state department

State Department inks clean energy deal; fuel cells find believers

Maybe it's just me. But every time I turn around, it seems as if clean energy has cleared another hurdle.

The latest to catch my eye is an announcement from the stodgy U.S. State Department, which inked a clean energy deal that it says won't cost anything but curtail CO2 emissions by about a third.

Not bad.

The deal involves Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, a utility-turned-energy-marketing company that offers a clean-energy portfolio of about 1,000 megawatts of renewable power generation. This power is either owned or under contract from sources that include utility-scale solar, hydro, wind and biomass power plants.

Last year the company completed its Criterion Wind project, a first for Maryland in commercial-scale wind energy. Constellation plans to begin building a commercial-scale solar energy facility also in western Maryland.

"This innovative agreement serves as a model for federal agency energy management," said Mayo A. Shattuck III, Constellation chairman, president and CEO, in a statement.

Federal facilities covered under the contract include part of the White House campus. Under the deal, a long-term power purchase agreement, Constellation Energy provides about 120,000 megawatt hours of energy annually to the State Department and other federal government facilities. Officials say the agreement encourages the development of new renewable energy facilities.

President Obama announced during his State of the Union speech that he had a goal generating 80 percent of the nation's power from clean energy. This, officials say, takes it a step in the right direction.

And on a lesser scale, there's this news from Hillsboro, Ore.-based ClearEdge Power, manufacturer of a line of residential fuel cells. I find the technology fascinating. I'm on the company's email list and normally give the announcements no more than a cursory look.

This one, however, caught my eye. ClearEdge said Jackie Autry, the former owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and widow of singer and actor Gene Autry, bought one of its fuel cells to heat and power to her Coachella Valley home.

Autry is quoted as saying the new system reduces carbon emissions as if she’d planted 6 acres of trees in her backyard. "I’m reducing my impact on the environment," she said. "It’s a home run."

The fuel cells save about 50 percent on utility costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a third, according to the company. Fuel cells work by stripping hydrogen atoms of their electrons through a chemical reaction. The ionized hydrogen atoms carry a positive electrical charge, while negatively charged electrons provide the current through wires to do work. Oxygen entering the fuel cell combines with electrons returning from the electrical circuit and creates water.

Simple right? That's what she said.

ClearEdge also announced a deal to sell 12 of its ClearEdge5 units to the Irvine Unified School District. The fuel cells will power and heat the swimming pools at Woodbridge and University high schools and provide extra power as well. The company estimates each school will save about $18,000 a year.

So, let's keep this stuff coming. Clean energy should be more than an adventure. I'd like to see it become a viable sector of the economy. That provides jobs.

US builds energy efficient embassy in Addis Ababa

President Obama in his State of the Union address challenged America to get 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2035.

Optimistic? Perhaps. But look at it this way: Many of the heavyweights in corporate America already have jumped on the energy efficiency and sustainability bandwagon. GM, GE and Procter & Gamble are among recent professed converts. And U.S. government agencies have been going all out with the concept, doing more with less energy as far away as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The site on the African continent is rather exotic and about 7,000 miles from the nation's capital. But a new building there -- that integrates green building techniques and was one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, registered facilities in Ethiopia -- provides a glimpse of evolving building trends regardless of location.

The facility, the $157 million U.S. Embassy, features high-efficiency mechanical chillers; variable frequency drives, or VFDs, for all pumps, fans and motors over 5 horsepower; instantaneous water heaters; and a building automation system, said Christine T. Foushee with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, in an email.

"The automation system allows the facility manager to view equipment consumption, schedule equipment run-times, and shut down systems when they are not required," Foushee said.

The embassy, which was completed last fall and dedicated this week, measures about 205,000 square feet and covers several buildings at the foot of Entoto Mountain, according to officials. The complex provides about 1,000 jobs. The builder was B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Ala., and the architect Page Southerland Page of Arlington, Va.

Other energy-saving features at the embassy include occupancy sensors that automatically turn off lights, automatic daylight dimming illumination for fixtures adjacent to windows, energy efficient compact fluorescents and light-emitting diode, or LED, lamps and electronic lighting ballasts. Energy saving is estimated to be 14 percent lower than the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standard established in 2004.

And more State Department buildings like the embassy are coming. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has seven projects in design or construction in Africa.

The energy efficiency movement and push to incorporate renewable energy and alternative fuels are well on their way. In the just released "State of Green Business 2011" report, Joel Makower and the editors of write that a dramatic shift is occurring in business despite the lingering effects of recession.

"Companies are thinking bigger and longer term about sustainability — a sea change from their otherwise notoriously incremental, short-term mindset," the report says. "And even during these challenging economic times, many have doubled down on their sustainability activities and commitments."

The Obama Administration directed $3.2 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, targeting inefficient lighting and electrical systems across the country for retrofits. Once completed, the program will enable local governments and others to reap huge saving on utility bills. And it will no doubt provide a further example to businesses and residents that they can do the same thing.

Likewise, domestic security efforts by the U.S. military to ween itself from imported fuel offer a high-profile example to consumers. Last month for instance, the Navy said at a symposium that is moving forward with aggressive targets, including reducing petroleum use in its commercial fleet by 50 percent by 2015 and getting half its energy from alternative sources by 2020.

Obama said: "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all."

Just what technology will win out or if all alternatives will be embraced remains a question. The report says great transformation is taking place. But its authors ask whether the public take notice and whether political leaders will "position themselves at the front of this parade?"

That of course depends on many factors. Economics will play a big role. Renewable energy remains a premium, but parity is coming closer with technological advances. And there's the price of oil, which is trading in the $91 per barrel range and is forecast to climb to $105 in the next year by

EU, US push toward energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is going global.

It's not just a bunch of true believers pounding fists on tables.

Last week in Lisbon, Portugal, the year-old U.S.-EU Energy Council brought up energy efficiency and clean energy technologies in a joint statement from the council and U.S. State Department, saying the concept has "effects across our foreign, economic and development policies."

The council ordered its Energy Security Working Group to pursue an aggressive list of clean energy issues. Officials said they "highlighted the importance of enhancing cooperation on energy efficiency in the buildings sector and products," recognizing "the mutual benefit of working towards common standards, convergent regulatory frameworks and effective incentives for the deployment of emerging clean energy technologies."

Also targeted were electric vehicles, energy storage, cellulosic and algal ethanol, and carbon capture and storage. The council praised the working group for its research into hydrogen and fuel cells, solar power and even nuclear fusion.

The emerging international consensus embracing the value of energy efficiency follows that of California. The state has successfully championed energy efficiency as a way to diminish the need for new energy generation since the anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s. Consumers, the federal government and a bunch of movers and shakers in corporate America have jumped aboard relatively recently.

By working together on energy, officials involved with the council say the U.S. and Europe can increase "mutual security and prosperity; underpinning stable, reliable and transparent global energy markets; and coordinating our regulatory regimes and research programs to speed the deployment of tomorrow’s clean and efficient energy technologies."

The bottom line? Economic growth and job creation. At least that's the line from the U.S. State Department. Climate change goals also factor in.

The U.S.-EU Energy Council brought together Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy; EU High Representative Catherine Ashton; EU Energy Minister Freya Van den Bossche; and EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger.

Heavy hitters. But this is politics, and the actual effect of the effort may be minimal at first. This is especially true in this case. While energy efficiency received top billing, there was also quite a bit of time given to Ukraine's natural gas transmission and Nigeria's oil fields.

Still, my impression is that the more that energy efficiency is publicized, embraced and instituted, the more the common Joe and Josephine will give it a try. It's like my recent post about LED bulbs being hawked at hardware stores across the nation. They're a little expensive to install but worth it in the long run.

Times are changing.

Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & EU Foreign Affairs & Security Policy High Rep./European Commission VP Catherine Ashton

Top 12 international U.S. companies named

The U.S. Secretary of State's office today released the list of finalists for its 2010 Award for Corporate Excellence, and one thing is certain.

Listed qualifications included clean-energy buzz words like clean technology, sustainability, environmental stewardship and carbon negative. It just goes to show that the concept promoted by the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization and an increasing list of others is adopting followers -- in the private sector no less.

The dozen U.S. companies were chosen from a record number of 78 nominations submitted by American ambassadors around the world, officials said. Finalists are considered international business leaders that recognize the "vital role" that U.S. businesses play abroad as good corporate citizens.

This year’s finalists are:

Alta Ventures in Mexico – for the venture capital company’s work to open Mexico’s venture capital market; foster greater investment, employment, entrepreneurship and U.S. exports; and share best practices in areas such as education, innovation, remittances, crime mapping, clean technology, health care, and information technology

Cisco in Israel – for the computer networking company’s efforts to reconnect the Israeli and Palestinian economies and people; build a sustainable model of job creation and economic development; and engage in several partnerships and initiatives to enhance technical capacity, connectivity, education and opportunities for women and youths in Israel and Palestine

Coca-Cola in Swaziland – for the beverage company’s work to improve local communities’ water, education, and health; promote entrepreneurship; foster local science and technology initiatives; and demonstrate exemplary employment practices.

Denimatrix in Guatemala – for the textile and apparel company’s environmental stewardship in reducing the environmental impact stemming from its production process; contributing to the development of the local economy; and reaching out to the community to help disadvantaged youth and the homeless

Fiji Water in Fiji – for the bottled water company’s disaster relief efforts; volunteerism; partnerships that focus on local health, education, and provision of water; and “carbon negative” approach to product lifecycle and conservation efforts

GE in India – for the diversified technology, media and financial services company’s fostering of local partnerships and volunteerism, supporting health, education, innovation and disaster recovery projects across India; exemplary employment practices; and promotion of cleaner, more energy efficient products

Intel in Costa Rica – for the semiconductor company’s contributions to revolutionizing science and technology education in Costa Rica’s public schools through volunteer programs and community leadership; volunteerism; and practicing environmental stewardship that benefits local communities through means such as innovative recycling programs

Mars Inc. in Ghana – for the confectionery manufacturer’s improvement of farming methods, sensitizing communities against child labor, and promoting the overall well-being and sustainability of cocoa growing communities; building partnerships to advance community empowerment; and contributing to the sustainable growth of rural economies

PepsiCo in India – for the beverage company’s fostering of environmental sustainability through water conservation efforts, which has benefited small and marginal farmers; supporting the health and well-being of local communities; and providing important employment opportunities through training with a focus on diversity and inclusion

Qualcomm in China – for the wireless company’s initiatives in education, health care and entrepreneurship; improving economic conditions; and enhancing the quality of life for Chinese citizens, particularly in underserved communities

Synopsys in Armenia – for the software and programming company’s promotion of U.S. and foreign investors by showcasing Armenia as a potential informational technology hub; collaboration with universities on IT training programs; and reduction of pollution levels by planting hundreds of trees to counter recent deforestation

Tang Energy in China – for the energy company’s efforts to promote development and U.S.-Sino cooperation in clean energy technologies; enhance industrial energy efficiency; and provide student health and education opportunities