With 2014 acknowledged as the hottest year on record, U.S.-based organizations are taking substantive measures to address climate change. They’re taking innovative steps to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduce the resource-intensity of their operations, including selling carbon credits to fund clean energy projects on U.S. university and college campuses, and realizing more ambitious GHG emissions and pollution reduction targets.
In order to help achieve the goals set out in President Barack Obama’s National Climate Action Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 launched the Center for Corporate Climate Leadership. Every year, the EPA recognizes climate action leaders among U.S. businesses, organizations and individuals by awarding Climate Leadership Awards.
On Feb. 24, the EPA announced the 2015 Climate Leadership Award winners, honoring “16 organizations and one individual representing a wide array of industries from finance and manufacturing to retail and technology” that have demonstrated “exemplary corporate, organizational and individual leadership in response to climate change,” EPA states in a press release.
Energy efficiency is big business. Energy audits, insulation upgrades, HVAC systems instillations, LED lighting and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems all create new “green” jobs, sustain existing jobs, fuel innovation and improve U.S. economic competitiveness. Such measures will not only reduce energy bills and alleviate strains on power grids, they benefit this and future generations by helping conserve ecosystems and natural resources and improving human health, safety and the overall quality of life.
Improving energy efficiency and making use of clean, renewable energy have been a mainstay of President Obama’s two terms in office – this second term in particular. Taking executive action, the President in December 2013 promised that the federal government would lead by example, setting ambitious clean energy and energy efficiency goals for all branches of the U.S. government. That includes the U.S. military, whose leaders recognize the opportunities, as well as profound threats, climate change poses both at home and globally.
Providing affordable, accessible education and training is key to realizing the U.S. military and federal government’s clean energy and energy efficiency goals.
On February 13, the Department of Energy announced the first class of Marines graduated from the pilot phase of its SunShot Initiative solar energy industry training program. As the Energy Department explains, the groundbreaking program prepares “service members for careers in the solar industry as solar photovoltaic system installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related opportunities.”
America’s largest banking groups are increasingly incorporating environmental and social considerations into lending and investment practices. They are also bringing sustainability in-house, launching initiatives to make greater use of clean energy, enhance resource efficiency, and reduce waste and pollution.
On Feb. 18, Citigroup made a landmark commitment to finance sustainable development across its worldwide business footprint. Management announced the group would “lend, invest and facilitate a total of $100 billion within the next 10 years to finance activities that reduce climate change and create environmental solutions that benefit people and communities.”
Job creation across the U.S. solar energy sector has been impressive. 2014 was the second year running in which solar energy sector job growth came in near or above 20 percent, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2014.
Interest in working and building careers in the U.S. solar, renewable energy and clean tech fields is broad and deep, particularly among young adults and college students. Securing employment and forging a career path is hindered by obstacles, however, including a lack of specialized, up-to-date, accessible and affordable training.
That’s a divide “mission-driven” solar and clean energy project developer OneEnergy Renewables, in partnership with Net Impact, aims to bridge with its OneEnergy Scholars program. Providing one-to-one mentorship to a small, chosen group of promising university students – primarily MBA candidates – over the course of one year, the OneEnergy Scholars program “is designed to accelerate the careers of high potential individuals that have demonstrated passion and commitment in the renewable energy field,” the company explains on its website.
Leading battery storage technology developers and emerging market players, including Elon Musk’s SolarCity and Tesla, are investing billions of dollars to improve the performance and lower the costs of manufacturing lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Along the way, they are promoting Li-ion battery storage as a cleaner, more efficient, sustainable and significantly less costly solution across a wide range of applications, from electric vehicles, homes and buildings on up to grid-scale energy storage and stabilization.
But Li-ion isn’t the only game in town when it comes to emerging advanced battery and energy storage technologies. And there are those who believe proponents are stretching their case too far in touting the advantages of Li-ion battery storage across such a broad range of applications.
Developers of flow batteries, for instance, say utilities and other large end-users would be ill-served by acquiring Li-ion battery storage, except for comparatively narrow and strictly defined cases. A developer of vanadium-flow battery storage systems, Imergy Power Systems, is taking its case to the market.
It took 50 years from the time the first gas stations cropped up until a nationwide network of gasoline and diesel filling stations emerged. Despite technological, economic and political obstacles, building out a nationwide web of electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations and supporting infrastructure is likely to emerge in far less time, perhaps as little as two decades.
On Jan. 23, two of the world’s largest automakers – Volkswagen and BMW – announced they are teaming up with ChargePoint to build out EV fast-charging station corridors on the U.S. East and West coasts. The project is the largest and most ambitious since Tesla announced plans to build out a cross-country chain of EV charging stations back in late 2012.
Volkswagen of America on Feb. 10 followed up with a dollar figure, announcing it will invest $10 million in the EV infrastructure project by 2016. In a presentation given at the 2015 Electric Drive Congress in Washington, D.C., Jörg Sommer, VW of America vice president of product marketing and strategy, also called on the federal, state and local governments to do more to promote the build-out of EV infrastructure.
The Obama administration continues to forge ahead in its drive to promote energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy use in urban and rural areas alike. Passage of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill has paved the way for the Department of Agriculture to expand funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects among farmers, ranchers and small businesses in rural communities nationwide.
In a press conference on Feb. 10 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $280 million for new REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) grants and loans is now available. In addition to more secure funding that came with passage of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, Secretary Vilsack also highlighted improvements that streamline REAP and make it easier for rural residents and businesses to apply for and obtain REAP funding.
Illustrating the beneficial real-world impact REAP is having in rural communities across the U.S., two rural small business owners reported on their experiences applying for, being awarded and putting REAP grant and loan funds to work.
Reducing pollution and waste in cities around the world has become an ever more important priority in recent decades, particularly in developing and less developed countries. With more than half the world’s population now living in cities and urban areas, the Urban-LEDS project is helping local governments in emerging economy countries devise and implement plans that lower urban greenhouse gas emissions, conserve resources and improve quality of life.
In a recent progress report, Urban-LEDS announced that all eight model cities, as well as several satellite cities, participating in the project have conducted or are finalizing greenhouse gas emissions inventories. That paves the way for these cities to craft practical, effective emissions-reduction projects.
In the northeast Brazilian city of Recife, the Torre Charles Darwin, a 35-story skyscraper, will be the first building in the city to have a green roof. In addition to a cover crop of 2.8 million square feet, Torre Charles Darwin will have a rainwater harvesting system that will be used to power the tower’s air conditioning system.
Two recent announcements highlight the potential for advanced energy storage solutions to deliver financial savings to business and consumers, as well as address environmental and socioeconomic issues.
According to proponents, the proposed energy storage projects – one in northeastern Pennsylvania and the other in northern Quebec – would significantly reduce fossil fuel use, accelerate integration of renewable energy and enhance resiliency of the power grid.
In Pennsylvania, Beacon Power is proposing a 20-megawatt power storage facility that would employ 64 flywheel systems, measuring 7 feet each, to store and feed electricity into the PJM power grid. A regional transmission organization, PJM is responsible for wholesale electricity transmission for some 61 million people across 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Up in northern Quebec, multinational mining giant Glencore has taken delivery of a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery storage system that it expects will reduce diesel consumption at its Raglan nickel mining complex by 35 to 50 percent. Electrovaya’s Lithium-Ion 2.0 energy storage system will also enable Glencore to expand its use of wind power at Raglan, compounding the benefits the company expects to realize by incorporating advanced energy storage and integrating it with wind power generation.
The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on Jan. 20 released its latest report on U.S. and global renewable energy. Published annually, NREL’s 2013 Renewable Energy Data Book reveals new renewable electricity accounted for over 61 percent of total new U.S. generation capacity in 2013, rising to represent nearly 15 percent of total installed capacity and 13 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.
Worldwide, renewable energy resources accounted for 23 percent of electricity generation. Solar electricity was the fastest growing segment of U.S. electricity generation technology: Cumulative installed solar electricity capacity surged nearly 66 percent higher in 2013.
Proving themselves to be the ultimate utilitarian consumer devices, smartphones are providing individuals untethered access to an increasingly wide range of personal devices. These range from computers and TVs to lights, heating and air conditioning and household appliances.
The installed base of “things” connected to the Internet will expand to number some 30 billion by 2020, according to a November 2014 IDC forecast. Among the ever-growing number of “connected” devices, smartphones are emerging as the preeminent choice for accessing the rapidly expanding “Internet of Things.”
Broadband network connectivity, which feeds enormous quantities of data into powerful software applications residing in data centers, is essential in the drive to make “things” smarter. This trend is clearly evident in the energy market space. Presenting its latest offerings at the upcoming DistribuTECH 2015 Conference and Exhibition, home energy analytics provider Bidgely is introducing “a suite of products that transform utilities’ big data into powerful insights to drive long-term customer engagement and energy savings.”
Renewable energy resources are bound to play a larger and larger role in China’s energy mix as the world’s second largest economy – and largest emitter of greenhouse gases – strives to reduce pollution and forge a healthier, more sustainable economy and society. Renewable energy technology also is playing a growing role in driving growth among U.S. industrial companies – blue-chips as well as fast-growing small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
On Jan. 26, General Electric announced that China’s Huaneng Corp. will install 55 of its GE 2.7-120 Brilliant wind turbines – 151 megawatts worth – at its Huaneng Dali Longquan wind farm in southwestern Yunnan province. The deal, which includes a two-year operations and maintenance service agreement, marks GE’s largest wind turbine order in China to date.
More than 16 gigawatts of wind power capacity was installed in China in 2013. That represented 45 percent of the worldwide total, according to Global Wind Energy Council statistics. Globally, wind, solar and other emissions-free energy resources will prevent 3,800 million tons of CO2 emissions per year out to 2030, the council highlighted in a press released issued during the United Nations’ latest climate treaty negotiations, which took place in Lima, Peru in December.
Achieving further reductions in nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions is a focal point for U.S. oil, gas and industrial businesses, as well as automakers, as state air quality authorities work to follow through on proposed new federal NOx emissions limits. Public air quality authorities in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley – hubs for oil production in California for over 100 years – are working with industry players to come up with practical, cost-effective solutions.
A new clean combustion technology from Seattle’s ClearSign Combustion Corp. may provide an answer to oil and gas industry players’ and regulators’ search. Retrofitting 62.5 million Btu/hour once-through steam generators at an Aera Energy LLC heavy-oil production site with its Duplex Burner Architecture (DBA) has validated previous, smaller-scale test results. There, ClearSign’s DBA is reducing NOx emissions to levels that meet the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s (SJVAPCD) Rule 4320 on NOx emissions.
On Jan. 22, ClearSign followed the successful Aera Energy field test by announcing an agreement to retrofit a three-burner, 12 million Btu/hour vertical cylindrical heater at a Tricor Refining LLC oil refinery in Bakersfield with its Duplex Burner technology.
Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) have supercharged installation of residential photovoltaic (PV) energy systems in the U.S. At least this is the case in states such as Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and others where energy industry regulators permit them to be offered.
Due to a variety of factors, including the scheduled ratcheting-down of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) at the end of 2016, U.S. solar energy finance-and-installation companies, such as market leader SolarCity, are increasingly turning to solar loans as a means of financing, however.
In two new reports, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) compares the costs and benefits of financing PV installations via third-party ownership (leases and PPAs) and direct ownership via solar loans and low-cost financing.
Like water, energy and waste management, digital telecommunications and data centers have become utilities essential for modern societies to function sustainably. It is generally accepted that the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events — and the onset of gradual, long-terms shifts in weather patterns and climate — pose existential threats to critical information and communications technology (ICT) supply chains, as well as infrastructure.
But a recent report from Riverside Technology and Acclimatise found that the business risks of climate change as they relate to telecommunications and data centers are poorly recognized — particularly with respect to infrastructure and supply chains. Similarly, climate change resiliency and adaptation plans in this critical segment of the U.S. ICT sector are poorly developed, concluded the report, which was conducted on behalf of the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA).
“Despite the importance of these sectors, the climate risk they face is poorly understood. Even less understood are climate risks to the supply chains both sectors rely upon,” the authors of Climate Risks Study for Telecommunications and Data Center Services highlight. Furthermore, though it boosts operational efficiency and the bottom line, the recent trend that has seen more and more companies sharing ICT resources – platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), for instance – increases the vulnerability of critical ICT infrastructure and supply chains to the impacts of extreme weather events and more gradual shifts in climate.