Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Power of Green Thinking (and Small Green Acts)

A friend invited me to join a Facebook group called the Carbon Conscious Consumer (C3) Campaign. The group has a simple agenda: To promote "6 easy steps that anyone can take to reduce our carbon emissions."

Many people scoff at such lists of "easy" ways to save the planet. Thomas Friedman, for example, worries in his book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," that the "amount of time, energy, and verbiage being spent on making people 'aware' of the energy-climate problem, and asking people to make symbolic gestures to call attention to it, is out of proportion to the time, energy, and effort going into designing a systemic solution." He points out that the energy problems we face are huge -- if you convert global energy consumption into oil equivalents, we are consuming 420 million gallons per hour. We need game-changing technologies and policies, not just six easy ways to go Green.

I agree. So why did I join the C3 group and invite my friends to join too?

Because our daily thoughts and actions drive our national policies and investments.

Think about the 1980's and 90's. Does it surprise you that a nation of people who drove SUVs and built McMansions elected politicians in both parties who did not think about climate change or how our oil consumption was subsidizing despotic regimes? This is not an ideological issue. Very few people in either political party thought much about energy efficiency when buying cars and homes in the 80's and 90's. That thoughtlessness was an important driver of our national energy policies during those decades.

Since then, we have become more aware of energy and the environment as a result of a few extraordinary events. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the realization that the terrorists came from countries subsidized by our oil purchases. The escalation of oil prices a couple of years ago. The current Great Recession. The debate over global warming.

Those of us who lived through gasoline and home heating fuel shortages during the oil embargo of the 1970's know too well how transitory these trends can be. How do we sustain our interest in sustainability?

By changing the way we act. People who act every day in small Green ways will enter the polling booths with a completely different mindset than people who drove their gas guzzling SUVs to the polls.

Besides, we must do something while we wait for the game-changing technologies. The six simple steps will have a meaningful impact.

Let's take just one of the six simple steps: Breaking the bottled water habit.

World consumption of bottled water has increased by 70% since 2001 to more than 200 Billion litres. Of that amount, Americans bought more than 33 Billion litres. That's a lot of plastic bottles that need to be manufactured, filled with water, shipped to warehouses and stores, cooled in stores or home refrigerators, and recycled or thrown into landfills where they will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Each stage of this process uses much more energy than running tap water through a filter.

Will reducing or eliminating all this waste solve our energy and environmental challenges? No. But it's a start. And an American public that thinks about how much energy and other resources are consumed to produce a bottle of water is one that will think about energy and environmental issues when choosing its leaders.

That's why I joined the Carbon Conscious Consumer (C3) Campaign and am promoting the group to my friends. Because thinking and acting Green in our daily lives will make a difference today, and it is the only way we will build a public consensus to invest in the game-changing policies and technologies we need for the long term.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Warehouses Become Power Plants

ProLogis, a warehouse and distribution company, is building a 2.4 megawatt solar power project on the roofs of seven warehouses in Portland, Oregon.

This is the second rooftop solar project built by Prologis and Portland General Electric (PGE), the local utility. Together, the two projects will generate 3.5 MW of solar energy.

There's more. ProLogis has solar power projects installed or under construction on 27 other buildings in France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the United States. The installations cover more than 8.1 million square feet (755,000 square meters) of roof space and will produce 13.5 MWs of electricity.

ProLogis says that it has another 450 million square feet (42 million square meters) of roof space available for solar installations on industrial buildings in the United States, Europe and Asia.

So could this be the start of something really big?

That depends as much on regulatory and financial environments as it does on natural environments.

Oregon and the European nations where ProLogis is building solar projects have regulatory and financial frameworks that make these projects possible. For example, the Oregon Renewable Energy Act mandates that the largest utilities in the State must deliver 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. To meet the mandates, Oregon utilities will require about 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy by 2025.

Oregon also has a feed-in tariff that allows renewable energy to be sold back to the grid. In the ProLogis project, all the generated power will feed directly into PGE's electrical system to serve its customers.

Oregon's incentives for promoting renewable energy include an extensive menu of financial incentives including tax credits, production incentives, and loans for renewable energy, on top of federal incentives.

Oregon's regulatory structure and financial incentives have created new business opportunities for everyone involved in the ProLogis project. PGE formed a joint venture with US Bank to own and operate the system and to secure state and federal solar tax credits to help finance the project. In addition to receiving rent payments, ProLogis established its own Renewable Energy group to procure new business, manage installations and provide development management services.

ProLogis hopes this will turn into an extension of its global distribution and logistics business. "Our program is unique because we have dedicated resources across the globe," says Drew Torbin, vice president of renewable energy for ProLogis. He adds that ProLogis has "the construction management experience and local relationships to get solar installations on the fast-track to completion."

John Howley
Orlando, Florida