Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

All New January US Electrical Generating Capacity Came From Renewable Sources

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 07:00 AM PST

A new report from the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects announced that 1,231 megawatts (MW) of new in-service electrical generating capacity came online in January 2013, and all of it came from a collection of wind, solar, and biomass sources.

The January numbers represent a nearly three-fold increase in new renewable energy capacity compared to the same time last year when new wind, solar, and biomass sources only amounted to 431 MW of new capacity.

Wind accounted for the largest share of the new electrical generating capacity installed this past January, with six new “units” providing 948 MW. Solar came next with 16 units installed totalling 267 MW, and biomass installed 6 new units adding up to 6 MW.

There were absolutely no reports of any new generating capacity for fossil fuel or nuclear power sources.

The report (PDF) notes that renewable sources currently account for 15.66% of the total installed US operating generating capacity:

  • Hydro — 8.50%
  • Wind — 5.17%
  • Biomass — 1.29%
  • Solar — 0.38%
  • Geothermal — 0.32%

On the flipside of the operating generating capacity are fossil fuels and nuclear, which account for the following percentages:

  • Oil — 3.54%
  • Nuclear — 9.23%
  • Coal — 29.04%
  • Natural Gas — 42.37%

With these numbers as they stand, the only way is up, but I can’t help but wonder what impact Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One will have on those numbers in the months to follow. Just last week, the developers of that project reported that they had “achieved a peak generating capacity of 100 megawatts (MW) connected to the electrical grid.”

But that's only half of the end goal. When construction is completed later this year, the ranch, located in northern Los Angeles County, will have a generating capacity of 230 MW.

Big solar farms like these are a big part of the growth of renewables over the past few years. A new report from analyst firm Wiki-Solar has concluded that “by the end of February utility-scale solar farms will have reached 12.2 GW of capacity across 488 installations, a figure almost double that of 12 months ago.”

All New January US Electrical Generating Capacity Came From Renewable Sources was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Solar PV Demand Falls Short Of 30 GW Mark, Solarbuzz Finds

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 06:00 AM PST

The upcoming NPD Solarbuzz Marketbuzz report set to be released in March reports findings that solar photovoltaic (PV) demand for 2012 only reached 29 GW, an increase of only 5% year-over-year compared to 27.7 GW in 2011.

Sadly, 2012 is the first year in a decade that year-over-year market growth in the PV industry has been less than 10%.

"During most of 2012, and also at the start of 2013, many in the PV industry were hoping that final PV demand figures for 2012 would exceed the 30 GW level," explained Michael Barker, Senior Analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. "Estimates during 2012 often exceeded 35 GW as PV companies looked for positive signs that the supply/demand imbalance was being corrected and profit levels would be restored quickly. Ultimately, PV demand during 2012 fell well short of the 30 GW mark."

Global PV Demand Fails to Reach 30 GW

2012 PV Demand by Region
Image Credit: NPD Solarbuzz Marketbuzz report

Europe remained the largest regional market with 16.48 GW of PV demand, totalling almost 60% of the global demand for 2012. This figure is down, however, from 68% in 2011 and 82% in 2010. For a long time Germany has spearheaded the growth in Europe, but in recent months has started to lose ground to the US and China.

Unsurprisingly, to those who have been following the solar industry’s exploits over the past few years, the second largest region for PV demand was Asia, coming in with 8.69 GW, thanks in part to the growth of the Chinese end-market during the second half of the year.

Of particular note from the remaining regions, California provided more than one-third of all PV demand from the entire Americas region during 2012.

"For supply and demand to have been balanced during 2012, end-market demand should have approached the 45 GW level," added Barker. "This is 50% higher than actual PV demand in 2012, and reflects the lack of demand elasticity that characterizes the PV industry today. It also explains why even those companies that gained market-share in 2012 still ended up reporting significant operating losses."

NPD Solarbuzz are currently predicting rapid globalisation this year, thanks to growth in regions including Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and emerging Asian markets.

"The role of emerging regions will be pivotal to PV industry supply and demand during 2013 and will offer a leading indicator for how quickly the industry can exceed the 30 GW annual run-rate level," concluded Barker.

Solar PV Demand Falls Short Of 30 GW Mark, Solarbuzz Finds was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Graphene Breakthrough — One Photon Can Be Converted Into Multiple Electrons

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 05:30 AM PST

A new discovery by researchers at the ICFO has revealed that graphene is even more efficient at converting light into electricity than previously known. Graphene is capable of converting a single photon of light into multiple electrons able to drive electric current. The discovery is an important one for next-generation solar cells, as well as other light-detecting and light-harvesting technologies.


A paradigm shift in the materials industry is likely within the near-future as a variety of unique materials replaces those that we commonly use today, such as plastics. Among these new materials, graphene stands out. The single-atom-thick sheet of pure carbon has an enormous number of potential applications across a variety of fields. Its potential use in high-efficiency, flexible, and transparent solar cells is among the potential applications. Some of the other most discussed applications include: foldable batteries/cellphones/computers, extremely thin computers/displays, desalination and water purification technology, fuel distillation, integrated circuits, single-molecule gas sensors, etc.

“In most materials, one absorbed photon generates one electron, but in the case of graphene, we have seen that one absorbed photon is able to produce many excited electrons, and therefore generate larger electrical signals,” says Frank Koppens, group leader at ICFO.

This ability makes graphene extremely appealing for any technology that requires the conversion of light into electricity, particularly because it allows the development of light detectors with improved efficiency, and should lead to solar cells that are able to capture light energy from all of the solar spectrum with lower loss.

The discovery was made during an experiment that consisted of sending an exact quantity of photons possessing different energies (different colors) onto a monolayer of graphene. “We have seen that high energy photons (e.g. violet) are converted into a larger number of excited electrons than low energy photons (e.g. infrared). The observed relation between the photon energy and the number of generated excited electrons shows that graphene converts light into electricity with very high efficiency. Even though it was already speculated that graphene holds potential for light-to-electricity conversion, it now turns out that it is even more suitable than expected!” says KJ Tielrooij, a researcher at ICFO.

There are some issues with graphene that need to be resolved before they can be used for ‘direct applications’ though. But once these are resolved, graphene holds a revolutionary potential, especially with regards to technologies currently based on conventional semiconductors. “It was known that graphene is able to absorb a very large spectrum of light colors. However now we know that once the material has absorbed light, the energy conversion efficiency is very high. Our next challenge will be to find ways of extracting the electrical current and enhance the absorption of graphene. Then we will be able to design graphene devices that detect light more efficiently and could potentially even lead to more efficient solar cells,” Koppens says in conclusion.

The new discovery was made by researchers at the Institute of Photonic Science (ICFO), in collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Germany, and Graphenea S.L. Donostia-San Sebastian in Spain.

The new research was just published in the journal Nature Physics.

Source: ICFO-The Institute of Photonics Sciences
Image Credit: Graphene via Wikimedia Commons

Graphene Breakthrough — One Photon Can Be Converted Into Multiple Electrons was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

“Radically New” Plasmonic Solar Cell Grows From A Forest Of Gold Nanorods

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 05:21 AM PST

Researchers at the University of California – Santa Barbara are pretty excited over this new solar cell they’ve been working on, and who can blame them? For the past 100 years or so, everybody’s been tinkering around with solar energy conversion based on semiconductors and meanwhile a promising new field called plasmonics has been bubbling up under the surface. The research team has developed a free-floating plasmonic device that produces hydrogen from water using only clean, renewable solar energy, which could lead to high efficiency, low cost hydrogen production for fuel cell electric vehicles, among other uses.

plasmonic solar conversion for low cost hydrogen fuel cells

Low Cost Hydrogen for Fuel Cells

Before we get into the details of the new device, let’s take a look at how it could fit into the big picture, sustainably speaking. Zero emission hydrogen fuel cells have a promising future, but there is one big catch: they run on hydrogen, and splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is an expensive, energy-intensive process.

One way to get around that is to use solar energy to power the process, such as the “artificial leaf” solar cell developed at MIT.

Plasmonic devices offer a more durable, and potentially more efficient, way to accomplish the same goal.

The UC-Santa Barbara Plasmonic Solar Cell

As described by UCSB writer Sonia Fernandez, when sunlight strikes a conventional solar cell made of semiconductor material, electrons shift positions to leave positively charged “holes,” which creates an electric current.

Plasmonic solar devices also create a shift in electron position using solar energy, but they are made of metal nanostructures instead of semiconductors.

The UCSB team created a cell in the form of a “‘forest’ of gold nanorods,” topped off with titanium dioxide crystals and platinum nanoparticles. When placed in water with a catalyst and exposed to visible light, electrons in the nanorods oscillate together, creating a phenomenon called plasmonic waves. Fernandez writes:

“As the ‘hot’ electrons in these plasmonic waves are excited by light particles, some travel up the nanorod, through a filter layer of crystalline titanium dioxide, and are captured by platinum particles. This causes the reaction that splits hydrogen ions from the bond that forms water. Meanwhile, the holes left behind by the excited electrons head toward the cobalt-based catalyst on the lower part of the rod to form oxygen.”

As a replacement for semiconductor-based solar cells, the plasmonic cell is still years away from commercial development. However, one promising aspect of the work so far is the ruggedness of the nanorods, which could lead to a device with a far longer lifespan than today’s conventional solar cells in addition to increased efficiency.

Get Ready for a Plasmonic Future

UCSB isn’t the only research institution dreaming of a plasmonic future. Over at Stanford University, researchers are working on “waffle iron” thin-film solar technology that integrates a plasmonic effect, resulting in a thinner, more efficient and more durable film.

Meanwhile, other paths to clean, low-cost hydrogen production are also in the works. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for example, is developing a solar-powered process that uses “disordered” titanium nanocrystals to boost efficiency, and Brookhaven National Laboratory is working on an inexpensive nickel-based catalyst.

Image (cropped): Sunlight by  Ronnie

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“Radically New” Plasmonic Solar Cell Grows From A Forest Of Gold Nanorods was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Saudi Arabia Reveals Plans For 54 GW Of Renewable Energy, White Paper Provides Details

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 05:15 AM PST

Saudi Arabia has just released a white paper for its K.A.Care program, detailing the competitive procurement process (CPP) for the ambitious plan. As it currently stands, the program aims to develop and install 54 GW of renewable energy in the kingdom by 2032, including 41 GW of solar power. The other 13 GW will be supplied by wind energy, geothermal, and waste-to-energy power plants.


The plan is for 5.1 GW of renewables by 2018, 23.9 GW by 2020, and then the rest by 2032. These goals should help to reduce the kingdom’s own reliance on fossil fuels, and possibly help to buffer them, to some degree, from the the worst effects of global climate change.

The first tendering round for the CPP is currently scheduled for the first half of this year.

“Under the plans, project developers will be invited to bid on power purchase contracts. Over the next two to three years, three tendering rounds – introductory, and first and second procurement rounds – will be held, for 7 GW worth of projects. The first is scheduled to be held in the first half of 2013. Subsequent rounds are then expected to be announced,” PV Magazine writes.

“To ensure that sufficient timely renewables capacity is brought online consistent with targets, and to assure a critical mass of early projects, initial procurements will be sized larger than the announced annual targets to allow for some upside margin,” the authors of the white paper explained.

According to the report, the primary criteria for project selection are going to be: overall financial strength, the project development status and the degree of local content. “Proponents that integrate local content into their projects will benefit from strong incentives through the rated criteria evaluation for utilizing labor and equipment that provide a positive net benefit to the local economy,” the authors stated. “While K.A.Care is aggressively pursuing the development of the local value chain, projects will be expected to escalate their local content inclusion accordingly.”

In regards to project type, the target is for around 1.1 GW of solar to be installed after the first procurement round, and a further 1.3 GW of solar after the second. The overall goals are for 16 GW of regular photovoltaics + 25 GW of solar thermal to be installed by 2032.

Image Credit: Phoenix Solar

Saudi Arabia Reveals Plans For 54 GW Of Renewable Energy, White Paper Provides Details was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Over 3 Million Clean Energy Jobs In The U.S. In 2012 (Infographic)

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 05:05 AM PST

The impressive growth of the U.S. clean energy industry continued in 2012, resulting in postings for over 3 million clean energy job openings.

The great infographic posted below details some of the specifics of this impressive growth.


Source: Solar Power World


Over 3 Million Clean Energy Jobs In The U.S. In 2012 (Infographic) was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Sunpower Providing Solar Energy For New SF 49ers Stadium

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 05:00 AM PST

Even though the 2013 National Football League season is about six months away, one team is driving the ball down the field in helping to boost the changing image of spectator sports as a champion in environmental sustainability.

Sunpower is helping recent Super Bowl Finalists, the San Francisco 49ers, by providing a solar panel system for their new stadium.

The new system at 400 kW is being installed by NRG Energy at the $1.2 billion stadium located in Santa Clara, California. Once completed, the project will offset all energy consumption at all San Francisco 49er home games once the stadium opens in 2014.

Installation of three solar array bridges will be done at the training centre, plus a solar canopy built over the green roof terrace.

"NRG is much more than a founding partner, they are providing the energy leadership, infrastructure and expertise to help us achieve the vision of making the new Santa Clara Stadium an economically and environmentally sustainable showcase for innovation," said Chief Executive Officer of the San Francisco 49ers, Jed York.

The 49ers recent announcement is part of a green trend spreading through the NFL and other spectator sports. Met Life Stadium, home of the New York Giants and the New York Jets have 1,350 solar panels, producing 350,000 kilowatt-hours, or around 10% of the stadium's energy needs on game day. Washington Redskins at FedEx Field have 8,000 solar panels, producing one-fifth of their required energy needs.

Minnesota Vikings and Juhl Wind have an arrangement where the local wind provider will give Renewable Energy Certificates (REC's) to the Vikings to offset their energy use at games.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has at least four LEED certified stadiums (San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, and Washington Nationals), along with the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals adding both wind and solar power to their energy mix last season.

The trend towards environmental sustainability is a good one, as changes in climate will likely create more extreme weather patterns, thus creating havoc for planners given sporting events occur outdoors.

While spectator sporting events will never be 100% sustainable, having leagues like the NFL, MLB on the side of green is important if environmental issues are going to continue to move forward in the conscious of the public.

Main Source: PV Tech

Sunpower Providing Solar Energy For New SF 49ers Stadium was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

South Indian City Of Anantapur To Go Solar And Save $1 Million Every Year

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 04:00 AM PST

The municipal corporation of Anantapur in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is set to become the first municipality in the country to set up a solar power project to power its water pumping operations and street lights. The impressive plan includes installation of 5 MW of a solar PV project in the city. The project will be connected to the state’s power grid and will power the water pumping and street lights of the entire municipality’s area.

Solar panels via Waynenf (some rights reserved)

Solar panels via Waynenf (some rights reserved)

Anantapur is blessed with significantly high solar energy resource and has already attracted investment from project developers under India’s famous Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM).

The project would require an investment of $11 million (Rs 60 crore) and would include installation of nearly 40,000 solar panels. The municipality currently consumes 5 MW on water pumping operations and powering the street lights. This entails an average electricity bill of $1 million per year.

With the new 5 MW solar PV project, the municipality will be able to power all these operations with clean energy and save $1 million every year. The total cost of the project would be recovered in 11 years and the municipality will then earn profits for about 14 years, assuming the life of the power plant is 25 years. Additionally, the project will also offset over 180,000 tonnes of carbon emissions over the 25 years of its life.

The municipal authority hopes to secure financial assistance from the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy. The authority will repay loans from the ministry in seven years through the savings achieved in electricity bill payments.

The state of Andhra Pradesh suffers from tremendous demand-supply mismatch in the power sector. The industries in the states have been facing the brunt of the low supply of electricity and are forced to cut production significantly. A large number of power plants in the state use natural gas as fuel and the supply of natural gas, too, has fallen significantly across India.

Solar energy presents a highly logical solution to the poor power situation in the state. The state government recently offered project developers tender to set up 1,000 MW of solar power capacity. The tender received an overwhelming response with developers offering to install up to 1,340 MW of solar power projects.

The views presented in the above article are the author's personal views only

South Indian City Of Anantapur To Go Solar And Save $1 Million Every Year was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Electric Vehicle Charging Through Online Social Networking

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 03:00 AM PST

What?  You try finding an electric car to photograph at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning in Australia and see how lucky you are.

“What? You try finding an electric car to photograph at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning in Australia and see how lucky you are.”

I recently read about how New York is installing thousands of electric vehicle charging stations. Hopefully this will encourage the use of electric cars, as I think they’re an excellent way for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And of course they can also be used to reduce emissions here in Australia, with the possible exception of Melbourne, on account of how its coal power truly blows. (It blows carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in vast quantities.)

Unfortunately, I cannot buy an all electric vehicle at this time. And I mean that quite literally. There are none available for normal purchase in Australia. While it is technically possible for an Australian to get their hands on a Nissan Leaf, last time I checked the price was twice as high as in the US. Also, they’re not adapted to Australian conditions, which means they can’t actually be plugged into an Australian power socket. This is rather a large drawback, especially given the lack of dedicated electric vehicle charging stations here.

But I’m sure all this will change. Once Europeans start buying more electric cars, it will result in them becoming available in Australia also, as we have compatible electrical standards. Waiting for Europeans to drive down prices worked for solar power and it can work for electric cars, too. Go, Europe, go! Buy those electric cars and give us Australians a free ride!

"No, this can't be rght."

“No, this can’t be right.”

Europe and Australia have a big advantage over the the US and Japan when it comes to electric cars. This is because our heftier electrical standards mean that a normal everyday power socket can charge an electric car twice as fast as in Japmerica. This means we won’t need special charging points installed in our garages. An everyday Australian power point can charge pretty much any electric car overnight, unless it’s a Tesla sports car, and if you can afford one of them, I think you can probably afford to install a special charger.

And while we don’t have many dedicated electric vehicle charging stations at the moment, this shouldn’t be a barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles on account of how a national electric vehicle charging system is already installed and operating. It is located throughout Australia and consists of letting anyone who is caught short charge their car at my place. And not just my place, but other people’s places too. Australians are, for the most part, a friendly bunch, and there are plenty of us who wouldn’t mind letting a stranger use a power point for a while if they needed to. In fact, I might even go as far as to say there probably wouldn’t be a populated area in Australia where you couldn’t find someone willing to bend over backwards to let you plug into their socket if you needed a charge. It’s just that kind of place.

Now, admittedly, Australians aren’t quite as friendly as we like to think we are. In my opinion, our educational system has resulted in a little too much British stiffness being forced onto many of us. In fact, by my calculations, with certain important exceptions, the English-speaking world reached peak friendliness in New Zealand in the 1960s. Australia doesn’t do nearly as well in comparison, but at least we beat South Africa. Like we do at cricket. The important thing is, we like to think we’re friendly. And so I’m sure many people would be willing to sign up for a scheme to help out electric vehicle drivers in need, even if a certain portion of us are only doing it to keep up national appearances.

Personally, I know I am motivated to help others both because of my own kind and generous nature, and because of my strong desire to beat the living tar out of New Zealanders on measures of national kindness and friendliness.

All we really need in order to get our national, friendly, electric vehicle charging service under way is a website. And I’ll leave that up to somebody who understands online social networking (which is not my area of expertise). I have to admit, I really don’t understand facebook. I don’t get it at all. It’s supposed to be worth about $100 billion, but I checked it out and there were only about eight people on it. And by some weird chance, I happened to know all of them.

What we do need is a site where we can enter our location, the times we’re likely to be available, whether or not we feel the need to be paid for electricity, and so on. We also need a box we can tick if we’re not into making small talk. I don’t do conversation. You see, I used to have a job where I was paid $20 an hour just to talk to people. Ever since then, whenever I talk to someone and don’t get money at the end, I feel let down. (I have to admit, this has made dating rather awkward.) I know that $20 Australian sounds like a lot of money, as it is currently about a bajillion US dollars (1 bajillion = 20.8) but back then it was only about $2.50 US and could only buy like one sheep.

And of course we need to be able to give feedback on the people who use the system to charge their cars. This way we can weed out the few bad eggs who might try to exploit the system to get their cars charged for free instead of just using it for emergencies, or who use it to try to meet women, men, or sheep. And to also weed out that optimistic individual who might use it to try to meet a transwomanmansheep.

Everything I write is true.

Everything I write is true.

Oh dear, I’ve just realized something. Throughout this whole article I’ve been going on about how eager I am to use my sockets to help people in need, and I’ve just remembered there’s no power point in my garage. And worse, I don’t even have an extension cord. Well, there is one in the kitchen, but it’s nailed to the wall. (And I have to say, I am quite wary of touching those nails.) I guess the website would need to let us enter special conditions, such as, "I’m willing to give you a charge, but you’ll need a long extension."

Electric Vehicle Charging Through Online Social Networking was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Silex Power Claims Electric Vehicle With 621-Mile Range & 10-Minute Charge Time

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 02:30 AM PST

Silex Power has said that it has designed an electric vehicle — the Chreos — that achieves outstanding range, performance, and charge time.

Instead of simply listing these claims, let us spend more time exploring the possibility of them, and which technologies on the market can achieve them, or at least come close to achieving them, because they could be using new battery technology, and prototype battery technology is well ahead of what is on the market.

Silex Power claimed that the battery bank can charge in 10 minutes. This is highly unusual. However, battery technology that can charge in 15 minutes is already on the market (Toshiba SuperCharge lithium titanate batteries). Prototype batteries developed at MIT have charged in 20 seconds, and there is another more recent one that charges in ten minutes.

As for the claim that it can travel 621 miles (1,000 km) per charge, I have never seen an electric vehicle do that. However, prototype battery technology has the ability to store ten times as much energy as typical lithium-ion batteries.

The performance claim that it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds is also highly unusual. However, the “White Zombie” is only 0.1 seconds slower, at 3 seconds.

The Chreos (allegedly) achieves these outstanding feats using a 640 brake horsepower propulsion system that produces 4400 Newton-metres (3,245 pound-feet) of torque.

Source: Autoblog Green

Silex Power Claims Electric Vehicle With 621-Mile Range & 10-Minute Charge Time was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

What Do AT&T And Big Oil Have In Common?

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 02:00 AM PST

By Zana Nesheiwat, Program Associate at Fuel Freedom Foundation

Big Oil via Shutterstock

Big Oil via Shutterstock

When's the last time you made a long-distance phone call? Do you even notice the difference between local and long-distance charges? Before 1984, only AT&T could sell long-distance telephone service, making a long-distance call to your great aunt cost $3.00 a minute. That monopoly and unfair pricing ended when a federal judge required AT&T to grant access to any carrier that wanted to sell long-distance services. Within three years, the price of a long-distance call decreased from the staggering $3.00 a minute to 30 cents a minute. Today it's a mere 3 cents a minute, thanks to competition and an open market.

Without the breakup of that monopoly, which brought forth industry competition and consumer choice, we wouldn't be enjoying rapid advancements in the communication industry and the ability to watch, listen, play, tweet, and stream from one device.

Here's a lesson from Economics 101: a monopoly has the power to set the price on a commodity. Although there is more than one oil company (Shell, Exxon, BP, etc.), the only fuel they sell to consumers is gasoline. The lack of fuel competition allows "big oil" to set the price. The wide-scale adoption of abundant, domestic fuel supplies (electricity, natural gas, methanol, and ethanol) will boost competition and innovation (which we so desperately need), resulting in a wider fuel selection for consumers and lower prices at the pump. This is not to mention protection against resource and price volatility, as well as improved air quality and climate protection. A transition of this magnitude does not happen on its own. Businesses must invest in innovative ideas; policies must evolve to accommodate a changing world; and organizations must unite to educate, inform, and involve the public.

Beneficiaries of an oil-addicted population and economy, or, as many call it, an oil monopoly, will do everything in their power to maintain a situation where they have sole custody over the transportation fuel market. Recent actions from the American Petroleum Institute (API) demonstrate this exact notion. Group Downstream director, Bob Greco, announced that API is "strongly considering" asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case regarding the sale of a high-ethanol fuel blend. Soon after, a press conference ignited news headlines with something along the lines of, "Ethanol destroys cars." The claims that warn of the dangers of ethanol are based off a research study funded by — you guessed it — the API and automakers. This is yet another representation of API's attempt to reverse rules and court decisions that are vital to free markets and competition.

Clearly, API is threatened by the "competition," and has good reason to be! The competition — electric vehicles, natural gas, methanol and, in this case above, ethanol, could cause the oil industry to lose profits, market share, and, eventually, their dominant control over the fuel/energy market.

Moreover, the oil industry's recent investments and interest in natural gas is no coincidence. Natural gas is abundant in America and has the potential to become a dominant transportation fuel. If that is going to be the case, API wants a piece of the pie.

The breakup of AT&T brought forth a new era of technology – multi-functioning phones and affordable long-distance phone calls. Breaking the oil monopoly would give us far more than that — relief at the pump and a thriving future for years to come.

About the Author: With a Master of Public Policy degree from Pepperdine University, Zana specializes in international relations, economics, and energy issues. She is an accomplished researcher and communications professional with experience in public relations, advocacy, and program management. Zana served as a policy researcher for Missile Defense and Advocacy Alliance and is currently advocating alternative fuels at Fuel Freedom Foundation.

What Do AT&T And Big Oil Have In Common? was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Study Finds Fuel Economy Standards Less Cost Effective Than Fuel Tax

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 01:30 AM PST

According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, government-set fuel economy standards, which have been practiced for many years, are 6 to 14 times less effective than a fuel tax for reducing gasoline usage.

The concept of fuel efficiency standards ensures that new vehicles are more efficient, but, what about the rest of the cars on the road? The objective of fuel economy standards is to reduce gasoline usage overall, but it only reduces the fuel consumption of new cars by making car manufacturers build more efficient vehicles.

Most people cannot buy new cars because they are all very expensive. However, a fuel tax would be an incentive for drivers of all cars — from old to new — to use their fuel more efficiently by hypermiling, using shorter routes, switching to more efficient cars (even if they are used), car pooling, using public transportation, travelling by foot, and to driving less overall.

A fuel tax is also an incentive for manufacturers to build more efficient cars. All of this is because a fuel tax drives up the cost to drive all fossil-fuelled cars.

“A tax on gasoline has proven to be a nonstarter for many decades in the US, and I think one of the reasons is that it would be very visible to consumers every time they go to fill up their cars,” said Valerie Karplus, the lead author of the study and a researcher with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. ”With a vehicle efficiency standard, your costs won't increase unless you buy a new car, and even better than that, policymakers will tell you you're actually saving money.”

“As my colleague likes to say, you may see more money in your front pocket, but you're actually financing the policy out of your back pocket through your tax dollars and at the point of your vehicle purchase.”

Source: Green Car Congress

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Study Finds Fuel Economy Standards Less Cost Effective Than Fuel Tax was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Corporations Can No Longer Sleepwalk Towards Sustainability

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 01:00 AM PST

By Comly Wilson, Research Associate at CleanEdison

global 100 sustainable corporations

Image Credit: Global 100

The forces of sustainable consciousness and resource scarcity are making environmental responsibility a necessity, not just a strategy, for major corporations. It is becoming increasingly difficult to simply re-brand products to be green as the public gradually becomes more wary of "greenwashing" and starts to pay attention to corporate responsibility indices, such as Innovest's 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World (aka Global 100) or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In fact, there is a growing body of research that indicates that companies that are successful in implementing and reporting environmental improvements command a market premium in their industry. Moreover, natural resource shortages are expected to affect the core business objectives of most corporations as forces such as population growth and climate change strain availability – often earlier than most companies expect.

These may prove to be real drivers of change, as the idea that sustainable initiatives are also money-savers has been met with skepticism and derision. This is evident in a recent Carbon Trust survey that found that 47% of executives believe that acting on sustainability issues decreases profits – and only 13% of board directors are compensated for achieving sustainability metrics. On the other hand, a recent survey by the MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group found that 37% of businesses reported a profit from their sustainability efforts, a 23% rise over last year. The trend towards greater environmental responsibility is likely to continue and could create a real distance between the early adopters of sustainability and those who remain idle.

However, even the most enthusiastic and genuine efforts can be bogged down by challenges and setbacks. It can actually be quite difficult to evaluate which green initiatives should be pursued, how to properly implement these programs within the overall business plan, and how to measure tangible benefits. While most companies have detailed records of their cost and revenue streams, environmental costs are often hidden and are considered an ongoing and unavoidable expense of operating a business. While physical resources and labor expenses are often linked directly to products or services, the costs for electricity, real estate, space heating, water, and other environmental expenses tend to be considered overhead costs. The same Carbon Trust study found that 43% of businesses surveyed do not monitor the risks to their business of environmentally-related shocks such as energy price rises and environmental disasters. Even when organizations do apply ongoing process efficiency strategies that benefit the environment, there frequently is no attempt to quantify the environmental performance associated with the project.

If corporate sustainability has an increasingly direct influence on the economic value of a company, how are these "hidden costs" supposed to be quantified, addressed and reported? How can those in the early stages of corporate sustainability build a comprehensive system? Furthermore, how can the business community be expected to maintain their financial priorities with such a significant shift in operations?

To date, companies have attempted to 'go green' by hiring a Sustainability Director or arbitrarily implementing a host of eco-friendly technologies and practices. Worse, these Sustainability Directors have been in the position of first proposing an environmental initiative and then working to prove the business case for the program. This has led to businesses recognizing slowly, and in spurts, the costs and benefits related to their environmental performance. Such a system can never fully grasp the goals, risks, and opportunities involved in making a true shift to sustainability, or detail strategies and results of taking on these challenges.

Sustainability May Be Closer to 'Business-as-usual' Than Many Expect

Hundreds of corporations worldwide have already woven a methodology into their business that can be realistically broadened to justify environmental responsibility. This methodology is known as "Lean Six Sigma," a concept originally developed for manufacturing, but which has grown to include business and customer service processes. Lean Six Sigma is a proven methodology of defining problems, reducing waste, systematically improving outputs, and tracking results. With the same prioritization, measurement, and problem-solving tools, Lean Six Sigma could prove to be very suitable for corporate sustainability programs.

Lean Six Sigma addresses two of the most significant problems that environmentally-focused businesses face: How is a project that costs money but improves the companies' environmental footprint weighed against one that does little for the environment but cuts costs? And, once environmental responsibility is accepted within the company, which sustainability project deserves to be pursued first? Lean Six Sigma allows companies to define what metrics are the most important to the business at the highest level and drill down to understand the indicators that are the most closely correlated. It also provides the measurement and analysis tools, such as Value Stream Mapping, to sort out which projects will contribute most to environmental improvement and at what cost. For example, when Lockheed Martin took a closer look at its supply chain, it found that out of 2,000 indicators, many of which the company had deemed materially important, ten areas accounted for 96% of the company's overall environmental impact.

Obviously, defining the problem is only the first step towards true sustainability. The principles of streamlined processes, reduced variability, and continuous improvement found in Lean Six Sigma are ideal for implementing sustainable projects as well.

Lean Six Sigma At Headquarters

Major companies looking to make their large, multi-building campuses more energy efficient could use the idea of "lean energy audits" to make the process more organized and accurate. Traditionally, energy audits are focused on one building, such as a residential home or a commercial office space. The process involves an auditor taking measurements one at a time, such as analyzing lighting techniques, levels of insulation and HVAC efficiency, putting the results in a comprehensive plan, and then implementing (or recommending) solutions. When the same energy auditing process has been used on a multi-building complex, the traditional methodology has proven to be wasteful in terms of time and work load. By focusing on one measurement, for example, lighting techniques, for each building, the auditors needlessly build up the amount of information and work-in-progress (WIP) involved in the project.

Instead, a lean energy audit would analyze and implement efficiency upgrades in each building from beginning to end. This way, auditors avoid mistakes by verifying that the process of collecting data, analyzing data, and implementing recommendations is sound from start to finish. By completing the program for each building of a multi-building campus, problems with implementation, client preferences, or incorrect assumptions can be caught before they are repeated in other buildings.

Lean Six Sigma Throughout the Supply Chain

An improvement undertaking that is extended beyond a localized portion of a business to the entire value stream can significantly magnify the environmental benefits. A more systematic implementation of environmental accounting techniques would improve the ability of companies to make a strong business cases for understanding and reducing risks associated with environmental costs. A Carbon Trust Survey found that 43% of responding companies do not have any reporting or management infrastructure in place to understand the risks associated with environmental costs, such as soaring energy prices, on their supply chain. The Lean Six Sigma process produce savings from increased material efficiency and reduced resource waste streams, thereby reducing risks associated with rising costs and resource depletion.

Lean Six Sigma Culture of Continuous Improvement

Environmental responsibility means a different thing today than it did a decade ago, and will likely continue to evolve as regulations and environmental consciousness change. Effective governance can help put a company's limited resources to appropriate use by identifying and prioritizing projects, and effectively allocating resources needed for those projects. Lean Six Sigma governance has built-in mechanisms in place that help identify and bring to light specific opportunities, based on proven reporting and measurement techniques, to help leaders understand the progress of their organization and initiatives. Ideally, these tools and measurements proceed to specific departments in the organization to get more targeted measures and recognize more precise improvement opportunities.

In addition, because Lean Six Sigma already contains a robust mechanism for training managers and front-line employees, companies should find that extending it to encompass sustainability would not reduce overall productivity. Lean training programs could incorporate a few additional tools and concepts to educate employees on the increasing importance of sustainability to business performance. Concepts might include awareness and understand of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas baselines and reporting, sustainability maturity models and assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics, energy consumption, paper consumption, and waste and recycling.

Obviously, continuing what we're doing will not be enough to avert climate change and other environmental degradation. But business-as-usual for many companies means access to a methodology that is primed to entwine sustainable consciousness into successful business operations.

About the Author: Comly Wilson is a Research Associate at CleanEdison, a national provider of clean energy, energy efficiency, and corporate sustainability training and certification courses. He studied Energy and Environmental Policy at American University and lives in New York, NY.

Corporations Can No Longer Sleepwalk Towards Sustainability was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Fully Sustainable Global Energy Supply By 2050 (VIDEO)

Posted: 25 Feb 2013 12:10 AM PST

Continuing on with our daily series on Leonardo ENERGY videos, here’s another plan to power the world 100% with renewable energy – wind, watersunlight, and biomass:

Fully Sustainable Global Energy Supply By 2050 (VIDEO) was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

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