Monday, September 17, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
In 2002, more than a dozen structures and countless trees were scorched in the course of the Biscuit Fire, which took down roughly 500,000 acres in southern Oregon. Now a Dayton-area winery with a history of green innovation — Stoller Family Estate — has put a number of those trees to use in its new tasting room, along with a whole lot of solar power.
This wood comes courtesy of the “standing dead,” i.e., trees that were killed by the fire but were left standing, often in excellent shape for those willing to make use of salvaged wood. Stoller put that wood to work in constructing its new tasting room, which features mostly reclaimed wood. Wood from the Biscuit fire was used in the building’s rolling ceiling, while the tasting room’s large support columns were upcycled from an old Portland warehouse.
Oregon’s KGW reports that the new Stoller tasting room’s 236 solar panels generate enough energy to power the entire building, and even send a little solar love next door to the Stoller winery. When the winery’s work slows down during the summer months, some of that energy will get routed back to the grid. That is, after the winery’s electric forklift has been charged, as well as the electric vehicles of any wine connoisseurs who happen to stop by for a sip of Stoller’s renowned pinot noir.
Other green features of the new tasting room — which was designed by the same firm that designed the winery itself, Ernest R. Munch of Portland — include natural daylighting, courtesy of a wall of windows, and soon, a green roof that will help to insulate the building while helping to manage storm runoff on site.
Stoller Family Estate is located in Oregon’s Dundee Hills area. It became the first Gold LEED-certified winery in the nation back in 2006, and has since carried on its commitment to environmental stewardship by becoming one of 14 wineries to take on the “Carbon Neutral Challenge,” a joint program of the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon Wine Board.
As part of the challenge, Stoller underwent a rigorous energy audit that revealed the most energy-intensive areas of its operations. It then joined other green-minded Oregon wineries in instituting a number of changes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as installing solar panels, retrofitting lighting, insulating tanks and even using goats, sheep and raptors instead of lawn mowers and pesticides. While 30 Oregon wineries originally signed on the line for the challenge, Stoller was one of only 14 that made it all the way to the end of the process. To complete the Carbon Neutral Challenge, all participating wineries purchased carbon offsets for their remaining emissions through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s methane digester projects.
The wineries that reached the finish line in this Oregon program also became members of The Climate Registry, a national system that sets standards for calculating, verifying and reporting greenhouse gas emissions.
Willamette Valley Vineyards of Turner and King Estate Winery of Eugene were the largest participating wineries in the Carbon Neutral Challenge. In addition to Stoller, the other wineries to complete the challenge include A to Z wineworks, Abaclea, Adelsheim, Chehalem, Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Left Coast Cellars, Lemelson Vineyards, Mahonia Vineyards and Nursery, Sokol Blosser Winery, Soter Vineyards, and Winderlea Wine Co.
—Susan De Freitas
This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.
Monday, September 17, 2012 | By EarthShare | No Comments
EDF Climate Corps Saves Energy and Money
Katie Ware manages marketing and
communications at Environmental Defense Fund
(EDF), an EarthShare member organization. Here she answers some questions about
EDF Climate Corps, a highly
competitive fellowship program that pairs specially trained graduate students
with companies, cities and universities to take their energy management
programs to the next level – whether they’re just starting out or are already leaders
in the climate and energy space.
Nicholas Lopez on a building facilities tour during the 2012 EDF Climate Corps training
Where did the idea
for EDF Climate Corps come from?
We recognized one of the fastest and most cost-effective
ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions was through improved energy efficiency in
buildings. Commercial and residential buildings account for more than a third
of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. McKinsey & Company
estimates that the U.S. could reduce its annual energy consumption 23 percent
through efficiency measures, which could save companies and consumers over a
EDF launched Climate Corps in 2008 to seize this opportunity.
We started with just seven student fellows in Bay Area companies. When those
fellows found $35 million in energy savings in just one summer, we realized the
model worked. We’ve since placed nearly 300 fellows in approximately 200
leading companies, cities and universities across the nation.
Since EDF Climate Corps began, we’ve uncovered energy
efficiency opportunities worth $1 billion in net operational costs for participating organizations
like Facebook, Boeing, Chicago Public School Systems and the City of Atlanta,
and more than a million metric tons of avoided annual carbon emissions for the
What are some common
efficiency improvements that organizations make as a result of the program?
When we started the program, we wanted the fellows to take
advantage of the low hanging fruit for energy opportunities – to go in and turn
off the lights, so to speak. The fellows would crunch the numbers and work
closely with companies to implement technical energy efficiency projects in
areas such as lighting, HVAC and office equipment. More recently, we’ve also
seen a shift in the fellows’ efforts toward helping develop more strategic
projects and processes to improve energy management practices.
Many organizations task fellows with projects around
employee engagement, behavior change initiatives, long-term goal setting and
investment prioritization tools. We’ve especially seen this in organizations
that have participated for multiple years. Each year, we’re able to take the
engagement deeper and focus on making improvements to allow for long-term,
comprehensive energy management. We’ve found that fellows are able to provide
value to any organization, whether they’re just beginning to focus on energy
management or are already an industry leader. There’s always more to do.
database of case studies is a good representation of the kinds of projects
fellows work on. Our
blog is also a great resource.
What challenges do
companies face in implementing efficiency or sustainability measures?
Companies face many barriers to implementing energy-saving
projects, most of which have nothing to do with technology and everything to do
with the way people make decisions. Put simply, companies are made up of
individuals driven by priorities, habits, and organizational cultures that
often impede progress on energy efficiency.
We’ve been doing a lot of thinking around ways to overcome barriers.
We recently released the report Breaking
Down Barriers to Energy Efficiency: Findings from EDF Climate Corps 2011. It
offers effective ways to motivate employees, create accountability for success,
identify investment opportunities, ensure funding for financially attractive
projects, measure cost savings, and scale performance gains continuously over
Whether a company is trying to get off the starting block,
or taking its energy and climate initiatives to the next level, the report
outlines proven strategies for getting beyond the low-hanging fruit to the tremendous
savings that energy efficiency can deliver.
Paulina Orkisz spent her summer as an EDF Climate Corps fellow for the Adidas Group
How do you ensure
companies continue making efficiency upgrades after the students have left the
Fellows often identify folks to pass the baton on to before
leaving the program. We follow up with host organizations to check on
implementation in the years following the fellowship as well. It’s promising to
see that most of the low-to-no cost projects get implemented right away. Many
of the larger scale projects identified in the past couple years are already
complete or underway too. A particularly interesting trend we’ve seen is
organizations participating for multiple summers, with each fellow building on
the work of their predecessor(s).
What changes does the
program hope to make in the coming years?
While quick wins and low- or no-cost projects are critical
to building momentum for energy efficiency, our goal is to move companies past
one-off initiatives toward a comprehensive energy management strategy that
delivers systemic and lasting reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas
emissions. As we continue to expand our network and engage more deeply with
organizations, we look forward to increasing our impact.
Do you represent a company or organization that would
like to get involved with EDF Climate Corps to cut energy costs? Email EDF at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Spaces are filling up fast for 2013, so be sure to contact them soon.
Monday, September 17, 2012 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
The grueling processing of grain and gathering of firewood dominate life in Uganda’s Teso region. Engineers Without Borders is seeking to help power an improved harvest.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Even as cars become more efficient and fuels become cleaner, the sheer number of vehicles on the road and the distances we travel in them may overwhelm whatever gains the world achieves in fuel economy, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute.
World production of passenger cars has rebounded from the dip seen in 2008-9 and is projected to reach an all-time record of 66.1 million for 2012, according to the report. Adding the numbers for light trucks, 76.8 million light vehicles were produced in 2011, and that figure could surpass 80 million in 2012.
Not surprisingly, China’s explosive growth is driving the expansion. It was the no. 1 producer of light vehicles in 2011 with 17.3 million, nearly double the amount it manufactured just four years ago.
The report’s author, Michael Renner, aggregated research on global auto production, fuel efficiency standards and distances traveled over the past few decades. “Fuel efficiency has been improving in all the major car nations over the past decade, and stricter consumption limits for coming years have been enacted or proposed,” Renner writes, with Japan and the EU leading in fuel economy. Still, he projects that current EU targets for 2015 are “too soft to be an effective driver of improvements,” and notes that the 2025 goals recently announced by the Obama administration are similar to what Japan already requires for 2015.
(Related: “Savings and Costs of the New U.S. Fuel Economy Standards“)
So far, it seems unlikely that the advent of electric cars will significantly mitigate the emissions produced by so much road travel. EV production “is still at barely perceptible levels,” the Worldwatch report noted. In 2011, the number produced amounted to less than half of 1 percent of all vehicles; hybrids accounted for less than 2 percent. Even though China, for example, has set a goal of having 5 million hybrid and electric vehicles on its roads by 2020, research indicates that so far, the country’s EV production and its construction of charging infrastructure won’t be sufficient to achieve that goal. Even if China were to meet its goals for EVs, that number would still be a small fraction of its total fleet—and those EVs would be powered by a grid that is largely dependent on coal.
(Related: “China’s Electric Car Drive: Impressive, but Not Enough“)
It also remains unclear whether consumer demand for electric vehicles will ever be strong enough to boost their market share. In the United States, at least, weak sales recently led GM, the world’s largest auto manufacturer, to suspend production of the Chevy Volt for a second time this year.
But overall sales for passenger vehicles have steadily increased, according to the Worldwatch report, and the total number of all vehicles on the road worldwide could reach 1 billion by the end of this year.
As car ownership expands, the distance drivers travel will also have an effect on fuel use. Renner’s report says travel distances have leveled off over the past decade in many countries including the United States, Japan and the U.K.; but they have grown many other places, including China. Even so, the average distance traveled per person by private car in China, at 621 miles (1,000 kilometers), is far less than that of the U.S. and Canada, at 8,389 miles (13,500 kilometers) and 9,072 miles (14,600 kilometers) respectively.
With so many tanks to fill, it seems that gas prices and the role of fuel subsidies will continue to have a daily impact on people’s lives for many years to come. In the United States, drivers are still waiting for some autumn relief at the pump: The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline Wednesday hovered near $3.86, not far from the year’s high of $3.94.
(Related: “Hurricane Isaac Drives Spike in Gas Prices Ahead of Labor Day Weekend“)
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
Shell begins Arctic drilling. While some focus on spill risk, summit leaders consider the wider environmental impact of opening a new industrial frontier.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
In recent years, farmers in eastern Uganda have had to endure dire conditions that have caused them to lose three to four harvesting seasons in a row. Severe drought in 2007 was followed by several periods of flooding. Large swaths of their land were deforested for political reasons and for providing cooking fuel to sustain the local population.
(Related Story: “In Uganda, Villages Reap Benefits of ‘Machine’ Energy“)
The region’s most productive crops, which include cassava, millet, sorghum, and sunflower, are also very time-consuming to produce. Cassava alone requires almost an entire day to make it into the basis for a meal for one family. The work of peeling, crushing, drying and grinding cassava takes a heavy toll on women who already work from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. collecting firewood, water and attending to other household tasks.
Recognizing the agricultural need, Engineers Without Borders USA-Columbia University (EWB-CU)*, which supports community-driven development programs, partnered with a local NGO called Pilgrim to build a Multifunction Energy Platform (MFP). The MFP uses an adapted Lister stationary engine to power numerous agricultural services, including milling, grinding, chopping and pressing. EWB-CU modified the engine to ensure that it could execute multiple functions and also have the capacity to run on biodiesel.
Pilgrim helps internally displaced persons resettle, begin farming again and become self-sufficient. Pilgrim’s Edward Eleazar said that because of the environmental devastation in eastern Uganda, locals there “had nothing. Their life was hopeless.”
With many villages around the town of Soroti not connected to an electricity grid, the MFP brought multiple benefits. Besides the helpful convenience of processing cassava and other crops, the MFP runs a press that turns sunflower into sunflower oil, which in turn can power the engine. Currently, locals prefer to use diesel because sunflower oil fetches a higher price. So they are selling sunflower oil and buying diesel to run the MFP.
The MFP has another important feature: It can be used as a generator, providing electricity for lighting, phone charging and tasks such as welding. One village plans to use their MFP generator to provide electricity for a nearby primary school.
Developments are still at an early stage and progress is slow, as with any new technology. Nonetheless, the prospects are promising. The MFP is capable of producing, for example, 24 bags of cassava in one day. Each bag sells for 80,000 Ush (~$32). This creates an attractive profit even after paying for fuel, which is roughly 14,000 Ush ($6) per day.
EWB-CU and Pilgrim are collaborating with communities to ensure their efforts are self-sustaining. David Oh, Columbia University student and EWB-CU volunteer, explained, “Local mechanics… train community members in the proper operation and repair of the engines, so that the systems can be maintained locally, without excessive reliance on external expertise.”
Eleazar, who knows the region well, said he “saw people work so hard everyday all through the year. People… struggle because they don’t add value to their produce. With MFPs, farmers are now adding value. They sell sunflower oil and also use the waste (sunflower cake) for poultry feed and seeds.”
With the income from MFP-generated products, and the extra time created by the MFP’s agricultural processing help, other benefits become possible. Communities are already brainstorming about how to allocate profits once they occur on a more regular basis. At one group meeting, locals thought of several viable uses, including paying school fees, establishing a drainage system and addressing local food insecurity needs.
* Engineers Without Borders USA-Columbia University is a grant recipient of the National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative.
Monday, September 10, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | 1 Comment
One of the interesting – and challenging – problems with energy policy is that it’s both global and local. The implications of climate change are worldwide, and so is the problem of meeting surging demand. And certain kinds of energy, like petroleum, are traded in truly global markets.
When it comes to electricity, however, what you get is the result of the fact that not every solution works in every place – or at least, not as well. This recently released map of hydropower use from the U.S. Energy Information Administration makes the point. Hydropower depends on whether you’ve got a river to dam, and whether you’re willing to dam it. So it’s no surprise that hydropower provides a huge amount of electricity in some states (more than 60 percent in Washington state, for example) and not much at all elsewhere.
But that’s true of electricity overall. Only a handful of power sources provide electricity in this country, and the source you rely on depends a lot on where you live. In New England, most power is coming from natural gas and nuclear power (Vermont gets three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear, and Massachusetts gets 60 percent from natural gas). In the Midwest, they’re mostly using coal (three-quarters of all the electricity in Kansas comes from coal plants).
Even so, you can always replace one kind of conventional power plant with another (in fact there’s a long-term trend moving away from coal and toward natural gas). When we start talking about renewables, however, geography plays a crucial role. Certain parts of the country are just better suited to certain kinds of power. For example, have a look at this map of wind power potential from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
The wind blows everywhere, but not at the same speed or strength. Chart: National Renewable Energy Laborabory
Wind turbines have to make the best possible use of geography, since the wind doesn’t blow at the same speed every day or at every height. When you look at the map, you can see why states like Texas and Minnesota are major players in wind-generated electricity, and other places may always be also-rans.
There’s a similar pattern with solar power. Nearly every place can make some use of it, but obviously it works best where it’s, well, sunny.
As this map of photovoltaic potential shows, the Sun Belt does have an advantage when it comes to solar power. Chart: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Geography may not be destiny, if we can get the power grid that we need. Right now our aging grid can’t ship electricity the distances it needs to go in order to allow wind power from the Great Plains to make it to major cities, or to deal with the peaks and valleys of production caused by weather. It’s just another reason why we need to make investments in the grid – not just to replace equipment that’s wearing out, but to make the most out of new opportunities.
With proper support, renewables could change the energy landscape, even if they’re still dependent on the landscape that produces them.
Friday, September 7, 2012 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
In the roiling waters off Scotland’s coast, companies are vying to prove technology to harness the energy of the sea.
Thursday, September 6, 2012 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
With the U.S. corn harvest shriveled by drought, pressure builds to suspend the national ethanol mandate. But it’s not easy to turn off the biofuel pumps.
Thursday, September 6, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
How do Obama’s words on energy compare to Team Romney’s?
Last week, while the Republicans were celebrating the Romney-Ryan ticket in Tampa, Florida, we posted a count-the-words analysis of their energy plan. The plan’s overall aim is to achieve energy independence for North America. The numbers told us the path to independence for the Romney team is strong on oil and gas, but not much on renewables; and climate was totally absent.
This week the Democrats are doing their thing in Charlotte, North Carolina, so we figured we’d give the Obama administration’s energy policy the same treatment.
For the Romney-Ryan analysis we used a document released days before our post. No such luxury for Obama; as best as we can tell, his most recent vision for America’s energy future is the 44-page “BLUEPRINT FOR A SECURE ENERGY FUTURE” [pdf] from March 2011. Certainly not as fresh, but that’s what we’ve got.
In the Clouds with President Obama
Obama’s blueprint targets three broad strategies for our energy future:
- Developing and securing America’s energy supplies,
- Providing consumers with choices to reduce costs and save energy, and
- Innovating our way to a clean energy future.
But as usual (and as with the Romney plan), the devil is in the details.
So what are the details of Obama’s plan?
OK, so just like the Romney word cloud, “energy” is front and center. No big surprise there.
Obama’s energy plan portrayed in a pictorial word count.
There are some striking differences. In the Romney-Ryan cloud, “U.S.” showed up among the most cited (biggest) words; in the Obama plan it’s there, but you’ve got to look for it. And whereas the word “Obama” is prominently featured in the Romney-Ryan plan — and not in a favorable light — it’s small potatoes, so to speak, in the Obama plan.
The other striking difference is in the emphases placed on energy sources. In the Romney-Ryan cloud “oil” and “gas” are king. In Obama’s, “oil” and “gas” are prominent but so are “clean” and “efficiency.”
In terms of energy sources, “oil” grabs the top spot for the Obama plan, followed by “clean energy,” “gas” and “efficiency.” “Renewable” is visible, but individual renewable energy sources are harder to find.
Greater Role for Efficiency and Clean Energy in Obama Plan
Want to be a little more quantitative? After “energy,” “oil” and “clean energy” are in a virtual dead heat with slightly more than 100 appearances each. “Gas” (appearing 88 times) and “efficiency” (83 times) aren’t far behind. (Team Romney’s top three were “oil,” “energy” and “gas,” with everything else way back in the pack.)
Obama’s emphasis on “clean energy” should no doubt make many enviros happy, as should his greater emphasis on “pollution,” but be careful — one person’s clean energy is another’s dirty polluter. Here’s how Obama defines it:
“cleaner sources of electricity, including renewables like wind and solar, as well as clean coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.”
I suspect that the inclusion of clean coal and nuclear will mean a bit of heartburn for some green leaners, and others won’t welcome natural gas either.
The Race for the Environment Crown
It’s interesting (and perhaps surprising) to note that “environment” appears a bit more frequently in the Romney-Ryan plan than in Obama’s. Does that suggest that the Republicans have a legitimate claim for the green vote? I don’t think so. There’s an interesting juxtaposition in the two parties’ approach to the environment. On the one hand, Romney-Ryan tend to place energy needs above environmental concerns and thus talk of streamlining and reforming environmental regulations to allow more rapid drilling, as in the following:
“Modernizing America’s complex environmental statutes, regulations, and permitting processes is crucial to ensuring that the nation can develop its resources safely and efficiently.”
“Regulations should be carefully crafted to support rather than impede development.”
Obama’s focus, on the other hand, is on developing appropriate environmental regulations so that oil and gas resources can be extracted safely. Two examples:
“environmental regulations that permit the beneficial development of this [gas] resource.”
“working with local communities, state regulators, industry, and other Federal agencies to build a clean energy future by permitting environmentally responsible development of renewable energy on public lands.“
Energy Independence vs. Energy Security
Interestingly, while the Romney-Ryan plan’s fundamental and prominently stated goal is achieving energy independence, the Obama blueprint doesn’t even mention it. Instead, Obama places emphasis on energy security, hence the report’s title (“Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future”) and the plan’s stated objective to:
“secure America’s energy future by producing more oil at home and reducing our dependence on oil by leveraging cleaner, alternative fuels and greater efficiency.”
Note that though both plans propose to increase domestic oil production, Obama’s additionally proposes to decrease America’s dependence on oil by focusing on alternate energy sources and efficiency. Such a two-pronged approach is not evident in the Romney-Ryan plan — the emphasis is clearly placed on increasing production, not decreasing demand or oil dependence.
Obama’s Energy Plan by the Numbers
|Word or term (and its derivatives)
||Number of times used
||Number of times used per page** (Romney plan)
* no derivatives
** averaged over the length of the document.
Climate by Any Other Name
With Romney-Ryan’s “climate” scorecard showing a big goose egg, Obama’s plan wins by a hair — with a single mention in a list of three goals:
“These important investments are helping to develop cutting-edge technologies with real world applications that can tackle our nation’s toughest energy challenges, address global climate change and advance a clean energy economy.”
On the other hand, “greenhouse gas” comes up nine times in Obama’s plan, each in the context of steps being taken to reduce emissions. The Romney-Ryan plan does mention “greenhouse gas,” but the one reference is in the context of criticizing the Obama administration’s proposed rules limiting emissions from new power plants.
Contrasts in Plans Reveal Very Different Paths Toward Energy Future
Viewed through their numbers, the two plans appear to offer a stark contrast. The Romney-Ryan plan aspires to achieve energy independence for North America by aggressively boosting oil and natural gas extraction, while environmental concerns associated with such activity do not figure prominently, nor do efforts to conserve and become more efficient.
The Obama plan, which seems to be a good deal more diversified, does not aspire to energy independence, but instead emphasizes energy security (that is, being less susceptible to swings in oil prices caused by political instabilities in foreign countries by reducing our dependence on oil). And this naturally translates into a greater focus on developing other forms of energy and becoming more efficient.
There also appears to be a fundamentally different vision for the future. The Obama plan talks of a “clean energy future” and therefore investing in innovative, clean energy technologies, arguing that “targeted and sustained investments in clean energy research and development [like alternative transportation fuels, advanced batteries] that can jumpstart private sector innovation are critical to our long term economic growth, energy security, and international competitiveness.”
The Romney plan favors “not picking winners” and focusing “government investment on research across the full spectrum of energy-related technologies.”
So there you have it; those are the two plans. Now what are the chances that we’ll see a thoughtful debate between the candidates on the energy issue?
Note from my couch
Like many of you, I tuned in for much of Tuesday night’s opening of the Democratic National Convention. Energy was certainly not the loudest or the most mentioned among the many issues and policy solutions alluded to last night, but there were at least several mentions (here and here, for example). And we’ve got two more nights left.