Archive for the ‘energy efficiency’ Tag

A plumber explains the “Bathtub Model”

Have you heard of the “Bathtub Model” for expaining CO2 accumulation? I hadn’t until last week, when I attended the sustainability symposium at Baldwin-Wallace College. Dr. Susan Solomon, who was the lead author of th 2007 IPCC report on global climate change, was the one who introduced the concept. Here’s a much more succinct description from, appropriately enough, a plumber.

Picture a bathtub with a running faucet and open drain. When we use energy, carbon dioxide (CO2) pours into the atmosphere just like water pours into a bathtub. If water pours into the tub faster than it can drain out, the tub fills with water. The bathtub stays full until more water is draining out than is pouring in. The same concept applies to CO2. At our current rate of energy consumption, CO2 emissions produced by burning fossil fuels are pouring into the atmospheric bathtub twice as fast as they are draining out.

via Raymond Plumbing blog – Air Conditioning Heating and Cooling Lorain.

Everyone can do something about CO2 emissions, and some of those changes are relatively easy to make – as the good folk at Raymond Plumbing go on to explain. For instance, using high-efficiency heating and cooling and Energy Star certified appliances. Even simple steps, like turning down the thermostat on the hot water heater will help – and save money, too.

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Is Smart Grid Good News for Consumers?

Big announcement yesterday from the Department of Energy:

President Obama Announces $3.4 Billion Investment to Spur Transition to Smart Energy Grid

Applicants say investments will create tens of thousands of jobs, save energy and empower consumers to cut their electric bills

ARCADIA, FLORIDA – Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The $3.4 billion in grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. Applicants state that the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid. Full listings of the grant awards by category and state are available HERE and HERE. A map of the awards is available HERE.

My first reaction: while the improvements in monitoring capability, transmission efficiency, carrying capacity, and reliability are all welcome, one other aspect of the plan leaves me divided.

Currently, the vast majority of consumers and businesses in the U.S. are monitored with technology that is approaching its centennial. Most people would recognize an electric meter if they saw one. They record total energy usage consumed by one residential or commercial customer – but not the time of day it was used. The meters cannot transmit data and must be read manually. They do not provide price information to the customer, nor do they need to – rates are fixed.

Smart meters, on the other hand, will allow limited two-way communication between the utility and the consumer. In theory, this capability will permit utilities to discourage consumption by charging higher rates during periods of increased demand. The smart meter will notify the consumer in real time of current demand conditions and the rate being charged by the utility. Conceivably, that feedback could be configured into a power profile, allowing consumers to program air conditioners and other appliances to automatically go into power saving mode when rates go up, and activate again when overall usage drops and rates are acceptably low. This would have the effect of shifting some usage to later in the day and distributing consumption more evenly.

Of course, making this cost differential work will require some dramatic changes to the way electricity is currently priced. Most rate commissions have traditionally viewed their mission as consumer advocates, keeping rates as low as possible. That role will have to change, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted at a Smart Grid conference in September.

Electricity costs should move to reflect demand: Chu | Reuters

Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:35pm EDT

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the United States’ power grid becomes more sophisticated, electricity rates will need to rise to reflect periods of intense energy use and to encourage consumers to change their electricity habits, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Monday.

Chu said currently most local electricity rate commissions view themselves as consumer advocates and try to keep electricity prices as low as possible.

“Hopefully that will evolve somewhat, so that they begin to fold in some of the real costs of electricity generation and electricity use,” Chu said at conference focused on creating a “smart grid.”

For instance, on hot summer days when air conditioning use is high, utilities would charge customers more for electricity. Chu said those who set rates should be more lenient with electricity generated from cleaner sources such as wind or nuclear power.

Chu also pointed out that during periods of low energy consumption, electricity prices would be cheaper for consumers.

I must admit to some ambivalence on this development.

  • I wrote earlier about the need for a more robust transmission system, and my opinion hasn’t changed.
  • Naturally, I’m excited about the favored position renewables should have in the new regime. (In theory; if nuclear-generated power and power from renewables are put on the same footing, the utilities will likely favor nuclear – despite not having a long-term storage facility for waste, and the fact that there has never been a nuclear generator built on time and on budget in this country. But I digress.)
  • I’m all for encouraging consumers to make informed choices about their energy consumption.
  • Reducing the use of “peaking plants” –  among the costliest to run, and are only brought online to meet the periods of highest demand – is a good thing for consumers and producers.

However, I worry about the implementation, and the level of sophistication needed ot take advantage of the new system.

  • I am particularly concerned about the elderly. Will some choose to disable their air conditioning, in the interest of avoiding the highest tariffs during peak consumption periods, and put their health at risk?
  • I also wonder what the mechanism will be for deciding how much to charge, and when rates will be allowed to fluctuate.

Perhaps some protection is needed, similar to the Homestead Exemption, which would offset rates for qualifying individuals. Another option would be to give seniors credits that would be applied against their electricity bill, much as the HEAP program does for heating during the winter months.

So is the Smart Grid a good thing? Is it needed? Will it benefit consumers?

Where The Green Jobs Are – How to Find Them, How to Get Them

Want to find a job in green energy? Here you go. You’re welcome.

This map of renewable energy and energy efficiency companies from the Environmental Defense Fund is just plain cool:

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently published an online map that identifies and profiles more than 1,200 companies in key manufacturing states that they see as poised create new jobs when Congress passes a cap on global warming pollution. The interactive map spotlights companies located in manufacturing regions, including those in communities in the rust belt and coal country.

via Where The Jobs Are – Interactive Tools Tells You Where to Look | The Green Economy Post: Green Careers, Green Jobs, Sustainable Jobs.

Now you know where to look. All you need are the skills. If you’ve wanted to make a career change, but weren’t sure if you had the right background and training, this free seminar from Green Career Central can help.

“NOW is the Time to Prepare for Your Green Career”
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
6 – 7 pm Pacific Time

Green Career Expert and author of the upcoming “Green Careers for Dummies,” Carol McClelland, will reveal five actions you can take right NOW to move toward your green career – even in an economy that is shifting and growing.

Click here to find out more and to sign up for the teleclass.

As I have mentioned before, the renewable energy sector has been adding jobs – even during the recession. If you’ve been thinking about making a change, this is a good opportunity to see what steps you need to take to start your career in the green economy.

A no-fuss solar-powered building | ZDNet Photo Gallery

from the ZDNet photo galleries:

The Boston Architecture School and Tufts University are building the Curio House, a home that’s designed to run entirely from solar energy. It’s the Boston area’s entry into the Solar Decathlon, a Department of Energy-run event where student teams from 20 universities compete for the best solar home design.
Curio House

Teams need to take apart and then reassemble their buildings on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., next month where they will be open to the public for 10 days and judged by a panel.The Boston team has focused its design on affordability, making an 800-square-foot building using almost entirely off-the-shelf products and technologies. It has lined up a buyer for the home in Cape Cod where it is supposed to be the first unit in a green housing development. The projected cost of the building, big enough for two people and a small child, is about $200,000. Students, donors, and school administrators held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the unfinished building on Thursday at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Ford Engine Plant #1 Reopens to Build Fuel Efficient V6

Ford Engine Plant #1 reopened yesterday. The retooled factory is now building an advanced engine for use in the 2010 Lincoln MKS.

This is good news for the 250 or so Ford employees who were recalled. But this is at best a baby step in the right direction. According to news reports, the new 6-cylinder engine delivers performance typically seen from a V8. You could spin this as Ford being responsive to that segment of buyers that want full-size cars, but it’s not going to do much to curb dependence on foreign oil.

Why do I keep getting flashes of buggy whips going through my brain?

Steinway & Sons Installs World’s Largest Industrial Solar Heating & Cooling System

This comes across my electronic desk courtesy of chloregy. I’m excited about this because I’m a fan of both Steinway pianos and renewable energy, and here’s a story that combines both.

ERS, Inc., a progressive energy engineering consulting firm based in Massachusetts, is currently working with Steinway & Sons to install the largest solar-sourced industrial heating/cooling system in the world at the renown piano maker’s 11-acre manufacturing complex in Long Island City, NY.

Solar power – in the form of photovoltaic (electrical) generation – will have to improve quite a bit in its efficiency before it is feasible for this climate (the Northeast US). But using concentrated solar power (CSP) for heating applications is another animal altogether. I remember reading an article some years ago about a demonstration project that successfully used solar-hot water for 100% of its water and living space heating. In Maine. (Memory is a funny thing, and not to be trusted altogether, but I want to say it was conducted by or with the University of Maine.)

Year-round, even on cloudy days, even in the depths of winter. In Maine. I believe they kept a natural gas option open as a backup plan, but it was never needed.

I took another look at solar hot water systems recently, as they are eligible for the new renewable energy home improvement tax credit. The solar water heating systems are fairly simple, really: A solar “collector” transfers heat energy to a heating coil containing water or a water-ethylene glycol mix (antifreeze). Tubing with that heated fluid is coiled inside a water storage tank, allowing the heat to transfer to the water. It’s very similar to a conventional hot water heater and tank setup, except the energy to heat the water is coming from the coil, instead of a natural gas burner or electric heating element. (Here’s a nice writeup from Popular Mechanics a few years ago, subtitled Help your country and your wallet – install a solar hot water heater.)

The environmental system installed at Steinway & Sons takes these principles a step farther, using CSP to heat the transfer fluid to over 300ºF. The system heats not only the hot water at the plant, but also the work space. In the summer months, the solar collector uses a separate mechanism to provide air conditioning. The system is expected to pay for itself in five years. (According the the article on PM, typical savings for home hot-water heating systems is 20-40%.)

Climate control in the Steinway plant is critical. The assembly of these instruments require high degree of precision with regard to temperature and humidity control. The company’s deployment of this system speaks volumes about the capacity and reliability of CSP heating and cooling.

As a Steinway fan, I am thrilled that the company has taken this step. As a renewable energy booster, I am through the roof.

Interior Dept. to use economic stimulus funds to promote renewable energy

Well, this is pretty cool:

Red Rock National Conservation Area, Nevada –Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced $305 million will fund more than 650 Bureau of Land Management projects across the country under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The investments will restore landscapes and habitat, spur renewable energy development on public lands, and create jobs.

A skosh over thirteen percent will be used for commercial-scale renewable energy projects on land under the BLM portfolio. Over 100 projects – wind, solar, biomass, geothermal – are in various stages of the permitting process. Some of the funds will also be used to create or improve power transmission over publicly-managed land. While it’s not as sexy as the generation side of the equation, improving the capability and reliability of the transmission grid is hugely important. Having commercial scale renewable generation taking place on remote areas is useless if that power can’t make it to where it is needed.

It is true that most of the money will be used on more traditional public works-type projects, but there is a very strong component dedicated to increasing energy efficiency (yay!) and employing renewable energy, where practical. For instance, of the stimulus plan-funded projects in Nevada,

BLM stimulus funding in Nevada will provide $26.4 million for more than 40 projects, including investments in renewable energy, habitat restoration, roads, bridges and trails, abandoned mines and capital improvements. About $1.2 million of that total will be used to install solar power systems at 16 BLM fire stations in the State, including one next to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The photovoltaic systems will be wired into the electric services at the stations, providing power with a savings in utility payments and reducing their carbon footprint.

Again, while not as sexy as renewable generation, spending money to improve energy efficiency in public buildings offers immediate impact and ongoing savings for taxpayers.

Let me reiterate: yay!

And the cherry on top: Anyone can check on the progress of these projects to see how the stimulus funds are actually being used:

The public will be able to follow the progress of each project on http://www.recovery.gov and on http://www.interior.gov/recovery. Secretary Salazar has appointed a Senior Advisor for Economic Recovery, Chris Henderson, and an Interior Economic Recovery Task Force. Henderson and the Task Force will work closely with the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General to ensure that the recovery program is meeting the high standards for accountability, responsibility, and transparency that President Obama has set.

California city provides financing for homeowners to encourage more energy-efficient homes

A story in Environment magazine details a financing program being offered in Berkley, Calif., that helps homeowners pay for improvements that increase energy efficiency:

Many barriers exist to reducing energy consumption and increasing the use of renewable energy. One is high first cost (“up-front cost”), which is both a psychological and financial barrier for many people. Our research group from the University of California, Berkeley, has worked with a number of cities, initially Berkeley to address this barrier by making financing for solar power installations and energy-efficiency retrofits more appealing and accessible to property owners. Urgency around the need to cut emissions has inspired cities to apply old tools, such as municipal financing, to the new problem of reducing the amount of carbon in the energy supply.

Here is the gist of it: the city issues special purpose bonds to create a finance pool for energy efficiency retrofits. When a homeowners’ application is approved, the work is done. The city issues a check to pay for it and puts a lien on the home. A special tax is then added to repay the city with interest over a 20-year period, and these payments are tax-deductible, similar to a home equity loan. The program is self-supporting, so there is no exposure for the city in terms of expenditures from the general fund, and only homeowners that are approved by the program are subjected to the special tax.

To say that there has been a great deal of interest in the Berkley program would be a massive understatement. The vote to authorize the program passed with 81 percent of the vote, and enough applications for the entire initial program allotment of $1.5 million were submitted within the first ten minutes. As of summer 2008, the city had recieved over 1,300 inquiries from around the world about the program.

The authors are concerned about not just reducing energy usage, but especially in the need to retrofit existing housing stock in order to meet the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets – hence the mention of solar installations. However, as they themselves point out, retrofitting solar photovoltaic (PV) or solar thermal heating upgrades only makes financial sense in areas that have moderate-to-high energy costs and where rebates or subsidies are available to homeowners, and only if compared with future energy costs that include an as-yet-unimplemented carbon tax. On the other hand, increasing the energy efficiency of homes pays of in all cases. One advantage of subsidizing such “efficiency-only” efforts would be the increased number of homeowners that could participate in such programs, since the average cost of upgrading to highly efficient furnaces, sealing against air infiltration/loss, and adding ductwork etc. to improve efficiency are much less expensive than a solar PV retrofit. These measures also have the benefit of making the houses more comfortable to live in.

Saving money and having a more comfortable home? As I sit here feeling the cold air drafting through my own 30-year-old house, I can’t help thinking that if such a program were available that I would sign up in a heartbeat.