Friday, February 29, 2008

Net Plus

Watch closely: a defining point emerged this week in the Building-Powered Car Master Plan. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture was selected to design the first large-scale positive energy building (producing more power than it consumes). The surplus power this building makes could charge plug-in hybrid electric cars.

But it won't. The city will be car-free.
Still, Masdar's headquarters may serve in perhaps the more important role of modeling what can be done elsewhere. Keep an eye out for points that emerge, one by one, to define a new way to power our vehicles.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Holy Cow!

Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) issued a report (Crossing the Divide: the Future of Clean Energy) that is hugely significant. If you are not familiar with CERA, it was founded by Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, which is the Pulitzer winning, authoritative history of oil. And as the Wall Street Journal notes, CERA is "as close as it gets to a proxy for conventional wisdom within Big Oil."

So when Dr. Yergin tells us "high energy prices, climate change, and energy security are becoming the new engine driving the development of clean energy,"and when CERA issues a pro-renewables report that says “putting a price on CO2 emissions, setting mandates, and providing subsidies all work to kick-start and sustain many clean energy technologies,” we have entered a new era.
We have crossed a divide.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Brewing up a Sustainable Storm

As the Brooklyn Brewery, purveyor of the well received "Brooklyn Brown Ale" likes to say, "there's wind in our ales". On the back of their coasters and on their web site they tout:

On September 1, 2003 Brooklyn Brewery because the first NY City company to switch to 100% wind generated electricity. The company's brewery and corporate HQ are 100% powered by Newwind Energy, a product of Community Energy Inc.

Here's the link to Community Energy, purveyor off all things wind including RECs (renewable energy credits) companies like Brooklyn Brewery can purchase when they can't actually stick a turbine on their front lawns. Can you imagine the new turbines required if Bud and Miller went this way? I'd respect their companies a whole lot more if they did, though I still wouldn't drink their swill. Well, maybe when parched on a very hot summer day, and if the beer was really cold. OK, then I'd make an exception.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Silicon Goes Both Ways

Here comes the sun. Some of the same minds and many of the same processes that gave us the every faster microprocessor and the ever denser random access memory (RAM) have turned their sites skyward. Now the NY Times reports that some of them are having success improving the efficiency of the silicon wafer's solar power characteristics. It's not likely Moore's Law - that's the doubling of the number of transistors that can fit on a chip every 2.5 - 3 years - is going to be in effect here. But it is clear that these guys know what they're doing and that the marriage of minds, experience and money is going to be an accelerator for this industry. We can now expect to see solar move closer to mainstream price points in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oil Closed over $100 a Barrel Yesterday

This is a new milestone. As reported here, it's been over a couple of times in recent months, but this is the first time a day has ended with oil in triple digits. Some publications are forecasting $4 a gallon gas in the US this summer. Please hurry up Auto X Prizers !!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wind Power Flying High in 2008

"Mission Control, we have lift off". The WSJ reports that the wind power industry is a $6 billion business for GE this year, and they are far from the world's largest provider of turbines. Despite this great news, some folks apparently wish things were otherwise: see the comments that follow the blog. Seems there's some folks out there who believe wind and other types of non-fossil power exist only because the government is paying for them in the form of subsidies, and that once those funds run dry, the entire new energy economy will grind to a halt. Maybe when wind is a $100 billion business, more skeptics will be convinced. Then again, Kansas still doubts Darwin.

The Hawaii Thesis

Haven't explored, much less attempted to prove, the Hawaii thesis , but it might say something like this: "Hawaii has a robust, innovative and now self-funding renewable energy effort because it is isloated by oceans from traditional energy sources more so than the rest of us, creating cost barriers tall enough to encourage it to broadly develop renewables sooner than the rest of us." If true, and if those taller cost barriers are coming soon to a country near you, Hawaii might offer models to emulate at state and federal levels to promote intelligent energy self sufficiency.

Hawaii's governor in 1995 set the goal of making the state more energy self-sufficient. For Fiscal Year 2007, this is being done by the National Enerrgy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority with "no general fund support."

More later if this thought has merit. If not, maybe a ton of posts to sort of wash this one away in the sands of time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Everyman's Rights

You can pick wild berries, mushrooms and herbs in Finland under the aged laws proscribed by Everyman's Rights. By this account "even in forests and swamps that they do not own, without needing permission from landowners as long as they do not cause damage to the environment. About 67% of Finnish adults pick wild berries, 46% pick forest mushrooms and 20% pick herbs. When the crop is good, people pick about 50 million kilograms of berries. 35 million kilograms are picked for use at home and 15 million kilograms are picked commercially."

The progression might be an EveryPerson's Privilege to pick apples and pecans grown for that purpose in public spaces: resorts, parks, walking trails.

Orange Tree Energy

I'm eating an orange I picked from the tree in front of my parking space at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix. And I wonder, as I've often wondered, why not a bounty of trees in public and semi-public places offering their produce for the taking. The energy used to get that produce to the end user would be nothing. The cost to the end user would be nothing. The cost to the provider minimal. And the generous spirit engendered by the act would be, maybe, something.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In the US, the Greenest Cities are the Best Cities

Popular Science has just come out with rankings on the most energy and environmentally proactive cities in the country. Taking into consideration four factors: (1) clean/sustainable electricity generation; (2) transportation; (3) green space; and (4) recycling, here's the top ten from the list of fifty:
  1. Portland, OR
  2. San Francisco
  3. Boston
  4. Oakland
  5. Eugene, OR
  6. Cambridge, MA
  7. Berkeley, CA
  8. Seattle
  9. Chicago
  10. Austin
Category winners were also named:

Electricity: Eugene
Transportation: New York City
Green Space: Chicago
Recycling: Lexington, KY

Is it is just a coincidence, or not, that these are all my favorite urban places in the USA?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Air Check

While the companies in the post below look forward with new technologies to improve the fuel efficiency and air-worthiness of their fleets, Texas is working on the tail end of the problem: dirty, old cars. To deal with possible non-attainment of EPA air quality standards, Texas launched AirCheckTexas, offering as much as $3,500 towards the purchase of a new car for those that qualify.
In place since December, the program gets 600 calls a day, and has disbursed vouchers to 2,150 in the Dallas area alone. With $20,000,000 in annual funding, almost 7,000 of Texas's dirtiest cars could be retired each year. If cars that are over ten years old emit 10 to 30 times as much pollution as this article claims, AirCheckTexas could do much to attack the big back end of the problem, by simply leveraging the current state of technology. And maybe get some ugly cars off the road in the process.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Space Truck'n

This GreenBiz feature article provides a nice walk through of how several companies, including Walmart (guided by REI) have shaved big percentage points off their truck fleets' diesel expenses and emissions over the past few years. Small changes are the rule: better tires, better aerodynamics, GPS and better routing and scheduling. To me, the most innovative yet simple mod is the addition of the aptly named Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The APU is a small generator that gives the itinerant trucker the power he/she needs to simulate home on the road. In other words, electricity to power air conditioning, heaters, small appliances and killer stereos without having to idle the big diesel engine all night. Word is the APUs consume on average 1/10th the power of the main engine, saving not only fuel costs and emissions, but wear and tear on those expensive engines as well. It's a win-win-win-win-win. Or something like that. You've got to check it out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bills Coming Due for Old King Coal

The free ride for coal is over. With guidance from Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council, big banks have banded together with large energy companies to form what's being called the Carbon Principles. You may think I'm exaggerating here, but this is BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG news. The increasing alignment of environmental and economic drivers means the sustainability team has just grown by a factor of 100, and some of the new teammates have very deep pockets indeed.

Short and mid term, coal plants are not going to disappear; they are going to change, however. And new ones likely will not be built in the numbers some in the industry had imagined. Put yourself in the place of investors considering placing their funds in a new plant. In Rumsfeld-speak, there are known knowns: carbon emissions are going to cost money; unknown knowns: don't know how much money yet; and unknown unknowns: how fast current electricity generating alternatives will be replaced by breakthrough clean energy alternatives we don't even know of yet.

You want to invest in a new coal plant? We definitely need the energy. But you've got a lot to think about these days before you lay your money down.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Make Megawatts

Amid tales of unemployment woe and shuttered factories, an industry growing so fast it can't fill its ranks: technicians that get wind turbines up and running command as much as $25 an hour according to this account. Make decent money to get in on the ground floor of a young industry that portends plenty of upside.

Bruce Graham, director of a wind education program in Concorida, Oregon notes, "I could go out on the Internet and find 500 jobs...that are open and they want someone right now."

Requirements: technicians with a "working knowledge of mechanics, hydraulics, computers and meteorology with the willingness to climb 200 feet in the air in all kinds of weather."

Wonder how much you're bagging if you're working overtime installing this 7 megawatt wonder in the Gulf of Mexico some dark and stormy night:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Give Me a Tax Break

On the pages of this morning's edition of the Dallas Morning News, the interesting juxtaposition of these two articles:
The Exxon article notes they "didn't produce as much oil this year as last, but the company's prouduct fetched a much higher price." To the extent this trend continues on constrained supply and burgeoning demand, subsidies and other forms of help for the industry can be drawn down.

The other article highlights a wind turbine blade manufacturing company setting up shop in Iowa to take advantage of the skilled workforce from a recently closed Maytag factory, and the thousands of "green collar jobs" that might be created here in America.

The irony and the urgency is the fledgling renewables industry living on nervous borrowed time as its Production Tax Credits get ready to expire, while oil's tax breaks continue in place, even as it experiences record profits.

Oil should be allowed to profit unfettered as is the American Way, but it doesn't need help from taxpayers.

Friday, February 1, 2008

SolarNanoHydro Breakthrough: It's No Fairy Tale

MIT's Technology Review highlights a Massachusetts' company's recent A-round funding after earlier grants from NASA and DOE. Read it for yourself and see if it sounds plausible. It appears to me (and skeptical others ... like VCs) that Nanoptek has found a way to piggyback on existing technology and manufacturing processes, move them a step further with the material Titania (borrowed from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream?) and now has a potential breakthrough on its hands. Perchance, will keep an eye on these guys for sure.