ZETA Communities on NPR

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As I was listening to the radio this morning, I heard a story about Bay Area company ZETA Communities…

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As Population, Consumption Rise, Builder Goes Small

The planet may not feel any different today, but there are now 7 billion people on it, according to the United Nations.

That number will continue to rise, of course, and global incomes are likely to rise as well. That means more cars and computers, and bigger homes: the kinds of things Americans take for granted. It’s that rise in consumption that has population experts worried…

In an industrial park outside of Sacramento, Calif., there’s a factory inside what looks like an old airplane hangar.

Zeta Communities builds modular homes here. Project manager Scott Wade says they’re not like “stick-built” homes — “stick-built meaning they build it one piece at a time,” Wade says, “whereas we build it an assembly at a time.”

In cities, modules can be stacked to make a new generation of efficient buildings. At Zeta headquarters, architect Taeka Takagi rolls out a blueprints with one of Zeta’s prototypes.

“It is a micro studio,” she says. “The units are under 300 square feet.”

You can read or listen to the entire story on the NPR website.

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You can also watch videos of a unit being built in the ZETA factory and a unit being installed on our website here.

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Cool Roofs – Melvin Pomerantz

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In Berkeley, we are fortunate to have such events as Science at the Theater, where Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researchers give talks on their work at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The lectures are free and get a pretty sizeable audience.

On Monday, October 11, I was in the audience as researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (and the beloved Art Rosenfeld) gave a presentation titled “Cool Roofs, Cool Cities.” The post below consists of Part 1 of my record of the presentation – Melvin Pomerantz gives an introduction to the heat island effect and cool roofs. 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 images.

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What I’m going to talk about is a very familiar experience to a lot of you – when you go into the center of a city, it’s a lot warmer … That effect, namely the temperature … tends to be anywhere from 5-7 deg F warmer in the city than outside the city …

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The heat has not only an effect of causing discomfort, but has economic effects, too … Looking at some SMUD data … went up to about 107 degrees that day … As the day goes on, it gets hotter and hotter, and the demand for electricity gets higher and higher … finally it cools down and people turn off their air conditioners a little bit. … To get this power, you need about 5.5 power plants, but the power used in January is much less, so the power company has to have in reserve all these power plants. So there is capital involved in having these in reserve … And the ones in reserve are generally the oldest, most polluting plants … so it’s an unfortunate effect …

Another effect that goes on is that when things are very hot, there are actually deaths … Chicago in 1995, there were 739 deaths attributed to the heat wave – almost all occurred on the top floor of buildings with black roofs …

So what can we do about it? … How is the air heated in the first place? The sun does not heat the air directly … Sunlight travels very well through the atmosphere … There are opaque surfaces – the light comes in from the sun and strikes a surface … some stays in the surface and heats the surface, then the air comes along and touches the surface and heats up … The surface is acting as a converter, so if we can modify the surface, we can get a handle on it … If you have a building underneath a roof, that heat travels into the building, then you have to run on the air conditioning. …  Also pavements suffer if it gets too hot … the pavement needs to handle the deterioration that the heat causes … …

One way to look at this is to look at the solar reflectance … If you have no light coming out, it’s black … if it all comes out, it’s very bright. If the light is not all caught by the material, it has a higher solar reflectance, and it’s cooler … If you decrease the solar reflectance, the temperature can rise 80-90 degrees F over the ambient air – and you don’t want that … …

There’s another feature, which is that once the surface is warm, it radiates … there are gases in the air which absorb this thermal radiation, and it’s like a blanket. It’s blocked by the gases in the atmosphere… this is the atmospheric greenhouse effect. If we can affect the light from sticking in the surfaces, we reduces the greenhouse effect, too, and keep the planet a bit cooler …

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

What can we make cooler? … Looking again at Sacramento … about 39% of what we could see from the sky was pavements … … … If we reflect sunlight, it mostly passes back out of the atmosphere without heating the air…

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Part 2 is posted here. Part 3 is posted here. Part 4 is posted here.

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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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They Don’t Have Water Meters?!

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photo credit: freefoto.com

Many residents of California don’t have water meters. According to a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle by Peter Gleick, the recent legislation mandating water meters is needed, as the many residents of California that don’t have meters are very reluctant to install them.

But everyone should have meters. According to Ellen Hanak, a water researcher with the Public Policy Institute on California, metered cities use about 15 percent less water than unmetered cities, and cities with a tiered rate system use an additional 10 percent less (via KQED).

A few statistics from Gleick’s column:

— Sacramento only has meters in 25 percent of residences, and has no plans to meter everyone else anytime soon.

— In the San Joaquin Valley, more than half of all residents don’t have water meters.

— The city of Fresno charges all single-family households a flat rate, no matter how much water is used.

Fresno’s water rates are some of the lowest in California, and it has some of the highest water use (3 times as high as Los Angeles residents, and 5 times as high as San Francisco residents, via The California Report). There is an interesting study comparing water rates – when the study was conducted (2006), the average monthly charge was $18.52 in Fresno County, $37.55 in Alameda County, and $57.25 in Santa Cruz County.

The meters are coming. There are several laws that will require the installation of meters for all Californians (via KQED).

— All homes built after 1992 must have meters.

— Cities that receive federal water have to install meters by 2013.

— All California cities have to install meters by 2025.

Seriously, though, 2025 is a long time for a state that has major water management issues.

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Last year, there was a story from The California Report that covers the struggle to meter reluctant Fresno residents (listen to the story here).

Stimulus Money for Energy Efficiency

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The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) will receive $20 million from the federal stimulus funds designated for California. The money will launch a Home Performance Program, which will offer HERS audits and energy upgrades to about 15,000 homes in SMUD territory. Because the program is expected to increase demand for trained contractors and auditors, SMUD will be working with the Sacramento Employment and Training agency and Los Rios Community College to develop training programs – via SMUD.

The California Energy Commission also approved $8 million for the County of Los Angeles, $3 million for the County of San Diego, and $1.9 million for the City of Fresno from Recovery Act Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants for residential energy retrofit programs – via Imperial Valley News.

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There’s a cool map of hotspots where water and energy are coming into conflict around the world –  IEEE Spectrum.

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There’s a new study from Arizona State University that analyzes the life cycle impact of swimming pools in nine cities in terms of their consumption of chemicals, water, and energy – via Environmental Science & Technology.

Anna’s Links – 5/26/10

A round-up of interesting (and depressing) analysis of the recent oil rig explosion and oil spill…

A “live” feed of the BP oil spill is now posted online (though traffic has been so high that it’s not always possible to view) – U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee.

Experts examining a previous video of the oil leak released by BP estimate that the size of the oil spill is much larger than official estimates – NPR.

Scientists fault the government for “failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope” – New York Times.

Some experts are starting to say that the oil leaks could last for years because “we don’t have any idea how to stop this” – National Geographic.

Aerial photos of the Gulf oil spill show its vast size – NASA Earth Observatory.

A scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab notes that some of the detergents used to clean up spill sites can be more toxic that the oil itself – Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

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Other interesting tidbits from the web…

Two campuses of the University of California system, Berkeley and Davis, have been given  MacArthur grants to launch a new master’s degree program in sustainable development practice – UC Berkeley and MacArthur Foundation.

Developers in Las Vegas are cranking up their sales pitches for brand new homes again, even though the city has 9,500 empty houses and another 5,600 that were repossessed in the first quarter of 2010 – New York Times.

Las Vegas as a whole has been very dependent on growth and construction – the recent drop in new construction had a major impact on municipal funding – Aguanomics and Bloomberg.

Federal officials want public input on a proposal to revise policies for managing urban water shortages in the Central Valley – meetings will be held in Sacramento on May 26, June 23, July 20, and August 19 – The Sacramento Bee.