San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization

Clean energy marches toward maturity using traditional path

It's tempting to believe the political rhetoric over renewable energy and assume the industry is dying without ever grabbing a foothold. In reality, it is following a well-worn path traveled by emerging technologies for dozens of years.

 A new report from the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at University of Tennessee compares the stutter-step progress of clean energy with that of the automobile and other industries. The report cites the Chief Strategist of Shell Oil as saying, "It takes about 30 years for any new energy source to attain 1% market share."

From the report: "Only in retrospect is technology change smooth. Within its own historical context, it is rough and uncertain with many false starts and byways. The social history of technology change is replete with stories of early technology adoption in unexpected niches. Often the early innovators are not the ones who profit from the process."

Consider the early days of automobiles and personal computers. the report notes that horseless carriages powered by electricity electricity, steam, or internal combustion engines came on the scene in the late 1800s, but 40 years later only 7.7% of American families had an automobile. Then, there was a spurt: "Only a decade later, in 1929, 60% of American families had autos," the report states.

Personal computers struggled through the same torturous path. The Altair kit for hobbyists appeared in 1967. Early commercial computers debuted a decade later with Apple II, the Pet 201 and Radio Shack's TRS-80.

I used a TRS-80, or Trash 80, in the early 1980s. I lived near Clear Lake in Northern California, and was a correspondent for the daily newspaper in Santa Rosa. I would write a story on the TRS-80 and then look for a phone booth. I attached the acoustic couplers to the phone, typed in some numbers, and heard the distinctive whine of the transmitted story.

Today, I don't think I can find TRS-80, acoustic couplers or even a phone booth.

Solar power has expanded at a 77% annual growth rate over the last five years, thanks in large part to generous incentives, cheaper PV and state renewable standards. Despite that, solar energy provided less than 0.1% of U.S. electrical demand in 2010, according to this report entitled "Sunshot Vision Study" by the U.S. Department of Energy.

However, the expansion could be substantial, the Sunshot report states, if prices drop, transmission capacity increases and other advances are made. Assuming prices of  $1/watt  (W) for utility-scale PV systems, $1.25/W for commercial rooftop  and $1.50/W for residential rooftop, the penetration of solar power could reach 14% in the U.S. by 2030 and 27% by 2050.

An incentive to grow

The Baker study said incentives are most effective in young emerging industries such as clean energy, while subsidies in mature industries have the effect of suppressing the new technologies. "If the goal of incentives is to bring a resource to the point of full market penetration, one would expect larger incentives for fuels that have not reached maturity," the study said.

Incentives in mature industries (hello, oil) raise the overall cost of government incentives needed to expand new resources. From the Baker report:  "From an economic development perspective, a portfolio of incentives weighted toward mature industries will tend to insulate and maintain those profitable industries and suppress new industries."

Incentives have certainly worked in clean energy. This New York Times editorial notes the robust return of clean energy, and suggests this is the wrong time to end subsidies. The goal, it says, should be to use incentives to "get (clean energy industries) to a point where they can stand on their own."

Just getting started

Clean energy is gaining a foothold in many places. College campuses, the U.S. military, professional sports and farmers are following in the footsteps of Big Business, which is increasingly realizing that sustainability also generates a green bottom line. See examples here.

Incentives helped forge a foothold, and, hopefully, it won't be long until clean energy, which includes energy efficiency, can stand on its own.

Tulare Wins Award For Sustainability Program

Tulare's commitment to preserving the environment earned the central San Joaquin Valley city an honorable mention at a recent sustainability showcase.

Tulare, with a population of 51,400, was one of six entities to be honored. Judges cited the city's extensive building retrofit and residential solar programs, the development of a 900-kilowatt fuel cell system, its 1 megawatt of solar power at the wastewater treatment plant and plans for a citywide climate action plan.

The California Sustainability Alliance, a program managed by Navigant Consulting, established the Sustainability Showcase awards in 2008 to recognize organizations and local governments that are leaders in clean energy and desire a low carbon future.

EAH Housing, which develops apartments for senior citizens and other low-income groups, also received an honorable mention for installing the largest multifamily solar project in the nation.

The winners were Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, which developed social and environmental metrics and programs at 26 cultural institutions around San Diego; Eden Housing of Hayward, which is committed to exceeding Title 24 energy-efficiency standards and to securing grants for retrofits at its properties; the city of Chula Vista, which imposed a comprehensive climate change protection program and reduced greenhouse gas emissions; and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which has an award-winning water-use efficiency and and conservation program.

Tulare image from

UC Merced Study: Higher Greenhouse Gases Could Alter Oceans

UC Merced, the newest University of California campus, is rapidly gaining cred for its research in, among other things, energy and the environment. As evidence, note a just-released study that concludes increased greenhouse gases could make oceans more acidic, and could profoundly affect marine life.

The study concludes that rising greenhouse gases, caused in part by the burning of fossil fuels and human activities, could alter nitrogen cycles in the ocean. Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for organisms, so the impact could be substantial. The result could be an altered food chain - and unknown consequences.

"There is growing concern about this issue because human activities are modifying ocean pH so rapidly," said UC Merced biologist and researcher Michael Beman. "While we do not know what the full effects of changing the nitrogen cycle will be, we performed experiments all over the world and believe that these changes will be global in extent."

The report stems from the latest research at UC Merced, which has recorded more than 50 breakthroughs and discoveries, including 16 inventions related to solar energy and 12 related to health research.

California Adopts Ambitious Cap And Trade Program

California regulators have approved an ambitious carbon-trading program in a move that some businesses fear will increase their costs, but also could be a potential revenue boon to the financially struggling state.

The 9-1 vote by the California Air Resources Board - at a packed meeting that featured climate skeptics with signs reading, "Global Warming: Science by Homer Simpson," according to Huffington Post - creates a complicated market for carbon credits effective in 2012. It allows big emitters, such as power plants, refiners and other industries, to buy carbon credits as a way to comply with mandatory emission cuts.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the regulations come on the heels of the Cancun climate talks and six weeks after voters in California kept AB 32, the state's landmark climate law - of which cap and trade was a portion. Attempts to create a national cap and trade program have not been successful.

Supporters hope the California program will be a model for other states to follow.
There also is talk of linking it to cap and trade programs in New Mexico and Canada.

Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said the state will create mechanisms to prevent manipulation of the carbon market, and wants a fund that uses carbon auction funds for energy-savings programs for low-income families.

The state plans to give away most of the carbon allowances in the first few years, but, by some estimates, $7 billion of revenue could eventually be created through a market. Here is a Los Angeles Times story that gives a good analysis of the program.

Meanwhile, manufacturers weren't necessarily keen on the whole thing, this San Diego Union-Tribune story notes. Here's a quote: "It will hurt manufacturers hard — raising costs on all types of energy,” warned Dorothy Rothrock, their lead negotiator on the issue for a business organization. “Manufacturers can’t pass along the costs of cap and trade when prices are set in global markets.”

There also is some speculation that the program could lead to rate increases.
Good or bad, the new regulation is an indication that California is serious about climate change.

"Billions of dollars are being poured into California in clean technology venture capital investment," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in the Wall Street Journal story. "Of course, we have to be sensitive because it's an economic downturn, and this Air Resources Board knows they have to be sensitive. But we have to reach our goals by 2020."

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Cancun Talks End With Modest Resolutions

The final hours of the 12-day Cancun climate talks ended with what many media outlets, including The New York Times, describe as "modest" results.

"The agreement sets up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, creates new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provides compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the last United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen last year," The Times said.

The fate of Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012, was delayed until next year. But, as this Time article makes clear, there is now a formal commitment by big and emerging nations to make climate action transparent.

Not everyone approved. Bolivia's chief climate guy objected, saying the emissions reductions weren't enough, and actually pave the way for global temperatures to increase to the point where the most vulnerable nations are threatened.

Gretchen Weber of ClimateWatch was a little more upbeat, saying the pact sets the table for more discussions, and quotes Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, as saying the talks were "the most tangible progress in the UN climate talks in years."

It "wasn't enough to save the climate," noted Alden Meyer of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists in this CBC News piece. "But it did restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made."

Photo: in

Cancun Climate Talks Ebb, Flow In Final Hours

There are hints in the final hours of the Cancun climate conference that modest resolutions could result, but as of 5 p.m. no sweeping changes were in store. Even the issue that seemed to have the best shot at succeeding - protecting forests - appeared to be lagging.

A draft text over REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) has been prepared, but CNN is reporting a lackluster response to it, in part because some nations fear the specter of land grabs to capitalize on a proposed carbon market.

There is hope that feverish negotiations through the night will lead to accords on a proposed Green fund to help developing nations fight global warming, extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 and emissions monitoring. Deadlocks had stalled progress, but late Friday afternoon there were hints of possible compromises on Kyoto and other aspects.

It could be that the 2010 conference will be best remembered for the rising profile of big business. Corporate America is flexing its muscles and taking a leadership role in climate change.

That could be good or bad, as this New Republic story points out. As the story suggests, if world leaders can't agree on how to cut carbon emissions, maybe business will.

The next few hours will tell the story of climate talks 2010.

(photo by climatechangesocialchange)

Corporate America Learns That Being Green Brings Pays

Does international supplier Ingersoll Rand know something that others don't?

It plans to hire 1,400 heating, ventilating and air conditioning specialists worldwide to cash in on what it sees as an emerging market for more energy-efficient buildings. "Climate solutions" is apparently the company's fastest-growing business segment.

Ingersoll Rand understands that energy efficiency makes sense, both economically and environmentally. Minimal investment can yield maximum returns as these examples show. Cutting power bills and redirecting that money into the pocketbooks of consumers and local governments is a big part of what we do here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.

Ingersoll Rand, which sells everything from dead bolts to boilers, has made a major commitment toward conservation, cutting power costs $4 million through a federal program that uses employee volunteers to look for ways to decrease utility bills, according to this report.

It sent representatives to the United Nations 2010 climate talks in Cancun to spread the word of energy efficiency, telling participants that conservation is the biggest bang for the buck.

The talks were characterized, in part, by the emerging infuence of corporate America in clean energy and efficiency. Jeff Moe, director of global policy and advocacy for Ingersoll Rand's Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, attended the conference and put it this way:

"Climate change in the form of rising sea levels, shifts in growing seasons and increase of extreme weather can impact the health and economic well-being...Understanding how today's technology can help offset energy usage, and associated greenhouse gas emissions, is paramount in managing the issue."

Ingersoll Rand gets it. Increasingly, other businesses are getting, and spreading, the message too. Walmart, Target, Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, General Motors and General Electric are among businesses that have in recent months announced climate initiatives.

Google and other technology companies are making large investments in green energy. In fact, technology firms are well represented on Newsweek's 2010 list of greenest companies. If corporate America is on board, maybe the government will be next.

Cancun Talks Continue Behind-The-Scenes In Final Hours

The closed-door and behind-the-scenes negotiations that mark any summit such as the Cancun climate talks are reaching the urgency stage as the final hours near. The event ends Friday, and participants are eager to reach some sort of consensus - on anything.

It is ironic that talks on global warming are occurring when Cancun is suffering through temperatures that are at 100-year lows. In other irony, officials from the United States are anxious for some movement in climate control while back home in Washington D.C. legislators are waffling over whether to pull the plug on a Treasury grant program vital to producers of solar and wind energy.

The grant, which expires this month unless it is renewed, is responsible for about 1,100 solar and 200 wind-power projects, according to the Los Angeles Times. It was not included in the newly announced tentative tax deal, but new efforts to keep it are apparently making progress in the Senate, according to The Hill.

Still, efforts to formulate an international plan on climate change forge ahead in this Mexican resort. This Vancouver Sun story notes the current "delicate" phase of the talks involving representatives of some 200 nations, including China and the U.S., the world's two biggest emitters of emissions.

While negotiators - or Negotiators, with a capital "N," as this Washington Post story calls them - stay behind closed doors through the night, demonstrators are adding some spice to the event. Some of them represent local groups from Mexico that resent the international intrusion and don't want any resolutions from the talks. Others, as this KQED Climate Watch report says, are protesting inaction.

Business To Government: "Go Big Green"

One thing the Cancun climate talks is making clear is that big business and the military may have to take the lead in the fight against global warming.

Even the lure of a Mexican resort wasn't enough to entice as many government representatives as last year's event in Copenhagen. Jonathan Wootliff, in this account in Huffington Post, notes the "diminished" number of politicos and the beefed-up business contingent. The conference ends Friday.

Insurance companies and corporate leaders are sounding a common mantra: "Climate change is bad for business," Wootliff says in his article.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón emphasized the importance of the business community in developing climate change solutions, according to this report in Reuters. Business titans Richard Branson, Ted Turner, Walmart honcho Robson Walton and financier George Soros are at the climate confab, and Google Earth, which recently announced a $5 billion investment in a 350-mile undersea cable in the Atlantic Ocean, is also represented.

The business leaders are supporting a pact to decrease deforestation, while one of the reports released at the summit is entitled "Innovating for Green Growth: Drivers of Private Sector RE&D." It was released by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development."

The green growth report says businesses understand that an "unsustainable world is not a good place for doing business," and that "business is the main source of innovation, financing and solutions for the growth required. It must continue to play a strong role in the future climate regime."

The study talks about a "green race" between countries and companies, and suggests governments leverage research, development and demonstration to drive private-sector investments.

The report does not reference the military, but its influence can't be ignored. The U.S. Department of Defense recognizes the the need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and to conserve energy. It is bad foreign policy and leaves us vulnerable, according to this report.

Thus, the military is using its formidable resources to really go Big Green. If big business and the military recognize the importance of controlling climate change, then government ultimately has to fall in beside them.

Bigger Names Show Up at Cancun Climate Talks

Much of the most promising talk at the Cancun climate talks has focused on REDD instead of Green.

It's hard to tell from reports - this one says an accord is near but this one highlights some remaining issues - what the outcome will be, but it's clear that REDD, or "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation," is an important piece of the International climate conference in Mexico.

In fact, Chris Huhne, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is quoted in The Telegraph of London as saying REDD is a Green necessity.

“Success in cutting carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation will not just be a vital part of the fight against climate change; it will also be an important marker of success for the UN process itself,” he says in the article.

About 50,000 square miles of forest are cut down each year – the equivalent of the size of England – for timber or grazing land. It is estimated that deforestation accounts for about 20% of global greenhouse emissions.
Brazil is a leading advocate for preserving rain forests, but there are representatives of more than 190 nations in Cancun to frame an international plan for tackling global warming. The talks have been going slow, but were expected to gain urgency with the arrival this week of more high-powered officials. Those include Japan Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto, Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Time magazine notes that this session, which is the 16th annual, attracted fewer participants and lower expectations. Some draft resolutions are on the table, but there hasn't been any resolution of the big issue - the extension of the Kyoto emissions Protocol, which expires in 2012. On the other hand, agreements at these kinds of conventions come toward the end, which is Friday.

Meanwhile, the two big dogs, China and the United States, are dancing around a plan to monitor emissions. China says it has ambitious volunteer goals to slash emissions, but, considering the amount of poverty in the nation, can't be held to legally binding standards. The United States has said it wants a commitment from China before it agrees to conditions.

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Renewable Standard Put On The Table At Climate Talks

A measure to set a global renewable energy standard of 25% was introduced at the Cancun climate talks at the same time progress appears to be inching forward on other objectives: establishing a $100 billion a year fund to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and emissions monitoring.

Forbes has the energy standard story , Associated Press issued the update on the climate fund and Huffington Post has some stuff. The 12-day 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference wraps up Friday, and it is too early to determine probable outcomes. However, negotiations may pick up this week as countries send in more high-powered officials.

But the New York Times said this year's event is notably calm, possibly because expectations are low, although some Greenpeace members stuck their heads in the sand to mock climate skeptics.

"No mob of activists dressed as polar bears has blocked the entrance to the negotiating hall. No country has brought a plenary session to a standstill over a pitched procedural battle. And at least one hyperventilated rumor of a 'secret text' (an apparent reference to an accord reached in secret last year) was batted down almost as quickly as it began," The Times story states.

The United States has pledged $300 million to invest in renewable-energy projects in developing countries (but will it live up to that pledge?), and Canada has said it will dedicate $400 million to help emerging nations. India has emerged as a broker to bridge a narrowing gap between China and the U.S. when it comes to measuring emissions, while cities and some regions are taking it upon themselves to set serious emission standards.

Many people deny or question the evidence around climate change, but that hasn't slowed down the release of some rather dire reports.

Those include this one that predicts more violent wildfires; fears that small island countries will disappear under rising seas ("Even when we're underwater, when the bubbles pop, you'll hear us yelling," said one representative of an island nation who was peeved at slow progress toward consensus); and this from scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The Scripps scientists say more CO2 in the atmosphere is making oceans more acidic - and threatens sea urchins and sea animals with shells.
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Climate Talks Make Progress As Skeptics, Activists Abound

As you would expect, a confab such as the Cancun Climate Conference attracts a wide range of people. There are representatives from some 190 nations, a strong contingent of students, activist groups and climate skeptics, including a Republican senator who likes to stir things up.

Oklahoma senator James Inhofe makes it a habit to visit these types of events. Last year, he showed up at a press center in Copenhagen (calling himself a "one-man truth squad") and called global warming a hoax.

He isn't physically at Cancun, but that didn't stop him from appearing via video, where, according to this report in The New York Times, he attacked "global warming alarmists" and the efforts to curtail climate change.

"Nothing is going to happen in Cancun this year and everyone knows it," The New York Times quoted him as saying. "I couldn’t be happier and poor Al Gore couldn’t be more upset."

At the other end of the spectrum and in attendance is Bill McKibben, author of the best-seller, "EAARTH." He claims global warming has already changed the planet and that bad things are on the horizon if temperatures increase.

He is quoted in this Voice of America story as saying, "The arctic is melting quickly, Russia caught on fire this summer, Pakistan drowned (in floods), the ocean is 30 percent more acid than it used to be. We are in tough shape with less than a degree of temperature increase."

Along those lines have been a litany of studies release in Cancun that are gloomy scary: the latest came out today and proclaims 2010 one of the three top hottest years on record and this decade as the hottest 10-year period ever.

That followed one on Wednesday that predicted a doubling of grain prices by 2050 if emissions follow on the current path.

So, there is incentive to press for significant results at Cancun. The Guardian issued a first-week recap - a scorecard if you will on progress so far.

Here it is in brief form.


Objective: holding emissions to a maximum temperature rise of 2C.
Progress: Little. Outlook: bleak.

Objective: Reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, with $30 billion going to developing nations to protect and restore forests.
Progress: little. Outlook: Good.

Objective: Set up $100 billion fund by 2020 to help developing countries affected by climate change.
Progress: Good. Outlook: Outlook: Close to agreement.

Objective: To get rich countries to extend the Kyoto protocol, and state plans for emissions cuts.
Progress: Backwards; Outlook: Critical.

Objective: Countries commit to monitor, report and verify progress on emissions reduction.
Progress: China and the US say they could compromise on India proposal; Outlook: Breakthrough possible.

The Light Bulbs Come On In Cancun

Lofty discussion is not all there is at the 2010 climate meeting in Cancun. Representatives of the 190 nations in attendance also are talking light bulbs. Specifically, incandescent bulbs.

A United Nations study released at the conference concluded the world's electrical lighting demand would fall 2% - equivalent to saving 800 million tons of emissions - if every nation switched from incandescent lamps to more energy-efficient alternatives, such as compact fluorescent lamps, according to this report in The Telegraph of London.

The study was designed to show how easy it is to cut emissions if nations took a unified approach. It also points out that simple, and often relatively inexpensive measures, can lead to big results. As we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization tout, energy-efficiency is the low-hanging fruit of the green-energy movement.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu takes that analogy one step further: "When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn't just low hanging fruit; it's fruit laying on the ground," he has said in interviews.

The talks, which are expected to last through Dec. 10, are being held in a hotel resort under a solar-powered roof , near a new power-generating wind turbine and in a region where beaches are eroding in part due to global warming. However, all that may have little influence in a conference where progress comes in tiny increments.

Brazil's president has basically pooh-poohed the conference, Japan stunned participants when it opposed extending the Kyoto emissions protocol (which commits major emitting countries to 1990 emission levels) and observers say the U.S. position has been weakened by mid-term elections that rolled a slew of climate-change skeptics into office.

However, Mexico's environmental minister said he is confident that agreements will be reached for a financing fund and for protection of forests. And, late today, there was some indication that the gap between China and the United States over emissions monitoring may be narrowing.

Baby steps. But at least they are forward.

Cancun Climate Talks Progressing Slowly

Many people deny the existence of climate change, but insurance companies are not among them. One of the reporters covering Cancun Climate Conference 2010 took a side trip to hurricane magnet Grand Bahama, where he visited with locals and talked global warming with insurance consultants Caribbean Risk Managers.

Marketplace reporter Scott Tong says the insurance industry ended the debate some time ago. "Industry has accepted absolutely that climate change is real," Tong quotes insurance company official Simon Young as saying. "There is no debate either at the management level or at the technical level as to whether climate change is going to have an impact on their industry. "

Of course, insurance companies have a vested interest in the issue. After all, they stand to absorb billions in damage claims if the seas rise and coastal regions flood. Here is Tong's story.

Talks are in the early stages and India has proposed a plan that could lead to progress, but few people expect significant results. Incremental steps seem to be the best the 190 countries represented hope for. Mexican officials are pressing for the best possible outcome, but getting a commitment to cut emissions significantly has proved elusive.

President Barack Obama has proposed reducing U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, a target that Mexican climate envoy Luis Alfonso de Alba declared as "modest." And he doesn't see much improvement in the wake of midterm elections that favored Republicans.

Today, the United Nations envoy acknowledged that an extension of greenhouse gas emissions set in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, won't happen in Cancun. “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol,” Christiana Figueres said in this report by Bloomberg.

As a result, the world's second-biggest market for emissions credits could be at risk.

Nonetheless, India is pushing ahead with an ambitious plan that, according to ClimateWire, has the potential to move talks forward. The proposal is for a global monitoring system, but requires stiffer emissions requirements from the United States. And the U.S. has said it will accept binding restrictions only if China does.

It remains to be seen if the gap between China and United States can be bridged.

"The End" Is Not Good In Global Warming

By definition, "the end" is pretty final.

In a movie, there's nothing more to see. In a book, you run out of words to read. In climate change, "The End" is a little more serious: “We are facing at this moment the end of history for some of us,” a representative of the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States said at the Cancun climate conference being held in Mexico.

Antonio Lima, representative of Cape Verde and alliance vice chairman, said Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and Maldives are the most threatened. “All these countries are struggling to survive. They are going to drown. I have mountains in my country. I can climb. They cannot climb," Bloomberg Businessweek quoted him as saying.

Obviously, small island nations have much to lose if global warming is not restricted. Members of the alliance want temperature increases limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but representatives of the United States and European Union said they don't expect a treaty from the talks - settling instead for verifying actions to cut emissions, creating a $100 billion green fund to help finance clean energy projects and protecting forests.

The U.S. delegation, according to this account in The Guardian, is taking a firm stance on some of those issues, and has threatened to leave the talks early if developing nations don't agree.

About 190 nations are represented at the 12-day conference. Among the representatives from the United States are 40 students from Yale. They are from The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and the Yale Law School - and are attending as observers and delegates, The Yale News reported.

Would You Spend $30,000 To Save $250,000?

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization - which is based in Fresno, one of the hottest regions of California and with some of the highest power bills in the state - are all about energy efficiency.

Frankly, it boggles my mind that more property owners, legislators and policy makers still don't understand that energy retrofits are a great investment. Wouldn't you, as the headline to this article says, commit $30,000 to save $250,000 in expenses later?

Is there any investor who would not think that was a good return? Certainly, Chris Martin, director of energy management at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, thinks so. He led one of 14 teams across the country that participated in an EPA-sponsored Biggest Loser-style contest to shed the most energy weight, according to this New York Times story.

The Chapel Hill team spent $30,000 upgrading a residence hall on campus, and wound up slashing energy expenses $250,000, much of it by adjusting the heating and cooling system to run slower during moderate weather. All combined, the school cut energy use 36% .

The university engaged residents of the hall in the process. CityBiz Magazine said a touch-screen computer was installed in the dorm's lobby so students could track energy consumption. Each floor held energy-saving competitions, and reminders were posted in elevators, bathrooms, and common areas.

That means more money in university coffers. I don't know if Chapel Hill is strapped for cash, but I know a few campuses in California that would love the extra money.

Chapel Hill has seen the light, so to speak. Upgrades to 100 buildings on campus saved nearly $4 million last year, according to the New York Times. The average savings per building was $33,000. The average per-building investment: only $7,000.

"The payback is on the order of months, not years," Martin told the newspaper.

Other teams also got good returns for their investments. A Sears store in Maryland cut energy consumption 31.7%. A JC Penney outlet in Orange, Calif., reduced energy use 28.4%. Together, the 14 teams saved $950,000 on power bills.

Businesses and others in the San Joaquin Valley could probably reap good returns too. After all, temperatures reach triple digits in the summer. Businesses and families pay the price with heart-stopping power bills.

Retrofits and modifications such as these are the low-hanging fruit of the whole greening movement. Consider the iconic Empire State Building. A $20 million energy-efficiency upgrade, which includes more than 6,000 new windows, will shave $4.4 million annually off the power bill.

That's a payback of 4.5 years. Simply amazing.

Commercial building space in the United States covers a total of 79 billion square feet, and buildings, 80 percent of which are more than a decade old, are one of the leading sources of energy consumption and carbon emissions, said a recent report on commercial building energy efficiency by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research.

The report, "Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings," estimates potential annual energy savings of more than $41.1 billion if all commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a 10-year retrofit program.
Unfortunately, shredded budgets, the freezing of Property Assessed Clean Energy programs and an economic recession make it harder for businesses, homeowners and landlords to finance the upgrades.

But those who can manage it might enjoy a nice financial return.

(Photo of Morrison Hall by online

Making Our Way To Energy Storage: Jimmy Buffett, The Holy Grail and The Manhattan Project

By Rick Phelps

"cliches. Good ways to say what you mean...mean what you say."

--Jimmy Buffett, 1975

I hadn't thought about the Holy Grail since an old Indiana Jones movie and was a little surprised when someone said that it was becoming a cliche to refer to energy storage as the Holy Grail of renewable energy. My mind immediately recalled the lyrics of an old Buffett song and I realized Jimmy may have it right: say what you mean...mean what you say. When it comes to the future, energy storage IS the Holy Grail. Without storage, flexibility is lost and progress stalls.

But what is energy storage? Storage includes batteries large and small, compressed air, pumped water systems, fly wheels and a host of other ideas, both new and old. All generally work, but the limiting criteria are cost and scale. The cost question is whether it costs less to store a kilowatt than it does to generate it. The scale issue relates to the application, but generally refers to the amount of energy needed to be stored. For example, large lead-acid batteries might work fine for a home with a 4-kilowatt load, but not so well for a utility-sized wind project with a capacity of 25 megawatts.

To put the energy-storage issue in perspective, think about its impact on remote communities in the Eastern Sierra. Electricity could be stored locally and additional distribution lines - at a cost of millions - would be unnecessary.

Private-sector companies, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are making progress on energy-storage cost and scale, but there are not yet any major breakthroughs, and the need for more storage in renewable energy continues to grow.

The quest for this Holy Grail is critical for at least three compelling reasons.

First, two major forms of renewable energy - wind and solar - are intermittent and not necessarily generated at the same time there is electricity demand. Often the actual capacities of wind and solar projects are less than 50 percent of stated capacity and said capacity needs to be backed up from conventional sources such as natural gas or coal. If the energy generated could be stored economically for later use, the renewable projects would be more economically viable as they always "sell" their capacity, and might be able to reduce their invested capital with a more efficient operation. Plus, the land use footprint for wind and solar might be lessened.

Second, if renewable energy is more efficient due to effective storage, there would be less need to ensure that conventional generation capacity is available as backup. Fewer conventional power plants will need to be built and transmission capacity might be reduced if large electricity imports were not necessary to meet the demands of a high-renewable region if production was not up to capacity.

Third, energy storage can be used to make the grid more efficient and optimize transmission and distribution capacity. This gets complicated, but the easiest way to explain it is that if inputs into the grid are predictable, it's a lot easier and economic to manage. In that way, the grid and storage become a lot like our own financial budget - when we know what's coming in, it's a lot easier to manage what goes out.

If energy storage is truly the Holy Grail, where are the speeches demanding that we triple our capacity by 2020, or that the United States become the energy-storage technology center for the world? You don't hear those speeches because energy storage is pretty dull stuff and certainly neither sexy nor photogenic, but if we were to solve the problem, storage would indeed be the Holy Grail, which brings us to The Manhattan Project.

To the baby boom generation, The Manhattan Project is well known, but to those lucky enough to be younger, it's a little more obscure and even ancient history. The Manhattan Project had its start in 1939 when Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt warning him that the Germans were likely to develop a nuclear weapon with great destructive power, and the United States should counter the German effort with its own initiative. President Roosevelt accepted this challenge and committed the government to this endeavor, and by 1942 The Manhattan Project was well under way.

The Project culminated with the successful test of the first nuclear weapon in July 1945 and, following the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the end of World War II. Over 125,000 scientists and staff at no fewer than 30 sites around the country had fathered this technology and spent $22 billion in today's dollars. Solutions were found to problems thought at the time to be unsolvable.

The Manhattan Project is symbolic of what can be accomplished with an all-out effort and many, including Bill Gates, have called for a "Manhattan Project" in renewable energy, regardless of cost or risk. This seems a worthy idea, but wouldn't it make more sense to first solve the "critical-path" issue of energy storage? Otherwise, what are we going to do with all that renewable energy once we have it?

Rick Phelps is Executive Director of the High Sierra Energy Foundation. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.

Edison Solar Project Generates 125 Jobs in Porterville

On the heels of a UC Merced report that says clean energy could produce 100,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley comes this announcement from Southern California Edison: A solar power plant being built near Porterville will create about 125 construction jobs.

The solar array of 29,400 panels is being built on 32 acres of city land next to the Porterville airport. It will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 houses. in the area.

The installation joins SCE power plants online in Fontana and Chino, both in the Inland Valley portion of Southern California, and six others under construction in the same region. Over the next five years, the utility plans to install 250 million watts of solar power at 100 sites. Its solar program could create 1,200 jobs, the utility says.

The San Joaquin Valley is considered ripe for renewable-energy projects and research. Ample sunshine; abundant land - much of it out-of-production farmland; proximity to transmission lines; fewer concerns over endangered species; and a strong labor force are some of assets.

In addition, high power bills and low incomes make the Valley a natural for energy-efficiency programs.
(map from

Solar project under construction near Avenal

One of the largest proposed solar photovoltaic facilities in California is getting under construction near Avenal in Kings County.

When operating at full capacity - possibly as early as 2011 - the project, which is actually three separate components known as Avenal Park, Sun City and Sand Drag, will generate 45 megawatts of power, enough to power at least 36,000 homes, according to developers Eurus Energy America and NRG Solar.

The electricity produced by thin film solar panels will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, and advance the state's objective of achieving 33% renewable power generation by 2020. "The Avenal projects are just the first of many utility-scale PV solar projects that we expect to be developing, building and owning in the state of California," said Mark E. Anderson, president of Eurus Energy America in San Diego.

About 200 people are expected to be employed during the construction process, according to Sierra2thesea, an online news blog that covers the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley. The project is one of a long line of solar proposals for the Valley, which has ample sun resources and vacant land, and is ideally suited for an emerging solar industry.

(Photo of NRG CEO Dave Crane by

Oct. is National Energy Awareness Month: How Fitting

For us, National Energy Awareness Month has special meaning.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is headquartered in Fresno, Calif. And Fresno sits in one of the nation's dirtiest air basins, bakes under summer sun that sends summertime temperatures into triple digits and has some of the highest unemployment rates and lowest income levels in the country.

If ever there was a region that could benefit from energy awareness, it's the San Joaquin Valley. Energy-efficiency steps here can dramatically cut power bills, which equates to money in the bank for homeowners, government and businesses.

My power bill in August was a heart-stopping $500, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who nearly dropped dead when the bill arrived. I could probably cut that by taking energy-efficiency steps such as those recommended in this USA Today story.

Unfortunately, shredded budgets make it difficult for many to justify more expensive measures even though that cost, for some, can be recouped in only a few years.

The SJVCEO recognized that, and in January joined forces with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and 33 Valley cities and three counties to submit to the state Energy Commission for $4 million worth of energy-saving retrofits - mostly lights, air conditioning units and pumps - on muncipal buildings.

The money is from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, designed to jump start the economy. The jump start was a bit delayed for us, but is finally getting going. We are completing the sizeable reporting requirements, and hope to actually start work in the next few months.

Why don't you honor National Energy Awareness Month by doing what you can to cut, conserve usage, or learning more about clean energy and the issues the Valley, state and world are facing?

Pulitizer-Prize winning columnist Tom Friedman of the New York Times has written extensively on the subject. His book, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution - And How It Can Renew America, is a good primer.