I N · T H I S · I S S U E
Partial Eclipse of the Moon
Some years ago, Jim Nybo and I were steaming across eastern Washington late at night, driving his packed van in the bright light of a full moon. We were loaded to the gills with Jim’s favorite banana packing boxes. He was headed home, east from Portland to Helena, Montana after a five-year stint with the Northwest Power Planning Council.
We were fast approaching a partial eclipse, and we were just a few miles from the Stonehenge Memorial in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s a full-scale replica of England’s Neolithic Stonehenge, built as a tribute to Klickitat County soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. There’s something about its form, accentuated in the moonlight. Like Stonehenge, its energy puzzles the logical, and enchants those metaphysically inclined.
Moving it was, the partial eclipse of the moon high above the Gorge. We named our analysis of the Northwest’s efficiency transformation accordingly. It was full of examples of efficiency successes in the region, from Salem and Eugene through Portland and up to Seattle and out to Spokane.
The recent news of renewable power topping nuclear capacity reminded me of the partial eclipse. New York City’s topping capped landfills on Staten Island and Brooklyn with 50 MW of solar capacity reinforces this. Dylan yes, “The times they are a’changin.”
Clean and green eclipsing nuclear? A Worldwatch Institute report marking the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010 - 2011, finds that total installed renewable capacity is now 381 GW (193 GW wind; 56 GW biomass/waste to energy; and 43 GW solar) passing 375 GW of global nuclear capacity. Total 2010 investments in renewables were $243 billion, and almost entirely from private sources. Amory Lovins wrote the report’s forward citing the “buildability” of solar.
The report also finds that while wind and nuclear each produced about the same amount of power in their first 15 years, the nuclear subsidy was over 40 times that of the wind subsidy. In Texas, an abundance of wind and now plans for a major wind energy storage facility there has caused NRG Energy to scuttle plans for two nuclear reactors. Worldwatch’s lead author said that the nuclear industry was “arguably on life support before Fukushima.”
Nuclear on the ropes. The other night we attended a party hosted by Mike Peevey for my former boss, the legenday David S. Freeman. I love hearing Dave speak. In his farewell remarks to the likes of Davis, Villaraigosa, Foster, Pulido, Kantor, and Nichols, he joked that this was a preview of his funeral. He then reminisced about his passions for efficiency, renewables, and electric vehicles; what a remarkable career spanning the White House, and later at the helm of TVA, NYPA, SMUD, and LADWP. He called nuclear “the deadliest form of power.”
The eclipse is building my confidence. Net zero is attainable. California’s “big and bold” energy efficiency strategy calls for all new homes to be net zero by 2020, all commercial by 2030. That’s soon. South Carolina Electric & Gas is building to own and operate a 2.6 MW solar system on a Boeing 787 final assembly plant there. It will produce 100% of on-site power use, making it a utility-supported, net-zero electricity site. The U.S. Army has announced that six bases will go to net zero by 2020 including bases in Maryland, California, the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and West Point, New York. Four years ago we took our own house close to net zero electricity without too much difficulty, and with a fair return.
At EcoMotion, it’s been an amazing April, all part of the great transformation. For me, it began in San Francisco promoting a new Distributed Generation power model to the Aspen Accord. At Solar Santa Monica we’re testing the market to establish a Community Solar Fund, an LLC investment strategy. We now see that New York City Mayor Bloomberg has announced a similar strategy. Our Solar Flags in Anaheim are reinstalled on eight campuses and our utility client now wants two more. The City of Palm Desert unanimously approved a contract for EcoMotion to manage PACE Solutions, a non-profit with the tag line of Energy Independence America. Late in April, our team managed two Earth Day celebrations, one on each coast, and an Energy Upgrade California kick-off meeting in Santa Monica. For us it was Earth Month.
Late last fall, the Mayor of Irvine (right in photo) congratulated the Capital Group Companies and their Owner's Representative, EcoMotion, for installing the largest solar system in Orange County. This week, the 1 MW system produced its millionth kilowatt-hour, at 6:40 PM on Tuesday to be precise. Among its benefits are worker pride and a five-year payback.
This is the partial eclipse of the moon that was not long ago just a dream and a vision.