Bill Gates at TED2010: We Need Energy Miracles

Of all the speeches and talks I’ve heard on climate change, Bill Gates’ recent TED2010 talk was the most pragmatic and thoughtful.  Titled “Innovating to Zero,” Gates touches on our need to strive towards zero CO2 emissions.  Unlike other climate talks, which tend to either be full of hubris or broad reaching statements, Gates presented several clear ideas and equations for strategies that could potentially lead us to this goal.  His tone was optimistic but somber, admitting that there are many barriers (cost and regulation were among the highest) to things like carbon capture technology, nuclear energy and renewables growing into mainstream adoption.

I tried with no luck to embed the video from the TED website, but here is the link.  It’s worth the 27 minutes and kudos to Gates for presenting a more logical perspective in a time when extra snow in the DC area means there’s no such thing as global warming.  Sigh.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

Show Wrap-Up: GreenBuild 2009

Having finally landed in one piece (mostly) on the East Coast after a whirlwind week of traveling to Opportunity Green in Los Angeles and GreenBuild 2009 in Phoenix, I am just now gathering my thoughts and notes from the shows.  I have to say, GreenBuild proved not only to be the best green event I’ve been to all year, but the best overall trade show I attended in 2009.  Most of the sessions were informative and interesting and despite some of the greenwashing from some of the manufacturers on the floor, I met a decent amount of folks with innovative, unique products and services for the green building industry.

The US Green Building Council reported a total of 28,000 attendees showing up for the 4-day long event which is impressive for a green event, even more impressive given the current economic climate.  I can say that the Phoenix Convention Center did seem packed although the separate exhibit halls (an inside source told me they weren’t allowed to call them the “main hall” and the “upper level hall” because exhibitors in the smaller hall were getting upset) weren’t too crowded.


Opening Plenary Celebration

The USGBC proved they know how to throw a good party.  The show opened with a night long celebration at Chase Field complete with catered food, drinks and special guest speaker Al Gore followed by a killer concert given by Sheryl Crow.  The bar even featured organic beer and wine, including Bonterra Chardonnay, one of my favorites.  Kudos on good taste!  The opening speech was given by USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi who was inspirational and clearly excited.  “Welcome to all 28,000 of you who didn’t get the memo that we’re in the worst economic recession of all since the 1930s,” Fedrizzi said to loud applause. “Good for you, you’re not buying into it.

Al Gore impressed as always, interjecting self-deprecating humor into a very informative and touching talk about our choices towards survival or devastation.  Gore pointed out that right now, in 2009, we have all the tools we need to solve the climate crisis.  So the question isn’t how but when and who.  I spent most of the speech wondering where this vibrant, inspirational man was during the 2000 election.  But anyway.

(Side note: There were a few protesters outside the opening plenary event with signs directed at Mr. Gore.  One of them said “GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH TO MAKE MONEY.”  Really?  REALLY?  Someone needs to get you a computer and access to The Google.  You’re missing some information, kiddo.)

Offsets in the Form of Foot in Mouth

I like to play the critic at green shows, mostly because I work in communications and tend to scrutinize a bit closer than most what message it is you are trying to get across – and of course how accurate it may be.  However, I went maybe a bit too far when I stepped into the Renewable Choice Energy booth and declared, I don’t believe in carbon offsets!  Turns out (heh), the fine folks at Renewable Energy Choice sell carbon offsets to companies looking to reduce their footprint.  Oops.  Well, I still stand by that statement but I certainly felt a little bad about stating it so fervently in front of them.  They were great, though, very nice guys and proceeded to explain that they don’t simply sell the offsets, they work with companies to find ways to reduce their output altogether and then help mitigate things they cannot avoid with offsets.

Well, ok. That I can buy into, a bit.  One of the guys pretty much disagreed with me entirely when I said it was more about encouraging bad behavior and less about saving the environment.  Yes, but who cares where and how the good comes from?  If they don’t really want to save the world but we can convince them to do so anyway, without really thinking they are, then who cares? Not a bad point.  I could still launch into a whole theory on systemic behavior and how it never changes if you just make it less reprehensible, that people literally have to be guilted into change, but NEVERMIND.  I am sure they are GREAT at their jobs (honestly) and I am even going to write a blog post about their wind offsets for every cell phone in the US.  Look for it soon.

Pretty, oh so pretty products

I don’t own a home.  Yet.  This is the key word.  It has become a front of mind purchase for me these days and while I watch my best friend and her husband complete their dream home, I cannot help but daydream about the day I can design mine.  (Or rather, have her do it for me and drink wine on the couch.  Either way).  But there were many products at the show that were not only sustainable and eco-friendly but just downright gorgeous.  IceStone, a favorite of mine since the minute I saw it, is simply beautiful.  Durable surfaces made from 100% recycled glass and cement, IceStone looks a bit like granite but in my opinion, is brighter and sleeker.

The other product that I thought was stunning was Alumillenium, a company that creates distinctive and luxurious metal tiles from 100% recycled metal.  I not only thought their tiles were gorgeous but they have very cool branding which for a marketing communications geek is a total bonus.

I have a whole section for “un-highlights” if you will, so stay tuned for GreenBuild: Some Things That Were a Total Fail soon.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

Renewable sources of energy to generate 20 percent of RI’s electricity needs

In June, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri’s office signed a bill allowing National Grid to sign long-term contracts to purchase electricity from renewable-energy developers.

“This landmark legislation is a critical piece to Rhode Island’s goal to increase the use of renewable sources of energy to generate 20 percent of the state’s electricity needs,” Carcieri said in a statement.

The legislation requires National Grid to sign 10- to 15-year contracts to buy a minimum of 90 megawatts of its electricity load from renewable developers and up to 150 megawatts from a utility-scale offshore wind farm that Hoboken, N.J.-based Deepwater Wind plans to construct in Rhode Island Sound in the first half of the next decade.

The contracting process will be overseen by the R.I. Public Utilities Commission. Once a renewable site begins generating power, ratepayers will pay National Grid a 2.75 percent bonus for using its electricity.

The bill received strong backing from Deepwater, which was picked by the Carcieri administration to build the offshore wind project and another smaller one off Block Island.

Deepwater and other renewable energy developers say long-term contracts play a key role in allowing them to attract investors because they guarantee that projects will generate enough revenue to cover their upfront costs. Other states, including Massachusetts, have implemented similar policies recently.

The new law “sends a strong signal that Rhode Island is serious about renewable energy,” Carcieri added. “We have the natural resources, a willing and able work force, and now with this legislation we have the regulatory environment to encourage development. Our state is now in the position to be a national leader in this industry.”

Hmmm, I wonder if we can stay the course.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster

VT Rep. Potter supports renewable energy on principle just not if it means windmills in his town

I am tired of the hypocrisy. This “I am for energy conservation and renewables” but not in my backyard mentality must stop. I read this article yesterday and think that Vermont House of Representatives Democrat  David Potter should be ashamed of himself as he was quoted saying: 

Potter said he supports renewable energy on principle (and has done so in the legislature), just not when it means windmills in his backyard. “And I’m proud of that fact,” he added, “because my backyard is important to me, although I suppose somewhere is everybody’s backyard.”

Are you kidding me? What an asshole. I’ll tell you what Potter, send them down here. Our town is doing our part and putting up three. Sorry to incovenience your deer shooting.

Here’s the full article: 

By Isaac Arnsdorf, Yale Daily News on September 30, 2009

The town of Ira, Vt., population 452, has no stores, no gas station and no post office. What it does have are sweeping vistas of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

And the slopes of those mountains have wind — wind that a developer wants to harness to produce an estimated 240,000 megawatt hours of clean, renewable energy every year. The developer, known as the Vermont Community Wind Farm, is leasing the land from Wagner Forest Management, a firm that manages 4,000 acres on behalf of investors, one of whom is purportedly Yale University, according to a local state legislator who said he has seen records of the transactions.

The plan to erect some 60 windmills around nearby Herrick Mountain and Susie’s Peak would ruin the precious scenery, say the town’s residents.

“Suddenly you’re thrusting an industrial complex into what’s really a rural residential neighborhood,” said David Potter, who represents Ira in the Vermont House of Representatives. “In my opinion, [the windmills] don’t fit.”

Because the land for the development is deeded in various business names, nothing on the books actually says Yale, said Ira’s town clerk, Candace Slack. But, she added, people in the town believe Yale owns a stake. Multiple University officials did not confirm or deny the holding, though Wagner has been known to partner with Yale in the last decade.

Yale, for its part, keeps its holdings confidential so that other investors don’t copy them, said Jonathan Macey, a Law School professor and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. But various holdings have been traced to Yale in the past, he added, and he has “no reason to disbelieve” that Yale owns this timberland.

Macey, whose committee hears grievances about the ethics of Yale’s investments, said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the Ira windmill project.

“Everybody’s unhappy with these wind turbines,” he said. “Everybody loves them if they’re somewhere else.”

Almost 30 percent of Yale’s endowment is invested in so-called real assets, such as oil, real estate and timber. Chief Investments Officer David Swensen declined to comment.

Potter himself owns land within half a mile of the proposed site of the 400-foot wind turbines — land that his family has owned since 1820. The spot where Potter shot his first deer, he said, would become the footprint of one of these windmills.

Besides the aesthetic impact, Potter warned of the environmental damage that would result from blasting to build foundations and clearing to build access roads. And the windmills make noise, a constant mechanical hum that Potter claims can cause insomnia, headaches and depression.

Jeff Wennberg, a former six-term mayor in nearby Rutland, Vt., and now the spokesman for the Vermont Community Wind Farm, denied that windmills cause such health effects.

“Wrong, wrong and wrong,” he said. “They certainly do make noise, but an awful lot of the fears people have are based on misinformation.”

Of all existing windmill developments, only 20 percent have registered noise complaints, he said.

But on the point of visual impact, he conceded. “It’s absolutely unavoidable,” he said. “The landscape is beautiful.”

Still, Wennberg emphasized the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy. All the energy the windmills would produce would be consumed within Vermont, and the state won’t approve the project unless it lowers or stabilizes energy costs, he said.

“This is an opportunity to tap into an extraordinarily valuable and rare resource,” he said. “This ridgeline is exceptionally good.”

Potter said he supports renewable energy on principle (and has done so in the legislature), just not when it means windmills in his backyard.

“And I’m proud of that fact,” he added, “because my backyard is important to me, although I suppose somewhere is everybody’s backyard.”

To try to ease the concerns of Potter and his constituents, the developer has hosted about six open-house meetings in the area to explain the project, which was first announced in April. The developer has also organized bus trips to existing wind farms so people could see and hear them in person. And the project has to go through an extensive permitting process, which includes public hearings.

The Vermont Public Service Board has already approved permits to build two temporary towers to measure the wind on the proposed site, said the board’s clerk, Susan Hudson. In doing so, board members rejected several motions of protest, such as one from the town of Clarendon about possible health and wildlife impacts.

The developer is now conducting engineering and environmental studies as it prepares the final designs, Wennberg said. He said they expect to apply for permits to build the turbines themselves by March 2010. After filing for permits, the process of public hearings takes about a year, he said. The Wind Farm is planned to be operational by late 2011.

“Quite frankly, quite a bit is still up in the air,” Wennberg said.

The town of Ira will hold a non-binding referendum on the issue, Potter said, though the date has not yet been scheduled.

Mike Novello, an analyst for Wagner Forest Management, confirmed that his firm manages some of the land but said he did not know — and, regardless could not say — on whose behalf.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

The Smart Grid in 2010: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

One of the biggest challenges to understanding new technologies can be the lack of centralized and credible information readily available.  Such is the problem with the Smart Grid – that buzz word concept being tossed around by cleantech companies in the Bay area to policy analysts in Washington.  But what does it mean? 

Last week, I stumbled upon a report from David Leeds of GTM Research entitled “The Smart Grid in 2010: Market Segments, Applications and Industry Players.”  The report, a cool 145 pages, provides an in depth analysis of the smart grid end-to-end, identifying the key players, the overall technology, the market drivers and barriers to adoption.  Being an information junkie like I am, I downloaded it and read almost half over the weekend.  Mr. Leeds does an excellent job of providing a type of clarity not often found in research papers and I found it not only extremely readable, but interesting. 

Some highlights:

  • About $1.3 billion in venture capital was invested in the Smart Grid sector in the last 4 years and $105 million just in the last 2 quarters of 2009
  • The electric grid remains one of the last networks not transformed by information technology (IT) and is arguably one of the furthest reaching and most extensive networks in existence.
  • The three biggest challenges facing the Smart Grid are: interoperability standards, utility business models that promote energy efficiency and proper development of systems architecture that can support enterprise-wide current and future applications.
  • Without a Smart Grid, renewable technologies will remain niche at best.  The hopes for widespread adoption of renewables is non-existent without a smart grid to faciliate and integrate these variable generation sources.
  • The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that it will cost $165 billion over two decades to complete the evolution to a smart grid worldwide.

The report also details the major players in the various markets within the smart grid industry and includes our client, Control4 as a company to watch in the consumer energy management systems space.  Control4 just announced $17.3 million in funding to develop its AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) business.

If you are involved or interested in this new intelligent utility system that promises to be a challenging and revolutionizing new infrastructure, this report is a must read. 

Download here – kudos to Mr. Leeds and GTM Research for an excellent piece.

Posted by: Ashley / ashleyatcaster

President Obama Announces Over $467 Million in Recovery Act Funding for Geothermal and Solar Energy Projects

WASHINGTON – President Obama announced last week over $467 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to expand and accelerate the development, deployment, and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States.  The funding announced today represents a substantial down payment that will help the solar and geothermal industries overcome technical barriers, demonstrate new technologies, and provide support for clean energy jobs for years to come. Today’s announcement supports the Obama Administration’s strategy to increase American economic competiveness, while supporting jobs and moving toward a clean energy economy.

“We have a choice.  We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy,” said President Obama. “We can hand over the jobs of the future to our competitors, or we can confront what they have already recognized as the great opportunity of our time:  the nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.  That’s the nation I want America to be.”

“We have an ambitious agenda to put millions of people to work by investing in clean energy technology like solar and geothermal energy,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.  “These technologies represent two pieces of a broad energy portfolio that will help us aggressively fight climate change and renew our position as a global leader in clean energy jobs.”

Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy is a clean source of renewable energy that harnesses heat from the Earth for heating applications and electricity generation; geothermal plants can operate around the clock to provide significant uninterrupted “base load” electricity, or the minimum amount a power utility must provide to its customers.

The Recovery Act makes a $350 million new investment in this technology, dwarfing previous government commitments. Recovery Act funding will support projects in four crucial areas: geothermal demonstration projects; Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) research and development; innovative exploration techniques; and a National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment and Classification System.

  • Geothermal Demonstration Projects ($140 Million)
    Funding will support demonstrations of cutting-edge technologies to advance geothermal energy in new geographic areas, as well as geothermal energy production from oil and natural gas fields, geopressured fields, and low to moderate temperature geothermal resources.
  • Enhanced Geothermal Systems Technology Research and Development ($80 Million)
    Funding will support research of EGS technology to allow geothermal power generation across the country. Conventional geothermal energy systems must be located near easily-accessible geothermal water resources, limiting its nationwide use.  EGS makes use of available heat resources through engineered reservoirs, which can then be tapped to produce electricity. While the long-term goal of EGS is to generate cost competitive clean electricity, enabling research and development is needed to demonstrate the technology’s readiness in the near-term.
  • Innovative Exploration Techniques ($100 Million)
    Funding will support projects that include exploration, siting, drilling, and characterization of a series of exploration wells utilizing innovative exploration techniques. Exploration of geothermal energy resources can carry a high upfront risk.  By investing in and validating innovative exploration technologies and methods, DOE can help reduce the level of upfront risk for the private sector, allowing for increased investment and discovery of new geothermal resources.
  • National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment, and Classification System ($30 Million)
    The long-term success of geothermal energy technologies depends upon a detailed characterization of geothermal energy resources nationwide.  In 2008, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted an assessment of high temperature resource potential in the Western United States.  To fully leverage new low-temperature, geopressured, co-production, and EGS technologies, DOE will support a nationwide assessment of geothermal resources, working through the USGS and other partners.  Second, DOE will support the development of a nationwide data system to make resource data available to academia, researchers, and the private sector.  Finally, DOE will support the development of a geothermal resource classification system for use in determining site potential.

Solar Energy
Solar energy is a rapidly expanding industry with a double-digit annual growth rate in the United States. DOE is focused on supporting the U.S. industry’s scaling up of manufacturing, production, and distribution so the technology can become cost competitive with conventional sources of energy.  DOE will provide $117.6 million in Recovery Act funding to accelerate widespread commercialization of clean solar energy technologies across America.  These activities will leverage partnerships that include DOE’s national laboratories, universities, local government, and the private sector, to strengthen the U.S. solar industry and make it a leader in international markets.

  • Photovoltaic Technology Development ($51.5 Million)
    DOE will expand investment in advanced photovoltaic concepts and high impact technologies, with the aim of making solar energy cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity and to strengthen the competitiveness and capabilities of domestic manufacturers.
  • Solar Energy Deployment ($40.5 Million)
    Projects in this area will focus on non-technical barriers to solar energy deployment, including grid connection, market barriers to solar energy adoption in cities, and the shortage of trained solar energy installers.  Combined with new technology development, these deployment activities will help clear the path for wider adoption of solar energy in residential, commercial, and municipal environments.
  • Concentrating Solar Power Research and Development ($25.6 Million)
    This work will focus on improving the reliability of concentrating solar power technologies and enhancing the capabilities of DOE National Laboratories to provide test and evaluation support to the solar industry.

Read information on these and other Funding Opportunities under the Recovery Act.

Day 4 of Geothermal: What Does a Geothermal System Cost?

 The most popular question I am asked in building a green home is “what does it cost?” Everyone makes the immediate assumption that it will always cost more to go green. Our geothermal system has proven this theory wrong.

A geothermal system for the home will cost more upfront than if you bought a separate forced-air gas-fired or oil-fired furnace and central air conditioning system, but not as much as you might think. Out initial outlay is going to NET around $6k more upfront than comparative systems but will cost us less after our tax rebates and the system offers long term savings for us as well.

One of the greatest advantages of our geothermal system is its ability to lower the monthly out-of-pocket expense for the life cycle of our house. The current trend of lowering a home’s operating costs is one that is only going to continue. As the U.S.  looks to build a smart grid over the next ten years and increase our renewable energy supplies, geothermal systems will be a key element in making a home comfortable and efficient.

In our cost analysis we compared three systems covering approximately 4500 sq/ft:

System A:Five-zone hydro air heating (85% efficient) and cooling system (11 EER) using oil boiler and tankless on demand water tanks and dual Environmental Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) COST: $118,750.00

System B:Five zone Viessman hydro air heating (95% efficiency) and cooling system (13 EER) using propane gas boiler and two 85-gallon domestic hot water tanks and dual ERVs COST: $129,200.00 (NOTE: We do not have natural gas in our neighborhood, we had to look at propane, this was an added cost to this system both upfront and in the long run. That said; oil was never an option for us. We did look at radiant heat as well but the cost increase was significant.)

System C:Five zone Geothermal hydro air heating (3.5 COP (this is equivalent to a 99% efficiency rating)) and cooling system (16.9 EER) using ground source heat pump, dual EVRs and a Superheater COST: $135,501.00

If you are looking into this for your home, to get an accurate comparison of the costs, I also suggest you consider the following:

  • Payback, or how long it takes to recover the difference in costs between the two systems using energy savings. Payback for most geothermal heat pump systems runs three to five years. We have no payback time once we get our tax credit.
  • Energy efficiency of the two systems. To get an accurate picture, make sure efficiency claims are substantiated. Your lifestyle and how well your home is insulated affect how economical a system will be. Our geothermal system has a 3.5 COP and 16.9 EER, this is higher than any competitive system on the market, so we are also getting higher efficiency for less money.
  • Total operating savings from heating, cooling and domestic hot water must be combined to get an accurate picture of total energy savings. (See our table.)
  • Energy costs and availability, both present and future. (We didn’t use this for payback because we didn’t need to, but you can safely assume a 4% rise in oil and gas and 2% for electricity.) 
  • Maintenance costs and system reliability. (We have a 2 year parts and labor warranty. And the system maintenance is equivalent to that of any boiler.) 
  • System lifespan – with a 25 year expected lifespan
  • Other uses, in our case we are tapping into the geothermal well to fill our rainwater harvesting tank when it is low. This completely eliminates the need for our irrigation system to use municipal water.

If you look at the three systems outlined in TABLE 1.0 you can see the heating source, the cost per unit for installation. You can also see the listing for the cost of the plumbing system for each since it impacts domestic hot water. TABLE 2.0 then takes what you spend per year on oil or gas and then compares it to the geothermal system for heating, cooling and DHW. The annual cost to run the geothermal system is averaged at nearly $5k per year less than a propane gas system.

geothermal chart in word for blog

As noted, we also have substantial tax rebates. According to the language, the Geothermal System is defined as a system that produces and stores energy to heat buildings, cool buildings or produces hot water. Our system does all of these things so our deductions include 30% federal (which totals all materials, equipment and labor) and 25% state (capped at an assumed max system cost of $7000, so this is a $1750 state rebate), plus our ENERGY STAR rebate on the total cost of our system. This totals $42,900 (approximately) and can be carried to following years on our federal returns if unused.

So in looking at what we paid, the initial upfront cost was $6301 higher, but with our tax rebates it is easily the least expensive system. We also save $5985 estimated per year on costs for fuel and to run the system. We will never have a bill for oil or natural gas. We will have a system that does not fry and dry my homes air, it will be comfortable. We have a system that eliminates the need to use municipal water for our landscaping but backs up our rainwater harvesting system. And finally, our family will eliminate 19.6 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually.

If you are looking to build new or replace a system, geothermal is an excellent option. You can easily add solar thermal and PV to the system as well, all option we are including in our long term path once we put money back in our savings account.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster