department of energy

Guest Posting: America's Cleanest and Dirtiest Energy States

*This post originally appeared on where you can find comprehensive solar information from industry experts.*
America’s energy policy has been the subject of much recent debate: From the Pope’s public advocacy of environmental stewardship to the EPA’s toughened regulations on pollution from petroleum refineries, the sources that power our society have rarely been so widely scrutinized. Once regarded as a subject best left to the energy sector, the way we fuel our economy has proven its relevance for all citizens, both in America and across the globe.
For the team at Modernize, this subject seems particularly important. They're dedicated to providing consumers information and opportunities related to one of clean energy’s most promising technologies: solar panels. Their primary interest is in helping individual readers find environmentally friendly solar options that generate wallet-friendly savings in the long run.
They're also paying attention to how whole swaths of the American energy landscape operate. That’s where the project “America’s Cleanest and Dirtiest Energy States” comes in. If you want to know your state’s energy track record or find out which states are leading (and trailing) the push for renewables, you’re going to want to read what comes next.


For this project, the team went straight to the most authoritative source available on America’s energy realities. They gathered data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the federal agency responsible for tracking stats related to America’s energy production and consumption. Lucky for them, they’ve got data dating back to 1960 and as recent as 2013, so they took the long view on each state’s energy legacy. Their work engaged a range of subjects, from total energy production from renewable sources to carbon dioxide emissions over time. Take a look at what they found out:
Not Everything is Bigger in Texas…

Let’s get something straight: “Renewable” energy sources run the gamut from hydropower to wind, solar, and more. The EIA includes biofuels, such as ethanol, in this category as well. That means that virtually any state can tap into renewables, though some types are more readily utilized in certain natural environments (for instance, the Midwest makes good use of its wind). But that also means oil- and coal-rich states like Texas and West Virginia have historically focused their efforts on sourcing energy from “fossil” fuels, so their output from renewables is relatively paltry.
And here are the top 10 producers of total energy from renewables:

Maybe Washington, California, and Oregon come as no surprise – we associate them with environmental concern and the geographical variety to embrace multiple renewable technologies simultaneously. But the rest of the states that top the renewables ranking embody a striking mix of size, population, political preference, and socioeconomic standing. If this ranking indicates anything, it’s that success with renewables is possible in any combination of circumstances.

Power Percentages

Now we know the score when it comes to the total volume of energy produced from renewables by state. But some states produce plenty of both, while others have pristine clean-energy records but fall short of the top 10 because their total production is too small to compete. So we also looked at how much of each state’s total energy production renewables account for – call these our Percentage Power Rankings:

Then there’s the cohort above, all of whom derived less than 2.5% of all the energy they produce from renewable sources from 1960–2013. The difference in reliance on renewables couldn’t be starker: Wyoming’s renewable portfolio accounts for roughly one in every 250 BTUs (British Thermal Units – oddly, no longer commonly used in the U.K.) that the state produces. Many of the constituents of this dirtiest energy ranking are too rich in coal and oil to need much in the way of renewable alternatives – but that doesn’t mean they won’t adopt more sustainable technologies in the coming years.

Pollution and Solutions

Perhaps the most concerning byproduct of fossil fuel energy production is pollution. That term covers many kinds of potentially harmful emissions, but the best-known variety is carbon dioxide. The EIA offers carbon dioxide data from 1990–2012, so the team tracked the worst emissions offenders over that time:

Predictably, Texas is at the top – but what about California or New York? Why do states that ranked high in renewable energy production make the list? The answer is simple: Carbon dioxide emissions aren’t just a function of energy production. It’s no accident that the top-ranked states are almost all quite populous; the more people, the more energy they consume. That translates to emissions resulting from cars, heat, and other comforts modern Americans depend upon in daily life. But don’t think emissions are an intransigent evil: Some states are making great strides.

Let’s take a moment to commend these states for what they’ve accomplished in just 22 years. New York, Michigan, and Ohio are particularly exciting cases, demonstrating that even states closely associated with major industry can reduce emissions substantially. Additionally, some of the states that ranked high in the percentage of energy generated from renewables appear on this list, making it clear that improvement can always be a priority, whatever you accomplish for the environment.
Speaking of improvement, let’s remember that your own home can contribute to the pursuit of new, clean technologies, no matter which state you live in. Whether it’s turning off the light when you walk out of a room or researching solar options that will also create savings, you can do a lot to promote a cleaner energy world. Who knows? If you and enough of your neighbors make the right choices, your state might just jump up on our cleanest states ranking!

Who? How? When? Is Solar ever going to be really affordable?

Recently I checked out how much it would cost me to put solar on my house. To my surprise, it was much more than I wanted to spend, especially since I’m not convinced that I really want to stay there for more than five more years. The economics of it just didn't add up. I had question like: Who would pay for the remaining balance if I decided to sell the house before the solar units were paid for?  Would the house actually meet an appraisal value that would include the cost of solar in the sales price? 

Unfortunately, the financing options for me weren't exactly attractive and leasing didn't appeal to me either.  Lucky for me and you, the Department of Energy (DOE) has just launched a new competition that could solve my problem.

The DOE has developed the SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.  The first step in this aggressive endeavor focuses on removing municipal barriers such as permitting and structural engineering cost (which SJVCEO is a named partner with Optony, Inc.under The Solar Roadmap). 
Now, the DOE is going one step further by launching the SunShot prize competition, a very unique competition. This competition is working to install solar energy systems at a fraction of today’s price. The SunShot Initiative is reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75% and will drive widespread, large-scale adoption of this renewable energy technology while restoring U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race.


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Feds Unveil Energy Efficiency Recommendations

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization tout the power of energy- efficiency improvements. Changing windows, adding insulation, sealing air ducts, installing efficient lighting and other upgrades can go a long way toward reducing power bills.

Such improvements - the industry calls them "retrofits" - are the low-hanging fruit of the green-energy movement. It's been shown time after time that a minimum investment can result in maximum returns. At my house in Fresno - where summer temperatures hit triple digits and the air conditioner runs all day - the power bill is the second-largest expense behind the mortgage.

If I can cut energy expenses, I save money. It sounds so simple, but the federal Department of Energy says energy conservation is not a pressing issue for most people. So, the agency is trying to come up with a plan that would encourage energy conservation among homeowners.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have unveiled some recommendations for prodding homeowners down the energy-efficiency path, and for guiding the government's future efficiency programs.

  • Sell something people want: identify an issue such as health, financial savings, energy security or comfort to attract public interest;

  • Target the audience and tailor messages accordingly. A blanket marketing campaign won't work;

  • Partner with local organizations and local leaders, and build on existing relationships;

  • Language is powerful: avoid using words such as "retrofit" and "audit." Focus instead on concrete examples, personalize the material and frame statements in terms of loss rather than gain;

  • Contractors can be used as program ambassadors;

  • Make it easy, make it fast: package incentives, minimize paperwork and pre-approved contractors;

  • Repeat the message: advertising studies show that people need to be hit with a message at least three times before being convinced. Energy efficiency can be a tough sell because homeowners have to spend money to reap the benefits. Plan a multilayered campaign;

  • Rebates, financing and other incentives do matter;

  • A well-qualified workforce is essential: promoting a program before contractors can handle the workload leads to disgruntled customers;

  • Be patient: programs need to last for more than a year or two to be successful;

  • Use pilot programs to test strategies.

Lawrence Berkeley's report came out one day after Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a new federal program that offers certified contractors new software to show how much energy homeowners are wasting and to offer low-cost financing to finance improvements.

Dubbed "Recovery Through Retrofit" (thus going against the recommendation listed above to abandon the phrase "retrofit"), the software produces an energy score for each homeowner.

US gets serious about offshore wind

Offshore wind may soon take a cue from Oliver Twist and ask for more. Way more.

The U.S. Department of Energy is taking comments on a draft plan for developing offshore wind power and sponsoring seminars about creation of an offshore industry.

At this point, the industry is in its infancy with only one project, Cape Wind in Massachusetts, approved. About four others are close behind in the regulatory wings.

But the DOE's embrace is a big step for a neglected resource many believe has the potential to supply a serious percentage of this nation's electricity demand.

Officially dubbed "Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States: A Strategic Work Plan," the 49-page draft was drawn up for DOE by its Wind and Water Power Program. The fact that a wind and water program even exists is a big deal.

There was a time when DOE meant nothing but nuclear. The agency traces its history back to the Manhattan project in 1942 (look for parallels to SyFy's "Eureka" this season) and was finally realized as DOE after President Carter made the switch from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1977. But I digress.

The draft spells out the hurdles -- high cost, technical challenges and connecting to the grid -- and objectives. Permitting is also a huge issue to navigate. How does a new technology get by regulators? Gives me a headache just thinking about the requirements the first projects will have to produce.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. will be one of the permit pioneers, 10 miles off the lake's coast near Cleveland. Officials with the organization are working closely with regulators and an experienced development team.

The draft offshore wind plan outlined some pretty significant goals. It establishes an initiative to "achieve a scenario of 54 gigawatts of deployed offshore wind generating capacity by 2030, at a cost of energy of 7-9 cents per kilowatt-hour."

That's huge. The interim target is 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020 at a much more modest cost of 13 cents kilowatt hour.

The initiative will seek to bolster technological development, remove market barriers and help create demonstration projects. The effort will "augment" about $100 million allocated to offshore wind research through stimulus funds, or the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The plan says most offshore wind development is in Europe but points out that the United States has vast potential due to its significant coastlines. And it doesn't even specify Alaska -- talk about coastline. Heck, toss a cable across the Bering Sea and sell excess to Russia and China.

Europe's heavily subsidized program is about a decade old. Some 39 projects have been built with more than 2,000 megawatts of capacity. "The EU and the European Wind Energy Association have established aggressive targets to install 40 GW of offshore wind by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030," the plan said.

DOE looks as if its willing to assist. The agency has held a couple of recent seminars (one in Cleveland) and is actively working to get input on the draft plan and publicity for the issue.

It's not a Manhattan Project, but I'd like to hear Liam Neeson say, "Release the Kraken," and be referring to a flood of approved projects welcomed by coastal residents. Of course.