Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

January 08, 2018


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Resources and Opportunities
Updated energy saver guide covers new technologies
California ISO launches renewable energy market report
Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements

Upcoming events
Webinar: California legislative outlook 2018 - Jan 24
Forum: The Promise of Microgrids - Jan 25
Webinar: Creating EE Programs that Better Serve Hispanic Households - Jan 30
17th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference - Feb. 1-3
2018 EPIC Sym posium: Accelerating Clean Energy Innovation - Feb 7
Find more events

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The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

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Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

wEEkly update


Funding Wizard | Energy Standards Online Resource Center | Energy Code Ace
CAISO Today's Outlook

SEEC Local Government Roundtable - April 27th
The Local Government Roundtable is scheduled for Thursday, April 27 at 2pm.
Click here! to join other local governments for this month's roundtable on street lighting. We will be joined by a special guest from the California Street Lighting Association.

News and Opportunities

Attorney General Becerra Intervenes in Lawsuit To Defend Energy Efficiency Standards
California Attorney General has intervened in a lawsuit filed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association against the DOE challenging energy efficiency regulations for light bulbs.

California Microgrid Roadmap Scoping Workshop
CEC, CPUC, and CAISO staff will host a workshop on the California Microgrid Roadmap to develop a plan to accelerate the adoption of microgrids in the state.

Schedules for 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards
The CEC has posted the tentative schedule for 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards pre-rulemaking workshops and the overall schedule for the 2019 Standards

State regulators can play a critical role in unleashing building energy data
Mary Shoemaker, state policy analyst for ACEEE, discusses the benefits of energy data access and the role of statewide utility regulators.

Walmart stores, other commercial buildings to have energy-storage systems installed
The new systems will boost their energy efficiency, reduce costs, and lower Southern California Edison’s electricity demand during times of peak usage.

New Technology

Blockchain Is Helping to Build a New Kind of Energy Grid
Using the technology behind Bitcoin, participants in the Brooklyn Microgrid are buying and selling locally generated renewable energy over a peer-to-peer network.

Good Vibrations? California to Test Using Road Rumbles as a Power Source
The new technology would use piezoelectric crystals that create energy from the vibration of road traffic.

SEEC Calendar 
Click the SEEC Calendar link to view all upcoming events.

4/26-4/27 Green California Summit (Sacramento)
The Summit provides a forum where innovations in policy, technology, and practice can be showcased and shared.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend!

Cary Garcia Jr.
Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator

Zotos goes green using wind power, others take notice

Zotos International Inc. is a hair-care products manufacturer.

It's also an expert on green energy. The company ranks No. 18 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Top 20 on-site green power generation list because it installed two massive wind turbines to provide energy to its 670,000-square-foot Geneva, N.Y. plant.

"This wind project has helped us transform Zotos into one of the fastest-growing and greenest manufacturers in the global beauty industry," Zotos President and CEO Ron Krassin said. "More and more consumers are demanding sustainable products and as a beauty company, we have a moral imperative to meet this demand. All of us want a healthier and more beautiful planet and we're proud to be doing our part."

Earth Day and green jobs

Zotos took the opportunity of Earth Day 2012 to laud its achievements. And why not? The company's efforts vaulted it into the national cleantech spotlight.

Others appear to be following suit. A report by employment search engine Green Job Bank says postings in the green sector more than doubled in the first quarter. The service says it indexed 36,500 green job postings in the first quarter of 2012, an increase of about 127 percent from the same period a year earlier.

"This increase ... is due to the growth of the green economy," says Bernard Ferret, founder and CEO of the Green Job Bank, in a statement. "It is the proof that the market for renewable energy, clean technology and environmental projects is healthy, and growing at a steady pace."

Hiring across the spectrum

Growth comes despite the spate of bad news in the cleantech sector, highlighted by last year's Solyndra bankruptcy. It indicates that demand for services and product remains. Green Job Bank's top hiring companies include First Solar, REC solar, Solar City, SunEdison and Vestas. Also on the list are energy management companies EnerNOC, Locus Technologies and OPower; energy storage maker A123 Systems; EV automaker Tesla Motors; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and environmental and energy infrastructure companies AECOM, AMEC, Cardno ENTRIX, ERM and URS Corp.

John Davies from focuses on the lighter side of corporate green in a recent post, listing more typical corporate Earth Day activities such as park clean up, electronic recycling and eco exhibitions. He says Microsoft this year even allowed companies to test out electric vehicles, offering a test ride in a Fisker Karma. Nothing overly dramatic. "I wanted to find out whether Earth Day has grown too last century or if it's still meaningful to corporate America," Davies writes.

Green power popularity

Corporations seem to think so. More continue to embrace sustainability.

Performance varies. But the EPA shows in its overall Top 50 list that companies' green power purchases climbed 12 percent to 15 billion kilowatt hours in 2012. No. 2 Kohl's Department Stores increased its power purchases 8 percent to 1.52 billion kWh over 2011, while WalMart boosted its total 231 percent to 872,382,088 kWh to move to No. 3 from No. 12 the previous year.

No. 1 on the Top 50 list for 2012 remains Intel Corp. with an unchanged 2.5 billion kWh of green energy purchases.

Zotos' effort stand out because it installed its own wind turbines, a feat that also earned the company recognition from the American Wind Energy Association for having one of the top on-site wind projects at a U.S. manufacturing company. The turbines, which became fully operational in January 2012, generate about 6.5 million kilowatt hours a year for about 60 percent of Zotos' operational needs. The company plans to purchase the rest of its energy from green sources.

Expect others to follow

On the EPA Top 20 on-site generation list, Zotos' energy generation numbers are overshadowed by the sheer bulk of Kimberly-Clark Corp., the No. 1 company. The Dallas-based consumer products manufacturer of brands like Kleenex, generated 193 million kWh of on-site power. However, Kimberly-Clark's generation accounted for 8 percent of its power.

Can other companies follow the examples set by those on the EPA lists? Anthony Perdigao, Zotos vice president operations and chief sustainability officer, offered this statement: "If we can do it, so can others."

There's definite interest. Megan Connor Murphy, Zotos vice president of public affairs, says the company "has received multiple inquiries from others both regionally and nationally about our wind project and are ready to share our experiences with them."

This clean energy stuff is getting around.

Another post of possible interest:

Green power purchases trend upward

Energy Efficiency & Sustainability: Pathways to prosperity

My father was a government employee whose paycheck didn't have much wiggle room. He saved money by cutting my hair himself - he wasn't a very good barber - and by constantly reminding us to turn off lights.

He quit giving me bowl cuts when I became a preteen and my mother said it was embarrassing. But he never stopped harping about power consumption. "You're wasting electricity," he would say. "You think I'm made of money?"

I didn't care. I never saw the power bills, and had no clue. I just rolled my eyes and switched off the lights.

Today, 45 years later, I totally understand. Dad was only interested in the power consumption of the house we rented on Indio Drive near Pismo Beach. It would be a different story today; People and businesses everywhere are finally realizing that wasting electricity is stupid and costly.

The Rockefeller Foundation and Deutsche Bank have found that replacing outdated power-sucking equipment in buildings nationwide could save more than $1 trillion over 10 years, which is equivalent to slashing the nation's annual electricity bill by 30% .

After all, buildings consume 40% of all the power globally and are responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions. Simple changes such as replacing lights and heating and air conditioning equipment can yield significant savings. The joint study (click here) found that $279 billion in retrofit investments would save at least $1 trillion in the U.S. over just 10 years. That's a return on investment of 36%. Not bad.

The report is the latest in a string that basically echo the same theme. This one from American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says an energy-efficiency campaign could save $16 trillion through 2050.

"Upgrading and replacing energy-consuming equipment in buildings offers an important capital investment opportunity, with the potential for significant economic, climate, and employment impacts," the Rockefeller/Deutsche report says.

And that doesn't include the jobs potential, which could total in the millions over that decade, or the estimated 10% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions, the report contends.

Takes green to get green

Of course, retrofits cost money, and that is always the problem. Property owners have to spend money to save money, but the payback can be pretty swift for those who do it. Investments in lighting can be recouped in one to two years, while the purchase and installation of a fancy new boiler might take six years to recoup.

That's where financing comes in, and where the study goes into great detail. Financing mechanisms - such as on-bill financing, property tax programs and energy service agreements - are at work in various places, and other options are being explored.

They are being explored, in part, because cities and states are imposing stricter policies. New disclosure and benchmarking laws, such as those in New York and California, could spark new programs.

Bullet train to efficiency

In fact, many companies, local governments and, as this video from Clemson University shows, students (campuses hold tremendous opportunities to save money) are moving energy efficiency to the fast track. In some cases, it is more like a bullet train. Our nonprofit is helping more than three dozen cities and counties in the San Joaquin Valley use stimulus money to replace lights, pump motors and other energy hogs. The estimated energy savings could total around 5.4 million kilowatt hours. Those cities and counties are saving energy and money - and even jobs.

Similar stories abound. There is this one out of Australia, while closer to home AT&T, IBM and the owner of the iconic Empire State building experienced significant savings through energy efficiency. Read more here.

Those businesses are finding that efficiency is only one part of an overall sustainability program that can save money. Walmart became a believer when it discovered that shrinking the package on a toy leads to more packages in a truck which, in turn, leads to fewer truck miles and, eventually, less consumption of fuel - and major cost savings.

Just yesterday, Kaiser said it wants to reduce its carbon footprint 30% by 2020. The health care giant linked greenhouse gas emissions to climate change and the rise of pollution and disease. "Kaiser Permanente is committed to creating healthy communities, and it's critical we work to reduce the impact of our operations on the environment," said Bernard Tyson, president and chief operating officer.

The federal government has recognized the sustainability movement by bestowing 20 Climate Leadership Awards on 20 organizations and individuals. They include IBM, Campbell Soup Company, Cummins Inc., UPS, Intel and others.

The awards recognize corporate, organizational, and individual leadership in addressing climate change and reducing carbon pollution. "From setting and exceeding aggressive emissions reduction goals to reducing the emissions associated with shipping goods, these organizations are improving efficiency, identifying energy and cost saving opportunities, and reducing pollution," the EPA announced.

Saving money. Helping the environment. Creating jobs. Sustainability makes sense in so many ways.

Video: From Clemson University

Could "Occupy Clean Energy" Be Next?

I was a cop reporter in Palm Springs for a period in the mid-1980s. The community was a spring break mecca for college students and, as luck would have it, I decided one spring day to make a last run through town.

It was about 4 p.m. when I came upon a park in north Palm Springs filled with students. They were just milling around, but electricity filled the air. I just knew something was about to happen.

I called my boss at the newspaper and told him I was going to hang out for awhile. "Something is about to pop," I said.

Boy, did it. The riot started when a motorcyclist with a case of beer strapped on the back rode past the park. The beer was hijacked and the rumble was on. Hundreds of students trampled through downtown as cops in riot gear and firing tear gas tried to stop them. The crowd finally dispersed several hours later, and I had the lead story the next day.

I mention this because I'm feeling the same tingle that I did that April day so many years ago. I sense that something big is about to pop with clean energy and energy efficiency. (And I wouldn't be surprised if young people are involved; they are demanding progress on the energy front.)

Out-of-touch Legislators may not realize yet, but the undercurrent is strong. Big Business, the military, local governments, schools and average citizens are waking up and recognizing that creating cleaner and cheaper energy is good for the environment, and is smart economically.

We've written about Walmart and other businesses discovering green is good - especially when it comes to energy efficiency. A relatively minor investment can yield huge results when it comes to conserving energy at houses, businesses, government facilities and hotels.

Clean-energy followers are getting restless. We see with Occupy Wall Street what can happen when the restless are moved to action. Will Occupy Clean Energy be next?

Photo of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Could Walmart Lead The Way To A Green Future?

Edward Humes' new book about Walmart's efforts to be more environmentally responsible - an effort, by the way, the company started begrudgingly - is both hopeful and terrifying.

The book, "Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution," details the ongoing evolution of the world's largest retailer into a leader of sustainability. After initial doubts, the company discovered that going green actually boosted profits - and now is urging its 100,000 suppliers - and competitors - to join in.

Humes writes, "Wal-Mart has made it impossible for any corporation to claim plausibly that sustainability is a risky choice." That bodes well for the green movement. Walmart's clout is without question, and can only be a catalyst.

The terrifying part rears its head about half way through, when Humes, a Pulitzer Prize winner, updates calculations of an earlier study by a professor of ecological economics who put a value on nature's assets: "(By 2010), Ecosystems were being used up or destroyed at a rate of $2 to $5 trillion a year. At that rate, factoring in current growth in population and manufacturing set against nature's innate ability to replenish itself, the world's natural capital - fresh air, fresh water, all the things we depend upon - will be depleted by the year 2046," Humes writes.

That is only 35 years away. My daughter will be 54 years old. I hope those calculations are off for the sake our our future - and for my daughter and grandchildren. Tom Miller, an environmental analyst that Humes quotes extensively, predicts an increase in worldwide pressure and a demand for stronger regulations as the deteriorating environment becomes more obvious to ordinary citizens.

The idea that Walmart is helping lead the change is remarkable. After all, this is a company that people love to hate - and by 2004 it was swimming in hate. It was being hammered for an employee health-care program that many claimed was a joke, and for poor wages and other issues - which are duly noted in the book. Walmart's reputation was so bad that, as Humes notes, it was "the poster child for global warming, mass extinction, smog and urban sprawl."

The negative news was taking a toll; an internal Walmart study showed that up to 8 percent of its customer base had stopped shopping there.

So, then-CEO H. Lee Scott started looking for something positive, a program that Walmart could tout. The idea came from board chairman S. Robson "Rob" Walton, the eldest son of the late Sam Walton, who founded the company. Rob Walton, who was interested in environmental causes, hooked Scott up with environmental consultant Jib Ellison.

In the book, Scott sounds like someone who really didn't believe "green" was profitable, but Walmart needed to do something, and carving out a small sustainability niche might help. The first focus: waste.

What it discovered would fundamentally change the company - at least when it came to sustainability.

Walmart is one of the leading sellers of toys on the planet. Shrinking the package on one toy allowed the retailer to stuff more packages in a truck, which, reduced the number of truck trips and cut its fuel bill by a whopping $2.4 million per year. It was so simple, yet no one in Walmart had ever considered it.

As Humes notes, "That was significant for a low-margin retailer...The company would have had to sell $60 million worth of that toy to earn the same $2.4 million in profits."

Walmart had become a believer.

That led to an expanded effort - and to solar panels, windmill turbines and fuel cells on buildings; a drive toward sustainable agriculture (Walmart says it can save money by purchasing food closer to its stores); and, as of now, an 80 percent landfill diversion rate. The company is even working on an ambitious landmark sustainability index for suppliers to follow.

With more than $14 billion in profit last year, Walmart can pretty much set the agenda. Today, it has set three main objectives: using renewable power to supply all of its operations, to create zero waste and to sell products that are environmentally safe. For example, phosphates in dish and laundry soaps on Walmart shelves in Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America were cut almost 30 percent last year. - and have been removed entirely from its stores in the U.S., Humes notes.

Who knows how far Walmart will go. It certainly has the financial resources to create a major green footprint. Many people remain skeptical, calling it greenwashing. But, as Humes says, the younger generation is concerned about the environment, and Walmart knows it has to find a way to capture them.

Humes cites John Fleming, a former chief of merchandising for Walmart: "This is our opportunity to connect with the next generation..."

As the world's largest retailer, Walmart can help drive the green agenda. Here is a link to a video on Walmart's sustainability plan.

Company photo of windmills at Walmart store in Palmdale

Somewhat clandestine converts climb aboard clean energy bus

Bill Clinton's getting downright green.

And he's not the only one. A whole slew of corporate magnates, political leaders and members of the establishment are buying into the economic benefits of energy savings and renewables.

In an interview in which Clinton discussed clean energy, jobs and how the two could resurrect the stagnant economy, he suggests increasing energy efficiency retrofits of government buildings and universities and decentralize energy generation by adding renewable sources.

"Big centralized power stations would be used for things like manufacturing," he says.

Making it work

Clinton advises approaching clean energy from a capitalist perspective with the questions: "How can we make a dollar out of this?" and "How can we put people to work?" He spoke with Aaron Task on Yahoo's Daily Ticker.

But the former president appears to be pointing out the obvious. The green clean energy movement looks as if it will rocket ahead without any assistance from the White House or Congress. Not that a nod from a jobs package would hurt.

In an interview with Smart Grid News that appeared on, economists Ahmad Faruqui and Doug Mitarotonda of The Brattle Group predict U.S. electricity demand will decline between 5 percent and 15 percent over the next decade. This despite an increase in personal electronics use. The two economists cite a "new wave of energy efficiency" where building managers and electricity consumers monitor energy use and adjust accordingly via new technology.

Solar bounds past setbacks

And despite the setback of Solyndra's bankruptcy and federal investigation, solar doesn't look to be slowing down. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association's latest quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the domestic photovoltaics market grew 69 percent in second quarter 2011 from the same period a year earlier.

"The U.S. remains poised to install 1,750 megawatts of PV in 2011, double last year's total and enough to power 350,000 homes," writes

In a followup story,'s Eric Wesoff reports that the United States has surpassed the 1 gigawatt, or 1 billion watt, mark for installed solar and looks to pass the 2 gigawatt threshold next year.

Industry posts growth

Not too shabby. And prospects look good for that trend to continue. The Solar Foundation's latest study finds 100,237 jobs in the industry as of August 2011 and growth of 6.8 percent in August 2011 from the same period a year earlier.

Brian Keane, president of nonprofit SmartPower, says policymakers would be wise to study those numbers carefully. He says Solyndra's demise is outweighed by "countless industry success stories" and cites SolarCity's contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to install 160,000 rooftop solar installations on military housing complexes at 124 military bases across 34 states.

"The company hopes to fill many of those jobs with veterans and military family members," Keane says in a piece on Huffington Post.

Corporate buy-in

The corporate end is also making renewable waves. Behemoth Walmart, the No. 1 U.S. employer, has announced a plan to install solar panels on about 60 more stores in California, which means more than three quarters of its outlets in the state will be so equipped.

Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart vice president of energy, says in a statement: "California presents a great opportunity for Walmart to make significant progress toward our sustainability goals."

Just can't beat that.

The Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps, a crew of 96 graduate students, worked this year with 78 companies, cities and universities to find energy efficiency measures. The corps found installed savings of 600 million kilowatt hours annually and total lifetime energy savings of $650 million.

And CalPERS and CalSTERS plan to invest about $1 billion in energy efficiency projects. "Kind of a big deal," says

Green crossing party lines

And on the political spectrum, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is shooting to the head of the green column with his policies and practices as he works to make one of the nation's most important cities relevant in an age of climate unrest. Shawn Lesser of the International Business Times says Bloomberg "has been instrumental in motivating a number of other large cities to make changes."

The New York mayor's top 10 list of clean energy initiatives has received a lot of press and likely will be scrutinized by other cities across the globe. Bloomberg severed his ties with the GOP in 2007 to become an independent.

And I'm not sure on this account, but I believe the wise investment in energy efficiency and energy management in buildings and manufacturing will attract other high-ranking members of the Republican Party into the ranks of green believers. And as solar and wind energy costs continue to fall, more likely will adopt a friendlier public posture to renewables.

Sean Patrick Hazlett of says other clean energy friendly folks in the GOP include presidential candidates Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and George Schultz at the Hoover Institution.

Lighting up the grid

Expect dramatic change in how electricity is produced, marketed and used in the next decade. Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says in a recent report that "the past decade has seen tremendous growth in competitive electricity procurement by commercial, industrial and institutional purchasers." It also says electricity is a $360 billion per year market in this country.

Everybody's looking for the best deal. Combine that with mandates like California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls for a third of energy generation to come renewable sources by 2020, and opportunities for purveyors of green energy will benefit. Investments made now could pay off in spades down the road.

They could tank too. Everything depends on the art of the deal, and that's why the entry of shrewd business people is a good thing for clean energy.

Clean energy worth billions

The evidence, however, mounts that this clean energy stuff may be worthwhile. Justin Gillis of the New York Times reports that a business consortium that includes Lockheed Martin and Barclays bank plans to invest about $650 million to install energy efficiency retrofits to buildings in Sacramento and Miami.

Gillis writes that many people believe the program could be worth billions. He says the consortium was formed by the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit environmental group set up by British corporate heavyweight Richard Branson of The Virgin Group "to tackle the world’s climate and energy problems in cost-saving ways."

I plan to monitor this industry closely and collect additional anecdotes that illustrate trends. I hope to see continued expansion, especially in employment. I tell colleagues to think positive thoughts.

When the going gets tough, the tough get green

Watching the politicians in D.C. chase their tails, point fingers and rant sure gets me down. A headline in today's Fresno Bee summed it up well: "Market burns, DC fiddles."

And then I saw this:
and this:

National lawmakers can't seem to agree on anything, so Corporate America and individual states are taking up the mantle on clean energy and sustainability. GM's announcement that it is investing in solar development is the latest example. The automaker has discovered that going green makes sense economically and socially. Below is a quote from a GM honcho.

"Our GM facilities currently house 30 megawatts of solar power, and we are committing today to double that capacity to 60 megawatts over the next few years, which is equivalent to powering 10,000 homes annually,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Energy, Environment & Safety Policy. “Not only does renewable energy make good business sense, it helps us continue to reduce the impact our facilities have on the environment.”

GM isn't the only company to recognize that. Did you know that my favorite indulgence, Kit Kat, is now green - in a sustainability kind of way? Here's more. Want another heavy-hitting example: How about Walmart, the world's largest retailer. It is one of the leaders. Check out this story in Forbes.

Some states have caught on too. California, where I live, passed a tough 33% renewables law, and Gov. Brown is reportedly close to naming a clean energy czar. Residents appear to support the effort, according to recent surveys.

Add the military and ongoing research to that, and the infrastructure for real change is being built. A leading auditing and analysis firm compared what is happening to the Industrial Revolution. My colleague uses a Jules Verne analogy here.

With the space shuttle program done, maybe a NASA-style entity could work on energy. Those 7,000 or so engineers, scientists and others out of a job could get back to work.

Photo from Eolic Power

Fuel Cells: Space-Age Technology Lands In California

Fuel cells, which have been used to power space craft, are now helping supply the energy needs of manufacturers and retailers here on Earth, including an Odwalla facility in Dinuba.

Bloom Energy, developer of the Bloom Box, recently finished installing five natural gas fuel cells at the Tulare County plant. The biogas-fed cells will supply about 30% of the annual power needs, according to this story in The Business Journal.

Odwalla, owned by Coca Cola, is marching toward a more sustainable future. “Reducing our environmental footprint and our dependence on non-renewable resources is just as important to Odwalla as making great tasting, nourishing beverages,” Alison Lewis, Odwalla's president said in The Business Journal story. “In addition to celebrating the completion of our fuel cell installation, we’re looking forward to rolling out our innovative PlantBottle packaging and kicking off our annual Plant a Tree program later this year.”

Fuel cells can convert a variety of fuel sources into electricity. Increasingly, they are being used throughout the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere. Bloom Energy counts Walmart, Staples, Kaiser Permanente and California Institute of Technology as customers.

Walmart has deployed two 400 kw systems at two stores in Southern California, and plans more. The world's largest retailer eventually wants to use renewable sources to fulfill all its power needs, A Walmart spokesman says in this this Bloom Energy press release.

Photo of Odwalla fuel cells by

Big Business Takes Lead On Clean Energy Movement

Corporate America is taking up the mantle for the green-energy movement, realizing that renewable fuels and energy conservation are good for the environment and make sense economically.

The latest evidence of this came forth today, when General Electric and General Motors announced they are teaming up on an energy-efficiency program with a payback period of only six months. GE says in this story that the annual energy savings to the automaker's production process will be significantly more than the cost of implementing the program.

The new system is surprisingly simple and, according to this CleanTechnica story, involves, among other things, GE synchronizing the conveyors in GM factories with lights and other equipment. This is just another example of energy-efficiency measures producing a robust return on investment - and of Big Business taking up a leadership role in Big Green.

Consider what Mike Duke, CEO of Walmart - which is greening its supply chain and installing solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells - said in a recent statement that we noted in a blog: "Business should not see a conflict between doing what is right for business and what is right for the world."

As if on cue, Diageo, the world’s leading premium distilled spirits, beer and wine company, followed up by announcing today that it achieved carbon neutral status for its North American corporate fleet in 2010.

Want more evidence? On Friday, the United Nations implemented a program encouraging businesses to share best practices on sustainability - and immediately signed up 54 companies, including heavy-hitters such as Nestle, Shell and Coca Cola.

With business leading the charge, the green movement could pick up speed.

Political call for clean energy grows louder

President Obama told the nation to get a lot more self-reliant fast, naming clean and alternative energy as a means to get there.

"With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015," he said in his State of the Union address.

Obama isn't the only one on the international political A List looking for answers in green innovation. In fact, it proved to be a busy week for world leaders going all out for sustainability and global stewardship.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for sustainable economic growth that can protect the environment and raise living standards.

“We need revolutionary change, revolutionary action," Ban said in his address. "We need a free market revolution for global sustainability.”

Others at Davos joined the conversation.

Finland President Tarja Halonen called for "a modern trinity" that includes combining growth with social justice and environmental sustainability.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonosia said his government is committed to balancing growth and environmental protection. And Mexican President Felipe Calderón said producing more with less energy "will be good for the planet."

Adding a corporate spin was Mike Duke, Wal-Mart president and CEO, who said, "Business should not see a conflict between doing what is right for business and what is right for the world."

Pretty powerful words. So how do we get there?

Start with energy efficiency. Dubbed "the low-hanging fruit" of the green energy movement, the practice of swapping out less efficient lights, AC units, electrical motors and other products has a near immediate savings for the consumer, building owner or municipal government. Retrofits often pay for themselves in a matter of a few years.

A study led by Julian M. Allwood, University of Cambridge in London director of the Low Carbon Energy University Alliance with Tsinghua and MIT, found that savings of up to 73 percent in global energy use could be achieved by using best available energy efficiency techniques, according to a story by Helen Knight in

That's huge. But Allwood's team used Passive House and superinsulation techniques like triple-pane and glazed windows and 12-inch cavity filled walls. They eliminated hot-water tanks and reduced the set temperature of washing machines and dishwashers. And his calculations include limiting cars to 660 pounds.

Fat chance on the last measure. But revamped building codes and savings-minded businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers could transform the standard by which buyers measure homes and commercial buildings. Buildings that cost almost nothing to heat and cool could set a new market standard, forcing retrofits on conventional structures.

Obama didn't stop with energy efficiency, however. He wants a mix of measures to break the back of dependence on foreign-sourced energy. "We’re issuing a challenge," he said in his national address. "We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time."

Some of the coolest new research is in turning pond scum into energy. Time magazine recently listed algae biofuel and algae food as two of its top green tech ideas.

The fuel side of algae research has turned into a race as companies work to cut production costs to compete with fossil fuels. Texas company Photon8 Inc. received a $1 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to boost its ability to extract fuel from algae.

Photon8 believes its model could produce biodiesel at $1.25 per gallon.

The company uses a closed photobioreactor systems and is shooting for a production rate of 1.5 gallons per square meter annually. "They expect to produce 22,000 gal per 2.5 acre/yr then to best economic units of 5 acres," according to a report by

Technology in many arenas is coming along. Obama said it will take of mix of all of it to return the country to the driver's seat in the energy realm.

I'm intrigued. More could change in the next several years than just a million electric vehicles on the road.

Commercial buildings could be the next frontier in energy savings

Commercial buildings present a relatively untapped frontier when it comes to energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction potential.

Corporations like Walmart, which last month rolled out its solar initiative to add solar generating systems to another 20 to 30 sites in California and Arizona and has as its goal sustainability, remain a minority. Many buildings remain unchanged, sucking up just as much or more energy -- and costing more because of steady utility rate increases -- as they did when they were built.

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.

Reduced energy consumption isn't the only benefit.

"Commercial buildings use almost 20 percent of all energy in the United States and are a significant contributor to GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. From a policy perspective, energy efficiency in buildings is the most lucrative potential source of GHG reductions," wrote analyst Levin Nock and Clint Wheelock, Pike Research managing director.

It's not cheap. Pike Research estimates that such retrofit programs would cost $22.5 billion annually over the 10-year period.

Often, however, the return on investment is near immediate. And resources are availble.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy and its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory today released a report explaining how to achieve up to 50 percent energy savings in quick-service restaurants. PNNL, in Richland, Wash., my old stomping grounds, said the report is expected to provide the basis for a series of how-to guides "that show architects, engineers and building designers how to achieve above-code exemplary energy performance for buildings."

The fixes recommended for fast food restaurants were:
  • Ultra-efficient cooking appliances that reduce kitchen exhaust air flow.
  • An optimized HVAC system configuration.
  • Efficient exterior and interior lighting with dimming controls in the dining room.
  • Enhanced insulation, cool roofs and high-performance window glazing.

DOE is working with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the American Institute of Architects, the Illuminating Engineering Society and the U.S. Green Building Council to develop and publish the reports.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money also is finally flowing into California and other states across the nation for energy efficiency retrofits to municipal buildings. My outfit, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, is working with 39 cities and counties to administer Energy Effciency and Conservation Block Grant allocations to improve lighting, air conditioning, pumps and other building components.

We're about to unleash crews to make about $4 million worth of changes. The difference will be immediate for small cities, in some cases saving jobs. The San Joaquin Valley, like many regions in the counrty, was hard hit by the recession and property tax declines emptied municipal coffers, forcing jurisdictions to cut staffing to the bone.

That economy certainly isn't helping the private sector. About the last thing anybody wants to do is put money into new lights or HVAC systems, much less window glazing or added insulation.

“The current financial crisis has had a significant dampening effect on property owners’ investments in their properties," said Pike Research's Wheelock. "Financing for such projects is scarce, and the limited investment in building efficiency is not keeping pace with the growing national demand for energy.”

Photo: San Francisco Union Square.

Walmart Announces Big Solar Push in California

The nation's largest retailer is aiming to be the greenest retailer too, announcing Monday that it will install lower-cost thin film solar-generating systems on 20 to 30 sites in California and Arizona.

The announcement is another step toward Walmart's goal of 100% renewable energy. That's an ambitious program, but at $405 billion in annual revenue it has the financial horsepower to be a leader in the industry.

As announced, Walmart newest program calls for thin solar panels, which are less expensive but also less efficient than traditional panels, according to this USA Today story, but should still supply 20% to 30% of the total energy needs for each location, Walmart said in a statement.

That is enough to power about 1,750 houses for a year and will cut more than 11,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, which is the same as removing 3,000 vehicles from roads.

We've written about Walmart's sustainability efforts here, here and here. The company is using a variety of green technology, including wind turbines (in some cases turbines sit atop parking lot lights) and fuel cells.

In Mexico, it buys energy from a local wind far and has installed solar panels on two facilities. In Canada, it is testing geothermal, fuel cells, solar, wind and is the largest corporate purchaser of low-emission power through a local clean-energy provider.
(Photo of wind turbines upon a Sam's Club from