For those of you who know who Pat Stoner is you likely are on his email distribution list and receive this update each week. We are grateful that Pat has agreed to allow our little blog to re-post his weekly update. If you have an interest in the happenings of energy efficiency and local government throughout California this is the update for you! If you love the information here, but want more in depth features be sure to check out Pat's quarterly newsletter, CURRENTS.
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August 7, 2013 Weekly Update: EM&V Plan Available; Sustainability Best Practice Framework Updated; New IDSM Fact Sheet; Net-Zero Energy Summit
EM&V Plan Available
The CPUC's Energy Division and Investor Owned Utilities have released the updated 2013-2014 Funding Cycle Energy Division-Investor Owned Utility Energy Efficiency Evaluation, Measurement and Verification Plan. The Plan creates a high level blueprint to guide evaluation and study of the $2 billion 2013-2014 portfolio of energy efficiency programs. You can access the plan at http://www.energydataweb.com/cpuc/home.aspx.
ILG's Sustainability Best Practice Framework Updated
The Institute for Local Government has released its first comprehensive update of the Sustainability Best Practice Framework since its initial release in 2008. The framework offers new and practical ideas on how local agencies can save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in ten categories, including ideas about how to engage the public and promote individual and community action.
New Fact Sheet: Huntington Beach's Integrated Demand Side Management Program
An Integrated Demand Side Management (IDSM) audit, which looked at energy efficiency, conservation, demand response and renewables, paired with AB 32 strategic planning goals, created an opportunity to adapt and integrate the full suite of IDSM tools in City operations. To download the fact sheet, visit: www.EECoordinator.info/best-practices/
Net-Zero Energy Summit in Irvine, October 8-10
The Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition will be hosting the Net-Zero North American Leadership Summit from October 8-10 in Irvine, California, in conjunction with the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013.
The date was July 20, 1969.
"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," the spacecraft announced. Some hours later Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong took man's first steps on the Moon followed closely by fellow spaceman Buzz Aldrin.
Their footprints at Tranquility Base likely remain, a small sign of a massive accomplishment.
NASA's back in the historic footprint game again but in an entirely different way. The space agency, now somewhat redirected and fiscally leaner with the closure of the Space Shuttle program, has been constructing a facility that takes inspiration for its name from Tranquility Base and seeks to be a landmark in another sense, leaving as little footprint as possible.
Sustainability Base, at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., has been dubbed NASA's latest mission on Earth. The facility has received LEED platinum certification, the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating by the U.S. Green Building Council. Its design incorporates natural lighting, shading and fresh air. The interior boasts non-toxic materials and is, according to NASA, "a living prototype for buildings of the future."
The net-zero movement -- designing and building structures to make as little impact on the environment as possible -- is gaining steam, albeit slowly.
Commercial and residential buildings consume about 40 percent of all energy in the United States and about 70 percent of all electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And electricity consumption in the commercial building sector is expected to increase another 50 percent by 2025.
The net-zero or zero-energy building concept means commercial or residential buildings meet all their energy requirements from low-cost, locally available, nonpolluting, renewable sources, according to "Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition," a 2006 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "At the strictest level, a ZEB generates enough renewable energy on site to equal or exceed its annual energy use," the study says.
Lunar design influence
Sustainability Base, which is shaped like two side-by-side crescents, gets its power from solar panels, wind energy and fuel cells. It's also chock full of other technologies that make it "capable of anticipating and reacting to changes in sunlight, temperature, wind and occupancy," officials say.
“What makes our building different than the other NASA LEED buildings is that preliminary data are already showing a net-energy positive profile. The building site contributes more energy to the grid than it receives from the grid," says Steven Zornetzer, associate center director for research at Ames, in a description of the base on Ames' website.
Because it also incorporates repurposed NASA aerospace technologies to optimize building performance, Sustainability Base's features cooler statistics than other net-zero buildings. For instance, it uses computational fluid dynamics to simulate environmental flows in and outside the building. This can mean air flows such as wind outside and air flow inside. The building's electronic systems calculate this information and incorporate the data into the heating and cooling systems, saving money in conventional heating and cooling.
Many efforts are under way to reduce production of greenhouse gases from the building sector. Retrofits of existing buildings, such as the iconic Empire State Building, have gained recognition, mostly because the energy-saving upgrades pay for themselves relatively quickly.
Measures are under way in a number of areas. They include sustainability policies from some of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies, efforts by states to increase efficiency through building codes (California's new rules took effect in 2011), programs by the U.S. Department of Energy to fund energy efficiency retrofits in municipal government buildings across the country and the whole house and passive house movements to increase efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.
The U.S. Department of Energy is seeking to develop the technology and a knowledge base for cost-effective zero-energy commercial buildings by 2025. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory already has created a classification system for net-zero energy buildings to aid in the standardization process. NREL's Research Support Facility on its Golden, Colo. campus also was certified LEED platinum and uses 50 percent less energy than if built simply to code. It's massive, too: 360,000 square feet.
There's also the passive house movement gaining followers in this country. The practice is reaching quite a fervor in Europe. A house at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History designed with no furnace has been completed and is already catching attention. The residence, which uses passive house design and technology, cuts its greenhouse gas footprint and utility costs to the quick. SmartHome Cleveland received a national attention. One story said: "Because the house is so well insulated, it can hold heat from sunshine, body heat, lights and appliances."
The idea behind passive houses is that they use 90 percent less energy than a conventionally outfitted home of the same size. This also could apply to commercial buildings, but most information I've seen seems to keep this trend firmly entrenched in residential construction, at least in this country.
Passive House Institute U.S. defines the concept this way: It's a "very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source."
The push is to carbon neutrality.
The Passive House Institute says in the past decade about 15,000 buildings, mostly in Europe, have been designed and built or remodeled to passive house specifications. It's a small number but could gain significant influence as others see the lifetime benefits and reduced operating expenses -- not to mention the ecological rewards.
Certainly the mood is glum. The news, when it isn't fixating on celebrity missteps or political scandal, highlights Greek default, an irritated 99 percent and prospects for job creation that appear as likely as J. Edgar Hoover returning to run the FBI.
Maybe I'm biased or I'm watching too many trailers for the new Clint Eastwood film. But I'm seeing things differently.
Perhaps it's just me, or my co-worker Sandy Nax. But we're seeing some pretty positive stuff coming from our perch in the green energy sector.
Reason No.1: Solar flare. Here's a landmark. A San Jose Mercury News post San Jose Mercury Newsmarks the achievement of California reaching 1 gigawatt of installed solar. As reporter Dana Hull says, it's 1,000 megawatts and "roughly the size of two coal-fired power plants."
Sun is good. Coal not so much, even though it's a domestic energy source. Regardless, the news is huge. And solar growth is expected to continue. The reason some solar manufacturers -- think failed Solyndra for a moment -- are having a tough time doesn't have much to do with popularity of the renewable energy.
There's nothing wrong with sales. It's price that's killing these companies. As predicted, the cost of solar and wind prices have dropped, nearing ever closer to energy produced by fossil fuels. Parity it's called.
And it can't come too soon.
Solar is dominating my interest lately partly because I've been swayed by an argument by Derek Abbott, a professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. In a series of YouTube posts, he argues that enough energy from the sun could be easily captured to power the world's energy need of 15 terawatts.
Abbott believes solar thermal is the best option as it is the cleanest to produce. It requires no photovoltaic panels just mirrors and a system for superheating a substance to produce heat and subsequently energy.
Job rating: Excellent.
Reason No. 2: Concentrated or thermal solar. And that leads to this forecast from CleanTechies.com that concentrated solar is on the verge of becoming a serious contender in the clean energy spectrum. The piece says concentrated solar's simplicity will help sell it to consumers. "Solar thermal has been around for decades and is extremely reliable," CleanTechies says.
The positives are similar to those across the green energy spectrum: Costs are decreasing, state and local governments are getting interested in assisting projects, systems can be applied to commercial buildings, cooling is an option (although I'm still uncertain how that works), more people are getting into the business and innovation is making systems better.
Job rating: There's potential.
Reason No. 3: Solar mountain. Got a landfill? Who doesn't? They're not pretty. However, in Conley, Ga. Republic Services has transformed 9 million cubic yards of trash into a solar energy farm. The solid waste company covered the massive hill of garbage with a geomembrane on which it attached thin-film solar panels.
The panels produce 1 megawatt, but more could be added, according to Silvio Marcacci at cleantechnica.com. The site is one of just a few in the country. However, its success could drive more to adopt the concept.
"A lot of these landfills are built in urban settings, and they’re close to transmission lines," Tony Walker of Republic Services tells Marcacci. “We think this type of system can be built across the country."
Maybe so. There certainly is a lot of garbage.
Job rating: Fermenting.
Reason No. 4: Decentralized energy. I first read of this concept after stumbling across a report by sustainable energy advocate and writer Al Weinrub. He argues that decentralized energy, or putting renewable systems in as many places in a community as possible, generates wealth, spurs economic revitalization and helps adapt to climate change.
Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, says in a piece on Huffington Post that decentralized and renewable energy are the key to solving the looming crisis of sustainability. He says that a massive public-private partnership is needed to develop smart-grid, distributed generation technology via tax credit and other government and private sector driven incentives.
"Ultimately, each home and business should be capable of generating, storing and sharing energy," Cohen says. "Solar, wind, geothermal, and perhaps some other technology yet to be invented must be subsidized to make them cheaper than fossil fuels."
He says at some point, the subsidies will no longer be needed.
But change is coming or at least it should. The air just can't take what we're pumping into by way of coal fires, automobile exhaust and general toxic-laden combustion. And that brings me to my next point.
Job rating: Strong.
Reason No. 5: The real cost of fossil fuels. According to the most recent World Energy Outlook report by the International Energy Agency, investing in clean energy now is far more effective than attempting to clean up the mess later.
Eric Wesoff of greentechmedia.com pored over the report and came up with this quote from Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist: "As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the 'lock-in' of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals."
Wesoff writes: "For every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions."
Succinct point. It makes me wonder how politicians who say they would obliterate any regulations in favor of jobs will be viewed in 10 years. The regulation busters line up on one side of the aisle, but both parties are guilty of promoting ill-fated policies that add to the nation's graying skies.
The jobs that apparently need fewer regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or other agencies are noble but usually controversial. They include mining coal from mountaintops, drilling offshore for oil, tapping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, building a cross-country straw to suck out Canada's oil sand and allowing the hydraulic fracturing.
Job creation can be done other ways. I recall sitting on spit on Nantucket one summer with my brother-in-law. We were inspired by the long delayed Cape Wind offshore turbines. He speculated that President Bush would have produced a far longer lasting legacy had he established just a smidgen of support for alternative energies rather than invading Iraq or even if he did.
Bush had the right idea -- domestic energy security. Just a different way of getting there.
Job rating: Depends on political winds.
Reason No. 6: Energy and fuel efficiency. Energy author Daniel Yergin writes in a piece on Huffington Post about how Boeing's Dreamliner won the hearts of airline executives not with its speed but with its 20 percent better fuel efficiency. "The airlines were voting their pocketbooks," he says.
Nearly every week, another big publicly traded Wall Street powerhouse embraces the cost savings of installing energy efficient lighting and electrical upgrades. And many are taking the concept further, entering the tricky yet individually lucrative realm of sustainability. Big companies that see the light have discovered not only savings in multiple aspects of their operations but have learned to reap the value of the public goodwill that comes with it.
Home builders are another group that has found value in efficiencies. Commercial builders also have come aboard, slowly incorporating building information modeling into design to reduce energy and operations costs with a slew of new technologies and products.
The EPA reports that more than 400 home builders have "committed to meeting the updated and more rigorous requirements for new homes that earn the Energy Star label in 2012." Those builders discovered value by inching closer to homes that use less energy. Net-zero homes may not be far off.
The EPA says that since 1995, about 1.2 million new homes have earned its Energy Star rating, which translates to savings of about $350 million on utility bills. The list of builders includes six of the country’s largest: Ashton Woods Homes, Beazer Homes, KB Home, Meritage Homes, M/I Homes and NVR Inc.
Job rating: Good but depends on consumer acceptance.
Reason No. 7: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This particular topic is close to home for me. I am employed because of stimulus money. My mission these past two years has been to maximize kilowatt hour savings at 36 cities and three counties in California's San Joaquin Valley. On that front, I'm getting closer.
My team and I will get it done. We will help our jurisdictions save money and start them on a diet of energy efficiency and clean energy. My boss says it's pre-ordained.
Others have done it. The 112-page report, "Profiles of Local Clean Energy Leadership: How America's Cities and Counties are Using Federal Energy Block Grants to Create Jobs, Save Energy and Prevent Pollution," is full of stories about how other cities spent their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant allocations.
To me, it made a lot of sense. I've been immersed in this world for many moons, speaking a language of kWh, T8s, VFDs, SEER, LEED and even less interesting terms.
What's great about the report is that it shows cities beaten roughly about the head and shoulders by the economy can navigate the many bureaucratic requirements and restrictions and actually implement money meant to do them good. I hope to pass these success stories onto my cities and counties.
Job rating: Steady.
Yep. We can save energy. We can figure out how to be better stewards of our communities and nation. Every one of the issues I listed translates to development and growth. Some could be really significant. Maybe we could clean that air a bit and get some jobs at the same time.
Cool idea but until recently was about as practical as living off the grid in a yurt. OK for some but hardly a sales feature Joe Sixpack would embrace.
The mere mention was limited to science fiction stories like "Logan's Run," in which the hero escapes with his life from a closed net-zero society of limited resources that could support only a limited population. In 2116, residents in the story who turn 21 are killed.
Net zero, however, has eclipsed such apocalyptic visions. In fact, it's arrived.
Rick Daysog of the Sacramento Bee reported that Pacific Housing Inc. plans to break ground this spring on a 34-home project in Sacramento, Calif. that produces as much energy as it uses. Daysog said Stockton, Calif.-based Sunverge Energy will install the $300,000 homes' solar systems.
And on the opposite side of the country in Fort Lauderdale, a company that last year decided to build all its new locations to the exacting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, platinum standards decided to go a step further. TD Bank, which has more than 1,250 locations on the East Coast, is building a bank officials say will be the first registered in the U.S. Department of Energy's net-zero energy building, or NZEB, classification system.
The reason, said Jimmy Hernandez, a TD Bank spokesman based in New Jersey, is relatively simple.
"It just makes sense," he said.
Hernandez said bank officials learned that for a little more than what achieving LEED energy efficiency standards cost, they could add solar panels and actually produce more energy than they consume. And the solar panels will eventually pay for themselves, he said.
The bank will consume about 97,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year to operate but produce at least 100,000 kWh.
Buildings consume about 40 percent of the overall energy and 70 percent of the electricity in the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Many efforts are under way to reduce that and in the process lower production of greenhouse gases.
Those measures include sustainability policies from some of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies, measures by states to increase efficiency through building codes (California's new rules took effect Jan. 1), efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy to fund energy efficiency retrofits in municipal government buildings across the country, the whole house and passive house movements to increase efficiency in residential and commercial buildings and a number of others.
An NREL report, "Zero Energy Buildings," says "energy consumption in the commercial building sector will continue to increase until buildings can be designed to produce enough energy to offset the growing energy demand of these buildings."
To address that trend, the U.S. Department of Energy is seeking to develop the technology and a knowledge base for cost-effective zero-energy commercial buildings by 2025. NREL already has created a classification system for net-zero energy buildings to aid in the standardization process.
Buildings aren't the only target. A move is afoot in the San Joaquin Valley to bring solar to the region's farms and use untapped or marginal lands to produce energy. That effort remains in its infancy but could show big dividends and additional revenue streams to farmers, who are themselves big energy users.
Photo: TD Bank branch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Straw bale homes, long on the energy-efficiency fringe, may be receiving more attention as cost-effective and energy-saving construction methods gain prominence. I stumbled across a significant reference to the time-honored building method while reading through the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency site and decided to follow some of the links provided. An article posted to BuildingGreen.com, explains the merits of the practice: high R-value, simplicity of construction and ample supply of material. As a reporter in Washington state's Skagit Valley, I chronicled the construction of a straw-bale house on a hillside overlooking verdant farm fields and forest. It was more high-end custom than practical, but intriguing. I wonder if any have been built in the San Joaquin Valley. The photo is of a house under construction from Autonomie Project Inc.