September 24, 2008 – Volume 11, Issue 21
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


What Kind of Solar Revolution?

Well the wind industry did it! There is now over 20,000 MW of wind capacity in the United States. That amount was projected to be built in twenty years. The bulk of it was installed in two.

So how long will it take to "solarize" America? Who will do it? We all want clean and abundant energy. How long will it take to capture the power of the sun and make it a dominant, sustainable energy source? It will only take a combined area about the size of New Mexico for our country to be totally energy independent, flourishing in a solar-hydrogen economy. Let's go!

"Wait," say the carbon-laden vested interests and sadly, the short-sighted ratepayer advocates. They say it's not just whether we go but it's a matter of how fast we go. What about stranded assets, and just how willing are we to pay more for renewable power sources to secure the energy future? Of course it's going to cost more initially to leverage massive savings over time. So who's stretching? Who's raising the bar?

California's landmark Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, established the State's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Of all power generation in the state, a fifth must be supplied by qualified renewable facilities by 2010. California's renewable portfolio is currently 11.9%; with two years to go, it's unlikely that we'll achieve the goal.

Californians will now vote on Proposition 7, the proposed Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008. It dramatically accelerates renewable energy development. It calls for half of the power generation to be renewable energy by 2025. The Prop 7 vision includes "solar and clean energy parks." It spells out progressive tools like feed-in tariffs to accomplish its goal. It's a giant step toward the future that so many of us desperately want. It indeed would create a solar revolution. But it's drawing the ire of an alliance of utilities (that have committed over $20 million to defeat it), environmental groups, and solar companies. What's up with that?

The proposal is drowning in details and ideology. Rather than presenting a goal and leaving its implementation to others, the 38-page, complex, and prescriptive act is full of holes and is taking on water. Critics call it a "dysfunctional" means of fulfilling a virtuous objective. Small, renewable installations less than 30 MW in size are excluded; their capacity is not counted. Prop 7 squarely focuses on large-scale installations, potentially leaving the distributed generation (DG) movement in the dust.

So there's a storm brewing in California over the timing, scale, and ownership of renewable energy systems. Solar installers, environmentalists, cities, and others want decentralized systems. These are poised to fully serve micro-grids, charge electric vehicles (like the new GM Volt), and keep the means of production decentralized, local, and secure. Communities such as Santa Monica and Palm Desert have launched "energy independence" programs that pull the responsibility for energy back to the community level.

While All American, the DG ideology and community initiatives are challenging the very core of the power system and utility ownership model that we've had for the past century. Naturally, utilities want to own the means of production. Second best, from a utility perspective, are secure, large-scale power purchase arrangements. And if their customers want or regulators stipulate roof-top solar, utilities want to own that form of solar revolution -- witness Southern California Edison's distribution warehouse rooftop program. Duke Energy just announced an 850-rooftop program in North Carolina, strategically superior to net metering.

California's Proposition 7 has a lofty vision but does not effectively combine the mighty forces of central and decentralized renewable projects. As written, it promotes one form of solar revolution, potentially inadvertently creating solar oligopolies. Will small companies, and the decentralized solar revolution, become expendable? Not necessarily. The California Solar Initiative needs to be reinforced with recalibrated, indexed incentives and new mechanisms such as feed-in tariffs to complement net metering. To fully engage the best solar revolution, we need to promote big and small renewable energy projects, and we need effective mandates to guide us in that direction.

Energy Efficiency Trip to Germany sponsored by German American Chamber of Commerce

EcoMotion has been asked by Nicholas Wagner of the California Branch of the German American Chamber to let our readers know about the upcoming business delegation heading to Germany. Scheduled for November 5-7, the trip is planned for architects, developers, construction companies to meet and network with energy efficiency companies in Germany. For more information, please contact Nicholas at 415 248-1243.


Our Solar Story Part III - Rooftop Engineering

"Engineering" - or more accurately a really nice clean- cut sailor from Huntington Beach - came two weeks later, right on schedule. I was psyched; our process was beginning. I had so many questions. How would the panels be configured? "Let's talk racking!" How would system efficiency be impacted by putting some of the panels on west faces? Would this require two inverters? How deep did the trench from the house to the main panel behind the garage need to be?

I'd had two cups of coffee by the time the technician arrived and I began to pelt him with questions. But no, this was his first day on the job, his first assignment as site assessor. He'd be happy to pass along my questions to "engineering." Then he clambered into our attic with flashlight, digital camera, tape measure, and note pad. I liked this guy, but I was let down. Shucks, I'd have to wait for "engineering" to call.

After the attic, our new friend spent a couple hours on the roof, drawing and measuring, re-drawing and re- measuring. He was certainly working hard to make a good impression with his new employers and me. I went up on the roof to gauge the task at hand. No doubt about it, our "double hip" roof sounds pretty cool, but makes solar installation a bit complex. We also have lots of roof protrusions, plumbing and furnace vents, and a chimney. OK, so where do 18 panels go?

Finally, Andy had what he needed. The information he gathered -- roof geometry, dimensions, attic joist spacing and size, roof pitch, orientation, and shading (solar pathfinder analysis) - would now be sent to the engineering group in Northern California. About two weeks later we'd have drawings of the system to approve. Our signatures again, and we'd be heading to permitting and rebate reservations. So the visit came and went, and I must say, I had little confidence in the site analysis. Then a week later, Andy called to see if he could come again. "Sure, come on over!" He apparently needed to re-check a few dimensions. In fact, he completely redid his work. I liked that. -- To be continued --


Our Solar Story Part III - Rooftop Engineering

"Engineering" - or more accurately a really nice clean- cut sailor from Huntington Beach - came two weeks later, right on schedule. I was psyched; our process was beginning. I had so many questions. How would the panels be configured? "Let's talk racking!" How would system efficiency be impacted by putting some of the panels on west faces? Would this require two inverters? How deep did the trench from the house to the main panel behind the garage need to be?
"An executive of Florida Power and Light insists that the best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to define nuclear as a renewable energy resource."
The Miami Herald


Did you see this in Time magazine? Club Surya in London brings a whole new meaning to renewable energy! The brand new eco-club features a dance floor that actually harnesses the energy of the clubbers in the form of electricity. Using a phenomenon known as piezoelectricity (piezo means "pressure" in Greek), crystals and other materials are embedded in the dance floor. As they are compressed by stomping dancers on the spring-lined floor, small amounts of voltage are given off that charge batteries. The owner of the club calls the human body "the ultimate energy battery."

The rest of the club's energy will come from solar and wind. The "Club4Climate" motif also features toilets flushed with rainwater; furniture made with recycled materials; organic, fair-trade alcohol; "bio-beer" with aloe vera to calm the liver; free admission for those that walk, bike, or take mass transit to the club; and walls that turn different colors as dancers perspire and humidity levels change. Club4Climate is now planning "the Sustainable Dance Club" in the Netherlands.

Wikipedia defines piezoelectricity as "the ability of some materials (notably crystals and certain ceramics including bone), to generate an electric potential in response to applied mechanical stress." Piezoelectric materials change their dimensions by about 0.1%. In this process, an electric current is generated.

The earliest widespread application of the piezoelectric phenomenon was for sonar, and ultrasonic submarine detection in the World Wars. Sounds bouncing back applied pressure on piezoelectric surfaces; variations of pressure indicating conditions below. Piezoelectricity has been and continues to be used to detect pressure variations in the form of sound. Guitar players are familiar with "piezos," types of contact microphones that are used as "pick-ups" for amplification of acoustics.

The most common consumer applications are in cigarette lighters. A button is pressed, causing a hammer to strike a piezoelectric crystal, producing a sufficient voltage to heat and ignite the gas, and to cause a flame. Some gas grills also have buttons to push to ignite their fuel.

White Roofs and Cool Pavements

"Urban heat islands" are exacerbated by black roofs and dark pavements. Surfaces with low reflectivity absorb heat in buildings and throughout cities, increasing the demand for costly air conditioning. White roofs go a long way to stem the problem, cutting a typical building's energy use by 20%. At the California Energy Commission's Fifth Annual Climate Change Research Conference, California scientists Rosenfeld, Akbari, and Menon presented a new formula for determining how much carbon dioxide can be offset by increasing the reflectivity of urban surfaces.

They find that for an average 1,000 square foot home, replacing a dark, non-reflective roof with a light roofing material would save the release of 10 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. With a European offset value of $25/tonne, a roofing replacement could earn a revenue stream of $250/year while reducing utility bills. (A metric tonne, or "megragram," is 1,000 kilograms. A metric tonne is 2,204.6 pounds. An American short ton is 2,000 pounds; long tons weigh 2,240 pounds and have been historically used in industries, for instance, iron and steel and aviation fuels.)

Since 2005, commercial buildings with flat roofs in California have been required to have white roofs. Beginning in 2009, homes will also be required to use "cool-colored roofs" that reflect the sun's light, cutting cooling costs and avoiding carbon dioxide emissions from required electricity generation. Rosenfeld, et al are promoting a 40-city initiative in tropical and temperate climates in which cool rooftops and pavement surfaces are introduced in massive scale. Based on average natural cycles for roofs of 15 years, and resurfacing every ten years, the initiative has the potential to cut the release of 3 GT CO2 per year for fifteen years, cutting 45 billion metric tonnes of CO2, equivalent to more than a year's worth of global CO2 emissions of 37 GT.

Most existing roofs are dark and have a typical reflectance of about 10-20%. White colored roofs have an initial reflectance of 80-90%, aging to 60%, for an increase of 40% in terms of solar reflectance. More architecturally accepted "cool-colored" roofs are about half as good as white roofs for energy efficiency. The researchers find that pavements do not have such dramatic savings, but light-colored pavements can provide a cooling benefit of 15%, offsetting four tonnes of CO2 each year per thousand feet of pavement.

In urban areas, pavements and roofs constitute over 60% of urban surfaces; 20-25% rooftops, and 40% pavement.

Shutting Retailers' Doors in the Heat of Summer

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City hits EcoMotion Network News once again. This time, his office is to be recognized for passing legislation that prohibits shops from keeping their doors wide open on hot summer days. Naturally retailers want to welcome and attract the public into their premises, but this "foolish behavior" results in "massive amounts of cool air" rushing out and being wasted. In New York City stress on the power system on hot summer days has resulted in brown-outs -- causing subways to have to operate at slow speeds -- and even periodic black-outs.

With technical assistance from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Bloomberg's staff was able to pass the measure. The technical analysis found that participants had an average door opening of 6 x 7 feet, releasing over a thousand dollars worth of air-conditioned air into the environment each year, and causing a ton of carbon dioxide to be unnecessarily released. The City put the stop to the practice - and presents its legislation as a model - to fight global warming and to take stress off the power system.

The Solar Generation

The latest Solar Generation report has been released by Greenpeace and the European Photovoltaic Industry Association. It the next 22 years, it concludes that solar can reach two-thirds of the world's population. This level of penetration would involve 4.3 billion people, providing 10 million jobs in the process. Solar capacity can provide 1,800 GW of capacity, generating 2,600 TWh and providing 14% of global power demand. The bulk of the solar output will power up three billion people living in rural areas.

City of Green Dreams
- Khalid Khoudari, UCI Intern

Abu Dhabi has unveiled plans to build an environmental dream city - Masdar City - the first ever zero carbon, zero waste city. That's right! Zero carbon, Zero waste! Resembling a city from a science fiction book, the planned project will be a model city for maximizing sustainability. Design of the city is under management of British architecture company Foster + Partners, while the initiative will be headed by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company.

The project will take 10 years for completion and will feature:
- A car-free environment
- Electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels
- Water supply from solar-powered desalination plant
- Electric light-rail system for transportation (linked to the center of Abu Dhabi)
- A city wall to reduce desert heat as well as the noise from the nearby airport
- Numerous research facilities to enhance clean technology

The Masdar City initiative will cost about $22 billion. To put that into perspective, the United States allocates $10 billion per month for the Iraq war. There seems to be no logical reason for the United States not to develop a similar city based on the Masdar model. The benefits of such a project outweigh the cost and time.