If you heard that loud sighing sound coming from New York state earlier this month, that was probably a sigh of relief as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo finally agreed to a statewide ban on fracking. The ban followed the release of the state’s Department of Health study, which basically concluded that the known unknowns of this unconventional method of drilling for natural gas amounted to a significant potential for adverse public health impacts that could not be ignored.
We’re also guessing that business considerations came into play. In the past, fracking was generally confined to thinly populated areas of the western U.S. Now that it has become more common in the more heavily developed Northeast, fracking has been bumping up against pushback from stakeholders in established, local businesses. News of the fracking ban was probably most welcome by New York’s thriving upstate tourism and agriculture sectors, both of which come together in the growing popularity of winery tours.
However, the cheering had barely died down before news items from communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio reminded us that the fracking operation itself is only one part of the complex natural gas lifecycle. New York’s wineries are not out of the woods yet. When you consider the transportation and storage issues involved in getting natural gas out of the ground and into market, additional risks for local businesses emerge. The fracking ban does not address those risks.
Last week the National Hockey League announced that it is stepping up its sustainability actions through a new partnership with the energy services company Constellation. The new deal makes Constellation the official preferred energy provider for the NHL with a focus on improving energy efficiency at ice rinks and other facilities throughout the organization. The agreement also calls for Constellation to provide enough carbon offsets to equal the entire carbon footprint of the NHL for the upcoming 2014-2015 season, estimated at a whopping 550,000 metric tons.
That’s all well and good as far as the NHL’s near-term operations go, but if you take a closer look at the league’s concerns, you can see how the long-term outlook for climate change demands a stepped-up response from the business community.
You hear a lot of talk about the smart grid these days, and now here comes the California utility PG&E with a new twist of its own: the Grid of Things. As PG&E sees it, smart grid technology is only a partial step toward the grid of the future. The true grid of the future will ditch the utility’s role as the power supplier to passive customers. Instead, each electricity customer can interact with the utility and its grid, by strategically deploying rooftop solar arrays, electric vehicles and other major electrical appliances.
The Grid of Things has enormous implications for business. In addition to providing unique new opportunities for bottom-line savings and energy security, the kind of interaction that PG&E envisions can also provide companies with new opportunities for customer service and brand enhancement.
Tech companies are going to new lengths to showcase their innovations, and here’s the latest case in point: a consortium called Fujisawa SST Council will develop an entire “Sustainable Smart Town” for 3,000 souls in Fujisawa City, Japan, under the leadership of Panasonic Corporation.
The town, named Fujisawa SST (SST stands for Sustainable Smart Town) had its grand opening last week, and completion of construction is expected by 2018. The stated goal is to create a smart growth community that can support sustainable development for at least 100 years. That’s a pretty tall order in Japan, which has become known for its build ‘em up, tear ‘em down approach to housing.
Going by the artist rendering, Fujisawa doesn’t impress much at first glance. Aside from the rooftop solar panels it looks more like an old school U.S. suburb rather than a cutting edge showcase for smart growth. However, when you peel back the skin you can find some interesting lessons for residential communities and other self-contained sites including office and industrial parks, school campuses, corporate campuses, and military facilities.
Back in the spring of 2012, the Energy Department announced a $5 million, five-year initiative aimed at producing a true rooftop ‘plug-and-play’ photovoltaic system, meaning a solar panel that you could pick up at your local building supply store, plant on your roof, and have it soaking up the photons all within the same day.
The concept of a solar appliance that is just as easy to install as any other appliance sounds reasonable enough, but the residential and small business solar market faces a unique set of obstacles. We’ve been covering plug-and-play PV developments since at least 2009, and generally speaking they still involve more time and effort than, say, installing a new fridge.
That’s partly because retail solar systems are relatively new. Standardization is just beginning to emerge, and in the meantime solar customers have to put a lot of elbow grease into the process.
Contrast that with the rest of the retail appliance industry: It is a mature field with a firm platform of standardization, which accounts for why you can buy practically any kind of new stove from just about anywhere without having to think about getting special permits or making other special arrangements.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a new plug-and-play system, developed by the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) with funding from the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, and see how close we are to a true plug-and-play system for solar.
It’s that high-drama time of year again, and we don’t mean the upcoming Black Friday sales mayhem over the Thanksgiving holidays. Nope, it’s time once again for Congress to consider extending the production tax credit for wind energy.
When the wind tax credit was created in 1992, it mirrored the long history of taxpayer support enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry. The intention was to serve the public welfare mission of Congress by fostering the development of domestic energy resources. And as a matter of fact: Congress extended the tax credit for wind as a matter of routine until the past several years, when it became the subject of fierce partisan debate.
The U.S. wind industry was pretty small potatoes in the 1990s, and if it had remained that way, you could have made a good case for dispensing with continued taxpayer support. However, in recent years wind energy technology has improved by leaps and bounds, resulting in exponential growth for the industry. The U.S. wind industry is on track to become a main underpinning of the future domestic energy platform, with costs on par with — or better than — fossil fuels, and industry advocates have the stats to back it up.
Wind energy is big business
First up is a new article from Forbes, detailing the impact of low-cost wind energy on the Texas economy.
Drawing from an analysis compiled by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Forbes contributor Peter Kelly-Detwiler described how Texas consumers are saving millions on their energy bills. The commercial sector is also saving millions on hedging against fuel price volatilities, Kelly-Detwiler reported.
With costs continuing to drop, wind energy presents millions in expected savings compared to other fuel prices.
That’s just for starters. As described by Kelly-Detwiler, the AWEA analysis also embraces social benefits. Specifically, the cuts in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide pollution are expected to get a savings of about $652 million, $71 million and $1 billion respectively.
We’ve been sharing the green love for General Motors’ gas-electric Chevy Volt and the all-electric Spark, and for obvious reasons not so much when it comes to the company’s beloved but notoriously thirsty Corvette. However, the new 2015 Corvette demonstrates that a mix of technology and imagination can help preserve the identity of an iconic brand while setting a course for future improvement.
On the tech side, the new 2015 Corvette Stingray and and Z06 sport a new eight-speed automatic transmission that boosts the EPA highway rating to 29 miles per gallon, a 3.5 percent increase over the six-speed version.
What’s even more interesting is the unusual choice that GM has made for recycling leftovers from manufacturing the 2015 Corvette. Hint: Yes, it involves bats.
The tubes started buzzing earlier this week with news that leading corporations 3M, Cisco Systems, and Kimberly-Clark Corporation have partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation and the National Geographic Society to offer their employees something that we’re going to call “instant” solar financing on their home solar systems. The idea is to take advantage of bulk-order group purchasing power to slash costs, and to vet one standout solar company to manage the financing and pre-qualify reliable contractors to provide the installations.
Giving employees a great deal on home solar installations is just part of the perk. The other part is relieving individual solar purchasers from all the time, hassle, and guesswork involved in choosing a reliable solar financing and installation company.
The solar company selected by the partnership is Geostellar, which has received Energy Department funding to develop a low cost, streamlined solar purchasing process that enables it to offer one of the best solar deals, if not the best, available today.
But wait, there’s more — lots more. The excitement was touched off by a story in The New York Times on October 22, but the new solar financing partnership is just one small piece of a huge bundle of solar initiatives announced by the Obama Administration back on October 18. Somehow that slipped under our radar, so before we dig deeper into the solar financing perk let’s take a look at the whole package.
The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota has just entered into a first-of-its kind Clean Energy Partnership with its two utilities, Xcel Energy and the natural gas company CenterPoint. The new agreement renews the city’s franchise agreements with both utilities to include more consumer choices for clean energy, more support for renewable energy development in Minnesota, an increased focus on energy efficiency, and a more vigorous program to transition municipal facilities into more clean energy and improved efficiency.
Assuming that both of the utilities deliver on their promises, Minneapolis energy consumers can probably thank the good people of Boulder for helping to bring the Clean Energy Partnership into being. Boulder also has Xcel as its utility, but Boulder voters have taken an entirely different route toward bumping their energy supply into 21st-century renewable sources. It seems that Xcel is determined not to let the same thing happen in Minneapolis.
Carbon offsets have emerged as a key tool for businesses looking to transition toward more sustainable ways of operating. Selling them can help a company finance clean energy projects or take other sustainability measures that fit its business operations. For businesses that can’t leverage those opportunities on their own, buying carbon offsets can still help raise their green profile in meaningful ways. If your business has already gained some progress, carbon offsets can also help you embrace a broader field of action.
In other words, carbon offsets can provide your business with the flexibility to support more effective action than it could maintain individually. That all seems pretty simple, but in practice, it’s not. There are literally hundreds of legitimate carbon offsets available, and more are emerging every day. Not all of them are a particularly effective match for an individual business, especially when it comes to branding.
The good news is: Carbon offsets have been around for a while, which means that there is a vast amount of research and guidance available to assist you with your purchase.
It’s barely 18 months old, but President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative is already in position to help propel African nations into a renewable energy future. In the latest development, Power Africa has announced 22 renewable energy innovators who have received grants of up to $100,000 each under the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge. The grants are partly funded by General Electric.
If you take a peek behind the curtain, though, you’ll see that natural gas also plays a featured role in the broader Power Africa initiative. That doevetails with GE’s involvement, since aside from funding renewable energy projects the company has also begun to market a fossil-powered, transportable generating unit in Africa under its Ecomagination energy innovation program.
So, does this mean GE is competing with itself, or are there other factors at play in the Africa off-grid energy market?
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a short series on creating resilient cities, sponsored by Siemens. Please join us for a live Google Hangout with Siemens and Arup on October 1, where we’ll talk about this issue live! RSVP here.
As a coastal city with an inland water supply, New York City faces a unique set of challenges for climate change resiliency in a future marked by frequent, destructive coastal storms and rising sea levels.
In terms of clean water supply, New York has one advantage thanks to resiliency planning that dates back to the early 19th century. At that time, urban sprawl, commerce and industry quickly overwhelmed Manhattan’s patchwork of privately-owned wells after the Revolutionary War.
Rather than continuing to dig wells within the city, planners developed a system of reservoirs far inland at higher elevations, some as far as 125 miles away, relying almost exclusively on gravity-powered aqueducts and water tunnels. The incorporation of Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island into New York City was impelled partly by Manhattan’s lock on reliable, expandable inland water resources, as groundwater in those boroughs proved inadequate to sustain population growth. Only one group of public wells continued to serve part of Queens until 2007, when they, too, were finally put out of service.
The city’s wastewater resiliency, however, is a different story.
When your pooled assets add up to more than $600 billion, people tend to pay attention when you write them a letter about sustainable palm oil. That seems to be the case in Friday’s announcement by five major palm oil producers, which pledged to self-impose an immediate moratorium on clearing high carbon stock forests.
The announcement came a week after four of the companies received a letter from a group of investors spearheaded by Green Century Capital Management, with collective assets topping the aforementioned $600 billion. In addition to calling for the moratorium, the Green Century letter urged the producers to adopt more sustainable palm oil practices, in accordance with a growing number of industry stakeholders.
Unfortunately, that’s where things could get sticky.
New coal ash disposal regulations are slowly winding their way through the approval process, but leading U.S. waste company Waste Management (WM) is not letting any grass grow under its feet. WM is already betting the ranch that new regulations for coal ash disposal will result in a major opportunity to grow its business and create new jobs.
As a corollary to seeking new coal ash disposal opportunities, WM is also transitioning into a new, more efficient business model for its municipal waste disposal operations, particularly in the area of food waste recycling. Because of the sheer size of the company, this dual move into coal ash disposal and food waste recycling demonstrates a job-creating potential that will counterbalance the “job-killing” criticism routinely leveled at new EPA regulations.
If you’ve been following the sustainability initiatives of racing tracks affiliated with NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), the idea of a green auto racing industry is beginning to make sense. Last Sunday, the Michigan International Speedway chipped in with its own addition to the effort.
The Speedway made a high-profile pitch for renewable energy in partnership with the utility Consumers Energy, using its Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup event as the springboard for announcing a raft of new green energy programs.
As part of the historically petroleum-dependent NASCAR circuit, the Speedway’s contribution to sustainability offers some dependable guideposts for businesses seeking to transition into a more sustainable energy model, so let’s take a closer look and see what they’re up to.