Austin’s ZERO Climate Impact plan

April 14th, 2014 | Posted by Joep in Action | Carbon Positive | Our Future | Policy | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Austin’s ZERO Climate Impact plan)

Austin City Council adopted a resolution on April 10, 2014 to become carbon neutral as soon as feasible, but no later than 2050. This is one of the most ambitious goals ever set by a city in the world and we are going to help with the development of the framework how to get there, and write up sector plan on what energy, waste, transportation and manufacturing sectors have to offer to make this a reality.

We did it! As Council member Chris Riley said during the press conference on April 11th, 2014: “Big thanks to all the environmental community leaders who joined us at City Hall today in support of the Climate Protection Plan! This initiative re-establishes Austin as a world leader on climate change with the goal of zero net emissions by 2050. I’m proud to have sponsored this resolution, and look forward to working with the community to make this vision a reality”.

Austin passed a resolution saying: “The City Council establishes a goal of reaching net zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and prefers to achieve this goal as soon as it is feasible. The City Council also recognizes that emissions reductions accomplished sooner are more important and valuable for our city’s climate protection efforts.

This means that all organizations and all people will have to be part of a community wide effort to get to Zero Greenhouse Gas emissions as soon as we can.

We at Climate Buddies have worked with council to create the political will and the drafting of the resolution, but we could not have done it without the council members that sponsored the resolution Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole and Bill Spelman and the votes of Mike Martinez, Laura Morrison and Kathy Tovo, and the help of the environmental community of the Adaptation International, the Austin EcoNetwork, Environment Texas, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Texas Drougth Project and Stefan Wary. We want to thank Lucia Athens, the Chief Sustainability  Office of the City of Austin and Zach Baumer the Austin Climate Protection Plan manager for their help in being instrumental in getting  the support of all the City stakeholders.

Now it is up to you, us, the community to help make this ambition a reality.

The full text of the resolution can be read here

What’s blowing in the wind? A lot of progress to report!

February 4th, 2014 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on What’s blowing in the wind? A lot of progress to report!)

The wind industry is growing and growing and the wind keeps blowing and blowing. Texas is on a path of tripling the installed capacity in the next few years from a current installed capacity of 12,000 MW to about 30,000 MW. The last quarter of 2014 saw the start of 7,000 MW in new construction projects. All this is the result of the expansion of the transmission lines to West Texas and the Panhandle to connect the wind-rich counties to the people-rich cities of Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. This additional capacity will bring the total wind generation to over 25% of all energy generated in the state. Sounds like the market has decided that wind has a role to play, what do you say?

More details here


Meet the largest wind turbine in the world: The 164-8.0 MW® IEC S is designed from a power plant perspective, helping to drive your profitability to new levels in offshore wind. The ratio between the 164 m rotor and the 8.0 MW generator is designed to suit the harsh conditions in the North Sea area resulting in greater annual energy production. Fewer turbines are needed to produce the required amount of energy – reducing the cost of transportation, foundations, installation, cabling, service and maintenance. With its 25-year structural design life, the V164-8.0 MW® is designed to require as little maintenance as possible, and when servicing is required, it is safe, quick and cost efficient.

And wind is not just booming in Texas. North Dakota just announced new transmission lines that will connect it to hydropower reservoirs in Canada that are underserved at the moment. By pumping upwater uphill with wind power that is low in value at moments where demand is low, up to 4,500 MW can be stored and called upon at a later time when prices and demand are high. This opens up new options for wind generation and will help in providing a dispatchable source of wind energy. This means we can store it and use it when we need it the most.  “With expansion, the Manitoba Hydro system is like a 4,500 MW battery that you can draw on in the day during the day and recharge at night,” says Cormie. “With the new line, the potential is there to purchase up to 1,500 MW at night and return 3,000 MW during the day, so there’s a huge potential to move energy in and out.

More details here


And then the wind champion of the world: Denmark.  In December, wind power provided the country of Denmark with about 55% of its electricity. This is the first time that the wind-leading country (or any major country) has received over 50% of its electricity from wind power in an entire month. Of course, wind power provided well over 55% of the country’s electricity during certain periods throughout the month. On December 1, it provided ~136% of the country’s electricity needs. During the week of Christmas, it provided 68.5%. Denmark has a target of receiving 50% of its electricity from wind power on an annual basis by 2020. It looks like the country is well on its way to achieving that. The country also has a 2050 target of getting 100% of its energy from renewable resources.

Go wind!



Movie review: Carbon Nation

January 10th, 2014 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Inspiration | Our Future | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Movie review: Carbon Nation)


Carbon nation is an optimistic, solutions-based, non-preachy, non-partisan, big tent film that shows how tackling climate change boosts the economy, increases national & energy security and promotes health & a clean environment. Plus, you’ll meet a host of entertaining and endearing characters along the way. This film is a documentary movie about climate change solutions. Even if you doubt the severity of the impact of climate change or just don’t buy it at all, this is still a compelling and relevant film that illustrates how solutions to climate change also address other social, economic and national security issues.

Bill Kurtis (Chicago newscaster, television personality, host of Investigative Reports, and environmentalist) narrates this movie. The film builds nicely from the basics about carbon dioxide and the effect it has on climate, to more complex ideas about how to curb carbon dioxide generation. The film works on the level of showing real tangible things we can do to reduce our dependence on carbon based energy. If you believe that we should do something about the amount of carbon we consume and carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere, then this is an excellent film. Carbon nation is the polar opposite of An Inconvenient Truth. Where An Inconvenient Truth tended towards facts and figures and super logical argument, Carbon nation takes a much more direct practical approach. This film is about people trying to make a difference and what they’ve done to reduce carbon dioxide.

Guests in the film include such recognizable figures as Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute), James Woolsey (CIA), Richard Branson (Virgin Air), and Van Jones (Green Collar Economy). It features our own wind turbines here in Texas showing that renewable energy can be a boon for rural communities where they can make friends with the wind. It is also better for rural economics than the bust and boom of oil and gas as these projects provide a steady paycheck for up to 20 years.

You will learn that a lot has to do with how we generate and use energy, and how important our land use practices are, both for livestock and crops. How we use our lands can actually provide us with storage for a lot of carbon. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air which is currently in overdrive at around 400ppm, needs to get down to 350ppm. This movie shows the many ways that we can do it.

You can watch the trailer here:

You can watch the movie for free here (with some commercial interruptions):  Hulu

An energy positive solar car for 4 people

July 16th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Our Future | Transportation | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on An energy positive solar car for 4 people)

The Solar Team Eindhoven (STE) of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) presented the world’s first solar-powered family car today. ‘Stella’ is the first ‘energy-positive car’ with room for four people, a trunk, intuitive steering and a range of 600 kilometers. This is the car being entered by the student team in the Cruiser class of the World Solar Challenge that starts in Australia in October 2013.

Source: TU/e

The solar cells of ‘Stella’- Latin for star and also a reference to the family character of the car – generate more electricity on average than the car uses and that means the surplus electricity can be returned to the power grid, thereby making the car ‘energy-positive’.

Solar Team Eindhoven has set itself the goal of developing the car of the future. By combining aerodynamic design with lightweight materials like carbon and aluminum, a very fuel-efficient car has been designed, which also has ingenious applications like a LED strip and touchscreen that make all the buttons and knobs we know today superfluous. Intuitive driving is enabled by a steering wheel that expands or contracts when you are driving too fast or too slowly. STE will have the car officially certified for road use to prove that this really is a fully-fledged car.

University teams from all over the world will be competing in a 3,000 km long race through the Australian outback. Solar Team Eindhoven is taking part in the Cruiser class in which the emphasis lies on practical and user-friendly solar cars rather than on speed. The ‘solar race’ takes place from 6 to 13 October 2013. Back in the Netherlands there will be a tour of high schools to promote engineering and science in education.

Thanks to Solar Team Eindhoven entry, TU/e is represented for the first time in the Solar World Challenge. A multidisciplinary team (with 22 students from six different TU/e departments) has spent a year on this project that involves challenges from the fields of energy and mobility. Cooperation with industry has given the students an opportunity to become familiar with top-notch entrepreneurship, thereby underlining TU/e’s vision of educating the engineer of tomorrow. TU/e professors prof.dr. Elena Lomonova and Maarten Steinbuch are members of the steering group.

Here is a video of the unveiling of the car:

The idea behind the car was presented at TEDex:

For more information go to


Welcome to the Anthropocene: how we are changing the earth on a geologically relevant scale

June 9th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Climate impact | Our Future | Water - (Comments Off on Welcome to the Anthropocene: how we are changing the earth on a geologically relevant scale)

We are changing the Earth at a speed that is unprecedented in four ways: 1) it is caused by one single species-mankind; 2) it is  faster than any major geological change that has happened in the millions of years of Earth’s existence; 3) it is being expressed on a human scale in terms of only a few generations; 4) it affects multiple life support systems and physical phenomena such as carbon and water cycles and biology in terms of biodiversity. Climate Change is only one of the results, but there is more to the story. And we are doing it. Welcome to the Anthropocene. See what it means below, watch a video of how extensively we are impacting the water systems of Mother Earth as well as other massive scale impacts that we are causing.

A definition of the Anthropocene
The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The term was coined recently by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer, but has been widely popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere. To date, the term has not been adopted as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.

Stoermer originally coined the term Anthropocene by analogy, with the word “Holocene” (the age we are living in now) and Paul Crutzen subsequently popularized the usage. The proposed term has Greek roots: anthropo- meaning “human” and -cene meaning “new”. Crutzen has explained, “I was at a conference where someone said something about the Holocene. I suddenly thought this was wrong. The world has changed too much. So I said: ‘No, we are in the Anthropocene.’ I just made up the word on the spur of the moment. Everyone was shocked. But it seems to have stuck.” Crutzen first used it in print in a 2000 newsletter of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, No.41. In 2008, Zalasiewicz suggested in GSA Today that an anthropocene epoch is now appropriate.

A really cool (scientifically speaking) library of maps about our impact can be found here. I included a summary map at the bottom of this post to give you an idea how ‘relevant’ and ‘significant’ our footprint is. But first a couple of excerpts.

Earth’s water cycle
This video is taken from the perspective of the world. It shows the magnitude of our impact on hydrology, sediment run off, depleting water tables and much more.


Many species have gone extinct due to human impact. Most experts agree that human beings have accelerated the rate of species extinction, although the exact rate is controversial, perhaps 100 to 1000 times the normal background rate of extinction. In 2010 a study published in Nature found that “marine phytoplankton — the vast range of tiny algae species accounting for roughly half of Earth’s total photosynthetic biomass – have declined substantially in the world’s oceans over the past century. Since 1950 alone, algal biomass decreased by around 40%, probably in response to ocean warming – and the decline has gathered pace in recent years. Some authors have postulated that without human impacts the biodiversity of this planet would continue to grow at an exponential rate. The implications being that global warming is accelerating due to, or exacerbated by, human activities.
A 13 July 2012 New York Times op-ed piece by the ecologist, Roger Bradbury, spelled the end of biodiversity for the oceans by saying that the coral reefs are doomed, “Coral reefs will be the first, but certainly not the last, major ecosystem to succumb to the Anthropocene.” This op-ed quickly generated much discussion among conservationists and was rebutted on-line by The Nature Conservancy, defending its position of being dedicated to continuing the defense of reefs in spite of continued human causes to reef declines.

One geological symptom resulting from human activity is increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content. During the glacial–interglacial cycles of the past million years, natural processes have varied CO2 by approximately 100 ppm (from 180 ppm to 280 ppm). As of 2013, anthropogenic net emissions of CO2 have increased its atmospheric concentration by a comparable amount from 280 ppm (Holocene or pre-industrial “equilibrium”) to approximately 400 ppm. This signal in the Earth’s climate system is especially significant because it is occurring much faster, and at an enormously greater extent than previous, similar changes. Most of this increase is due to the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, agriculture and land-use changes (e.g. deforestation).

The main lessons from this is that we are having such an impact that we are playing dice with Mother Earth, but even more so with ourselves and our children, not just future generations, but current generations. We can all change this quite easily. Make your own renewable energy for your house and transportation, stop eating animals, eat local, harvest rainwater, buy experiences not stuff, plant 25-100 trees every year, preferably in the rainforest. These are all available and affordable for most people and can be implemented right now. Join us, join one of our carbon diet groups and we can help you along the way. We can get out of the Anthropocene faster than we have gotten ourselves into this geologically relevant era.

Anthropocene Indicators: Here is the definition more or less impressionistic we propose for the Anthropocene: “A period marked by a regime change in the activity of industrial societies which began at the turn of the nineteenth century and which has caused global disruptions in the Earth System on a scale unprecedented in human history: climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution of the sea, land and air, resources depredation, land cover denudation, radical transformation of the ecumene, among others. These changes command a major realignment of our consciousness and worldviews, and call for different ways to inhabit the Earth.” Mapping the Anthropocene: first few steps. Behind the name lie the challenges of our time. This concept illustrates and groups together the main agents that shape our planet, who literally engrave its surface—it is the anthroposphere, the human layer that grows inside the biosphere. This page is dedicated to the impressionist mapping of the artifacts from this singular moment in Earth’s history. Impressionist because these maps are unlabelled and silent, giving free rein to contemplation and imagination; impressionist also because they do not follow the canons of cartography, where scales and legend are mandatory. By locating the structures and hotspots of human activity, by acknowledging the extent of our footprints and our facilities, perhaps we will glimpse the limits of our world and the importance of redefining what it means to live in and on it.


Zero Carbon transportation: Very much affordable with an Electric car

May 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Efficiency | Our Future | Transportation | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Zero Carbon transportation: Very much affordable with an Electric car)

Do you want a car that you can drive for free, that is part of our electrical grid and is 100% renewable? You may not think this is possible, but it is closer than you think. A couple of months ago, an affordable option came to the market: the electric car with a $200/month lease. You can make it fully renewable by using GreenChoice windpower from Austin Energy, or by installing 8 solar panels to be able to drive on the sun. It is more affordable than you think. In fact, you may even get paid.

Driving it

Fun! It is quiet. Very quiet. And in the eco-mode, your ride turns into a glide. When you do not use the eco-mode, your ride unleashes all the torque it has to get you going really fast. You can speed up quickly if need be (try sitting next to a Charger or Mustang at a stop light and see if you can beat them!). It is also really comfortable. The battery is at the bottom of the car which makes it very steady to drive. It is a new world of driving and I am sure that you will never want to go back to a car that uses gas once you have tried it and made the switch.


There are several electric cars on the market. Most fully electric vehicles (EVs) come with a battery that will give you 70-80 miles range, so it is the perfect car for commutes and trips all over town, just not to go to Dallas or Houston from here. We did an analysis and it would work almost everyday of last year, except for about 5 days in town, and a couple weekends up to family further away. We use our Prius for those trips, but could easily rent a car as well.


Electric cars do not need gas so you can happily forgo on stopping at the gas station and leave $20-$120 dollars in your pocket each time you don’t stop. But they do need electricity. The average electric car is much more efficient. the MPG is 100+. So you need less energy to drive it. It takes about 3000 kWh to drive a Nissan Leaf for 12,000 miles. If you charge at home this will add less than 30% to your electricity bill (per average Austin household consumption of 11,000 kWh). I use my solar panels to make the electricity and I will earn back my investment within one year. Yes, you read that right, within one year fueling/charging a Nissan Leaf will be free. If you buy a fast charger (level 2) for your home, it will take 1.5 years to never have to pay for charging anymore. That is a deal! Talk about energy independence that is renewable and clean. Another option is to use the PlugInEverywhere card from Austin Energy and charge you car on the go for a flat fee of 5$ per month and it is all through the GreenChoice wind-power program.

Bottom line: if you generate your own electricity, your electric car will drive for free after about 1.5 years. Yes, really.

Affordable car?

Of course you also need the car. Are they not very expensive  Some new electric cars  can be expensive, but the Nissan Leaf is affordable. It is even cheaper than a Prius since they lowered the price to ~$22,000. The lease can be as low as $200 per month. When you compare that to the gas savings from using your old car, you will get the car for free for about 8 months. Let me do the numbers for you: the gas savings depend on your MPG and miles, but if you drive a 25 MGP car for 12,000 miles per year, your savings in gas will be $1,600 per year (using $3.40 per gallon). So the gas savings pay for most of the lease. Your net lease payments would be less than $800 per year. That should be within range of just about anybody that drives a car. One hiccup, if you plan to lease it, there may be a downpayment, and you always have to pay tax and title.

lowgriduseconditionsfrom 9pmto7amWhy is it important everybody?

The Electric car holds the promise of needing fewer investments in our infrastructure, we will use more electricity for cars, but the beauty  is that it will give us lower prices. When you look at the image to the right, if we charge our cars at night when we park it in our garage, the existing infrastructure can be used more efficiently as it does not have to scale up and down so much. We will cut off the peak, which is most expensive. We can also use more wind energy here in Texas that is generated at night in the Panhandle. The wind electricity can use a hungry car. It  will increase demand during the off peak night hours when the wind is blowing. There is already one utility in the northeast (the University of Delaware, the regional grid operator and an electric company) that is piloting a program where your car battery becomes a two-way system: during the afternoon it can take some of your electricity from your battery and pay you for it, and at night it can charge it. Estimates are that the value of this system can be over $1800 per year. That is how much it is worth to your utility not to have to build and use peak capacity. Read more about this project in the New York Times.

So car batteries have the potential to become part of the storage when we make excess renewable energy and use it when the system is peaking. Now that is a big promise that can soon become a reality here in Austin as well.

Talk about impact: a car that you can drive for free, that is part of our electrical grid and that is 100% renewable! I can’t believe you do not have one yet 🙂 We love it!

People Power

May 17th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Action | Inspiration | Our Future | People | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on People Power)

There is one online platform for individuals to invest from $25 and up in solar projects in the US. It is Mosaic. I want to see many more projects with them, but also from other groups, for wind and solar. The beauty is: you can own part of the renewable energy revolution and get a decent dividend from it in return. The picture below is a snap shot of the people that put money in to build their latest solar project in New Jersey. It is a form of community solar. It creates a connection between you, the renewable energy and the project that is using the solar panels.

Now we need to see this happening in our own town: would you not want to own part of the solar panels on our community houses, churches, soccer clubs and many other community based buildings and build a social network of places, people and renewable energy that is being build right here right now? It will provide a solar option for people that do not have a good roof, or do not have a roof (like tenants). And yes, if you look at the map and you try really hard, you can see me  waving at you!

p.s. for people that do not have their own solar panels yet, get some installed yourself first. The return on investment is much bigger: you will get your money’s worth back in about 4-6 years if you apply for the solar rebates from Austin Energy.  After that, your electricity is free! And if you cannot afford the upfront cost,  you can get a loan through Austin Energy as well. It is the best investment you will have ever made.

100% renewable = 100% possible

April 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on 100% renewable = 100% possible)

A conference in San Francisco last week named ‘pathways to 100% renewable energy’ concluded the following:

– we need to look at things differently

– predictions underestimate the growth of renewables

– technology is not a barrier

– renewables make financial sense

– local action is key

– renewables are for everyone

– we need increased public awareness and acceptance to make the a 100% switch

Republished and edited from PV solar report

Please find a short summary of the conference conclusions below:

We need to look at things differently  For example, why not switch to driving electric vehicles? Is it just because we’ve internalized and accepted the reality of gas-powered cars?  Or, the power  industry’s current reality isn’t the only one possible. It’s bound to change as renewables make more sense economically, climate change becomes harder to deny, and consumers gain more control of power generation. Some say the industry won’t be recognizable by 2050. You can buy enough solar panels to power your car for 25 years for the money you spend on gas in a year (using a Nissan Leaf and 12,000 miles). For your house it takes between 3-8 years to recoup your initial investment and then it is free for 17-22 years. When will you get your solar panels?

Predictions underestimate the growth of renewables There are many examples of fast growth in renewables, noted that we’re already exceeding conservative scenarios. Projections from the World Bank and others have generally been a decade off or a factor of 10 lower than actual outcomes. That’s right: we’re heading down the path to 100% renewables more quickly than predicted. Some areas have already reached 100%. Case in point: Rhein-Hunsrueck, Germany. Starting with energy efficiency and moving on to generating its own power, the region of 101,000 inhabitants now produces not 100% but 104% of its energy from renewable sources. The future is here.

Technology is not a barrier That’s not to say that technology isn’t important. Solar and wind forecasting will play a role in moving us to 100% renewables, as will demand-response technologies, storage, and microgrids. We already have viable means of storing energy, and they’re only getting better. But most storage is not yet on the grid, because  the grid was built when it was thought energy couldn’t be stored — another example of how we need to change our thinking. And our thinking needs to include transportation and buildings. Going all electric would reduce global energy demand by 32%, and EVs can help support the grid by storing power and sending it back to the grid when it’s needed there. Buildings, representing 25% of global energy use, can be made more energy-efficient.

Renewables make financial sense Investors are catching on. For example, they’re beginning to understand solar as an asset class and are realizing it’s a great bet: It’s a proven technology, it harnesses an unlimited source of power, and the default rate on solar projects hovers around zero. Solar provides a hedge against volatile future power costs. And new business models are emerging to finance renewables as well as to lower their costs. That includes programs supported by the SunShot Initiative that help lower the soft costs of solar, which now account for about half the cost of solar systems in the US.

Local action is key Hundreds of communities are getting into the action with policies and targets to support renewables. Some are taking up community choice energy, which allows local governments to pool residential, business, and municipal electricity loads and to purchase or generate on their behalf. It provides rate stability and savings and allows more consumer choice and local control. Other communities are taking their own paths to renewables. Lancaster, California, for example, decided to become the solar capital of the world and is making progress toward that goal. This didn’t happen from the top down — it happened because the community decided it was important. With the will to make the change in place, it wasn’t hard or costly to implement policies to support the community’s goal, such as streamlining the permitting process.

Renewables are for everyone Greensburg, Kansas provides another great example of a community-driven move to renewables. In 2007, 95% of the town was destroyed by a tornado. The community decided to rebuild in a more sustainable way, and now Greensburg is living up to its name as a showcase for how a community can go green. The people of Greensburg built on their farming ancestors’ heritage of conserving resources, reframed to fit their modern situation. Indeed, conservatism at its heart is compatible with protecting our planet. If that’s not compelling enough, most conservatives care about public safety and national security. And for most people, conservative or liberal, the strongest argument for moving to renewables is the economics.

We need increased public awareness and acceptance to make the switch  To conclude, as more regions move to renewables, more people will see the value of making the switch. That increased public awareness and acceptance will help overcome the real challenges, which are social and political. Renewable energy is holding the promise of a truly distributed and democratized energy future. And clean and climate neutral, of course.

Are you in? What can you do in your community to make the switch?

Victory Scenario: Portugal produced 70% of its electricity of Q1 with renewables

April 17th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Inspiration | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Victory Scenario: Portugal produced 70% of its electricity of Q1 with renewables)

Portugal, like many other countries does not have fossil fuels. All needs to be imported. But they do have energy:  they are wind battered from the ocean, they have a lot of sun and have a geography that is fit for hydro-power. Well they decided to switch in 2005. And how: the first quarter of this year, they produced 70% of all their electricity from mostly hydro and wind and some solar. It is making their economy more resilient in these tough times, the money is staying in the country, and as an added bonus: they can sell their carbon credits to the European market. 

Good news from climateprogress (here)!

Portugal’s electricity network operator announced that renewable energy supplied 70 percent of total consumption in the first quarter of this year. This increase was largely due to favorable weather conditions resulting in increased wind and water flow, as well as lower demand. Portuguese citizens are using less energy and using sources that never run out for the vast majority of what they do use.

  • Hydropower supplied most: Hydroelectric power supplied 37 percent of total electricity — a 312 percent increase compared to last year.

    Alto Lindoso (Image credit: Energias de Portugal)

  • Wind turbines broke a record: Wind energy represented 27 percent of the total share, which is 60 percent higher than last year. This is 37 percent above average and good for the highest amount generated by wind in Portugal, ever.
  • 2.3 percent less energy used: Energy consumption has fallen every year since 2010 and is now at 2006 levels. Some of the drop this quarter was due to fewer working days and a warmer winter, but even controlling for those factors, there was still a drop of .4 percent.
  • Solar energy supplied  .7 percent of total energy demand, which is not much.
  • Dropping the fossil fuel habit: Portugal’s electricity had 29 percent less coal and 44 percent less gas in it from 2012 figures. The country must import the fossil fuels it burns.
  • For sale: Portugal exported what would have been 6 percent of total electricity consumption to other countries. It will also be able to sell a chunk of its allotted carbon credits offered by the EU’s carbon trading system.

Portugal’s investment in modernizing its electricity grid in 2000 has come in handy. Like in many countries, power companies owned their own transmission lines. What the government did in 2000 was to buy all the lines, creating a publicly owned and traded company to operate them. This was used to create a smart grid that renewable energy producers could connect to (encouraged by government-organized auctions to build new wind and hydro plants). In 2010, the New York Times reported on Portugal’s renewable energy push that started in earnest in 2005.


Victory scenario: your solar panels are transforming the utility industry

March 26th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Victory scenario: your solar panels are transforming the utility industry)

Mr. Utility, disruptive change is here. This is your wake-up call. Your biggest customers, households, are beginning to self generate and store power in this decade. You will either have to change or you will be left with fewer customers, will have to charge your remaining customers more, and as they leave, go out of business. The reason: solar rooftop installations. More and more evidence keeps showing up to confirm this trend. Rooftop solar is becoming a ‘no-brainer’  and will have profound implications for the incumbent energy industry.

Below you will find a redraft of the blog “2013: The Year Solar Will Flare” that was published here.

Hear power providers and utilities talk

NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), the biggest power provider to U.S. utilities, has become a renegade in the $370 billion energy-distribution industry by providing electricity directly to consumers. Bypassing its utility clients, NRG is installing solar panels on rooftops of homes and businesses and in the future will offer natural gas-fired generators to customers to kick in when the sun goes down, Chief Executive Officer David Crane said in an interview. NRG is the first operator of traditional, large-scale power plants to branch into running mini-generation systems that run a single building. The endeavor strikes at the core business of utilities that have earned money from making and delivering electricity ever since Thomas Edison flipped the switch on the first investor-owned power plant in Manhattan in 1882. Consumers are realizing “they don’t need the power industry at all,” Crane, 54, said in an interview at this year’s MIT Energy Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That is ultimately where big parts of the country go.” It is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term,” said Jim Rogers, chairman and chief executive officer of Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), the largest U.S. utility owner.

What is driving this change (apart from the sun!) ?

Recent technological and economic changes are expected to challenge and transform the electric utility industry. These changes (or “disruptive challenges”) arise due to a convergence of factors, including: falling costs of distributed generation and other distributed energy resources (DER); an enhanced focus on development of new DER technologies; increasing customer, regulatory, and political interest in demand- side management technologies (DSM); government programs to incentivize selected technologies; the declining price of natural gas; slowing economic growth trends; and rising electricity prices in certain areas of the country. Taken together, these factors are potential “game changers” to the U.S. electric utility industry, and are likely to dramatically impact customers, employees, investors, and the availability of capital to fund future investment. The timing of such transformative changes is unclear, but with the potential for technological innovation (e.g., solar photovoltaic or PV) becoming economically viable due to this confluence of forces, the industry and its stakeholders must proactively assess the impacts and alternatives available to address disruptive challenges in a timely manner.

While the pace of disruption cannot be predicted, the mere fact that we are seeing the beginning of customer disruption and that there is a large universe of companies pursuing this opportunity highlight the importance of proactive and timely planning to address these challenges early on so that uneconomic disruption does not proceed further. Ultimately, all stakeholders must embrace change in technology and business models in order to maintain a viable utility industry.

Solar becoming cheaper than traditional forms of electricity

The revolution in energy markets caused by the growing impact of rooftop solar PV is about to take a dramatic leap in scale. According to analysts from the global investment banking giant UBS, the arrival of socket parity – where the cost of installing solar is cheaper than grid-sourced supplies – is about to cause a boom in un-subsidised solar installation in Europe, and the energy market may never be quite the same again. Such forecasts have long been the province of environmentalists, climate activists, university researchers, and the occasional industry leader, such as David Crane, the head of NRG, the largest generator of electricity in the US. Now, the team of energy analysts from UBS, writing in response to plunging power prices in Europe, has issued a stunning report entitled “The unsubsidized solar revolution” – suggesting that investing in solar will become a “no brainer” for households in several European countries, and will have profound implications for the incumbent energy industry.

“Solar has turned from a heavily-subsidized marginal technology into a mainstream source of power generation,” the UBS analysts write. ” “Thanks to significant cost reductions and rising retail tariffs, households and commercial users are set to install solar systems to reduce electricity bills – without any subsidies.”


Your own utility and gas pump: on your roof. Paid for in less than 3 years.


This means we are getting to a market that does not rely on government programs or subsidies, it is carried by economic sense. Solar will become a necessity for new construction just as we want a bathroom and a heater. Your house will not have an electricity bill anymore. Hopeful messages that will only be reinforced by the sales of more and more electric cars. These too can be powered with your solar panels and require even fewer panels than your home. Say goodbye to paying at the pump. I mean, think of it, add up your utility bill and gas bills from the pump for a year. Then divide (in Austin at the moment) about $4,000 for low end users and $ 8,000 for high end users by this number. That is your return rate. I bet it is within 3 years. Hello sunshine.


Renewable energy self-sufficient states, can it be done?

March 14th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Renewable energy self-sufficient states, can it be done?)

Is renewable energy ready for the real deal? How do we match supply and demand? We all know about the intermittent character of wind, water and solar. The sun does not shine all the time; the wind doesn’t always blow.  Here is a study from Stanford University that is looking to answer how a key, energy intensive region of the country, New York state could be run entirely on renewable energy. Can it be done? Yes.

The study can be looked up here. It is technical yes, but the answer is simple: it can be done quickly and affordably.  A similar study has been done by the University of Delaware that includes a much more detailed and specific look at how a shift to renewables could replace, watt for watt, the current system in a large regional grid called the PJM Interconnection, representing 13 states and one fifth of the US grid. I tried to summarize a few key points from the New York State study with help from Peter Sinclair.

1. What are the main ingredients of a fully renewable energy economy?

The graph below shows you the current situation and how the pathways transition into the new energy future. You see some key ingredients. The biggest step is the missing loss of energy when we do not rely anymore on fossil fuels that we have to convert to electricity. That is a good bonus to have! The next path is being more efficient with the energy we use. Doing more with less. Wasting less by being smarter. You know, stuff you can do yourself, like changing a light bulb to a CFL. When you look at the black section, you almost see a perfect bell-that is about half of the trick, almost. The energy that we still need will be generated with an intricate mix of energy sources. It is all of them: solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. And yes, we need them all so they can dance and make it all work together.


2. So we are talking about all energy uses?

Yes, we can not just talk about electricity. It is about an all-purpose energy infrastructure for electricity, transportation, heating/cooling and industry. It needs to be a comprehensive energy strategy and it should focus on all the services we derive from the use of energy. So we are indeed talking about the full replacement of the use of coal, natural gas, nuclear, shale gas, tar sand and oil.

3.  Can you show me what sources of renewable energy are part of the mix?

It is a colorful palet of energy sources which will vary wherever you are in the world. If we look at New York State (NYS’s) 2030 all-purpose end-use power would be provided by:

10% onshore wind (4020 5-MW turbines),
40% offshore wind (12,700 5-MW turbines),
10% concentrated solar (387 100-MW plants),
10% solar-PV plants (828 50-MW plants),
6% residential rooftop PV (~5 million 5-kW systems),
12% commercial/government rooftop PV (~500,000 100-kW systems),
5% geothermal (36 100-MW plants), 0.5% wave (1910 0.75-MW devices),
1% tidal (2600 1-MW turbines),
and 5.5% hydroelectric (6.6 1300-MW plants, – of which 89% exist).

Yes, your solar panels on your roof are part of this success as well! And all of this is existing technology.

4. And it pays for itself in dollars and even more in health and jobs

The conversion would reduce NYS’s end-use power demand ~37% and stabilize energy prices since fuel costs would be zero. It would create more jobs than lost because nearly all NYS energy would now be produced in- state. NYS air pollution mortality and its costs would decline by ~4000 (1200-7600) deaths/yr, and $33 (10-76) billion/yr (3% of 2010 NYS GDP), respectively, alone repaying the 271 GW installed power needed within ~17 y, before accounting for electricity sales. NYS’s own emission decreases would reduce 2050 U.S. climate costs by ~$3.2 billion/yr.

5. But, do we have space for all of this?

The answer is simple again: yes. If you look at the map below where  the technologies from question 3 are plotted, you see that it would require space, but that there is plenty space left for biking, hiking and other outdoor activities that will let you breath in all the clean air.

6. And, how are we going to deal with challenge of matching the demand, at different times of the day, and the activities of nature?

An important concern that needs to be addressed in a clean-energy economy is whether electric power demand can be met with wind, water, and solar supply on a minute, daily, and seasonal basis. There are a nice array of methods that we can deploy to do just that:

(A) combining geographically-dispersed renewable resources as a bundled set of resources rather than separate resources and using hydroelectric or stored concentrated solar power to balance the remaining load;

(B) using demand-response management to shift times of demand to better match the availability of renewable power;

(C) over-sizing renewable peak generation capacity to minimize the times when available renewable power is less than demand and provide power to produce heat for air and water and hydrogen for transportation and heat when renewable power exceeds demand;

(D) integrating weather forecasts into system operation;

(E) storing energy in batteries or other storage media at the site of generation or use; and

(F) storing energy in electric-vehicle batteries for later extraction (vehicle-to-grid).

My conclusion is that if we focus our effort on getting this done, we can. We need to do two things: start investing in the conversion and stop investing in fossil fuel based infrastructure.

You can own the renewable energy revolution

March 12th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Money | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on You can own the renewable energy revolution)

How can you own a part of the renewable energy revolution? Can you put your money in wind farms or solar farms? The internet is democratizing the renewable energy sector and the first steps are visible in the US. Listen to Billy Parish why and how he created the first online platform to invest in solar projects in the U.S. He will be followed by many more people. Get ready for an energy future that we all own, is small scale, resilient, clean, abundant and carbon free.

From: mother nature network, march 11

Despite the overwhelming popularity of solar power, U.S. politics have been hostile to the budding industry. Established fossil fuel industries continue to enjoy generous government subsidies to the tune of about $10.4 billion per year* while renewable power gets a meager $1.7 billion (that’s solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro put together)! In addition, the current Master Limited Partnership rules are written to provide tax-advantages for fossil fuel investors while prohibiting these same rules from applying to solar and wind, even though solar and wind industries have been shown to create far more longterm job opportunities per dollar invested.

Even with all these obstacles, banks still want to invest in solar projects. They see it as a business about to boom, but they are just not set up to finance small $100,000 installations. Mosaic attempts to fill this gap. Taking advantage of a new IRS ruling that finally allows crowd-based investing, Mosaic allows us little guys to actually invest in solar projects around the country — schools, community centers, housing projects — and receive a return on investment, all while making communities cleaner and more energy secure.

Some were skeptical about Mosaic, but in its initial offering of projects the company was able to raise $1.1 million in just a few days, funding 11 projects in California, Arizona and New Jersey. Parish says their success is simply about the numbers. 92% of Americans want solar power, yet currently only 0.1% of them have it. That is a big market with a lot of pent-up demand, and Mosaic is well situated to add a huge amount of liquidity to the U.S. market.

Last week Future360 had a skype interview with Mosaic founder Billy Parish, a young man who’s online crowdfunding platform may end up providing the key to unlock a solar revolution in the United States.

How it works… Mosaic connects small investors through an easy-to-use online platform. As the solar projects produce clean electricity they generate very reliable revenue by selling power to the solar customer. The projects earn revenue, and they investors are paid back with interest.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but the feat of getting Mosaic off the ground should not be underestimated. It is one of the very first projects in the U.S. to actually test out the mechanism for crowd-based investing (as opposed to gifting platforms like Kickstarter).

The current slate of solar projects have already been funded but if you want to get in on the action, you can sign up to get notified for the next offering. It will be interesting to see just how fast solar will take off in the U.S. with a means of simply getting money where its wanted most — on our rooftops.

 * Note this figure is very conservative. Other figures put U.S. subsidies at about $30 billion per year for Oil & Gas, based on the DBL Investors et al study, 2011 (which shows $447 billion for oil & gas during the 15 year period 1994-2005) and $24 billion per year for Coal based on a deeper analysis of Environmental Law Institute, 2009 study which identifies over 250 subsidy mechanisms (PDF).

Climate solutions: herding livestock

March 9th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Food | Inspiration | Our Future | Victory Scenario | Water - (Comments Off on Climate solutions: herding livestock)

Herding livestock on 50% of the worlds pastures and areas where we are seeing desertification can help families in providing for themselves, restore water tables and rivers, increase organic matter in the soil, sequester carbon dioxide in the soil and prevent release of methane to an extent that will take the atmospheric CO2 below pre-industrial levels, hence save us from global warming. Really?

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

It is all about how we manage our livestock. Our current way of  animal husbandry is always in every case destructive, and contributes to climate change and desertification. Savory agrees that there is a right and wrong way, but makes a case that with the right practices, ruminants can become a powerful tool for healing damaged land and sequestering carbon. If you have not visited one of our local farmers that are providing our stores with grass-fed beef, go on a road trip. When the buffalo roamed the Great Plains, the top soil was about 6 foot deep and fertile; now we have reduced that to mere inches. Watch this video from Allan Savory titled “How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change”.  It includes case studies of his hard learned approach (it took killing 40,000 elephants to see that he was wrong) and how it is transforming millions of acres on different continents around the world. This has to be part of our Victory Scenario.

Allan Savory works to promote holistic management in the grasslands of the world. Full bio »


Learn more

If you want to learn more about holisitc land management practices, here are a few points resources to get started:

Holistic Management Resource List (including scholarly citations, popular articles, and videos)

Research Paper Summaries Germane to Holistic Management

Land Restoration in Arid Regions with Holistic Management

Land Restoration in the Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico, with Holistic Management

Case Studies & Related

Forward on Climate

February 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Inspiration | Our Future | People | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Forward on Climate)

You probably have all read about, saw news about or participated in the Forward on Climate rally last Sunday, February the 17th of 2013. We wanted to share the feeling and momentum of over 40,000 people joining together to move us towards an economy and society that is different from our current one so that they can tell their grandchildren ” we were about to really screw this planet up, but we took a turn, and I was part of it”. A turn to a brighter future with clean, affordable, local and renewable energy, with enough food and fresh water to provide for a decent living across the globe. The solution to our Climate Challenge has the potential to drive all of this. We’d better make it work. Will you join the movement? Will you take action today? Enjoy the video. We are all in.

More information about the rally can be found here. A slideshow of the event is available here

The Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act

February 15th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Our Future | Policy - (Comments Off on The Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act)

In the last two years, the biggest extreme weather events cost American families and businesses $188 billion. As we pump more and more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere, these disasters are only going to become more common. We must do something now to take action. And, thanks to a bill that was introduced today, United States Senators have the opportunity to take action: They must pass the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act. Controversy has already arisen, but it is hitting all the right buttons. Get ready for more renewable energy, a rebate for households, investment in the new energy economy based on public private partnerships and energy efficiency. Think of weatherization of 1,000,000 homes per year. Talk about scale! Let hope most of the components get some serious attention.

Taken together, the Climate Protection Act and Sustainable Energy Act are a comprehensive climate bill, led by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Most important, the package puts a price on carbon, which will make polluters pay for the damage they inflict on all of us while encouraging the transition to cleaner fuels. This $20 fee for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution will reduce emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The bill would set a goal to slash heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – in line with the Obama administration’s long-term emission reduction target.

It would set a $20 tax for each ton of carbon dioxide equivalent a polluter would emit beyond a set limit, which would rise 5.6 percent annually over a 10-year period. The bill that would tax carbon and methane emissions. These bills also bring in more than $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade. The success of any pollution reduction program depends on how new revenue is spent, and these bills spend the money smartly. Broadly speaking, the money goes to three places: consumer protection, clean energy infrastructure, and deficit reduction. Each of these is important.

The tax would target upstream emissions from 2,869 of the country’s largest emitters, such as coal mines, oil refineries and natural gas processing points, or 85 percent of the economy. But it does not target power plants, which would continue to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The tax would also apply to foreign companies who export their fuels to the United States if their home countries do not have equivalent carbon measures.

A carbon fee is just like any other consumption tax in that it inordinately impacts low- and middle-income families. The Climate Protection Act and Sustainable Energy Act create a rebate program to make sure that these families are not harmed. Unlike other carbon tax proposals, sixty percent of the revenue would go to pay monthly rebates for citizens and legal U.S. residents who are bound to face higher electric bills as utilities pass on the tax to consumers. This is modeled after Alaska’s oil dividend, and will ensure that pollution reduction is not a regressive tax.

Other money generated by the tax would be used to invest in energy efficiency and cleaner technologies, such as weatherizing U.S. homes, tripling the current energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy and seeding a fund that would encourage public-private partnerships to develop renewable energy. To be more specific; it  would go toward “weatherizing” 1 million homes each year to make them more energy-efficient, increasing renewable-energy supply by setting up new wind- and solar-power projects, and creating a fund to attract private investment for clean-energy development.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program, said he thinks businesses could come around to support the bill. He said the legislation could offer more predictable policy compared with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions rules. EPA has begun moving ahead with climate regulations, and advocates want a more aggressive effort on that front during Obama’s second term.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she plans to move a comprehensive climate bill through her committee and to the floor by this summer. Boxer called the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), “the gold standard” for climate legislation.

It is hard to find, but here is a copy of it. Have a read, lets hope it gets the attention and credit it deserves.

Supply chain management, energy efficiency and lowering energy costs: IKEA does it all

February 4th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Goods and services | Our Future | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Supply chain management, energy efficiency and lowering energy costs: IKEA does it all)

To prevent the worst of climate change we need to cut our emissions by about 80%. The best way to do that is to use energy sources that do not suffer from carbon pollution, being renewables, you all know that. Now for most of us citizens, most of our footprint originates from what we ask other people to do for us. Think of the groceries that you just bought, and oh yeah, your new smart phone. So, do you ask your retailers, and providers what they are doing to fight climate change? Some people do, and some businesses do too.  An example of a company that is wanting to increase energy efficiency, reduce energy cost, use only renewable energy, and, make their suppliers do the same: IKEA. If we clean up every step in the supply chains in our economy like this, we will make huge inroads in curbing our emissions.

Workers are seen installing solar panels to the roof of an Ikea Group store.

Workers are seen installing solar panels to the roof of an Ikea Group store.

Source: Bloomberg, 23 Janaury 2013

Ikea Group, the world’s biggest furniture retailer, will double its investment in renewable energy to $4 billion by 2020 as part of a drive to reduce costs and risk associated with volatile fossil fuels.

The additional spending on projects such as wind farms and solar parks will be needed to keep expenses down as the company maintains its pace of expansion, Chief Executive Officer and President Mikael Ohlsson said in an interview in Malmo, Sweden. “I foresee we’ll continue to increase our investments in renewable energy,” said Ohlsson, who is due to step down this year after 3 1/2 years at the helm. “Looking at how quickly we’re expanding and our value chain, we will most likely have to double the investments once more after 2015.”

Prices for wind turbines sank 23 percent in the three years to June, while solar panels have tumbled by more than half in two years, making projects cost-effective, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Ikea plans to get 100 percent of the energy consumed at its stores and by subcontractors from renewable sources by 2020. The Almhult, Sweden-based company owns 250,000 solar panels, mainly in the U.S., and invested in 126 wind turbines in northern Europe to cover 34 percent of its energy consumption.

Wind farms and solar parks

In October, Ikea said it planned to more than double spending on wind farms and solar parks to as much as $2 billion to have the company cover more than 70 percent of its energy consumption by renewable sources in 2015 and protect it from volatile fossil-fuel prices.

The retailer is expanding its product range for customers to live more sustainable lives themselves, focusing on waste handling and cutting energy and water use. “For now, we’re mainly focusing on the big parts of resource use at home,” Ohlsson said, adding that Ikea is testing some solar solutions for customers in the U.K., he said.

A typical roof of an IKEA store

A typical roof of an IKEA store

IKEA is also doing its part in their stores, the goal for energy efficiency is to reduce its use by 25% in the coming years. Their biggest effort: using more and more energy efficient light bulbs. Sometimes energy efficiency is that simple and significant.

Your supply chain management

So the next time you are spending dollars somewhere, why not ask your retailer or provider whether they are using renewable energy (read Greenchoice in Austin), or ask them what recent projects they have implemented to be more energy efficient? My experience is that these questions usually turn into a positive conversation about the need and reasons. Most people are receptive to the message. It is time to grow our community and get connected in a new and renewable way.

Wind farm + storage battery = wind power when we need it

January 24th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Wind farm + storage battery = wind power when we need it)

Wind power only works when the wind is blowing. Some days wind farms produce more energy than can be used immediately, while other days the wind dies down to nothing. If only we had a way to store excess wind energy and discharge it whenever demand for electricity is highest – not just when wind turbine blades are turning.  And now that can be done, and it is being done in Texas.

Artist impression of a wind farm and on-site storage facility.

Artist impression of a wind farm and on-site storage facility.

The world’s largest wind energy storage system is set to be built in oil country, deep in the heart of Texas. North Carolina-based company Duke Energy has hired Xtreme Power to build a giant storage system at a wind farm in aptly-named Notrees, Texas. The current wind farm boasts an output of 153 megawatts, and the new system will store up to 36 megawatts in a dynamic battery. The systens  has already been installed at four wind farms in Hawaii, utilizing 15 and 10 megawatt batteries.

The Notrees Wind Power Project was built in 2009. The storage system, which will turn the farm into a manageable power source, stands to add just about 1 cent to the cost of each kilowatt hour — a small price to pay for a continuous power source. The Xtreme system at Notrees Wind Power Project has just been completed.

A view of the battery system. It is one heck of a  lead acid battery!

A view of the battery system. It is one heck of a lead acid battery!

Duke Energy will work closely with the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to integrate the wind power and battery storage solution into the state’s independent power grid. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will advise the project team, collect data and help assess the potential for broader adoption of energy storage solutions throughout the industry. Results from the storage project at Duke Energy’s Notrees wind farm will be shared publically through the DOE’s Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse.

The round-trip efficiency is at approximately 90%, varying slightly by application. We lose some power, but gain more freedom to use it when we need it most. That is great news- just like the sun doesn’t shine on our solar panels all the time, the wind picks up and dies down as well. In Texas, most wind blows at night and most consumption happens during the day. Now we have an additional tool to balance that. Good progress!

In 2012 we became 120% self-sufficient with electricity

December 29th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Conservation | Our Future | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on In 2012 we became 120% self-sufficient with electricity)

Last April we made the decision to invest in solar panels on our roof. We also stepped up our electricity savings efforts. And boy, did it pay off. With only 8 months of solar panel production, we have been able to make 20% more than we needed over the year so we are actually a net producer and we give back to the grid. We also curbed use by more than 40% compared to last year. We are using less energy every month as compared to last year. We are making more electricity every month than we are consuming,  even over the summer in our AC-loaded Southern climate.

solar panels

We installed 12 solar panels that will give us over 4000 kWh of electricity per year. Thank you sun!

We installed 12 solar panels that will give us over 4000 kWh of electricity per year. Thank you sun!

After having helped install solar panels in Europe at my father’s place (see some photo’s of my brother, dad and me here guiding you through all the installation steps), we decided to have them installed for us here in Austin. The main reason for this is the requirement from the city to use an approved installer to qualify for the rebates. The rebates are great, they pay for all the labor, so the work comes for free, and all work is up to code and done by certified electricians. That is a good thing. Of the remaining price tag, 30% is paid for by a federal tax incentive that you can claim on your 1040. Nice! We bought enough solar panels to match our use in 2011 which meant for us 12 solar panels of 255 watt peak each. That is less than most people in Austin would need. It generates about 4,000 kWh per year and the average household in Austin uses 11,000 kWh per year. You can see photo’s of our installed grid (including some overly optimistic marketing language) on our installers website. We will earn our investment back to the last penny in about 6 years and will be making money after that every time the sun is out. We will make even more electricity next year with all 12 months of production instead of the 8 we had last year. If you want solar panels and live in the Austin area, look at this action card with a detailed step by step plan.

cutting use

At the same time we have tried to curb our own use as well. Seeing the meters go up when you use electricity and go down when you don’t  inspired us to look at our consumption. So we focused on our largest use: the cooling of our house over the summer. We decided not to replace the HVAC but to reduce its workload by installing attic insulation (fun to do yourself!) and installing solar screens on our windows (that we took of a month ago to let the winter sun warm our house and will put back on when it gets warm again). You can see the impact in the table below where the red line bends off downwards in month 7, July. Appliances and lighting are usually good second runners up on the use front. We had already changed most lights to CFLs, so we decided to focus on appliances. We replaced our clothes washer with an affordable but very water and energy efficient front loader (25% compared to the market average) and installed a solar clothes line so we do not have to run our dryer anymore (except for some towels). On top of that. we started to turn things off even more. We  emptied out our fridge before our summer vacation so it would not run with nobody there to use it anyway (good excuse to clean it!). Another example is the use of power strips; our entire home office can be turned off by one switch. But we have also increased used in other places, especially in making more food and drinks at home. We boil our water in an electric kettle to bring water to the boil before using our natural gas stove, we make our own kombucha that starts with hot sweet tea , we make our own bread with seeds, rosemary, oregano, caraway etc., we have a blender/smoothie maker that we use to make delicious drinks, pickled cabbage (kimchi) and hummus. All solar powered, all made from scratch. It is a great way to celebrate the energy from the sun harvested from our solar panels. Our 2012 use is now less than 2,500 kWh, about 22% of the average use in Austin. Yeah!

2012 electricity use in our home. On the left axis you see the number of kilowatthours, kWh, that we use every day as an average per month, and the bottom axis shows you the months of the year. The green line is our solar production. The red line is our use in 2012 and the blue line our use in 2011. Can you see when we installed our attic insulation?

2012 electricity use in our home. On the left axis you see the number of kilowatthours, kWh, that we use every day as an average per month, and the bottom axis shows you the months of the year. The green line is our solar production. The red line is our use in 2012 and the blue line our use in 2011. Can you see when we installed our attic insulation?


With solar panel prices coming down, and the rebate program here in Austin, there is no good reason not to have solar panels on your roof. If you qualify and can afford the upfront cost, you should get them. It is one of the few things that you can install in your house that actually makes you money. Yes it will take some years to recoup the investment, but it saves you money from day one and  increases the value of your home when you want to sell it. You could go as far as to say it is free. Free , clean, renewable, abundant. Why don’t you put the sun to work here in a climate were we have so much of it and fight it all the time in the summer. The sun can be your friend! There is no reason your house can not be a net generator instead of  a consumer. Estimates are that by 2030 25% of all homes in Europe will be energy self-sufficient. You can be part of this trend. The only thing you have to do is to call a couple of solar installers and be on your very own way.

We will probably buy an electric car sometime the next couple of years, with that we will add a few more solar panels and stay self-sufficient, even for our transportation needs, habits and lifestyle.


Majority of world’s largest companies shifting to clean energy

December 16th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Our Future | Policy | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Majority of world’s largest companies shifting to clean energy)

Fortune100companiesDespite climate and energy policy inching forward in Congress and at the UN climate change negotiations in Qatar, a new report from Calvert Investments, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows that most of the world’s largest companies aren’t waiting on governments to embrace renewable energy and lower emissions.

The report, “Power Forward: Why the World’s Largest Companies are Investing in Renewable Energy,” shows that a majority of Fortune 100 companies have set a renewable energy commitment, a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction commitment or both. The trend is even stronger internationally, as more than two-thirds of Fortune’s Global 100 have set the same commitments. You can find a list of US companies without and with goals on page 15. A good list to know where or where not to put your money! Appendix A gives you an overview of their goals.

“The companies that are boldly setting either greenhouse gas or renewable energy goals and making progress on those commitments are demonstrating the business case and real leadership on climate change,” said Marty Spitzer, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy. “And, in the process, these companies are changing the game — driving significant renewable energy investment globally and pressing for the right policy and market conditions that will allow companies to do even more.”

Through two dozen interviews with Fortune and Global 100 executives and analysis of public disclosures, the report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, including AT&T, DuPont, General Motors, HP, Sprint, and Walmart.  Just to give you one example; Walmart has a goal of 100% renewable energy. Among other key findings, the report shows that:

  • 96 companies from the combined 173 companies in the Fortune 100 and Global 100 have set GHG reduction goals (56 percent).
  • Of those, 23 companies have set specific goals for renewable energy use (13 perce-nt), with others using renewable energy to meet their GHG goals.
  • Many companies are shifting from purchasing short-term, temporary Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to longer-term investment strategies like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and on-site projects, indicating a long-term commitment to renewable energy and reaping the benefits of reduced price volatility.

“The world’s largest companies are expanding their use of renewable energy because it makes good business sense – they see the value in diversifying their energy supply, mitigating fuel cost risk, cutting their energy-related emissions, and, in some cases, providing a physical asset with real value for the enterprise,” said Calvert’s Senior Vice President for Sustainability Research and Policy, Bennett Freeman. “We strongly encourage all companies to set renewable energy targets and disclose these commitments, which we believe will help companies—and those who invest in them—address clear risks and seize concrete opportunities.”

Despite tremendous progress, some companies have yet to set goals, and those that have still face several challenges to accelerating their use of renewable energy. Companies identified the following key barriers: the fact that in some regions renewable energy is not yet at cost-parity with subsidized fossil-based energy; internal competition for capital; and inconsistent policies that send mixed signals to companies and investors in renewable energy projects, particularly instability in renewable energy incentives and policies that prevent companies from signing green power purchase agreements.

The report offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including promoting tax credits or other incentives that level the cost playing field for renewable energy, particularly, extending the Production Tax Credit for wind energy this year; establishing Renewable Portfolio Standards in states that do not have them; removing policy hurdles in states that prevent companies from contracting to buy the cheapest renewable power available and building on-site renewable power generation; and market-based solutions that put a price on the pollution from conventional energy generation.

“When a majority of the world’s largest companies are investing in clean energy, you can truly see its value,” said Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres. “It speaks volumes that almost all of these companies set their renewable energy and greenhouse gas goals after the economic downturn, precisely because they understand the economic benefits of efficiency and renewable energy. We encourage lawmakers to support policies that help companies meet and strengthen their clean energy goals.”

The report was prepared by David Gardiner & Associates with the guidance of WWF, Ceres, and Calvert staff.

Ceres – WASHINGTON, DC Dec 10, 2012

Worlds largest Community Solar project sold out!

November 25th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Worlds largest Community Solar project sold out!)

A 5 megawatt (MW) solar PV farm in the UK has become the first cooperatively owned project in the country – and the largest community solar farm in the world. The 30-acre solar park serves 1500 households and next door are wind turbines also owned by a community cooperative. In one of the most successful share offerings of its kind, Westmill Solar Cooperative purchased Westmill Solar Park. The offering, over-subscribed by 50%, sold out in six weeks to 1650 investors. It raised almost $9.6 million, supplemented by a loan from Investec Bank. The cooperative eventually intends to transfer that loan to a pension fund bond.


“It’s been a real team effort to have pulled this off in the face of shifting government policy and tight timescales,” says Adam Twine, founder and director of the cooperative. “Westmill represents the best of what low carbon investment and renewable energy can offer and hopefully will inspire others to realize that when we get together we can make change happen and can engage positively with the threat of climate change.”  More than half of Westmill members live within 40 kilometers of the project. Planning for the community solar project began in summer 2010, and was constructed with financing from renewable energy company Blue Energy. It was connected to the grid in 2011, and the cooperative assumed ownership during an offering in June and July 2012. The farm benefits from UK feed-in tariffs introduced in 2011, which are guaranteed for the next 24 years.

“Solar power will become the world’s greatest energy source in our lifetime; heralding a new era of sustainable and ‘democratic’ energy supply,” says Philip Wolfe, chairman of the cooperative. “As the success of Westmill shows, solar energy enables ordinary people to produce clean power, not only on their rooftops, but at utility scale.”

You can check out website of Westmil solar co-op here. It has a realtime solar output monitor and much more!

Community solar projects are capturing interest in the US as well. Even though a state-wide effort in California to support the model was squelched in early September, it is likely that the issue will be re-introduced next year and examples of community solar financing models can be found inNew Mexico and Massachusetts.

The big question is: where is Texas in this list? Austin Energy is working on a community solar program, but details are scarce.

Source: SB