Articles in Environment/Sustainability
California energy regulators approved spending $3.1 billion over the next three years to cut the amount of electricity used in the state. This is one of the most aggressive energy efficiency plan among U.S. states, …
Google has announced the Google PowerMeter, a program that displays real-time information about home energy consumption on your computer The program is in closed beta right now, but Google hopes that it will eventually be …
When power hungry equipment like air-conditioning units and heating systems are all switched on at once, as often happens in commercial buildings. Power consumption spikes, and a building’s owners are left with hefty peak-demand charges …
A senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Susan Solomon, has led a new study which shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are mostly irreversible for more than …
SolFocus now has nearly $150 million in total funding, to become the most heavily-funded concentrating solar startup around.
Concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) arrays are tiny, highly-efficient solar cells that have sunlight focused on them by lenses and …
Photo: Argentinean officials announce the new regulation (credit: National Environmental Office).
Thanks to a set of regulations and norms established by the Argentinean Environmental Secretariat, companies that carry on hazardous activities will have to get insurance against environmental damage in the country.
According to the office, the law that establishes this was actually approved a while ago, but companies didn’t comply with it because -ironically- there weren’t regulations to define which activities were considered dangerous and there wasn’t any insurance po…
Here are 6 ways you can save over $4,000 a year in utility bills, with an initial outlay of around $2,000.
1. Cover your ducts
Cost: $50 to $250
Saving: $500 to $1,500 a year
Inspect heating and cooling …
Maryland Legislation Taps Energy Efficiency as the First Fuel
Governor O’Malley’s Energy Efficiency Bills Are Passed by Legislature
Washington, D.C. (April 9, 2008): Maryland’s legislators gave final approval this week to two landmark energy bills that together aim to reduce the state’s energy consumption by 15% by 2015. The legislation, proposed by Governor Martin O’Malley, sets the stage for Maryland to become a leader in capturing the benefits of energy efficiency.
“These two bills provide a foundation for a clean and sustainable energy future for the state of Maryland,” said Steven Nadel, Executive Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). “Maryland’s policies now recognize energy efficiency as the ‘first fuel’ for meeting its future energy needs.
A study released in February by ACEEE evaluated a suite of energy efficiency policies for Maryland and found that more than enough energy efficiency resources exist in the state to meet Governor O’Malley’s ambitious 15 by ’15 goal, and confirmed that reducing electricity consumption is the quickest, cheapest, and cleanest way for policymakers to bring consumer bills down and keep the lights on in the state.
Two of the bills are key to meeting the Governor’s goals. The first codifies the goal of reducing per capita electricity consumption 15 percent by 2015. This target, known as an energy efficiency resource standard, will require the state’s electric utilities to achieve 10% savings by 2015 and the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) to oversee programs to meet the remaining 5%. The second bill establishes a Strategic Energy Investment Fund supported by the proceeds of upcoming auctions of the state’s carbon dioxide emission allowances and administered by MEA. About half of this new fund, which is expected to reach $100 million or more per year, is to be expended on programs to reduce energy consumption, including low- and moderate-income electric customers.
In addition, the General Assembly passed a bill that requires energy-efficient and environmentally friendly design and materials for new state buildings and public schools, and a separate bill that boosts the state’s renewable portfolio standard (a target for the portion of the state’s energy derived from wind, solar, and other renewable sources) to 20 percent by 2022.
Among all the possible energy resources available to the state, energy efficiency is the least-cost and the quickest to deploy,” said Maggie Eldridge, ACEEE’s State Team Leader. “By committing to investing in energy efficiency, Maryland can meet its future electricity needs while containing energy costs for the state’s consumers. This legislation is an extremely smart investment for all Marylanders.
ACEEE’s analysis shows that the benefits of energy efficiency include lower consumer electric bills, improved system reliability, significant job and economic development in the state, and reduced pollution. Our analysis of policy options available to Maryland identified potential net consumer electric bill savings of about $900 million and over 8,000 new in-state jobs in 2015,” said Eldridge. “The provisions included in this year’s energy legislation and last year’s appliance efficiency standards address about 90% of the efficiency savings that we identified.
Helping consumers save energy means helping families reduce their electric bills, said Ed Osann, Senior Associate with ACEEE. We commend the General Assembly for answering the Governor’s call to help Marylanders make their energy use more efficient.
The foundation for a more energy-efficient Maryland is now in place, said Neal Elliott, ACEEE’s Associate Director for Research. “ACEEE looks forward to working with the Maryland Energy Administration, the Public Service Commission, utilities, and consumers as new programs are developed that will achieve these ambitious goals. Based on our work with leading energy efficiency programs across the country, we are confident that Maryland can succeed.”
Energy Efficiency: The First Fuel for a Clean Energy Future-Resources for Meeting Maryland’s Electricity Needs can be downloaded for free at http://aceee.org/pubs/e082.htm or purchased for $50 plus $5 postage and handling from ACEEE Publications, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 801, Washington, D.C. 20036-5525, phone: 202-429-0063, fax: 202-429-0193, e-mail: email@example.com .
About ACEEE: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting economic prosperity, energy security, and environmental protection. For more information about ACEEE and its programs, publications, and conferences, visit http://aceee.org .
As I traveled through India on a recent business trip, the topic of energy was constantly on my mind (as it is every time I travel). I found out some interesting things about jatropha, toured a sugarcane ethanol plant, found a wind farm in the middle of nowhere, and encountered a native ethanol skeptic. Here are my impressions. [break]
Ethanol in India: Another Brazil
The highlight of my trip was definitely the tour of the Sanjivani sugar cane plant near Shirdi. This could be a model to the rest of the world (with some exceptions) regarding how sustainable ethanol should be produced, as they have the entire life cycle covered.
Sugarcane Headed to the Ethanol Plant
They take in the sugarcane from local farmers, and they produce sugar. Molasses is a by-product of sugar production, and they ferment that to make ethanol. Bagasse is also a by-product, and this is used to fire the boilers to provide power for the plant. The sludge waste that they produce is composted and mixed with the bagasse ash and given back to the farmers to put on their fields. As far as I can determine, this is an entirely sustainable process. But the bagasse is the key to the entire operation.
I quizzed them quite a lot about the bagasse boilers, and what I was told is that because the sugar extraction process produces very finely ground bagasse (I walked out of the plant covered with bagasse dust), and because the ash content in bagasse is very low – it is an ideal feed for the boilers. Very few sources of biomass fall into the category that 1). It is necessarily removed from the field as a by-product of the cultivation; 2). The resulting process pulverizes the biomass (not only does this make it easy to burn, but it dries easily as it passes through flue gas on the way into the boiler); and 3). The ash content is very low, minimizing maintenance of the boilers. This makes sugarcane ethanol a truly unique production method, and not something that is easily transferred to corn or cellulosic ethanol.
Not only were they making ethanol (95%; not fuel grade) but they had an entire chain of ethanol derivatives that originated from the sugarcane ethanol. These derivatives included important industrial chemicals such as acetic acid, acetic anhydride (very important in my current job), acetaldehyde, and ethyl acetate.
As mentioned above, the grade of ethanol that they primarily produce is industrial grade. This differs from fuel grade for blending in that the ethanol-water azeotrope isn’t broken; the final product is 95% ethanol and 5% water. This greatly reduces the energy usage, as it takes a lot of effort to get out that last 5% water. This is in fact the concentration that Brazil primarily uses for fuel, and makes the energy balance much more favorable than using anhydrous ethanol. For blending with gasoline, it is not a good option as the water will phase out. But for dedicated ethanol vehicles, the 95% grade seems to be a reasonable option for partially supplying the energy demands of many tropical countries.
In Search of the Elusive Jatropha Plant
If you are like me, when someone mentions jatropha, India immediately comes to mind. Most jatropha stories that I have seen mention India as leading the way on jatropha development. For a while, I had no reason to question these reports, but recently I started developing some doubts.
The doubts started when I was contacted by a biodiesel company in Turkey. They had shut down operations because feedstock costs had gotten too high, and they asked if I could help them find an alternative source. I asked them if they have looked into jatropha. They said they had, but weren’t able to locate anyone in India who could supply them. I thought this was odd given what I had heard about jatropha in India, so I agreed to look into it for them. I initially contacted a number of people with various Indian and biofuels connections, but nobody could point me to a concrete lead.
So one of the things I intended to do on my trip was track down that elusive jackalope, er jatropha. During my trip I asked practically everyone I met, which included a number of people involved in biofuels, and while almost everyone knew what it was, nobody could point to anyone who was actually producing it. I thought this increasingly odd, given the hype I had heard regarding jatropha and India.
Those who did know a little about jatropha in general, said that the problem is that the fertile land is being utilized to grow food (a billion people need a lot of land for food) and the marginal land typically has no roads or other infrastructure that could support a jatropha industry. While I did see a lot of seemingly marginal land as I drove around, it was pretty remote. Furthermore, I was told that jatropha requires about 3 years to produce, and not many farmers are likely to be willing to tie up their land for an extended period on an unproven crop.
So, while this doesn’t mean that there is no potential for jatropha, I left the country feeling that the jatropha situation in India has been highly overstated.
Transport: Mostly by Foot
Based on my observations, the vast majority of transport in India is by foot. I traveled pretty deeply into rural India, and almost everywhere I went there were always vast numbers of people walking along the roads. Motorcycles are abundant, and almost always had multiple passengers. At one point, I saw seven people (five of them young children) all piled onto a single motorcycle.
In cities like Bombay, auto-rickshaws were everywhere. I rode in one, and would describe it as essentially like a motorcycle with a light-weight body built around it. Interestingly, the one I rode in (maybe all of them are like this) ran off of compressed natural gas. Speaking of which, there were a lot of alternative fuel vehicles in Bombay. I saw many CNG vehicles, and a taxi I rode in once was fueled by a propane tank in the trunk.
A Wind Farm and an Ethanol Skeptic
At one point we were driving through a very remote area, and suddenly a wind farm appeared. I took some photos. The farm appeared to be very distant from any cities, so I am not sure about how cost effective it was in that location.
Wind Farm in Rural India
One thing I didn’t expect to encounter was an ethanol skeptic, but at one of the meetings we had, (following my questions about jatropha), our host told me that “ethanol for biofuel is India’s greatest threat.” I asked why, and he said he feared that 1). The demand in the West for biofuel will result in a food versus fuel competition that would devastate India’s poor; and 2). That increased ethanol demand would exacerbate India’s already serious water problem.
During the week in India, I had meat twice. The total I had was about 3 ounces of chicken on a pizza. I would have guessed that I would be constantly starving, but the food is very filling, and very good. I haven’t had vegetarian like that in the West. At a typical meal, I would have a carbohydrate (usually a flat bread), a vegetable, and a protein. Rice was always part of the meal. But the meals were very nutritious and healthy, so I plan to incorporate some of these meals into my normal diet.
My host (and Bombay native) Kapil Girotra informed me that India is self-sufficient in food. He also told me that 70% or so of the population is vegetarian, which means it requires less land to feed them. On the other hand, I saw a very large portion of the population that certainly is not getting enough to eat. So you might say that they are barely self-sufficient. They do produce enough food to feed their population, but I saw a lot of undernourished people.
The poverty in India is just stunning. We don’t have anything to compare it to in the West. The people that would be considered very poor in the West have it far better than the poor in India. They are literally starving to death. I once asked what happens if someone has a medical emergency in the slums. “If they have money, they live. If not, they die.” I just imagined a child getting hit with something incredibly painful like renal colic (and believe me, it is excruciating) and not being able to get help. I can’t imagine the strain on a parent going through that. I would rather have a finger chopped off than stand by helplessly while my child screamed in pain for hours. Seriously.
I think in the West we just tune it out when we see it on TV. But you can’t tune it out when you drive by mile after mile after mile of people living essentially in garbage dumps. I think we treat our unwanted pets in the West with more concern than we have for a starving 2-year-old half way around the world. I was frequently asked what I was thinking about, and once I replied “What it would be like to have everyone in India experience a little of America, and everyone in America come see this.”
It really isn’t accurate to call it traffic. It is chaos. It’s just a free-for-all out there. I would highly caution a Westerner against renting a car and attempting to drive. You will spend all of your time in a state of confusion, and you will hold up traffic while you try to figure out what to do. The constant honking (in lieu of signaling) was unnerving, and I felt at all times as if I should be flipping someone off. For me, Hell would be having to be a cab driver in Bombay for all eternity.
The roads are shared by people, bikes, motorbikes, auto-rickshaws, and cars. I frequently observed traffic going the wrong direction, and it was quite normal to have someone turn directly across your path. We had drivers who took us from place to place, and they would pass people on blind curves and hills, and sometimes they even passed someone in the act of passing someone else. I don’t think we have a proper frame of reference in the West for the “traffic” in India; especially in the big cities. And of course this means a constant haze hung over Bombay while I was there, which presumably gets scrubbed during the monsoon season.
Hazy Bombay Behind Me
The population density is something else. I once wondered aloud just how many people I had seen on this trip. Kapil, the guy I was traveling with, said “Probably a good fraction of all the people you have ever seen in your life.” That is not an exaggeration. We traveled around the country, and with very few exceptions there were people lining the streets everywhere. Several times I would observe a crowd and wonder what was going on, but there was nothing going on. It was just a crowd. But it looked like a constant stream coming out of a major sporting event.
Despite the crowded conditions, I only saw violence once â€“ when a man tried to drag another out of a car after a wreck. The people seem to cope quite well. Crime doesn’t seem to be nearly the problem you might expect in a city of that size and population density.
But with that many people comes a great deal of garbage. There was trash everywhere, and most of the time you could smell rotting garbage. One night we stayed well north of the city, but every once in a while my room would fill up with a garbage smell. I presumed the wind had shifted from Bombay.
It took forever to get anywhere. You look at a place, and think “It’s only 100 miles.” 3 hours later, you still aren’t there. We spent 20 hours on the road over the course of 4 days. They don’t have many rest stops and such with facilities that I could see. But the people I was traveling with never needed them. We would spend 7 hours in the car and never stop for a bathroom break. Needless to say, I limited my water intake on the trip, as I found that bathrooms were treated as a precious commodity. On a couple of occasions when I was in a meeting, I asked for the restroom and found someone standing outside of it, and a sign that said “VIPs and guests only.”
I traveled by train as well, after Kapil asked if I was up for an adventure. I thought “What could be so adventurous about riding the train?” It isn’t for everyone. If you like hot, sweaty bodies packed in like sardines (and that’s in 1st Class), then go for it. It took us an hour to get to our destination, and during that ride there were constantly people hanging out of the open doors, and it was standing room only. I wondered whether the people in 2nd Class were stacked like cord wood.
India was an eye-opening experience for me. I managed not to get sick while I was there, and I credit my host Kapil for his constant advice on what I should and shouldn’t eat and drink. (I don’t recommend the buffalo milk, by the way). The contrasts were amazing. Outside a cluster of $400/night hotels was the worst poverty I have ever seen. I once saw a guy pulling a hand cart and talking on a cell phone. Houses in the slums had satellite dishes on top of them. A number of times we walked down hallways of buildings that looked to be 100 years old and decrepit, and then stepped into one of the most modern offices you have ever seen.
One of the things this trip has done for me is to highlight the importance of efforts to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle and avoid the kind of collapse that is often discussed in relation to Peak Oil. I think if more people understood just how far society could fall – and I saw that in the slums of India – we could get serious about our energy situation in a big hurry.
This essay is a summary of some key points. However, for most of my trips I keep a detailed journal for future reference. But I publish them, and the full boring blow-by-blow can be found in two entries:
Last week’s log entry by Andris Piebalgs starts this way:
Which is the best energy source? This is not an easy question. If we are to apply the European Energy policy, it has to be a source of energy that contributes to our security of supply, that is low carbon and that increases the competitively our economy. Several energy sources answer this question. Renewables, for sure. Some people argue that nuclear is the right choice. Others that we have affordable fossil fuels for many years, and with a bit of carbon capture and storage we can continue our hydrocarbonated lives, like we have done for the last 80 years. All these solutions have its defenders and its opponents. But none of them is my favourite.
Crossposted at The European Tribune.
After an awkward start with bio-fuels, Andris Piebalgs is finally addressing EU’s energy future objectively. In a nutshell:
For me the best energy is the energy that we donâ€™t use. In other words, energy efficiency. There is no cleaner kilowatt/hour than the one we donâ€™t consume. Every cubic meter of gas we donâ€™t burn makes us a cubic meter less dependent on foreign supplies. Every barrel of petrol that we donâ€™t need makes our economy a barrel less vulnerable to volatile oil prices.
These few sentences address many of the issues raised by the commentators at Andris’ blog during the past weeks. But there is more to it than simply facing the coming energy decline, an Energy Efficiency policy can have economic upturns:
To make things more interesting, when we make an investment in energy efficiency we create jobs and growth in Europe. Letâ€™s put the case of better insulation for your house. Putting double glazed windows certainly is an investment that has a cost. So has your gas bill. The difference is that the cost of the windows will go to a European window company, and will be installed by European workers. Your double-glazed window will not only help to reduce your gas bill and your greenhouse gas emissions, increase the comfort of your house, but will also help to create new window companies and installer jobs. The alternative consists of taking your hard earned euros and sending them to rich oil and gas producing countries.
This all sounds better than the hollow bio-fuel talk. As we’ve seen previously at TOD:E some states in the EU have poor records on GDP unit generated per Fossil Fuel unit consumed. This could be a good measure of how this policy gets under way. As discussed, the 2000$ / boe could be a tentative target for every state of the EU (accounting for currency oscillations).
Some commentators were fast in reminding that Jevons’ Paradox may indeed imply a different outcome than what would otherwise be expected from energy efficiency improvements. But for energy consumption to increase in face of a technological development, there has to be surplus supply, which at least for Oil and Natural Gas today is not the case.
There are two extra advantages for a Energy Efficiency lead policy in today’s energy landscape:
- Alternative energy sources have their own timings entering the market. Even if thereâ€™s a political shift towards some alternative(s), technological development might constrain its growth (e.g. Photo-voltaics) hence Efficiency might be the best short-term policy against energy constraints;
- Energy Efficiency is popular. It is hard for anyone to be against it, the dependence on foreign sources diminishes as so the bills by the end of the month.
Finally the announcement of how this policy is taking shape:
Certainly, there are many things that the Commission can do at political level, and Iâ€™m proud to announce that 2008 will be the European year of energy efficiency. During these 12 months I plan to come up with a number of energy efficiency legislative proposals, including a stronger energy efficiency in buildings directive; a new energy efficiency labelling directive; new standards for energy efficiency in various groups of products; a Covenant of Mayors for energy efficiency and last but not least, an international agreement on energy efficiency that I hope to sign in Japan next June. In my next entry I will explain all these proposals in detail.
The Commission’s website on Energy Efficiency can be found here. Also in the Commision’s website you can download a copy of the Energy Green Paper (available in 19 different languages), where the 20% savings figure was divised. The english version can be downloaded directly from here [pdf!].
This political path for Energy security can only be well received. Let’s hope that the European year of energy efficiency initiative can be a fruitful one.
Previous coverage of Andris Piebalgs blog:
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