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Energy-Related Recovery Act Money

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 I’ve been having quite a bit of fun investigating where some of the energy-related recovery act money has gone via the interactive map here. If you zoom in to look at the Bay Area, you can hover your mouse over each circle to see who received the money and how much. For example, the City of Berkeley received $118,155 for a renewable energy project, and Fremont received $1,891,200 for energy efficiency.

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The Rundown: 2011 BERC Energy Symposium

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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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Some Shameless Self-Promotion

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I am a contributing author to Energy, Sustainability and the Environment: Technology, Incentives, Behavior. The book was just released by Elsevier, and you can find it on Amazon here.

Many thanks to friends and mentors Nick Rajkovich and Bill Miller for all their work on the chapter we wrote together.

I got my copy from the publisher in the mail last night.

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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Is the Grid Ready for Electric Cars?

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photo: the Nissan Leaf

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding electric vehicles as the first “mainstream” fully electric vehicles (EV) are hitting the road with the promise of many new models coming down the pipeline in the coming years. But are electric cars a truly “green” solution, or will we be simply replacing one problem (fossil fuel dependence) for another one (increased electricity demand, not necessarily met by “clean” energy technologies)? And, importantly, can the American energy grid sustain a powerful new surge in demand?

Casting around for answers, I have assembled a few of the arguments from both the “worry” and “don’t worry” camps.

Worry

Grid stress could be felt on the local level if, for example, a single neighborhood has a high proportion of electric vehicles on one transformer and regular charging times are not sufficiently staggered or at off-peak hours.

– The only way to adequately manage supply-demand optimization is with smart grid technology that can communicate directly with vehicles and manage charging times. That widespread technology is still several to many years off.

– A 2007 Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNL) report found that even if smart grid technology were in place and charging regularly took place at off-peak hours, the nations energy infrastructure as it exists now could only accommodate a maximum 15% of vehicles being EVs.

Don’t Worry

The average age of cars on the road is nine years and going up.  Thus, it is unlikely that electric cars will hit the road en masse, but rather slowly integrate into the car stock, giving utilities time to prepare for increased demand.

-Incentives provided by utility companies can be enough encouragement to persuade most drivers to charge at off-peak hours in the years before smart grid technologies are widespread. Time-of-use plans can have substantially lower rates at off-peak hours.

– Experiments with “Vehicle to Grid” (V2G) technologies (in which Eletric Vehicles actually can store excess energy when demand is low and feed it back to the grid at peak hours) are already underway around the world, and could play a key role  in the grid of the future. See Journalist Dave Levithan’s article on the subject here.

– The U.S. Government has pledged $2 billion in grants for the manufacture of EV car batteries as well as a $400 million “downpayment” to jumpstart EV infrastructure.

Read more articles on electric cars and grid capacity here:

PHEVs: Will the Grid be Ready?, Matter Network

Can US Power Grid Handle Surge of Electric Cars?, Aol News

8 Myths About the Electric Car, Alt Transport

Is the Power Grid Ready for Electric Cars?, MSNBC Answer Desk

Ford Studying Ways to Charge Electric Vehicles, New York Times

Death Rays

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So… what on earth does this blog have to do with death rays?!

Well, yesterday the story of the “Vdara Death Rays” flew through a couple building science mailing lists that I am on. Basically, the building designers put very reflective glass on the outside of a curved building, which wound up posing a problem for folks at a pool nearby (more  below).  However, it turns out that a building doesn’t have to be curved for highly reflective glazing to pose a hazard to nearby people or nearby buildings.

How does this fit into concerns about energy use? One of the reasons that the highly reflective glazing is used is to prevent heat gain and therefore reduce the amount of energy needed to keep a building cool.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a story a few days ago about the Vdara Hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas.

The tall, sleek, curving Vdara Hotel at CityCenter on the Strip is a thing of beauty. But the south-facing tower is also a collector and bouncer of sun rays, which — if you’re at the hotel’s swimming pool at the wrong time of day and season — can singe your hair and melt your plastic drink cups and shopping bags.

Hotel pool employees call the phenomenon the “Vdara death ray.” A spokesman for MGM Resorts International, which owns Vdara, said he prefers the term “hot spot” or “solar convergence” to describe it. He went on to say that designers are already working with resort staff to come up with solutions.

You can read the entire story here.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Los Angeles, Walt Disney Concert Hall, by famous architect Frank Gehry, has had complaints about glare off the reflective surfaces.

While most of the building’s exterior was designed with stainless steel given a matte finish, the Founders Room and Children’s Amphitheater were designed with highly polished mirror-like panels. The reflective qualities of the surface were amplified by the concave sections of the Founders Room walls. Some residents of the neighboring condominiums suffered glare caused by sunlight that was reflected off these surfaces and concentrated in a manner similar to a parabolic mirror. The resulting heat made some rooms of nearby condominiums unbearably warm, caused the air-conditioning costs of these residents to skyrocket and created hot spots on adjacent sidewalks of as much as 60 °C (140 °F). After complaints from neighboring buildings and residents, the owners asked Gehry Partners to come up with a solution. Their response was a computer analysis of the building’s surfaces identifying the offending panels. In 2005 these were dulled by lightly sanding the panels to eliminate unwanted glare.

Frank Gehry had this to say when asked about potential for glare on a newer LA project (via the LA Times):

I had some bum rap at Disney Hall because of glare. That was 2% of the building had reflective stuff, and some pissed off lady (complained). So the County had to respond. (It took) A couple guys with steel wool and in about an hour and a half they fixed it. But it did appear as one of the 10 engineering disasters in the last ten years—talk about exaggerating. The county did a study of downtown LA that found 5 other buildings that were more reflective, but no one complained about them. So, we got to get more pissed off ladies.

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It has also been reported in Green Building Advisor that reflections from windows can melt residential vinyl siding.

Glass experts and home inspectors agree on one point: since vinyl siding can be melted by reflectance from conventional clear glass, a low-e window is not required… However, the use of low-e (or low-solar-gain) glass appears to increase the risk of melted siding. According to an article in the March 2007 issue of USGlass Magazine, “A study performed by Cardinal on this topic examined the impact of reflective coatings on this type of [vinyl siding] damage. ‘The more reflective coatings that are out there today, that are getting more popular, are going to create this problem,’ [Jeff Haberer] said. However, Cardinal found that even clear glass can become a significant heat source.”

Glass with a low solar heat-gain coefficient has a high solar reflectance. “What we are getting is very, very good windows,” said Jim Petersen, the director of R&D at Pulte Homes. “Now the energy that is not getting in the house has to go somewhere, and it’s being reflected.”

Read the entire story here.

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Lighting, Light Bulbs, and Lingering Habits

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Highlighting a few recent stories…

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Research by the California Public Utility Commission staff indicates that if enough existing lighting and lighting for new buildings incorporate the latest technologies, the state could achieve a 60 to 80 percent reduction in light-related energy use. New policies adopted  by the commission promote that goal by encouraging utilities to rethink their current consumer subsidies, which tend to focus on compact fluorescents, in favor of the newer and more energy-efficient technologies. “We need to move on and look at how best to spend our resources on the next step of lighting,” said Theresa Cho, an aide to Commissioner Diane Grueneich. “Our goal is market transformation.” The shelves of Wal-Mart and other big-box stores are already full of compact fluorescents, she said – via the New York Times Green Blog.

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A trio of House Republicans, Joe Barton and Michael Burgess of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, have introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, which would repeal the section of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that sets minimum energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and would effectively phase out most ordinary incandescents – via the New York Times Green Blog.

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The Department of Energy’s inspector general released an audit on Wednesday showing that it is continuing to buy obsolete fluorescent lamps, bypassing the more modern technologies that it spent tax dollars to develop. Yet even more surprising, it is still buying the familiar incandescent bulbs in place of compact fluorescents. The department operates at 24 sites, and the auditors visited seven of them. “Despite the substantial benefits of C.F.L.’s, all of the sites we visited continued to purchase incandescent lights,” the report said – also via the New York Times Green Blog.

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Plug Load

This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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A plug load is basically any piece of equipment or electronics that plugs into an outlet in a building, including televisions, cell phone chargers, laptops, entertainment equipment, and blenders. Larger appliances are often considered to be a separate category, but are sometimes also categorized as plug loads.

When designing a building to meet code, or to estimate energy use, designers generally take major building systems, such as lighting and HVAC, and major appliances, such as refrigeration and wet cleaning equipment, into account. But it is much harder to estimate all the plug loads that buildings occupants will bring with them. And plug loads have been increasing over time as people accumulate gadgets and equipment. As the other loads in a building are driven down through increased equipment efficiency, optimized controls, and behavioral changes, plug loads are a sizeable percentage of the remaining load.

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There have been a number of efforts to regulate the efficiency of certain plug loads – California approved television efficiency standards in 2009.

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Martin Holladay, at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, describes the importance of taking plug loads into account when calculating building energy use in a post here.

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A California Plug-Load Energy Efficiency Center is being planned and will be hosted by the University of California, Irvine. My understanding is that it will be modeled after the California Lighting Technology Center and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center, both located at UC Davis.

A pdf of the PowerPoint slides from the planning workshop can be read here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Links – Water and Energy

Alex Wilson, of BuildingGreen, has written two blogs posts recently that I think will be of interest to Zero Resource readers…I’ve posted snippets, but I recommend reading the entire original posts.

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Saving Energy by Conserving Water

Averaged statewide , roughly 5% of California’s electricity is used for moving and treating water and wastewater. (The oft-quoted figure of 19% includes water heating and other things we do with water in homes, businesses, and farms.) But these figures vary widely in different parts of the state. A 2005 report from the California Energy Commission found supply and conveyance of water to range in intensity from 0 to 16,000 kilowatt-hours per million gallons (kWh/MG), while filtration and treatment varied from 100 to 1,500 kWh/MG, distribution varied from 700 to 1,200 kWh/MG, and wastewater collection and treatment varied from 1,100 to 5,000 kWh/MG. Not surprisingly, average totals are far higher in southern California (12,700 kWh/MG) than in northern California (3,950 kWh/MG).

Saving Water by Conserving Energy

By weighting thermoelectric and hydroelectric power generation sources, the NREL report calculated an average water-intensity of electricity in the U.S. to be 2.0 gal/kWh. So if you use 500 kWh per month, that’s requiring, on average, 1,000 gallons of water.

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Assorted Links

Window reflections can melt vinyl siding.

PACE program participants must pay off the loans before they can refinance their mortgages.

Transit-oriented development may be threatened by air quality rules in California.

EPA & DOT propose colorful fuel economy labels to make it easier to compare vehicle mileage.

And there’s an interesting article about Smart Grids and privacy.

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