The Rundown: 2011 BERC Energy Symposium


Last week, I attended the 2011 BERC Energy Symposium, on the UC Berkeley campus. There were a number of interesting folks both speaking and attending, so I’d like to give you all a sense of what was covered.

I attended a panel on energy and behavior on Friday morning – I will post some thoughts on it in the next few days.

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Coverage from The Berkeley Science Review:

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You can find more information about BERC and this year’s expo and symposium here.

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The San Francisco Federal Building…at 2 AM


Yes, it’s true. While I was waiting for a TransBay bus near Civic Center at 2 am a couple weeks ago (not something I do often), I was thinking about energy efficiency.

I took the following (terrible) cell phone photo of the Federal Building from Market Street:

And I wondered, “Why are all those lights on?”

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There are a number of reasons that entire floors of lights might be on in a building in the middle of the night. Reasons could include:

  • Cleaning crews come in after workers leave and turn all the lights on a floor on
  • A few folks are working really, really late and can only control large areas of lights
  • Sensors or timers that turn off the lights are not functioning properly
  • Nobody knows how to turn off the lights

But the San Francisco Federal Building is touted as a high-performance low-energy building. And someone else has previously noticed lights on late at night. So what’s going on?

I’m going to see what I can find out in the next week or two and will write a follow-up post.

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More information on the San Francisco Federal Building is available from the architects (Morphosis),  Flex Your Power, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a case study by Rocky Mountain Institute.

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California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 3


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

The post below consists of Part 3 of my record of the presentation –  Emma Wendt’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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Emma Wendt

Most people don’t think of utilities as wanting to do something to address the clean energy future… You might know PG&E through your utility… We’re a really large but really green utility… We’ve won greenest utility in America for the last 2 years… We have a really green portfolio… We have a significant amount of solar interconnected into our system…

… …

What do we mean when we talk about a sustainable electric system?… … The first step in cleaning up the system is to supply green power… On the customer side, you can add rooftop solar and plug-in electric vehicles. But because you have peaks in demand, and an intermittent demand… you need some sort of storage system to make sure demand can always be met by supply… Also need a way for all of this to talk to each other.

On the renewable side, there are a number of ways you can interconnect renewables into our grid… There are a number of programs – California Solar Initiative, Self-Generation Incentive Program, net energy metering, feed-in tariffs, and the renewable auction mechanism, which are hot of the policy presses…

We have a renewables RFO, where we look  at the feasibility of projects … … and PG&E is looking at more options for owning renewables.

So why are we doing all this? … … We do have the renewable portfolio standard…

Another policy hot off the presses is the TREC decision – only allowed to buy out-of-state renewables for up to 25% of our renewables obligation… …

[Showing 2009 electric power mix.] This is what was actually delivered. We don’t yet have final 2010 numbers…

In the future, we have a ton of contracts for new renewable sources. A large part is solar – both solar thermal and solar PV… … You’ll only see a small amount coming from small hydro – basically the rivers that can be dammed are already dammed up… …

PV program hopes to speed up future PV installations… … if you are a developer of small-scale renewables projects, the RFO comes out next week… … On the utility side, we are planning to build more substations… … We want to build solar PV near our substations…

In reality, renewables projects in California don’t always get built. As of the end of 2009, half of our projects were cancelled or significantly delayed… … transmission is causing the most delays, but other barriers are significant – financing, developer inexperience… permitting, technology risks… site control, and the list goes on.. …

PG&E is involved in a statewide initiative called California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI)… you can’t have clean generation without a way to get it to where the people are. This is a really big problem… …

PG&E customers lead in on-site solar generation… but the best resource is energy efficiency… … PG&E offers a wide range of customer energy efficiency programs… … we also have a program where we work on appliance standards… And we work with retailers… to give them the incentive, then they have control over what they put in front of their customers… …

A cool tool to help customers find out more about EE is also SmartMeters. You may have heard a number of things about SmartMeters… But there is the possibility of seeing what your load is like.

PG&E is also looking at options for plug-in electric vehicle integration… looking at meters for the charging of EVs, and having a separate pricing system… We have a number of partnerships with organizations working on electric vehicles.

… …

We hope that we’ll have a really involved community to help this all move forward.

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This presentation was followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

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Part 1 is posted here. Part 2 is posted here.

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California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 1


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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Upcoming Webinar – PACE Programs

PACE – What Comes Next?

Organized by Build It Green

February 23, 2011 (Wednesday)

10:30 AM-12:00 PM

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) allows property owners to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to their homes via an annual assessment on their property.  This approach became a central part of the Obama Administration’s “Recovery Through Retrofit” initiative and had been authorized in 24 states.  However, recent actions by federal regulators have frozen most residential PACE programs.

This webinar will discuss the status of PACE as well as efforts underway to resolve the federal regulatory issues.  Perhaps most importantly, the webinar will include lessons learned from PACE programs and outline the financing options being made available in the absence of PACE.

More information and links to register here.

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New Year, New Light Bulb Standards in CA


(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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A new federal law, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), creates new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs sold in California. According to a press release from the California Energy Commission:

While the country will adopt this standard on January 1, 2012, California was given authority to implement the national standards one year earlier to avoid the sale of 10.5 million inefficient 100-watt bulbs in 2011 which would cost consumers $35.6 million in higher electricity bills…

The standard in California states that a 100-watt bulb manufactured on or after January 1, 2011 must use 28 percent less energy (i.e. a 100-watt bulb may not use more than 72 watts). The new 72-watt replacement bulb will provide the same amount of light (i.e. lumens), use less power, and cost less to operate.

For more information, go to:

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Assorted Links

A home in Berkeley is the first in California to have permitted interior use of rainwater.

A new British law imposes fines for landlords renting out energy-inefficient property.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talks about livable communities.

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Upcoming Webinars

I just want to remind folks that we have launched a “Webinars” page to feature interesting online presentations. You can navigate to the Webinars page using links at the right side of the blog.

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November 10, 2010 (Wednesday)

Pacific Energy Center: “Chris Hammer – What’s Behavior Got To Do With Energy Efficiency?”

6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

We often look to technology to capture energy savings. What about the behavior of individuals in the home and workplace? Chris Hammer will describe occupant actions that save energy, discuss social science research on behavior and energy, and review case studies of organizations that implemented behavior change programs.

Free event. For more info and links to register here.

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November 18, 2010 (Thursday)

Build It Green: “Passive House – A Sustainable Building Revolution in California”

11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Expectations for building occupant comfort, health and efficiency are increasing simultaneously. The Passive House standard meets all of these requirements at once. By producing buildings with energy demands that can be met at a renewable scale of production, Passive House can future-proof our communities and put California on track to meet our greeenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The future of building is here!An in-depth look at the Passive House standard by the leading local experts in the field, this webinar will:

  • Detail current retrofit and new construction Passive House projects and approaches in the Bay Area
  • Retrofit lessons learned and phased approaches
  • Illustrate how Passive House meets or exceeds the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, and makes net-zero and energy-positive buildings feasible TODAY in the most cost-effective way possible
  • Explore how the Passive House standard can integrate with and enhance GPR and other green building rating systems.

Free for Build It Green members, $10 for non-members – more info and links to register here.

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$274 Million for Water & Sewer Upgrades


The Fresno Bee reports that the EPA is awarding $127 million to California’s Department of Public Health and another $147 million to the State Water Resources Control Board.

The agency said at least 20 percent of the money must be used to fun so-called “green” infrastructure projects that improve water conservation, energy efficiency and environmental projects.

The two agencies will be responsible for awarding dozens of grants or low-interest loans to cities throughout the state for new sewers and drinking water facility upgrades.

Read the entire story here.

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Don’t Call It A Retrofit… Or An Audit


A Lawrence Berkeley National Lab report examined case studies of retrofit projects across the United States as examples of local approaches that saved considerable energy. A recent article in Greentech Media highlights some of the results:

“The bottom line is that providing information and financing isn’t sufficient,” [Merrian] Fuller said during a DOE Technical Assistance Program webinar. For starters, put the message in terms people know and understand. Sell something people actually want. “Often people already assume they’re doing everything they can, so figure out what messages get beyond that,” said Fuller. LBNL found that comfort, health reasons (such as reducing allergens or mold), appealing to people’s social norms or even becoming a self-reliant American were all preferable to just talking about energy savings, or even bill savings. “Don’t assume saving 20 percent on your energy bill will motivate people,” she warned.

She went on to note that communications styles matter. People need hard examples. Instead of telling people their house is leaking energy, instead they need to hear that their hard-earned money is literally flying up the chimney, or that their house is the equivalent of a car getting only 15 miles per gallon. Carl Nelson, the Program and Policy Manager at Center for Energy and Environment in Minnesota, said his group leaders go through training with an improv comedian to more effectively lead community information sessions. They also shy away from the word ‘audit,’ because after all, people rarely associate the word with anything positive. “We try not to make it boring,” said Nelson. “We set up the expectation that they’re going to have this home visit and commit to making a major investment in their home.”

You can read all of the case studies and the full report here.

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