renewable energy

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Renters in California May Gain Access to More Renewable Energy

Proposed legislation would make renewable energy available to millions more Californians

Craig Miller/KQED

Most Californians can't install rooftop solar panels.

California’s big utilities are working toward the goal of generating 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, but some people want more renewable power, sooner. And there’s a solution to that: generate your own. But for most Californians — those who rent, who live in condos, whose property isn’t suitable for solar or wind installations or who just can’t afford it — that solution isn’t really an option.

Senator Lois Wolk, from Davis, has written legislation with a new solution. If Senate Bill 843 passes, customers of one of California’s big three investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas and Electric, would be allowed to purchase renewable energy directly from small, independent producers. Those producers send energy into the grid, then customers get credits on their regular utility bills. Continue reading

Californians Stand By Call for Climate Action

…though most remain clueless about the state’s imminent cap-and-trade program

Craig Miller / KQED

Wind turbines in Solano County. 78% of Californians polled favor federal support for renewable energy.

Much has been made lately of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller’s recent “conversion” to the position that global warming is both happening and stoked by human activity.* But it turns out that the controversial scientist and author has been playing catch-up.

In a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), 60% of Californians polled said that the effects of global warming have already begun. Asking the question in a slightly different way, both the Brookings Institution and the Pew Center for People & the Press found that in 2011, 60% and 63% of Americans, respectively, believed that there was solid evidence that global warming is happening.

Californians took it a step further, however, with nearly three-in-four of the 2,500 participants responding that government should take steps to “counter the effects of global warming right away.” PPIC conducted the survey in July and it includes responses in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Continue reading

Hospital, Heal Thy High-Carbon Self

Kaiser, UCSF and Stanford University Medical Center are all looking for ways to get greener

By Kamal Menghrajani

Kaiser Permanente

Solar panels on the roof of Kaiser's hospital in Modesto will help the Oakland-based health care provider reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

All across California, people are looking for ways to be more eco-friendly: composting, recycling, driving less, and turning out the lights. Now it looks like hospitals in the area are following suit, as Kaiser Permanente announced new ‘green’ initiatives this week.

The Oakland-based health care provider is installing fuel cells and solar panels at its hospitals and clinics throughout the state. The huge non-profit is also turning to green building techniques for new construction projects and to save energy where possible in existing facilities.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, or a total of 264,000 metric tons, by the year 2020. Continue reading

Gov. Brown Signs Agreement to Fast-Track Renewable Projects

Brown and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar are expanding a state and federal partnership to expedite large-scale renewable projects.

Craig Miller/Climate Watch

The partnership between the Department of the Interior and the state of California expedites the approval process for large-scale solar, wind, and geothermal projects.

The partnership originates from an agreement then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in 2009. Now Brown and Salazar are extending it, and broadening the scope of the agreement, to include not only energy, but also transmission projects. They signed a memorandum of understanding (pdf) at a solar project being built in Elk Grove this morning.

According to a press release from the state, the projects now being fast-tracked, which are the Bureau of Land Management’s seven priority projects, plus other projects on private land, will generate enough renewable energy to meet the state’s 33% by 2020 goal.

The MOU signed today doesn’t guarantee they’ll all be built, rather, it’s a move towards expediting the lengthy permitting process these large-scale projects require.

SolarCity’s Military Deal a Boost for the Biz

Craig Miller/KQED

A rooftop solar array on a home in Vacaville.

SolarCity’s announcement this week that the company is moving forward with a massive military housing solar project, may be more than just a boost for one company. It’s another indication that despite a turbulent few months, the solar industry is alive and thriving.

By itself it’s a big deal that SolarCity and Bank of America Merill Lynch are teaming up without a government loan guarantee. That isn’t traditionally how it’s been done. Private investors usually like the security of a guarantee before they get into a big, risky investment. But in an interview with KQED’s Lauren Sommer, SolarCity’s CEO Lyndon Rive says this investment isn’t actually very risky, “We’re selling electricity; the consumer needs it. It’s not like you are financing a car where they can skip on their financing payments. It is a necessity.”

Continue reading

How Saving Water Could Help Keep the Lights On

Water and electricity do mix

Craig Miller

Wind is one of the few energy sources that requires virtually no water.

The Gordian knot of interdependence between water & power (not the political kind — that’s another story) has been getting a lot of attention lately as the “water-energy nexus.” A new report from Oakland’s Pacific Institute warns that as population grows and a changing climate further wrings water out of the West, “These trends will intensify water resource conflicts throughout the region.”

Oh, goody. Just what the West needs; more water conflicts. Continue reading

California’s Dirty Secret: The Five Coal Plants Supplying Our Electricity

The “invisible” fossil fuel that may be powering your lifestyle

Gretchen Weber

The Navajo Generating Station is coal-fired power plant in Arizona, just outside the Grand Canyon National Park. It's one of two coal plants that supplies more than 40% of Los Angeles' power.

Here in California, you hear a lot about our “green” reputation.  We have one of the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the country, and the state is certainly a hotbed for new solar and wind energy investments and installations. We also have a law that says electricity providers have to get 33% of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

So… you might be surprised to hear that coal — that’s right, dirty ol’ coal — is still very much a part of the power supply in parts of Southern California. If you’re one of the 1.4 million residents of Los Angeles who gets power from the city’s Department of Water and Power, about 40% of your electricity comes from coal.

But how’s that possible?  Here in California, we don’t have much in the way of coal deposits, and no significant coal power plants. But we do have several public utilities that own portions of out-of-state coal power plants, and that entitles them to lots of less-than-clean, coal-fired energy. Continue reading

Clean-Tech’s Unlikely Champion

Is the Pentagon setting the pace for renewable energy?

Solazyme Inc.

A Riverine Command Boat running on a 50/50 blend of algae-based and traditional fuel.

Thirty years ago, the idea of a military-alternative energy partnership might have raised some eyebrows, particularly among solar entrepreneurs here in Northern California. But in the wake of Solyndra’s crash and burn, the Pentagon has become one of clean-tech’s strongest remaining allies in Washington. Leading the charge is Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, whom I interviewed last week for my radio report on KQED’s Quest.

According to a recent study from the Pew Charitable Trust, the military has tripled its investment in technologies like biofuels, solar panels, and electric vehicles over the last four years. Today, it spends $1.2 billion a year on alternative fuels. That amount is expected to reach $2.25 billion by 2015. Mabus says he wants to see the Navy and Marine Corps getting at least half of their fuel from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020. Continue reading

How to Capture the Power of High-Altitude Winds

High altitude winds may have more than 100 times the energy needed to power civilization.  But as this video from KQED’s QUEST explains, capturing that power is going to take some very creative  solutions.

By Chris Bauer

A dreamer stares up into the sky, watches the clouds slowly pass by and ponders what could be. From da Vinci to Newton to the Wright brothers to the little kid down the street, sometimes there’s a fine line between the day-dreamer and the visionary. And now a group of innovative thinkers are looking at those same passing clouds in a whole new way.

Looking up at the jet stream, Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist from the Carnegie Institution of Global Ecology at Stanford University says, “We find that there’s more than 100 times the power necessary to power civilization in these high altitude winds.” 100 times the energy to power the world is going to get people’s attention.

The global need for clean energy is pushing scientists and engineers to search for new, untapped sources of energy. “To solve this problem we need a real revolution in our system of energy development,” continues Caldeira, “We need huge amounts of power, and the things that can provide huge amounts of power include fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas; nuclear power, solar power and wind.” The strongest and most consistent winds are found in the jet stream as high as 30,000 feet above the earth. But how do you harness the wind power from that high? Now the race is on to find the answer to that question. Continue reading

Officials Call for Federal Clean Energy Standards

In Las Vegas, politicians and industry leaders point to California’s lead

Gretchen Weber

Gov. Jerry Brown with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

In his keynote address at this week’s National Clean Energy Summit, Vice President Joe Biden said America is at a crossroads when it comes to energy, and that the choice is clear.

“If we shrink from deciding that we’re going to lead in the area of alternative energy, renewable energy, then we will be making the biggest mistake this nation has made in its entire history,” he said.

The Vice President was joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Jerry Brown, and other political and industry leaders at the summit, which is in its fourth year and is sponsored by several entities, including the Center for American Progress and Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

“If we don’t lead in this new energy technology, we’re going to follow, and I’d hate like hell to be trading the importation of oil, for the importation of new technologies,” said Biden. “Neither is very acceptable.” Continue reading