Some of the world’s largest multinational businesses have recognized the advantages ‘closing the loop’ on their supply chains can provide. From energy and water conservation to materials reuse and recycling, they’re achieving significant gains in operating efficiency and productivity as they move toward becoming ‘zero-waste‘ and ‘zero emissions’ businesses.
Mimicking natural ecosystems, commercial and industrial ecosystems are emerging — in which an increasing percentage of products, their components, and raw or intermediate materials are being reused or recycled. The ultimate goal — cradle-to-cradle product lifecycles in which all materials used to produce, package and distribute products to consumers are recaptured, reused or recycled — is edging closer to reality.
At the leading edge of this movement is a small group of companies operating in what has come to be known as reverse supply chain management. Aiming to close the loop on the supply chain, they’re advancing green economy initiatives by offering original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across a growing range of industries an integrated ‘one-stop shop’ for re-manufacturing, as well as reusing and recycling products, their constituent parts and raw materials.
Yahoo on Oct. 16 announced that it signed a 15-year partnership with OwnEnergy to develop a Kansas wind farm. Able to generate more than 100,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, the wind farm will feed into the Southwest Power Pool and offset much of Yahoo’s energy usage in the Great Plains region, according to joint press releases.
The Kansas wind farm is the latest demonstration of Yahoo’s commitment to local community development, as well as reducing its carbon and environmental footprints. “Although we are a global company, we are deeply invested in the communities in which we live and work,” Chris Page, Yahoo’s global director of energy and sustainability strategy, and Brett Illers, project manager of sustainability and energy efficiency programs, wrote in a Yahoo Blog post.
“We are proud to support this type of community-centric energy project through direct engagements from mid-sized local wind farms.”
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) recently announced that it is on track to achieve the Obama Administration’s 2020 renewable energy goals after awarding a competitive power supply contract. Responsible for procuring the goods and services – including energy – federal government agencies need to do their jobs, GSA contracted to purchase 140 megawatts (MW) of wind-generated electricity from the Walnut Ridge Farm currently in development in northwest Illinois, according to a GSA news release.
The ten-year power supply contract is the largest wind energy purchase from a single source in federal government contracting history, according to GSA. It will add over 500,000 megawatt-hours (Mwh) of emissions-free wind-generated electricity per year to the PJM power grid.
GSA’s latest renewable power purchase also gives a big boost to the Obama administration’s efforts to promote renewable energy resource development and use among Native American communities. The Walnut Ridge wind farm is being developed by MG2 Tribal Energy, a joint venture the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians and commercial wind-power project developer Geronimo Energy.
Acer Americas is joining the growing ranks of U.S. businesses meeting 100 percent of their electricity needs from renewable energy resources. The U.S. subsidiary of the Taiwanese multinational consumer electronics manufacturer on Oct. 28 announced it is joining the EPA Green Power Partnership and has purchased enough green power to offset all of its carbon emissions from electricity in the U.S.
To get there, Acer Americas recently purchased more than 27 million kilowatt-hours of green power in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs). That puts Acer among the ranks of U.S. businesses on the EPA’s 100 Percent Green Power Users list, as well as the Top 30 Tech & Telecom partner rankings, Acer highlights in a company press release.
Acer also reported that it is ahead of schedule to meet its 2015 global carbon emissions reduction target. Reducing carbon emissions, environmental pollution and natural resource use, as well as reducing waste and promoting recycling, all factor into the strategic goals Acer has set out in its corporate social responsibility (CSR) program, company management points out.
Southern California Edison (SCE) made U.S. power industry history Nov. 5, signing local procurement contracts for 2.221 gigawatts of electrical power from a diverse range of new energy resources. This represents roughly 10 percent of peak customer usage across its service territory, which spans 50,000 square miles within central, coastal and Southern California.
Setting a precedent in the U.S. power sector, SCE for the first time evaluated over 1,800 final offers and a wide range of energy resource types “in a head-to-head competition to meet a specific reliability objective,” the Edison International power utility stated in a new release.
In the end, SCE selected 69 offers from “preferred” resources that are cleaner or more environmentally sustainable than conventional energy resources and energy storage facilities, including intelligent energy storage systems. SCE also signed contracts for five new natural gas power plants. All are subject to approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.
Whether it’s greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and climate change, waste management and recycling, or water usage, investors and businesses are increasingly sensitive and exposed to the risks environmental crises pose to the financial bottom line.
Yesterday, CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project) released the CDP Global Water Report 2014: From water risk to value creation. Representing 573 professional investment management companies responsible for managing a mind-boggling $60 trillion in assets, CDP surveyed 174 of the world’s largest companies regarding their water usage, their exposure to threats to water resources and how they are, or are planning, to cope.
Indicative of the widespread risks and seriousness of the threats to water resources they perceive, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of survey respondents reported exposure to water risk. Ninety percent are integrating water resource management into group-wide business strategies, and 82 percent are setting goals and targets to reduce water use.
Energy flows all around us, but it’s not very beneficial unless it’s harnessed, concentrated and distributed in a form useful to those who need it. That’s one of the factors that has made distributed solar energy generation increasingly attractive. More powerful and cheaper than ever, photovoltaic (PV) panels are producing ever-greater amounts of pollution-free energy on-site for homes, businesses, government and public facilities in developing and developed countries the world over.
Utility-scale generation accounts for the bulk of installed solar power capacity in the U.S. The lack of transmission and distribution lines has constrained growth. Building those power lines also adds significantly to the time and cost of bringing new utility-scale solar power assets online. The converse is also true. Connecting rapidly growing residential and commercial solar energy systems to the power grid can yield substantial benefits all around – to power distribution companies as well as consumers and “prosumers.”
Yet, for a variety of reasons – including strong opposition on the part of well-entrenched power utilities – connecting distributed, on-site solar energy systems to the grid has proven to be a significant hurdle to wider-scale deployment and use.
Aiming to speed things up, the Department of Energy on Oct. 29 announced it is making $15 million available to promote integration of distributed, on-site solar energy systems into the U.S. electricity grid. Solar energy growth continues to shatter records, DOE notes in a press release, “with more solar power installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in 30 years prior.”
Intense competition has driven the costs of manufacturing solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules down sharply in just a few short years. That’s led downstream solar industry participants to focus on reducing solar’s ‘soft’ and balance-of-system costs. Some innovative solar energy sector participants see great promise in eking out and amassing small gains in efficiency — gains that can that collectively make a big difference to commercial and utility-scale PV system operators, as well as consumers.
Locus Energy, the developer of an enterprise-class, cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that’s said to provide operators unprecedented data collection, analytics and reporting capabilities, is offering just such a solution. On Oct. 22, Locus announced that Swinerton Renewable Energy will make use of its SolarNOC and PVIQ analytics suite to optimize the management of its portfolio of solar PV assets.
Leveraging public and proprietary data sets gleaned from satellites and on-site sensors, Locus is able to provide its users actionable data on the performance of PV systems at a much greater level of geographic resolution and analytic detail than has ever been possible — remotely or on-site. That, in turn, enables the company to identify and account for the factors that lead to divergences in forecast and actual performance of solar PV systems — whether distributed, commercial or of utility-scale — and take action to remedy them, Adrian De Luca, Locus Energy’s vice president of sales and marketing, explained to 3p in an interview.
Following through on the mitigation aspects of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Energy on Oct. 22 announced the latest round of SunShot Initiative award winners. Reducing fossil fuel use is the most effective means of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change. By investing in innovative solar and renewable energy research and development, DOE is promoting further reductions in the cost of solar energy — making it an economically more attractive, emissions-free alternative to fossil fuels.
In this latest round of SunShot R&D funding, DOE awarded a total of $53 million to help young, small U.S. companies carry out 40 innovative solar energy projects that could help realize the SunShot Challenge goal of driving the total installed cost of solar energy down to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020. Thanks to SunShot, the U.S. is 60 percent of the way there, with the average price of utility-scale solar-generated electricity having dropped from about 21 cents to 11 cents per kWh.
Among the latest crop of SunShot R&D award winners are Cogenra Solar, Mosaic and Stem — promising young U.S. companies at the forefront of innovation in upstream and downstream solar photovoltaic (PV) energy and intelligent energy storage technology. All three, as it turns out, are based in the San Francisco Bay area.
This past June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced its Clean Power Plan – the Obama administration’s strongest measure yet to avoid the risks of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In a report released Oct. 14, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) outlines a practical, effective way to strengthen the Clean Power Plan by delivering much greater cuts in power plants’ carbon dioxide and GHG emissions.
Power plants are the largest sources of carbon dioxide and GHG emissions in the U.S., accounting for around one-third of overall GHG and 40 percent of national CO2 emissions. For the first time ever, the proposed Clean Power Plan would require existing U.S. power plant CO2 emissions to be reduced 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Building on the EPA’s flexible, state-by-state approach to implementation, in its report UCS makes the case that much greater cuts in emissions could be realized – “especially by taking greater advantage of cost-effective renewable energy options.” In fact, U.S. states can produce nearly twice as much emissions-free, renewable electricity than the EPA calculates in the Clean Power Plan – and do so in a way that is affordable, UCS asserts.
Recent water-related catastrophes in places like Toledo, Ohio, Los Angeles and West Virginia highlight an increasingly pressing need for the U.S. to make significant new investments in water resource infrastructure and management. They also cast light on outdated market structures and pricing mechanisms that result in counterproductive, even perverse, use and management of precious water resources.
In a recent article published by online environmental magazine Ensia, long-time water resource specialist, author and journalist Cynthia Barnett delves into the at-times murky world of the political economy of water in the U.S. “We’re subsidizing our most wasteful water use – while neglecting essentials like keeping our water plants and pipes in good repair,” she writes.
How best to restructure water markets so as to make genuinely sustainable use of water resources is a controversial and hotly debated topic among economists, government leaders and agencies, as well as end users. More broadly, it raises the economic issue of how public goods – water, air, knowledge and national security, for example – are priced by markets and allocated among end users. In her article for Ensia, Barnett quotes Amsterdam-based water economist David Zetland, “You can get to sustainability, but you can’t get there without putting a price on water.”
Advances in renewable energy technology, in concert with new triple bottom line-based approaches to government and business, are key enablers of a transition from polluting fossil fuels to locally-appropriate mixes of distributed, renewable energy systems. The renewable energy transition will not only benefit ecosystems and the environment; well designed and executed policies, regulations, public-private partnerships and inclusive, collaborative business models can address societies’ most pressing social and economic challenges as well.
Powering societies wholly on renewable energy technologies widely available today is not only possible, it’s affordable, according to a policy handbook produced by the World Future Council and E3 Analytics.
Appropriately titled, How to Achieve 100 Percent Renewable Energy, the WFC-E3 policy handbook uses eight case studies organized according to four themes – cities and communities; regions and states; national governments; and island governments – to illustrate how innovative policies are promoting and paving the way to “fully fossil- and nuclear-free” societies.
Countries across the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region are making increasing use of renewable energy resources to spur sustainable development. Use of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, for instance, “is poised to play a substantial role in fulfilling the need for increased power generation capacity” throughout the LAC region, according to an NPD Solarbuzz market research report released September 29.
A gigawatt (GW) of PV projects are under construction across the LAC region at present. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however, according to NPD Solarbuzz’s “Emerging PV Markets Report: Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The PV project pipeline across the LAC region now exceeds 22 GWs across all phases of development, NPD Solarbuzz highlights in its report. Some 9 GWs of PV capacity will be installed over the next five years, with 5 GWs already approved and primed to move ahead into the construction phase.
At least 54-gigawatts (GW) of U.S. offshore wind energy generation capacity could be deployed by 2030, according to a new study funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). The “National Offshore Wind Energy Grid Interconnection Study” (NOWEGIS) focused on helping DOE achieve two goals: reducing the cost of offshore wind energy and shortening the time required to deploy offshore wind generation capacity.
Researchers from ABB, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), Duke Energy, AWS Truepower and the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering joined to produce NOWEGIS. The research team used NREL’s Regional Energy Deployment System (ReDS) model for electricity generation and transmission to survey suitable offshore wind energy asset locations, calculated timelines for deployment of 54 GWs of clean, renewable electricity generation.
Study results indicate that 5 GW of offshore wind power could be online within a decade “using existing collection and interconnection technologies…[B]oth alternating current and direct current methods show promise in transporting offshore electricity to the land power grid,” DOE explains in a news release.
The first nationwide assessment of how solar energy is providing clean, renewable power for schools and communities across the U.S. was released September 18. Produced by The Solar Foundation (TSF) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) with grant funding from the Department of Energy, the first-of-its-kind study reveals that 3,752 K-12 schools have installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.
Installed PV capacity among U.S. schools has soared over the last decade, rising from 303 kilowatts (kW) to 457,000 kW, according to TSF-SEIA’s report, “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools.” That has resulted in prevention of 442,799 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year, the equivalent of saving 50 million gallons of gasoline or taking some 100,000 cars of U.S. roads annually, according to a TSF news release.
Solar energy installations at U.S. schools are not only helping improve the environmental health and quality, they are saving schools, and taxpayers, money, and they are creating good local “green” jobs. Schools are using the resulting energy bill savings to pay teachers’ salaries and buy textbooks and other learning materials, according to the report. Furthermore, study researchers concluded that more than 70,000 additional schools could benefit by installing solar PV systems.