It wasn’t all that long ago that California’s Central Valley erupted in a fervor. Not quite as monumental as the Arab Spring, but intense…for California. And what was at the heart of this movement, this act of rebellion? Class warfare? Ineffective government? Double digit unemployment? Nope. It was this guy below.
The PG&E SmartMeter roll out in Bakersfield, California has been called a text book case on how not to roll out a smart meter installation campaign. Lois Henry, over at the Bakersfield Californian has spent the last four years covering the brouhaha in great detail. But I’m here to tell you a different story—a story of love. I’m here to tell you about my love affair with my SmartMeter.
Yup, Believe it or not, I live in central California and I LOVE MY SMARTMETER!
Over the top? No, not once you understand our journey. SmartMeter came to our house quietly in 2009. I remember the “while you were out” notice on the door, and walking around the side of the house to say hi, but that’s about it. It wasn’t love at first site. Around the same time I had my head down and was working many late nights trying to learn my way through the energy industry and SJVCEO was still trying to find its place. It wasn’t until 2010 when I took over as the lead on the VIEW Partnership and fell into the rabbit hole that is energy benchmarking I started thinking more about my own energy use. I wondered if I couldn’t learn how to better serve our local governments through better understanding the way I used energy.
SmartMeter allowed me to see how I used my energy throughout the day. I could log on to my PG&E account (before the launch of My Energy) and pull a graph from the day before. It looked something like this:
Okay, that’s a graph from My Energy, but with the exception of the pretty colors the content is the same. This was eye opening! I could watch my habits throughout the day. That spike at 7:00 a.m.? That’s when I couldn’t handle a blow dryer, curling iron and a house at 78 degrees and cranked the AC down to 74. You’ll notice it decreases after 8:00 a.m. when likely my husband woke up freezing and returned the thermostat to 79 (where he likes to diligently keep it). I could see Ryan (husband) and Dutch (Saint Bernard) warm up as the day progressed; as the the temperature crept up to 110 degrees so did our energy use. And, back in these days things like laundry and dishwashers ran during the day so we didn’t have to worry about chores eating in to our “us time”. Well, we learned to adapt.
I realized that we could just as easily run the dishwater overnight, despite that it annoys Dutch to no end, and do the laundry in the mornings. I also learned to wear my hair in a ponytail much more frequently in the summer months so I didn’t have to worry about the heat of styling, which kept the AC off until after noon. Oh, and those spikes at the end of the day? That’s me again. I hate sleeping in a hot house so I would turn the temperature down to go to sleep. I had to give up the compulsion to sleep under a blanket no matter the season. It was hard, but I’ve survived. And, my power bill went down. A lot.
Comparing August 2009 to August 2010 we had fewer peaks and less time in the 5 kWh+ zone, and a bill that was more than $100 less than the previous year. Woo hoo!
That was my Koolaid; that’s when I became and energy efficiency evangelist.
I realized it wasn’t retrofits (although some serious insulation helped), but behavior modification that made the biggest difference. And so it became my mission to integrate behavior modification recommendations in all our SJVCEO work. My SmartMeter, and what I was able to learn and appreciate gave me a story that I could share and relate to the work that we were doing in the Valley. Why benchmark thousands of municipal energy accounts (poor Maureen)? Because, seeing your energy habits sitting right next to cost makes a heck of an impression. It also lets you see what you’re doing right and not-so-right. Now, I could tell a city, “hey, your office facilities are using almost as much energy at night as they are in the day. Maybe we should take a look at what your staff is doing.” But that usually elicits a “sure, let’s look at it next quarter.” Now, if I have my laptop I can log in to the city’s Portfolio Manager account and say, “See your use and how much it’s costing you at City Hall? That’s more than twice the national average for a similar space. Why don’t we take a look and see if we can’t get this bill lower than $16,000 per month.” Then I’m more likely to get someone to escort me through the building after hours and see that office lights and nonessential machines are let on, and that the A/C is still kicking away at the government building standard—just short of Arctic! That knowledge can lead to an education campaign to get employees to shut down at night, and perhaps even designates a person to make sure the A/C is turned up to keep the space controlled, but not freezing. Say these simple steps, these behavior modifications end up saving a city $1,000 per month? Maybe more? That’s why we benchmark thousands of municipal energy accounts (still, poor Maureen).
So yeah, I love my SmartMeter, but the problem is not everyone has a SmartMeter—or an intelligent metering system. Not even the everyone in the San Joaquin Valley has one…but that’s about to change!
As mentioned in my ode to Carl and Eddy Southern California Edison’s SmartConnect is coming to town! This means that those residential and small business customers in our VIEW Partnership and beyond (Armona, California Hot Springs, Camp Nelson, Delano, Ducor, Earlimart, Goshen, Hanford, Ivanhow, Lemon Cove, Lindsay, McFarland, Pixley, Porterville, Springville, Strathmore, Terra Bella, Three Rivers, Tipton, Tulare, Tule River Indian Reservation, and Woodlake) are going to be able to track their energy use electronically and we don’t have to do anything (yay for Maureen!).
At SJVCEO (even beyond my desk) we’re pretty excited about SmartConnect, so we’re going to take a team approach to sharing the enthusiasm with the blogosphere. On Wednesday, October 3 Maureen’s Wellness Wednesday will address the question of intelligent meters and radio frequency, and on October 8th Dee’s Money Monday will address how SmartConnect can help small businesses and residents invest wisely in energy efficiency. I may even pull together another BION, but we’ll have to see how October goes!
In late July the SJVCEO began looking for a new employee to fill the hole that Mike Nemeth left (because no one could ever really replace Mike), and part of the application process included a blog sample on one of five predetermined topics. Originally, I thought we would share all of the blogs from the top candidates, but six out of seven submissions addressed “Xenon: the next big thing?”.
Is xenon lighting destined to replace halogen lighting the way halogen lighting bullied incandescent lighting off the market? Some would say yes.
The most famous xenon of all? The beam of the Luxor is currently powered by 39 Xenon lamps operating at 7 kilowatts each at an hourly operating cost of $53 (lamps, repairs, and electricity costs)Xenon bulbs have advantages over traditional vacuum lamps—or those filled with argon or krypton—offerings suppressed tungsten evaporation, which results in a cleaner and longer burn with less blackening. The bulbs also burn with a brighter, whiter light due to the higher filament temperature for improved contrast rations and an attractive, sparkling appearance. In addition to all of this, the lamps last up to three times as long with a continuous light output for typically 30 percent more luminous flux. Compared to the argon filled lamps, xenon bulbs wall temperature is 30 degrees Celsius lower, which can have significant implications when the devices are in close proximity to materials such as plastics or wood.
But what is a xenon bulb, and how is it different from the less expensive bulb that people use everyday?
If you have ever been to a movie theater, chances are you have seen a xenon bulb at work. Most film projectors use it because of its incredible brightness. The xenon bulb is also becoming the it light on roads. You may have noticed its bright, blue-ish list as a car passed you on the highway. Automotive parts stores market this bright headlight to car enthusiasts in search of an after-market part that will give their car a distinctive style.
Over the past few years the use of xenon light sources has become increasingly popular, especially in the home. Xenon light bulbs are being used in numerous ways. The primary reason is that xenon bulbs have an incredible lifespan—anywhere from 8,000-20,000 hours! It doesn’t hurt that xenon light bulbs operate cooler than halogen light bulbs which can become extremely hot. Not to worry those of you interested in mood lighting, xenon lights are also dim-able, which can help increase the bulb lifespan.
The uses of xenon lighting are far-reaching and a bit futuristic to absorb in one setting. A new range of xenon filled wedge based lamps has been designed for use in a variety of applications from the automotive industry and beyond. Some even say that xenon technology will enable solar to be more affordable. Imagine walking in to your local hardware store and picking up enough solar panels (equipped with xenon technology) to power your home for 40 years, for less than $2,500? I can see customers lining up for that one!
I can think of many other ways that xenon lighting could be useful.
Imagine the farmer working at night; the lighting could help with plowing and cultivation where a close color match between soil and conventional light can make it hard to pick out detail.
How about flash photography—most of our mobile phones already use this type of flash. And strobe lights! Oh, better yet, how about bacterial lamps! The list goes on.
So, here’s the kicker…they don’t come cheap. One really must be careful when switching out halogen to xenon. Do your due diligence and price compare not just the initial cost, but the life-cycle cost of the unit: with the performance and longevity of xenon you can decrease the number of bulbs needed to light a space, further contributing to the long-term cost savings.
In short, the differences between xenon and halogen lamps are “real and they’re spectacular!” <—-unintentional Seinfeld reference on the first blog—not bad!
Evolution or revolution? Clean energy movement is expanding
The Great Recession left the economy in shambles and turned lives upside down, but it forced more people to cut spending and energy and, in some ways, was a good thing, according to a survey of more than 2,800 consumers and business people by Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions.
The 2012 survey revealed people and businesses are more aware of the cost-cutting potential of energy efficiency, that younger adults have strong appetites for clean technology and that businesses are setting more aggressive energy goals - in large part because their customers demand it.
“Customers care, so companies do too,” the report states.
Authors noted that near two-thirds of businesses surveyed said their customers want more environmentally considerate solutions, up from 49 percent only a year ago. Meanwhile, more than 75 percent of those businesses actively promote their green campaigns.
The surveys found that businesses continue to invest in energy efficiency even as finding capital becomes more challenging, and as a majority of them acknowledge it is hard to track available financial and tax incentives. The companies are motivated by the strong cost savings and competitive edge associated with energy efficiency, but public good - “it’s the right thing to do” - also is a catalyst.
Employers also are becoming more interested in carbon emissions. Almost eight in 10 surveyed said cost of carbon should be factored into use of traditional energy sources, and 72 percent say they plan to acknowledge it on their balance sheets - up from 58 percent a year ago. However, they also overwhelmingly said it is difficult to measure carbon with any confidence.
One of the most surprising findings was that 61 percent of the consumers surveyed said the recession taught people to become more efficient and responsible. “…It reminds us what is important,” the report quoted the respondents saying. Almost two-thirds said they would support a mandatory surcharge on their electric bills to support alternative energy intended to reduce pollution and to add American jobs.
Natural gas is gaining favor among consumers, although over half still want their utilities to invest in solar and wind power.
The findings reflect what our nonprofit has noticed: the green movement is accelerating. Business, real estate developers and landlords, the military and even professional sports realize that going green is good for multiple reasons.
This story notes the San Francisco 49ers are using low CO2 concrete in their new stadium because they want to reduce their carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the owners of the iconic Empire State Building say their energy retrofits will save them $4.4 million per year - a 3-year payback. Now, that’s a good investment! More here.
Photo of Empire State Building by Eggo
Solar cows and renewable energy down on the farm
The 250-mile San Joaquin Valley is the nation’s salad bowl. Farmers in the eight counties from Lodi to the Grapevine produced almost $26 billion worth of food and fiber in 2010. Agriculture is big business - and consumes gobs of power.
Which is why farmers here are embracing renewable energy to help power their enterprises. Solar is the energy of choice, which makes sense in a region with my-shoes-are-melting-into-the-pavement summer temperatures. Solar arrays are being installed on rooftops, carports and other places throughout the Valley.
This dairy was the first in Kings County to get solar, but more dairies and feedlots will likely install alternative energy. This item notes that a Coachella company installed solar energy at a feedlot to provide energy and shade.
The San Joaquin Valley has about 1.8 million cows and 1,700 dairy farms, according to Neil Black, president of California Bioenergy who spoke at a recent California Public Utilities Commission meeting in Fresno, (Here’s our blog post from the meeting), so maybe we’ll see more cows mixing with renewables.
The Valley’s vast expanses of land are attractive to developers of larger-scale solar projects as well, so planning officials in the region are formulating land-use policies to avoid conflicts with prime farm land. Those projects garner the big headlines, but individual growers and farming operations, such as Fowler Packing and its new 8,256 solar panels, are finding value in harvesting the sun.
Fowler Packing plans to use the sun to help power its packing and cold storage facilities. It won’t be the last San Joaquin Valley - or should we say, “Solar Valley” - farming enterprise to reach for the sun
Sustainability: America’s emerging green movement
That sound you hear is the sustainability movement accelerating. America is becoming a deeper shade of green.
Businesses are expanding their sustainability efforts from board rooms to supply chains and now to energy providers. More companies are flexing their corporate muscle, and pressuring legislators to support efforts to boost use of clean energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their so-called “green teams” are moving outside corporate walls.
Mindy Lubber of the advocacy group Ceres writes in this Sustainable Business Blog of a new ”business voice”, which is also being transferred to employees. She quotes organic yogurt- maker Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirschberg as saying, “We reject the notion that climate and energy legislation is going to be costly… Climate action offers economic opportunity rather than economic penalty.”
The same blog notes that Nike and 14 other heavy hitters asked Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit that has helped propel wind energy (more here).
More businesses are setting sustainability goals, and in some cases (Hello, Sony) exceeding them. They are raising their sustainability profiles in concert with the military, professional sports and the public, which, according to latest polls, is increasingly linking climate change to the recent wild weather, and is willing to pay more for clean energy.
Meanwhile, prices are dropping, and energy sources such as wind and solar make more sense economically. Solar energy is expected to reach parity with traditional sources of power within a few years. In fact, there are those who contend it already is at parity in some places. See this.
Energy efficiency also is gaining a higher profile, as evidenced by this huge investment into a new lab at University of California, Santa Barbara, and by this announcement that the telecom industry plans to invest billions of dollars into a sustainable infrastructure by 2016.
Still, the U.S. is without a national energy plan, even as some nations - even those blessed with oil (read about Saudi Arabia here)- forge ahead with renewable energy programs because of dwindling resources. Even Mexico passed a climate-change bill.
But, the pressure to do more is building. The sustainability movement is still in infancy, but a great awakening is under way, says Sam Geil, founder of the International Green Industry Hall of Fame in Fresno, CA.
”Because sustainability has such a strong economic component, all businesses and the general public are just now starting to understand the overall benefits,” Geil says.
He notes the military’s burgeoning green efforts. “The War in Iraq is a great example. Transporting fuel was a big challenge, and getting it to the field operations was becoming more and more hazardous. With the use of solar and alternative fuels, the military can actually offset the threats of attacks on the tankers carrying gasoline and diesel fuels.”
And let’s not forget tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s young people are growing up with a green tint and more of them., such as my 19-year-old daughter, are seeking out environmental careers. Universities are adding sustainability programs even as they cut back in other areas.
“Young people are growing up with a green mindset and understand the value of recycling, reusing, and rethinking,” Geil said. “The Green Movement is here to stay and growing every day.”
Photo of soldiers using solar blanket