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EnergyInfoForYou Blog

A Wide Ranging Discussion of Energy topics spanning technology, legislation, conservation and more !

Energy Efficient Neighborhoods When?

Posted by: Earl

I've been asking questions of home builders (or their sales representatives) as I plan a new home. I am basically pleased with what I have seen in my survey but we still have a long ways to go. Case in point - the new construction I've encountered recently is much tighter and better insulated than I have previously seen (at least with a couple of better builders that I've checked out). On the "not so good news front" there is a real lack of knowledge about options for implementing new technologies such as geothermal assist for heat pumps, solar water heaters, photovoltaic solar, and even passive solar designs.

An interesting bit of insight that I received from the builders was that for fundamental changes to permit widespread adoption of these technological advancements it needs to be driven by someone other than the builder. It must come from the developer. I proposed a group of houses oriented for optimal passive solar gain and drilling for geothermal piping in advance of construction. The builder said that it was interesting but they couldn't do it. Most of the lots that they procure for building are made available long after the streets have been laid out and, in some cases, after the streets and utilities are all in.
If the top of the picture is north how many of these houses  are oriented for optimal solar gain? 


You know how when you turn over rocks you sometimes find some nasty stuff under them?

Green police or self-help!

Posted by: Earl

Tagged in: Green Home

It should come as no surprise that I am a big advocate of conservation. See previous post. Not to discount alternative energy and not to argue the global warming controversy - this is just too important. My point is simple - it is in the best interest of our national economy and security to reduce our demand for foreign energy! Conservation is the most cost and time effective way to go about this. So how do we do it?
The city of Austin, TX has a plan. They are calling out the Green Police. See Austin City Ordinance No. 20081106-047  if you think I'm kidding. Fines will be issued if you do not comply when selling your home effective 1 June 2009. The U.S. Congress is considering similar legislation in the new energy and climate legislation bill that recently passed in the House. At the other extreme would be an all voluntary system. Rather than debate the merits of each I would rather offer some suggestions for doing it on your own. It's a good idea because it can reduce your household expenses and, on a global level, it does no harm. If there are enough people doing no harm it could ultimately mean doing a lot of good.
Microsoft just released a website for exactly this purpose.  Microsoft Hohm homepage      Microsoft Hohm Information downloads
Fill out a profile questionaire on your home and you will see where you compare with others in energy consumption for similar homes in your locale plus get recommendations with cost and savings figures for improvements. I've been reading a number of comments about the site - both compliments and criticisms. I agree that the profile is lengthy but you can receive recommendations for partially filled out forms. There are two things to remember. The results you get are determined by the quality of the input. There is no easy way to do this, hence, a long questionaire. Secondly, consider what sort of time, effort, and expense looming  if an audit is mandated by your city or state or federal government. If this can't eliminate that at least you will be more prepared.
There are a number of other energy audit tools online. Check out Energy Info For You - Home Energy Tips for more ideas. Regardless of the politcal climate, hype, or real concern, please get started by taking the self-help approach. By yourself your actions may seem insignificant but add them up and the results will be remarkable. Those results may mean fewer new electrical generating plants, less frequent brownouts, slowing energy price increases, and reduced oil imports.
If the Green Police are authorized to visit you does anyone have a suggestion on how to utilize the available self-help  efforts to avoid additional mandated (costly) audits for those that can ill afford it? Would it not be reasonable to document measures taken and and results gained (comparison of utility bills before and after) to be used in place of a mandated audit? Shouldn't documented energy savings be considered in lieu of a costly audit especially for those on fixed incomes or with limited budgets.

Yesterday I attended a Living Green Expo. I was impressed by the number of exhibitors. Even more impressive was the number of attendees. I've been sensing for a while that there has been a change in momentum toward living green and interest in renewable energy. That's the good news.

Now the bad news. I talked to a lot of the vendor representatives in the booths. I didn't go with this intention but I starting asking the same questions to different people. I got a lot of different answers. None of them seemed to lack any confidence in their answers. Unfortunately, a lot of attendees were getting erroneous information. Some of the errors were perhaps innocuous The information that was provided may not have been critical but they were basic questions about the technology they were promoting.

There may be many thousands of dollars at stake for the system cost or for tax credits. The message is caveat emptor! You can't assume that the "expert" is in fact that. Get a second or third opinion. A lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon and have perhaps not committed the manuals to memory. Make them earn your trust.

Fox News ran a story yesterday on where some of the stimulus money is headed. I am in favor of intelligent, "REAL" stimulus spending as I am in favor of a National Energy Policy. Our elected officials prove that they are either clueless or worse when they rush to spend our money on poorly thought out programs and try to muster support by calling it something it's not. I'm still waiting for some honest leadership. I'm not seeing it in either party.

Fox News Story

If you are going to spend so much or OUR money the least you can do is be honest about it and make some attempt to do the right thing in lieu of politics as usual. I'll not be holding my breath.

Energy and Economics in China

Posted by: Earl

This is the final installment Earl's China Energy Adventure.
Earl is not known for his macro-economic expertise but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested and paying attention. The stimulus programs that are being implemented around the world at this time have certainly got his attention.  An article in Business China last week struck a nerve.
Zhejiang Province is just to the south of Shanghai. Economists there noticed a weakening of the economy in late 2007 and started to take measures at that time to minimize the impact. Funds were set aside with no clear intention other than wait and see.  With the recent China Central Government announcement of a stimulus package Zhejiang officials decided to utilize their funds for local companies as well.
Here’s where it gets interesting. This isn’t a fund where everyone gets a piece of the action. Companies will be evaluated for their utilization of technology and their energy efficiency. Those over the bar get assistance. Those that don’t make the cut will be getting nothing and be allowed to fail. In a sense, it’s survival of the fittest with a twist. Do good and get a boost. 
It is clear that Chinese officials recognize that the importance of raising the standards of the companies there. They are not interested in promoting inefficient operations at the risk of dragging down well run companies suffering due to the global economy. The bonus for the rest of the world is reduced carbon emissions and energy demand. Now, if the rest of the world could make some hard decisions and stop catering to bloated, inefficient companies we could get somewhere?

James Jao is a certified foreign expert so designated by the China State Council on Planning and Economic Development. In an op-ed piece in the China Daily newspaper Mr. Jao recommends that the Chinese government require mandatory adoption of green building technologies.  Earl can’t agree more. He froze his “you know what” off in Beijing (because it was cold and snowing out) and in Shanghai (because if was chilly and few office buildings he was in had central heat) last week.

Mr. Jao pointed out that in 2004 green building comprised approximately 2 percent of the new US “nonresidential” construction market. Projections were cited that indicate that by 2010 between 5 and 10 percent of new non-residential construction starts will be based on principles of green buildings. He further notes that there is not currently a dominant “green” building product manufacturer in any building category.  This, he suggest, is the biggest motivation for the market and a great business opportunity for China to seize. Read this to mean that China will be poised to dominate this market segment when the US ultimately adopts these standards.
I’ve previously suggested that there is tremendous opportunity for the US to lead the way in green building technology. We need to continue to provide that leadership because a giant economy is currently poised to get unleashed. The US has long been the country that fosters and develops new technologies. Mr. Jao is suggesting China learn from the US and become the leader in a whole new industry based on green building technology. The whole world benefits from the greening of China and their ability to produce low-cost products but I would rather that the US not miss out on an opportunity to continue to lead the way.

This is the second installment of Earl’s China Energy Adventure.
Can you imagine getting everyone in the US to change their attitude about energy conservation and recycling? Can the government make it happen? It’s been said that democracy is the least efficient form of government and a dictatorship the most efficient. A one-party, communist government in China is not exactly a dictatorship but it’s a lot more efficient at implementing regulations and getting people to follow their mandates. I’m certainly not advocating this system but it is interesting to observe what they are doing about their energy demand and pollution. 
In the continuing saga of Earl’s Chinese Energy Adventure, Earl can’t go anywhere in China without continually seeing signs of green activity. I bought a few snacks and bottles of water (you still don’t want to drink tap water) from the local Carrefour store and had to buy the plastic bag to carry back to the hotel. I’ve heard that the plastic bags are going to be banned entirely very soon. There are billboards and signs on the sides of buses reminding people to conserve and recycle to improve their quality of life.
According to China Business Weekly, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is promoting a project to put 5,000 hybrids, 20,000 hybrid taxis, and 5,000 electric vehicles on the streets in 30 cities by 2012. Estimates are that the project will save 780M liters of gasoline avoid emission of 2.3M tons of carbon dioxide. A MOST representative stated that “the core aim of a low-carbon economy is to increase energy efficiency and change the structure of energy consumption”.
This low-carbon economy is already making progress in both primary cities like Beijing and secondary cities (not readily recognizable by westerners but big cities by our standards). More than half of the world’s population live in urban areas with these areas contributing to 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions it is especially important to make the cities greener. Mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai are showcasing their efforts at events like last year’s Olympic Games and Shanghai’s upcoming environmentally friendly World Expo 2010. 
China’s current air quality deserves the bad reputation it has gotten but, to be fair, the Chinese recognize the importance of cleaning up their act to the benefit of everyone. They've got a long way to go but Earl is impressed with the effort underway.

 Ok.. I'm not talking about the levels of mercury, or how to dispose of them. Although that's another problem on its own.

I'm talking about installing energy efficient light builds in the WRONG room in the house!!! You married men know what I'm talking about. It's the inappropriate use of a fluorescent bulb (for a host of reasons) that causes marital bliss to go awry.

Let's start with some real world examples:

Your intrepid energy explorer is reporting this week from China. You’ve heard about the bad air no doubt. It’s no exaggeration. In an interior city, Changsha in the Hunan Province, a taxi driver was only partially joking today that he’d been living in the city for 4 years and had only seen a blue sky 3 times.

That said, it is no exaggeration that the Chinese government and people know they have a problem and are going to great lengths and great expense to improve the situation. The government has set aside 1 trillion yuan (~$150B – that’s  B as in billion) to improve the situation. This isn’t future money, this is cash set aside for spending on improving the energy infrastructure; power distribution and improving efficiency.

The China Daily, about the only newspaper Earl can read over here, had a section in the 10 February edition on Energy/Environment. The section titled Mixed Energy Forecast gave an assessment on renewable energy. Here is a synopsis on what was reported about the gains made as a result of the Renewable Energy Law that has been implemented.

  • Investment in wind power in 2008 was 88% greater than 2007 investment growing the wind output by 4GW to 10GW total.
  • Nuclear power infrastructure investment increased 72% in 2008 over 2007
  • The global financial crisis will cause a decline in investment in 2009
  • The Chinese government has promised to offer more support to the renewable energy industry
  • Several large hydro electric projects came on line adding 20.1 GW to the 2008 hydro output. In addition to the massive Three Gorges project there are 10s of thousands of micro-hydro stations throughout rural China.
  • The bad news is that there is an absence of incentive policies for the solar industry. There are currently more than 70 grid-connected to photovoltaic projects but only two of them received feed-in tariffs and most have not benefitted from the Renewable Energy Law.
  • Nuclear power goals have recently been increased with plan to bring total nuclear generated electricity to 5% of the demand by 2020.
The paper also reported that from October 2007 to June 2008 subsides of 2B yuan (~$22M) were provided to 148 renewable energy projects. This indicates that these projects are definitely gaining momentum. The global financial crisis has brought down global demand for raw materials such as steel and silicon. This is good news for the renewable energy industry bringing down costs for wind turbine and solar panel manufacturers. The net result of this is lower prices around the world. Stay tuned for more reports.

NPR ran a story this week about job creation in the renewable energy and energy conservation areas. Earl can embrace this element of the stimulus bill and I think a large number of the population that are footing the bill. Have a listen at What Kind of Green Jobs Will Stimulus Spawn?. If you agree please call or email your congressman, tell them that you support this spending, then please politely tell them what they can do with the PORK!

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