Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division, Risk Assessment Section, will hold a public workshop June 26, 2018, at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) headquarters in Mather, Calif. The program will begin at 9:30 am and conclude at 4:30 pm and remote access accommodations will be provided. This first workshop is part of the Water and Electric Utilities’ Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Plans proceeding (R.15-06-009), expected to continue into 2019.

Click here to download the workshop agenda and find in-person, webex, and call-in information.


Credit:  SMUD

Credit: DOE

Credit: Patrick Krug

Resources & Opportunities



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Job Announcements

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Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update


Credit:  Solar Industry

Credit: Examiner

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Credit: The Union

Resources and Opportunities 

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Job Announcements

Upcoming events



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Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Udate

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

February 20, 2018


Credit: LA Times

Credit: Utility Dive

Credit: National Geographic

Resources and Opportunities
Chilled Water System Optimization Project
Integrated Renewable Energy Advisory Committee Description and Invitation
Implementation Model: Skilled Trades Apprenticeship Program
The Integrated Renewable Energy System Network Advisory Committee

Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements

Upcoming events
Webinar Series: Grid Modernization: Feb. 20 & Mar. 20
Webinar: Advancing DER in a Community Choice Context - Feb 21
Webinar: Roadmap to 20% Energy Savings – A Quantitative Tool to Plan Your Strategy - Feb 21
BERC Energy Summit: Bridging Divides & Building A New Energy Paradigm - Feb 22-23
Call: Kick the Cold: The Intersection of Healthy Homes & Energy Efficiency – Feb. 22
Advanced Energy Community Workshop – Feb. 28
Webinar: Cutting Water Waste: DOE and EPA Resources to Advance Water Efficiency - Mar 6
2nd Annual San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit - Mar 14-15
Yosemite Policymakers Conference - Mar 15-18
ICEPAG 2018: Microgrid Global Summit - Mar. 27-29
Webinar: Taking Control: Best Practices in Energy Data Management and Tools for Success - Apr 3
Green California Summit & Exposition - Apr. 9-10
Webinar: Financing 2.0: Navigating 3rd-Party Financing for Efficiency and Renewables - May 1
On the Market: Connecting Energy Efficiency to Real Estate Transactions - Mar 22
Business of Local Energy Symposium (CCA Symposium) - June 4-5
9th Annual Statewide Energy Efficiency Forum - June 20-21
Find more events

Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

February 05, 2018


Credit: iStock

Credit: The Energy Collective

Credit: Utility Dive

Resources and Opportunities
SEEC GHG Inventory Cohort Training for Local Governments
Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 Schools Pursuing Zero Energy
Report: Using Intelligent Efficiency to Collect and Analyze Non-energy Benefits Information
NOAA Environmental Literacy Grants
Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements

Upcoming events
2018 National Association of State Energy Officials Energy Policy Outlook Conference - Feb 6-9
2018 EPIC Symposium: Accelerating Clean Energy Innovation - Feb 7
Webinar: Using Data to Drive Low Income Energy Solutions: DOE Tool Demo and Case Studies - Feb 8
California Energy Efficiency Coordinating Committee Meeting: Feb. 15-1
Grid Modernization Webinar Series: Feb. 20 & Mar. 20

2nd Annual San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit - Mar 14-15
Yosemite Policymakers Conference - Mar 15-18
2018 Business of Clean Energy Symposium - June 4-5
Find more events

Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

December 04, 2017


Resources and Opportunities
Funding Announcement: Environmental Justice Small Grants Program
The state of AMI and time-varying rates in three maps and one graph
Report: Social Mobilization: How to encourage action on climate change
Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements
Energy Efficiency Specialist (2) - SF Environment
Business Analyst (Energy Efficiency) – City of Santa Clara

Upcoming events
Free Calif. Energy Efficiency Standards Trainings for Building Inspectors - Nov-Feb
Webinar: Implementing Energy Optimization in Water Operations - Dec. 5
Webinar: Climate Action Portal Map (CAP-Map) Launch and Demo - Dec 14
Forum: The Promise of Microgrids - Jan 25
17th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference - Feb. 1-3
Find more events

Copyright © 2017 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

The Coordinator would like to highlight a few items below:

Significant Opportunity for Local Governments on Solar-Friendly Rates
The CPUC voted on Thursday to reopen, albeit briefly, the eligibility window for local governments to secure 10 years of time-of-use (TOU) 1.0 grandfathering for solar projects. TOU 1.0 rates are much more “solar-friendly” than the TOU 2.0 rates that are currently being planned.

Practical Guidance for Local Climate Engagement - Oct. 31 & Nov. 21
In this two-part webinar series, participants will be equipped to communicate effectively on climate change, empowering you to create and deliver compelling messages that engage and motivate a diversity of Americans in the issue.

Cost Effective Zero Net Energy Practices for Production Home Builders - Nov. 1
Join the experts involved in the PG&E ZNE Production Builder Demonstration as they detail the design features that resulted in superior thermal performance, reduced material cost and waste, as well as energy and water savings for occupants.

Community Solar Pilot Workshops in California - Nov. 1, 6, and 8
The California Department of Community Services and Development is inviting individuals from many pertinent areas of community solar, including solar project developers, local governments, community organizations, utility companies, affordable housing developers, investors, and others.

Building Operator Certification – Nov. 9
Learn how the training program benefits building personnel, facility departments, building owners, the environment, and bottom lines.


Resources and Opportunities
Significant Opportunity for Local Governments to Grandfather on Solar-Friendly Rates
Navigating the Changing Landscape of Energy Efficiency Programs in the East Bay

Rural Energy Audits for Water and Wastewater Systems
Regulatory Advisory for Improper "Title 24 Compliant" Labeling and Advertising
Computer Rooms & Data Centers Title 24 Fact Sheet

Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements
Business Analyst (Energy Efficiency) - City of Santa Clara
Zero Waste Program Coordinator - Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Upcoming events
Practical Guidance for Local Climate Engagement - Oct. 31 & Nov. 21
Webinar: Financing and Incentives to Foster Zero Net Energy - Oct 31
Cost Effective Zero Net Energy Practices for Production Home Builders - Nov. 1
Webinar: BayREN - PACE and Financing - Nov. 7
Affordable Multifamily Financing Pilot Workshop - Nov. 7
Bay Area Energy Storage Fire Safety & Code Symposium - Nov. 8
Webinar: Building Operator Certification – Nov. 9
Community Solar Pilot Workshops in California - Nov. 1, 6, and 8
Find more events

Copyright © 2017 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Here are your wEEkly updates:

Peer-to-Peer Requests

Triple-Bottom-Line Accounting
A local government agency has requested information on cities and counties that practice triple-bottom-line or sustainable accounting. If your city or county has implemented triple-bottom-line accounting, or if you have any related resources, please let me know and I will get you in contact with this agency.

News and Opportunities

California Approves First US Energy Efficiency Standards for Computers
The new standards, approved by California's Energy Commission, requires most computers to draw less power while idle. Laptops are only required to see a slight reduction in power draw since they're already designed to be energy efficient. But only 6% of desktops currently meet the commission's standards. On average, noncompliant desktops will have to reduce their idle power draw by about 30% by 2019 and by about 50% by 2021, the commission says.

An Update on California's Distributed Energy Leadership
In a unanimous decision yesterday, California regulators created a new financial incentive pilot that encourages utilities to invest in DERs instead of more expensive traditional grid investments.

Microgrids Continue to Progress - With Some Bumps in the Road
Microgrids increasingly are being seen as a hedge against grid failure and as a way to more efficiently harness renewable resources. However, there is uncertainty for the future of microgrids as they grow at different rates in different areas and with potential decreases in research and development with the new Administration.
NYC Hospitals Reduce Energy Use by 10%
Transitioning to LEDs, solar panels, upgrading air handling units, replacing boilers, and steam trap replacement have been the common projects that enabled hospitals to reduce energy use.

RFP: Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentives Program: Best Practices Pilot
The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Office of Planning and Research is soliciting proposals for an effort to support local land use planning related to climate and the State's statutory planning priorities. The program funding in the amount of $250,000 will be available for applicants to apply for up to $50,000. These grants will support the development and/or implementation of a specific portion of a land use plan, land protection or management practice, or development project. Proposals due January 11, 2017.

Job Opportunity: Energy and Water Coordinator, County of San Luis Obispo
The County of San Luis Obispo Department of Public Works is seeking an innovative and experienced individual who is committed to work as part of a team in delivering a broad range of energy-related projects at County facilities. The position covers a wide range of duties, such as energy monitoring and reporting to researching and implementing program/projects in the County's EnergyWise Plan. Applications due December 29, 2016.
Click the Calendar link to view all upcoming events.

1/25-1/26 (Sacramento) California Climate Change Symposium 2017
This forum aims to share cutting-edge research addressing the impacts of climate change on the state to inform the state's strategies and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to develop programs to safeguard California from a changing climate. Early-bird registration ends today, December 16th.

2/2/17 (St. Louis, MO) New Partners for Smart Growth Conference
Early-bird registration has been extended to December 16th  for the 2017 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. This conference is the nation's largest smart growth and sustainability event and has been named one of 12 conferences not to miss by Planetizen. Early Bird registration ends today, December 16th.

3/16-3/19 (Yosemite National Park) Yosemite Policymakers Conference
Join mayors, city council members, county supervisors, city managers, and high-level department heads for the 26th Annual Yosemite Policymakers Conference. This popular conference always features a timely and inspirational program designed to provide the tools and support policymakers need to implement innovative solutions to address society's most pressing challenges. This year's conference will be no different with its focus on sustaining our progress and protecting the American dream.

5/5/17 (Long Beach) The Business of Local Energy Symposium 2017
The Center for Climate Protection along with the Local Government Commission and the Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition is offering their third Business of Clean Energy Symposium to convene government, business, and community leaders to accelerate California's shift to a clean energy economy and to exchange ideas about Community Choice Energy programs. Save the date - registration will open in January.

Resources and Reports

2017 Building Intelligence Predictions
Podcast on building intelligence to accelerate savings, equity growth, occupant satisfaction and the arrival of smart, connected cities in 2017.

Re-Assessment of Net Energy Production and GHG Emissions Avoidance After 40 Years of Photovoltaics Development
This report shows strong downward trends of environmental impact of photovoltaic production, following the experience of curve law, and shows a break-even between the cumulative disadvantages and benefits of photovoltaics, for both energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, occurs between 1997 and 2018 depending on photovoltaic performance and model uncertainties.

The Benefits of Solar + Storage for Commercial and Public Buildings
A combined solar + storage system can firm and smooth the energy used onsite, reducing demand charge risk due to solar intermittency, and results in more reliable reduction of energy and demand charge-related electricity expenses. Additionally, a combined solution can enhance the resilience of a building's power supply, a key consideration for critical facilities in the face of increasingly common power outages in some areas.

The Challenge of Decarbonizing the U.S. Power Sector: Encouraging Innovation and Aligning Stakeholder Interests
This working paper describes current U.S. power sector trends and relevant environmental goals, ways that technology innovation could proceed or be interrupted, and three emerging low- and zero-carbon technologies generally considered leading options for meeting the decarbonization challenges. It concludes with ideas from a range of experts to meet GHG reduction goals and accelerate innovation to advance low-carbon generation.


And that's all for this week! 

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Here are your wEEkly updates:

1. EE Coordinating Committee Update: Interested in how agricultural energy efficiency programs will provide funding in coming years? The Agricultural Subcommittee meeting is going on today – click here to learn how to join in person or by phone/web.

2. For a weekly round up from the Coordinating Committee, click here.

3. More on EE Program Planning: as the business plans for future EE programming develop, the CPUC shares additional guidance on what those business plans should look like. To learn more, click here.

4. Save the Date: Weatherization Program Development: The Department of Community Services and Development (CSD) is hosting a public comment opportunity on the design of the Low Income Weatherization Program (LIWP) June 2nd. More information is available here.

5. Save the Date: Upcoming Codes and Standards: BayREN will be holding a Forum on June 22nd covering what’s new in the 2016 codes and standards (which become effective January 1st). To learn more, click here.

6. Evaluating EE Programs: The U.S. EPA is holding a webinar on May 23rd to share best practices in planning and budgeting for EE program evaluation. For more click here.

7. EE and Clean Energy Results and Best Practices: The U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge partners are showing powerful results, and the Challenge released a Progress Update this week to show it. The Better Buildings Challenge is also kicking off three new Accelerator programs, focusing on low-income, CHP, and wastewater. See more on the Partners, and the results, here.

8. New Low-Income EE/Renewable Resources: PG&E is joining the Better Buildings Challenge’s new Low Income Communities Accelerator, bringing more resources to disadvantaged communities – learn more here.

9. ESA Program Boost to Mitigate Blackout Risks: SCE and SoCal Gas will be offering more through a $250 million add to the Energy Savings Assistance program – learn more here.

10. New List of All Climate Change Investments Released by ARB: for more, click here.

11. Water and Climate: A new report from the UN states that water is the climate challenge.  For information on big opportunities for water savings in California shared by an engineering firm in the recent public sector subcommittee meeting, new resources from San Diego County Water Authority, and more on what local governments are doing to reduce water consumption, click here.

12. Roadmap for Microgrid Commercialization: Interested in microgrids? The CEC, CPUC, and CAISO are holding a workshop May 24th to kick off development of a roadmap for microgrid commercialization in California. Learn more here.

13. Deep Retrofits for Small Businesses: Congratulations to the Association of Bay Area Governments for being awarded funding under the U.S. DOE’s Commercial Buildings Integration Program! Learn more here.

14. EE and solar installed in Yuba City: Congrats to Yuba City for completing installations of solar and energy efficiency measures in 16 city facilities. For more on what they’re saving through their energy performance contract, click here. For more on performance contracting in California, click here.

15. California’s Solar Ordinances in the News: Environmental Leader covers how requirements for solar help grow the solar market and the ability for solar to provide a direct return on investment. For more click here.

16. EJAC meeting online: If you missed the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee meeting this week, you can watch it online here.

17. Best Practices in Multi-Family EE Programming: reaching EE savings in multi-family residential can be challenging, but holds great opportunities. Learn more on best practices in program approach from ACEEE here. For more multi-family resources, click here.

18. New numbers on DR: Greentech Media finds more than 9.3 million customers in the U.S. are enrolled in demand response.

19. EVs Spread in Sonoma: Learn more about how Sonoma Clean Power is growing its electric vehicle footprint in 500 new charging stations here. For more on electric vehicles, click here.

20. Job announcements: San Francisco State is hiring for a Senior Director of Facilities Operations and a Senior Energy Manager! Learn more here.

21. Job announcement: California State University is hiring for a Sustainability Program Assistant! Learn more here.

22. A 1-Question Survey: Build It Green is looking for answers, or specifically, one answer, on local government interest in energy ordinance tracking. To help them out, click here.

As always, you can keep track of relevant events by connecting to the EE Events Calendar, and find more resources being added daily on the EECoordinator website.

That’s all for this week!

2015 UC Solar Symposium

You are invited to this year's  University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute Research Symposium. 
2015 UC Solar Research Symposium
Friday, October 16th, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
California Public Utilities Commission Auditorium
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

This symposium is designed to promote public knowledge regarding present and future UC Solar research initiatives, and to examine the current state of the solar energy industry in California and beyond. For more information, or to register, go to:

There is no cost to attend and lunch will be provided.
Featured presenters include:

Rob Oglesby, Executive Director, California Energy Commission (CEC)

Brad Heavner, Policy Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA)

Kim D. MacFarlane, P.E., Civil and Environmental Engineer, E. & J. Gallo Winery

Roland Winston, UC Solar Director and Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Natural Sciences, UC Merced

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

1.  Proposed Decision on Energy Efficiency Portfolio for 2016 and Beyond

Administrative Law Judge Edmister’s Proposed Decision Re:  Energy Efficiency Goals for 2016 and Beyond, Energy Efficiency Rolling Portfolio Mechanics, and Guidance for Changes to 2016 Energy Efficiency Program Portfolios.  The full text of this decision is made available through the link provided below. 
In the event of problems with this e-mail or internet link, please contact Shonta Bryant-Floyd at, telephone # 415-703-5242.

2.  AB 2188 Ordinance Adoption

The Solar Permitting Efficiency Act, signed into law by Governor Brown in September 2014, requires California cities and counties to adopt an ordinance that creates an expedited solar permitting process by September 30, 2015. The Solar Permitting Efficiency Act modified specific statutes that compose the Solar Rights Act and requires cities and counties to substantially conform their streamlined permitting process to recommendations contained in the current version of Spring 2015 Second Edition of this Guidebook lays out a safe, standardized, and streamlined permitting process for small residential photovoltaic (PV) and solar water heating systems (SWH) that can be adopted by most local governments with only minor changes to reflect local requirements.
To support local governments in achieving the ambitious goals set by the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has been working to remove barriers that constrain expansion of small-scale renewables. The Solar Permitting Guidebook is an important step toward this goal. The Guidebook explains current requirements for small residential solar PV and SWH installations, describes key steps in the permitting process, and recommends ways to improve local permitting. It also includes several template documents that local governments can customize for their own use to improve permitting. The Guidebook can also provide useful information to solar contractors and property owners.
Please visit the OPR webpage to view the Solar Permitting Guidebook, download editable Toolkit documents, and find additional information and resources related to solar and renewable energy. For more information, please contact Carolyn Angius at Carolyn.Angius@OPR.CA.GOV.

3.  Google tool to Help Install Solar Rooftop Panels

A team of Google engineers just released a tool called Project Sunroof to handle those concerns and more. They adapted the high-resolution aerial maps from Google Earth to estimate the total sunlight a rooftop receives throughout the year. The tool then tells you how much you can expect to save with solar panels under different financing plans (you can plug in your current electric bill for a more refined calculation) and connects you with local companies that do installations.  The tool covers limited communities at this point, but will be expanded in the future.

And that is all for this week!  

The Green Teams Part III

See? It's just so pretty!
Photo Source:
I was in San Francisco for Super Bowl XLVII; it was devastating. I’ve never seen the city so depressed. There’s hope for 49ers fans, though, as well as a new, shiny stadium. Santa Clara is their new home and, boy is it beautiful. It’s crazy efficient, too! There is a 20,000 square foot green roof… I know, SO cool. The stadium is using reclaimed water for drinkable and irrigation purposes and has incorporated recycled materials into the design. The stadium is also partnering with local vendors to create farm-to-table options for ticket holders. How awesome is that? And in addition to these already ground-breaking inclusions, a local company called SunPower is partnering with the new Levi’s Stadium to supply enough solar panels to produce sufficient electricity to compensate for all the power used for home games each year. True story.

I think (I hope!) the publicity of this installment as well as the one at the Pocono Raceway will help convince solar-naysayers that this great country we live in CAN produce ample amounts of renewable energy and maybe we should start viewing it as a reliable and clean supplier of grid power. I understand there’s a high initial cost, but there are loan and third party programs out there, among others. If solar can be implemented and rewards can be reaped on such a huge scale AND in a setting we all enjoy and support daily as a united community, we should be able to incorporate it on a smaller scale, too, without so much backlash, don’t ya think?

Speaking of renewable energy on a large scale, Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, installed solar way back in 2007 (the stadium was one of the first in the US to do so). The Indians have really been getting after energy savings through green initiatives. The stadium was also the first in the MLB to install a wind turbine. Installed last year, the turbine incorporates LED lights and kiosks for fans to learn about wind energy. See Mom, sporting events can be educational, too! Furthermore, staff attends an annual class about the stadium’s newest green practices, encouraging them to implement their knowledge at home and in their communities. Start on a small scale and cause a chain reaction… I’ve always believed this is the way to get people on board to save the environment!

The Indians also have some great ideas for future projects, which include following in the footsteps of the 49ers and building a green roof. I know I’ll probably be judged and condemned for saying this, but even though popcorn and hotdogs are the staple snack at baseball games, I am a sucker for fruit right off the tree and veggies right out of the ground. I would be more than happy to pay $20 for that and be able to pick it myself IN THE STADIUM than pay that kind of money for some processed meat and watery beer (sorry Keystone and Miller Light lovers! I’m really just not into it. The commercial above is more up my alley.).  Want to read more about the Indians and their energy-saving super powers? See pages 69-72.

NHL fans, I have not forgotten about you! Plus, even the NCAA is implementing sustainability programs. The big leagues aren’t the only ones who get to have all the fun! Stay tuned, loyal followers. More energy efficiency in sports to come!

The Green Teams Part II

I try to be energy conscious and waste as little as I can. Then again, I am lucky to live in a part of the country that allows me use public transportation (or walk) to almost any destination, does not have air conditioning in any apartments and has compost and recycling bins nearly everywhere. (For those of you that don't know, I moved to Seattle! and am happily still working full-time for the Clean Energy Organization.) I never use a hair dryer for more than a few minutes and only run big appliances (laundry, dishwasher) after peak hours. My microwave and stove get used once a day, max. But this is energy use on a very small scale for one very small person. 

SCREAMS inefficiency
Photo Source:
So what happens when, instead of being in charge of just your own energy use, you’re suddenly in charge of hosting tens, even hundreds, of thousands of fans (who are hungry and thirsty, cold or hot, and may be seated far from the action of the game) in a stadium that holds all of these people, food and ticketing staff, security plus the stars of the event and their managers, coaches, team owners, etc? Not only is there a need for several food and beverage booths, powerful HVAC systems, jumbotrons, surround sound speaker systems, expansive locker rooms, and numerous multi-stall bathrooms, but everything (and by everything, I mean every nook and cranny) has to be brightly lit and perfectly air conditioned. That sentence included A LOT of energy-draining things, which can only mean that the energy needed to power all of them is nothing shy of A TON. And as I mentioned in Part I of this mini-series, it seems hypocritical to live as I do and work where I do when I also snatch up every opportunity I get to go to one of these events.

We energy-enthusiast sports fans got lucky, though, because the industry has been significantly decreasing its energy use for a few years now. At this massive scale, energy use will always be high, but hosting these events in a LEED building or incorporating solar panels does make a difference. Take the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania for example. In 2010, 40,000 solar panels were installed; they power the entire facility and cut the raceway’s annual energy bill by over $500,000! That’s a lot of savings! It was also the first raceway to participate in the Dream Machine program, which provides a fast and easy way for fans to recycle. You can read more about these and other green initiatives here; and think about incorporating similar practices yourself because as the Raceway itself declares, “it’s not that tricky”.

Photo Source:
I've been playing tennis for nearly two decades now and learning that the US Open Tennis Center in Queens has been going green since they launched a pilot program in 2008 with NRDC (thanks to the amazing Billie Jean King, see pages 24-26) made me very ecstatic indeed! Initiatives cover recycling, transportation, energy management, and many more facets of the jam-packed two-week event, including event merchandise. The Center reduced water flow by 75 percent (!!!) in 2011 with new low-flow faucets; all match balls are reused in summer camps or donated to community organizations; all tennis ball canisters are taken apart so each metal and plastic component can be recycled separately and correctly. Plus, the Center composts almost all of its waste, down to the cooking oil. What does this amount to each year? HUGE savings and hundreds of tons of waste diverted from landfills. Can’t beat that!

NFL and MLB fans, stay tuned for Part III!

Solar And Water: A Growing Combination

*Editor's Note: I was cleaning out the SJVCEO blog archives last week and came across this draft post authored by the one and only Sandy Nax!  Going by the date of the draft I can only figure that Sandy had worked on this prior to his departure from SJVCEO in May 2012 and never had a chance to hit the 'publish' button. So, Sandy I hope you don't mind our using your words one more time!  -CBK

Many people equate solar power with rooftops, and that's true. More property owners - commercial and residential - are installing solar panels over their heads to cut power bills and carbon footprint. Check out what Toys 'R' Us is doing in New Jersey.

But solar energy is popping up all over the place. In backpacks. With the military in Afghanistan. On parking structures and as window coverings. And, increasingly, on or around water.

Solar is appearing at wastewater treatment plants, vineyard irrigation ponds and in settling ponds at gravel mines. There is even research into getting solar power from the ocean.

This New York Times story, which I read in the San Jose Mercury News, notes that solar panels are sitting atop pontoons at Far Niente in Wine Country. It quotes a winery official saying that vineyards are expensive real estate, and placing a solar array on the pond means no vines are removed.

Solar energy systems also are gaining a following at wastewater treatment plants here in the San Joaquin Valley, where power bills run high in the blazing summer.

The cities of Tulare and Madera use solar at their plants. Learn more about those projects here and here. Water transfer is expensive, and solar can help cut costs. We keep hearing that more cities are considering following suit. This Sign on San Diego story has more on how solar works at such plants.

Opportunities for solar will become even greater as technology improves, costs decrease and it becomes more mainstream. Water-related solar increases those possibilities even more.

Sandy's now in Sacramento working for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and still managing to write...a lot.  Seriously, Google it! 

Photo of solar on pond at Far Niente Winery by

Whitepapers: PV inverter performance in desert-like locations

Wow, unique desert challenges addressed through rigorous testing!

On April 25, 2012 SMA America, LLC publish a study on how outdoor installed PV inverters held up under extreme weather conditions found in the desert. Conditions such as sandstorms and enormous temperature swings produce a whole new set of challenges for developers of PV inverters. Dust and sand is prevalent in the ambient air and tends to create serious obstacles in solar PV inverters installed outdoors, but with the new technology developed and rigid testing the inverter’s seals protected it from harmful dust deposits.

I don’t know about you but this stuff gets me excited. I’m really enjoying watching alternative energy develop in front of me.  We are indeed watching history in the making, but let’s not forget that energy conservation, although not the most attractive option is the best way to become energy independent. Check out the full story at the link below.

--Dee Cox

Photo credit:

Money Monday: Top 5 Reasons to Go Solar!

It's a Money Monday guest post because Dee is on the trail of some money for the SJVCEO in form of an EPA grant!  Graciously our colleague, Shalon Anderson has put together a post on the Top 5 reasons for going solar on your home. Some of you may know Shalon, at least by name, through the US Green Building Council Central California Chapter.  In addition to her work for USGBC CC, Shalon works in support of many of our clients in the non-sustainability fields at PESC.  Shalon was interested in trying her hand at blog writing and we're fortunate to be the only blog business in the office!   How is this a Money Monday post?  Well,  that's answered in reason #1!

Thinking about solar for your home?
By Shalon Anderson

There are many myths out there about solar panels. “They’re too expensive, They don’t last long, It’s a waste of time.”

Well- the truth is, there are many reasons why installing solar panels on your roof can save you money and reduce your energy dependence! Solar is one of the very few household purchases that will actually pay for itself. There is no better way to save money AND increase the value of your home at the same time.

Don’t just take my word for it, let’s review the top 5 reasons why installing solar panels on your home makes financial sense.

1. GO GREEN! Installing solar panels offers a “greener” alternative than energy obtained through utility companies. Once your solar panels are installed, (roughly 3-5 days depending on the size of your home) you will immediately begin to save $$$$ on electrical costs. These savings will rack up for years to come!

2. AFFORDABLE! Most solar dealers offer little to no money down for initial  costs. Financing is available for homeowners and it’s always a good idea to check out the local incentives and rebates in your area. They’re out there! What happens if you move or sell your home? No need to fret! Nearly all solar contracts can be transferred over to new owners at no cost. See your local solar dealer for full details.

3. RELIABLE! Solar panels are built to withstand years of direct heat. On sunny days, the solar panel’s battery is charged giving you hours of efficient power after sundown.  According to, photovoltaic (PV) panels should last 20-25 years or longer. Maintenance is quick and easy, with nothing but a spray of the good ol’ garden hose needed once every few years.

4. NO FUSS! There is no interruption of solar power in the dim light or on overcast days. Solar panels are built to work with your general utility grid in times of harsh weather. You can connect to the grid when needed, so no loss of power will be experienced. You can continue with your normal activities without a sweat. In times of blackouts, solar panels will automatically turn off to prevent interference with utility company repairs. 

5. WHY NOT? There’s no reason not to consider solar panels! They can be installed in a timely manner with no modifications needed inside or outside of your home. Your roof will never  be subject to damage because solar panels actually protect the part of the roof they cover. It’s a good idea to have your roof inspected for any necessary repairs that may be needed prior to installation. Once installation is complete, all appliances will go back to “business as usual”. There is no need to purchase new appliances or acquire any special electrical outlets.

Your green home is just a phone call away! Be sure to make a list of questions and concerns for your sales person. Contact your local solar panel dealer for more insight and tips on how you can start saving money today! You can also visit the California Energy Commission for the latest in energy news and activities. 

Photo Credits: Toyota UK and Wayne National Forest

Space-based clean energy could alter the future

Harry Harrison at his best.
Clean and cheap energy has been percolating in innovators' minds for centuries.

Far longer ago, alchemists and wizards sought the source of ultimate power somewhat differently, calling it magic.

The economic consequences of cheap clean energy would be tremendous. Imagine energizing rural Africa or infusing India's poorest neighborhoods with uninterrupted inexpensive power. All that brain power just waiting for an opportunity to connect with a money-making idea could make substantial changes in technological development, not to mention economic might.

So far, however, that pursuit remains unrealized. Recall cold fusion? How about the mythic magnetic power generator, a device that purports to produce "free" electricity.

Alas, it's a crock. So far, anyway.

Pursuing clean energy

That doesn't stop the pursuit of some nearly free energy source. Or the daydreaming. Or the bona fide research bringing existing clean energy technologies more in line with the cost of conventional carbon-creating fuels.

Writers regularly take on the challenge, imagining star travel as the likely result of conquering energy. Isaac Asimov's universes were fueled by atomic power. Even Albert Einstein and Otto Stern envisioned a hidden source of power in all things. They called it Nullpunktsenergie, which was later translated to zero-point energy. Imaging that is one thing. Tapping it is another.

With this in mind, I decided to do some research. For mean that meant looking up the sci-fi masters. Of course, clean energy wasn't the only thing on my mind. Reading offers equal-opportunity inspiration.

Back to the barn

Used book stores exude a musty eclectic chic. Often they're stuffed with type-packed cast-offs just waiting for somebody to give them another look.

At the recently expanded and somewhat aptly named Book Barn in my town of Clovis, Calif. I tagged along as my high school English teaching wife, Peggy, scoured the shelves for teen lit. Werewolves, vampires, angst and drama. The usual stuff.

Meanwhile, I hit the science fiction shelves. I dug around in the recesses of my memory for authors I once read and scanned the carefully sorted titles. Good lord, Gardener F. Fox had a couple of books. He wrote in the style of the incomparable Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Fox's publisher didn't have anything on the author in the series of skinny little paperbacks available, so it's not surprising he's totally out of print today.

I nabbed one, even though it read like something I had consumed before. Many times before.

Charlton Heston's legacy

On the next shelf over, I found several by Harry Harrison, who startled my generation in 1966 with the story, "Make Room, Make Room," which explores the consequences of unchecked population growth. Most recall the somewhat altered movie version, "Soylent Green," starring Charlton Heston in the leading role of detective Thorn and Edward G. Robinson as his roommate Sol. It was to be Robinson's final film.

Harrison has penned a number of novels in various sci-fi sub genres, and many contained themes of social commentary. Although not so much with the "Stainless Steel Rat," a space criminal anti-hero who had a bit of a soft side. I believed I had consumed nearly all of his books but found a couple in the Book Barn that proved me wrong. "Invasion Earth" tells the story of an invasion by aliens by means of a high-stakes con job, and "Skyfall" outlines the struggles of a U.S.-Soviet (the Reds still had stamina in this 1978 novel) project to ship a deep space solar collector into the heavens to provide clean, cheap energy to the the globe.

In "Skyfall," the project isn't easy. In fact, disaster lurks at just about every turn. Not surprising. Actually, the story is somewhat timeless, other than the Soviet connection. Swap CCCP characters for Russians and it could spark interest a decade from now when climate change is a freakish reality, sending residents of island nations and low-lying countries like Bangladesh into their neighbors' garages and outbuildings.

"Skyfall" isn't Harrison's best. It drags. Its characters have all the zip of a lead brick. The pilot is an idiot chauvinist. The U.S. president is a jerk, not as "crooked as Tricky Dicky, but he's craftier." The Russian female pilot is underdeveloped and somewhat two-dimensional. The narrative doesn't zing like most of the author's work.

Space-based solar

But the Prometheus Project sounds great. The idea is to deploy huge unfurling solar collectors where they could collect solar energy without nighttime interruption and beam it via microwave to points on earth. The cost is immense and the project massively controversial. The book's antagonist is a Newsweek reporter who wants to write about nothing but potential doom.

Coretta Samuel, one of the crew, tells him at one point, "Just the physical reality that, at the present rate of consumption, we're going to burn up all the Earth's oil in a couple more years. So we've got to do something drastic about it."

Doing something. Sounds great to me. Back when this book was published, I was thinking about earning gas money for my mini truck and enjoying the spoils of refined fuel while spinning broadies in the East High parking lot in Anchorage.

Current political discourse has all but ignored climate change. That's an issue for our children, apparently. They will have to make the tough decisions because there will be no alternative. Most likely they will curse the previous generation for short-sightedness.

I know I would.

Solar solutions

There is an alternative. Investment in a number of solar projects will reveal over time that there is money to be made in clean energy. There's certainly economic development in clean energy. Spending on facilities that continue to generate money in the form of electricity offer a steady payoff as well as the initial injection of construction jobs.

Just as a wider road or bridge facilitates travel and movement of goods and services, clean energy facilities generate energy without the constant effort of the extraction of natural resources. Drilling will recover only what history has left. Mining for coal will get increasingly expensive as the easy-to-extract sources play out, while oil recovery is already tapping the tremendous technological talents of engineers.

Federal dollars should continue to be funneled into clean energy research. You never know what some grad student will pull out of a beaker after long nights and neuron-firing inspiration.

The National Space Society promotes the concept Harrison wrote about in "Skyfall." Maybe it's not far-fetched. It's definitely massively expensive and would require almost worldwide coordination of resources.

Space Office study

An October 2007 study by the National Security Space Office says the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA have spent about $80 million over the past three decades study space-based solar. In contrast, it says the U.S. government has spent about $21 billion studying nuclear fusion.

The study concluded that space-based solar "does present a strategic opportunity that could significantly advance U.S. and partner security, capability and freedom of action and merits significant further attention on the part of both the U.S. Government and the private sector."

The study also says while significant technical challenges remain, the concept "is more technically executable than ever before and current technological vectors promise to further improve its viability."


Sounds a little like I read this somewhere. Oh yeah, in just about every book I consume. Hugh Howey is my latest favorite author. His "Bern Saga" series takes energy sources, space travel and future economic and cultural conflict and turns everything inside out. His concepts stretch my imagination, certainly.

Possibly, Howey and others writing quietly in their home offices will change the direction of mankind. For the better.

Off the grid: TV tries on extreme energy efficiency

The cast of Falling Skies.
The Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" chronicles the last days of Earth through the eyes of two women.

Stuck in an apartment building, they try to hang on as the planet heats to an inferno.

A man with a gun steals their water, which is invaluable as most of it boils off into the atmosphere. He apologizes. Then the thermometer bursts, oil paintings melt and the women pass out.

A surprise ending reveals that the earth is actually spinning away from the sun, becoming inhospitably cold. The overheated scenario is revealed to be a fever-fueled nightmare of one of the women. Everybody's going to die but by freezing, not frying.

A darker view of the future

That TV show originally aired Nov. 17, 1961, near the height of the Cold War when many could see the end of the world, or at least imagine it. The Twilight Zone was hardly alone reflecting the fears rife within popular culture. Horror films with political overtones experienced a renaissance. The anti-hero emerged. And negative realism supplanted much of the just-so attitude of the previous decade.

The economic collapse, the unknowns surrounding climate change and the threat of a finite supply of fossil fuels appears to be giving rise to similar doomsday sentiment. TV has taken up the challenge of answering the question: "What if life as we know it collapsed?" with a couple of slickly produced shows.

But 21st century popular culture doomsday isn't obliteration, it's discussing life without the grid -- a grim return to civilization without the niceties of electronics or central government.

Falling Skies

Watch "Falling Skies" on TNT for a glimpse into life without modern conveniences and an alien invasion threatening every remaining human. Every scene has a dark cast, while the stars worry about their next meals and never seem to have time for a shower.

The stand-out character is Colin Cunningham, who plays longhair and all around bad boy John Pope. Pope knows nothing is like it used to be and acts accordingly. His humanity, not all that sophisticated to begin with, gets tested occasionally with the sometimes soap opera story lines. But he comes through in a pinch when survivors need a weapon to kill the invading "skitters."

Soon NBC will debut  "Revolution," a J.J. Abrams drama centered around doomsday. This time all electronics fail and the United States is plunged into a world better suited to 19th century lifestyles. Of course, the transition likely wasn't so fun with cities full of desperate and starving people, so the show begins at year 15 when "life is back to what it once was long before the industrial revolution: families living in quiet cul-de-sacs, and when the sun goes down, the lanterns and candles are lit."

Of course, that won't last. Conflict is certain as, well, the next episode.

A beginner's guide

Chris Neiger jumps right into the issue writing a beginner's guide to living off the grid.

Neiger offers a straightforward approach. His target audience is the weekend enthusiast, the type who would like to experience a step back from technology and civilization but still keep it close.

"Some have already made the switch," he writes, adding that many more are considering severing ties.

Makes sense, especially in the eastern half of the United States where a major storm knocked out power at the end of June 2012. Residents lived days with stifling hot homes, backed up traffic because the lights didn't work and an economy reduced to old-style ledgers and hauling water because the pumps don't work. Refrigerator dumping was a must. A massive storm knocked down utility poles like toothpicks and cut power to an estimated 1.8 million.

Those folks got a taste of what could be. Most would prefer that the authorities keep the peace, that utility workers put up new poles and string new wire.

Fun with electromagnetics

But what if some terrorist organization set off an electromagnetic pulse bomb (a scenario chronicled beautifully by author Theresa Shaver in her book, "Land") or if the sun sent a massive solar flare our way?

Dan Vergano of USA Today describes an EMP this way: "Whether powered by geomagnetic storms or by nuclear blasts, their resultant intense magnetic fields can induce ground currents strong enough to burn out power lines and electrical equipment across state lines."

Nice. Like that, we go from civilized to candle power.

Of course, this kind of situation has nothing to do with the living green. But if the above scenario took place, the practice would indeed have merit. Sure, some now may be considering an alternative energy lifestyle. But they appreciate the finer things we've developed as a nation. My use of doomsday is for illustrative purposes only.

What would it take?

Being forced into alternative energy is hardly optimal.

Neiger's piece did make me think, however.

He spells out what it takes. First you'll need power. The average American home uses 11,496 kilowatt hours of electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Neiger suggests combining wind and solar systems. Not that this setup would be immune from a natural or wartime electromagnetic blast. But it could likely be repaired. I advise adding some backup lead-acid bus batteries.

The off-grid home also would need access to water. This can be done through a well and a submersible pump, which requires power. Waste water needs a septic system. Gray and black water can be separated, reducing the load on the septic tank.

Then there's heat. Neiger suggests propane, which can be delivered cheaply and would also be used for the cook stove, a water heater and fridge. A very reliable alternative for heat is wood. Modern wood stoves reach an extremely high interior heat, reducing smoke. Tip: well insulated homes need less fuel to heat or cool.

"Many people who go off the grid make gradual steps to energy self-sufficiency," Neiger writes. "It starts with conservation and then snowballs into alternative energy sources."

Neiger says to expect to spend money. And that's true. However, the more basic package is relatively cheap.

On O'Connor Road

I grew up off grid. Really not that big a deal. Were civilization to collapse when I was a kid living in the sticks in Fairbanks, Alaska, I suspect we'd be fine. I'd get a little more sick of salmon, moose and rabbit, but not much else would change.

We had multiple buildings, super-insulated and not real big. We had a septic tank for gray water. That's sink water by the way. The outhouse required a 50-foot sprint on cold days. Mom bought the 10 acres for $7,500 in 1970 and built an 18-by-32 foot two-story house, a separate eight-sided sauna and barn for about $18,000. Expect to pay more today, but keeping it simple reduces costs.

We melted snow in winter, collected rain water in summer. We did get electricity, but many of our neighbors lived too far to afford installing poles. They used candles and kerosene.

We heated our house with wood. I cut it up in summer, split and stacked it in massive piles and burned it when the snow started to fly. Some neighbors used coal from the Usibelli Mine delivered once a year.

A post by Spy Vondega on says, "Some of those who opt for the simple life are driven by environmental concerns or religious beliefs; others fear economic collapse; and some just enjoy hunting and fending for themselves."

And some may choose to do it as an investment.

Fellowship of the sun: Quest for solar power continues

Chronicling the progress of solar energy has at times been like trying to follow Legolas, Gimli and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring as they journey across Middle Earth.

Here's a possible dispatch from soon after their initial departure: They've gone through the Misty Mountains and successfully beat the odds in the mines of Moria. But Gandalf dies battling a balrog.

Likewise, solar continues to push forward despite tremendous odds: U.S. manufacturers have been buffeted by international market forces but battle through. Solyndra is killed by a beast known far and wide as bankruptcy.

It's not easy. Yet, in both cases, the quest continues. For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, the quest will never be over. My 15-year-old son currently carries a copy of "Return of the King."

For solar, the news on the whole is positive. Clint Wilder, senior editor at market analyst Clean Edge, says in a recent post that "U.S. solar installations grew 109 percent, adding 1,855 megawatts." He says that's thanks to "falling photovoltaic prices, favorable policies in key states, and the aggressive business strategies of installers/financiers like Solar City, SunRun, and SunEdison."

The battle for solar

That's not saying there's not a Battle of Hornberg at Helm's Deep still out there. (Recall in the Peter Jackson film "The Two Towers" where the fellowship whips up on bloodthirsty orcs in what has got to be one of the best fight screens in all moviedom.)

Solar progress in California's San Joaquin Valley has mirrored that in the rest of the nation. Development may not be as fast, but projects are getting green-lighted. The California Energy Commission shows 4,242.5 megawatts worth of major solar energy generating projects approved in the past several years and another 1,500 megawatts under review.

In the meantime, smaller projects are going in all over the state and the rest of the country. Here in the Valley, it's no different. But some spots are more progressive than others.

Signs point to job growth

Hector Uriarte at Proteus Inc. in Visalia says solar projects have begun to hurdle the permitting process and break ground, especially in Tulare County. “We have an 80 percent placement rate,” he said of his organization’s solar panel installation training program.
That placement rate represents a 20 point increase from about a year earlier at his organization.

Uriarte says the solar industry is very close to being a significant driver in the job market. “Once it breaks open, the need (for workers) will be tremendous,” he said.

Damon Silva of Bakersfield-based A-C Electric Co. said the utilities will play a big role in how fast solar projects materialize and begin to become a major driver in the San Joaquin Valley economy. “A lot of this has to do with the utilities themselves,” he said. “There are quite a few of our projects ready to go.”

Utilities must approve an energy project's link to the grid. That power has to meld seamlessly with existing sources and not overtax overhead, or underground, cables.

Educators seek to meet the need

The expansion in the industry means a need for jobs. The San Joaquin Valley's colleges have formed a group dubbed the Central California Community Colleges Committed to Change, or C6, to meet that demand. The program seeks to create accelerated educational training programs that produce qualified graduates for jobs in critical sectors that industry desperately wants to fill.

One of the targeted sectors is alternative and clean energy. The group is looking to form training and educational programs that build upon common curriculum that potential employers can depend upon. Discussion by the group at a recent meeting about clean energy focused on producing graduates fluent in the fundamentals and expanding from a solid base curriculum.

There is great potential. For instance the market for energy efficiency, which dovetails with solar, is huge. Steve Earl, president and CEO of Sequoia Energy Services, says he’s come across reports that indicate meeting California’s improved building standards for energy efficiency in new and retrofit structures would cost $90 billion. However, the projected return is $400 billion in savings.

Failure is not an option

The need to clean up our air is tremendous. In other words, the fellowship of the sun must not fail. My Precious, best known as Gollum's ring, for purposes of comparison, represents in this case fossil fuels. Spellbinding and useful but ultimately deadly.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that six monitoring stations up in the Arctic reveal what clean energy advocate has been saying all along, that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air are increasing. Sampling at those sites showed concentrations exceeding 400 parts per million in spring for several years.

"The northern sites in our monitoring network tell us what is coming soon to the globe as a whole," Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, tells "We will likely see global average CO2 concentrations reach 400 ppm about 2016."

Gimli & Legolas

This solar fellowship has a long way to go before it reaches the climax seen in "The Return of the King." But consider this: The industry has quite a few proponents who are true believers.

These, who I liken to Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf, boast immeasurable talent. Consider, for instance in the movie version of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" when the two start counting off their kills at Helm's Deep, courtesy

Gimli: Legolas! Two already!
Legolas: I'm on seventeen!
Gimli: Huh? I'll have no pointy-ear outscoring me! [kills another one]
Legolas: [shoots two more arrows] Nineteen!

Soon others of the fellowship will begin listing not their kills but their successes. Jobs will follow.

Heat and time take toll on solar panel performance

Solar arrays at NREL.
The widely held belief of solar systems is that once the initial cost is paid off, the rest is gravy.

Or more specifically, that the power harvested from the sun is free for those who own their systems. And that's true.

However, there's an important detail to consider, especially if the cost of materials and labor are financed over a long period.

"Numerous studies have shown that degradation rates for silicon modules are typically less than 1 percent per year," says analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

That means power output diminishes minutely each year and could be significantly less for a system once the up-front costs are paid off after financing. That could mean a photovoltaic solar array produces 40 percent less power than the day it was installed once a 40-year loan is paid. A highly technical NREL study says declines could actually be less, ranging from .5 percent to .7 percent.

Of course degradation and performance rates depends on multiple factors, with some being solar intensity and temperature. Series resistance poses another interesting factor as does the system performing only as well as its worst cell. But that can be dealt with by connecting the panels in parallel or using other technical means.

On an NREL map of the United States outlining solar intensity, California's San Joaquin Valley sits in one of the optimal places. The region is sunny.

But with sun comes high temperatures, which also decrease electrical output somewhat. And that's something to consider in the Valley where many communities have more than 40 days of the year hotter than 100 degrees.

The reason for the heat-related performance decline has to do with conductivity, reducing the magnitude of the electric field and lowering voltage, according to "It should be noted that a higher temperature increases the mobility of electrons, which causes the flow of current to increase slightly," the site says. "This increase is however minor and insignificant compared to the decrease in voltage."

Simply put, "the solar radiation which produces solar electricity carries heat with it that will cause the components of your photovoltaic solar panel to become altered and less able to capture sunlight effectively," says

NREL has an outdoor test facility that's been operating about a decade testing all sorts of solar panels. As time marches on, more will be written about performance, maintenance and optimizing crystalline photovoltaic systems to extend their lifetimes.

I started looking into this concept after a colleague of mine who works with one of the counties I contract with mentioned solar performance issues. He said the county is likely to continue to pursue development of a significant solar project, but that it is also looking into other methods of boosting its clean energy footprint.

Net-zero construction gains ground in U.S.

Apollo 11 touched down on the Sea of Tranquility with the world watching.

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.

Here on Earth

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.

Movement expands

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.

Passive house

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.