Tag Archives: efficiency

The UK’s “Green Deal”

Why is it so hard for new energy and efficiency technologies to penetrate the domestic home market?  Solar panels are perhaps the best example of an easy-to-use, cheap, and effective technology that has not achieved critical mass despite its obvious advantages.  This is a complex discussion but many studies point to a simple answer: Upfront Costs. A recurring discussion on this blog and in class has centered on the impact of upfront costs on adoption of new energy technologies and many government programs emphasize subsidies to achieve adoption goals.


 In the UK, the government is putting its efforts behind an ambitious, all-inclusive plan called “The Green Deal” . The program is designed to eliminate confusion by offering consumers a single unified package that doesn’t require additional research or personal investment. This plan will offer incentives to private industry to install smart meters, insulation, and even solar panels at no upfront cost to the consumer.  The cost of the improvements will then be recouped via a small monthly charge on a utility bill.  The plan is also guided by a “golden rule” that the cost of the improvements should never be more than the potential energy savings, which must be demonstrated through an audit. For the full details, see here: Green Deal Summary 

While the political push behind the Green Deal is glowing, there are concerns about the amount of efficiency gains and construction firms have questioned the economics behind the plan.  While subsidies for renewable energy is nothing new, it’s intriguing to see governments taking an extremely hands on approach that, in some ways, excludes the end consumer from many of the crucial decisions.  It will be interesting to see if this “Green Deal” can help the UK meet its ambitious goals of reducing CO2 emissions or if consumer backlash over private industry handling of home upgrades will prove to be too much.


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Texas Trade Up Appliance Rebate Program

On Wednesday, the Texas Trade Up Appliance Rebate Program will begin to dole out $23 million in rebates for the purchase of energy efficient appliances. Texans can upgrade their old, energy-wasting refrigerators and clothes washers for new Energy Star appliances. (Eligible appliances include: refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, central air conditioners, air-source heat pumps, and hot water heaters.) The Texas Trade Up website outlines the steps consumers will need to take to receive their rebates and even provides information regarding municipal rebate programs.

The State Energy Conservation Office, which oversees the program, established clear program objectives for this round of federal funding and has worked hard to promote the rebates, even creating a TXPowerfulSmart Twitter page to keep Texans informed. Because homes in Texas make up 14% of Texas’ energy demand, the much-needed rebate program falls in line with The Home Energy Efficiency Report. The report notes, “With 8.1 million occupied housing units, even small gains in energy efficiency will create a sizable impact. Energy efficiency, therefore, becomes an energy resource.” While the program is expected to use its funds quickly, there is always a place where policy implementation meets daily life. The program’s start was recently pushed back – from April 5 to April 7 – so that Texans could celebrate the Easter holiday. Fox Houston outlines the program’s changes.


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What is Masdar City?

I was able to volunteer at the Cleantech Forum 2010 in late February. There I became familiar with Masdar, the lead sponsor. Masdar is located in the heart of the global oil and gas industry, Abu Dhabi, but it’s all about renewable energy and sustainable technology. In short, their mission is to turn Abu Dhabi in to an international hub for renewable energy and support the development, commercialization and adoption of sustainable technologies. Their four integrated business units (Masdar Institute, Masdar Carbon, Masdar Power and Masdar City) are all cutting edge, but I’d like to focus on what they call the “physical embodiment of Masdar,” Masdar City.

The thought is to create a place for innovators and entrepreneurs to test energy science, city design, sustainable development and environmental architecture. The focus is not only on test and design, but also on making an alluring place to live and work. If your creating the city of the future and money is not an object(budgeted at $22 billion), why not reach for the sky? They have!

Masdar City will be powered by 100% renewables, it will be zero waste, zero carbon and it will have a sustainable water system. Transportation, materials, foods…all sustainable. They are going all out and the level of detail is amazing. From the orientation and width of the streets to the wind cones (shown in the Masdar Headquarters photo above) that naturally ventilate interior spaces to the retractable shades (shown below) covering City Plaza, nothing was overlooked.

Transportation is beneath the city, leaving the ground level open for pedestrians. The transportation system includes a light rail and a Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system that a transports up to 4 adults to any PRT station at the touch of a button.

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology(MIST), developed in cooperation with MIT will be at the heart of the R&D in Masdar City. It will eventually be home to 600 master’s and PhD students, with over 100 faculty members. MasDar City with also be the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters and host operations for companies like GE and BASF.

They are currently in Phase One of seven, which focuses on MIST. This means that first residents will be students testing new technologies, while being test subjects themselves. I would encourage you to learn more about Masdar City.

Source: http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/index.aspx

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Energy Efficiency at Home

21.4% of the U.S.’ energy consumption comes from residential uses.  U.S. household electricity consumption in 2001 shows the breakdown of electricity use at home by type and appliance.  With the advancement of technology, manufacturers have been able to produce more efficient appliances (ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances) to help reduce energy consumption at home .  To promote the adoption of these appliances into U.S. homes, the Department of Energy has initiated a state-by-state appliance rebate program which is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  This rebate program looks to promote the replacement of old appliances with new ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances to reduce the consumption of energy for appliances, refrigeration, space heating, cooling, and water heating.  The adoption of these appliances has been slow due to an estimated life span of 10-15 years for most of these major appliances.  The proposed rebates can help ease the financial burden that consumers take on when making these purchases.  Additionally, the increasing focus on energy use in the U.S. should help in the adoption of this technology.

An initiative to extend energy-efficiency tax credits to homeowners would be an additional step in increasing energy efficiency in households by promoting the adoption of many different building and insulation techniques to increase efficiency or decrease energy loss.  This initiative looks to entice owners to make changes to their homes, but I am skeptical that consumers will look to spend their money on their existing homes considering the current economic troubles.  The tax credits will make remodeling more attractive for those consumers who have the extra capital, but it seems to me that the focus should be on requirements for energy efficiency standards in new homes.  Indeed, England has granted an exemption from Stamp duty land tax for all new zero-carbon homes.  Additionally, each state has a governmental agency that sets standards for energy efficiencies in home building.  For example, California’s building efficiency standards have saved more than $56 billion in electricity and natural gas costs since 1978, and it is estimated that the standards will save an additional $23 billion by 2013.

In all, it seems as though the government has the initiatives and programs in place to promote the adoption of efficiency standards in building homes and the appliances used in those homes.  The obstacle at this point seems to be the existing home and appliance base that does not meet the new governmental standards.  Tax credits and rebates will help ease the financial burden that buying these appliances and paying for the remodeling bring on, but I am interested to see how the economic troubles affect the effectiveness of these programs.


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Solar must abide to TNSTAAFL

Using solar radiation for energy / electricity generation is certainly a great idea.  In terms of solving current CO2 production (if current concerns prove true), eliminating environmentally devastating coal mining operations and a dependence upon a depleting supply of raw crude oil,  it’s almost one of those stupid simple solutions that somehow we’ve neglected for hundreds of years, even though it was there, shining on us each day.   A strong case to support using direct solar energy (versus, say, fossil fuels) can be made quickly and easily, and might go something like this:

Efficiency of solar panels or solar trough / Rankin cycle technology for electrical generation (electrical generation): ~15%

Efficiency of fossil fuel electrical generation: (E = E_ecosys * E_organic matter to fossil fuel * E_mining and processing * E_burning and electrical generation)

Since this number is hard to calculate, lets simplify it to the favor of fossil fuel: E = E_ecosys * E_burning and electrical generation, taking E_ecosys as 2% and E_burn and electrical generation = 60% we find:

E_fossil fuel electrical generation : <<1.2%

So, use the sun’s energy with 15% eff, or 1.2% eff?  The choice seems obvious.  Best of all, using the direct method is FREE!  You don’t have to pay to mine, process, transport and burn the fossil fuel, you just have to collect solar radiation!  But wait, everyone knows you are not supposed to used the “F” word, because the “F” word violates one of the few time tested truths of humanity “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.  But what does using the sun cost, and why do some (Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis) suppose that the US could solely rely on solar electrical generation by as early (or late) as year 2100?

The cost of solar is land, because the issue at hand is energy density.   Though expectantly much less environmentally damaging than say, coal mining, solar harvesting requires an unheard of amount of land for el. gen.  Coal and oil mining undoubtedly occupy many thousands of square miles in the U.S. and the world over, but likely less than an equivalent area capable of producing the same energy content via direct solar el. gen.  This is a bold statement, solar would use more land than coal and oil mining?  But there is so MUCH solar energy, how could this be?!  4500 quadrillion BTU’s (4500,000,000,000,000,000) of solar radiation is dumped down on just the southwestern United States every year (Zweibel et. al.)!  Or almost 45x MORE energy than the U.S. uses each year!  So the answer is simple, just cover 1/45th of the southwest United States with solar technology like PV cells and trough / Rankin systems! And voilà, the world’s (or at least the U.S.’s) problems are solved- besides constructing a nation wide grid and the pesky and relentless enormous necessity of land!  Complaints aside, how much land will be required for the U.S. to be direct solar dependent?  Using a current U.S. energy consumption of 100 quads per year, and a 15% solar to electricity conversion efficiency, and a 6.5 kWh/m^2 / day solar intensity in the southwest we need:

Energy use: 100E15 BTU / yr           =       2.93E13 kWh / yr         =        8.027E10 kWh / day


Southwestern solar energy available: 6.5 kWh/m^2 / day


Land required is:

Energy Use / Energy Available per m^2          =        1.23E10 m^2                =               ~5000 sq. miles.

However, this number assumes 100% efficiency, so accounting for eff.:  5000sq. mi. / .15 eff      =  33,300 sq. mi.

Therefore, at a minimum, we would need something on the order of 33,000 square miles, which is on the order of magnitude of the size of a large state, every square inch of an entire state!  Surprisingly, the proponents of the “Solar Grand Plan”, by Zweibel et. al., determine through presumably more realistic calculations that an overwhelming 165,000 square miles is actually required to support the U.S.’s energy needs.  Now like I said at the beginning, solar is very attractive for many reasons, but can we expect it to be feasible to cover 165,000 square miles? That is this big, by the way (orange):

and would be even larger if you wanted the ground to receive sunlight so that plants could grow, or you wanted a city every so often within this massive area for civilization (which the power is for, remember), or you wanted any open space (like a park or forest) to get away from the dense arrays of solar collectors or panels.  At any rate, it just intuitively feels infeasible to cover such a vast expanse of land with equipment for solar power electricity generation. Don’t get my wrong, I support the use of solar, but I am unsure if it is feasible for the United States to rely 100% on solar energy power production due to the shear square miles required.

Lastly, the cost of building something of this magnitude is said to be in the $400B range, and would require national policy, not unlike the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but maybe more direct in assisting construction.  Alternatively,  a $.05/kWh  tax could pay for the construction says Zweibel et. al., which seems reasonable- and also leading to my conclusion that it’s not the cost of building solar facilities, but the cost of land usage that will prevent the “free” fuel from succeeding at supplying 100% of the U.S.’s energy needs.


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How exercise can keep the lights on

This morning, as thousands of runners lined up for the Austin Marathon and Half-Marathon, I couldn’t help but think of how much human power each athlete generated as he or she covered 26.2 or 13.1 miles. What if we could harvest that energy and use it to supply electricity to part of Austin? One of the most widely known examples of human power being used to supply energy is Lance Armstrong’s 2005 Sports Center commercial.

So what does this mean for us? While funny, the commercial is a little bit off the mark. Not even Lance Armstrong could power an entire building. And well, none of us are Lance Armstrong. Sure, mapawatt says Lance can produce 400 to 500 watts while climbing up the French mountains, but he only generates about 250 watts when cruising. Mapawatt’s blogger estimates that he would need 1o of the world’s best cyclists working at their hardest to power his house with max air conditioning. Given the price of electricity, these highly-trained athletes would be making chump change.

In 2008, Portland’s Green Microgym became a leader in the harvesting of human energy, using the exercise of gym members to help power the 3,000-square-foot facility.  Closer to home, Texas State University is using its Student Recreation Center to make students aware of their energy consumption habits. The center’s “human power plant” is the largest in the world and uses 30 elliptical machines to give electricity to the campus power grid. It’s thought that the $20,000 project can pay for itself within 7 or 8 years. How Stuff Works estimates that during a workout, the average person can produce anywhere from 50 watts to 150 watts of electricity per hour, depending on the machine. Some machines even have outlets to power appliances using less than 400 watts of electricity. To put that in context, one could likely power a large TV during a workout but not a refrigerator; lightbulbs would be no problem.

Sure, using human power to provide electricity to our homes is not the most efficient or most cost-effective way of doing so, but the concept inspires each of us to not only put our workouts to good use but to also seriously contemplate our energy consumption. To find ways to make your home human powered, take a look at The Human Powered Home by Tamara Dean.


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Super Bowl XLIV: Who will it be…Blue, Gold or GREEN?

In each industry, sustainability grows a little every year and professional football is no exception. This year’s Super Bowl is the Greenest so far and this is how they’re making it happen. NetEtra Energy Resources will be providing wind and solar energy for usage during the game. Any overages as well as the energy needed for preparation will be matched with RECs or Renewable Energy Certificates. Meanwhile, hundreds have been planted throughout Southern Florida for the last 6 years in connection with this year’s Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. This was done through partnership with the US Forest Service and the locations include schools, parks and playgrounds. Recycling will take place in various forms like traditional recycling and collecting and donating prepared food left over from the event. They will also be providing an opportunity, through Super Kids—Super Sharing, for kids to donate used books and sporting equipment for needy children.

Several companies are in on the action such as GE, Audi and Pepsi to name a few. GE is shelling out an estimated $100,000 per second to air its “Wizard of Oz”-themed ad. Its part of GE’s Ecomagination campaign to promote their smart grid technology. Audi is airing comical ads to promote its A3 DTI, which won car of the year from Green Car Journal. This one’s is funny. Finally Pepsi, money isn’t the only thing they’re saving by not advertising in this year’s lineup of multi-million dollar TV ads. Pepsi is rolling out their Energy-Efficient, HFC-Free Cooler

Now That's Cool

at the Super Bowl as well as other select places around Miami. These coolers use natural refrigerants, making harmful Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) far less prevalent. Best of all, they use less energy that a 100-watt light bulb and reduce greenhouse gases by 99%.

At this year’s Super Bowl party, where blue or gold, but make your party green. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE and have fun!


Siranosian, Kathryn. “Six Ways the NFL Is Greening Super Bowl XLIV. Really..” Triplepundit 4 Feb 2010: n. pag. Web. 4 Feb 2010. .

“PepsiCo Debuts Energy-Efficient, HFC-Free Cooler at Super Bowl.” PR Newswire 2 Feb 2010: n. pag. Web. 4 Feb 2010. .

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