Portland Now Generating Hydro Power in Its Water Pipes

A cool new way to get hydro power right under our cities, and they don't require dams.

The Lucid system taps the power of gravity in the city’s water system. Water flowing through the Portland Water Bureau pipe at 147th and Powell will now flow through four small turbines as well, generating enough electricity to power 150 homes along the way. The turbines are 3.5 feet wide – just big enough to span the diameter of the city’s water pipe.

Climate Fair Share

Interesting new website (in beta) that gives a visual story of each countries emissions reduction targets. It includes both domestic fair share as well as embedded export emissions. I like how it begins with equity considerations. This quote caught my eye:

We demand action from everyone, but we don’t believe that everyone is equally responsible for the crisis.

Powering The World's Poorer Economies

This a good overview of the debate between fossil fuel macro grid models and distributed renewables in addressing energy poverty in the developing world. The author makes the case for distributed solar, which is both a cheaper and more socially and ecological just path. 

Plummeting costs for solar and wind (and battery storage) paralleled by increasingly expensive long-distance coal and gas mean that for most developing nations, the time for grid parity has come and gone -- renewables are cheaper even on grid.

Pollution Killed 7 Million People Worldwide in 2012

A World Health Organization report found that the fossil fuel economy and industrial civilization is already leading to 1 out of 8 deaths among humans each year (the number would be high for non-humans too). That is an immediate danger, more immediate than what climate change may be contributing to now. In the developing world, the main culprit is burring biomass for cooking and heating, with women being at greater risk than men. In the developed world, the main culprit are fossil fuel automobiles and industrial production.

Middle-class Driving Solar Revolution in U.S.

Interesting article and accompanying data that indicates that the growth in solar panel installation is being driven by the middle-class, not the upper-class, in the US. 

Your first thought is probably that the wealthy are the only ones putting solar panels on their houses in large numbers, but according to a new report on residential solar in Arizona, California, and New Jersey, that's not the case.

The reason? Solar leasing.

Important question: how can folks work to bring working-class folks into the solar revolution and distributed power? This is an area that sorely needs to be addressed in research and action.  

Wind Beat Natural Gas As America's Fastest-Growing Power Source in 2012

This, in addition to renewables being the fasted growing energy sector last year. And the IEA declaring that renewables will be the worlds second largest energy source by 2015. Encouraging signs; long road ahead.

2013 Motor Trend's Car of the Year...

is the Tesla Model S. It is the first time an internal combustion engine automobile has not won the award. To quell any squabbling that this is eco-hype, Motor Trend says, "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."

 image via motortrend.com

image via motortrend.com

 

work to be done

With Obama's re-election, those concerned about accelerating an energy transition and addressing global climate change will need to step up pressure, sooner rather than later. Obama's record hasn't been stellar, especially with climate change, but at least there is a President who acknowledges the importance of an energy transition and human induced climate change. Much more work to be done. Note to Congress: extend the wind tax credits!

The Great Dithering

Presidential debates do not determine actual policy, but they do set conversation agendas. After three debates this year, global climate change was not mentioned once. It's increasingly clear that the US political machine is incapable at this time to address the threats posed by climate change. Global climate change is not even on the conversation agenda.

Further, the US political elite have zero coherence on matters of an energy transition. Striking evidence of this fact is that typically celebrated capitalist entrepreneurialism, in the form of renewable, green energy technology companies, are openly ridiculed and lambasted by right-wing pundits and politicians. Yes, some of these companies received government loans and subsidies, and yes a few of them failed, but almost all US businesses benefit form direct and indirect subsidies (roads, highways, tax codes, etc).  

Global climate change is a dead policy issue in Washington, but the end around energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is also so politicized that no policy coherence seems possible. The nascent US wind turbine industry is poised to collapse if congress doesn't renew subsidies for the industry. Contrary to the ahistorical accounts from pundits and politicians, all energy transitions involved policy guided capitalism (see English industrial revolution, or US automobile, oil boom). 

Sadly, novelist Kim Stanley Robinson is probably right, in 200 years our period will be known as the Great Dithering.

Community Solar Installation

A cool story from my town of residence, Chico, CA:

Seven homes on a north Chico cul-de-sac had solar arrays installed Saturday in a flurry of activity. Solarthon resembled the old-fashioned barn-raising its organizers likened it to, with a bit of block party thrown in, complete with a D.J. It was a fundraiser for GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit that opened its seventh office in Chico about a year ago.
 Image from Chicoer.com

Image from Chicoer.com

Nest Thermostat's True Value: Social

Nest Labs has released the Nest Learning Thermostat 2.0 nearly a year after 1.0 was released. As Nest continues to innovate in the smart, green thermostat space, marketing and perceived value has always tended towards: how much money does this save me? However, after one year of data collection by Nest, the deeper value in Nest is its social and aggregate value.

Nest is able to collect data on energy use and energy savings (read their stats here and download the whitepaper) Nest translates that into a monetary figure for average money saved. What is really exciting about Nest is its sociological implications for connected, networked based energy production, consumption, and data collection. As Nest Labs continues to collect user data we will begin to learn how people use energy and how we can improve energy efficiency and overall reduction. 

Nest Labs markets the Nest as, how we can save you money, but the larger, sociological implications of networked and data producing energy devices is Nest's real social value. And that is more exciting, and in the long run, more important than personal savings.

Energy Democracy

I won't give away David Roberts' punchline, read the article, but I'll start you with this:

Just as a cleaner electricity system would be preferable, so too would a more small-d democratic system, one that distributes economic and social power more widely.

Honeywell Killed Off its Learning Thermostat 20 Years Ago

I missed this one:

Katie Fahrenbacher, writing for GigaOM back in February, reported that, according to Honeywell, the company "found that consumers prefer to control the thermostat, rather than being controlled by the thermostat” and decided to cease development. Twenty years later, however, Nest Labs entered the thermostat market with in 2011 with a learning thermostat, one that requires no programming or fiddling to save money and energy use.

This past year, the Nest has gotten huge press and great reviews. Subsequently, Honeywell has sued Nest over the Nest Learning Thermostat, claiming it violated a string of patents. Interestingly, technology writer and iOS developer, Marco Arment has dinged the Nest for having weak programming abilities, a downside according to Arment of a learning thermostat, though Arment generally likes the Nest in other areas.

For the past year Nest has been a great case to watch as it attempts to disrupt the thermostat industry and points to the potential to connect internet technology and energy use and reduction. 

A Choice

President Obama signed an Executive Order "Accelerating Investment in Industrial Energy Efficiency", which comes on the heals of new improved car fuel efficiency standars for 2025

Meanwhile, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney turned climate change into a punch line during his acceptance speech as the RNC:

Obama has been pretty good about promoting new energy sources, green tech, and efficiency, not so good on climate change however. Romney, on the other hand, represents old, dirty energy production. Gas, coal, oil. No eye for the future, whether new energy sources or climate change.

Hottest month, ever, in the USA

I recently returned from a cold, rainy vacation to Souther Germany, now I'm roasting in the CA sun, which is actaully not on the charts for records. It's just hot here in Northern CA. Other parts of the country are roasting and in drought.

Check out the charts Grist has assembled.