California has a long-standing reputation as a clean energy trendsetter. The state leads the nation in solar energy usage, energy efficiency overall, cleaner cars and energy storage. Currently on track to reach our goal of one third energy derived from renewable sources by 2020…Governor Jerry Brown kicked it up a notch in January by proposing California achieve an unprecedented 50 percent energy from renewable sources by 2030.
How will California accomplish such an ambitious target? This is the first in a series of blogs in which Run on Sun will addresss the challenges and possible solutions to reaching 50% by 2030 as opportunities unveil.
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station
While rooftop solar is great for offsetting the usage of those fortunate enough to be able to invest in an array, most people tend to think utility-scale solar requires wide open spaces only available in remote parts of our state. The best example being Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar power plant - generating 345 megawatts on five square miles near the Cali/Nevada border. However, growing to 50% renewables using vast spreads of desert solar arrays has the potential to harm ecosystems. Far away solar farms also incur enormous infrastructure costs just to transport the power from the source to your toaster.
Fortunately a new study provides evidence that we needn’t look further than our urban back yards to find sufficient space for solar. Stanford researchers published their findings in the March edition of Nature Climate Change:
We tested the hypothesis that land, energy and environmental compatibility can be achieved with small- and utility-scale solar energy within existing developed areas in the state of California. We found that the quantity of accessible energy potentially produced from photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) within the built environment exceeds current statewide demand.
The urban landscapes we design are already great at capturing the sun’s rays, as evidenced by the heat island effect. It turns out we have the capacity to develop enough solar power to meet three to five times California’s demand just by utilizing urban flat spaces such as carports and rooftops. Obviously developing small and utility-scale solar in our built environment greatly improves efficiency and cuts infrastructure costs by generating power directly where it is used.
As the study’s authors note, it’s important to remember there will always be trade-offs. It’s not an all-or-nothing, urban-or-rural question but looking more closely at the opportunities for solar in our urban backyards should be a priority.
Last I checked, people keep having babies, so the demand for homes is not going to slow down any time soon. But the fact is, times are changing. What was valuable in your home when you bought it may not be as important to prospective buyers today.
The challenges of climate change are becoming more widely accepted—a New York Times poll found that 83% of Americans now believe global warming will be a serious problem in the future. Thankfully, gains in residential energy-efficiency improvements offset more than 70% of the growth in both the number of homes and increasing footprint sizes, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). However, these gains in recent decades will need to significantly improve to make any kind of difference in terms of climate change.
But there is hope! The trend toward more efficient homes in the housing market is already getting attention. After surveying both home builders and home buyers, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported that Millenials want energy-efficient appliances and features as well as smaller homes. Smart technology such as programmable thermostats will also become the norm. Respondents said they were willing to pay 2-3% more for better energy-efficiency if they could see a return through lower electric bills. Respondents also said they’d be happy to sacrifice extra finished space for a more affordable first home.
If you are a home owner you should be tapping into the energy-efficiency trend to not only lower your utility expenses but improve the marketability and value of your home. If you follow our blog you may have seen our recent post discussing new evidence supporting the idea that solar increases property values. While installing a solar system is the granddaddy of all home energy-efficiency projects, we at Run on Sun always encourage clients to address low hanging fruit first, and make sure your energy usage is as low as possible. This will lower the size of the solar system you need to offset your usage, and thus, the overall cost of your solar investment.
Way too much of the energy we consume is wasted through poor insulation, leaky ducts, or inefficient household appliances. Fixing these problems can cut energy costs up to 25% for the typical home. One option is to ask a professional energy auditor to find exactly where your energy is going (we have some folks we can recommend). However, many energy saving tips are intuitive…installing double pane windows, better insulation, CFL or LED light bulbs, and ENERGY STAR appliances are all ones you’ve likely heard before. Others may be lesser known such as using power strips to avoid vamping power. And if you have a pool, upgrading that antiquated pool pump could save you a lot!
Once your home is up to snuff, going solar is a great investment to make your home even more desirable in the current housing market. Call Run on Sun today for a free site assessment!
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.
We stumbled upon an interesting graphic that highlights just what it takes to keep the lights on in our homes and work places. It is a tale of both efficiency and waste. We thought it was worth sharing… (h/t The EnergyCollective.)
The starting point for the graphic (click on the image at left for the full size graphic) is an old fashioned (i.e., wasteful) 100 Watt incandescent light bulb. If you turned on such a light and left it running for a year, how much energy would it consume? That’s the easy calculation - 100 W = 0.1 kW. There are 8,760 hours in a year (roughly - don’t go getting all leap year on me) so our light bulb uses:
0.1 kW x 8,760 hours = 876 kWh.
Quite a lot, really, just to light a room!
The graphic proceeds to explore what it would take to produce that much power from each of our common energy sources. Interestingly, only one of these sources is something you can own - and that, of course, is solar. (While you could own a wind turbine, the one in the graphic is a 1.5 MW turbine, definitely not something to put in your backyard!) To be fair, the graphic assumes an installation of 100 square meters which is 1,076 square feet, and that is significantly larger than most residential solar systems. If your system is smaller, it takes longer for your system to keep the light on, but the end result is the same: your own power source meeting your needs, with no pollution or long-lived waste products to worry about.
On the other end of that scale is the coal plant where our light bulb requires us to burn nearly half a ton of coal and emit over a ton of CO2 in the process!
The good news is that both that wasteful incandescent light bulb, and coal-fired power plants are going away, just not fast enough. (Changing out your old 100 Watt light bulbs with efficient LEDs will drop these numbers by more than a factor of five.) Every solar installation directly reduces our greenhouse gas emissions - and saves the system owner substantial amounts of money over the lifetime of the system.
There is a fair amount of talk lately (in nerd circles) about a graph being circulated by the utilities and the California Independent System Operator ( CALISO, the entity that manages the electric grid in the state). Known as the “Duck graph,” it is being presented as a dire prediction of impending grid instability due to the increasing role of renewable energy sources. But where some see doom and gloom, others see opportunity. Here’s our take. (H/T John Farrell at REWorld.)
Here’s the graph (credit, CALISO):
As recently as 2012, this wasn’t a duck at all as net load had two peaks, one in the morning and one late in the evening.
But look at the center of the graph: as more and more renewable sources come online, the demand during the middle of the day falls dramatically, so much so that the utilities are complaining that there will be a risk of “over generation” - producing more energy than is needed and cutting into the baseline production (from power plants like coal and nuclear that need to operate continuously to be efficient.)
Also predicted is a rather steep increase in evening demand between now and 2020.
The net result is a curve shaped much like a duck, apparently a fowl predictor of grid chaos.
Frankly, we look at that graph and see progress and opportunity. Progress in that renewables, which not so long ago were sneered at as being a, “tiny amount of energy that will never amount to anything serious,” are now completely rewriting the load curve in the nation’s most populous state. Talk about coming a long way, baby!
The opportunity, of course, is right there as well. While adding large amounts of smart storage to the grid is an obvious fix for this “problem", as we noted just the other day (see Can Renewables Power the US?), we can handle this evolving energy future in a relatively simple manner—it just requires changing how we approach the problem. Here’s the video:
We can, and will, teach this Duck to fly.