May 26, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 6
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Ripping on Hybrids?

Absolutely not. It isn’t the type of car, it’s the car itself.

This past issue we posed a question about hybrids, questioning whether they should be given preferential treatment, even in low MPG situations. Some hybrids get far fewer miles per gallon than conventional engines. Should their drivers be rewarded?

And we got responses: One member from Mammoth Lakes called to point out that two people in a conventionally powered car get better per- passenger gas mileage than a single person in a hybrid. He’d been thinking about it for weeks.

Another commented, “Right on Ted. It tickles me to read EcoMotion Network News. You’re asking the tough questions, the right questions. ‘Absolutely not’ is the answer to the question.”

The hybrid’s honeymoon has reached its end. It has now become an institution, susceptible to suspicion and the jaws of public opinion. Next issue we celebrate the 50th birthday of the U.S. Interstate system, a remarkable engineering accomplishment, one that shaped our transportation patterns and lifestyle. There’s no question that the automobile has given us many benefits – and cars can be darn fun to drive! But the silver anniversary of the interstate system provides pause for reflection, and for envisioning the future.

It isn’t the type of car, it’s the car.

I remember Ralph Nader stating emphatically to Amory Lovins, “What good is a super efficient car if it’s stuck in traffic?” Al Bartlett from the University of Colorado criss-crossed the county giving his compelling lecture on exponential growth hundreds of times, pointing to the illogic of building more highways and parking garages. With the population growing exponentially, there is no way to keep up. It’s a futile cause.

Back to hybrids. No, I’m not ripping on hybrids. In fact I hope to buy one soon. Getting as many miles per gallon for whatever vehicle you choose is admirable. But our collective goal must be to create a new engineering marvel for the next 50 years, a new predominant transportation system aligned with our economic, environmental, and national security goals.

A New Windy City!

Mason City has become Iowa’s first city to allow windmills to be built just about everywhere... even in residential neighborhoods. Bucking concerns about visual impacts, television reception, emergency helicopters, and even bad odors that might be blown one way or another, Mason City now allows 100 foot high residential systems to be installed in residents’ back yards just as long as there is sufficient room on the lot for toppling towers.

China: Number One in Renewables

China has become the top investor in renewable energy in the world, claims Dr. Eric Martinot, a senior research fellow with the Worldwatch Institute and senior visiting scholar of Tsinghua University.

Martinot’s report -- Renewables 2005 Global Status Report -- says China invested 6 billion U.S. dollars in renewable energy (excluding large hydropower) in 2005 out of a global total investment of $38 billion.

Most of the money paid for small hydropower and solar hot water systems, with $600 million for wind power.

China plans to raise its electricity installed capacity for renewable energy to 10% of its total power capacity by 2010 and to 20% by 2020. Half of that will be from renewables other than large hydropower.

Fuel Cell Train

East Japan Railways is Japan's biggest rail company. It serves the Tokyo area and carries 16 million passengers a day. JR East, as it is commonly known, will soon test the world's first fuel cell- powered train, following the lead of the country's automakers in rolling out cleaner, more efficient transportation.

Fuel cells generate electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, producing only water vapor as exhaust.

Test runs of the “New Energy Train” will begin in July with the aim of operating it on regular tracks by the middle of next year.

The initial train, prototype shown above, will consist of a single car powered by electric batteries and capable of traveling at up to 100 kilometers per hour. A diesel-run generator will provide most of the electricity, with two 65-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cells providing about a third. JR East estimates that the will consume about 20 percent less energy than traditional trains. The fuel efficiency will be aided by regenerative braking that recharges the batteries when the brakes are applied, the same technology used by the popular Toyota Prius and some other hybrid cars.

Hybrid Cherry-Pickers!

Closer to home, TXU Electric Delivery has recently announced that it will deploy its first hybrid bucket truck (one of 24 hybrid “cherry- pickers” in North America), and that the technology will reduce fuel use by 40-60%.

TXU is one of 14 utilities across the country taking part in the pilot program that some claim “offers a glimpse of utility fleets of the future.”

The trucks are used for the maintenance and repair of overhead electric lines. On the road, the truck runs on an efficient combination of bio-diesel and battery power. At job sites, the utility bucket can operate for up to two hours on the battery charge, without the engine idling that is necessary with conventional bucket trucks. The result is fuel savings, along with reduced emissions and less noise in neighborhoods where service restoration is underway. The pilot program is administered by WestStart- CALSTART, a Pasadena-based industry organization for advanced transportation technology.

G.E. Goes Green

G.E. has released its 2005 Ecomagination report, which shows that its revenues from the sale of energy-efficient and environmentally advanced products and services hit $10.1 billion in 2005, up markedly from $6.2 billion in 2004 - with orders nearly doubling to $17 billion.

"Ecomagination is paying off for our investors and customers," said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, shown above. "Our advanced environmental products and services are helping customers increase their energy efficiency and reduce costs and emissions. And it is providing the growth we expected for GE, as we are ahead of our plan to reach $20 billion in annual sales of Ecomagination products by 2010."

Ecomagination was launched in 2005. "With oil prices and other energy costs surging and with water scarcity concerns spreading, Ecomagination makes even more sense for our investors today than it did a year ago," Immelt said. "Last year, we said that 'green can be green' - that we would make money helping customers meet their environmental challenges. A year later, we know that green is green, and that it will make a difference on the bottom line for GE investors as customer interest is accelerating."

GE is also using Ecomagination as a platform to improve the energy efficiency of its own operations, helping to lower costs. In 2004 and 2005, GE attacked higher energy expenditures by undertaking nearly 500 global energy conservation projects resulting in more than 250,000 tons of GHG emissions reductions - the equivalent of removing nearly 50,000 cars from the road while yielding substantial energy cost savings.

The Ecomagination report, "Taking on Big Challenges," details GE's progress in meeting its four Ecomagination commitments: Doubling investments in clean research and development; Increasing revenues from Ecomagination products; Reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improving the energy efficiency of its operations; and Keeping the public informed. Highlights from the report include examples of eco-technologies in its R&D pipeline, such as photovoltaics, biofuels, transportation initiatives with even higher emission reduction and fuel efficiency standards, and an offshore wind turbine project.

Ecomagination Report

Towards a Hydrogen Economy

Today most hydrogen is produced by stripping hydrogen from natural gas, CH4. But what will the future bring?

Many advanced energy strategists look forward to the “solar hydrogen economy,” an energy economy that supercedes the fossil-based, hydro-carbon rooted energy economy that we currently enjoy. The solar-hydrogen economy will tap solar energy for electricity, space heating (and cooling), and through photolysis (the electrolysis of water using solar sources), solar energy will create hydrogen fuels for transportation.

Wind generated electricity can also be used for hydrogen production as reported in EcoMotion Network News V10#3. Now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Xcel Energy, an electric power utility, have signed an agreement for an innovative "wind to hydrogen" research, development and demonstration project. The system will be located at NREL's National Wind Technology Center in the foothills near Boulder, Colorado, where hydrogen will be produced, compressed and stored to be used as a vehicle fuel or to generate electricity. The project will compare electrolyzer technologies and researchers will examine issues related to system efficiency, integration, compression, storage, cost and the use of a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas.

A U.S. Department of Energy initiative is supporting Hydrogen from Coal program research. And at the same time, the DOE’s Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative aims to make hydrogen using off-peak nuclear power. In support of President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative, the Secretary of Energy announced that the DOE will fund studies on the best ways to utilize commercial nuclear reactors for production of hydrogen, examining the economic implications of producing hydrogen in this way, the environmental effects, and the regulatory requirements.

One thing is sure, a hydrogen economy is seen by many as the pathway to energy sustainability. But will we get there using hydrogen from renewable or conventional sources?

Palo Alto: Solar at the Baylands

The City of Palo Alto, California, is eager to install three new solar panel demonstration projects, including one at a prominent spot next to Highway 101. It will be the City’s first “homegrown green energy.” At the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center – a 120-acre salt marsh, shown in the photo – photovoltaic panels will be mounted on the roof, and visitors will be able to view them through a recycled World War II submarine periscope that the City bought on eBay for $2,500.

According to Resident Naturalist Deborah Bartens, the Rahus Institute will support the project with interpretive materials “to bring the solar message closer to the public.”

After months of planning and meetings, what will become the City's most visible array of solar panels has been delayed due to polysilicon shortages and panels in short supply (see ENN, V10#4). Because of the delay, the City’s municipal utility had to get an extension of the $1.4 million U.S. Department of Energy grant that supports half of the project's financing.

Solar demonstration projects are not the only way Palo Alto is raising awareness of renewable energy. Its green power program has enlisted 3,851 customers -- or 14% of its customer base – to pay an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to use energy from the wind and sun. ENN V10 #2 shows that Palo Alto has the highest green power participation rate of all utilities in the United States. PAG (Palo Alto Green) is within close reach of its 15% participation goal.

Member Story: Peter Tousley, Serving the Citizen Soldiers of Vermont

"After 13 years with Green Mountain Power's Demand Side Services programs I went out on my own in 1997 to establish an energy services company. Located in Vermont, TCorp provides field engineering services such as energy audits, metering, electrical demand control studies, alternative energy assessments, and project management to the private and government sectors.

The State of Vermont Military Department hired TCorp to serve the Vermont Army National Guard (VTARNG) with energy management services. Working with a great team, we have been able to significantly reduce both cost and the energy needed to serve the Citizen Soldiers of Vermont, and to assure reliability through distributed generation.

Part of my responsibility is to assure that energy resources are available 24/7. As first responders in any emergency, Camp Johnson cannot afford a power outage. We secured our most critical load with an independent, 20 kW generator and switchgear. Now we are securing the entire camp with two, 600 hp CAT diesel generators. To assure reliability, we’ll continuously monitor the availability of electrical power from Green Mountain Power and our own demand.

Once the distributed generation complex is complete, VTARNG will be able to support its own electrical power needs and help reduce the demand side draw in times when the power supply is constrained or in danger of failure. I continue to enjoy my work with the Vermont Military Department and find everyday to be a new challenge."