Two Years of Zero Resource

Over the last two years, we have covered a number of topics, from tiny houses, to DOE rules on showerheads, to definitions of terms.

Since the end of February, when WordPress starting showing the statistics, Zero Resource has attracted readers from all over the world.

Over the last two years, the top twenty most popular posts of all time are:

  1. Death Rays
  2. More Tiny Houses
  3. The Difference Between the CEC and CPUC
  4. Tour a Tiny Apartment in Spain
  5. Putrescible Waste
  6. Finding Data – GDP and Electricity Consumption
  7. Alex Wilson, Founder of EBN – Part 1
  8. Plastic Bag / Retail Bag Laws in the U.S.
  9. Bad News About CBECS 2007
  10. Nina Maritz
  11. Are People Clueless about Energy Savings?
  12. MRF (Rhymes with Smurf)
  13. Resilience vs. Sustainability
  14. The Key System
  15. Visualizing the U.S. Power Grid
  16. Do Green Roofs Improve Solar PV Performance?
  17. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
  18. Local Target Stores & Hazardous Waste
  19. Tiny “Spite” Houses
  20. Houses – Small, Reused, and Prefab

Many thanks to all the Zero Resource readers around the world! We look forward to another year.

Snippets – Water

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Image from the report appendix

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a new report on the effect of power plants on freshwater systems.  “One plant had to curtail nighttime operations because the drought had reduced the amount of cool water available to bring down the temperature of water discharged from the plant,” the report says. It quotes Kent Saathoff, a vice president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, who said last month, “If we don’t get any rain between now and next summer, there could be several thousand megawatts of generators that won’t have sufficient cooling water to operate next summer” (New York Times Green Blog).  You can read the entire report here Sewage overflow is the No. 1 source of pollution for New York’s waterways, says Leif Percifield, a graduate student at the School of Art, Media, and Technology at the Parsons New School of Design… Percifield’s dream is to place simple sensors at each of New York City’s 490 “combined sewer overflow” points. The sensors will be primed to send out text-message notifications every time the city’s drainage maxes out (Grist).  UC Berkeley has begun work in its quest to significantly taper its campuswide water use. The campus is aiming to cut its water usage by over 65 million gallons by 2020 (The Daily Californian).

More Bad News – EIA Faces a Funding Cut

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In addition to the bad news about CBECS 2007, the U.S. Energy Information Administation is facing an immediate 14% funding cut. This means there will be less information and analysis about energy.

The following is from an EIA press release:

“The lower FY 2011 funding level will require significant cuts in EIA’s data, analysis, and forecasting activities,” said EIA Administrator Richard Newell. “EIA had already taken a number of decisive steps in recent years to streamline operations and enhance overall efficiency, and we will continue to do so in order to minimize the impact of these cuts at a time when both policymaker and public interest in energy issues is high,” he said… …

Initial adjustments to EIA’s data, analysis, and forecasting programs include the following:

Oil and Natural Gas Information

  • Do not prepare or publish 2011 edition of the annual data release on U.S. proved oil and natural gas reserves.
  • Curtail efforts to understand linkages between physical energy markets and financial trading.
  • Suspend analysis and reporting on the market impacts of planned refinery outages.
  • Curtail collection and dissemination of monthly state-level data on wholesale petroleum product prices, including gasoline, diesel, heating oil, propane, residual fuel oil, and kerosene. Also, terminate the preparation and publication of the annual petroleum marketing data report and the fuel oil and kerosene sales report.
  • Suspend auditing of data submitted by major oil and natural gas companies and reporting on their 2010 financial performance through EIA’s Financial Reporting System.
  • Reduce collection of data from natural gas marketing companies.
  • Cancel the planned increase in resources to be applied to petroleum data quality issues.
  • Reduce data collection from smaller entities across a range of EIA oil and natural gas surveys.

Electricity, Renewables, and Coal Information

  • Reduce data on electricity exports and imports.
  • Terminate annual data collection and report on geothermal space heating (heat pump) systems.
  • Terminate annual data collection and report on solar thermal systems.
  • Reduce data collection from smaller entities across a range of EIA electricity and coal surveys.

Consumption, Efficiency, and International Energy Information

  • Suspend work on EIA’s 2011 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the Nation’s only source of statistical data for energy consumption and related characteristics of commercial buildings.
  • Terminate updates to EIA’s International Energy Statistics.

Energy Analysis Capacity

  • Halt preparation of the 2012 edition of EIA’s International Energy Outlook.
  • Suspend further upgrades to the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS). NEMS is the country’s preeminent tool for developing projections of U.S. energy production, consumption, prices, and technologies and its results are widely used by policymakers, industry, and others in making energy-related decisions. A multiyear project to replace aging NEMS components will be halted.
  • Eliminate annual published inventory of Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States.
  • Limit responses to requests from policymakers for special analyses.
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California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 1

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On Tuesday, January 25, I was in the audience at the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco as Panama Bartholomy, California Energy Commission (CEC), and Emma Wendt, PG&E, gave presentation about California’s clean energy future.

The post below consists of Part 1 of my record of the presentation – the first part of Panama Bartholomy’s presentation. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine. I also added any photos or images.

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The speakers were introduced by Raphael Sperry and Geoff Danker.

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Panama Bartholomy

I’m honored to be here… Obviously, I’m a bureaucrat. All my life I’ve wanted to be a bureaucrat. It’s true… … So I have achieved my dreams – I work for the state of California… I am here to talk about what I hope are some of our shared goals… building a  future that’s healthy for our economy, our environment, and our communities… …

I was supposed to talk about, and will talk about, California’s Clean Energy Future…  big ambitious goals. A massive document describes the process of how we’re all going to reach these goals… and how the agencies are going to work on it. In brief, it outlines very ambitious energy goals. It calls for zero net energy buildings… ways to shave peak demand… want to build carbon capture and storage in California by 2020… also want 1 million electric vehicles in California by 2020. So these are the goals. So I’m going to talk about the programs and activities behind the goals to make them a reality…

… … …

I have to give some background, then talk about efficiency…  then major market barriers around energy efficiency and what’s stopping a strong retrofit market, then renewables. Finally, I’ll talk about what’s coming from the Brown administration… …

So some energy context… I’m only going to talk about electricity and natural gas… One of the jobs of the CEC is to measure energy demand and project demand into the future… [looking at a chart] Here, you can see impacts of downturns in the economy… We’re expecting that the economy will pick up later this year or early next, then we will see about 1.2% growth in demand a year. Much of that is from the building sector… We expect to see continued increases in demand, especially from the commercial and residential sectors.

So we have several options. Do nothing. Then we get demand exceeding supply. Or we can build power plants. Or we can find ways to reduce demand… Efficiency is by far our most cost-effective choice in terms of how to meet demand.

Going back to natural gas… California only produces 13% percent of our own natural gas – the rest comes from other areas. We are at the end of the line when it comes to natural gas delivery. We are starting to compete more and more with Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico… …

Overarching a lot of activity on energy efficiency, I have to talk about California’s new climate policy… … AB 32 calls for us to reduce our economy-wide emissions levels to 1990 levels by 2020. This is about a 25-30% reduction in GHG emissions… The big player is transportation. Also, we have to look at electricity generation. The 1/4 of our electricity that we import is equal in GHG emissions to the 3/4 that we produce in-state. The built environment is the second largest wedge when we add the bits together. The built environment dictates how we need to get around, so it has a big impact… We have some work to do…

(Image credit: CA Climate Change Portal)

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Part 2 and Part 3 will be posted soon.

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Hot Water, Lights, and Solar as a Service?

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A number of start-up companies are trying to formulate a business model that sells hot water, lights, air conditioning, and solar power as a service.

The rationale is that the folks occupying buildings don’t necessarily want to own the equipment that produces hot water, light, cool air, or solar power, but they do want the end result.

The current model is that the companies (such as Skyline Innovations and Metrus Energy) retrofit commercial and industrial buildings, retain ownership of the equipment, and then charge a fee for the energy avoided. Because the fee is almost always less than the cost of the energy avoided, and because the maintenance costs of the equipment are generally included in the fee, the building owner can see further savings.

You can read more about this at Greentech Media.

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The Difference Between the CEC and CPUC

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I know what you’re thinking – a really exciting topic. But this question has actually come up in conversation a remarkable number of times in the last couple of weeks. This is not intended to be a definitive guide, but just to start the delineation between the organizations.

In a future post, I will discuss some of the practical ways that these organizations influence energy efficiency policy in California.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Basics

The CEC is California’s primary energy policy and planning agency.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies.

This post will focus only on the energy aspects of the CPUC’s role.

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The California Energy Commission (CEC)

The five CEC commissioners are appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are five years. Commissioners must represent the following specific areas of expertise: law, environment, economics, science/engineering, and the public at large.

The CEC’s responsibilities include:

  • Forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data.
  • Licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger.
  • Promoting energy efficiency by setting the state’s appliance and building efficiency standards and working with local government to enforce those standards.
  • Supporting public interest energy research that advances energy science and technology through research, development, and demonstration programs.
  • Supporting renewable energy by providing market support to existing, new, and emerging renewable technologies; providing incentives for small wind and fuel cell electricity systems; and providing incentives for solar electricity systems in new home construction.
  • Developing and implementing the state Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to reduce the state’s petroleum dependency and help attain the state climate change policies.
  • Administering more than $300 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding through the state energy program, the energy efficiency conservation and block grant program; the energy efficiency appliance rebate program and the energy assurance and emergency program.
  • Planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.

The CEC is located in Sacramento, CA.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

The five CPUC commissioners are also appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are six years.

The CPUC regulates investor owned utilities (IOUs) that distribute electricity and natural gas, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company.

The CPUC does not regulate municipal utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

The CPUC’s mission is the following:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.  We regulate utility services, stimulate innovation, and promote competitive markets, where possible, in the communications, energy, transportation, and water industries.

The CPUC has a number of different divisions; the Energy Division assists Commission activities in the electricity, natural gas, steam, and petroleum pipeline industries. Energy Division handles the regulation and Commission approval of official rates and terms of service for energy IOUs.

Because the regulated California utilities are so large, and their programs reach so many customers, CPUC energy policy decisions and goals have wide influence in California. The CPUC touches programs in energy efficiency, demand response, low-income assistance, distributed generation, and self-generation, among others. It has a role in California climate policy. It is overseeing the CA utilities’ switch to Smart Grid technologies. The CPUC regulated electric generation and procurement, electric rates and markets, gas policy and rates, and electric transmission and distribution.

CPUC headquarters are in San Francisco, CA.

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Visualizing the U.S. Power Grid

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Source: NPR’s Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Grid series

National Public Radio produced an intriguing series in April and May of 2009 called “Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Grid“.  The series looked at the structural make-up of power conveyance in the U.S.-and the need for it to get ‘smarter’ about controlling and tracking consumption patterns- and, at the growing pains of the newer energy industries such as wind and solar, and how to get them online to more Americans.

But the real star of the show for us map fans is the great interactive map, pictured above. The map illustrates the three discrete “grids” that make up the U.S. power network: Western, Eastern and Texas. The map also includes existing and proposed lines,power source ratios for each state (coal, hydro, etc.) and the distribution of wind and solar plants. See the full interactive map here.

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Finding Data – GDP and Electricity Consumption

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I thought it would be interesting to graph GDP against a metric of per capita energy use (in this case kWh/capita).

(Click on the chart to see a larger version.)

There are a number of interesting things to note about this chart. First, compared to the other countries shown, the United States has a really high GDP. Counting countries individually (sometimes the European Union is counted as one entity), the USA has the highest GDP, then Japan, then China. In general, the chart indicates that as a country’s GDP increases, so does kWh/capita. If we also take the size of the population into account, this is one reason many people are increasingly concerned about the potential effects of economic growth in India and China on climate change. Exceptions on the chart seem to generally be very cold countries (Canada, Sweden, and Russia) or very hot countries (Australia and Saudi Arabia).

In the chart above, the data comes from Key World Energy Statistics 2009, put out by the International Energy Agency (data is for 2007).

Electricity consumption is calculated for the entire country as gross production + imports – exports – transmission/distribution losses. It is then divided by the population of the country to get the per capita value.