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.

– – –

The speakers were introduced by Raphael Sperry and Geoff Danker.

– – –

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)

– – –

Part 2 and Part 3 will be posted soon.

– – –

Upcoming Event – Electrical Baseload

Reducing Residential Electrical Baseload

February 16, 2011 (Wednesday)

5:30 PM-7:30 PM

San Francisco Department of the Environment – 11 Grove Street, San Francisco, CA

Presentation will examine how homeowners, contractors or other service providers can determine how much electrical baseload a homeowner is consuming and use that analysis to lower the homeowner’s monthly usage and electric bill.  The session will cover both technique and monitoring tools used, problems encountered and their resolutions.

More information and links to register here.

– – –

More Tiny Houses!


We’ve highlighted tiny houses in the past – here are a few more that we’ve come across lately.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

– – –

Fuyuhito Moriya purchased a parking space in Tokyo, and then had an ultra-small three-story home built on the 30 square meter lot (about 323 square feet). CNN has a video here.

– – –

CNET recently ran an article on Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, which can be as small as 65 square feet. You can read the article here.

– – –

Dwell featured a small house in Toronto, located on a street full of other small houses, due to small lot sizes. You can read the article here. The architect, Andrew Reeves of Linebox, has a blog dedicated to the project.

– – –


Alex Wilson, Founder of EBN – Part 3


On Tuesday, September 28, I was in the audience at the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco as Alex Wilson, Founder and Executive Editor of Environmental Building News, gave a presentation about misguided pursuits in green building. He covered all-glass buildings, building-integrated wind turbines, and residential ground source heat pumps.

The post below consists of Part 3 of my record of the presentation – residential ground source heat pumps. All portions are included in chronological order. Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here.

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.

– – –

Let me move on the last issue – this is more at the residential scale. I’ve been frustrated for a while. This issue first struck me when I was a juror for a design competition maybe 10 years ago … almost without exception, these homes had ground source heat pumps. They went to extraordinary lengths to reduce heat loads…yet they didn’t benefit from that on the cost side by reducing the cost of the heating systems.

Ground source heat pumps are great … They can move heat from outside a house to inside, even if it’s colder outside than inside. That’s how a refrigerator works … does it by changing phases, alternately compressing and expanding the refrigerant …

Okay, so on the surface they’re very attractive, but they’re expensive. Let me explain the difference between an air source heat pump and ground source heat pump. Air source uses the air as a heat exchanger. Ground source uses the ground, which is more of a constant temperature during the year … if you’re heating, you want as warm a source as possible. The heat pumps can be operating in reverse in the summer to provide cooling. That’s the theory of why a ground source should be better than an air source heat pump. But there’s a lot of cost … either digging wells or trenching pipe … the costs are pretty high.

In our area in New England, we’re seeing ground source heat pumps for residences for about $30,000 … … As with wind turbines, there’s remarkably little data on the performance of ground source heat pumps. I don’t mean lab data, but actual in situ performance. There was a study just published by The Energy Saving Trust in the UK that compares ground source heat pumps with air source heat pumps. The results are pretty interesting … … There’s a pretty dramatic range in the performance of these systems … the range of performance is pretty identical, ground source to air source. That’s pretty interesting because air source is a lot cheaper to install. If you’re planning to spend a bunch of money on a heating system, you should instead take most of that money and invest it in the envelope and get the heating load down so low that you can meet the heating load with whatever system you want … A very efficient home can be heated with a few strips of electric baseboard heat or a small pellet stove … instead of a very expensive system. It’s the same argument I have about radiant floor heating systems– it’s a great way to distribute heat for a lousy building … I digress.

The basic argument with ground source heat pumps is take the money and put it into the building envelope. If you want a heat pump, get an air source heat pump …. these can be put in for a lots less money than ground source heat pumps. The performance is now neck and neck, and the performance of air source heat pumps keeps going up … I actually predict that the ground source heat pump industry disappears in the next ten years, it wouldn’t surprise me at all …

– – –

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

– – –

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

– – –

End Use


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

– – –

Studies frequently segment energy or water use by “end use”,  or the reason the energy was consumed, in order to better understand how the resource is used. For both energy and water, consumption is often first broken down by sector (commercial, residential, industrial) and then by end use (lighting, heating, etc.)

The first graph below is of California electricity use by sector. The second graph below is of California electricity use by sector AND by end use.

The end use categorizations in the graphs above are still pretty broad categories – some analyses break them down even further. The original data in the graphs comes from a CEC staff report. I used the same aggregate categories as Flex Your Power:

  • The Commercial Misc. category includes refrigeration, hot water, cooking, and office equipment.
  • The Residential Other category includes water heating, cooking, pool/spa, clothes washers, dishwashers, and freezers.
  • Industrial Process includes process fans, heating, pumping, and refrigeration.
  • Industrial Other includes material handling and processing.
  • The “Other” category includes street lighting and other government end uses.

– – –

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.

– – –

San Francisco’s Smart Water Meters

                                                                                          water supply leak, Free

San Francisco began to roll out its new ‘smart’ water meters to city residences this month. The new devices can accurately track water usage in real-time and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) plans to make personal water use data available to customers online. Other benefits include the streamlining of operations- meters communicate wirelessly, eliminating the need for house-to-house readings- and the early detection of system leaks and unusual usage surges.

The SFPUC will replace over 175,000 meters beginning with 5,000 this spring/summer,with an estimated install completion for the full number by 2012. The expectation is that the new meters will be able to assist individual and system-wide conservation efforts, increase response time for problems, and allow for a more accurate and refined fee structure.

California, as a drought-prone state, can stand to benefit greatly from increased water use data collection. As it stands today, water use is not uniformly tracked in all homes and businesses, nor is there any correlation between regional water scarcity and water service rates. While agriculture, industry and conveyance also play leading roles in the general water picture in the state, having accurate home and commercial usage data is a step forward, and can only be a benefit in creating sound management policies for this precious and scarce resource.



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

– – –

I am not (and have never been) a Bay Area homeowner, which is perhaps why I was not very familiar with the term “RECO” until recently.

There are many well-publicized programs aimed at making new buildings as “green” and energy efficient as possible. These efforts are viewed as integral to efforts to reduce future energy use and combat climate change. But in many places, we’re mostly stuck with the buildings that we’ve got. And we’ll likely be stuck with them for many years to come. So how do we influence and improve the energy and water performance of these buildings? One answer is a RECO.

Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO)

The purpose of a RECO is to improve the energy (and now water) efficiency of housing stock at the point of sale and major renovation.

In Berkeley, CA, the majority of the housing stock was built before the introduction of state building energy codes.  The buildings are often drafty, with no insulation and single-pane windows. Further, more than half of the city’s housing units are occupied by renters. In rental units landlords must approve and often conduct and pay for any major energy retrofits. However, the retrofits primarily benefit the renters, who pay the utility bills. Because of these split incentives, an obvious point of intervention to improve the energy efficiency of the existing building stock over time is at transfer of ownership or major renovation. The Berkeley RECO, which has been in place since the 1980s, applies to all residential homes and units, whether single-family homes, condos, multi-family properties, or live-work spaces, and requires that the home or unit comply with specific energy and water performance measures at the time of sale or major renovation.

The Berkeley RECO has ten prescriptive measures covering toilets, showerheads, faucets, water heaters, hot and cold water piping, exterior door weather-stripping, furnace ducts, fireplace chimneys, ceiling insulation, and lighting in common areas (for multi-family buildings).

It is tempting to say the measures are not enough, that much more drastic intervention (and more quickly) will be needed to achieve dramatic energy savings. This is probably true. But many approaches will be needed, and the gradual but consistent improvement of existing housing stock is a good place to start.

Since 1994, Berkeley has also had a Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinance (CECO).

Participants in Berkeley FIRST (Berkeley’s solar financing program) have to comply with RECO/CECO.

– – –

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.