Here in SoCal discussions on water conservation are a regular occurrence. We all know the management of water resources in California is critical given increasing populations, increasing strains on our enormous agricultural ‘breadbasket’, and ever-decreasing precipitation as the effects of climate change worsen. However, how many of us think about energy in terms of water conservation?
According to the International Energy Agency, energy production accounts for 15% of the world’s water withdrawal – water withdrawn from groundwater. Thermoelectric power plants account for over one third of the fresh water withdrawn in the US. Shockingly that volume is greater than the water used to grow our food!
So which energy sources are hogging our precious water and how? Actually, most energy generation technologies — including coal, nuclear, biomass and even concentrating solar power – consume astounding amounts of water. It is necessary primarily for cooling thermal power plants, as well as fuel extraction, transport and processing. This results in both the depletion of available freshwater resources and affects the quality of our remaining resources downstream due to the polluting effects of energy-related outputs.
Sunlight, on the other hand, is an infinitely abundant resource in most water-stressed parts of the world, including here in California. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency reported that photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is one of only two electricity generation technologies with negligible water consumption.
PV energy systems provide a sustainable solution to the water-energy nexus by generating clean electricity with little to no water use. With the smallest carbon footprint, lowest life cycle water use, and fastest energy payback time in the industry, thin-film PV modules provide a sustainable solution to water scarcity and energy security.
Water conservation must be a priority in water-stressed parts of the world. While PV solar is unlikely to provide enough power for the entire state any time soon, individuals and businesses installing roof-top solar can make a positive difference. It turns out, not only in reducing air pollution from dirty energy but also in saving our water resources!
It is important to note the other half of the energy-water nexus. Energy is required to produce, treat, and distribute water. So, even if solar is providing your electricity, the water you use is still linked to polluting energy sources. Combining smart water conservation techniques, such as those suggested in this EPA list of household water saving methods, with going solar is the best bet for ensuring our planet’s resources will continue to provide for our future.
If you pay any attention to clean tech news, its no surprise to hear that the solar industry is growing. But the record-breaking results from the National Solar Jobs Census, released by the Solar Foundation (TSF) yesterday, are pretty astounding. The study found that the sector grew nearly 20 times the rate of the overall economy. One out of every 78 jobs added in the US in 2014 was in the solar industry!
The Solar Foundation, an independent nonprofit solar research and education organization, has been conducting the annual National Solar Jobs Census since 2010. The 2014 report, derived directly from inerviews with more than 7,600 U.S. businesses, measured employment growth in the industry between November 2013 and November 2014.
We’ve pulled out a few highlights from the report:
While surveyed solar employers are optimistic about 2015, expecting to add another 36,000 jobs, the solar boom may not last forever… 72% of employers surveyed noted that the federal tax credit significantly boosted their sales in 2014. Dramatic downsizing in 2017 after the federal tax credit expires is not out of the realm of possibility. (Are you listening, Washington?)
Studies like this one prove that solar is providing a tremendously valuable boost to our economy while meeting public demand for choice, competition, and cleaner, more affordable energy. Hopefully some form of incentives post-2016 will continue to keep this valuable ball rolling.
As its moniker suggests, the Internet of Things (IoT) is about the connectivity of ‘things’, not people. Hence, managing our hyper-connected world by using data from remote sensors in our devices to provide control in a smarter, more efficient way. As nebulous and vague as the ‘Internet of Things’ is, it has been cited as the hot technology trend of the future. In a recent Business Insider report, they estimate IoT growth will increase connections from 1.9 billion devices today, to 9 billion by 2018 (see chart below).
In fact, IoT is already a reality with 24/7 connectivity to laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and even wearable devices.
One of the best known applications for IoT is the smart metering of electricity, water, and waste systems as well as integrated management of home and building systems. Building temperature, humidity, ambient light and occupancy could be monitored by sensors and used to control heating, lighting, air-conditioning, and the operation of doors and windows, etc.
Smart thermostats such as Google’s Nest allows home owners to manage their heating requirements remotely via their smartphone. Where utilities participate, users can program their biggest energy inefficient appliances (heating and cooling systems, washers and dryers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and pool pumps) to respond to varying energy tarifs and avoid peak demand periods. Sometimes demand reward credits are offered by utilities.
While these applications may make the workplace and home more comfortable and secure, the real motivation for adoption of such systems will be from potential energy benefits and hence cost savings. Avoiding peak periods would also have the broader environmental benefit of spreading demand, allowing power plants to operate more efficiently and reduce the need to build generating capacity to meet demand spikes.
But opinion seems divided over whether the Internet of Things will deliver improved energy efficiency overall. The exponential growth in the number of connected ‘things’ that all consume power could negate many of the efficiency gains of things like smart thermostats. More than $80 billion in power is wasted by connected ‘things’ according to an IEA (International Energy Agency) report. This is what is known as “vampire power”, or “vamping", and refers to energy used when devices are switched off or in standby mode. The IEA report notes the problem could result in $120 billion USD wasted by 2020 due to vamping!
One potential smart solution to vamping is to make appliances in the off or sleep mode actually power off but respond to a timer which is only responsive to the “on” switch during a portion of each second. The long term key to whether IoT improves energy efficiency lies with improving the energy efficiency of the devices themselves while at the same time providing innovative applications.
The wider potential of the Internet of Things is enormous and exciting. Wider ’smart grids’ could make our urban centers dynamic and responsive to energy demands, optimizing city-level energy use. As the Internet of Things continues to grow, the opportunity for bigger energy and environmental benefits from applications like smart grids could become a valuable reality assuming the overall efficiency of our ‘things’ also continues to improve.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s inauguration was historic in more ways than one. After all, this is his fourth term - despite the legal limit of just two (the term limit was imposed in 1990 after his earlier terms in the 70’s). But perhaps even more historic was the content of his exciting inaugural speech. Among many plans for a healthier and more economically viable state, Brown proposed ambitious green energy goals including growing renewable energy to 50% by 2030. Coincidentally, on Tuesday we posted a blog encouraging readers to support the policies and politicians defending and expanding solar opportunities.
Gov. Brown described California as an environmental policy trendsetter. We already lead the nation in solar energy usage, energy efficiency overall, cleaner cars and energy storage. However, with the majority of scientists agreeing that we must limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, much more comprehensive measures are necessary.
If we have any chance at all of achieving that, California, as it does in many areas, must show the way. We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being.
He outlined the following three goals to accomplish by 2030:
California is already on track to reach its goal of one third energy derived from renewable sources by 2020. So, although 50% by 2030 sounds bold because no one else is doing it, it is actually feasible. This could mean the continuation of tax breaks and other financial incentives for homeowners to go solar. Given that transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, incentives and infrastructure to get drivers in electric cars are also likely.
I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.
It won’t be easy accomplishing Brown’s goals with the oil industry leaders and some politicians opposing anything green. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, we must remain diligent in supporting policies and politicians fighting for a cleaner world. By his speech, Governor Brown once again demonstrated that he is such a politician, with his practical and no-nonsense stance:
Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.
We are at a crossroads. With big and important new programs now launched and the budget carefully balanced, the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative, as our forebears have shown and our descendants would expect.
New year, same battle.
We have reported for some time about efforts by the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to do what they can to make rooftop solar less attractive, if not kill it outright. This report from NPR demonstrates how that fight is playing out here in California, and elsewhere.
As we begin the new year, this story is an important reminder that supportive public policy doesn’t just happen, and there are forces arrayed against this industry that would like nothing more than to make rooftop solar - the sort that homes and businesses can use - go away completely. (Ironically, this is at the same time that utilities are investing ever more in their own solar facilities - such as this one in Colorado, or this one in California - as a hedge against carbon regulations and unpredictable fossil fuel prices.)
If we are to defend and expand the ability of average home and business owners to lower their bills while reducing their carbon footprint, we will need to be proactive this year in supporting the policies, and politicians, that allow that to happen.