Monday, December 27, 2010

Fujitsu Sells Smart Meters To U.S. Utility

A utility in New Mexico will begin installing Fujitsu smart meters in customer's homes starting in March. What's pretty interesting is that:

"Fujitsu will also build a computer system to maintain electricity consumption data for each household, using cloud computing."

It appears that Fujitsu's "proprietary wireless technology, will deliver the electricity consumption data from each household to the utility. I wonder if this wireless pipeline runs along the grid or some other way. Whatever the case, this is good news, because the utility will receive almost instantaneous feedback on their customers and will then be able to provide better service to those customers, whether it be in response times to outages or providing techniques for conserving energy.

On a Small Scale, Sustainable Energy Transforms Lives

Beautiful slideshow from the NY Times demonstrating how harnessing electricity from the sun can help improve the quality of life for a small village in Kenya. Check it out and imagine what we could do to improve the quality of our lives here in the states with clean, renewable power.

Vestas Lands Contracts for 83 Wind Turbines

Wind is in! Looks like the folks down in Pueblo, CO are going to be busier in 2011. The Vestas manufacturing plant in Pueblo will produce 55 of the 83 turbines for a project up in Canada. That same plant is already fulfilling other orders. Looks like there is no diminishing demand for wind power at least throughout the first half of 2011. Congrats to Vestas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sustainability Roadmap Outlines a Greener Path for Hospitals

If there is one industry that could use a good dose of sustainable practices infused into its culture, it's healthcare. A consortium of healthcare affiliated groups created a web site called, Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals. It's a place where hospital professionals can go and share sustainability information as well as discovering where they can improve efficiencies, eliminate waste, and be more mindful towards the environment and their patients. This web site is a positive step in the right direction and it would be nice if all industries had a social place to learn about the immediate impact business sustainability practices can have on the "triple bottom line".

Obama Administration Releases Report for Solar Energy Development in West

I really am impressed with how much collective energy is being put towards renewables within this administration. President Obama and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar have just released a report deliciously titled, "Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement." The 10,000 page report identifies locations in six Western states that are best suited for, "environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy production." This report will be good news for utilities that need to meet renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in the states in which they operate over the next decade or so. It will also provide a little more validity to large utility-scale solar projects, by providing numerous facts for investors to digest and alleviating many of the concerns of environmentalists.

Abound Solar Nails DOE Loan for Thin-Film Factory

A solar company right here on the Front Range of Colorado just scored a $510 million loan to help expand its production facility in Longmont, CO. That's incredible. Abound Solar is a thin-film solar company that has been growing quickly over the last couple of years. Even though thin-film has a lower solar cell efficiency than the solar cells in rooftop PV modules, its strength is that it's light and thin and can be put everywhere (think about slapping thin-film solar strips on the southern side of a sky scraper). Congrats to Abound for raising the capital to expand and compete on a global scale!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Regulators Add Cherokee Plant to the ‘No Coal’ Xcel List

Interesting development reported at Colorado Energy News. The members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to deactivate another coal-burning power plant on the Front Range. The Cherokee power plant in north Denver will be retrofitted to burn natural gas by 2017. These type of retrofits were made mandatory when a broad coalition of government, environmentalist, and Xcel officials came together to help pass the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act this year. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel with less particulates and CO2 emissions than coal. Plus it's easier and faster to fire up a natural gas-fired power plant when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. I will be interested to see what the Front Ranges air quality is like in 2017 as compared to today.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Colorado Energy Employment Growing Faster than Nation’s, Report Says

Looks like the investments made into the cleantech industry and natural gas (to name a couple) are paying off for Colorado, according to a report by the Colorado Energy Coalition. This is creating jobs here in the state and helping to contribute to Colorado's status as an energy thought leadership powerhouse. There are a lot of hard-working men and woman in this state that are completely focused on the future of our energy needs. Promoting energy efficiency methods for residential and commercial buildings, developing smart grid technologies, enhancing solar cell efficiency, creating biofuels with less environmental impact, and retrofitting coal-fired power plants to natural gas are examples of what Colorado businesses and government are working towards. It's an exciting time to be living here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

State’s First Industrial Solar Project Meets Strong Opposition in San Luis Valley

To me this article in Colorado Energy News illuminates a fascinating debate about the future of renewable energy. The forces of utility-scale renewable energy generation versus the forces of local, distributed renewable energy generation. I don't know what the right answer is, because I can see the benefits and the drawbacks of each side. We'll see what happens in this debate.

Colorado Creates $13M Energy-linked Business Loan Funds

Colorado businesses just got a $13 million boost to the economy! Governor Ritter announced that cleantech companies can apply for loans from a $12 million fund to help them keep a sufficient amount of cash flow for things like payroll and expansion. Another $1 million fund will go to all types of small businesses to help them add clean-energy sources or make their buildings energy efficient. This is just one of Governor Ritter's programs to bolster Colorado's New Energy Economy and will go a long way towards saving existing jobs and creating additional jobs in the cleantech sector. I'm going to miss the good governor's enthusiasm for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Hopefully this enthusiasm is contagious.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dark Grid: Electric Utilities Scramble to Get Smart

Here is a great article in Forbes regarding the incredible opportunities that utilities have with our nation's electricity grid to make them "smarter". I learned in one of my renewable energy classes (and it's talked about in this article) that utilities don't know when their customers have a power outage until those customers call and let them know the power is out. How crazy is that? Unfortunately it's true. The power grid is dumb because there is no instant feedback mechanism to provide utility operators with real-time information on the state of the grid and power flow. Lot's of money is beginning to be poured into making the grid smarter, which I think will ultimately be good for the electricity consumer.

A Colorado Community Center Powered by the Sun

How cool is this? A community center in Glenwood Springs is generating 20.5 kW of sweet and clean renewable electricity from our friend the sun. Now this is only about 2% of the community center's electricity usage, but they have completed an energy audit of the center, which after implementing $250,000 in efficiency improvements, the center is expected to save another $31,000/year. That's about an 8-year ROI and less carbon going into the atmosphere each of those years and beyond. Congrats to the Glenwood Springs community for setting a good example and thinking about the future.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Final Approval Paves Way for Colorado’s Largest Private Solar Array

Good news coming from the Western Slope of Colorado. The Clean Energy Collective is going to build a private 1.5 megawatt solar array in Rifle, Colorado. "Private" essentially means that this will be a community-owned clean energy plant. The Clean Energy Collective builds the plant and then members from the community are allowed to purchase as much clean energy as they can afford. They then get a credit on their electricity bill from the local utility. This is a fascinating business model and is worth keeping an eye on. I wish we had some of this love on the Front Range.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Colorado-based Renewable Choice Energy Expands to Meet Demand for Full-Scale Business Sustainability

This is great. Local Colorado firm Renewable Choice Energy has been focusing on implementing business sustainability programs over the last 18 months. From this article it appears that awareness of business sustainability methods is increasing. The article also mentions that they've outgrown four Boulder, CO offices. I guess business sustainability programs make good sense!

FERC Moves Ahead With Campaign to Promote Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Interesting article from The Times on how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is full steam ahead with putting policy in place to help promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. Some of these proposals are a bit controversial, if you are an energy generator, although it appears that consumers would benefit from some if not all of these FERC proposals. It also seems like this is going to come down to the fed's right versus the states' rights to regulate their energy production, transmission, and consumption. We'll see what happens. I'm glad that our current regulators have an ear and eye towards renewable energy and energy efficiency for U.S. consumers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We Need More Programs Like the Key West High School Alternative Energy Center

The students these days are really fortunate to have alternative energy programs like this. I think that this is a positive sign renewable energy is beginning to take root in our collective psyche unlike in the 1970s during the last energy crisis. I could be naive here because I was knee high to a grasshopper when the oil crisis happened in the 1970s. But people I've talked to that were conscious during that period said there was an emphasis on finding alternative energies but the momentum evaporated when oil became cheap again.

What makes this time different? There is more of a focus in our educational system on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainability at the high school level and even at the grade school level. Our future policy makers and business leaders are being educated today on alternative energies. This simply means that renewable energies and energy efficiency and sustainability practices will permeate our society and flourish at a much greater rate than today. That's my theory anyway and it gives me great hope for the future.

So when get a chance you have to check out the Key West High School Alternative Energy Center blog and leave a comment of encouragement for these students. And dear readers if you know of any school programs like this in Colorado please list them in the comments!

BLM Auctioning Off Geothermal Parcel

Looks like we are going to have a geothermal project somewhere in Chaffee County, Colorado. Clean geothermal energy is always good news. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is also providing assessments on two other geothermal parcels of land near Gunnison. I think Interior Secretary Salazar deserves some of the credit for expediting the process for parcel auctions of BLM land for renewable energy projects. I look forward to seeing what's developed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

NY Times Editorial: Remember Renewable Energy?

I appreciate this editorial for reminding us that Europe and China are cleaning our clock when it comes to investment in and support of the renewable energy (RE) industry. However, at the same time I think that this editorial could have a few more ideas peppered into it. I have called for the same subsidies for RE that the oil and gas industry receive to level the playing field, but I also think that there are other ways (rather than financial) for the government to give a boost to a nascent market. An example would include a federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that would force states to generate a certain portion of their energy from renewable sources by a certain time period. Currently, RE businesses are experiencing feast or famine depending which state we are talking about. Colorado has a great RPS (30% energy from RE sources by 2020), but Wyoming has no standard at all. An RPS from the feds would provide stability to the RE market. Check out this cool interactive map of state by state RE standards.

The last part of the editorial deals with transmission of all of this power and the investment needed to upgrade the electricity grid. But the NY Times said nothing about a different type of transmission called distributed generation (DG). The DG folks believe that instead of building large RE power plants we could put wind and solar PV/thermal on our homes and businesses and in our neighborhoods. Electricity generation is distributed from the many instead of coming from one source like the power plant. We still need newer transmission lines to replace some parts of our aging grid, but using a DG model would go along way to reducing the cost of renewable energy transmission and creating local jobs in our communities.

I'm glad that the NY Times is calling attention to renewable energy. It has fallen off the mainstream media's radar lately in my opinion. And it would be nice to have an editorial from a quality newspaper that illuminates more than the old ideas about how to boost the renewable energy industry. What are your thoughts dear reader?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Energy-Efficient Strawbale Home in the Colorado Rockies

Really cool article written by an architect who designed his energy efficient strawbale home. By using heating from the sun during the winter and ventilation methods for cooling in the summer, their house only has a 3-5 degree temperature swing inside year round. 3-5 degrees! In comparison, my 1950s house has about a 20 degree variation year round (but I am working to reduce this as finances permit).

This goes to show that with a little bit of research and effort we can design our homes (and even retrofit our existing homes) to become more energy efficient. And I bet the big bad wolf can't come remotely close to blowing his house down.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interior's Salazar, Vestas Dedicate World's Largest Wind-tower Plant

Good things keep happening to Colorado. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar helped dedicate Vestas Wind System's new wind turbine plant in Pueblo, Colorado. Vestas says that this new plant is the world's largest. This is great news for the Pueblo community and goes a long way towards establishing Colorado as the renewable energy thought leader.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Colorado's Ascent Solar Signs French Distribution Deal

Nice work Ascent Solar! Looks like they inked a deal to provide a French solar company with the thin-film solar panels they produce right here in Colorado. Now if we could only give Ascent Solar some more business here in the U.S.

Gov. Ritter Marks 600th Home Weatherized in Denver, Jefferson County

I'm going to miss Governor Ritter's devotion to energy efficiency and renewable energy in the state of Colorado. I hope that the next governor picks up where he left off and expands our renewable energy/energy efficiency footprint even further. The good governor just celebrated the 600th home in Colorado to be weatherized by the Veterans Green Jobs group. The more homes that become energy efficient, the more money we save, and the less electricity we use from coal-fired power plants. Have you scheduled an energy audit for your home or business from a RESNET certified auditor?

Colorado Man Riding Renewable Energy-powered Tricycle 2,500 Miles to Raise Awareness

This guy is my freakin' hero! Tom Weis is riding his solar-powered (and human-powered) tricycle to D.C. to promote awareness of renewable energy to lawmakers. Although Mr. Weis' desire to have a 100% renewable energy grid by 2020 is "ambitious," I think that if we can spend a trillion or so dollars on war we can certainly spend a few billion on becoming energy independent and a moral leader once again in the eyes of the world. Am I wrong?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Editorial: Nation Needs a Standard for Renewable Energy

Good work. The Denver Post editorial board comes out in favor of a national renewable energy standard. If you don't agree with government subsidies to help a nascent renewable energy (RE) industry then the only other options are a national RE standard (minimum amount of the states energy has to come from renewable sources) or a carbon/gasoline tax. Doing nothing and keeping the status quo is not an option any longer.

There are some complexities to having all states meet the same RE standard (such as 15% by 2021), because southern states such as Louisiana and Mississippi don't receive as much sun for instance as the southwestern states do. However, there other renewable sources of energy such as biomass or algae that would thrive in those southern states. I hope that Congress is taking these differences into consideration. Whatever the outcome, we do need a RE standard to level the playing field in the energy industry and to provide stability for further capital investment in renewables.

Upping the Limit on Solar Cell Efficiency

The scientists at the University of Wyoming are trying to develop new ways to increase solar cell efficiency. The results are inconclusive so far but they are promising. These scientists are using "nanomaterials called quantum dots" to try and increase the limit. I can't describe the science behind this well enough, so check out Technology Review's article on the subject. Cool stuff!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Doing More While Using Less Power

It really is simple - we must learn how to use our energy more efficiently. Whether you use LED or CFL light bulbs, weatherize your home with caulk or new windows or insulation, or fill up the air pressure in your automobile tires, there are numerous ways that we as a society can learn how to consume energy more efficiently. Plus in these economic times you can save quite a bit of cash thinking about efficiency. Check out this article in the NY Times for some good energy efficiency information.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

CSU, Fort Collins Land Clean Energy Grants

Both Colorado State University (CSU) and the City of Fort Collins received grants from Colorado's New Energy Economic Development program. CSU received $15K to install a 2 megawatt PV array and the city received $72K to implement its "Carbon City sustainability information management system". This system will help track the city's carbon emissions. I think we live in interesting times. Just 10 years ago (heck even 5 years ago), renewable energy and sustainability policies were unheard of. Now they are mentioned everywhere and are being taken seriously. I hope this ride lasts forever.

Colorado Convention Center Lands LEED Certification

Nice. The Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver has received LEED-EB Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Basically, they retrofitted the building so that it would use less energy and would have a reduced carbon footprint. Kudos to the staff at the Colorado Convention Center for doing what it takes to get LEED certified.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Denver Green School Debuts K-8 Program

I wish there were school's around like this when I was a kid. Learning math and science through the "lens of sustainability" is a great idea. The founders of the Denver Green School says that it has, "a vision of being a beacon for Denver Public Schools (DPS) and really the country on what a school dedicated to sustainability can mean." Kudos to the Denver Green School and their forward-thinking mentality.

Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic, and Sustainability

Great article written by Paul Valenta on the importance of educating our children (and ourselves) on the benefits of energy efficiency. As I've said before, altering our residential and commercial buildings to use energy more efficiently not only makes our air, water and land cleaner it saves us cold hard cash. Here's a good quote from the article that sums it up:

"Children should understand that we use fossil fuels for almost everything and that they account for roughly 80 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. One of the cheapest ways to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce our use of fossil fuels is through energy efficiency – using less energy to provide the same service or using the same energy to provide more services and consuming renewable energy."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ikea Denver Leads the Way for Big Box Geothermal Installations

Rock and roll. They are building a new IKEA just south of Denver and are incorporating geothermal energy! More "big box" retailers need to follow IKEA's lead and utilize renewable energy. I don't know what the carbon footprint of these warehouses are, but it isn't tiny. Kudos to IKEA for lessening their impact on the planet (and saving some money).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Xcel Lays Out Plan for Natural Gas Conversion of Metro Denver Power Plants

Excellent. We are just at the beginning of a positive change to the Front Range's air quality. Xcel Energy (largest power utility in Colorado) is laying out the plan to retrofit existing coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired plants. If you remember way back in April, Governor Ritter Signed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act into law. This law required Xcel to begin the retrofit of old coal-fired plants to natural gas. As I said back then, natural gas-fired plants will make it easier to bring online renewable power sources such as wind and solar, as well emitting less pollutants and CO2 than coal. This is just another demonstration of the forward-thinking policies of Colorado businesses and government. I don't know about you, but I look forward to breathing easier on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Xcel in Concentrated Solar Deal with Cogentrix Energy

There is an interesting article in Colorado Energy News about Xcel Energy signing a 20-year contract with Cogentrix Energy to purchase 30 megawatts of power from a concentrated solar photovoltaic plant in Colorado's San Luis Valley next year. The plant hasn't been built yet, but construction is slated to begin Q1 2011. I think that this contract probably seals the deal so to speak, and that this concentrated solar PV plant will be constructed since they now have a guaranteed buyer of power. This will also help Xcel meet a portion of the renewable energy portfolio requirements for the state of Colorado (30% renewable energy by 2020).

Although the distributed generation (DG) proponents in the San Luis Valley may not be happy with this development, I think that until someone is willing to put up the capital to place solar modules on 6,500 homes (the amount of homes this plant is estimated to provide electricity to) we will have to continue to use the centralized utility model. The price of solar PV modules is going down each day, but it is difficult for homeowners right now to come up with the will or the money to generate their own renewable power. If I could flip a switch, I would utilize a DG model, not the inefficient and outdated centralized utility model. However, right now the money to be made is in large-scale power plants (as understood by Cogentrix Energy, a subsidiary of the very large financial institution Goldman-Sachs). In other words the money making model is in a centralized power distribution model, not in solar PV modules on residential and commercial buildings.

Of course as always, I'm open to you folks challenging this position of mine.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

U.S. Losing Edge in the Clean Energy Sector

I keep seeing more and more of these types of headlines and I can't say that I am surprised. We've been losing manufacturing jobs in other sectors as well for the last 20-30 years. But another troubling aspect that the article brings up is that we are also losing "research and development activities" to other countries. When the likes of IBM and Intel are setting up R&D shops in China you know that the U.S. is going to lose even more of their competitive edge. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the U.S. is going to have to rapidly develop some smart and progressive manufacturing, economic, and educational policies and investment strategies if we want to keep up with other countries of the world. Are we up to the task?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Commercial Airlines May Get 1% of Fuel From Biofuels By 2015, Boeing Says

I am glad to see airlines stepping up to the plate and diversifying their fuel types with renewable plant-based biofuels. This proactive behavior probably has something to do with the fuel price volatility that almost crippled the airlines in 2008. Although 1% biofuels is low, it is a good start to get the biofuel ball rolling. From the article above, it seems like the biofuel manufacturers have decade long contracts to supply some of the airlines. This goes a long way to creating stability in the biofuel markets.

Also, I don't know about you but I always forget that according to the United Nations, the airline industry accounts for at least 3% of the global-warming gas pollution. As more of the lower carbon-emitting biofuels get into the airline supply-chain will see a decrease in emissions, less impact from traditional fossil fuel price volatility, and a more sustainable airline industry. This is good for everybody!

Dems Press Reid to Put Renewable Power Standard in Energy Bill

We are going to need a lot more than just the Dems to bring about a federal renewable energy standard (RES). I wonder why the Republicans don't want a federal RES? A federal RES would provide stabilization to the clean energy market and would reduce our consumption of fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Many states already have a standard but they vary in scope and time to complete. And for the southeastern states that don't have many renewable resources the federal RES standard could be adjusted for them using scientific renewable energy data (see NREL).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Efficiency Bright Spot in Otherwise Deflated Clean Energy Investment Market

Here's a piece from Colorado Energy News that explains a bit about why renewables aren't growing as fast as some (including this author) would like. There are a myriad of factors but one that sticks out in particular is the, "lack of policy guidance from the feds," as well as the pricing of carbon. A comprehensive, national renewable energy standard (RES) or a price on carbon levels the playing field so that Americans can do what they do best - make money. Without the national policy or a price on carbon the investment risk on renewable energy is just too high for investors.

The one bright spot in all of this is the focus on energy efficiency by the feds and the market. Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit - it has the quickest ROI of any of the renewable energy technologies and is the smart thing to do to your structure before you purchase any solar modules or wind turbines. Why would you want to waste any of the energy (whether it be fossil fuel or renewable) that you consume? So, get your place audited by an certified energy auditor then weatherize it, while lobbying your elected Congress person for a RES or carbon price so we can create a new energy economy today rather than tomorrow.

U.S. Army Dips a Toe in Wind Powered Waters

Go Army strong in the clean energy direction! Looks like the U.S. Army is going to pull the trigger on a wind power project in Utah. They've always been hesitant before this moment because they thought the turbines would interfere with radar. Now it looks like the turbines have the green light. Excellent. More diversity on the clean energy production portfolio is a good thing.

Vestas Wind Turbine Maker Plans To Hire Hundreds More In Colorado Over the Next Year

Almost 1000 cleantech jobs in Colorado! Wow. Looks like Vestas is ramping up again. And this is the type of company that thinks things through as opposed to being impetuous. Instead of completely closing down a plant permanently or shipping it offshore, they temporarily closed one here in Colorado (through work furloughs) last year while they retooled and waited for the orders to pickup. How nice is it that almost a thousand more people will be employed soon?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Solar-powered Light Bulb Is One Denver Inventor's Brilliant Idea

Nice article from the Denver Post on the Colorado inventor of a cheap, solar-powered light bulb called, Nokero. According to the article, a quarter of the world still burns fuel to produce light. Imagine replacing all that fuel with a cheap, rechargeable photovoltaic light bulb. People in those countries will begin to educate themselves at night without the harmful fumes from burning the fuel. They also won't have to keep spending a portion of the family budget on this fuel since the light bulbs last for about five years and the sun is free. Now that's cool.

No, Electric Vehicles Won't Bring Down the U.S. Power Grid

This is good news - plugin electric vehicles won't cause a tremendous drain on the U.S. power grid. A study (by two groups with differing viewpoints towards energy) was completed and they determined that one electric vehicle is the equivalent of four plasma televisions sets. Our lust for plasma flat screen televisions hasn't brought down the electric utility grid yet. Now that this is settled, we just need to figure out how to charge these cars (and run our plasma tv's) with more renewable energy!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Obama Awards $2 Billion For Solar Power, Hails New Jobs

Hopefully this is just the beginning of more investment into clean energy. With our economy sputtering and a decimated manufacturing base I think it makes good sense to invest in creating more manufacturing jobs here in the states. I often am disappointed when entrepreneurs come up with a great product and then choose to have it manufactured overseas with slave labor because it is cheaper. But can't economies of scale happen right here on U.S. soil? Well, maybe not as cheaply. Our penchant for cheap stuff is going to be our downfall. So I say why not invest in a thin-film solar manufacturing plant here in Colorado and Indiana with public funds? Why not invest in a concentrated solar utility plant in Arizona with public funds? I think it is good government and it will help reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

Xcel Tests Hybrid Solar-coal Project in Colorado

This is cool. The premise is similar to using solar thermal on the roof of your home, i.e. using the sun to heat water so that you don't have to use as much natural gas (or electricity) to heat the water in your hot water heater. But the method that Abengoa Solar uses is for a utility scale project. Instead of using coal all the time the utility will use solar power to heat the liquid that turns into steam and then turns the electric turbines. Why not take advantage of some free peak sun hours? Xcel is testing this at a coal-fired power plant outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. I look forward to the results.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Letter: Solar Power in Colorado's San Luis Valley

In my post, "Going Solar Is Harder than It Looks, the San Luis Valley Finds," I linked to the NY Times article that talked about the differences between one of the utility's viewpoints (centralized concentrated solar power plant with high-voltage transmission) and the residents of the San Luis Valley (distributed generation). In the NY Times article the utility used a wealthy rancher as a scapegoat. Well, the rancher has responded with a letter to the editor in the same newspaper.

One of the solutions that the rancher came up with was, "to use existing transmission corridors and federally mandated corridors." I wonder if this is a viable option instead of creating a new path for transmission lines. Can anybody shed some light on this?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Xcel Energy Files to Reduce Colorado Solar Projects; Cites Concerns over Timing of Future Transmission

Bummer. Looks like I'm not going to get my wish for a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in southern Colorado. I'm really torn on this San Luis Valley issue now. I've learned from a scientist at NREL before that we could power all of Colorado and then some by placing CSP plants on just 2% of the San Luis Valley. Just 2% (roughly 160 of the 8,000 sq. miles of the valley. That's a 13 x 13 mile plot!) of the land to reduce our carbon footprint immensely, rid ourselves of dirty coal emissions, and showcase to the world that Colorado powers itself with 100% renewable energy. However, these CSP plants are water intensive and need new high voltage transmission lines built over the hill for many miles to the load centers on the Front Range. I'll be frank, large high-voltage power transmission lines are unattractive. If I lived in the beautiful San Luis Valley I probably wouldn't want them. But would I think about compromising to have a large majority of our power produced from the clean and free sun?

Then there's the distributed generation (DG) folks who make a good case for solar PV or thermal on rooftops in the valley and around Colorado. Putting solar rooftops on every residential and commercial building would go along way to lessening the environmental impact and the need for high-voltage transmission lines, but I believe (no facts to back this up yet), doing it piece meal like that wouldn't be as cost-effective (unless economies of scale kicked in at some point) and wouldn't provide nearly as much wattage as a CSP plant on 2% of the land in the San Luis Valley.

I don't know what the answer is. I imagine that it all depends on how quickly we have to get off of fossil fuels. Let's hope we come to some type of compromise sometime soon.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wind Power Out West Gets a Boost

We've been led to believe that one of the biggest problems with wind power is that the wind is intermittent and unsuitable for our current power grid. In addition, wind sometimes gets a bad rap as a replacement for coal. Well, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has just released a study (Western Wind and Solar Integration Study) that essentially says, "that the power grid for five western states could operate on as much as 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar without the construction of extensive new infrastructure or a lot of backup generation." That's good news for wind and now gives a bit more incentive to wind farm financiers and developers. Thanks for NREL and its ability to bring in reason and fact to our energy debate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Going Solar Is Harder Than It Looks, the San Luis Valley Finds

Good article from the Alamosa Journal via the NY Times on the challenges inherent in trying to capture the sun's energy in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and then transport it over the "hill" to the giant load center on the Front Range. Even though it's easy to lay the blame on some billionaire that doesn't want a high voltage transmission line running across his property, we also have to look at the people who live in the valley and are fighting for a distributed power generation model. I have a feeling that we aren't going to see a concentrated solar power plant in the San Luis Valley anytime soon. So let's hope all the players come to the table and work out a viable option to move Colorado towards more renewable energy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Obama Says Oil Spill Highlights Need for Renewable Energy

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
- Albert Einstein

What has been going on in the Gulf of Mexico for the last month or so is sickening to me. Sickening in the environmental sense of course. But I am more sickened by our rabid addiction to oil. We of course use the most of our petroleum products in the gas tanks of our cars and trucks to get ourselves to the grocery store, or the shopping mall, or kid's soccer practice, as well as to transport our produce, furniture, building materials, and general crap. There's also the facts that plastics are petroleum based. Think about how much plastic you have in your home right now! Gobs and gobs. I could go on but I think you get the idea. We are addicted to oil and our economy depends on it. And if the oil gushing out of the gash at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico isn't a siren, we are in for a long, hard slog. Our consumption of the black gold is unsustainable.

So President Obama had the courage to call for more renewable energy - in the midst of a horrible and deep recession, at least 10% unemployment, fighting two wars, a growing national debt, social security running dry, 401Ks decimated for those close to retirement, and what I think will be the greatest man-made environmental disaster the world has ever experienced. I can hear the naysayers, "We can't afford to invest in renewable energy, when there are so other many problems to tackle," or they might say, "We have to let the free market dictate the future of renewable energy." You know who they are.

There are many paths to more renewable energy, the free market included, but I don't think we have the luxury of time to let large corporations and the "free market" decide our fate. BP, a large global corporation, has already begun to destroy the water and coastal ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico trying to feed our addiction to oil and to feed their burgeoning wallets. The big U.S. bank corporations (you know "too big to fail") have already destroyed the global economy and refuse to stop practicing the speculation that got us into this trouble. That's not a really good track record for entities that can have an enormous and tragic affect on our lives. I suppose we will continue to see these economic and environmental disasters as long as there is this insatiable, unsustainable drive for more profits. In the name of profit and the quarterly Wall Street kabuki dance, corners will always be cut, jobs will lost, lives will be lost, and greed will win the day. Is this really who we want to be?

I don't know about you but I want solar photovoltaic modules on my house generating clean electricity from the sun rather than getting my electricity from a coal-fired power plant miles away. But I need help, because I can't afford to do these things right now with the unstable economy and I need help because we don't have the luxury of time (just Google "pine beetle kill" for just one example of the affect of a changing climate on Colorado forests) to let the market decide when the price of solar PV is going to be cheaper than coal.

So, if Einstein is correct, we are going to have to develop new ways of thinking to solve our problem of addiction to oil and any other unsustainable activity we humans like to practice. Do we have the courage to think differently?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Study: Kerry-Lieberman Climate Bill Would Prompt Decade of Job Growth

A bit of good news on the Kerry-Lieberman Climate Bill. The non-partisan Peterson Institute for International Economics studied this bill and determined that it would create numerous jobs in the clean energy sector from 2011-2020. The bill would also spur investment in technologies that will reduce fossil fuel consumption (through renewables and nuclear) and support energy efficiency measures in our homes and transportation. The bill also puts a price on carbon and caps greenhouse emissions. It's a great start and will begin the transition of helping the U.S. reduce consumption of coal and petroleum. With the tragedy and damage that is going on in the Gulf of Mexico, don't you think it's time to begin weening ourselves off of fossil fuels? Or should we just proceed with business as usual?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CSU to Boost Solar Power and Become Largest University Installation in Nation

Way to go Colorado State University. Not content with third place, CSU is going for the number one position in the nation for university solar power. One of the interesting points in the article is that CSU has realized that prospective students and their parents are paying more attention to universities that have "green" policies. CSU can now use the solar installation as a recruiting tool. Also, with higher education budgets tight these days, solar on the Front Range makes economic sense because once the initial capital outlay for the solar modules occurs, one never has to pay for fuel (the sun's rays are free!). So future fluctuations in natural gas or coal prices will have reduced impact on their electricity budget. How's that for a little risk mitigation?

Monday, May 17, 2010

DOE Funds to Stretch Concentrated Solar Power Through Salt Storage

Glad to see the Department of Energy (DOE) is investing $62 million in salt storage. It is cheaper and easier to store energy as heat than electricity. The way concentrated solar thermal power essentially works is that the sun's rays are focused on a tube of liquid, the liquid heats up to steam, and the steam turns a turbine which creates electricity. Once the sun stops shining the heat starts to dissipate and the process starts all over again in the morning. Well, instead of letting that heat dissipate into the atmosphere in the evening what if you could store it in something like salt? If you store the heat you can use it again in the morning so the concentrated solar power (CSP) panels don't have to work as hard to heat up the liquid to steam. Storing the excess heat will also allow a large-scale CSP plant to run for many more hours after the sun goes down. Doing this causes the economics of a CSP plant to start looking better and better!

Kudos to the DOE for recognizing an opportunity to help drive down the cost of renewable energy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How Will Gulf Spill Affect Energy Debate? A Chat With Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter

In the midst of what will probably turn out to be the worst environmental disaster the United States has ever experienced, we haven't yet had the time to reflect on the impact this oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will have on our energy and environmental policies. It is safe to say that there will be some impact on the policy debate in Washington. Hopefully the result of that impact will be a policy that includes a way forward to energy independence while radically reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The U.S. is addicted to cheap coal and cheap oil to the detriment of our health and our environment. This damage from fossil fuels is playing itself out slowly over time. On the other hand, the oil leak at the bottom of the Gulf is a rapid and expedited look at the profound damage fossil fuels can do to our environment. I hope that the black sludge that is currently suffocating and killing the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and that is single-handedly destroying the livelihood of many American fisherman will remain in our memories for a long time. I also hope that it will cause us to pause and reflect every time we fill up our tanks with cheap gasoline. We need to seriously address our energy policy soon.

Oh and here's a quick interview with the Colorado governor on how the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico might influence the energy policy debate.

Colorado Seeks a Renewable Energy Peak

Good article from National Geographic on whether or not the renewable energy boom in Colorado can be used as a template for other states. I tend to think it can, although not as large a scale as what's happening in Colorado. We have such plentiful renewable sources here (solar, wind, and geothermal) and a world class research center (NREL) that it behooves us to move full steam ahead into a renewable future. However, we can certainly export this intellectual property to other states and the world when the time comes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Colorado: A Clean Energy Future Done Right

Here's a great synopsis of what's been happening in the Colorado clean energy front. The nutshell? Good public policy coupled with cooperation from private enterprise. It's possible to begin the process of supplanting fossil fuels with renewable energy such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. But it's also necessary to use cleaner fossil fuels, such as natural gas, to bridge the transition to renewables. What's encouraging about Colorado's new energy economy, is the process - government and business coming together in the interest of the environment and of profit. Colorado has shown it's possible to have both clean air and water and profit if changed is not feared.

Gov. Ritter Signs Bill into Law to Expand Geothermal Energy Production

Step by step, inch by inch, Colorado is slowly making it easier to use and develop renewable energy sources. This time, the good Governor makes it easier to obtain permits and establishes a process to resolve land disputes for geothermal. I'm glad we are looking at all available clean energy sources to supplement our use of non-renewable, fossil fuel sources.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Interior Secretary Approves Cape Wind, Nation's First Offshore Wind Farm

Unbelievable news. After a nine year battle, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has approved the nation's first offshore wind farm. Plus the Secretary said that there will be more offshore wind farms to come. This will be great for the wind industry by creating more jobs in manufacturing, construction and operations and great for the people on the east coast who will now receive clean and renewable electricity. This is a big deal folks. The United States is now in the offshore wind business. Kudos to all of those involved over the last nine years to help bring this dream into a reality. Read the article in the Boston Globe for a lot more info on the process and quotes from proponents and opponents.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ecotech Institute Lands in Metro Denver

This is cool. The Ecotech Institute is an accredited educational institute specifically devoted to green collar jobs east of Denver. The boom of green jobs has created a market to educate those eager to learn about the clean energy economy. However, it seems like many universities have thrown "green" programs together to capitalize on the renewed interest in clean energy technology. Not all programs are half-baked but it pays to do some research beforehand to see exactly what how those programs will prepare you for the green workforce. I'm glad to see that the Ecotech Institute's primary mission is to train for renewable energy and sustainable design. I look forward to reviewing their curriculum when they start classes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ritter Signs Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act Into Law

It's a good day for Colorado's people, environment, and economy. Governor Ritter signed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act into law today. If you remember this bill was designed to retrofit some of Colorado's older coal-fired electricity plants to be able to burn cleaner natural gas. These retrofits will help create jobs, support Colorado's natural gas industry, and reduce carbon emissions and toxins in our air and water.

Another thing to keep in mind when trying to understand why this law is such a good idea is that a natural gas power plant makes it easier to supplement our power production with renewable sources such as wind and solar. This is because it is easier to bring a natural gas-fired power plant rather than a coal-fired plant when the wind ceases to blow and the sun stops shining. There was also an unusual accord among all parties (Xcel, environmentalists, Dems and Repubs) with the obvious exception being the coal industry. Finally, for all of those folks concerned about the cost of this law (rather than with the health of their neighbors or the environment first), it is cheaper to retrofit an old coal plant with natural gas than it is to decommission that plant and build a new coal-fired (albeit less emitting) power plant.

I don't know about you but I like the direction Colorado is taking with respect to the clean energy economy.

Cows on Treadmills Could Produce Six Percent of the World’s Power

Six percent of the world's power! Can you dig it? I know it would better for the environment to just stop eating meat altogether, but somehow I don't see the planet reducing their cow milk and meat intake in the near term. So as long as we have cows we might as well put them to work to generate clean electricity. Couple this with the use of methane gas from the cows and you might have a completely zero-energy farm. Plus this treadmill method is a plus for the distributed generation (DG) folks. I wonder if all the cow farms in Greeley, Colorado know about this?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Geothermal: Finding Energy Inside the Earth

Great article from 9News that explains geothermal technology in simple terms. Essentially a geothermal system uses the constant temperature of the ground to heat or cool water and then, with the help of a heat pump, heat or cool your home. You don't have to burn natural gas with this procedure. Plus the feds are providing a 30% tax credit for geothermal systems. It's clean renewable energy. Check it out.

Colorado Ranks in the Top Ten in Wind Energy Usage

Excellent. Colorado has made it into the top 10 with respect to wind power. The wind industry is booming here, especially on the Front Range. We have Vestas building manufacturing plants and wind farms being planned and built in windy locations on the eastern plains. Perhaps we can break into the top 5 in the next couple of years? Let's do it!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Colorado Leads Way in Renewable Energy

An op-ed from the Pueblo Chieftain written by former Republican speaker of the Colorado State House and current Democratic Senator Mark Udall on Colorado's growing strength and thought leadership within the renewable energy sector. It's a good read from state and federal legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Xcel to Buy Power from RES Americas’ Planned NE Colorado Wind Farm

A new wind farm will be built by a Colorado company (Renewable Energy Systems Americas, Inc.) and will reside in Eastern Colorado. The company also signed a 20-year deal with Xcel Energy to buy 252 megawatts of clean wind power from the farm. I have a hunch that this deal was inked in response to the recent increase in Colorado's renewable energy standard, which requires Xcel Energy to acquire 30% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Oh and this wind farm will create 200 jobs and will staff about 12 people once in operation. How cool is that?

Colorado Senate Passes Clean-air Bill Favoring Natural Gas

Good news for Colorado's air quality. The Colorado Senate passed a bill to retrofit existing coal-fired electricity plants to plants fired by natural gas. This will reduce the toxins and pollutants that significantly contribute to the Denver metro area's brown cloud in the winter and smog alerts in the summer. Using natural gas to fire electricity plants will also ease the transition to renewable energy supplies such as wind and solar because of the ability of natural gas to come online quicker than coal and meet the base load demand when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. Also in the bill is a provision that requires Xcel to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides by 70-80% by 2017. Natural gas will help to meet this requirement. Nice job Colorado legislature!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Solar in Schools Adds Energy to California Solar Rush

I like this idea of teaching K-12 students about solar energy. It's hard enough educating working adults about the benefits of renewable energy, so why not start a little early? This program, titled the Solar School Initiative is done in California with help from the state's large utility, PG&E. The students get to observe a ground-mounted, one-kilowatt photovoltaic system located on school property. What is incredible is that PG&E has already contributed $9 million to the Solar School Initiative program. I wonder if Colorado's large utility, Xcel Energy, would be open to a program like this? I truly believe that investment in renewable energy education will not only help us adopt clean energy at a faster rate but also help Colorado meet its CO2 emission reduction goals and renewable energy standards.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oregon Solar Parts Maker PV Powered Bought by Colorado's Advanced Energy

Just a little acquisition by Colorado's Advanced Energy for a cool $90 million. The purchased company, PV Powered out of Oregon, makes solar PV inverters for residential and smaller commercial customers. Advanced Energy focuses on selling inverters (amongst other solar products) to larger commercial customers. Looks like Advanced Energy is expanding into other markets and will also benefit from PV Powered's large manufacturing operations. Keep an eye on Colorado's Advanced Energy.

Denver Ranks Fourth in EPA Efficient Building List

Nice! Denver moved from 7th to 4th on the EPA's efficient building list. Here's a quote from the article which should be memorized by us all, so we can get to 1st place on the list:

"Energy efficiency is the lowest hanging fruit and it's the cheapest and easiest way to save money on energy costs."

Congrats to all the Denver public, private, and non-profit organizations that have been working towards a more energy efficient future.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Scientists Develop Highly Recyclable Plastic

Since I'm on a technology kick, here's an article from the NY Times blog that speaks to researchers at Stanford and IBM developing a plastic that can be "continuously recycled". I don't know about you but I was unaware that plastic couldn't be recycled indefinitely and typically is recycled once then ends up in a landfill. Reason being is that there is a metal oxide in the polymers used to form the plastic that continues to breakdown each time it is recycled. This "breakdown" ultimately makes the plastic weaker and unusable. The researchers at IBM and Stanford have substituted an organic catalyst for the metal oxide, which according to them, "makes certain types of new polymers that have other properties plastics don't have." This will allow the plastic to be recycled numerous times. IBM and Stanford, Mother Earth thanks you!

Ultra-Efficient Gas Engine Passes Test: 64 to 98 MPG!

From Technology Review we have an interesting bit of tech that increases the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. Transonic Combustion claims that their fuel-injection system will improve the engine gas efficiency by 50%. Their process is to essentially heat and pressurize the gasoline before it goes into the fuel-injection chamber. They claim that this allows for "fast and clean combustion." Pretty cool huh? The company claims that the technology can get 64 miles per gallon and that at a steady speed of 50 miles per hour they can get 98 mpg! Even if the technology isn't scalable for mass production, it never ceases to amaze me that there are brilliant minds working right now on the next technological breakthrough.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Governor Ritter Signs Landmark Renewable Energy Bill

From Colorado Energy News we find out today Colorado Governor Ritter signed into law legislation that requires the state to acquire 30% (up from 20%) of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Thirty percent! That's the highest renewable energy standard in the Rocky Mountain West and we are slowing nipping at the heels of California's standard. This will bring more jobs and cleaner energy to this state. Congrats to everybody who worked to pass this bill and get it signed into law.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

FCC Broadband Plan Goal: Use Broadband to Manage Energy Consumption

Nice. How forward thinking is the FCC? They are about to release their "Broadband Plan" next week and one of the items in it is:

"To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption."

There are a ton of companies in Colorado that are developing technologies to monitor your home's energy consumption and to make the grid smarter. This move by the FCC to expedite energy efficiency in the U.S. via broadband is good news.

GEO Launches Statewide Consumer Rebate Program April 19th

Get ready for some rebate love. The Colorado Governor's Energy Office (GEO) is going to release some of the Recovery Act funds in the form of rebates starting April 19th. According to Colorado Energy News, items eligible for rebates will include:
  • Equipment such as dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators, as well as furnaces and hot water heaters.
  • Residential energy efficiency measures such as insulation and air sealing, duct sealing, whole-house energy audits and whole-house energy monitors.
  • Renewable energy projects, including solar photovoltaic systems, solar hot water systems for homes and businesses and small wind installations.
Here's a link to more info on the GEO web site regarding the rebates.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bill to Cut Coal Power in Colorado Has Widespread Backing

The Denver Business Journal reports that bill HB 1365 Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act was introduced into the Colorado legislature yesterday and zoomed through the House Transportation and Energy Committee with a 10-1 approval. This bill would retrofit coal-burning power plants with natural gas. A couple of things make this a smart bill: Colorado has an abundance of natural gas and natural gas has lower carbon dioxide emissions than coal. Plus this bill has broad support with the only dissenter happens to be the coal industry. It's a no brainer for Colorado to pursue policies that help work towards cleaner air, create jobs, and provide a reliable energy source for our base load power (when solar and wind aren't working). We are still going to need coal for the foreseeable future, but anything we can do to help ween ourselves off coal (whether it be with renewable sources or lower emitting natural gas) is good for posterity in my humble opinion.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sustainability Tip of the Week: It's Fix-a-Leak Week

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Water Sense group says it's fix-a-leak week March 15th to 21st. If you have any leaky faucets spend a little time this week and fix them, because that little old leak can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. In an arid climate like the one we have in Colorado, water is a precious resource. Here's a good tip for a suspected leaky toilet:

"One way to find out if you have a toilet leak is to place a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, you have a leak."

There's much more on the Water Sense web site. Check it out, save some money, and save some water.

Solar Industry Learns Lessons in Spanish Sun

There are lots of lessons to be learned from the boom and bust solar market in Spain. This article in the New York Times highlights what can go wrong when a market is solely dependent on government subsidies. However, emerging markets need subsidies at first to create stability in that market. Even though the U.S. is behind Europe in terms of renewable energy production, I think we are in the position to shape the global solar energy market towards sustainable growth. So read the article and leave your suggestions on what are the best approaches the U.S. can do, from a public and private perspective, to assist and help shape the emerging solar industry.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gov. Bill Ritter: Advancing Colorado's New Energy Economy

Here's an opinion piece in the Denver Post from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter on Colorado's "New Energy Economy". Progress towards this goal is happening on several fronts. First, the Colorado legislature just upped the amount of electricity that Colorado must acquire from renewable energy sources from 20% to 30% by 2020. Second, Colorado is home to a "research corridor" of universities and laboratories devoted to the advancement clean energy technology. Finally, there are numerous clean tech companies (smart grid, thin-film PV, wind turbines, etc.) that are setting up shop in Colorado due to the friendly clean energy environment and copious amounts of brain power in this state. My hope that Colorado would be the clean energy thought leader of the United States is starting to come to fruition. Are you excited?

Survey: Power Companies Still Unsure of Smart Grids

As with any of the clean technologies that are coming out fast and furious these days it's going to take more education, money, and patience. Microsoft Corp. released the Worldwide Utility Industry Survey 2010 and it demonstrated that utilities are a little behind implementing smart grid technologies. The smart grid market is still nascent and it will take some time for utilities to find and implement the best technologies for their power grid. I am optimistic about smart grid technologies as well as the Colorado companies that have formed to bring these technologies to market.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Boulder-area Solar Companies Wary of 'Community Solar Gardens' Bill

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the solar garden phenomenon. Personally, I see it as a positive development for the solar industry, as well as communities in Colorado. However, there are some in the Colorado solar industry that think the solar garden bill introduced in the legislature today needs a few tweaks before it goes prime time. Here's an article from the Daily Camera that gives the contrarian point of view. Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the pros and cons of solar gardens. Thank you!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The First Working Solar Garden in Colorado: A New Model for Community Groups

Here's a cool concept for neighborhoods that would like to generate their own renewable power. The concept is called "distributed generation" and it essentially means generating power close to the point of use. Generating power locally can eliminate the need to build new transmission lines and other issues during the transition to clean energy resources. Read more about distributed generation here and here. Think solar panels on your house, your neighbors house, your church, and commercial buildings all generating their own clean power.

A solar garden "allows people to come together in groups from 10-1,500 to establish community-scale power plants. A solar garden can be located on multiple homes, large buildings, or integrated into working agricultural land." A new solar garden is opening in Westminster, CO tomorrow at 11am at 4800 West 80th Ave. The same day the Solar Gardens bill (HB 1342) will be introduced into the Colorado State Assembly by Claire-Levy (D-Boulder, Gilpin). Read the press release here.

I am new to this solar garden concept but I believe that it follows the creed of "localization" that society is going to have to embrace with respect to their food, their work, and of course their energy. As oil prices rise so does the cost of everything else. If we begin to produce the basics (food, shelter, and clothing) locally we will then be able to absorb the economic impact of ever rising oil prices. Keep your eye on solar gardens.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ascent Solar Signs $6.5M Sales Deal with FTL Solar of Texas

Kudos to Thornton-based Ascent Solar for landing a $6.5 million deal with a FTL Solar of Austin, Texas. FTL Solar will use Ascent's thin-film photovoltaics in "specialty-market products" (think tents, umbrellas, and sails). This is probably the first-step to the ubiquity of thin-film solar PV on products used outdoors. These are exciting times for thin-film solar.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Colorado Senate Advances Higher Renewable Energy Standard

Inch by inch Colorado is drawing closer to getting 30% of its energy from renewable sources. The Denver Business Journal reports that the Colorado Senate just passed the bill and it now goes back to the House for final approval. An extra 10% is a large step forward for a healthier environment, reduced carbon footprint for the state, and job creation in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector.

Also in that article was the mention of an announcement by the Governor Ritter, environmentalists, and Xcel Energy that legislation will be introduced called Colorado's Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. This legislation will force the retrofit or replacement of Front Range coal-fired power plants with natural gas or other low-emitting energy sources by 2017. So let me get this straight: government, environmental advocates, and a power utility come together and create a forward-thinking plan for the good of Colorado's public's health and economy? Yes, coalitions can still be formed between disparate interests. Kudos to those three groups. The people of Colorado will thank you one day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Renewable-energy Mandate Bill Could Create 23,000 Jobs in Colorado

Excellent. Further proof that increasing Colorado's renewable energy standard from 20% to 30% is a good idea. Not only will it increase the amount of energy Colorado gets from renewable sources it will also create 23,000 jobs in the state. Sounds like good policy to me. Pass that bill Colorado legislature!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Energy Efficient Building Design at NREL

It never ceases to amaze me that right here in our own backyard, nestled up against the Rocky Mountain foothills are modest men and women of science working together to make our energy future renewable, sustainable, and efficient. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) is putting their money (and brains) where their mouth is. Set to open this summer, NREL has been developing the de facto standard for energy efficient commercial office buildings. From a building that tells you when to open the windows because it's too hot inside to windows that tint (electrochromic) when direct sun hits them, the folks at NREL know how to analyze every aspect of a structure to ensure efficient energy use. Hopefully they'll have tours of this building after it opens!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

HOME STAR Program: Putting Americans Back to Work

One of the hardest hit sectors in this latest economic tailspin has been the construction industry. Millions of contractors, electricians, manufacturers, carpenters, plumbers - you name it - are sitting idle, unable to find work, and unable to pay their bills. According to the Home Performance Resource Center while the national unemployment rate hovers near 10%, the construction industry rate is closer to 25%. The jobs just aren't there anymore.

So, we must create the jobs. And what better way to utilize the skills of all these unemployed construction workers than to put them to work retrofitting, weatherizing and making millions of residential buildings more energy efficient. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) are going to introduce a bill, "establishing a HOME STAR program of consumer rebates for home energy efficiency retrofits." Now that's good government.

Once the bill is introduced, call your Senators and ask them to support the HOME STAR bill so we can save homeowners money, reduce our carbon footprint, and put folks back to work.

Glenwood Springs Council Supports Energy Finance District

Glenwood Springs, Colorado has decided on creating a "Clean Energy Financing District" for commercial and residential property owners of that area. What this designation does is allow property owners to receive low-interest, long-term loans for any clean energy project. The loan then gets attached to their property taxes and they gradually pay it off. If they sell the property, the loan stays with the property and is assigned to the new owner. We've seen this model before in Boulder, Colorado with the Boulder County ClimateSmart Loan Program. This model is a great way to promote clean energy, reduce carbon emissions, create jobs, and improve the economic vitality of the region.

Ritter: Investing In A 'Clean Energy Future'

I sure hope that Colorado's next governor is as "in tune" with generating a clean energy economy as Governor Bill Ritter has been. Here's a video interview with Governor Ritter from National Journal. I think the following quote sums up the vision that the next governor of Colorado has to have with respect to our clean energy economy:

"For my purposes, whatever it (climate change legislation) looks like, it should have as its goal that we diversify the energy portfolio in this country and we rely less on foreign sources for oil. The second part of it is that it addresses climate issues, addresses environmental challenges that we have. And the third -- that it's focused on job creation. The reason ... we're a leader in Colorado in green energy... I call it the clean energy future -- is because we've been able to do those three things and do them at same time."

The Business Case for Climate Solutions

Check out this commentary piece in the Denver Post by Hunter Lovins and let me know what you think. Essentially, it speaks to the necessity of investing in clean energy and energy efficiency measures to help boost the Colorado economy, help ease the environmental and economic impact of climate change, and help the U.S. remain competitive with countries that are already investing heavily in clean energy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Second RETool Class: Smart Grids

I'm quite excited for the next RETool class up at the Leeds School of Business in Boulder, Colorado tomorrow morning. We will be learning the technologies, economics, policy, and commercial prospects of smart grids including:

  • Critical performance factors
  • Current costs
  • Local, state, and federal incentives
  • Adoption rates of the technology
  • Job creation and identification

If you'd like to join us you can acquire more information by clicking here. I really am enjoying this program immensely and if you'd like me to give you more of my perspective just leave a question in the comments section.

MetLife and John Hancock Finance Solar PV Power Plant in Colorado

I can't find any reporting on this so it's just a link to a press release. Nonetheless, this looks like the real deal. Two financial institutions are going to finance a 19-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant in Alamosa County, Colorado. SunPower will build this power plant for Xcel Energy and construction is starting this spring. Oh I can't wait to go check it out. Road trip anyone? And perhaps this utility scale financing may open the floodgates for more utility scale solar or wind projects?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Could the Bloom Box Fuel Cell Revolutionize the Power Industry?

The Bloom Box fuel cell was featured last night on 60 minutes and "the tubes" are abuzz with speculation. It seems like an attractive technology. Fuel (natural gas, biofuels, etc.) goes into one side of the fuel cell, oxygen goes in the other, and the catalyst creates electricity. The beauty of the fuel cell, unlike let's say the internal combustion engine, is that there are no carbon emissions. I have my doubts, but I must admit I am intrigued at the possibility that most homes, who already have natural gas pumped in to heat their water or power their furnace, could use natural gas to power the Bloom Box and generate clean electricity in the home.

Whatever the outcome, I can't wait until Thursday when the Bloom Box is officially revealed to the public.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Energy-Efficient Lighting Made Without Mercury

Compact fluorescent light-bulbs (CFL) use dramatically less electricity and give off less heat than the Edison incandescent bulb (yes the technology is that old), however mercury is used in the manufacturing process. Mercury is increasingly showing up in the oceans, the fish, our water supply, and in our bodies. It's a toxin that causes all kinds of diseases. Now we have some good news from Science Daily on a company (RTI International) that has created a new technology that allows fluorescent bulbs to be manufactured without mercury. They hope to have it available in the marketplace in 3-5 years. From the article:

"Because lighting consumes almost one-fourth of all electricity generated in the United States, our technology could have a significant impact in reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions," Davis said. "The technology also does not contain mercury, which makes it more environmentally friendly and safer to handle than CFLs and other fluorescent lamps."

RTI International: planet Earth and the human race thank you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NREL Study: Tall Wind Turbines Could Make More Power

According to this NREL study, if Colorado builds their wind turbines on the plains to at least 262 feet they can produce three times as much energy than earlier estimates released in this Colorado Governor's Energy Office report in 2007 (PDF). The older estimates were based on turbines that were about 162 feet high. So for another 100 feet of material on a turbine one could generate three times as much energy. Hopefully wind farm investors will begin to see the greater ROI and will reverse this disturbing trend: "Vestas Cuts Forecasts as Financing Dearth Slows Turbine Growth". Nice work NREL. Another example of how science and research can pay off.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Even Boulder Finds It Isn't Easy Going Green

This article from the WSJ highlights the growing pains in the energy efficiency industry. Boulder, Colorado is walking the path less traveled with respect to creating an energy policy and educating the public on their carbon footprint. The city will eventually be the model to which the rest of the nation looks. All good policy is built on mistakes.

The article also implies the critical need for certified energy auditors (see RESNET) to help homeowners and businesses save the most money on their energy efficiency efforts. I remember one of my energy teachers saying in class, that we need a license to drive a car but we don't need a license to own a home. He was implying that we really don't know how our homes work (see carbon monoxide deaths due to blockage of combustion air) just as we don't know how to drive a car until we are taught. Each home is unique in that it uses energy differently and wastes energy at different rates. A certified energy auditor will be able to examine your home or commercial building and recommend enhancements that will help your home use energy wisely.

Finally, maybe it's time we all looked in the mirror, myself included. I like gadgets - desktop computers, LCD TVs, cell phones, laptop computers, stereo systems, etc. And our society if increasingly becoming dependent on electricity to use those gadgets. We all have to begin to realize the amount of energy each of our gadgets and households consume and then take the steps to reduce the amount of electricity we consume. It's possible if you educate yourself.

And I'll leave you with this one quote in the 4th paragraph of the article:

"What we've found is that for the vast majority of people, it's exceedingly difficult to get them to do much of anything," says Kevin Doran, a senior research fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

I wonder if humans have always been this way. It is certainly possible that we need some sort of existential threat to light a fire under our posterior.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sen. Sanders Introduces 10 Million Solar Home Initiative

This is an interesting way to go about encouraging commercial and residential property owners to install either solar PV or solar thermal on their rooftops (in addition to propping up the solar industry). Senator Sanders' (I-VT) bill would like to see 10 million solar installations completed within a decade.

I hope that there is a provision in this bill that requires an energy audit by a certified professional (see RESNET) and subsequent mitigation (insulation, caulking, new windows, etc.) before the installation of a solar system and acquisition of a tax credit. In other words, it is always necessary to weatherize and make your home or building energy efficient before spending any money on a solar system. In particular with respect to solar PV, pinpointing your exact yearly electricity consumption helps to size the solar PV system. For example, if you are already using (and wasting) more energy because of a leaky home with no installation, the kilowatt output of your PV array will be sized much larger (which is more expensive) than what you would need if your home was weatherized and altered to consume less electricity. So get that energy audit first and save yourself some money upfront and by then hopefully Senator Sanders' bill will become law.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Denver Post Op-ed: More Energy from Renewables

A sensible opinion from the Denver Post editorial board on the current renewable energy legislation (30% of our energy from renewables by 2020) before the Colorado House. We definitely need to think ahead when we make such legal mandates, just in case the renewable energy industry isn't as rosy in 2020 as it is in 2010. However, I trust that the Colorado legislature is already familiar with mandates for renewable energy and will be able to create the best bill for both the people of Colorado and its private enterprise.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gov. Ritter Announces Major Boost to Renewable Energy Standard

The good governor of Colorado announced to the press today that legislation was introduced in the House that will, "raise the state’s renewable energy requirement for large utility companies from 20 percent by 2020 to 30 percent by 2020." Wow. Ten percent more within the same time frame.

This is great news for the people of Colorado as it will bring more clean tech jobs to the state and help move Colorado closer to being the go-to-leader for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Also, if this renewable energy requirement is signed into law there's a good chance that my wishful thinking for solar arrays on every roof on the Front Range may come true. Sweet!

AWEA Q4 Report: 4,041 MW of New U.S. Wind Capacity

The American Wind Energy Association released their quarterly wind production report. The good news? 4,041 megawatts (MW) of wind projects completed for Q4 2009 and 10,000 MW of wind projects completed for all of 2009. This number is down from 2008, but we can all understand that the poor economy probably eliminated a lot of wind farm financing. The disappointing news is that the U.S. still lags in manufacturing. Hopefully we can put some good people to work in 2010 at some wind turbine manufacturing plants here in the United States.

Click here for AWEA Q4 Report in PDF.

Sec. Salazar Named 2009 National Solar Energy Champion by SEIA

Colorado's own, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was named the 2009 National Solar Energy Champion. This is part of the reason why he got the award:

"Since taking office, Secretary Salazar has set aside 1,000 square miles of public lands in 24 "Solar Study Areas" that have the potential to generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of clean, reliable solar energy."

He's definitely the hardest working Interior Secretary in recent memory and I think that his progressive and thoughtful leadership is exactly what this country needs during this transformation to clean energy. Congrats Sec. Salazar, you're making Colorado proud.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Solar Company Launches Rental Program in Boulder

A few weeks ago I spoke about SolarCity's efforts to bring solar leasing to Colorado (read: SolarCity's Solar System Leasing Option Coming to Colorado). Now we have a second firm (I'm sure there are more) that is bringing a solar leasing program to Boulder. SunRun from California is now offering folks in Boulder the ability to rent solar panels at a fixed rate for a certain period of time. This solar leasing market is interesting to me. Anybody have some info on the financials of this type if plan? Is it similar to buying or leasing a car? I'm not a finance guy, but at first glance I think that leasing allows people to get something that they would otherwise be unable to afford in addition to a reduced risk. Are government tax credits and incentives from utilities just not enough to justify an outright purchase of a solar array for your rooftop? Curious minds would like to know. Any finance peeps out there?

Alamosa County OKs Solar Proposal

Although it's not a full approval (it's "conditional") this one looks promising. 35-megawatts of clean energy for 30 years built by Iberdrola Power in southern Colorado. They don't say exactly what type of solar plant it is, but it appears at first glance that it will be a photovoltaic plant and not a solar thermal plant. I also wonder if they are going to use concentrated PV. Good work Alamosa County government officials.

Geothermal-power Site Withdrawn Again from BLM Auction

Rats. They say they are postponing this sale in order to complete some more environmental impact testing. I'm all for making sure that the environmental impact is at a minimum, yet I hope they can come to some sort of compromise. There aren't too many places in Colorado that have the hot water near the surface necessary for an effective geothermal plant.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Colorado Gets $6M for Green-energy Job Training

And the good times keep on rollin' for Colorado. The good Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has delivered a cool $6 million for, "worker training in emerging industries including renewable energy." Training for a new industry like renewable energy is critical in order to keep that industry afloat. I look forward to the good things that will come out of this gift. Thanks U.S. Department of Labor!

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Solar Brews in Colorado

Mmmm beer powered by the sun. First it was New Belgium and now it's Odell's. Colorado breweries keep generating electricity from the the sun's FREE rays. So pick up a sixer of Fat Tire or 90 Shilling and support those who support renewable energy. You won't regret it.

Rural Colorado Counties Get $2.2M from Stimulus for Energy Efficiency

President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act keeps on giving. Colorado counties received some serious coin to promote energy efficiency. How smart is this? Figuring out ways to make your buildings, homes, or cars more energy efficient provides a greater and quicker return on investment, not to mention the incredible reduction in CO2 emissions and other pollutants. Have you supported your local economy by getting an energy audit for your home by a qualified professional? You can get tax credits on your 2010 taxes for completing weatherization/energy efficiency initiatives for your home or business. Look into it!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Six Colorado Companies Share $75.2M in Stimulus Credits for Clean-energy Manufacturing Projects

Here it is from the Denver Business Journal, six Colorado companies will share $75.2M of the $2.3 billion in tax credits President Obama awarded late last week. These companies say that this stimulus money will create about 17,000 (yes, I typed that correctly) jobs in Colorado. How cool is that? I was beginning to feel a little lull in the renewable energy action in the U.S., but President Obama and Secretary of Energy Dr. Chu have shown that they fully support moving the United States to a renewable and sustainable future.

Obama Awards $2.3 Billion In Renewable Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits

Nice. A cool $2.3 billion for renewable energy manufacturing. And from the list it looks like more than a few Colorado companies have made the list. I will do some research to see how Colorado is impacted by this. Renewable energy's future in the U.S. is looking way bright.

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


Abengoa Solar (1) Al Gore (3) algae (3) Amory Lovins (3) anniversary post (1) Arnold Goldman (1) ASES (1) automobile (6) award (3) bacteria (1) bad policy (2) base load (4) battery (4) beer (6) behavior change (2) Berkeley (1) bicycle (1) big business (9) big oil (15) biofuels (39) biomass (3) biomimicry (1) BLM (2) building efficiency (1) carbon capture and storage (1) carbon footprint (5) carbon neutrality (1) cheaper than coal (8) china (1) clean energy (37) cleaner than coal (11) cleantech (29) climate change (2) coal (6) Colorado (204) community solar (4) compost (1) concentrated solar power (17) Congress (6) conservation (3) conserve water (2) consumption (1) covered parking lots (2) CRES (2) CSP (13) Dan Staley (1) demand side management (4) denver (1) department of energy (1) desert (1) distributed power generation (10) DNC (3) DoE (1) doitforthechildren (13) Dr. Dan Arvizu (1) Dr. Ken Swift (1) Dr. Varun Rai (1) editorial (5) education (32) efficiency (11) electric automobiles (9) electric bike (1) energy (7) energy audit (18) energy efficiency (5) energy efficient buildings (62) energy efficient lighting (3) energy independence (5) energy summit (2) environment (5) EPA (4) ethanol (5) externalities (1) financing (2) food (4) fossil fuels (2) fuel cells (3) fuel efficiency (3) futility (3) future thinking (18) gasguzzlersbegone (8) George Orwell (1) geothermal (14) good business (3) good debate (5) good government (79) good thinking (59) grappa (1) green building (1) greengarbage (1) greenhouse gas (1) greenisgood (15) grid-parity (1) HadCRU (1) health (2) high-speed rail (1) Hispanic market (1) homegrown (1) hvac (1) hybrids (3) hydrogen (4) i heart libraries (1) IECC (1) Ignite (2) inaugural post (1) incentives (2) India (1) ingenuity (15) International Energy Conservation Code (1) interview (3) investment (42) irony (1) it'sabouttime (3) jobs (78) kinetic energy (1) Kristen Brown (1) law (6) leasing (3) LED (2) LEED certified (3) legislation (7) light emitting diode (2) localization (21) manufacturing (4) market forces (2) marketing (1) methane gas (5) MIT (8) moo (1) morality (6) morals (1) musings (1) NASA (1) natural gas (11) newyear (1) NOAA (1) nomoredumbpoliticians (9) nomorepetroleum (11) non-originalthought (1) nostalgia (1) NREL (33) nuclear (2) off the grid (1) offshore wind farm (2) op-ed (11) OPEC (1) peak oil (2) petroleumiswaytired (8) photovoltaics (3) piezoelectric (2) policy (33) poopisfuel (4) power plants (9) power purchase agreement (1) President Barack Obama (11) profitability (3) progressive (2) public transit (1) PV (44) renewable energy (2) renewable energy market (1) research (24) ROI (5) RPS (5) Santiago Seage (1) science (23) science is cool (11) Sean Ong (1) second generation biofuels (5) smart design (5) smart grid (12) solar (65) solar cell (4) solar cell efficiency (3) Solar Electric Light Fund (1) solar electric thermal (2) solar gardens (3) solar leases (1) solar market (17) solar thermal (15) solar water heating (1) speed-to-market (2) Steven Chu (1) subsidies (11) suddenoutbreakofcommonsense (24) sun is good (47) Superfund (1) sustainability (46) systems thinking (1) tax credits (22) technology (6) thin-film solar (7) tornado (1) transmission (3) trees (1) triple bottom line (1) United Nations (1) utilities (26) wakeupcall (1) water (3) wearewhatweeat (5) wecandobetter (3) wind (61) World Bank (1) world renewable energy forum (7) WREF 2012 (7) WREF2012 (1) zero energy (3) zero waste (1) zero-energy building (2)

Blog Archive