“Of all the places to plant a crop of solar panels, few are better than the roof of a school.”
McClatchy-Tribune Regional News, New Jersey
Whole Wheat Houses, Green Sneakers, Community Challenges
We’re starting to see signs of the Whole House Retrofit works supported by the USDOE. I love the concept: penetrating deeply into our 130 million strong housing stock and reaping Lovins-like levels of savings. The DOE is behind it, as our nation’s best laboratories. But getting deep savings in today’s economy is a tough sell. A few instructive field notes:
Sacramento Municipal Utility District, long regarded as the nation’s leading utility in the promotion of energy efficiency, has launched the Home Performance Program. It intends to reach 15,000 homes with whole house approaches by 2012. SMUD will use its $20 million stimulus allocation, combining comprehensive audits and comprehensive retrofits. Participants get points for measures, and the more points, the more rebate. Its Advanced track pays rebates up to $5,000 with financing for the balance. The Basic is a “warm-up package” of weatherization measures.
Efficiency Kansas is off to a slow start, with only $285k of its allotted $34 million actually spent on whole house retrofits. The concept sounded good – as wholesome as whole wheat – and yet the uptake has slow. All the federal support has to be spent by 2012.
The audit requirement has stifled participation. Efficiency Kansas will now lower the required audit cost from $300 to $100. Another finding is that homeowners are concerned about having to follow a list of prioritized measures to get the incentives. Strict qualifying standards for low-income loans is also hampering participation. And one homeowner said that in today’s economy he is not comfortable spending additional money – in his case for insulation – when what he needs is to fix his broken furnace.
Green Sneakers is a down home, door-to-door neighborhood campaign. On October 2, volunteers in Maine will take to the streets, visiting 1,500 homes and spreading tips and bags of energy efficiency supplies. They’ll be educating citizens on how to qualify for the State’s efficiency grants. In the Twin Cities – Lewiston and Auburn – 40 volunteers like you and me are expected to rally. Statewide, and concentrating in South Portland, Bangor, Thomaston, and Bar Harbor, 150 volunteers – trained by the Building Performance Institute – will carry out the operation, a joint effort of the Sierra Club, the Maine Council of Churches, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Cool Communities Maine.
The Green Sneakers reusable grocery bag that will be given out at the door contains information and resources like CFL bulbs, home weatherization case studies, energy saving tips, contact information to local energy service companies and state and federal incentive programs, as well as a coupon book filled with "Green Sneaker Cash" that can be used at participating businesses.
Across the continent in Bellingham, Washington, a new form of Community Challenge is shaping up with the goal of helping 900 homeowners cut their energy use by 30% in 2 years. Here’s how it works: In one case, the Challenge’s crew assessed a homeowner’s energy use, recommended enhancements, managed the installation of up to $9,500 in improvements, and directed the customer to $1,500 in government and utility incentives. To engage in the challenge, home and business owners must sign up for energy assessments that cost $65 and $95 respectively. Thanks to federal recovery act monies, a revolving loan fund was set up to lend participants funds at low interest rates made possible by a loss revenue reserve fund.
Waves are created by the wind, which in turn is fueled by differences in temperature due to the variable solar heating of the earth's atmosphere. When this wind skims over the sea, an interaction is caused in which energy is exchanged between the wind and the sea surface. At first, little ripples arise on the surface. Then, the wind that skims along these ripples causes higher air pressure at the front of the wave than at the back. As a result the ripples change into small waves. As this process continues, the waves become higher and the distance between the wave tops becomes longer. The amount of converted energy depends on the wind speed, the time the wind blows over the waves, and the distance it covers. During a wave's voyage, it shapes into a more regular wave, commonly referred to as a swell. At ocean shores, swells are very regular and discernable, even when the sea is relatively calm. (Thanks to Ocean Power Technologies)
The Power Buoy
Wave energy is perhaps the most neglected form of sustainable energy. But the action appears to be heating up after a Portuguese false start. Ocean Power Technologies has announced the first grid-connected wave energy system in the United States. Located three-quarters of a mile offshore in 100 foot depth waters off Oahu, Hawaii, a Power Buoy® surface-mounted, and conventionally moored (tethered) system has been deployed since December 14, 2009. So far it has operated and produced power from over three million “power take-off cycles” and 4,400 hours of operation.
A number of ocean wave energy devices have been considered, some pretty “far-out.” Given the power density of water, some 832 times that of air, waves are rightly regarded as powerful and quite consistent in many areas. Proponents claim that wave energy can be captured more efficiently --- and with far less profile – than offshore wind energy. A 10 MW installation would require approximately 30 acres of open ocean, invisible three miles from shore. Some wave energy devices use compressors, others rams to convert the up and down swells of waves to electricity.
Prior to deployment, the U.S. Naval Research Center did an extensive environmental assessment of the Power Buoy in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The Power Buoy got the highest ranking of FONSI, a Finding of No Significant Impact. But its challenges include: severe high seas conditions and government regulations.
Technically, the Aquacadoura Wave Farm in Portugal was the world’s first attempted commercial wave energy farm. With 2.25 MW of capacity, it was opened by the Portugal Ministry of the Economy in 2008 and then closed after just a few months of operation due technical failures of the three 750 kW Pelamis wave generators. Their articulating sections compress air which in turn drives turbines and generates electricity.
In 2008, a 3 MW Scottish project was announced; the first of its 66 generators were installed in early 2010. A Wave hub has been announced off the coast of Cornwall, England with an undersea cable able to collect 20 MW of wave energy.
Now OPT is providing its 150 kW machine to the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney Isles, Scotland. Ten more of these buoys will then be shipped to Reedsport, Oregon, thanks to US DOE/taxpayer support where they will be deployed as part of a patent-pending, undersea pod to collect the output of ten buoys.
Cuban Oil and the Big Leagues
Cuba’s HUGE oil find. In the past five years, the science of oil discovery and extraction has been fully applied to determine magnitude of Cuba’s oil in the North Cuba Basin. What had been seen as sizeable reserves were doubled, then confirmed by the US Geological survey- 4.6 – 9.3 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 – 21.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Cuba immediately set up 59 oil exploration blocks in the 74,000 square miles of ocean.
Now it appears that the reserves may be on the order of 20 billion barrels, rivaling that of the United States. Cuba, an oil power. Cuba, a new OPEC member? How colorful. Cuba has enough oil to be vaulted into the ranks of the world’s oil superpowers.
Turns out the reserve is hardly artesian. It’s at a depth of a mile beneath the sea. Sound familiar? Wonder if Cubapetroleo (or Cupet as it is known) knows how to top or bottom kill.
Cuba currently produces about 60,000 barrels a day, enough to provide for half its needs. Two-thirds of its oil is used to generate electricity, the other third for transportation. The country gets the rest of its oil from Venezuela in exchange for doctors and sports instructors. Since 1961 the US and its allies have imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. Now, with its abundant oil, there seems to be a change of heart.
Renewable Energy in Combat
Even the Army is going solar, installing mobile stations near combat lines. More than 1,000 soldiers have died while delivering oil in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Oil tanker trucks have been frequent targets for insurgent attacks. Energy independence through solar is also rising in prominence on military bases as commanders use distributed generation to eliminate the threat of grid interruptions to their operations.
Too Busy to Write!
“Strike,” I quipped with a wink to my friend Vanessa. No, we have not dropped her or anyone else from our newsletter distribution list. I’ve just been on strike. OK, that’s just somewhat more honest than saying, “I didn’t have the time.” Hey, we all have the same 24 hours. It’s either a priority or not. Back at you.
Strike it was; a nice break it has been. Just enough time to rebuild and move into a new, very-old house, manage the completion of two major solar systems, take emergency family trips to New York an Colorado, build more solar flags at elementary schools, host workshops, work closely with new clients on sustainability initiatives, and bid on a $25 million solar project on the East Coast.
This summer EcoMotion began our fourth year managing the Solar Santa Monica program. It’s an acupuncture exercise. Solar capacity there has more than tripled since we started. We’re pleased to announce a 720 kW school district PPA has just been authorized that required extensive EcoMotion intervention. We helped secure the opportunity through a revenue neutral starting point and reasoned escalator. Our next big project there involves some very high-profile entertainment industry personnel. In a few weeks, we’re hosting another Solar Town Hall featuring, “Solar with no money down.”
For our corporate clients, so many of whom are interested in solar as a first and potent green step, we’re finding these “sweet spots,” the nexus points where systems make sense and dollars and cents. Imperfect as net energy metering is, we’re uncovering and promoting opportunities that do “pencil.” The two projects pictured below are 432 kW and 1 MW and have 6.6 and 5.1 year paybacks. Meanwhile we continue to advocate effective feed-in tariff pricing in San Francisco and Sacramento. Last week EcoMotion hosted a seminar in Irvine called “The Solar Sweet Spot” attended largely be contractors and solar financiers seeking market advantages and insights.
Our Campus Services division is under contract with Fisher College in Boston for greening services. Administrators were pleasantly shocked that over 200 students have already signed the green pledge. They are ready to take action on campus and in the community. Vending machines for recycling are being examined for use there. Campus Services maintains its role as “Orchard Coordinator” at Wheaton College, exploring similar demonstrations at other prep schools and colleges with suitable soils and supportive alumni. Campus Services offers a three-step greening process, quickly moving to facilities and student action on campus.
On the West Coast, EcoMotion has now installed eight Solar Flags at Anaheim elementary schools, with two to go. The flags stand as proud symbols of the energy future, and have drawn great interest on campus, all supported with a basic but effective solar curriculum for teachers, students, and facility managers. For the past three months, EcoMotion has been working with a team of consultants for Los Angeles Unified School District on one of the nation’s largest solar programs, determining which of its 14,000 buildings are best suited for solar.
Two associates have joined EcoMotion Corporate Services. Mark Hopkinson is based in New York; Lance Honea in California. Mark joins as senior business associate and is offering EcoMotion’s proprietary three-step corporate greening services to Northeastern corporations. Thanks to Lance, EcoMotion is now the solar services provider for Energent, a channel marketing group with thousands of agents nationwide selling competitively priced telecom and energy services, including efficiency and now solar.