Students are increasingly finding a voice in matters related to sustainability. These students at Missouri State are the latest.
Demise of Green Energy Greatly Exaggerated
For an industry that supposedly is on the brink of collapse, clean energy sure is holding up well. We’ve seen it at the local level, where our nonprofit, which is involved in energy efficiency, benchmarking and other energy-saving programs, is gaining a higher profile.
And we’re seeing it nationally, too. Three items - the restart of a billion-dollar military solar program; President Obama’s $4 billion commitment to cutting energy costs; and Kachan & Co’s predictions for Clean energy technology in 2012 (more here) - are indicative of the growing interest.
The big news is that Bank of America Merrill Lynch and SolarCity are combining to revive a plan to install solar panels on up to 120,000 military housing units across the nation, creating 300 megawatts of solar power. This is further evidence the military, which contends the nation’s dependence on foreign oil is a security risk, is taking a leading role in the green movement.
In addition, a just-announced Obama public/private partnership could lead to $2 billion worth energy-saving improvements on federal buildings across the nation, and $2 billion more on 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and industrial property. Some heavy hitters have signed up.
Energy efficiency has long been called the “low-hanging fruit” of the clean-energy movement because a relatively modest investment can yield significant results.
Then there is Dallas Kachan’s 2012 clean tech forecast. The forecast is mixed - expect declines in venture capital and for election-year rhetoric to muddy the waters - but is bolstered by his predictions that oil prices will rise, making renewables more economically viable; that innovation in solar energy will surge; and that Corporate America will “buy their way into clean technology markets in 2012, supplementing the role of traditional private equity and evidencing a maturation of the cleantech sector. ”
Some states are moving faster in clean energy’s various segments than others. Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown is a big proponent, embracing a multi pronged effort that features a greater emphasis on efficiency. The state seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent annually through 2020, and the Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, passed in 2006, sets a goal of 33 percent renewable energy generation by 2020.
Ernst & Young likens the momentum of clean energy to the industrial revolution.
Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Part of our mission is to be a resource for students and teachers. As such, we’ve created a pretty impressive video vault. We added some more collections. Check it out.
The Green Movement: Defying The Naysayers
But a funny thing is happening amidst the chatter: The green movement is gaining traction despite the naysayers. It’s happening at the corporate level, where Ernst & Young is expanding its sustainability business and even devised “renewable energy attractive indices” (China, to no great surprise, is at the top) to track the world’s appetite for clean energy.
And it’s happening at the local level. My hometown newspaper, The Fresno Bee, today has this story about a proposal for a huge solar project. It’s on land that cannot be farmed, and is indicative of what this region could become. Reporter Kurtis Alexander notes, “While the proposal joins nearly three dozen other solar plants pitched in Fresno County, the venture by Recurrent Energy is by far the biggest and underscores the county’s standing as a hotbed for solar development.”
The politicians may not acknowledge it, but the green movement is a bullet train on the fast track - despite an expected drop in stimulus funds. Ernst & Young puts it best: “A revolution is underway, and the renewable energy industry is adapting to a changed world. “
It’s just not renewables. Energy efficiency and sustainability are helping power the train, and corporations are at the wheel. Pike Research projects spending on energy efficiency to increase 50 percent by 2017 as it becomes more important. GreenBiz.com has more, and makes particular note of Johnson Controls’ clogged pipeline of work. Efficiency remains the biggest bang for the buck since buildings consume 40 percent of the world’s energy.
Says Ernst & Young: “Global corporations across numerous industries are moving quickly to pursue cleantech revenue opportunities. The revenue opportunities are transformational because 1) they arise from a shift to a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy, and 2) they are changing corporate business strategies.” There is more here.
The companies realize that efficiency cuts cost - AT&T slashed $44 million - and contributes to a stronger bottom line; that clean tech is a new revenue source; and that it helps corporations meet internal sustainability goals. Fifty-eight percent of the corporations that responded to an Ernst & Young survey said they plan to increase clean tech spending between 2012 and 2014, and 25 percent said their expenditures will remain the same.
As corporations go, so goes the military, which says the nation’s dependence on foreign oil is a security risk. And the military isn’t alone in that assessment. Check out this video from the Rocky Mountain Institute, which says threats - and not just those related to security - are leading to a national discussion on energy issues.
Of course, change won’t happen overnight. Or will it? Technological advancements are coming at a dizzying rate. Costs are dropping rapidly and it won’t be long until solar power, for one, achieves grid parity. I’ll keep my beret handy, just in case this revolution is around the corner.
Finding Ways To Finance Energy Innovation
The Oakland-based think tank identifies, in a new study entitled, “Bridging The Clean Energy Valleys of Death,” two economic dry spots that hinder the ability to bring energy research out of the lab and into commercial operation. The financing gaps are commonly referred to as the early-stage “Technological Valley of Death” and the later-stage “Commercialization Valley of Death.”
From the report is this: “These valleys of death particularly plague capital-starved start-ups and entrepreneurial small and medium-sized firms, the very same innovators that are so often at the heart of American economic vitality. ”
To fill the early-stage gap, the Institute recommends greater use of two policies: The federal Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency and a Regional Clean Energy Innovation Consortia.
The first program, funded by stimulus money and signed into law in 2009 by President George W. Bush, allocates relatively modest sums - generally $2 million to $10 million - to help entrepreneurs through that early-stage crisis point.
The latter policy would create public-private partnerships of universities, venture capitalists, manufacturers and others to hurdle the second part of the Technological Valley of Death.
Then comes the Commercialization Valley of Death - and the Institute has suggestions on how to fill that gap too: A Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) and national clean-energy testbeds.
A CEDA is a bank seeded with government funds but operated as an independent organization that offers a variety of financing mechanisms. Those include investment funds, guarantee programs, insurance plans, bonds and debt financing. It would replace the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office.
Meanwhile, the national clean-energy testbeds program would provide “pre-approved, monitored and grid-connected” public land as demonstration sites for new energy technology, according to the Institute’s study.
The study acknowledges risks in all early technology projects, but suggests too many promising prospects fail to reach the launching pad: “To meet this challenge, the country must build an institutional system that fosters innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition, and avoids picking incumbent technologies over innovative, yet risky, technologies.”
Innovation - or lack of it - is in the news a lot these days, and is the subject of a new book co-authored by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In this review, Fast Company quotes Friedman as saying that innovation, when it becomes a priority, can lift the nation.
The U.S. Military: The Big Green Machine Gets Even Greener
The military has a history of innovation that eventually goes mainstream. The most notable example, of course, is the Internet. Developed for the military, it revolutionized society. Department of Defense support also helped forge commercial development of global positioning systems and semiconductors.
Green energy and microgrids could be next on the list of advancements to expand beyond military bases and the battlefield. In a new report, PEW Charitable Trusts says the emergence of clean energy and increasingly competitive alternative energy sources “presents DoD (Department of Defense) with opportunities for saving lives and money in the years ahead.”
There are challenges, such as an austerity movement (although it could be argued that a strong clean-energy program actually saves money) and fallout from the Solyndra bankruptcy, which sidetracked an ambitious plan to attach solar to put solar panels on military housing. Whether the program survives remains to be seen.
Still, the military is moving ahead on other fronts. And it is not alone. Big Business, led by Walmart, Google and others, is pushing on. Walmart is particularly interesting; the world’s largest retailer wouldn’t be pursuing such an ambitious program if it wasn’t profitable. If you want to know more about Walmart’s efforts, read this new book.
In fact, there is so much going on that the phrase “industrial revolution” keeps coming up in regard to green energy. Economist Jeremy Rifkin is the latest, calling it “the third Industrial Revolution.”
The military’s efforts certainly are a catalyst. Using alternative fuel to power jets and other vehicles can sharply reduce dependence upon oil. The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States, gobbling more than 375,000 barrels of oil per day in 2009 - more than all but 35 nations.
Liquid petroleum accounts for about 75 percent of the military’s annual energy consumption, and more than $11 billion of its annual power bill. So, electric vehicles and biofuel such as algae and switchgrass can save millions of dollars. Did you know base leaders at Fort Bliss, Texas, drive tiny electric cars made of recycled plastic? Leave the Hummer home, baby!
Recently, a company of Marines operated their equipment solely on solar and battery power for 192 hours, saving eight gallons of fuel per day. And it is quieter, making it safer to operate on the battlefield.
From the report: “The Navy has also made progress on hybrid systems for ships. The USS Makin Island was commissioned in 2009 with a hybrid electric propulsion system that will save more than $250 million in fuel costs over the life of the ship. Looking forward, a hybrid electric drive system will be tested and installed as a proof of concept on the USS Truxtun. The Navy estimates successful testing will result in fuel savings of up to 8,500 barrels per year.”
Just as alternative fuel enhances the security of energy supplies, self-contained microgrids and other smart-energy technology can protect the military’s 500,000 buildings (totaling 2.2 billion square feet) at 500 major installations from commercial power outages.
Pew cites market analysts who project the military will account for almost 15 percent of the microgrid market in 2013, and that military implementation of microgrids will grow by 375 percent to $1.6 billion annually in 2020.
The Pew report is fascinating, and there is much more than recapped here. After reading it, I’m left with this thought: The influence of the military combined with growing interest in energy efficiency and sustainability by Big Business and others equals the start of a powerful movement that likely will pick up speed as awareness increases.
One of the nation’s largest solar highway projects breaks ground in Oregon. Wouldn’t the San Joaquin Valley in California be a great spot for something like this?