April 28, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 4
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


On The Road Again?

Ted Flanigan at Green Building Conference with Bharat Patel, USGBC-LA Chapter Chair, and David Stevens, The Gas Company.

This week’s big news was that oil prices topped $70 a barrel. Gasoline is over $3 a gallon in many areas, notably here in Los Angeles. Sure, geopolitical tensions, reduced output in Nigeria, reduced refining capacity, summer formulae -- the works, and we’ve finally arrived at the prices that Stobaugh and Yergin predicted in their seminal piece, Energy Future, published in 1979.

Help me out here: I read this week about retirees ditching their homes, buying opulent RVs and then paying huge prices for pads in RV resorts. One of the new RV parks sets a 45 foot minimum length for prospective pad buyers! Are Americans in complete petroleum denial?

“Let’s hit the road America -- or not.” Aren’t gas prices going up? Isn’t the hand-writing on the wall? No. Luxury RVs are not only growing in size but they are loaded with price tags up to $2 million! And they’re selling like hot cakes. Are Americans completely inelastic to gasoline prices?

Now here’s the kicker: According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the really high-end RVs represent the fastest growing segment of the RV market. Some of the high-end rigs come complete with quieter diesel engines, high speed Internet, satellite television, washing machines, gas fireplaces, hardwood floors, and built-in garages for motorcycles. One mobile home owner boasted marble floors and no less than six televisions.

So what’s up with that?


Municipal Green Building Conference:

This past week EcoMotion’s President, Ted Flanigan, gave a presentation at the 5th Annual Municipal Green Building Expo in Downey, California on “Fueling Our Energy Future: Just What is Conventional?”

Just how long does conventional stay conventional, and just how long does it take for a new thing – like wind turbines in the Copenhagen harbor or energy independence in Santa Monica – to become conventional and a source of community pride?

Southern California Edison:

EcoMotion is pleased to announce that in a competitive solicitation it has been selected by Southern California Edison to provide engineering and analytical professional services in support of energy efficiency program planning and operations. This strengthens EcoMotion’s consulting role by providing Edison with a swat team to support Edison’s Customer Service Business Unit.

Santa Monica:

Ted Flanigan is serving as meeting facilitator for initial scoping meetings of the newly approved Community Energy Independence Initiative (CEII) and, working with the EcoMotion team, has developed the draft Strategic Plan for the Two-Year Demonstration Project that Council approved in mid- March. Stay tuned for more details on this historic “energy freedom” endeavor.

"Chinese experts estimate that if China can achieve efficiency levels comparable to Japan, China would not have to increase its energy capacity in the next 60 years."
Member Michael Totten, Conservation International

China's Water Crisis

China’s economy is on a major roll. Its Gross Domestic Product has experienced a 9% annual rate of growth for the past 26 years, and the economy is projected to quadruple by 2020. China is currently the world’s largest consumer of coal and the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), after the United States. After 2020, it will be the world’s largest climate polluter.

But what many of us do not realize is that China faces a water crisis of epic proportions. A paper by Dr. Lu Zhi, Professor of Conservation Biology at Peking University, and Michael Totten, Senior Director of Climate, Water, and Ecosystem Studies for Conservation International, brought China’s water resource issues into focus for me.

Like energy, water is recognized by China’s State Council as one of the six bottlenecks threatening future economic development and national security.

Detail, Thanks to Member Michael Totten

China has annual resources of approximately 2,140 m3 of fresh water per capita, one-fourth the world average. But supply is skewed. Northern China has only 20% of the total water available, but 60% of the country’s cultivated land, so water shortages severely affect agriculture. Drought affects 27 million hectares of agricultural land, mainly in the northwest and north China, and desertification afflicts some 300 million hectares, primarily due to over-exploitation of water resources by farmers.

Water shortages overall already afflict 400 out of China's 660 cities and climate changes are making things worse: Western China’s mountain glaciers have shrunk by one-fifth.

Damming rivers provides both water supplies and energy resources. The Three Gorges Hydroelectric Project provides 18 GW of power for China, and represents a major portion of the country’s 100 GW of hydropower. By some estimates, between 200 and 300 GW may be constructed in the coming decades. But a growing body of Chinese scientists is cautioning against over-construction of large hydropower projects, warning of irreversible losses of ancient Chinese sturgeon and paddlefish, incredibly large species (up to 7 meters) which travel from the sea for 3,000 km up river. These and other aquatic species are threatened with extinction because dams block their migration routes.

China’s water has been consumed largely as a free resource. Neither the real cost nor the productive value of water is considered; water prices barely cover distribution costs. Under-pricing perpetuates highly inefficient water use. Half to two-thirds of water flowing through irrigation systems fails to reach the crops. On many farms, water flow per unit of land is 50 to 150% above that optimally needed for the crops.

Fortunately, there are major opportunities for water efficiency: China is using 10-20 times more water than advanced nations to produce the same amount of value added. According to Conservation International experts, “the immense pool of water- conserving options provides a host of benefits, from easily quantified economic benefits to protecting biodiversity-rich watersheds.”

International Gas Prices

For many Americans, increasing gas prices are perceived as a threat to livelihoods and our very lifestyle. But for years, many Europeans have paid well over $5 per gallon promoted by deliberate govenment policies to lessen dependence on automobiles and foreign oil and encourage use of mass transit. In parts of Finland, gas has been over $11 a gallon, and in Iceland, gasoline was on the order of $8 a gallon last summer. The following chart presents recent Reuters data and shows the wide price disparity for a gallon of gasoline in select countries around the world.

The Netherlands $6.25
United Kingdom $5.94
Germany $5.87
South Korea $5.38
Japan $4.54
Singapore $4.09
Russia $2.38
China $1.93
Vietnam $2.27
Iran $0.33
Venezuela $0.12

Where do you stand on the trade-offs between gas prices and responsible environmental behavior?

The Solar Boom!

The solar industry in the United States has been through several booms and busts, and now is cautiously optimistic. Solar demand has never been higher, and as the next article points out, demand for solar panels has outstripped supply. In a nutshell, the manufacturing industry didn’t predict the level of government support that solar has received.

A plan outlined by President Bush calls for a massive increase in solar power generation from the current 175 megawatts to 10,000 MW in the next decade. Now, for the first time in 20 years, homeowners can claim federal tax credits of up to $2,000 for installing solar systems.

California has 80% of the nation's solar energy production; installations surged almost 40% in each of 2003 and 2004, before slowing to 22 percent last year according to the California Energy Commission. The new California Solar Initiative, however, provides a whopping $2.9 billion in rebates for solar panels between 2007 and 2016. And major government programs in Germany and Japan have stimulated photovoltaic installations. All of a sudden solar panel production has grown to be a $15 billion annual business.

Polysilicon Shortage

Polycrystalline silicon – or polysilicon, poly- Si or poly -- is the raw material in solar cells that receives and stores sunlight to convert it to electricity.

To make polysilicon, a form of silicon is refined to form crystals that are then sliced into wafers used to form cells for solar panels. This is the same material used for microchips in computers and cell phones.

The problem: there isn't enough polysilicon being manufactured for both the global semiconductor industry and the solar cell industry. Demand for solar panels has grown by 40% in five years, and in 2006 the solar industry is on track to use more silicon than the entire semiconductor industry.

Prices have been driven up by at least 10 percent – poly-Si has jumped from $30 to $80/kg -- increasing costs of solar panels in the market. Projects are being delayed; the shortage may last for another 2-3 years.

Steps are being taken to alleviate the shortage: Dow Corning’s Hemlock Semiconductor is the top supplier of polysilicon to the solar market and is doubling its production at its facility in Michigan, a $500 million expansion. Expanded manufacturing capacity in China, Russia, and other nations will also ease the shortage. Solar specialists point out that solar cells are getting thinner and thinner and will thus use less silicon raw material to generate the same amount of power.

Member Story: Raymundo Mejia, Mohave Valley, AZ

In photo, Mejia shows system to EcoMotion’s Virginia Nicols, who wrote this story.

When he got his “Yes” letter from the patent office, Mejia “couldn’t believe that no one had thought of it before.” Still in the prototype stage, his invention combines three technologies: solar power, evaporative cooling (and heating), and computers.

The concept is simple. Solar panels, designed to track the movement of the sun on both a daily and seasonal schedule, generate enough electricity to drive twin cooling units located on opposite sides of a home or building. One unit pushes air past a cooling pad into the building, the other unit pulls the air out. A computer coordinates solar panel movements, the temperature settings and the direction and speed of the air flow.

“It all started when I began looking into solar power for my home in Anaheim,” says Mejia. “The sun is free, a never-ending resource. I figured, why not let it do the work?” With the help of his brother and his nephew, Mejia has nearly completed the prototype, for a cost of about $4,700. He is confident he’ll eventually be able to compete on price with a standard AC unit -- but thanks to solar, his system “will run for free.”

The unit will be tested in a new home subdivision built with energy efficiency in mind. “But it will also be perfect for Third World countries who don’t have electricity,” says Mejia. For more info, contact Mejia at NaturePowerSystems@Frontiernet.net.

International Study Tour 2006

Iceland pipeline carrying naturally-heated hot water from power plant, perched directly over the geothermal source, to the city some 40 miles away. For the latest itinerary, call Ted Flanigan at (949) 450-7155 or contact him at tflanigan@ecomotion.us.