August 17, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 10
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Slip, Sliding Away

In terms of electricity use per capita, California is the most efficient state in the nation. Thanks to visionary leaders and strong energy policies, in 2003 the average Californian used 6,732 kWh (followed by Rhode Island: 7,248; New York: 7,491, and Hawaii: 8,325) while an average Texan used 14,602 kWh and per capita use in Wyoming exceeds 26,000 kWh/year. But this past month’s heat wave exposed a sorry reality -- that California’s efficiency leadership may be slip, sliding away for a number of reasons.

California’s record electricity use during the mid-July heat wave caught state power officials by surprise. Imagine 10% demand growth in a single year and 21% growth since the California Power Crisis just five years ago. The increased demand exhibited in July perilously threatened power system reliability; the scant “spinning reserve” provided by 2,000 MW of voluntary actions to “Flex Your Power.” Southern Californians have increased their electricity use so much in recent years that utility planners have had to revise downward the average number of homes 1 megawatt of power can serve from 1,000 to 750 to 650.

So just what’s up with that? The major factors driving power consumption are heat and people. To be clear, it was the nation’s second hottest July on record. (Only the summer of 1936 was hotter.) And there’s population: In 2001, there were 34.7 million Californians. Now there are more than 37 million; 2.3 million more people rely on the State's vast system of power plants and transmission lines.

Many of California’s new residents are living away from the moderating effects of the Pacific Ocean. Fast-growing hot spots include the Inland Empire and the Central Valley. In the San Diego region, Chula Vista has grown rapidly; even the sun-scorched Imperial County town of Calexico is sprouting with new housing developments. Riverside and San Bernardino counties have added a quarter- million homes since 1990, 143,300 with central air conditioners. Even on the coast, many homeowners are installing air conditioners while remodeling. Even though they’ll be used only five or six times a year, during system peaks, they’ll exacerbate California’s power challenge.

Skyrocketing energy demand is also a function of bigger homes with higher ceilings, more electronics, and bigger televisions. In 2005, the average newly built home in the United States was 2,434 square feet, about 50 percent larger than the typical new home in 1975. The popularity of 10-foot or higher ceilings – versus the traditional 8-foot height – has dramatically increased the amount of space to heat and cool in newer homes. The California Energy Commission has had to rethink how it estimates energy demand – no longer just in square feet but in cubic feet.

And then there are all the appliances, from second refrigerators, home offices with multiple computers, and TVs in several rooms. The proliferation of electronic devices – from entertainment centers to wine coolers and video game consoles --- are offsetting the benefits of energy conservation. While we may buy and use the most efficient appliances, our power systems are stretched to the brink. Has California’s leadership in energy efficiency been eclipsed by an insatiable thirst for a bigger and better quality of life?

Solar Station News

Serpa, Portugal will be the home of the world’s largest photovoltaic power plant, where 52,000 PV modules will produce 11 MW. The $75 million Portugese facility will be financed and owned by GE’s Ecomagination initiative (see ENN V10#6). PowerLight will operate and maintain the 150-acre plant, located on a south-facing hillside 124 miles southeast of Lisbon in one of Europe’s sunniest areas.

In Japan, two 7 MW PV installations are planned. Tokyo plans to team up with Sharp to build a plant on reclaimed land off the coast near Kyoto. Mitsubishi Heavy and Nagasaki Prefecture plan to build a similar 7 MW plant in the City of Omura. For comparison, Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s arrays at Rancho Seco have a rated capacity of 3.1 MW. SMUD reports that due to degradation they are now producing 2.3 MW on bright, sunny days.

Green Gossip

Looking for green gossip? is a new web site highlighting the efforts of celebrities doing “good green things.” Check it out!

Great articles, Ted. Right on! I believe in the Power of the Increment! Jerry McAllister, P.E. City of Corona, California
Biotown, Indiana

The 500 residents of Reynolds, Indiana have begun an experiment to test a new form of energy independence. If successful, Reynolds will be the nation's first community to use renewable resources to meet the electric, gas, and gasoline needs of all their homes, businesses, and vehicles.

In 2005, the town had an “Extreme Energy Makeover” day that featured tours of a showcase demonstration, workshops, and that ended with a community hog roast. This farming hamlet plans to generate its own electricity and gas using everything from municipal trash to farm waste, hog manure and town sewage.

Dubbed Biotown USA, the project is the brainchild of Indiana's Department of Agriculture. Officials hope to break ground in November on a $10 million center that will house the core equipment needed to turn manure and other biomass material into useful forms of energy, generating biogas and electricity by July 2007. From there, officials hope to raise another $10 million from private investors to upgrade the system so that it can also produce natural gas.

Proponents say the project will help the environment and lower local utility costs. Organizers estimate a barrel of biomass fuel will cost about $40; crude oil topped $80 a barrel this week. "Our goal, and what we're going to continue to work on, is for it to cost less," said Ryan West, who is leading the Biotown project for the Agriculture Department. "We said we'd call it a failure if energy bills went up."

In addition to electricity use, Biotown is focused on transportation, and has already achieved some remarkable results. So far, residents have bought more than 100 new cars and trucks under the program. A $400,000 renovation project of the town's single gas station will add a pump for E-85 fuel – 85% ethanol / 15% gasoline – by the end of summer. Town fire chief Rick Buschman’s half-dozen new flex- fuel vehicles run on various fuels including ethanol- gasoline blends as part of a deal offered by General Motors. For more information, visit the Biotown website.

Member Feedback: Foerd Ames on Carbon Sequestration

I am glad that you’re discussing carbon sequestration. There are several proposals but no easy answers to decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. I feel that ENN Issue 8 lightly passed through the topic and hope that your readers are not led to believe all carbon sequestration methods are tenable. It would seem irresponsible to put CO2 and wastes in underground and subductive plate venues. Bhopal-like burps inevitably issue at some surprising moment. We may be wasting time working on many expensive sequestration techniques when we need to be very specific and strategically deliberate with our energy future.

Another “climate friendly” option, the resurgence of nuclear energy, brings with it notions of shooting waste into space. Launch days would certainly be nerve-wracking and future fall-out is unknown.

Back to sequestration for a moment: One potentially tolerable approach to CO2 removal involves repeating polimonene carbonate polymers comprising a carbon dioxide catalyst and limonene oxides produced from orange peel oils. Having characteristics of polystyrene, the material may be formed into elegant carbon storage applications such as closed cell foam where required in buoyant vessels that support large offshore and deep ocean grids of energy conversion devices. See

Let’s rise above specific sequestration techniques and take a macro view: Ultimately, aerosolized hydrocarbon dispensation [the combustion of fossil fuels] and nuclear manipulations must give way to the emerging water-based hydrogen infrastructure. Industrial scale water de/resalination, separation into gases, combustion for useful purposes, and renewed joinery to water can be synchronized with hydrologic processes of the air/ocean world. Take sea level rising due to global climate change: Let's regard the increased sea water as abundant hydrogen fuel and oxygen! In this regard, ice melt contribution to sea level might be offset by the water’s conversion to useful gases.

Ames is owner of Ocean Wave Energy Company in Bristol, Rhode Island.

First Solar Costco

Collaboration was bright in Lancaster, California where Costco installed its first photovoltaic installation. The 600 kW installation of 1,800, 310-watt Schott solar panels was supported by Southern California Edison and managed by Permacity Solar. Costco’s first installation covers 45,000 square feet, neatly tucked between the store’s skylights, generating power and reducing cooling costs as the panels shade the roof from direct sunlight.

George Reis and Plastic Redemption

George Reis and his wife, of Santa Ana, California, have been collecting and recycling plastic bottles for years to help pay their daughter’s college expenses. Recycling is one of their passions. (In California, citizens have to get their bottles to a “redemption center” to get their deposit back; in 2005, over 12 billion containers -- about 60% of the total -- were returned for deposit by individuals and curbside programs. However, this means another 8 billion ended up in landfills.)

EcoMotion has heard reports that people returning plastic water and drink bottle aren’t getting their full redemption value. Is it a case of deceptive labeling? The following experiment was prompted by our questioning George: “How much do you get for every plastic bottle you redeem?” He said that he didn’t know, but he’d find out!

“I put together three trash bags of plastic bottles (94 bottles in each bag; 282 total) and took them to the EarthWize recycling center. They pay $0.04 per bottle for up to 24 bottles and $0.69 per pound for quantities of more than 24 bottles. My bottles weighed 13 pounds, so I received $8.97 total. If I had gotten the per bottle price, it would have come to $11.28 Since my primary reason for recycling these isn't financially based, this difference isn't significant. However, it is 30 percent. My guess is that many people bring bottles that still have some liquid, so their price per pound takes this into consideration. I, however, open each bottle, shake out any liquid, and then crush each bottle. I drilled holes in the bottom of the trash can so that any liquid that may have remained in the bottles can drain. Then I empty the trash can into plastic trash bags to bring to the center. I reuse the trash bags until they get holes in them.”

Small-Scale Wind: China and the UK

Featured at the Third Asian Wind Energy Exhibition in Beijing in June was a new type of wind power generator that can operate in low winds. A breeze of just over 5 kilometers per hour is sufficient to start the machine, which means it can operate for many more hours than traditional wind turbines. Li Guokun, the chief scientist for the turbine project, said government tests show the new technology can produce 20% more electricity than traditional wind turbines. Zhongke Hengyuan is currently planning to manufacture the small wind turbines from 300 watts - 20 kW in size.

Meanwhile, British homeowners will be given free rein to erect wind turbines and solar panels under proposed changes to the planning laws. At the moment, many local authorities insist homeowners apply for planning permission for such equipment. Planning Minister Yvette Cooper commented that, “It is patently absurd that you should be able to put a satellite dish on your house but have to wrestle with the planning process for small-scale micro-generation, which is no more obtrusive and can have a real impact on tackling climate change.”

If approved, homeowners will not need special permits for equipment to help the environment. Critics fear the proposals “will be a charter for millions to blight Britain with architectural acne, as eyesore devices mushroom across rooftops.” But the Government points out that it is legal to put up a satellite dish and the same rules should apply to micro-generators.