Power

Progress and pitfalls in California's clean energy quest

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Cap-and-Trade and Your Electric Bill

State rebates could offset electrical sticker shock, finds a new study

Forcing utilities to pay for their carbon emissions, as California plans to do, will mean more costly megawatts. Six months before formal compliance with the state’s new cap & trade system begins, regulators are still sorting out what to do about that.

One of them is to provide rebates to offset hikes in electric bills. A new report from the clean-economy advocates, Next 10 attempts to sort out the options and put some concrete numbers on them. For example, the authors estimate that for PG&E customers, pricing carbon will add somewhere from two-to-seven dollars a month to summer electric bills, and anywhere from $2.50-to-more than $10 for customers served by Southern California Edison. Where you fall in that range depends in part on which of California’s many climate zones you live in. Places like the Inland Empire, which rely more on air conditioning, would fall in the upper end of the range. Continue reading

Where Climate and Energy Intersect: The Flipside

Electrical generation may be changing the climate but the reverse is also true

Craig Miller

As temperatures rise, the power grid stands to become less efficient. Transmission lines could lose 7-8% of their peak carrying capacity by 2100.

Planners, policymakers and scientists are starting to look more closely at the crossroads of climate change and energy production in California.

For years the focus has been on how energy production affects the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases. Now the converse has come center stage: What happens to energy production in a changing climate? Some heavy-hitters in California climate and energy circles gathered at the California Energy Commission this week, to weigh the question. Some highlights: Continue reading

Brown Says State’s Buildings Must Go Green

An executive order directs state agencies to cut carbon emissions, save water and energy

California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento. In 2003, the 25-story tower was given a “Platinum” rating by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2003.

Governor Jerry Brown decreed yesterday that state-owned buildings across California must go green.

The executive order stipulates that state agencies must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% using 2010 as a baseline, and half of all new and renovated buildings must be Net Zero Energy by 2020. The order, B-18-12, also continues a previous policy requiring state-owned buildings larger than 10,000 square feet to meet the guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Silver” rating.

“This shows that the state is very focused on meeting very ambitious yet achievable goals,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

The move is a step toward compliance with AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires that statewide greenhouse gas emissions brought down to 1990 levels by 2020.

According to a release from the governor’s office, the statewide initiative will also save one billion gallons of water and an estimated $45 million in tax dollars each year. Westrup did not have figures on projected job creation, but he pointed out that similar initiatives geared toward efficiency have created 1.5 million jobs across the state since 1978.

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Tesla and SolarCity Collaborate on Clean Energy Storage

The companies’ founders don’t just share business interests: they’re also family

Tesla Motors

Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and supported the creation of SolarCity.

Elon Musk is well-known in Silicon Valley as the founder of the luxury electric vehicle company Tesla Motors, and of SpaceX, the private space transport company.

What’s less well-known is Musk’s contribution to SolarCity, the solar installer and energy efficiency auditor. Musk inspired–and helped fund–the creation of the San Mateo-based solar company. And Tesla is working closely with SolarCity on a clean energy storage solution that would combine Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries with SolarCity’s rooftop solar arrays. The collaboration makes sense: not only is Musk the chairman of SolarCity, but the founders of the company, brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, are his first cousins.

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Can Clean-Tech Survive the Coming Funding Drought?

By 2014, federal clean-tech investment may tumble by 75% from its peak in 2009

Craig Miller/KQED

Government policies and subsidies that support clean-tech are phasing out over the next two years. That could be disastrous for the industry, though it doesn’t have to be, according to a new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. In 2009 when federal support was peaking, the industry received $44.3 billion. But the report, entitled Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech On a Path To Subsidy Independence [PDF], projects that by 2014, federal subsidies will have dropped to $11 billion.

“Undeniably, there’s a massive reset before us,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings and one of the report’s authors, said this morning on KQED’s Forum radio program. Muro and the other authors examined 92 programs that provide policy or financial support to the clean-tech industry. Of those, 61 have pre-set expiration dates and, unless extended, will no longer be in place by the end of 2014.

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Thinking Long-Term About Power Plants

A new report warns against the folly of over-investing in natural gas

By Thibault Worth

Craig Miller/KQED

As the nation's power plants age, a new report warns against relying too much on natural gas.

The nation’s power plants are aging. An increasing number require replacement parts; others can’t keep up with new environmental regulations.

A report released today [PDF] by the Boston-based think tank Ceres estimates that in the next two decades, up to $100 billion will be invested in the electric utility industry every year – twice the amount invested in recent years.

According to the report, that boom in investment will take place in a shifting regulatory environment. Air pollution and greenhouse gas restrictions will increase, and fossil fuel-burning power plants will have to keep up. Governments are setting requirements for energy from renewable sources. (California, for example, is targeting a 33% renewable energy ratio by 2020.) Smart grids and new consumer technologies are changing how people think about energy production and consumption.

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How Green is Your EV?

A new study and map reveal that it depends on where your juice is coming from

Andrea Kissack

The author's EV gets "tanked up."

Just because an electric vehicle (EV) lacks a tail pipe, it doesn’t mean it’s always cleaner than other fuel efficient cars. According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, where you live may determine how clean your electric car is.

The new report, called “State of Charge,” looks at the entire life cycle of EV emissions that includes energy inputs from start to finish, not just during drive time. In other words, what kind of emissions do EVs create from charging on an electric grid and how does the cost of that charging compare to filling up a gasoline-powered vehicle? Continue reading

Birds and Blades: Are Condors and Wind Turbines Compatible?

Lawsuits pit an endangered species against renewable energy development

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

This California condor, flying near the coast, is one of about 200 condors living in the wild.

Wind is a growing industry in the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California. Kern County welcomes new wind projects, and Google has gotten in on the action. But some environmentalists say that developers and officials are ignoring the elephant — or, in this case, the enormous bird — in the room.

California condors are beginning to return to the Tehachapis after nearly going extinct in the 1980’s, and birds and wind turbines don’t mix. No California condors have yet had a run-in with a turbine. But they are still endangered — it’s illegal to kill them — and three environmental groups say that Kern County and the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are not properly considering the risks. The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the BLM today, regarding one wind development in particular. (They have previously sued Kern County over the same project).

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Is Your Town California’s “Coolest?”

Let the Carbon Games begin: cities compete to cut emissions

Phil Schermeister

Sacramento is one of the cities competing to be "Coolest California City."

We must’ve missed the opening ceremonies with the parade of flag-bearing competitors and giant torch-lighting — or maybe it was canceled to save energy. Either way, ten California cities are competing over the next year to reduce their carbon emissions.

Individuals, local governments and businesses will all be involved in the project, called the Cool California Challenge. The Cool California website has a carbon calculator, tips on reducing your footprint and links to rebates. Plus there’s a social media element, so you can envy, goad or cooperate with your neighbors as you see fit.

The competing cities are Chula Vista, Citrus Heights, Davis, Gonzales, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, San Jose and Tracy. Participants — whether they’re individuals, companies or other types of organizations — earn points by being more carbon-conscious.

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Green Light for Feed-in Tariff to Spark L.A. Renewable Energy

City Council OK’s demo program to buy power from small-scale renewable generators

Kimberly Ayers

Feed-in tariffs from private solar arrays like this one enable the world's largest source of renewable energy.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) now gets to ramp up a pilot phase that could add up to 150 megawatts of renewable electricity after 2016 — enough to power 22,000 homes — all with an eye toward hitting the state-mandated goal of 33% of its power from renewables by 2020. The measure awaits the mayor’s signature, expected late next week.

A common example of the new program would be a commercial real estate or large warehouse owner installing a rooftop solar power system and selling that power back to the local utility. The simplest definition I’ve found comes from another city that just approved a similar program for solar energy, Palo Alto: “Feed-in tariff programs involve a utility paying a fixed price, a “tariff,” for the power that is “fed into” their electric grid from local generation systems.” Continue reading