energy chief said, omitting any mention of replacing the current energy savings target.”

RFPs Make Renewables Artificially Expensive: “Europeans call them ‘calls for tenders’; Americans, ‘requests for proposals’ (RFPs). The generic term is ‘competitions’ – and the word suggests that the best project wins. Proponents of RFPs therefore claim that this policy option is better than feed-in tariffs, though the statistics for the cost of deployment have never backed up the theoretical claim. Now, an industry insider who long denigrated feed-in tariffs confirms what proponents of feed-in tariffs have said all along – RPFs are manipulated.”

Poll: More Americans Than Ever Demand Climate, Energy Action: “Pre-election, Pre-Sandy polling shows the tide continuing to shift strongly in favor of renewable energy, and climate action.”

Climate Change

Dust Bowl Revisited?: “On October 18, 2012, the Associated Press reported that ‘a massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident along a major interstate…forcing police to shut down the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions.’ Farmers in the region had recently plowed fields to plant winter wheat. The bare soil — desiccated by the relentless drought that smothered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States during the summer and still persists over the Great Plains — was easily lifted by the passing strong winds, darkening skies from southern Nebraska, through Kansas, and into Oklahoma.

“Observers could not help but harken back to the 1930s Dust Bowl that ultimately covered 100 million acres in western Kansas, the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, northeastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado.”

US Military Warned to Prepare for Consequences of Climate Change: “An expert report, prepared for the intelligence community by the National Academy of Sciences, warns that the security establishment is going to have start planning for natural disasters, sea-level rise, drought, epidemics and the other consequences of climate change.

“The Pentagon already ranks climate change as a national security threat, putting US troops in danger around the world and adding fuel to existing conflicts. More than 30 US bases are threatened by sea level rise.”

Do The Math: Mr. McKibben Goes To Washington: “Joined by other leaders of the climate activism movement, McKibben was at the Warner Theater yesterday — just blocks from the White House — discussing his new "Do The Math" campaign, which lays out the case for divesting from fossil fuel companies. It's a no-nonsense, make-no-apologies approach to limiting carbon emissions by attempting to weaken the finances of companies responsible for climate change.”

Symphony of Science: Al Gore on Climate Reality: If you’re not familiar with the “Symphony of Science” video series, it’s the words/speeches/lectures of a bunch of scientists turned into music videos. It’s quote fun. The latest video in the series (I think) is this one of Al Gore on the topic of “Climate Reality” (worth a watch… & share):



Darwin Tidal Energy Plan Gains Momentum with New MoU: “Tenax Energy's plan to power Darwin with tidal energy generated in Clarence Strait has been given another boost… after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Tenax and the Charles Darwin University.”

Permaculture – Ecological Engineering Modeled on Nature: “Permaculture consultant Geoff Lawton speaks at a TEDx event in San Francisco about the importance of permaculture, the interconnectedness of all biological and ecological systems, and the need for ‘eco-systemic. design to advance human culture and sustainability  for future generations.” Video:

Water Scarcity Could Further Boost Wind & Solar Development

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 05:13 AM PST

This article was originally published on Renew Economy. It has been reposted with full permission.

In 2010, more water – 583 billion cubic metres – than is discharged each year by the mighty Ganges River in India was used to meet the world's growing energy needs.

It's an interesting statistic, but why should that matter? Well, if the world continues on its merry way, power capacity – particularly with water-hungry energy technologies such as coal and nuclear – and water-dependent extractive techniques such as coal, shale gas and tar sands, are going to grow quickly, and, according to the International Energy Agency, the world's demand for water will grow at twice the pace, putting pressure on increasingly scarce water resources.

In countries such as India and China which are already experiencing water stress, power demands will grow 70 per cent over the next 20 years. Most of their water is reserved for agricultural and municipal needs. Both countries, like many others in the developing world, are water stressed, and neither can afford to replicate the US, where nearly half of the water consumption is reserved for energy use – biofuels, coal mining, gas extraction, and generation.

The pressure is so great that the IEA has, for the first time, dedicated a whole chapter of its annual reference work, the World Energy Outlook, to the issue of water scarcity and energy supply.  It says water is going to become an "increasingly serious" issue for unconventional gas development and power generation in parts of China and the US, and for the growing fleet of water-dependent power plants in India, and the oil sands production in Canada.

It seems to serve as a warning to those that wish to invest in energy projects. As a general rule – with the exception of water-hungry nuclear – the more emissions intensive the energy type, the more water it needs. The politics of climate change may mean that no limits on carbon emissions are imposed to restrain the development of these technologies, but nature may impose its own restraint through the access to water. And, as the IEA notes, a surging population, a growing economy and heightening climate change impacts will further impact on energy reliability and costs.

It might be the first time that the IEA has addressed the issue of water stress and its impact on the electricity sector, but private analysts have been watching the issue carefully for some time.

In September, HSBC Bank issued a report, entitled No water, no power, that looked at the challenges facing China and its electricity demand, highlighting the fact that its most coal-rich and industrialised provinces faced the most critical water shortages, and the ambitious expansion plans for power capacity faced real constraints. "There is a mismatch between water capacity and planned capacity additions," it noted.

The HSBC report said that some 47 per cent of China's coal reserves are located in provinces where water is scarce (see graph), and HSBC thinks there may not be enough water to extract it. "Coal requires water to extract, transport, process (wash), store and dispose. We think water scarcity is another reason for authorities to reduce reliance on fossil fuels," they wrote. "Without a vast improvement in the water efficiency of power capacity, some power plants potentially run the risk of becoming stranded assets."

The Chinese administration is obviously aware of the challenges. "We should launch a revolution in energy production and consumption, impose a ceiling on total energy consumption," the outgoing leader Hu Jintao told the party congress this week.

The IEA picks up on a similar theme. It notes that energy efficiency and wind energy and solar PV are the energy options with the lowest water requirements (see table below), and in its 450 scenario – where the world acts boldly to limit global warming – the deployment of these technologies means that water use grows only marginally over the coming decades.


In its business-as-usual and its "lip service" scenarios – where governments do a little bit on climate but not terribly much – water demands grow exponentially.

However, apart its focus on energy efficiency and renewables such as solar PV and wind, the IEA's mainstream 450 Scenario also requires technologies – including nuclear power, CCS-fitted power plants and conventional biofuels – whose high water-use requirements must be taken into account. All of these technologies can find ways of using less water, but to do so adds to operating and capital costs, and can make the plants less efficient in some instances. Solar thermal – or concentrated solar power – which uses the sun's heat (instead of coal) to boil water – is also water hungry.

The HSBC report notes that three provinces – Shanxi, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang – hold 74 per cent of China's total coal resources, but only 7 per cent of the nation's water resources. This could limit the scope to build power plants in those areas, forcing more coal to be transported to demand centres, adding to capacity bottlenecks – the infamous 110km traffic jam in China in 2010 was caused by more than 10,000 trucks carrying coal supplies from Inner Mongolia. Water shortages in those areas have already caused the cancellation of dozens of water intensive coal-to-liquids projects.

In nuclear power, while all of China's existing plants use seawater for cooling, future plans include the development of inland nuclear power facilities – three are due to start construction during the course of the 12th Five-Year Plan – that will add to competition for scarce water resources where the plants are sited.

The IEA notes that India is facing similar problems. Summer water shortages in 2010 caused the 2.3GW Chandrapur coal-fired power station in Maharashtra to shut down, leading to power outages across the state. The plant again faced water shortages, due to the delayed monsoon, in mid-2012, and water shortages in northern India have at times reduced hydropower generation, exacerbating power shortages due to insufficient coal supply to power plants.

In the US, the IEA notes, concerns about water availability and the effect of production on water quality could also significantly slow the development of shale gas production – particularly in water-poor states such as Texas.

"There is no doubt that water is growing in importance as a criterion for assessing the physical, economic and environmental viability of energy projects," the IEA notes.

The Agency says there are several options to address this: one is a greater reliance on renewable energy technologies that have minimal water requirements, such as solar PV and wind; another is to improve the efficiency of plants, and another is to deploy more advanced cooling systems. (The CSIRO is working on one technology that uses minimal amounts of water for solar thermal plants).

Building Efficiency For Everyone: The Democratization Of Data

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

When technology and service companies talk about energy efficiency, they're usually talking about large commercial and industrial structures, or high-end luxury homes. Those are the buildings where you'll find the sensor networks, building management systems, and cool gadgets that have come to define efficiency technology. While the payoffs from using such systems are significant, the vast majority of commercial and residential buildings can't afford to use them.

The Missed Opportunity

The opportunity to reduce utility consumption is hardly relegated to high-end structures. An inefficient apartment building in the Northeast, for example, consumes four times the energy of an efficient one on average. Considering that utilities are the single largest operating expense for these buildings, this is an enormous gap that directly impacts the bottom line for building owners.

The case for investing in efficiency measures for the worst-performing buildings is often obvious, and returns on investment can be realized in staggeringly short time frames. Why then, if the math is so clear, do these buildings remain inefficient? The problem is that knowing something in the abstract is very different from having actionable information to make decisions. Once a building owner understands that their building is a particularly poor performer, they will make the economically sensible decision and invest in appropriate efficiency measures. But how do they know if their building is inefficient?

This information gap represents significant opportunity, and a market where this is perhaps most obvious is multifamily buildings. These buildings occupy a sweet spot between large-scale/ high-end structures and single-family homes. While their utility bills are high enough to justify efficiency investments, they often don't have the capital resources to afford high-end management systems. In many parts of the country, multifamily buildings are older than their single-family counterparts, so there is greater room for improvement. Finally, the properties are operated as businesses, so owners are actively seeking ways to reduce operating expenses.

The multifamily sector has mostly been ignored by the traditional players in the efficiency industry, largely because their business models didn't address that domain. Multifamily property managers who seek to improve their buildings' performance generally manage dispersed sets of paper bills and manual spreadsheets that make it nearly impossible to reach any useful conclusions.

The underserved multifamily market is significant, and growing. Increased urbanization has already driven a spike in multifamily housing — there are currently 28.1 million multifamily housing units in the United States — and Pike Research predicts that multifamily buildings will expand to more than 25% of residential housing by 2021. If we can make multifamily buildings more efficient, we will significantly improve the environmental impact of residential buildings overall.

Filling the Information Gap: Cloud-based Solutions

A number of innovative software solutions have begun to fill the information gap in the building efficiency market. Web-based tools that rely on data from utility companies and self-reported building characteristics can be used to track energy and water use, and perform peer-to-peer benchmarking. By using cloud-computing infrastructure, the costs to use these systems are incredibly low.

Traditional sensor-based systems supply immense amounts of dense data for one building at a time, and pose challenges for non-experts who want to sift through all of this data. The newer web-based utility analytics platforms, on the other hand, deal with relatively simple data across large numbers of buildings. They are designed from the bottom up to provide valuable, actionable insights while avoiding problems of information overload.


Using Software to Solve Real Problems

Software alone can't make buildings more efficient, but it can solve the main bottlenecks that prevent people from taking action.

Tracking and Understanding Data: Measuring performance is a vital first step towards making improvements. This is true whether you're talking about tracking vitamins and calories to keep healthy, using software like to track finances, or using a cloud-based web app to track buildings' utility consumption.

The key, from the software perspective, is to make tracking as easy and automated as possible, while making data understandable — nobody wants to deal with piles of spreadsheets. The most successful products make us want to use them through engaging design (just look at Apple). In the efficiency domain, more companies are starting to realize this, and products like WegoWise are focused on this usability and design element.

Benchmarking Buildings: A key advantage to using web software is the ability to make comparisons within large portfolios and across large community-driven datasets. A property manager can quickly identify the outliers in their portfolio to target for investment. A specific building can be compared with an average building with the same structure, size, location, etc. Or, a building can be compared to the most efficient buildings with the same characteristics, thus providing a data-driven sense of opportunity for returns on investment through retrofits. By comparing on a normalized basis across these benchmarks, property managers can implement upgrades where they'll have the biggest impact.

Multiple studies demonstrate the powerful impact of benchmarking. Companies like Opower have focused on the psychological component to this, and have shown that comparing yourself with your neighbors can drive significant energy savings. A recent study released by Deutsche Bank indicates that benchmarking is critical to drive retrofits with a high ROI for multifamily housing. Furthermore, 21 states have or are considering a building energy disclosure ordinance – making tracking and benchmarking not just good business, but required by law.

Targeting outliers: The most economically compelling approach to improving building efficiency is to focus on those structures that have the most significant opportunity for improvement. For example, New England real estate development and management firm John M. Corcoran & Co. has used this approach to identify half a million dollars in savings while tracking 12,000 units. By using WegoWise's web-based benchmarking software, they found a major outlier: one of their Boston buildings was using one million more gallons of water per year than it should have been. Company engineers ran inspections, and found and replaced leaky toilets, resulting in $80K annual savings from a problem they never knew they had.

Democratizing Efficiency Savings

Affordable web-based platforms facilitate the democratization of building efficiency by more effectively tracking critical data that already exists, providing meaningful benchmarks and comparisons, and converting data into actionable information — all for the monthly cost of a trip to Starbucks. Every building — no matter the size or type — should have the chance to seize efficiency gains.

Author Bio: Barun Singh is the Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of WegoWise. Barun created WegoWise out of a vision to dramatically reduce energy costs through a simple and powerful online tool. He leads all aspects of product development and technological innovation for WegoWise. Prior to WegoWise, Barun was owner and CEO of Thinkify LLC, an Internet technology development and consulting company. He completed undergraduate studies at the age of 16 and holds three graduate degrees, including two from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he worked in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. 

Independent Voters Favor Renewable Energy To Keystone XL Pipeline 4:1, Poll Finds

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 03:50 AM PST

This articles was originally published on Climate Progress. It has been reposted with full permission.

Photo: Elvert Barnes

Environmental groups celebrated last fall when President Obama delayed the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would pipe carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canadian strip mines to refineries in Texas.

Now that Obama is back in the White House for a second term, those same forces are banding together to encourage the president to kill the pipeline altogether.

A new poll suggests that these groups have public opinion on their side.

The polling outfit Zogby Analytics has just conducted a survey showing very strong support for renewable energy and minimal support for the Keystone pipeline among centrist voters.

According to the poll, which was released by the National Wildlife Federation, independent voters say they would choose renewable energies like wind and solar over Keystone XL by a 4-1 margin. Only 12 percent chose Keystone as a priority. And among all voters surveyed across party lines, renewables received twice the support as fossil energies.

The survey doesn't tell us how voters feel about killing the Keystone pipeline outright. And the comparison in the survey — which conflates electricity generation technologies like wind and solar with liquid transportation fuels that the Keystone pipeline would support — doesn't accurately reflect the differences in energy types. But to the average voter, that doesn't really matter.

The important finding from this poll is exactly what we've seen in many others over the years: Americans of all political persuasions really like renewable energy and will almost always choose it as a priority over fossil fuels.

That strong support for renewables and other clean technologies over fossil fuels was the premise of a pre-election report from the Center for American Progress. That report — designed to directly challenge the American Petroleum Institute's multi-million dollar campaign promoting unprecedented fossil fuel development — laid out balanced regional strategies for advancing clean technologies that voters say they prefer.

As it turned out, the API campaign didn't convince voters. And after countering hundreds of millions of dollars in ad spending from groups promoting Keystone XL and expanded fossil fuel drilling, many environmental groups are feeling energized about where they stand post-election.

Broadly speaking, it looks like voters continue to stand with them.

Consider the results in races where the Keystone XL pipeline played a prominent role. In the swing state of Florida, Senator Bill Nelson was attacked repeatedly by his Republican challenger for opposing the Keystone Pipeline. He won by a large margin.

"The Nelson race was supposed to be a showdown on Keystone and it was a blowout," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, at a press conference the day after the election.

In fact, every single Senator who opposed the Keystone XL pipeline won their races this election.

According to a Climate Progress analysis of ad spending using Kantar Media CMAG data, $1.8 million was spent on Keystone XL-related ads since September in Virginia and New Mexico — both states that elected candidates supported by environmental groups.

The Zogby poll also shows broad support for other environmental initiatives. According to the survey, 44 percent of voters say the government is doing too little to protect clean air, clean water, and other natural resources. Only 14 percent say the government is doing too much in this area. In addition, 65 percent of respondents said that political leaders need to act now in order to address future climate impacts.

These findings come as environmental groups begin crafting their post-election strategies on climate, environmental protections, and renewable energy promotion.

The Keystone XL pipeline is first on the priority list for many groups. This Sunday, the climate activist organization is leading a rally in Washington against the project. Other major groups are expressing their desire to push the White House on Keystone as well.

"We want the President to take a long, hard look at the Keystone pipeline and reject it outright," said Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club, at a press conference. "This is a priority for us."

Wind Power Might Meet 1/5 Of Global Electricity Demand By 2030

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 03:32 AM PST

Wind power could supply one-fifth of total global energy demands by 2030, according to a new report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Greenpeace International.


The report investigates a variety of different scenarios for the industry’s development and future levels of electricity demand. It says that the total installed capacity could more than quadruple, from the 240GW installed at the end of 2011, to 1,100GW by the year 2020. And could then supply between 11.7% and 12.6% percent of global electricity demand, potentially stopping over 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Some of the less ambitious scenarios predict that total capacity may only make it to 587GW–759GW by then, ‘only’ providing ~8.3% of global electricity supply.

While wind energy has been proving itself as very cost competitive with fossil fuels, and is clearly going to play a major role in the world’s energy future, it will need the help of better governmental renewable energy policies to reach its full potential, according to the Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, Steve Sawyer.

He said that it’s necessary for governments to quickly develop renewable energy policies “to address the climate crisis, while there’s still time.”

His thoughts were repeated by Sven Teske, Greenpeace’s senior energy expert: “the most important ingredient for the long term success of the wind industry is stable, long term policy, sending a clear signal to investors about the government’s vision for the scope and potential for the technology.”

One of the most interesting parts of the report was the statistic that 2.1 million people could be employed in the global wind industry by 2020 (more than 3 times the number today)… of course, with good policy support.

The report also notes that the industry is likely to slow down somewhat over the next couple of years, following the rapid growth that has occurred recently.

“After 15 years of average cumulative growth rates of about 28 per cent, the commercial wind power installations in about 80 countries at the end of last year totalled about 240GW, having increased by more than 40 times over that same period,” the report said.

“There are many exciting new markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia where we see major potential for growth in the medium to long term; but absent a new means for putting a global price on carbon, new demand growth in the OECD borne on a strong economic recovery, or some other unforeseen development, the industry’s rate of growth will slow substantially in the coming few years.”

The IEA projections offer the most pessimistic scenario, predicting that the annual global wind energy market won’t grow or shrink through to 2015, but will then contract to 10 percent below 2011 levels from 2015-2020.

The most optimistic scenarios greatly contrast that, though, seeing a significant recovery in growth rates around 2015-2020. This recovery is expected to be caused by “stable policy environments” and continued technological improvements, “resulting in installed capacity of either 1,600GW or 2,500GW by 2030,” with the latter projected to supply enough electricity for about 1/5 of projected electricity demand at that time.

Source: The Guardian
Image Credit: Windcraft (some rights reserved)

Target Aims For Canadian Sustainability Bullseye With All LEED Stores

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 03:17 AM PST

Anticipation is building for Target’s Canadian nationwide opening next year, while the Minneapolis-based retail giant aims to make sure the opening is a sustainability bullseye.

Target is planning for Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification for all of its Canadian stores when it opens in 2013.

target store

Target Store via Kelly Martin / WikiCommons (some rights reserved)

The plan involves designing stores which will limit waste, cut greenhouse gasses, and limit water and energy use.

With Target being a member of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), an organization that strives for LEED certification, officials say they look forward to meeting the environmental sustainability challenge of opening up their Canadian outlets.

“We take our role as good corporate citizen very seriously, and we’re proud that Target is making a firm commitment to sustainability in Canada,” said Target Canada President Tony Fisher.

“Striving for LEED certification at our 124 stores opening in 2013 is important as we seek to use our resources responsibly and maintain the health of our communities,” he said.

LEED standards have been relatively new within the past decade in Canada, beginning in 2002, according to the Canadian Green Building Council (CaBG), but they follow the same measures as its American counterparts.

Meanwhile, 135 countries around the world have various other LEED projects, as the USGBC notes:

“LEED projects have been successfully established in 135 countries. International projects, those outside the United States, make up more than 50% of the total LEED registered square footage. LEED unites us in a single global community and provides regional solutions, while recognizing local realities.”

Each Canadian store will take between six to nine months to renovate each store, with a cost of $10 million per location.

USBGC CEO, President, and founding Chair Rick Fredrizzi believes that Target's commitment to LEED for its Canadian stores will be good for the company's bottom line and environmental well-being.

“By seeking to transform its portfolio to high-performing, LEED-certified sustainable buildings, Target is setting an important, positive example for the retail industry,” Mr. Fredrizzi said.

“Target will improve environmental performance and achieve operational and utility savings. In addition, the educational materials that Target has developed for its partners are outstanding resources for teaching field teams how to implement LEED across a large portfolio of building projects.”

Canadian Target shoppers will have to wait until March/April of 2013 when the former Zellers outlets will be open to the public.

Major Canadian outlets opening across the country include: Calgary & Edmonton (Alberta); Victoria (British Columbia); Winnipeg, Manitoba, & Fredericton (New Brunswick); St. John's (Newfoundland); Regina (Saskatchewan); and Montreal (Quebec).

For a complete list of all new outlets, go to the Target website.

What If They Had A World Toilet Day And Nobody Came?

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 03:04 AM PST

World Toilet Day has got to be one of the least known and least respected days of the year, and we at CleanTechnica did our part: we forgot all about it. So, to make up for missing World Toilet Day, which as a matter of fact was observed on November 19, let’s take a look at a project that is what every toilet dreams of becoming: a human waste-to-diesel biorefinery. Hey, don’t laugh! After all, a toilet can dream…

Ghana biorefinery launches for world toilet day

The Brains Behind the Ultimate Toilet Biorefinery

The project that caught our eye is a pilot biorefinery in Ghana, which will convert human waste to diesel fuel. The multinational team behind the biorefinery consists of Columbia University's Engineering School, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, and the Ghanaian company Waste Enterprisers Ltd.

The basic research was initiated at the Columbia Engineering Lab, spearheaded by Kartik Chandran, associate professor of Earth Engineering and Applied Science.

The project pairs Chandran with rising waste-to-energy star Ashley Murray, who is CEO and founder of Waste Enterprisers.

There’s an A-list corporate connection, too. Last year, Chandran won a $1.5 million grant to develop the biorefinery from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. You may recall Bill and Melinda from the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge,” among other projects.

If you’ve been following CleanTechnica for a while, you might also recall that we’ve been following Chandran. He’s also known for a study of greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment plants and a project to develop biofuel from bacteria and wastewater.

Packing More Biorefinery Punch into Small Spaces

Conventional sewage treatment plants are sprawling affairs that take up a lot of space. With the pilot biorefinery, Chandran and Murray aim to show that the waste-to-diesel process can be translated from the laboratory into the real world of tight urban spaces. According to Chandran:

“We are aiming to create a next-generation urban sanitation facility that will set new standards and serve as a model around the world. With the capacity to receive and treat 10,000 liters, or 2,500 gallons—a full sanitation truck carrying concentrated fecal matter from at least 5,000 people—of fecal sludge per day, this facility reaches way beyond the lab scale."

A Sustainability Twofer for World Toilet Day

By producing renewable diesel fuel along with methane, the project is expected to provide underserved urban communities with a cost-effective strategy for improving public health. As Murray describes it:

"Our goal is to develop a revenue-generating fecal-sludge-to-biodiesel facility that can transform sanitation from an expensive burden into a profitable venture. If we figure out a way to make waste management profitable, governments and citizens that currently bear the financial, environmental, and public health costs will all be better off."

That’s a pretty ambitious goal, given that an estimated 1.1 billion people lack access to modern toilet facilities or, for that matter, any kind of organized, sanitary means of exercising fundamental human functions.

Image (cropped): Don’t Forget World Toilet Day! Some rights reserved by dmuth

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

UK’s Largest Solar Project On The Verge Of Becoming Reality

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 02:58 AM PST

Lark Energy has been approved by the Charnwood Borough Council for the largest proposed solar farm in the United Kingdom.

According to a Business Green article, the project will feature 125,000 solar photovoltaic panels, providing 35 megawatts (MW) of power capacity. The solar farm is to be located on a former Leicestershire World War 2 airfield.

The arrangement for the solar farm will be built along the runways of the airfield, while the rest of the area will be used by a kite club and as a driving track.

Hazel Capital, who is financing the project, said that work will start on the 35-million-pound project in November.

A Hazel Capital representative commented on the new deal.

“We are delighted to be involved in this large, first-of-its-kind project in the UK,” said Ben Guest, Hazel Capital managing partner in the article.

“We believe that larger industrial sites make great locations for solar projects going forward in the UK," he said.

Hazel Capital expects the project done by March, 2013, just ahead of the Renewables Obligation (RO), an incentive program that helps support larger scale solar projects in the United Kingdom.

This project is just one of various recent solar farms built in the United Kingdom. In July, 2012, we reported a 5MW solar farm near Southampton that started operations that month.

One wonders if the momentum to advance solar energy will be limited after the Renewables Obligation program ends in March. However, Britons are slowly moving away from the myth and moving towards a sunnier and cleaner energy with these recent examples.

Weatherization At Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School Conserves Heat In Winter

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 02:51 AM PST

Minnesota is not known for mild winters, which makes keeping heat in buildings a top priority. Weatherization is the prime approach to do just that. Weatherization techniques, such as air sealing and envelope improvements, provide relatively low-cost energy savings and warmer buildings for occupants in wintertime.

The Pyramid of Conservation developed by Minnesota Power

The Pyramid of Conservation developed by Minnesota Power shows weatherization techniques like air sealing and insulation are essential building blocks for efficiency.

Air sealing steps include caulking and weather-stripping windows and doors, as well as sealing bypasses in attics, walls, foundations, and ducts. Simple steps such as these can prevent energy and money from being wasted. Additionally, insulation and air sealing measures often reduce draftiness and enhance comfort inside of buildings.

According to the Pyramid of Conservation, literature published by Minnesota Power, air leaks alone can account for 10-25% of heat loss from an individual home. The same is true for any other building. These sealing techniques are the first steps to take (even before insulating) to prevent heat from escaping and ensure that the heat energy is being put to its best use.

This is exactly the sentiment that Westbrook-Walnut Grove School District intended to pursue with the help of an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) of $13,933 distributed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The project aimed to lower utility bills and to improve energy efficiency of the Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School building by pursuing weatherization measures.

The school's single-pane windows and entryway doors (1956-1961 vintage) were allowing heat to escape during colder months. To rectify this, the District used EECBG dollars to replace these windows and doors with U.S.-made, energy-efficient products, and were sealed from the effects of extreme weather with spray-foam insulation.

There is also the opportunity to support local businesses and spur economic development with weatherization implementation, and Westbrook-Walnut Grove School District employed a local contractor to do the work. Superintendent Loy Woelber noted that hiring a local contractor was a great perk, as the contractor was available at short notice to come back and make sure the seals and insulation were working well.

Weatherization practices like sealing and insulation could be a smart step toward energy efficiency in your community, as they create jobs and support the local economy (the people doing the work need to be nearby), save utility costs and reduce energy consumption and waste, and enhance comfort of occupants by eliminating drafts.

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts in order to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

Curiosity & Continuous Improvement Pay Off: Weatherization Fixes Cut Waste In Itasca County

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 02:38 AM PST

Randy Washburn has a knack for how things operate. Although he has only been Supervisor of Itasca County's Facilities Management Office for five years, he has made a huge impact. Washburn has a good understanding of the constraints of the county's energy budget. This is why he started asking questions in 2009, and since then, he has not stopped.

Washburn wanted to know how much it was costing the county to heat, cool, and power its municipal facilities. In 2009, he worked with several members of the Energy Services Group (ESG) to gather the necessary data. With that information, Washburn invited ESG to design a proposal to reduce wasted heat, cooling, and electricity in county buildings, which would in turn save county capital. This eventually led to a formal proposal from ESG in 2010.

Randy Washburn shows off Itasca county's new energy management controls

Randy Washburn shows off Itasca county’s new energy management controls.

The proposal was set up as a performance contract between the county and ESG. Performance contracts dictate the outcomes of a project, but not the methods, so that the contractor has the flexibility to address the project in the best way he sees fit. This meant that potential saved capital (due to efficiency upgrades) could be reinvested in additional efficiency projects in the future. The contract was signed and operations began in 2011. Due to excellent financing by the County Auditor, Jeff Walker, the payback on the investment was reduced from a predicted 15 years to just 12.

Washburn and his team found funding from the Minnesota Department of Commerce in the form of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funding.

At the present time, this team has spent almost $3.5 million dollars implementing the following cost-saving energy-efficiency projects:

  • Improved lighting
  • Tightened envelope
  • Energy management controls
  • Insulation of windows and doors
  • Intermittent power utility rate
  • HVAC

Washburn says many of his work friends ask him, "When will you be done with that energy project?" What his friends don't realize is that achieving energy efficiency is a lengthy process that requires multiple building upgrades. However, Washburn is quick to point out that they can have a huge impact on how a building functions. Upgrades save valuable energy and space; Washburn's current office is a small room that once held one of five HVAC units that used to be the building he works in. Since the system was upgraded, only one HVAC unit is needed. This will add up to savings not only due to increased HVAC efficiency, but also the saved maintenance costs that comes from caring for one unit instead of five.

Washburn hopes to share their success with schools, businesses, and other public entities in the region. With fewer HVAC units and better efficiency, it is clear that there is a growing commitment to energy efficiency in Itasca County municipal buildings.

EECBG Project Snapshot:

  • Project Activities: Upgrade digital direct control (DDC) equipment; Recommission existing DDC; Reprogram control loops; install wireless thermostats; Recommission pneumatic controls; Repair/replace valves on air handling unit
  • Total Cost: $312,529

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts in order to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

Bringing A Building Back To Life: Clear Waters Life Center In Gonvick, MN

Posted: 20 Nov 2012 02:31 AM PST

In the small town of Gonvick, Minnesota, the Clear Waters Life Center has revitalized an old building and, with it, a community. When the schools of Gonvick and Clearbrook were combined in 1992, a new school building opened north of Clearbrook in 2004 to accommodate the influx of students, and the Gonvick School was vacated. Until 2009, it had remained vacant, becoming a semi-demolished, unheated eyesore with no definite future, until the Clear Waters Life Center came along.

Clear Waters Life Center in Gonvick, MN

The Clear Waters Life Center in Gonvick, MN is an abandoned school turned energy-efficient community center.

Clear Waters Life Center (CWLC) is a faith-based non-profit that works to offer support groups, youth programs, counseling services, and job training. It had been looking to expand its programs beyond Clearbrook, MN and needed a place to house vocational training workshops. CWLC saw the abandoned Gonvick School as an opportunity. The non-profit bought the old school building from the school district in June of 2009.

Its first step was to ask the Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program (RETAP) to do an energy analysis of the old building. RETAP is an organization that connects retired professionals to Minnesota businesses, institutions, and communities to provide environmental facility assessments and help with local sustainability projects. A RETAP advisor made a site visit in October and issued a report for the building a month later, and thus launched the CWLC down its path to make the school building functional again.

To restore the building, CWLC and the City of Gonvick applied for a number of grants, including one from Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG). In October of 2009, CWLC applied for and received a $4000 CERTs grant that allowed it to conduct a feasibility study to help determine the best way to heat and cool the building. "It really helped us make a decision as to what kind of heating system to purchase," said CWLC Administrative Director Becky Dorman. The school district had partially demolished the building and removed the old school's boiler, so a new system was needed. CWLC brought in the engineering firm Martin Mechanical to prepare a report that outlined three energy-efficient heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that could be successfully implemented. After evaluating the options, the CWLC decided to go with a geothermal system.

As the building was being rehabilitated, CWLC realized that it needed to do something with the gym area, which was poorly insulated and could potentially negate the effects of the new HVAC system. "We needed a space to do vocational training in, but we had this big gym that we didn't need," explained Dorman. "At the time the gym was the furthest thought from our business plan for the building as it was to be designated community space and we figured we could do that last. When we heard about the (EECBG) grant the City of Gonvick worked with us to apply for the grant to get the gym space ready for community use. So the thing we thought we would be doing last we did first."

The City of Gonvick received a $97,800 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant to insulate the roof and walls of the gymnasium, which included a new roof. The City of Clearbrook had also benefitted from the EECBG program, as Clearbrook had renovated the gym in its old high school building in a similar way after receiving EECBG funding. However, the Gonvick school project ran into a problem — they struggled to fill out the B3 report that was required in order to receive the grant money. Every EECBG funded project in Minnesota is required to establish a Minnesota B3 Benchmarking account in order to record past utility bills and input new ones once improvements are made. This allows a city to track average total energy use in individual buildings to see how energy efficiency projects affect total energy usage and cost. The issue with the Gonvick site, explained Dorman, was that "the building was closed for 5 years, so there were no readings" that could be used to establish a baseline with which to measure future energy use against. "I did get utility bills for the three years prior to shut down," said Dorman, "I used those but had to subtract the portion that was torn down to estimate cost for the remaining building which we own. We asked LOTS of questions in the grant writing process and found the people working with the B3 score very helpful."

The successful gym renovation has made it usable for families in Gonvick. Open gym hours let residents play basketball, ping pong, use free weights, and more. The gym is also available for rent, which gives residents the opportunity to host large events such as family reunions and receptions without having to drive to a facility out of town. Although renovations are not yet complete on the new CWLC Gonvick , it already offers a daycare, a Senior center, a furniture shop, three greenhouses, a community garden, and arts and crafts classes. "We are in a rural community and people can't afford to drive far," said Becky Dorman, emphasizing the importance of these new facilities. There were few creative outlets available to residents before the building was renovated. "Now," she explained, "you can come to one of our three Community Art Studios."

Already, the City of Gonvick has given its support to the effort. "We have found the community to be excited to see us making good use of their school building," wrote CWLC Co-Director Darien Northup. "It will not only provide employment opportunities but will also draw from a greater region to use our facility and to shop in Gonvick." In this way, the successful renovation of the old Gonvick school has meant more than the restoration of a local building. It has allowed the town to offer new resources to its residents, in addition to turning a building that was once a burden into a functional, energy-efficient landmark.

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts, in order to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

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