August 18, 2011 – Volume 13, Issue 15
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


The Fast Track to Fuel Economy

I really love these guys, how they make me feel so at home. Cozette and Doug are buds.

Doug and I go back a bit, a decade or so of energy policy works in a sun-drenched city. Pioneering works with a city manager whose eyes still sparkle in ours to the breadth and rich possibilities of local governance. Progressive efficiency and distributed energy was our thing; the solar research tour to Spain welded a lasting bond. There, Cozette realized the importance of Doug’s work with local energy independence.

A few weeks back, we had dinner, and “got down” on carbon footprints. What a topic. Since our last rap, she’s begun to look at her own seriously. Par for her style, she is reading voraciously and shaping her own, quite grounded eco-position.

Even her beloved Yukon is no longer sacrosanct, “Maybe I will test drive a Prius.” “And how do you like your Civic hybrid?” Doug and I’d just ran it out to the Arizona border the day before in the blistering heat, keeping cool with max AC, lots of laughs, all at 38.6 MPG.

Full on dinner-time analysis: The Yukon: “Just how bad is it?” “How much fuel does it use?” “I don’t drive it much.” Good questions and thoughts: What’s more efficient in terms of gallons used, a Yukon that gets 20 MPG for 10,000 miles, or a Prius that averages 40 MPG and travels 20,000 miles? What if the Prius goes 25,000 miles a year? Sure, CAFÉ is a piece of the puzzle; an equally big piece is how much we use our flashy “mobility appliances.”

A National Public Radio commentator added perspective. He believes there is a more expedient way to reduce dependence on oil and inefficient cars. Rather than the time-consuming process of setting standards and technology adoption in motor cars of all kinds, why not just tax gasoline? The price of gas is “elastic.” In other words, consumers do respond to price increases. Higher taxes will reduce driving immediately. It need not take 14 years. And do both, use the consumption tax initially, later reducing it as technological advances take hold. Gas and carbon taxes can be used to support alternative forms of transportation, from sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses, to bike lanes and trails, to mass transit systems – from bus ways to light and heavy rail.

Back to Cozette’s options: Yes, with her limited Yukon miles, she could keep it, and pay the gas tax. ”But wouldn’t I save more money and lessen my footprint more if I got a Prius and reduced my miles?” “Can we fit in a Prius for our upcoming vacation to visit the kids in Sacramento and Seattle?” “And, If I sell the Yukon, won’t someone else drive it?” Will any SUV continue its trajectory of fuel inefficiency with a new owner? Hand-me-down technologies do indeed have a cost on society. But move on Cozette, so that your next hand-me-down will be efficient and all-American, eco-debt free.
“We’re up to the task.”
Senior VP Nissan on the new and aggressive CAFÉ standard

54.5 MPG

On July 29th President Obama announced a historic agreement with thirteen major automakers to pursue the next phase in the Administration’s national vehicle program. In a dramatic about-face, the automakers agreed to increase the corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025.

BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors Corporation, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo account for more than 90% of all U.S. vehicles sales. These companies worked with U.S.EPA, U.S.DOT, the United Auto Workers, and the State of California to develop the agreement. It calls for a 5% annual improvement for cars from 2012 – 2025, 3.5% for the first five years for trucks before they too increase their efficiency gain by 5% per year.

The new CAFÉ standard builds on the current 27.5 MPG standard, and Obama’s 2009 mandate for 35.5 MPG by 2016. Obama’s staff had reached as high as 60 MPG, urged 56.2, and settled on 54.5. Experts believe that achieving the new standards will require innovative technologies and manufacturing that will spur economic growth and create high-quality domestic jobs. The new standard will save American families $80 billion a year at the pump, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of $8,200 per vehicle over its life.

Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut the consumption of oil, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day, 3.1 mbd by 2030. The standards will also cut vehicle emissions in half, cutting more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year. Interesting little reality check thanks to researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor: Sivak and Tsimhoni have done extensive analysis all U.S. cars, motorcycles, trucks and busses from 1923 – 2006 and find that fuel economy has risen only so slightly.

From 1923 – 1935 the average fleet fuel economy was about 14 MPG. In 1973, big cars ruled, and we hit a “nadir” of 11.9 MPG. By 1991 and thanks to CAFÉ standards introduced in 1975, which is a sales-weighted average for each car company’s fleet, the fleet efficiency had risen to 16.9, a 2% per year gain. By 2006, growth in efficiency slowed to 1.8% per year and the fleet’s overall efficiency had risen to 17.2 MPG.

General Motors and Solar EVs

General Motors is not only producing all-electric cars, the giant American automaker has taken a stand on solar: It already has 30 MW installed at its facilities worldwide and generates 1.4% of its U.S. energy consumption from renewable resources. Now it has pledged to double that with a 60 MW solar commitment.

GM has also invested $7.5 million in Sunlogics, a Michigan-based company that it intends to use to build solar charging stations at dealerships and other facilities for the all-electric Chevy Volt. The initial plan is for solar charging stations at 24 dealerships in North America. Two are complete: in California and Michigan. Both use Sunlogic’s amorphous silicon photovoltaic product.

GM believes that installing solar panels at charging stations will help avoid “the inevitable jab” by critics that electric cars aren’t as green as they appear. True: Most of the electricity generated is coal and natural gas-fired. GM’s foray into solar charging is aligned with its EV profit center. But GM isn’t the only player in the charging field: SolarCity recently announced that it’s now selling and installing electric car charging stations as well, claiming that solar power can support EVs at less cost than grid power.

New Big Hydro in Alaska

Struck I was by two monolithic energy-producing facilities in the news. First, a 700-foot hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River is gaining support. It’s the largest and highest dam proposed in Alaska in many decades and will be a major element in the State’s renewable portfolio standard. Second, a planned solar tower in Arizona twice as high as the Empire State Building. That’s featured in the next article.

The Susitna-Watana Dam will create a reservoir 39 miles long and up to 2 miles wide. It will have an installed capacity of 600 MW, generating 2.6 million kilowatt-hours per year from the glacial waters of the Susitna River, and it will contribute to state’s goal of 50% hydroelectricity by 2025. It will be located in the Railbelt halfway between Fairbanks and Anchorage, and is slated for completion by 2023. Supported by the Legislature and the Governor, developers expect that licensing will take six years, beginning with Alaska Energy Authority’s FERC application; construction will take five.

Where is the tallest dam in the U.S.? Built in 1967, Oroville on the Feather River in California is it at 770 feet. I was surprised that it’s only the 16th tallest on the world record list. First is the Nurek dam on the Vakhsh River in Tajikstan at 984 feet. Then there’s the 958-foot Xiaowan dam in China, the Grand Dixence at 935 feet in Switzerland. Taller dams than Oroville are in Georgia, Italy, Mexico, India, Colombia, Canada, and Russia. In terms of capacity, the Three Gorges dam in China holds 31 million acre feet of water, seven times the runner-up. Oroville is 19th in the world, holding 3.5 million acre feet.

The 2,600-foot Solar Chimney

In the desert of western Arizona, Australian EnviroMission plans to build a 2,600-foot tall tower, more precisely, a solar chimney. If built, it will be the second highest structure on Earth, just a hundred feet short of the tallest manmade structure on earth, the Burj Khalifa luxury apartment skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, built in 2010 and standing at 2,717 feet. If permitted and financed, the $750 million solar power tower would be twice as tall as New York's Empire State Building (built 1931; 1,250 ft.). EnviroMission reports that a pilot system has been successfully tested in Manamanes, Spain, for seven years, consistently generating 50 kW.

What are the next tallest structures? The second currently is a television transmission tower, in sixth position is a massive power plant smokestack, the seventh tallest structure is the more well-known Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (built 1998; 1,482 ft.). Smaller reference heights include the Eiffel Tower (built 1889; 986 ft.), the former World Trade Center (built 1973; observation deck at 1,310 ft.), and the Sears Tower 103rd floor observation deck at 1,353 feet.

In 2010 the solar chimney’s developer, EnviroMission, signed a Power Purchase Agreement with the Southern California Public Power Authority for 200 MW based on the “Australian power tower” concept. Unlike other power towers that use heliostatically-controlled mirrors to beam sunshine to a central receiver atop a tower, the EnviroMission tower is used to create a massive flue and to channel heat upwards. Thirty-two, pressure-staged, 6.25 MW turbines capture the energy in the draft, the “solar-induced convective flow.” A giant round greenhouse surrounding the huge chimney heats air to 160 degrees before it is funneled into the flue. The 200 MW plant uses no water, involves no dangerously high temperatures, produces no “death rays” from mirrors, and has very few moving parts.

EnviroMission aims to finish construction in early 2015, however, the plant is reportedly far from being built. In addition to financing, there is the task of obtaining necessary permits for such a structure. Local leaders are looking to boost the economy. Environmentalists are conflicted, not wanting to oppose a source of clean power, but concerned about migrating birds and local wildlife.

Battle of the Buildings

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched its “Waste Loss” competition for buildings across the country. The competition challenges building teams to see how much they can reduce energy use. Fourteen teams in buildings across the country loaded their utility data into the EPA Portfolio Manager program to share and compare weather-adjusted data and savings.

Despite tight budgets, equipment failures, personnel changes, and other calamities and challenges, the group collectively saved nearly a million dollars in utility bills and cut 4,896 metric tons CO2. They were linked on Twitter and Facebook. Each building’s energy use was cut significantly. The “winner” was Morrison Hall at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill which cut its overall energy use by 36%, saving more than a quarter million dollars in utility costs and eliminating 733 metric tons of CO2 of emissions.

The 2011 Energy Star “”Battle of the Buildings” National Building Campaign has grown significantly, with 245 building teams on board and active, from a high school in New Castle, Colorado, to a hospital in Orlando, Florida, to the Hawaii State Capitol Building. So far and at its mid-point, the 245 building teams have collectively shaved $3.7 million off their utility bills through energy efficiency upgrades and creative ways of rallying building occupants to cut energy use.

Topping the “office” category is Scientific Instruments’ office facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. It has reduced its consumption 30%. Jackson Creek Middle School in Bloomington, Indiana, is currently leading the “K-12 school” category with a 26% reduction. The building that has reduced its energy use by the largest proportion – 31% – is the University of Central Florida’s Garage C in the “other buildings” category.

The L-Prize

The L-Prize was created by Congress as part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). It directed the U.S. Department of Energy to implement the challenge, part of the mission to promote highly efficient, solid-state lighting. Then, announced at LIGHTFAIR 2008, the L-Prize was defined. It would promote two of the most common lightbulbs in America, the 60-watt incandescent and the PAR 38 halogen.

The competition requirements for the 60-watt replacement are stringent: To win, the lamp must produce more than 90 lumens per watt, use less than 10 watts, operate for more than 25,000 hours, and have a Color Rendering Index greater than 90 (2,700 – 3,000 Kelvin).

The DOE has announced that Philips Lighting North America has won the “L Prize Competition” with its 10-watt LED replacement for a conventional 60-watt incandescent bulb. The bulb was subject to 18 months of photometric testing to earn the distinction. The LED in this instance uses a sixth of the power of its predecessor and lasts for 25,000 hours, compared to the CFL which typically cuts use by 75% and lasts 10,000 hours.

In related lighting news, E Source reports that 81% of American households have at least one compact fluorescent lamp. The penetration is highest in California and Alaska, and lowest in the Dakotas. But even there, two-thirds of homes have at least one CFL. Higher income groups are more likely to use CFLs; older people are more likely than younger people, with the highest use among the 65+ age group.

Fracking Rules Proposed

Fracking is a method of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas wells. (Fracking has also been used for oil and water extraction.) After a natural gas well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand, and “proprietary chemicals” are injected under high pressure to fracture the shale and prop open fissures to enable natural gas to flow more freely. The recent film documentary Gasland exposed the perils of this extraction technique, which can result in water contamination including arsenic, copper, vanadium, and adamantanes.

While fracking increases production, it does so at a cost. Downfalls include water and air pollution, seismic events, and subsidence. A single well takes 1 – 8 million gallons of water per frack job and can be fracked up to 18 times. And each frack requires 80 – 300 tons of chemicals, more for horizontal fracking. Chemicals include gels and foams mixed with compressed gases, silica sand, resin-coated sand, and even radioactive materials to allow gas-land workers to trace the fractures.

One of the barriers to making sure that fracking is the “Halliburton Loophole.“ In 2005, natural gas well drilling was exempted from oversight of the Safe Water Drinking Act. Despite the forcing of hundreds of chemicals in massive doses into subterranean geologic structures, often in proximity to water tables, EPA was effectively removed from this arena. It has no jurisdiction over the fracking process, only regulating the “flow-back” of materials. Now the EPA has released the first-ever federal regulations aimed at cutting harmful air pollution from the natural-gas drilling. The proposed regulations require reductions of smog-forming emissions at new or modified wells that are drilled using fracking.

Meanwhile, there’s state action. Texas passed a law requiring gas companies to reveal the composition of fracking fluids. Pennsylvania is tracking baseline public health conditions. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has proposed that energy companies in the Rocky Mountain State be required to publicly disclose the ingredients of the fluids they inject into the ground to extract more oil and gas.