Saturday, January 30, 2010

President Obama Orders 28% Reduction in Government Greenhouse Gas Emissions

President Obama announced yesterday that the Federal Government will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 28 percent by 2020. Every federal agency has been ordered to send a sustainability plan to the White House by June explaining how they will meet this ambitious goal.

The announcement came after a review of GHG emissions by all federal agencies that began when the President signed Executive Order 13514 back in October 2009.

A 28% reduction in GHG emissions would have a tremendous impact on overall emissions in the US, because the federal government is the largest single energy user in the country. It would reduce Federal energy use by the equivalent of 646 trillion BTUs, equal to 205 million barrels of oil or taking 17 million cars of the road for one year. It is expected to save a cumulative total of $8 to $11 billion in avoided energy costs.

Key to the success of the GHG reduction program is measuring and verifying actual reductions in energy consumption and GHG emissions. The Executive Order requires agencies to measure greenhouse gas emissions and to maintain a greenhouse gas inventory -- in other words, their carbon footprint. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley emphasized this point, telling reporters, "You can't manage what you can't measure."

Compliance with the measurement and reporting requirements will have a significant impact on virtually every company that does business with the federal government. For example, Section 2(h) of the Executive Order directs each federal agency to ensure that 95% of new contracts for products and services (except weapon systems) are energy efficient (e.g., Energy Star), water efficient, bio-based, environmentally preferable, non-ozone depleting; contain recycled content; and are non-toxic or a low-toxic alternatives. It will be up to the supplier to prove that their products meet these criteria.

The General Services Administration (GSA) is required to give the White House additional procurement recommendations by April of this year. The GSA is considering:
  • requiring vendors and contractors to register with a voluntary registry or organization for reporting greenhouse gas emissions;
  • requiring contractors, as part of a new or revised registration under the Central Contractor Registration or other tracking system, to develop and make available its greenhouse gas inventory and description of efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions;
  • using Federal Government purchasing preferences or other incentives for products manufactured using processes that minimize greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • other options for encouraging sustainable practices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
When President Obama first signed the Executive Order last year, the White House issued a press release announcing that it was intended to "leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies."

The message to private business is clear: If you want some of that purchasing power to come your way, then you better start measuring and documenting your carbon footprint, energy efficiency, and sustainable practices.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Mouse That Roared: Micronesia Challenges a Czech Power Plant

World government conspiracy theorists must be foaming at the mouth.

The Federated States of Micronesia has demanded that the Czech Republic allow an international audit of a planned upgrade of the largest coal-fired power plant in the Czech Republic . . . and the Czech Republic acceded to the demand.

Micronesia made the demand pursuant to recently adopted European Union regulations allowing any nation in the world to challenge construction or upgrades of industrial sites emitting carbon dioxide. Under EU law, transboundary environmental impact assessments are part of normal procedure.

The essence of Micronesia's claim is that the upgraded Czech power plant should be required to use the best available technology for the project. The Czech plant is the 18th-largest CO2 emitter in Europe, emitting 40 times more CO2 annually than the whole of Micronesia.

Why is a nation on the other side of the world complaining about a coal-fired power plant in the Czech Republic? Micronesia is a chain of more than 600 islands in the west Pacific, and some of its land area has already been lost to rising ocean tides. It asserts that failure to control CO2 emissions in the Czech Republic will further contribute to the warming of the planet blamed for rising ocean water levels. It fears that climate change could also result in more intense and damaging storms.

“Climate change is real and it is happening on our shores. It’s a matter of survival for us,” Andrew Yatilman, the director of Micronesia’s Office of Environment and Emergency Management, told Reuters.

The Czech utility that owns the plant, CEZ AS, asserts that it is using the most advanced technologies and that the refurbished power plant will emit less CO2 than it does now. The plant's efficiency will increase from a current level of 32.8% to 39.06%, a spokeswoman for CEZ AS said.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Promises to Clean Up Toxic Heating Oil

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for addressing the issue of toxic heating oil in New York City during his State of the City speech this afternoon. The mayor pledged that his administration will be "greening the heating fuels used in our schools and big buildings."

The mayor's announcement follows an EDF report last month showing that just one percent of New York City's buildings -- those burning the dirtiest grades of heating oil -- produce more pollution than all the city's cars and trucks combined.

"Mayor Bloomberg's pledge to green the dirtiest types of heating oil is one of the biggest steps New York can take to reduce soot pollution linked to asthma and heart disease," said Isabelle Silverman, an attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. "The dirtiest grades of heating oil must be phased out by 2020. Ten years is a long enough timeframe for buildings to convert and get the best use out of the older burners that can't burn cleaner fuel right away."

More information on toxic heating oil is available on the EDF Website.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Governors Commit to Low-Carbon Fuel Standard

Governors of 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on December 30 that commits their states to developing a regional Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a market-based, fuel-neutral program addressing the carbon content of fuels.

The proposed regional LCFS would involve a market-based, fuel-neutral program to address the carbon content of fuels. If adopted by states, it would apply to the transportation sector, and potentially to fuels used for heating buildings. According to a press release issued by the Governors, a regional LCFS has the potential to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, which represent approximately 30 percent of emissions in the region, reduce regional vulnerability to petroleum price volatility, and facilitate the long-term transition from petroleum-based fuels in the transportation sector. In addition, the Governors expect that the regional LCFS will spur economic growth related to development of advanced technologies and green energy jobs.

The Low-Carbon Fuel Standard initiative began in June 2008, when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick sent a letter to the governors of all 10 member states of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) inviting them to work together on developing a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard that would apply to the entire region, creating a larger market for cleaner fuels, reducing emissions associated with global climate change, and supporting the development of clean energy technologies. Based on Letters of Intent signed in December 2008 by state environmental commissioners, the participating states - the 10 RGGI states plus Pennsylvania - have been doing preliminary work toward designing a regional LCFS program.

The LCFS MOU signed on December 30 establishes a process to develop a regional framework by 2011 and to examine the economic impacts of an LCFS while getting input from business and environmental stakeholders. The 11 signatories include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Click here for more information on the LCFS work in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

DOE Says Grid Needs Upgrade to Handle Wind Power

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory today released a major study of the technical, operational, and economic issues facing the integration of large amounts of wind energy into the power system.

The bottom line is: The existing grid serving most of the United States east of the Rockies would need a multi-billion dollar upgrade before it could handle even 20% wind-generated power.

The DOE's Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) evaluates the impacts of wind energy penetration into the power system through 2024. The study encompasses the majority of the utilities in the Eastern Interconnection, one of the two major alternating current (AC) power grids in North America. The Eastern Interconnection reaches from Central Canada eastward to the Atlantic coast (excluding Québec), South to Florida, and back West to the foot of the Rockies (excluding most of Texas).

About a year ago, a Joint Coordinated System Plan study group concluded that a 20-percent wind energy scenario would “require 15,000 miles of new extra-high voltage lines, at an estimated cost of $80 billion, in addition to $1.1 trillion in total generation capital costs by 2024.”

The new DOE study increases those numbers to 22,000 miles of new transmissions lines at a cost of $90 billion. But it argues that the $90 billion cost for transmission upgrades is only a small percentage of the total cost to build the wind generation capacity.

The new study also cautions that wind farms must be spread out geographically so they will not account for a large percentage of power generation at any given point in the grid. According to the new DOE study, "increasing the geographic diversity of wind power projects in a given operating pool generally makes the aggregated wind power output more predictable and less variable, while also reducing the variation in load and increasing the number of generation assets that can be committed and dispatched."

Other highlights from the new DOE study include:
  • There are no fundamental technical barriers to the integration of 20% wind energy into the electrical system, but transmission planning and system operation policy and market development need to continue to evolve in order for these penetration levels to be achieved;
  • Without transmission enhancements, substantial curtailment of wind generation would be required for all of the 20% wind penetration scenarios;
  • Although the costs of aggressive expansion of the existing grid are significant, they make up a relatively small piece of the total annual power system costs in any of the scenarios studied;
  • Wind generation displaces carbon-based fuels, directly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions continue to decline as more wind generation is added to the energy supply; and
  • Reduced expenditures on fossil fuel costs more than pay for the increased costs of transmission in all wind scenarios.
For more information about incorporating increasing amounts of wind energy into the power system while maintaining reliable grid operations, see the DOE's Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program's Renewable Systems Interconnection web site.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Windmills on Office Buildings?

Solar panels on office buildings and homes have become almost commonplace. But windmills?

That is what SC Johnson is doing at its corporate headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. The company has launched a wind energy pilot program with the installation of three new wind turbines. The objectives are to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and raise awareness that renewable energy is not just for factories, but also office buildings in urban settings.

The three wind turbines are located on the roof of one of the seven buildings on SC Johnson's international headquarters campus, which has an approximate eight block radius and where more than 1,300 employees work. The wind turbines are expected to be fully functioning by the end of the month. Once fully operational, the turbines will be connected to the company's electrical distribution system. The output they generate will power a small portion of the company's campus.

Admittedly, this is a test project and it is difficult to project how many computers, machines and other basic office resources can be powered by renewable energy. "While we are not sure how much alternative energy these turbines will produce, we expect to have clear, consistent results within a year," said Johnson. "This pilot program will help provide useful information on ways we can develop more sustainable solutions for our campus."

The turbines are expected to be fully installed and connected in late January and will be monitored closely throughout the year. Depending on the impact of the turbine's energy output, it is possible the company will extend the project to additional local SC Johnson facilities.

This is not SC Johnson's first foray into sustainable energy. Its largest global factory, based in Racine, Wisconsin, is partially powered with cogeneration using methane gas from a local public landfill. The company's Bay City, Michigan plant is powered with wind energy, reducing the annual purchase of coal-fired electricity by nearly half. In Indonesia, waste palm shells are burned as a substitute for fuel, using 80 percent less diesel fuel, and in Mijdrecht, The Netherlands, the company's largest European manufacturing facility is operated by an 80 meter-tall wind turbine which is expected to eliminate 3,900 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Through these efforts, approximately 36 percent of SC Johnson's total electricity usage worldwide came from renewable energy. The company cut GHG emissions at its worldwide factories by 27 percent during the last eight years, including all its United States operations by 17 percent since 2005. These reductions -- achieved three full years ahead of the company's 2011 target -- are the equivalent of taking approximately 11,100 U.S. cars off the road for one year.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Friday, January 8, 2010

More Good News for Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

Yesterday I reported on a survey by KPMG suggesting that the automotive industry sees great promise in consumer demand for hybrid and other alternative fuel vehicles, and that the industry plans to build and promote more hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles over the next 5 years.

Today comes another story that puts a little meat on those bones. According to a study by Thomson Reuters, alternative power and pollution control have become the biggest source of patent activity in the automotive industry, surpassing perennial leaders such as engine design, braking systems and safety in 2009. Together they accounted for 23% of the patents issued within the automotive industry last year, with alternative power accounting for 14% and pollution control accounted for another 9%.

The report notes that "Only unique patent inventions were counted, providing the truest picture of innovation activity."

While it is too soon to tell whether any of these patents represent significant technological breakthroughs, the trend is encouraging. Obtaining patents is an expensive and time-consuming process. The issuance of patents in the areas of alternative power and pollution control means, at a minimum, that the automotive industry is serious about these technologies. It also suggests that the industry has been shifting R&D money to these areas for some time.

The Thomson Reuters study, 2009 Innovation Report: Twelve Key Industries and Their States of Innovation, tracks unique inventions in granted patents and published applications within 12 key industries. Click here to gain access to the full report.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Thursday, January 7, 2010

KPMG Survey Suggests Shift Towards Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Senior automotive executives are expected to increase their investment in new technologies to produce more environmentally-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicles. This is the conclusion reached by the 11th annual global automotive survey conducted by KPMG LLP, the US audit, tax and advisory firm.

Of the 200 senior executives surveyed worldwide, nine in ten expect manufacturers and suppliers to focus on new technologies, while 88 percent predict manufacturers will increase investment on new models/products and 78 percent say suppliers will do the same.

Hybrid Seen As Most Important Fuel Technology

When asked to rate the importance of alternative fuel technologies over the next five years, hybrid fuel systems came out on top (almost 85 percent), followed by battery electric power (68 percent), fuel cell electric power (63 percent), and biodiesel (42 percent).

"The consumer mindset on fuel efficiency is forcing automakers to build more fuel efficient cars and to create new product that satisfies demand,"said Gary Silberg, National Automotive Industry leader for KPMG LLP.

The survey results come on the heels of sales data released earlier in the week showing that 2009 industry sales in the US were 21.2% lower than sales in 2008.

Fuel Efficiency Cited As Key Purchase Factor

The key question of course is: How much of the emphasis on fuel efficiency is the result of economic conditions, how much is due to stubbornly high fuel prices, and how much is due to climate change and environmental concerns?

The survey suggests that both fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness are driving consumer demand. When asked what would influence consumer purchase decisions over the next five years, fuel efficiency was most frequently cited (94 percent), fairly flat from last year's high of 96 percent, followed by environmental friendliness (just over 80 percent). Other consumer desires were significantly lower including safety innovation (71 percent) and vehicle styling (61 percent).

When asked which vehicles the executives expect will see sales increases over the next five years, hybrid fuel vehicles (almost 93 percent) were most frequently named, followed by other alternative fuel vehicles (83 percent), low cost or introduction cars (82 percent), cars (66 percent), cross-overs (46 percent) and small pick-up trucks (just under 45 percent).

Most surprising were the responses on incentives, including discounts, rebates and free offers. When asked to name which vehicles might see an increase in incentives during the next year, the top prediction was SUVs (53%). But almost an equal number of the auto executives surveyed responded that incentives would be increased for hybrid fuel vehicles (almost 50 percent) and other alternative fuel vehicles (48 percent).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Jersey Getting 12 More Megawatts of Grid-Connected Solar Power

New Jersey’s largest regulated gas and electric utility is adding 12 megawatts of grid-connected solar energy. PSE&G hopes to start construction at its sites in Edison, Hamilton, Linden and Trenton this spring, with projects completed this summer and fall.

The four ground-mounted solar farms will be among the largest to be developed in New Jersey, with the Hamilton project being the largest in the state and the project in Linden the second largest. All four sites will utilize crystalline solar panel technology and have monitoring and communications functionality.

Together, the four projects will add 48,000 solar panels on 38.2 acres of property. They will produce enough energy to power about 1,300 homes and eliminate some 6,700 tons of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of removing nearly 1,200 cars from the road for one year.

The State of New Jersey has become a leader in solar energy installations in the last few years, installing more than 100 MW of solar energy, making it second only to California in terms of the amount of solar capacity installed.

"We're moving ahead with clean energy projects that will put people to work, installing tens of thousands of solar panels that will help the environment and stimulate the economy," said Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G.

The latest projects are part of PSE&G's Solar 4 All program, which was approved by state regulators in July. The program involves a total of $515 million investment in 80 megawatts of solar, creating green jobs and nearly doubling the size of New Jersey's installed solar capacity.