A new finding from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) demonstrates yet again how the flexibility and wide-ranging applicability of solar power provides it with advantages that are impossible to achieve with fossil forms of energy. NTU’s breakthrough is a new solar cell material that could also be used to make the now-ubiquitous touch screens for electronic devices, information kiosks and many other display forms.
The integrated solar cell/touch screen concept parallels the emergence of building-integrated solar cells, as well as solar cells that can be incorporated into fabrics and other wearable or portable items.
In addition to the potential energy cost savings related to consumer products, NTU’s new solar cell material could also provide businesses with a low-emission platform for colorful lighting displays, especially when combined with a storage system that enables night-time use.
With new EPA regulations for coal-fired power plants looming ahead, the coal and utilities industries have issued sharp warnings about the impact of another “war on coal.” The argument goes that the cost of installing pollution-scrubbing equipment, and/or shutting down outdated coal-fired power plants, is passed directly along to the consumer in the form of higher rates. The U.S. economy also feels the impact, so the argument goes, in terms of higher business costs, lost employment opportunities and a competitive advantage for coal-using companies overseas.
However, given the past record of accuracy for those warnings, it looks like a bad case of déjà vu all over again. According to a history of similar warnings about coal regulation compiled by the Center for American Progress (CAP), those predictions fail to account for the positive impact of innovation, as well as the economic counterbalance of improved public health.
Meanwhile, within the broader issue of U.S. infrastructure, CAP draws out an important point: In the coming years, the main driver of utility rates will not be the power plants or the fuel they use, it will be the urgent need to overhaul the nation’s aging, badly outdated electricity distribution and transmission grid.
When the EPA releases a research report claiming that LEED-certified buildings don’t perform as well as their non-certified counterparts, that’s bound to turn heads in at least some sectors of the blogosphere so consider this mission accomplished. Last Friday, a group called the Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA, what else?) released a bombshell report claiming that LEED (Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design) certified buildings “actually use more energy than uncertified buildings.” The report has been making waves around the tubes all week long.
That’s all well and good if you’re only interested in culling information from their press release. However, if you are interested in whether the Environmental Policy Alliance is an organization with a solid track record in research or if it’s just another one of those PR efforts masquerading as a think tank, you can follow the links to their website and your answers are right there.
The tubes have been buzzing over a new report announcing that 91 Illinois communities now get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, but that’s just the tip of a very large iceberg. According to the report, “Leading from the Middle,” more than 500 other communities in the state have signed on to the same community choice program that the “clean 91″ have used, and several have already begun using it to improve their electricity footprint.
Within that larger group is Chicago, which is highlighted in the report. Though it still relies heavily on natural gas, Chicago has already used community choice to get from 40 percent coal down to zero in practically the blink of an eye.
As for how that is possible, let’s take a remark by Chicago’s chief sustainability officer, Karen Weigert, who sums it all up in “Leading from the Middle” with this comment: “[Electricity] is a market, and when you ask a market for something, they can provide it.”
How’s this for timing: Just a few weeks in advance of a special Triple Pundit series on sustainable fisheries, last Friday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a strongly–and we mean strongly–worded announcement that it will use its authority under the Clean Water Act to to protect the sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, which just happens to be the largest sockeye fishery in the entire world.
Triple Pundit took note of the EPA announcement earlier this week (here’s that article), and it’s worth revisiting the topic to make a point about the growing tension between renewable and non-renewable resources in an increasingly globalized economy.
Last week, Los Angeles joined the growing list of cities and towns banning, at least temporarily, gas and oil fracking within their borders. The main concerns are over public health and water resource preservation, but economic impacts and property values also come into play. The news comes on the heels of yet another article in the mainstream press that paints a picture of the fracking industry as a swelling bubble that will make a loud and messy noise when it pops.
Part of the reason why the fracking industry is so bloated right now is something that our friends over at Fuel Fix have dubbed the “Red Queen” effect, after the fictional Lewis Carroll character, so let’s take a look at the Los Angeles decision in that context.
Earlier this month, the building analytics company WegoWise launched a blog that provides the public with useful nuggets of data about building efficiency and water use, gleaned from the staggering amount of information it collects from scores of utility companies around the country, among other sources. The new blog, data.wegowise.com, focuses on concisely presented, interactive images that enable readers to get a visual grasp-at-a-glance of the essential elements before delving into the details.
As a means of helping to convince property owners that energy efficiency improvements are an investment, not a cost, the new blog is especially timely for New York City. New regulations embodied in Local Law 84 require owners of thousands of buildings in New York to start recording and publicizing their energy and water consumption, and WegoWise has launched a new service designed to help them comply.
Barely three years ago, the Obama administration launched the SunShot Initiative, an ambitious effort to transform solar power from an exotic, expensive form of energy into a mainstream fuel that can compete on price with petroleum, coal, and natural gas. In the latest development for low-cost solar power, last week Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced that the program is already 60 percent of the way toward its goal of bringing the average price for a utility-scale solar power plant down to the target price of six cents per kilowatt-hour.
In raw numbers, that’s a steep slide from an average of 21 cents in 2010 to only 11 cents by the end of 2013. That’s now less than the average price of electricity in the U.S., which is about 12 cents per kWh, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The trend toward low-cost solar power is nowhere near at an end. The new announcement came with word of yet another SunShot initiative that will help bring the cost of solar power down even more in the coming years: A $25 million funding package for innovative technologies that focuses on manufacturing costs.
If you’ve never heard the phrase “hero crop” before, you will soon. Relatively new to the lexicon, hero crop refers to sustainable crops that fulfill social benefit goals for the communities that grow them. That will include tea, if the global non-profit organization Forum for the Future has anything to say about it.
Forum for the Future has just launched a new initiative called “The Future of Tea – A Hero Crop for 2030″ with several of the seven companies responsible for 90 percent of the global tea market (yes, only seven). The group encompasses at least three brands familiar to U.S. tea drinkers: Lipton (parent company Unilever), Tetley (parent company Tata Global Beverages), and Twinings. A fourth company, Finlays, is a leading tea trader, manufacturer, and processor among other diverse activities including coffee, produce, flowers, rubber, and forestry products.
The longtime sustainable business advocacy organization Green America (formerly Co-op America) has just come out with a new report card that could help consumers identify banks that they want to do credit card business with, based on their record of investing — or not investing — in coal-fired power plants and coal mining.
The coal-free credit cards report is timely, given the three-in-a-row coal related disasters that recently polluted the Elk River and Kanawah Creek in West Virginia, and the Dan River in North Carolina, which have drawn national attention to the risks and impacts of coal mining.
Unfortunately, those three episodes are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg.
Citing a potential 40 percent gap between water resources and water needs by 2030, the U.K. based organization Carbon Trust has issued a new report highlighting water risk issues for business with the attention-getting pitch “adapt or die.” Though somewhat alarming, the turn of phrase is timely here in the U.S., where the West Virginia chemical spill in the Elk River and the North Carolina coal ash spill in the Dan River have dramatically illustrated the consequences of lax regulation and fossil fuel dependency.
The report is also timely for U.S. businesses because a new Ceres report on fracking and water risks has turned up the heat on water resource issues.
Rather than dwelling on risks, though, the Carbon Trust report is all about solutions and opportunities, as you can gather by the title “Opportunities in a resource constrained world: How business is rising to the challenge.”
The green investment organization Ceres has just released a new report on oil and gas fracking in the U.S., and it adds to the red flags that have been popping up over the fracking industry for the last couple of years. The report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers,” underscores the urgency of addressing the risk that fossil fuel extraction poses to water resources – and to the investment community.
The report comes on the heels of the Ceres 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk in January. That event launched the organization’s Clean Trillion Campaign, which aims to prod the investment community in a climate-ethical direction by exposing emerging risks and indicating the path to more financially sustainable strategies.
A group of 17 leading foundations has announced a new initiative to encourage fossil fuel divestment by the philanthropic community. Called Divest-Invest Philanthropy, the new effort launched Jan. 30 in support of a growing movement among other nonprofit endowments, including academic, health, pension and religious foundations.
Divest-Invest comes at a time when climate-related events are shining a spotlight on the future risks that fossil fuel investors face, as highlighted by the Jan. 15 Ceres Investor Summit on Climate Risk.
Also of interest to investors is the long-awaited State Department Keystone XL pipeline report, which was finally released on Jan. 30.
The report identified a number of risks and impacts, including several related to environmental justice issues. The next step in the review process promises to be even more interesting, as it includes a public comment period and input from the Environmental Protection Agency and at least seven other federal agencies – the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security.
The Marie Claire 2014 Prix d’Excellence de la Beauté award has gone to an algae oil company called Solazyme, making it one of only two U.S. brands to garner a prize against hundreds of entrants this year. The award indicates excellence in both innovation and performance. That’s a pretty high mark for a company better known for algae biofuel, but Solazyme actually covers four markets with its unique algae oil extraction technology: fuels, chemicals, nutritionals and personal care.
Announced earlier this month, the award was given unanimously by a panel of judges for the company’s Algenist® line of skin care products. That’s great timing for Solazyme. The company has just announced the start of commercial algae oil operations at two integrated locations in Iowa, which together showcase the company’s ability to hop nimbly from one market to another.
The Environmental Protection Agency has just released its annual Climate Protection Partnerships report, and it indicates that the U.S. is in a strong position to achieve economic growth – in other words, job growth – as it transitions to safer, healthier and more sustainable forms of energy. The report comes on top of great news for job growth in the solar industry, with as-yet untapped offshore wind energy and vast reserves of geothermal energy offering potential for even greater growth in the green jobs sector.
That’s something to keep in mind as the battle over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline gathers a new head of steam. Now that the State Department has delivered a required environmental report, it has to move forward and consult with other U.S. agencies to consider a variety of potential impacts the project could have on the public, and that includes economic impacts.