Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Green Investment in Asian Cities to Reduce Natural Disaster Risks

In recent years, large-scale natural disasters have frequently occurred in various parts of the world, and the associated losses have increased. As a result, there have been growing concerns over the protective measures needed, particularly with respect to energy and infrastructure systems within cities that are also experiencing mounting risks and exposure levels.

In order to avoid risks and damage, and to strengthen resilience to natural disasters, national and local governments need to be prepared. At the local level, authorities must take action to construct policy packages that include locally based risk prevention facilities as well as risk finance and risk transfer systems.

A proposal for the establishment of a risk management facility has been submitted by the Parties and other organizations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The proposal by the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative consists of a three-tier risk management module for the international level, an international risk pooling mechanism for developing countries, an insurance assistance facility to cover medium-level risks, and a prevention pillar to achieve risk reduction.

In addition to governments and private enterprises that offer financial support and the provision of necessary goods and services to cover losses post-disaster, risk financing and risk transfer tools such as insurance, reinsurance, and catastrophe-linked securities are key. Such tools help to reduce the negative economic impacts of extreme risks.

This article discusses the risks associated with natural disasters, with particular focus on the vulnerability of energy systems. It examines the opportunities for local/community-based infrastructure to prevent risks through installing locally based energy systems, financing mechanisms to prevent risks and risk transfer systems as well as the associated challenges that exist with respect to their establishment.

Natural disasters and risks

As Aekapol Chongvilaivan noted in his 2012 paper, natural disasters, such as the 2011 floods in Thailand, have had huge impacts on urban systems and their associated infrastructure.

The nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima in Japan on 11 March 2011, a result of an earthquake and tsunami, highlighted the constraints of the existing energy system in Japan as well as its vulnerability to extreme events. Japan’s energy system is very centralized and dominated by ten regional electrical companies — according to data from Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, about 90 percent of the country’s power generation. For example, electricity in the megacities of Tokyo and Yokohama is provided by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which depended on nuclear power plants for 29.7 percent of its total generated electricity.

The 2011 catastrophe increased public awareness on energy security, making it apparent that a review of energy security was necessary for the country, and that both a nationwide recovery plan and city-level recovery plans were needed. This has also emphasized the need for an innovative and resilient energy system with a diversified and decentralized energy supply and management system, including the development of more flexible, locally based energy supply and risk prevention facilities to quickly respond to risks.

Locally based development for enhancing resilience

More than a decade has passed since the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted (in 1997), which commits its Parties to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, thereby setting mitigation targets and related climate change policy at the national level. This has also prompted individual cities to do the same, oftentimes more successfully.

For example, many local programmes and initiatives have been established in various countries, e.g., the Future City initiatives in Japan, Tianjin Eco-City in China, Thailand’s Low Carbon City pilot project and the Low Carbon Society project in Iskandar, Malaysia.

In Japan’s case, these city-based developments were launched as part of the National Strategic Projects in its “New Growth Strategy”, published in June 2010. The New Growth Strategy policies (blueprint for revitalizing Japan) were set up as a result of a Cabinet decision in 2010. One of the components is “Revitalizing rural cities and towns by utilizing regional resources; revitalizing big cities to serve as engines of growth”. The targets to achieve by 2020 are to utilize regional resources to the greatest possible extent and to increase regional power, as well as to make strategic, prioritized investments in airports, ports, roads and other infrastructure in major urban areas.

In consideration of natural disasters, which are expected to become more frequent and severe as a result of climate change, governments must be proactive and take a preventative approach to constructing resilient infrastructure and management systems within the city or community in cooperation with private and local non-profit organizations. Assessment of the damages of disaster risks and the costs associated with natural disasters ex-ante is also important. Therefore, for fully effective risk management and implementation, locally based facilities in line with an international risk management facility are needed.

After the recent sequence of natural disasters in Asia — including the flooding in Thailand, earthquake in Indonesia, and earthquake and tsunami in Japan — and their severe impacts on society, city-based risk management has become a major focus, particularly in Japan, and has been added in the components of local development strategies for enhancing resilience at this level.

In Japan, an “autonomous decentralized regional development model project utilizing regional renewable energy” was initiated in 2011. The project was implemented with additional funding of 1.0 billion yen in 2012. The budget was increased to 1.6 billion yen in 2013 under the programme of sustainable regional development (about 33 billion yen is planned to be distributed in 2013), according to the Ministry of the Environment budget request in 2013. The private sector has been a key actor in the implementation and has also included other players such as research institutions and local governments.

Community-based management systems and investment

In order for a decentralized, locally based energy system to exist, funding is required for the installation and operation of new facilities, such as solar power generation stations. In Japan, increasing attention has been paid to the establishment of such financial mechanisms as the result of raised public awareness on sustainable energy and security. Available funds have been identified through government subsidies, but cannot be fully relied upon, making it important to seek out other sources.

Various local funds have been established through investments from the private sector and also from voluntary citizen donations. Financial instruments have included the issuance of certificates, promissory notes, and small-issue bonds through financial institutions. For example, a micro-credit fund is an investment fund designed to finance microfinance institutions (MFIs), which provide financial services such as small loans to small enterprises. MFIs deliver microcredit through local banking, solidarity groups and individual loans.

In the case of Japan, for instance, after the Fukushima accident, the online retail investment fund management company (Music Securities Inc, Tokyo) set up new micro-credit funds to raise capital for small enterprises in the Tohoku region, which has been hugely affected by the accident. However, these instruments and methods vary and are dependent on the specific structures of funding within cities.

A challenge for local low-carbon energy investment availability and feasibility is the high degree of uncertainty and risks inherent in renewable energy technologies. Uncertainty is high due to the lack of experience and history in the case of green energy and community-based projects, and the lack of understanding on the associated social and environmental impacts as well as potential economic benefits. Therefore, local government and investors who provide subsidies or invest in these efforts must utilize proper analytical tools to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the local energy project including any economic, social and environmental impacts of its implementation prior to any decision-making.

Risk prevention and transfer

In addition to the establishment of locally based energy systems, risk prevention or risk transfer systems mitigating the financial impacts of natural disasters must also be established at the local level. Agendas for the formulation of systems to reduce disaster risk and establishment of funding mechanisms, such as risk financing, have been attracting attention. Risk financing can be used to quickly secure funds before and after disasters, and also investigates countermeasures against natural disasters, including methods such as insurance and climate change adaptation measures.

Economic loss attributed to extreme weather events around the world increases demand for the development of risk management and risk transfer schemes. Many nations, including both developed and also developing countries, have established such insurance schemes that improve adaptation capacity to disaster events.

One strategy to support the economic recovery immediately after a disaster includes a weather insurance index. This allows for the benefit of quick payment to aid in recovery post-natural disaster due to the parameters of the index (e.g., the wind speed of a hurricane or the degree of ground acceleration caused by an earthquake) rather than the actual damages that typically determine the conditions of payment. Use of these parameters aids in the liquidity of funding and helps insurees with more immediate recovery, as payments are paid as quickly as possible after the occurrence of disaster.

Development challenges

When introducing such a risk transfer mechanism, challenges are prone to exist in the development, dissemination and design of the risk transfer scheme. Uncertainty is high when disasters occur in places that, in particular, lack appropriate infrastructure for pre-disaster management, lack data related to weather, or have unreliable data with respect to quality. Other challenges include residual risk (e.g., the exposure to loss remaining after other known risks have been countered, factored in, or eliminated), the uncertainty of unexpected events due to the inability to quantify events of rare occurrence, the inaccuracy/unavailability of climate data, or poorly designed risk-mitigation mechanisms and management systems.

These are all of particular concern within developing countries where high residual risk results in high insurance premium costs that small enterprises and citizens in developing countries cannot afford. Therefore, for minimizing the residual and baseline risk, governmental support to cover expected losses and risk premiums, as well as to formulate reliable risk management mechanisms from accurate data (including compiled historical data and capacity development) is necessary.

Moreover, the challenges to the development of disaster risk insurance are profound in cities of developing countries that are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters such as typhoons, floods and drought — usually exacerbated by high population density and inadequate infrastructure. These challenges usually stem from the weaknesses that exist in observation systems including quality of data, availability of data, weather observation stations, the automation of the weather observation system to record and compile the data at the local/regional level (not only at the national level), and ageing facilities and equipment.

Therefore, for the improvement of risk prevention mitigation, first, the improvement of quality data and facilities to more accurately forecast and estimate risks is needed. The expansion, modernization and strengthening of a meteorological observation network is also necessary. Improvements in data processing are essential for the development of basic meteorological data for building a risk financing system, regardless of the field and approach of risk insurance or risk transfer mechanisms.

A policy package to prevent natural disaster risks at the local level — including low-carbon infrastructure, risk assessment for investment and risk transfer systems — are needed. Future disaster preparedness requires the establishment of risk financing systems. It is necessary to have not only locally based infrastructure systems such as community-based energy management and supply systems and financing mechanisms, but also risk transfer mechanisms including risk insurance for natural disasters.

In addition to the establishment of these systems at the local level, a basic infrastructure of data for risk assessment and estimates is required, and also a strengthening of regional or informational cooperation between cities or countries across both the developed and developing world.

Finally, it is imperative, as in the case of Japan, to develop and build a collaborative environment for public institutions and private companies for the success of these locally based initiatives.
Photo credit - Mark Garten Content Courtesy - Unu

Monday, December 09, 2013

Earth’s OCS Cradles Huge Freshwater Reserves

The latest issue of Nature promises temporary relief to a planet where fresh water is quickly becoming scarcer and scarcer

Vincent E.A. Post of Flinders University in Adelaide and his coauthors Jacobus Groen, Henk Kooi, Mark Person, Shemin Ge, and W. Mike Edmunds report the surprising news that outer continental shelves worldwide contain huge freshwater and low-salinity aquifers.

Dr. Post et al. came to the conclusion that separately observed subsea freshwater deposits were not anomalous by reviewing an extensive collection of seafloor studies done for both science and oil and gas exploration. The study evinces vast meteoric groundwater reserves below earth’s oceans. Notable locations to date mainly lie off Australia, China, North America, and South Africa.

From hydrologic models, we know something about subsea groundwater accumulated and discharged through the nearshore seabed. However, its occurrence below the continental shelves has received little notice until now. The authors illustrate geology, key groundwater flow, and dissolved salt transport processes in cross-sections below the continental shelf during glacial and interglacial times. They also present a global overview of inferred key metrics for seven well-characterized vast meteoric groundwater reserves.

The useful contents of these subsea water basins range from fresh to a third saline, the upper limit of brackish. As technology has improved and reverse osmosis and desalination costs have dropped, partly saline water has become more attractive.

Short-term implications for a freshwater-starved planet may be enormous. Our coasts harbor 80% of the world’s population. New subsea sources, albeit nonrenewable, could offset water shortages in coastal cities and even relieve droughts. They could also be put to work mitigating anthropogenic land subsidence and seawater intrusion.

Lead author Post and his colleagues estimate that “the volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s subsurface… since 1900.” They peg the total as around 120,000 cubic miles (half a million cubic km) of freshwater. Its main origin: rainwater filtered through the ground surface into water tables that have submerged with sea level rise over the past 200 centuries. Its main origin: rainwater filtered through the ground surface into water tables that have submerged with sea level rise over the past 200 centuries.

Layers of sediment and clay contain the undersea aquifers, which greatly resemble bore basins beneath the land. The authors believe they can be accessed by either conventional offshore platforms or by horizontal drilling from islands or the shore.

Post et al. envision these freshwater supplies sustaining coastal areas for decades. By 2030, almost half the world population will be water-stressed according to UN Water, so the discovery could not come at a more opportune time.

The Australian-led international research team has added greatly to our store of knowledge and opportunities to alleviate climate change in the short run. Their work has mapped global topography and bathymetry to show all known occurrences of fresh and brackish offshore groundwater. It also indicates useful foci for further hydrologic work. The authors take the implications even farther than water study to advancement of sediment knowledge and marine geochemistry.
Photo credit - freeaussiestock Content Courtesy -Planetsave

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Carbon in atmosphere 'could warm planet for centuries'

Global warming could continue for centuries even if carbon emissions were stopped overnight.

  A diesel particulate filter captures small soot particles,preventing
 them from being expelled into the atmosphere

Carbon dioxide which is already in our atmosphere could continue warming the planet for centuries even if new emissions were entirely halted, scientists claim.

A new analysis of future carbon emission scenarios found that it may take significantly fewer emissions for global temperatures to reach unsafe levels than previously thought.
Carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, has long-term effects because it can remain in the atmosphere for centuries after it is emitted.

To understand how long its influence on global temperatures will last, scientists produced a computer model of a scenario where all carbon emissions were immediately stopped after 1,800 billion tonnes had been released into the atmosphere.

They found that 40 per cent of the carbon would be absorbed by the oceans or landmasses within 20 years of emissions ceasing, 60 per cent within 100 years and 80 per cent within 1,000 years.

The decreasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere should in theory have a cooling effect, but this would be outweighed by the fact the oceans will absorb less and less heat as time goes on.

Previous studies had suggested that global temperatures would remain steady or decline if emissions were suddenly stopped, but did not account for the declining capacity of the oceans to continue absorbing heat, the scientists claimed.

Eventually the warming effect of heat which is no longer being absorbed by the oceans and is lingering in the atmosphere will outweigh the cooling caused by declining CO2 levels, they said.
Results published in the Nature Climate Change journal suggest that after an initial century of cooling following the stoppage of emissions, the planet would then warm by 0.37C over a 400 year period.
Although the change sounds small, it is almost half the total amount of warming seen since the start of the industrial era which stands at 0.85C.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an increase of 2C or more above pre-industrial levels could result in dangerous effects on the climate system.

Experts have previously warned that to keep global temperature rises below 2C, humans must keep the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the industrial era below 1,000 billion tonnes, about half of which has already been released.

But the new study suggests the 2C benchmark could be reached with significantly lower carbon emissions.
Dr Thomas Frölicher of Princeton University, who led the study, said: "If our results are correct, the total carbon emissions required to stay below two degrees of warming would have to be three-quarters of previous estimates, only 750 billion tons instead of 1,000 billion tons of carbon.

"Thus, limiting the warming to two degrees would require keeping future cumulative carbon emissions below 250 billion tons, only half of the already emitted amount of 500 billion tons."

Photo credit - Nick Collins Content Courtesy - Telegraph

Monday, November 04, 2013

Pumpkin Power: Pumpkins Can Make Renewable Electricity

According to the Department of Energy: It might not be long until the 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins we produce annually are nearly as important to our energy security as they are to Halloween!  Thanks to the pioneering work of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), discarded pumpkins and other food waste are used as a source of renewable electricity. I was searching through the archives at Energy.Gov and found the following totally cool story. By Amber Archangel

Pumpkin Power: Turning Food Waste into Energy

It might not be long until the 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins we produce annually are nearly as important to our energy security as they are to Halloween!

The story is a little different in Oakland, California. Thanks to the pioneering work of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), discarded pumpkins and other food waste are used as a source of renewable electricity.

What Does This Project Do?
  • Oakland’s EBMUD collect food waste and uses microbes to convert it into methane gas that is burned to generate electricity.
  • The Energy Department is helping to fund the development of integrated biorefineries, industrial centers dedicated to converting plant material into biofuels and other products.

With the passing of Halloween, millions of pounds of pumpkins have turned from seasonal decorations to trash destined for compost heaps or landfills.

How is that possible? First, waste haulers gather post-consumer food waste and deliver it to EBMUD’s anaerobic digesters. Inside these giant tanks, bacteria break down the food waste and release methane gas as a byproduct. EBMUD captures this gas and uses it to generate electricity in onsite generators. A ton of food waste provides about 367 m3 of gas, and digesting 100 tons of food wastes five days a week can generate enough electricity to power 1,000 homes. Once the food waste has been digested, the remaining solids make an excellent natural fertilizer, so they can be used to get next year’s pumpkin crop started.

Discarded pumpkins and other organic waste material can be used for more than just electricity.

The Energy Department is working together with industry to develop and test integrated biorefineries, industrial centers capable of efficiently converting plant material into affordable biofuels, biopower, and other products. These projects are located around the country and use a variety of materials as feedstocks.

Two of them, Enerkem in Mississippi and INEOS Bio in Florida, use municipal solid waste as a feedstock, like EBMUD, but use a process called gasification to produce ethanol and electricity. In 2012, INEOS Bio is planning to open the Indian River County Bioenergy Center, which will produce 8,000,000 gallons of ethanol, enough to fill about 232 of the largest railroad tank cars, and 6 megawatts of electricity a year from 300 dry tons of biomass a day, including yard waste and food scraps.

In Mississippi, Enerkem is planning a biorefinery on a regional landfill. They plan to convert 300 tons of solid waste a day into ethanol, amounting to 10,000,000 gallons (290 tank cars) of ethanol per year.

The Energy Department’s partnership with these companies is helping to remove barriers to commercialization of fuel and power production from municipal solid waste, including yard and food wastes, and so it might not be long until the 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins we produce annually are nearly as important to our energy security as they are to Halloween!
Photo credit - Matthew Loveless Content Courtesy - Energy.Gov

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Tips to Keep Energy Spooks Away

This Halloween, keep ghosts and goblins at bay — while saving energy and money — with these home energy efficiency tricks

In searching through the dusty archives of the Department of Energy, I found this creepy Halloween infographic. (:D) According to the Department: No need to fill your house with garlic to keep vampires at bay. Fend off these ancient creatures while saving money on lighting costs with energy-efficient light bulbs. By Amber Archangel. The following ghoulish information is from Energy.Gov:

Energy Efficiency Tricks to Stop Your Energy Bill from Haunting You This Halloween
What are the key facts?

  • The typical American family spends at least $2,000 a year on their home energy bills.
  • Families can save up to 20-30 percent on their energy bills by making energy efficiency upgrades.

It has long been said that on All Hallows’ Eve the boundary between the living world and dead thins, allowing spirits to run free.

Ghosts and goblins roam the earth, witches take to the sky on their broomsticks and vampires rise from the dead. Whether you believe in paranormal activity or not, this Halloween don’t let your energy bill give you a scare.

Defend yourself from unwanted spirits and high energy bills by sealing air leaks around windows, doors and air ducts.

Before air sealing, conduct a visual inspection to detect leaks or hire a professional for a more thorough measurement of your home’s airflow. Check out more tips to stop cold air – and Halloween spooks — from invading your home.

No need to fill your house with garlic to keep vampires at bay.

Fend off these ancient creatures while saving money on lighting costs with energy-efficient light bulbs. With traditional incandescent bulbs, about 90 percent of energy used is given off as heat. By replacing 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs with energy-saving lights, you can save about $50 per year — all while repelling vampires. Learn more about lighting choices that will save you money.

There is nothing like the crackle of a fire on a cold fall day.

But what can provide extra warmth during cooler months can also leave you vulnerable to higher energy bills and Halloween witches flying in your house. Keep warm air in your house — and witches out — with proper chimney maintenance. When not in use, be sure to close your chimney flue or use an inflatable stopper to prevent air leaks and temporarily seal the chimney.

Banish goblins and other creatures lurking in the shadows with outdoor solar lighting.

Easy to install, virtually maintenance free and with no added costs to your electric bill, outdoor solar lighting is popularly used in pathway lighting, wall-mounted lamps, freestanding lamp posts and security lights.

According to folklore, water has magical qualities, providing protection from the undead-ghosts can’t cross running water and the slightest drop causes witches to melt.

If this is a belief you ascribe to, you can stop ghosts and witches in their tracks and achieve water savings of 25-60 percent by installing low-flow fixtures. Learn how to determine if you should replace your fixtures, and be sure your faucets are equipped with an aerator to help restrict the flow of water.

Watch out for phantom loads haunting your energy bill this year.

Also called energy vampires, phantom loads refer to the energy that appliances draw when they are in standby mode, and they cost the average U.S. household $100 per year. Make phantom loads disappear by unplugging electronics and battery chargers when not in use, and be sure to explore other home electronic energy-saving tips.
This Halloween, protect yourself from evil spirits waiting to torment you — and rising energy bills — with these energy efficiency tips. After all, saving energy and money is a treat you can enjoy all year long.
Check out EnergySaver.gov for more tips on ways to save energy and money.

Infographic by : Sarah Gerrity Content Courtesy - 1sun4all

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Save Energy & Save Money Using The Sun Intelligently

One of the best ways to save money is also one of the greenest decisions we can make: that decision is the decision to save more energy. We waste a tremendous amount of energy in the US. Recent studies have found that we waste 61% to 84% of our energy in the US, and that we use 11 times more energy than the UK despite having only 5 times the population.

Energy is a huge portion of most people’s expenses. Cutting back just a bit on our energy usage could save money (tons of money) for all sorts of better things.

So, with all that on the table, what are the most effective ways to save money using the sun? I think all of the solar-related ways to save money (by saving energy) listed below are excellent solutions for the average American, but you can decide for yourself by evaluating the option as it applies to your own home or business.

Ways To Save Money With Solar Energy

Of course, as I’ve written several times here on Cost of Solar, putting solar PV panels on your roof is a pretty sure way to save tens of thousands of dollars (yep, tens of thousands). This should really be one of the first ways to save money that you should look into, especially considering that you can go solar for $0 or close to $0 down in many or most places (either through a solar leasing/PPA arrangement or through a $0 down solar loan from a bank).

But rooftop solar PV panels aren’t the only way to save energy using the sun. The below solar infographic from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) shows 7 more solar-related energy saving solutions. In case you prefer text format with a bit more commentary, here’s that first:

Use Solar Light Tubes For Daylighting: Solar light tubes allow you to bring in a lot more light (cutting the need for artificial lighting, which sucks up electricity) without the installation of big windows (which leak heat in the winter and cool air from your electricity-needy air conditioner in the summer). RMI notes that the average financial payback on solar light tubes is 5 to 7 years. In itself, that’s awesome, but that doesn’t even account for the improved quality of life that comes with more daylight in your home or office.

Use Skylights: Skylights are very similar to solar light tubes, but as you can see in a basic way in the infographic, the design is a bit different. (RMI notes that the financial payback time is highly variable, so it doesn’t list a range).

Dry Your Clothes In The Sun: Here’s an old-school money-saving solution that a lot of people are moving back to. Electric dryers are energy hogs. Why suck money out of your wallet using them when you can simply let the sun dry your clothes? I’ve been using this method for the past 5 years+, but wish I had started even sooner. (Note: I started using this method when I moved to Europe, where it’s commonplace. Even in a small apartment, like mine, it’s common to set up a drying rack when you’ve got wet clothes and either set it out on the balcony or next to the window.) Of course, if you decide to jump in on this energy- and money-saving solution, the financial savings are immediate. And if you want to see how much money you’re saving, you can try comparing your electric bill to your electric bills from previous months and from the same month in previous years. I think you’ll find this is one of the most effective ways to save money (a huge chunk of it) by using the energy of the sun.

Use A Pool Cover/Blanket: If you’ve got a swimming pool, this seems like an obvious one. Get a pool blanket/cover that uses the heat from the sun to warm your pool. The financial payback time is under 1 year according to RMI.

Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Pool: If you want a more high-tech and low-effort solution for heating your pool, solar hot water panels for the pool are a logical solution. Incentives for such solar panels are available in several states, and RMI projects that average financial payback time on such solar panel systems is 1.5 to 4 years. That’s an excellent payback time. And remember that you’re then saving money for decades to come (the same as making money, essentially, except you don’t have to pay taxes on financial savings!). Again, this is a “duh!” way to save money and energy that uses the tremendous energy resource of the sun rather than inefficient and harmful electricity generation from fossil fuels or heating from natural gas.

Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Home: Naturally, if solar hot water panels (aka solar thermal panels) can heat your pool, they can also heat the water you use in your home. In some places I’ve visited (e.g., Malta and Crete, Greece), these solar hot water panels are on practically every roof. Again, in many states, you can get government incentives to help you purchase solar thermal panels. As the infographic below shows, solar thermal panels make a great supplement to solar PV panels. RMI notes that solar hot water panels cut 50–80% off of hot water bills, on average, and have a financial payback time of 6–10 years.

Use Solar Landscape And Patio Lighting: I’m sure you’ve seen these in home & garden shops and on many people’s lawns. You probably even have some yourself. They are one of the most logical ways to save money and energy with little initial investment. Not only do they save you money and cut your energy-related emissions, but they are also easier to relocate as your lighting needs change. You can even move them to a new home if you make a move, which is quite common these days. RMI estimates an average financial payback time of 2 years for switching to solar landscape and patio lighting.

Here’s RMI’s full infographic, Going Solar: Options For Homeowners, which also extends a bit beyond using solar energy into actually blocking solar energy in order to save money:

Yep, there are a lot of ways to save money and fossil fuel energy using the sun than RMI listed. I’m sure there are actually more than the ones above. For example, if you are a person who uses tanning beds to get a crispy tan (solariums, as they are called over here), stop throwing your money away on that and get outside to get a tan. Go to the beach, go to the bark, lay on your balcony, play a sport, go for a walk, go for a bike ride, garden, read outside… do more outside in order to stop throwing your money at a tanning salon. All of this is also better for your health, so it’s a good way to save money on healthcare and to avoid spending time at the hospital!

One more energy- and money-saving solution that comes to mind is using the sun to grow your own food. That saves tremendously on energy used to transport food around the world and to your local shop, and it also saves a good deal on the energy used to transport you to the shop to buy some food. Also, it’s a good way to save money since you aren’t putting money towards the profits grocery chains and corporate agriculture or agrindustry. Furthermore, your food will be fresher, tastier, and probably much more appreciated!

Have more ideas for ways to save money using the sun? Share them in the comments below! I’d love to be reminded of more or even learn about new ones. 

Content Courtesy - costofsolar

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Walmart: Renewable Energy-Sustainable Products-Zero Waste

Walmart reports: In front of an audience of associates, suppliers and nonprofit organizations at its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting, Walmart highlighted on September 12, 2013, its progress with the Sustainability Index, a measurement system used to track the environmental impact of products. The company also outlined key initiatives where it can use its size and scale to help address “hot spots” and accelerate progress in supply chain sustainability. By Amber Archangel. The following is an official Walmart news release:

Walmart Highlights Progress on the Sustainability Index
Outlines key initiatives in recycling, chemicals, fertilizers and energy efficiency
Broadens Index to international markets
Index projected to include 300 product categories, engage up to 5,000 suppliers by end of year

Walmart president and CEO Mike Duke:

We’ve reached an acceleration point where we are moving from measurement to results. We’re starting to really drive progress with the Index. This is about trust and value. Using less energy, greener chemicals, fewer fertilizers and more recycled materials – all of this – is the right thing to do for the planet and it’s right for our customers and our business.

As of today, the Index has been rolled out across 200 product categories, and to more than 1,000 suppliers. By the end of this year, we expect the Index will expand to include more than 300 product categories and as many as 5,000 suppliers.
Since the Index rolled out broadly to Walmart product categories in August 2012, it has shown a consistent trend of improved product sustainability. For example, Walmart’s general merchandise department has improved its Index product sustainability score by an average of 20 percent; grocery department by an average of 12 percent; and consumables and health and wellness by an average of 6 percent.

Kara Hurst, CEO of The Sustainability Consortium: 
With the Sustainability Index, Walmart is applying the science and research that we’ve developed to create a more sustainable supply chain globally. We’re excited about the significant progress Walmart and its suppliers are making and value their partnership with us to address big issues and drive real social and environmental change.
Based on the insights and data from the Index, Walmart has been working with suppliers, nonprofits, industry experts and government to develop and implement solutions that address critical “hot spots” and opportunities across the global supply chain. As part of the progress update at today’s meeting, executives, merchants and suppliers shared progress on five major initiatives underway:

  • Increasing the Use of Recycled Materials. More than 29 million tons of valuable plastics are sent to landfills every year in the U.S. at a cost of about $6.6 billion annually. Walmart aims to grow both the supply and demand for recycled plastics so they can be diverted from landfill and get a second life. The company is working with cities to increase plastic recycling and with suppliers to increase the use of recycled content and make packaging more recyclable. Changes in packaging are already being implemented in product categories such as beverage, over-the-counter drugs, dairy creamers and berry containers. 
Earlier this week, Walmart and Sam’s Club also announced a smartphone trade-in program in the U.S. that goes into effect on Sept. 21.

The company will not send these trade-ins to landfills, domestically or internationally, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of smartphones from landfills annually.

  • Offering Products with Greener Chemicals. Walmart provided an overview of its new Consumables Chemicals initiative, describing how it is working with suppliers to reduce or eliminate the use of priority chemicals used in consumables products in favor of greener alternatives. It will begin with household cleaning, personal care, beauty and cosmetic products, asking suppliers to transition to greener substitutes for priority chemicals.

In addition, starting in Jan. 2014, Walmart will begin to label its private brand cleaning products in accordance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling program, and will continue to assess the applicability of DfE as Walmart expands it to broader product areas.

  • Reducing Fertilizer Use in Agriculture. Walmart is requiring suppliers who use commodity grains, such as corn, wheat and soy in their products, to develop a fertilizer optimization plan that outlines clear goals to improve performance based on Index research. Through this program, the company and its suppliers have the potential to reduce fertilizer use on 14 million acres of farmland in the U.S. by 2020.
  • Expanding the Sustainability Index to International Markets. Walmart will expand the Sustainability Index and measurement to international markets with the goal of improving product sustainability at the global level. Walmart Chile and Walmart Mexico will launch the Index in their respective markets in 2014. In addition, South Africa’s Massmart has begun to include key Index questions in its supplier sustainability surveys.
  • Improving Energy Efficiency. The Index has uncovered the importance of energy efficiency in several product categories, such as televisions, plastic toys, small appliances and greeting cards. By working with suppliers to improve energy efficiency through the supply chain of these products, Index energy scores have already improved 23 percent in general merchandise categories. Walmart is now providing tools for suppliers to help track and reduce the energy used to produce these products.
The company also announced a light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulb available in stores now under its Great Value label.
A 40 watt equivalent bulb, which last more than twice as long as a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL), typically retails for $8.48 and the 60 watt equivalent $9.88. By selling 500,000 LED lightbulbs, the company projects customers can save more than $67 million over the lifetime of those bulbs.
Content Courtesy - 1sun4all

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Clean Energy Revolution Is Happening-Now!

For decades, America has chased after the promise of clean, domestic energy, reports Energy.gov. But even as costs fell and technology matured, that clean energy future seemed to linger just beyond our reach. Critics often said this new world would “always be five years away.” Today, that is changing. By Amber Archangel

Energy.gov note: This article originally appeared on WhiteHouse.gov
#Cleantechnow: Learn More

  • Watch a video featuring Secretary Moniz that highlights four key energy technologies that have already made America’s clean energy future a reality.
  • Read the full “Revolution Now” report.
  • Use the tag #CleanTechNow to share photos on Twitter, Instagram or via email newmedia@hq.doe.gov how clean energy technology already plays a role in your daily life. We’ll feature our favorite submissions on Energy.gov next week.

In recent years, costs for numerous critical clean energy technologies-wind power, solar panels, super energy-efficient LED lights and electric vehicles-have fallen significantly.

The accompanying surge in deployment has been truly spectacular. Such a surge is tantamount to topping the barricades — a level of cost reduction and market penetration that will enable a full scale clean energy revolution in the relatively near term. A new Department of Energy report, “Revolution Now: the Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies” documents this transformation and what it means for America’s energy economy. The clean technology revolution is upon us.

While these technologies still represent a small percentage of their respective markets, that share is expanding at a rapid pace and influencing markets.

For instance:

  • In 2012, wind was America’s largest source of new electrical capacity, accounting for 43 percent of all new installations. Altogether the United States has deployed about 60 gigawatts of wind power — enough to power 15 million homes.
  • Since 2008, the price of solar panels has fallen by 75 percent, and solar installations have multiplied tenfold. Many major homebuilders are incorporating rooftop panels as a standard feature on new homes.
  • In that same five years, the cost of super-efficient LED lights has fallen more than 85 percent and sales have skyrocketed. In 2009, there were fewer than 400,000 LED lights installed in the U.S., today, the number has grown 50-fold to almost 20 million.
  • During the first six months of 2013, America bought twice as many plug-in electric vehicles(EVs) as in the first half of 2012, and six times as many as in the first half of 2011. In fact, the market for plug-in electric vehicles has grown much faster than the early market for hybrids. Today, EVs ranging from the Chevy Volt to the Tesla Model S also boast some of the highest consumer satisfaction ratings in America. And prices are falling and export markets are opening up. Since 2008, the cost of electric vehicle batteries — which really drive the economics of EVs — has dropped by 50 percent.

As these new markets continue to expand, so will the challenges and opportunities associated with transforming America’ energy system. Already increased energy efficiency and distributed solar energy are posing challenges to traditional utility business models. America will have to invest in building a smarter, more robust and resilient electrical grid with an extensive network of EV chargers and new approaches to consumer bills. These challenges are in fact emblematic of success for America’s clean energy markets.

Since 2008, the price of solar panels has fallen by 75 percent, and solar installations have multiplied tenfold.

But why are these clean energy markets growing so fast? Policy plays an important role — and not just for renewables. For instance, from 1980 to 2002, the federal government’s production incentives for unconventional natural gas laid a foundation for that sector’s dramatic rise. Today, time-limited tax credits for wind, solar and electric vehicles, in concert with technology and manufacturing advances, are stimulating a similar market expansion.

Of course, these are also great products that bring real benefits to consumers.

For example, no one likes the hassle of repeatedly buying and replacing incandescent light bulbs. A mother who installs a quality LED fixture when her child is born will not need to replace it until that child goes to college — or even graduates. By that time, each LED light she installs will have saved her about $140 in electricity costs. By 2030, LED lights will save Americans $30 billion a year on energy alone.

Forty years ago, an oil embargo sparked panic, rationing and fuel lines across America. But today, Americans can declare their independence from oil, skip the gas lines and recharge at home for the equivalent of about $1.22 a gallon – as opposed to $3.56 for gasoline. We call this low-cost electric fuel an eGallon, and — depending on where you live — eGallon savings can be quite compelling. For instance, in Washington State a gallon of gasoline is almost $4, but the equivalent eGallon costs only 85 cents because of clean, low-cost electricity.

These market revolutions are enabled by robust private-public partnerships for research, development, demonstration and deployment — including some sizable investments from the Energy Department. And this Administration’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for commonsense steps to reduce carbon pollution and address the effects of climate change, will further accelerate the development and diffusion of these, and other, transformative energy technologies.

Today, we can finally say with confidence that America is witnessing the shift to a cleaner, more domestic and more secure energy future. It is not a faraway goal.

Photo credit - Raymond David . Content Courtesy - 1sun4all

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Energy-Efficient Windows Inspired By Nature : New Bio-Inspired Approach To Thermal Cooling Could Be Applied To Solar Panels

A. Schematic of the composite window structure. B. The artificial vascular network layer.”

A new type of energy-efficient window — inspired by and recreating the vascular networks found within living organisms — has been created by researchers at the University of Toronto. The new windows work effectively to limit heat loss during the winter and provide a cooling effect during the summer. The new design has resulted in 7–9 degrees of cooling in laboratory experiments. The researchers also think that their new technique/design could be applied to solar panels, working to increase their functional efficiency thanks to the cooling effect.

The new process is, in the words of the researchers themselves, a “bio-inspired approach to thermal control for cooling (or heating) building window surfaces,” one that works through the action of optically clear, flexible, elastomer sheets, which are attached and bonded to normal glass window panes. The attached elastomer sheets — which are composed of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) — feature ‘channels’ through which room-temperature water is free to flow. It’s this flowing water that provides the thermal controlling effects.

“Our results show that an artificial vascular network within a transparent layer, composed of channels on the micrometer to millimeter scale, and extending over the surface of a window, offers an additional and novel cooling mechanism for building windows and a new thermal control tool for building design,” stated Ben Hatton, lead researcher and a professor of engineering at the University of Toronto.

As the researchers note, windows currently account for around 40% of all building energy costs — any improvements with regard to their thermal regulatory abilities would be valuable. Hatton continued: “In contrast to man-made thermal control systems, living organisms have evolved an entirely different and highly efficient mechanism to control temperature that is based on the design of internal vascular networks. For example, blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow close to the skin surface to increase convective heat transfer, whereas they constrict and limit flow when our skin is exposed to cold.”

As Hatton notes — the new technique could probably very effectively be applied to solar panels, and could also function well as a means of supplying heated water to existing hot water or heat storage systems.

The new research was just published in the journal Solar Energy Materials & Solar Cells.
Photo credit - University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering
Content Courtesy -cleantechnica

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Explained, in 7 Balloons

In 2010 human activity caused 50 Gt CO2e of greenhouse gas emissions.

These emissions were 76% carbon dioxide (CO2), 16% methane (CH4), 8% nitrous oxide (N20) and 2% F-gases.

The big terrestrial emitters were China (23%), the USA (14%), Europe (10%), India (5%) and Russia (5%).

And the primary sources of emissions were energy (35%), industry (18%), transport (13%), agriculture (11%), forestry (11%), buildings (8%) and waste (4%).

The sources are explained in more detail in the balloons above, which technically shouldn’t float so well ;-).  These balloons don’t look very threatening, but they represent the large majority of positive climate forcings.

Which in English means they are major causes of climate change.

Check out our new eBook for ideas that will deflate your balloon.

Photo credit - shrinkthatfootprint Content Courtesy - shrinkthatfootprint.com

Monday, July 15, 2013

Urban Regeneration and Climate-friendly Development: Lessons from Japan

As part of their research within the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) Sustainable Urban Futures Programme, Postdoctoral Fellow Osman Balaban and Assistant Director/Senior Research Fellow Jose Antonio Puppim de Oliveira examine the potential role of urban regeneration in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Cities have a central role to play in tackling climate change as well as in adapting to its effects as they contribute much to it and are under severe threat from its impacts. Because urban spatial policies have long-term effects, they are key for tackling climate change and it is through such policies that city governments can guide climate-friendly planning.

Spatial policies cover a range of issues from a regional scale to individual buildings, including promotion of compact cities, provision of green spaces and water bodies (retention and detention ponds, water canals, etc.), retrofitting existing buildings, infrastructure renewal, and increasing non-motorized and public transport coverage. They may further be useful in achieving climate change mitigation and adaptation goals simultaneously. For instance, green spaces mitigate emissions through carbon sequestration and help combat impacts like heat stress, air pollution and flooding.

Introduction of such spatial policies necessitates certain forms of intervention in existing urban areas. “Urban regeneration” inherently comprises such interventions, from renewal to rehabilitation, and thus can provide opportunities to introduce spatial policies that address climate change.

However, urban regeneration research has so far focused on community-based issues, governance aspects and even sustainability, but not much attention has been paid to climate change. With our recent paper we intended to contribute to the literature by enhancing understanding of the potential role of urban regeneration in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

We undertook a close examination of how and with what effect different forms of policy responses to climate change are emerging in urban areas. We also examined how and to what extent urban regeneration, as a major field and instrument of urban policymaking, could be linked with these policy responses and thus turned into a city-based response to climate change.

The research was based on two case studies in Japan where the focus of urban planning has shifted from growth to reorganization that is designed to create compact cities in the country’s era of depopulation. There are recent attempts to convert existing regeneration sites into smart districts, where carbon emissions and environmental footprints are lowered. However, further research that strengthens the links between urban regeneration and climate change is required to foment the scale-up of these initiatives.

Urban regeneration evolves

Urban regeneration is a way to reorganize and upgrade existing built environments rather than planning new urbanization. It is an old concept that has evolved over time. Its roots can be traced back to the 1970s when many cities in Britain and the United States started initiatives, referred to as “urban renewal” or “area improvement”, that focused on physical renewal of inner cities identified as “areas of social deprivation”.

By the late 1970s, economic aspects like revitalization of downtown cores or entire cities were incorporated into renewal schemes and urban regeneration became a more comprehensive concept. Property-led urban regeneration projects dominated urban policymaking in British and US cities in the 1980s, based on the understanding that a supply of new premises for office, industrial and retail activities would facilitate local economic transformation. These projects came as part of the strategies to achieve the “entrepreneurial city”, a new form of urban governance to encourage local economic development.

Nevertheless, the ineffectiveness of the property-led approach in addressing issues of social equity and environmental protection led to incorporation of new goals into the urban regeneration concept. During the 1990s, the environmental benefits of improving existing urban areas were recognized and regeneration projects began to be considered as a means of addressing the three pillars of sustainability: economic revitalization, social justice and environmental protection.

There have been recent attempts to associate urban regeneration with climate policy, but these remain in their infancy and require further efforts to improve their theoretical and practical underpinnings. Current progress is limited to a few examples of regeneration projects that are designed to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation along with other objectives.

The regeneration process entails different forms of spatial interventions which could change the form and land use structure of cities in a way that could facilitate the implementation of spatial policies that address climate change.

Perhaps the most fruitful form of intervention is effective utilization of inner-city lands. Through urban regeneration, city governments can make the best use of brownfields and underutilized lands, providing the possibility of employing a “grow-in” strategy to concentrate the majority of new developments in existing urban areas, in the form of mixed-use developments.

Such a strategy may help achieve energy and resource efficiency by preventing urban sprawl and, in particular, reducing commuting time and distance. Further, less energy is consumed in compact cities for urban infrastructure operations. We know that 30 percent of urban energy consumption goes to pumping water and collecting wastewater. So, the more area that a city occupies, the higher the amount of energy used in that city to provide water to and collect wastewater from buildings.

Buildings are among the major sources of carbon emissions due to energy consumption for heating and cooling. Further, poor quality buildings and those sited in disaster-vulnerable (eg., on floodplains) areas are the most vulnerable to climate impacts. In many nations, buildings that will be in use in the next decades are already built. Special attention should therefore be paid to turning existing buildings into low-carbon and less vulnerable structures. Urban regeneration could help in overcoming such building-related challenges, either by retrofitting or renewing existing buildings, as part of the renewal and rehabilitation of inner cities.

Urban regeneration in Japan

Japan has been depopulating since 2005 and, according to projections by Tetsuo Kidokoro, the population of cities of all sizes will start to decrease after 2015. Due to this demographic change, the focus of urban planning and development in Japan has shifted from growth to reorganization. More attention is now paid to turning cities into more compact and sustainable places with a high quality of life.

This could be done by addressing urban problems inherited from a previous period of rapid urbanization, such as urban sprawl, decline in city centres and disaster vulnerability. Further, in line with global and national environmental concerns, greenhouse gas emissions in Japanese cities have to be lowered.

Much can be expected from urban regeneration in transforming Japanese cities into more sustainable and low-carbon urban environments in the era of depopulation. We looked at two urban regeneration initiatives in Japan, representing two major approaches of regeneration practices in Japanese cities, namely “project-based” and “plan-based” approaches.

The first case was the Minato Mirai 21 project (MM21) located in the central quarter of Yokohama City in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.  Although initiated in the mid-1980s, the project is still in progress. MM21 was built on 186 hectares of brownfields and reclaimed lands and is currently a mixed-use district, including offices, malls, residences, hotels, cultural centres, a hospital and parks. The main objective of the project is to increase the self-sufficiency of Yokohama by strengthening its central business district.

The second case was Kanazawa City in Ishikawa prefecture in eastern Japan — a mid-sized historical town with a population of 462,361 people. Kanazawa has been encountering problems caused by urban sprawl, such as decline in the city centre, high reliance on automobiles and an increase in carbon emissions. Since the 1990s, the city government has been addressing these problems through several means, including urban regeneration. The “City Center Revitalization Plan”, which covers an area of 860 hectares and includes actions to regenerate the city center, is the primary component of urban regeneration attempts in Kanazawa.

We analysed the impacts of these two initiatives to tackle climate change by breaking them down by the following aspects: economy and work, buildings and land use, transportation and mobility, infrastructure for resource efficiency, energy consumption and efficiency, and community-based issues.

In addition to the scope and extent of their climate benefits, both cases presented a series of lessons on transforming urban regeneration projects into opportunities to reorganize cities in climate-friendly manners as described below.

Flexibility in project conception and design

Flexibility in the design of regeneration projects can help to incorporate them with new concepts that emerge over time. A main feature of the MM21 project is the delay in its completion due to the economic recession in the 1990s.

Slow realization of the project turned out to be an opportunity to eliminate the shortcomings in project design regarding environmental issues. Contemporary concepts like waste recycling, green buildings and smart grids — that did not exist at the time when the project was initiated — began to be incorporated into the project over time. Further, as the project has not yet been fully implemented, city government has had the opportunity to apply new environmental technologies to turn MM21 into a smart district. MM21 is one of the major “Yokohama Smart City Project” areas.

Participation and political commitment

Although community participation is important, it cannot guarantee a climate-friendly and low-carbon city. In the Kanazawa case, where varied stakeholders are involved in decision-making, the overall impacts of the plan have been relatively minor. This is mainly due to the main actors’ weak political commitment and lack of resources to pursue climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Therefore, in order to benefit from community engagement, participation mechanisms need to be supported with political commitment and the two should complement each other. Only then can a balance between technical top-down and participatory bottom-up approaches be achieved throughout regeneration practices.
Coordination between city divisions and policies

A sectoral approach dominates policymaking in both cities. Different city administration divisions are in charge of different sectors regarding urban development and environmental management. However, coordination between them seems to be insufficient. For instance, the Waterworks Bureau of Yokohama City takes no particular action on water issues directly related to climate change, as a separate division of the city government is in charge of global warming and climate change.

Considering a similar problem, Kanazawa’s environmental plan draws attention to the need for effective coordination between city divisions to facilitate the implementation of environmental strategies. For instance, Ishikawa prefecture has developed an “Eco-House Project” to raise citizens’ awareness of green buildings and encourage them to install green technologies in their houses. However, lessons from this prefectural project seem to have not been reflected in Kanazawa’s City Center Revitalization Plan.

Binding and structural measures

A main factor that limited the positive impacts of the revitalization plan in Kanazawa is the reluctance of the city’s government to introduce binding measures. Instead, it chose to adopt “soft” measures aiming to achieve behavioral change in the long-run. For instance, the plan avoids restricting car use, although it aims at decreasing the use of private cars for inner-city trips.

Such an approach seems to have prevented the plan from being supported by strong and complimentary measures. Likewise, the limited capacity of the city government to introduce structural measures in certain policy fields resulted in similar outcomes. As Kanazawa’s bus system is run by the private sector, the city government couldn’t introduce structural regulations on the system, and soft policies have been ineffective in overcoming the structural deficiencies in the system. This illustrates that binding and structural measures should be introduced as part of regeneration projects, particularly to ensure compliance and behavioral change.

The crosscutting potential

Our case studies demonstrated that urban regeneration is an instrument of urban policy that has the potential to facilitate the introduction of spatial policies to address climate change.Interventions inherent to the regeneration process could be used to upgrade existing urban environments and hence change the form and land use structure of cities in climate-friendly manners.

As a crosscutting field of urban policy, urban regeneration could also help in bridging the “mitigation and adaptation dichotomy” and create synergies between two major targets of climate policy, helping to achieve mitigation and adaptation goals simultaneously. In the MM21 project, adaptation actions like provision of green spaces and infrastructure improvements have been implemented together with mitigation actions like a district heating and cooling system.

Of course, achieving this is not straightforward and hindered by multiple challenges, as noted above. Overall, there remains the need to understand conceptually, and in practice, how urban regeneration could help to both tackle climate change and achieve its main objectives of revitalizing certain areas in the urban fabric.

Photo credit - Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Marc Antomattei. Content Courtesy - UNU.edu