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February 07 2014


Keystone XL vs. Renewable Energy


A head-to-head comparison demonstrates the overwhelming superiority of renewable energy over the Keystone XL. If approved, the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast in Texas. In addition to risks from spills and potential water impacts, the pipeline will facilitate the mass extraction of Canada’s global warming causing tar sands.

The Earth is getting warmer and we know that this will have calamitous costs, we also know that fossil fuels are the principle source of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Increased levels of GHGs have significant harmful impacts on our health, our environment, and our climate.

We are currently on track for catastrophic global warming if we continue with business as usual. If we want to have a shot at keeping global temperature increases under the internationally agreed upon upper threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, we must radically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

We cannot afford to add more than 310 gigatons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, if we are to keep warming within two degrees C. We have already emitted 530 gigatons of carbon, and according to the IPCC’s latest report we can only add a total of 840 gigatons of carbon, that leaves us with a carbon budget of 310 gigatons. We will not be able to stay within our carbon budget and move forward if we move ahead with the Keystone XL.

To keep global temperatures below this threshold we will need to abandon much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. This is particularly true of tar sands oil which has a far higher emissions profile than traditional oil.

If we are to meet growing energy needs, we will need to ramp up our use of renewables. While this entails considerable investment, it is far less than the combined costs of a significantly warmer world.

Emissions from the tar sands

If approved the Keystone XL pipeline will be a game changing contributer to climate change causing emissions. According to the NRDC report, tar sands oil emits 81 percent more emissions than conventional oil. If the Keystone XL goes forward a Sierra report claims it will generate 181 million metric tons of carbon, an emission load which is the yearly equivalent of building 51 new coal-fired power plants or putting 37 million additional cars on the road.

The State Department report

The State Department’s latest report on the Keystone XL does a very poor job of detailing the pipeline’s emissions, oil spill risks, and threats to water resources. The NRDC showed how the pipeline would increase U.S. carbon emissions by between 935 million and 1.2 billion metric tons over the project’s 50-year timeline. This is far more than indicated in the State Department’s report.

The Canadian province of Alberta, home of the tar sands, has a long history of pipeline explosions and spills. In the case of the Keystone XL, a spill could jeopardize a number of rivers and the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water and irrigates agriculture in parts of eight states. In 2013 alone, TransCanada, the company charged with building the Keystone XL, had 14 U.S. spills in a single year.

Pipelines are not only dangerous for the environment, they also kill and injure people. Since 1986, according to a ProPublica investigation, U.S. pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000, and cost nearly $50 billion in property damages.

The State Department report claims that Canada’s tar sands will be exploited whether or not the pipeline is built. However, this is refuted by a Sierra article which states that the Royal Bank of Canada believes blocking Keystone XL would significantly inhibit Canada’s tar sands development.

Overview of the benefits of renewable energy

Renewable energy provides substantial environmental and economic benefits, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists this includes:

  1. Little or no greenhouse gas emissions: According to data aggregated by the International Panel on Climate Change, life-cycle global warming emissions associated with renewable energy which includes manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance, and dismantling and decommissioning are minimal. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) explored the feasibility and environmental impacts associated with generating 80 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and they found that global warming emissions from electricity production could be reduced by approximately 81 percent.
  2. Improved public health: Implementing renewable energy and transitioning away from fossil fuels will significantly reduce air and water pollution from fossil fuels which lead to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer. There is evidence to show that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy can increase worker productivity, decrease premature mortality and significantly reduce overall healthcare costs.
  3. Vast inexhaustible supply of energy: The 2012, NREL study found that renewable energy can supply 482,247 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually which amounts to 118 times the nation’s annual electricity consumption.
  4. Stable energy prices: Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy is providing affordable electricity across the country right now, and can help stabilize energy prices in the future. While renewable facilities require upfront investments to build, once built they operate at very low cost and, for most technologies, the fuel is free. As a result, renewable energy prices are relatively stable over time. Prices will also benefit from the increased competition that is afforded by scaling renewables. Further, renewable would decrease costs to utility companies that currently spend millions of dollars on financial instruments to hedge themselves against fossil fuel price volatility.
  5. Reliable and resilient energy system: Wind and solar are less prone to large-scale failure than fossil fuel powered systems because they are distributed and modular. To illustrate the point, a Renewable Energy World article cites a study which showed how Hurricane Sandy damaged and disrupted fossil fuel powered electricity generation and distribution in New York and New Jersey, while renewable energy projects in the Northeast weathered the storm with minimal damage or disruption. This is of great importance as we expect to experience more extreme weather due to climate change. Unlike fossil fuel or nuclear power, wind and solar do not require water to generate electricity which makes them better able to deal with issues of water scarcity.

Pros and cons of renewable energy

While there are many very serious problems associated with the Keystone XL pipeline and the dirty bitumen it will carry, a balanced assessment of renewables make a strong case for clean energy. As summarized in an EEP article, renewable energy offers a slew of useful benefits.


Pros: U.S. onshore wind resources have the potential to generate almost 10,500 GW of electricity, 175 times more than the current installed capacity of 60 GW. Based on the average U.S. electricity fuel mix, a one MW wind turbine can displace 1,800 tons of CO2 emissions per year. With a wind power capacity of 300 GW, 825 million metric tons of CO2 emissions could be avoided annually. Most importantly, wind turbines generate very little emissions. Wind emits only 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: They generate noise pollution and can prove deadly to bats and birds.


Pros: Solar photovoltaic (PV) modules covering 0.6 percent of U.S. land area could meet national electricity demand. While solar PV modules produce no emissions during operation. Solar emits only 0.07 to 0.2 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: Solar PV modules require toxic substances (e.g., cadmium and selenium) in their manufacturing.


Pros: Biomass has low net C02 emissions in comparison to fossil fuels. At combustion, it releases only the CO2 it previously removed from the atmosphere.

Cons: Additional emissions are associated with processing. Land use is another problem as it requires 124 acres of land to generate one GWh of energy per year and using crop land to grow fuel can adversely impact global food production.


Pros: U.S. geothermal power offsets the emission of 22 million metric tons of CO2, 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 110,000 tons of particulate matter from coal-powered plants each year. Geothermal emits only 0.1 to 0.2 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: Some geothermal facilities produce solid waste such as salts and minerals that must be disposed of in approved sites, but some byproducts can be recovered and recycled.


Pros: Electricity generated from hydropower is virtually emission free. Hydroelectric power emits between 0.1 and 0.5 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: significant levels of methane and CO2 may be emitted through the decomposition of vegetation that is flooded by the dam. Other environmental concerns include fish injury and mortality, habitat degradation, and water quality impairment. However there are technologies that can help to minimize some of the adverse consequences including “fish-friendly” turbines and smaller dams.

Overall the pros of renewable energy far outweigh the costs.

Declining cost of renewables

The cost of renewable energy has been steadily declining and as we scale renewables this price will continue to decline. The more we produce the lower the cost. As it stands now wind power is currently competitive with fossil fuels and solar has achieved grid parity with coal. Long-term wind contracts are now more than 40 percent cheaper than they were just three years ago and the average price of a solar panel has dropped almost 60 percent since 2011. The cost of generating electricity from wind dropped more than 20 percent between 2010 and 2012 and more than 80 percent since 1980. The cost of renewable energy will decline even further as markets mature and companies increasingly take advantage of economies of scale. These costs could be further reduced with the help of standards. A 25 percent renewable electricity standard would lead to 7.6 percent lower electricity prices by 2030.

Renewable energy currently provides only a tiny fraction of its potential electricity output in the U.S. But a plethora of studies have demonstrated that renewable energy can be rapidly deployed to provide a significant share of future electricity needs.

Rather than supporting Canada’s exploitation of the tar sands, the U.S. should be resisting their northern neighbor’s reckless obsession with hydrocarbons. In addition to scaling renewable energy, the most important single thing that the U.S. can do is to deny Canada a market for its dirty fuel.

While the rampant exploitation of Canada’s tar sands oil means “game over” for efforts to combat climate change, renewable energy offers a secure, clean, and healthy solution to America’s energy needs.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: lamoix, Howl Arts Collective, courtesy flickr


The post Keystone XL vs. Renewable Energy appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 17 2014


U.S. Energy Efficiency Forecasts for 2014

Efficiency will have an even greater impact on both residential and industrial energy consumption this year compared to 2013. This is driven by policy at the federal, state and municipal levels. Net-positive energy buildings is another trend expected to grow in 2014. Other specific initiatives that will define energy efficiency in 2014 relate to financing, data usage, operational savings, and equipment integration.

According to forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2014, U.S. residential energy use is expected to decline. Even though energy is increasingly being used more efficiently by industry, industrial electricity use is expected to expand along with the economy. The EIA report indicates that improvements in appliance and lighting energy efficiency will continue to slow the growth of residential electricity consumption. The aver

U.S. energy efficiency forecasts for 2014  indicate increased conservation in both commercial and residential markets

age household’s energy use is expected to decline 1.1 percent this year and another 0.4 percent in 2015. However, the improving economic picture will increase electricity use by the U.S. industrial sector, which is forecast to consume 2.2 percent more electricity this year and 2.5 percent more in 2015.

A Rhodium Group and United Technologies report, entitled “Unlocking American Efficiency: The Economic and Commercial Power of Investing in Energy Efficient Buildings,” indicates that the U.S. government and utility sponsored programs have only a five percent penetration rate. An increase in energy efficiency can be expected in 2014 as wider adoption of these programs positively impacts the efficiency finance equation.

As reviewed in Energy Manager Today, federal energy efficiency initiatives in 2014 include final equipment standards for a variety of products such as electric motors, commercial refrigeration equipment, and residential furnace fans. Together, the DOE and HUD are expected to release housing initiatives that include new energy standards for manufactured homes. New energy efficiency requirements for federally-backed mortgages are also anticipated. This may also include modifications to mortgage underwriting criteria, which would factor a home’s energy efficiency. We may even see bipartisan energy efficiency legislation in 2014.

States like Oklahoma are expected to create new energy efficiency policies and California is expected to launch equipment efficiency standards, while both Maryland and New York will likely release energy savings targets.

At the municipal level, cities are also pursuing additional energy efficiency initiatives. An update to the Los Angeles building code is a notable highlight. As of the beginning of 2014, all new or refurbished buildings must be equipped with “cool roofs” (a cool roof is built of reflective rather than absorptive material). Compared to traditional roofs, these roofs can be as much as 50 degrees cooler on the roof surface, and can lower interior building temperatures by several degrees. Los Angeles is the first major American city to pass a cool-roof ordinance.

Green builder Hammer & Hand predicts that the popularity of net-zero energy buildings will begin to be replaced by net-positive energy buildings in 2014 and beyond. They attribute this trend to low cost solar panels, more electric vehicles and market mechanisms that reward onsite energy production. They also believe that we will see a policy shift in building energy codes, which will move away from prescriptive codes towards performance-based measures.

Hammer & Hand also forecast big things for CO2 heat pumps, US-made high performance windows, and ventilation system quality in 2014. They anticipate that the U.S. led move to make Passive House (a standard for energy efficiency in a building) more climate-specific will improve performance at both micro and macro levels. Finally, building energy efficiency initiatives in both Europe and China will help to drive the U.S. market.

According to a Greentech Media (GTM) interview with energy efficiency executives, in 2014 we can expect to see the growth of PACE financing, better data usage, operational savings, and new approaches to equipment integration. Here are the details of their thoughts on the biggest energy efficiency trends for 2014.

Clay Nesler of Johnson Controls sees growing momentum in commercial property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing. A total of 31 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation in support of commercial PACE programs. Nesler also cited Johnson Controls’ 2013 global survey, which found that executives with energy efficiency goals were 2.7 times more likely to increase energy efficiency investments in 2014 than organizations without such goals.

Mark Housely of Vigilent sees intelligent analytics as the salient focus for energy efficiency in 2014. As Housely explained, “Sensors have become both inexpensive and ubiquitous, efficiently providing great data in significant volumes. When combined with intelligent analytics, this data will provide unprecedented insight into data center energy use and operating behavior, enabling entirely new and likely unexpected ways of gaining efficiency and uptime safety.”

Bennett Fisher of Retroficiency shares Housely’s view and believes large-scale analytics deployments in commercial buildings will be the biggest energy efficiency trend of 2014. “In 2014, analytics will be applied to entire cities and states to transform efficiency forever,” Fisher said.

Swapnil Shah of FirstFuel says that with advances in education and awareness, energy efficiency will move beyond retrofits and towards operational savings. He points to low and no-cost operational savings which represent half the savings of commercial buildings. “Their adoption could spark a legion of energy-efficiency advocates in commercial buildings across the U.S.” said Shah.

Chuck McKinney of Aircuity says that the next big trend in 2014 will be “airside energy efficiency.” This trend will encompass several different strategies including improved economizer utilization, natural ventilation, and demand control ventilation. He points to the increasing availability of utility incentive programs for ventilation optimization. “[W]e expect demand control ventilation for airside efficiency to become one of the next standard offerings that utilities begin to drive as the next big category of energy efficiency measures,” McKinney said.

Paul Baier of Groom Energy indicated that LEDs will be the major trend of 2014. Two of the factors helping to drive widespread adoption are lighting controls, and increased adoption of enterprise energy management software.

The GTM article also asked energy efficiency executives what they thought were the most serious hurdles for efficiency in 2014. Their replies included ongoing financing barriers, education and accountability, and data applications.

Many of the hurdles are the flip side of the forces that are driving the growth of energy efficiency. A good illustration is Bennett Fisher who on the one hand believes that “analytics will… transform efficiency forever,” while at the same time he says that proper use of building data for analytics purposes will be a hurdle for efficiency in 2014.

Clay Nesler said the lack of funding is the greatest barrier to the growth of energy efficiency. Swapnil Shah concurs with Nesler and said that private investment and financing are the most serious hurdles for commercial efficiency. As Shah sees it, the fundamental challenge is the absence of uniform, reliable, and universal building performance data required to assess energy efficiency investments.

Paul Baier believes that inadequate energy accountability is a problem for many organizations in 2014. Firms may understand the importance of managing energy use, but there is a lack of clarity as to who is responsible for improving energy efficiency.

Mark Housely believes that there is a problem with what he calls a “legacy mindset” for data center operations. He believes the wrong-minded thinking of  “always on, all the time,” practice for operation hampers energy efficiency. He indicates that data centers are resistant to intelligently using monitoring sensors to “simultaneously reduce energy use and gain time and insight for more strategic, proactive planning.”

Energy efficiency programs will be expanded as will public awareness of both the need and the opportunities. Policies that improve building efficiency may also be improved including efficiency finance, portfolio standards, regulatory reform, as well as building labels, codes and standards.

Scaling the U.S. efficiency market in 2014 will be achieved through a combination of policy, technology, data, analytics, education, incentives and financing options.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Anton Fomkin, courtesy flickr

The post U.S. Energy Efficiency Forecasts for 2014 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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January 09 2014


Review of U.S. Energy Efficiency in 2013

Energy efficiency has played a pivotal role in American productivity improvements. In 2013, energy efficiency continued to move forward in the U.S. Driven by cost savings, energy efficiency is good for business and the economy. Improving efficiency increases production and can even lead to a higher quality of material life. Energy efficiency improves the nation’s GDP for each national energy dollar. Perhaps most importantly, energy efficiency is a meaningful part of emissions reductions, which combat climate change and improve air quality.

U.S. energy efficiency continued to improve in 2013 - this map show efficiency state-by-stateDespite progress, there is still a lot of room for improvement in energy efficiency. As reported in Forbes, the U.S. is the global leader in wasting energy with the nation currently wasting more energy than it uses. A total of 57 percent of the energy flowing into our economy is wasted as heat, noise, and leaks, costing U.S. businesses and households an estimated $130 billion per year. In addition to massive cost savings, it is estimated that energy efficiency can also create more than one million jobs in the U.S.

Federal legislation pertaining to energy efficiency has been around for almost 27 years. Existing energy efficiency standards for everything from appliances to commercial products was first signed into law in 1987. Congress and the Department of Energy have subsequently added many new products and updated standards.

According to a 2012 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), appliance, equipment, and lighting standards will save businesses and consumers more than $1.1 trillion by 2035. By updating existing standards and setting new standards for additional products, consumers and businesses could save another $170 billion.

Climate benefits of energy efficiency

The benefits of energy efficiency extend well beyond cost savings. As indicated in an International Energy Agency (IEA) report, adopting measures to promote energy efficiency can buy the world an additional five years to secure a global climate deal. The IEA also suggests that energy efficiency may help us to keep temperature increases within 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) or perhaps even the 2 degrees Celsius upper threshold limit agreed upon by scientists.

Economic improvements

The health of the American economy is being buoyed in part by energy efficiency. This is one of the findings in a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) titled Energy and Environment Report, America’s (Amazingly) Good Energy News. The report demonstrates that energy efficiency measures are working in America. Although the U.S. economy grew by 25 percent between 1999 and 2012, total U.S. energy use actually declined during this period. The costs of energy services has also declined during the same period according to the NRDC report.

Energy productivity

Energy efficiency was largely replaced by the term energy productivity in 2013, this is due to the growing appreciation that conserving energy is good for the economy. Energy productivity is defined as the amount of economic output possible at a given level of energy supply.

Energy productivity rose to prominence in 2013, due largely to the political advocacy of the Alliance to Save Energy and their Energy 2030 plan, which was put forth by the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy. The plan proposes doubling energy productivity by 2030.

The Obama administration and energy efficiency

The Obama administration embraced energy efficiency in earnest in 2013. President Obama showed his support for energy efficiency in his State of the Union address in which he called for cutting energy waste by half in our homes and buildings by 2030. As outlined in the President’s 2014 budget, energy efficiency is central to the Race to the Top program.

Doubling energy productivity is a key strategy in the President’s Climate Action Plan. The President’s Plan also sets power plant carbon standards, builds a 21st-century transportation sector, reduces energy bills for families and businesses, invests in R&D, and modernizes the grid.

The federal government’s Better Building Challenge has been expanded to include multifamily housing, and incorporate new accelerator programs for building data, performance contracting, and energy performance certification. Govenment agencies have also increased their energy savings performance contracts, which augments efficiency in federal buildings. Another catalyst is the Energy Efficiency and Loan Conservation Program, which provides $250 million for energy efficiency retrofitting projects in rural communities.

A couple of federal government agencies stand out for their promotion of energy efficiency. Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz are energy efficiency advocates.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is taking a leadership role by working on energy efficiency with new publications detailing methods for estimating energy efficiency savings and creating protocols for energy efficiency programs. Moniz has pledged to address appliance and equipment standards as well as establish rules pertaining to efficiency standards in electric motors. As reported by The Hill, the new rules will save up to $23 billion in energy costs over 30 years, as cited by DOE data.

According to Steven Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE, electricity use and oil for transportation were down nationwide in 2013 as compared to 2011 and 2012 levels. He attributed the decline to utility-run energy efficiency programs, as well as equipment and vehicle standards.

States and cities

Energy efficiency is also moving forward on state and municipal levels. According to Nadel, highlights include utility programs in states like Mississippi and Louisiana, and legislation that was passed in Connecticut and Maine.

ACEEE’s 2013 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard shows that the top 10 states for energy efficiency are Massachusetts, California, New York, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Maryland, and Illinois. With Mississippi, Maine, Kansas, Ohio, and West Virginia showing the most improvement.

As explained in the ACEEE Scorecard report, states are continuing to use energy efficiency as a key strategy to generate cost-savings, promote technological innovation, and stimulate growth.  A total of twenty six states have adopted and adequately funded an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS), which sets long term energy savings targets and drives investments in utility sector energy efficiency programs.

Ranked number two by the ACEEE Scorecard, California is one of the best examples of state level energy efficiency efforts. However, action at the municipal level is proving to be another important factor driving energy efficiency. This is particularly true of Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Atlantic City, and Dallas.


Driven by cost concerns, the business community has been leading energy efficiency efforts. A growing number of corporations are getting onboard the efficiency train and putting pressure up and down their supply chains to produce economy wide impacts.

According to an article in Greentech Media (GTM), in 2013, energy efficiency became “cooler, sexier and cheaper than ever before — driven largely by innovations in intelligent efficiency such as energy management software, virtual audits and better data crunching abilities.”

GTM solicited the perspectives of efficiency executives in response to the question “What was the most important technology or market development for efficiency in 2013?” These executives indicated that a growing number of large corporations are getting serious about energy efficiency, they also talked about the importance of data, reporting and technology. Here is a summary of their responses:

Clay Nesler, VP of global energy and sustainability Johnson Controls, shared the results of their 2013 global survey of 3,000 facility and energy management executives. Their study showed that 73 percent of organizations surveyed had made internal or public goals to reduce energy consumption, of those, 50 percent implemented more efficiency measures in 2013.

Stephen Cowell, CEO, Conservation Services Group, said that smart devices provided multiple benefits by combining technologies to control equipment, engage customer behavior and link both demand response and efficiency.

Paul Baier, vice president of sustainability at Groom Energy indicated that the widespread acceptance of energy efficiency among senior management was driven by three trends: 1) Execution to achieve publicly stated greenhouse gas reduction goals. 2) Pressure from top customers like Wal-Mart. 3) Increased funding from utilities for behavior change (through demand response) and retrofits (through incentives).

Chuck McKinney, VP of marketing at Aircuity suggested that the availability of building energy consumption information helped to drive the efficiency market in 2013. Swapnil Shah, CEO at FirstFuel, said that in 2013, utilities demonstrated some innovative thinking in energy efficiency. He further indicated that energy efficiency oriented pilot programs were a defining feature of 2013.

Buildings and energy efficiency

Buildings account for 40 percent of all U.S. energy requirements, and a report by the Rhodium Group and United Technologies, entitled “Unlocking American Efficiency: The Economic and Commercial Power of Investing in Energy Efficient Buildings,”  indicates that this translates to costs of almost half a trillion dollars per year. ($432 billion in 2011).

Building efficiency not only saves costs and benefits investors, it actually boosts the economy. Improving energy efficiency in buildings by 30 percent can create a $275 billion market for advanced technology, engineering and design services, and construction activity.

As reviewed in the 2013 State Energy Scorecard, a total of seven states adopted building energy codes in 2013, which require large commercial buildings to benchmark and report on their energy use.

Building efficiency is good business that offers outstanding ROI. It not only increases the productivity of existing assets, it also protects against volatile energy costs. According to the Rhodium Group report, the return on investment is exceptional.  As explained by John Mandyck, Chief Sustainability Officer for United Technologies Climate, Controls & Security in an Energy Manager Today article,

“[I]nvesting…30% improvement in building energy efficiency would have an internal rate of return (IRR) of 28.6% over a 10-year period. An IRR of 28.6% is four times better than average corporate bond yields or average equity performance, and more than double the returns even high-performing venture capital firms.”

As reviewed in the Rhodium Group report, with a five percent penetration rate, U.S. government and utility sponsored programs are just starting to impact on the efficiency finance opportunity.

The financing barrier

Despite the fact that energy efficiency is a valuable investment for almost all companies, a lack of capital and difficulties associted with financing continue to represent challenging obstacles. In addition to addressing the issue of up-front costs, financing can make energy efficiency cash flow positive by spreading out payments over time so that the cost is actually less than the savings cash flow. For qualifying companies there are also a number of utility rebates, tax refunds, credits, and other sources of free money that will improve a project’s financial return.

However, as pointed out by Clay Nesler of Johnson Controls, funding is a perennial barrier to investment in energy efficiency. The specific barriers cited by Nesler include lack of internal capital, competition from other investments and lack of competitive third-party financing options.

Swapnil Shah, of FirstFuel, concurs, reiterating the point that fostering private investment is the most serious hurdle for commercial building efficiency. He sees the absence of standard assessment metrics in energy efficiency as the major problem.

Despite these financing problems, the increasing focus on energy efficiency/productivity in 2013 represents important progress in the evolution of the green economy.

 Next week: Energy Efficiency Outlook for 2014

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

The post Review of U.S. Energy Efficiency in 2013 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 06 2014


Reduce Your Small Business’s Environmental Footprint

No business is too small to contribute to making a difference in the state of our environment by lowering its resource consumption. A series of little changes add up to big change, both at the micro and macro level. If enough small businesses take steps to curb their water and energy usage, not only will it have a practical impact on the world around us, but it will also help pressure larger corporations to do the same.

Although there are justifiable concerns about the expense or inconvenience of such actions, in fact, a few DIY updates and minimal investments in the short-term can actually help you save money as time goes on.

There are two major areas businesses should be concerned about: energy usage and water consumption. Here are some tips to help you reduce your environmental footprint by making a few small adjustments.

Reducing the environmental footprint for your small business starts with simple things like switching to LED lightbulbs Energy Usage

1) Replace incandescent lights with LEDs

Notice that I said ‘LED’ instead of ‘CFL’? Although CFLs are still an improvement over incandescents, LED lights last far longer than traditional lightbulbs and also use significantly less energy. This means that although there might be some expense associated with making the original change, in the long run your small business may actually save money. In addition, the cost of LEDs is dropping as the technology develops and grows more popular.

2) Increase Awareness of Energy Usage

In a business setting, because employees do not directly pay the power bill themselves, they are often not as aware and conscientious of their energy usage as they might be in their own home. Develop programs that raise employees’ consciousness of behaviors that contribute to high energy usage and that reward them for lowering costs by turning off lights and equipment when they are not in use, particularly overnight and on weekends. Additionally, keep thermostats on low settings, use natural light, and keep doors and windows closed to prevent heat or air conditioning loss when the above are in use.

3) Avoid Waste

You can avoid wasting energy by performing routine maintenance. For example, clean all filters in the heating or air conditioning systems regularly, as well as in any exhaust fans. Check periodically on any automatic settings in lighting systems or the thermostat to ensure that they are at the most energy-efficient levels. Remove any unneeded light bulbs or replace them with more energy-efficient models where possible.

4) Look into Energy-Efficiency Programs for Small Businesses

Some state or local municipalities may have energy-efficiency programs (like this one) that offer discounts and assistance to businesses trying to make the switch to energy-efficient appliances or other energy saving improvements. These could include programmable thermostats, furnace replacements, boiler optimization controls and others. In addition, such programs can include a free energy assessment to offer you advice about which specific steps will be most effective for your business.

Water Consumption

1) Install Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures

One very simple and inexpensive change is to change the aerators on your faucets. By putting in new low-flow aerators that reducing the flow of water from the faucets in your bathroom sinks and any other areas in the office that use water, you can reduce your bill every month and also stop waste. Buying new aerators is relatively inexpensive – just make sure to get the right fit from your local hardware store.

2) Look for the EPA’s WaterSense Label for New Fixtures

Another slightly more elaborate investment that might work best for new businesses or businesses with aging fixtures is to look for the EPA’s WaterSense Label when selecting a faucet, urinal or toilet. These labels show that the fixtures are “water-efficient,” meaning that they use a significantly lower flow of water than comparable models. This could save businesses the cost of thousands of gallons of water a year. More information about the WaterSense labeling program and the advantages of using products bearing the label can be found at the EPA’s website.

3) Fix Leaks

Another way of potentially saving money is to look for leaks in your faucets, pipes, or hot water heaters. Water leaks can cost you money every month and also mean wasting water that isn’t really needed. Many leaks can be fixed yourself with some simple supplies. Just be sure to invest in a professional if the leak looks more complicated to repair.

Have you taken any steps toward lowering your resource consumption that you think other small businesses should know about?


Angelo DiGangi has been a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs since 1994. Angelo is also a regular contributor to the Home Depot website on electrical and plumbing topics, on everything from LED lighting to kitchen sinks.

Image credit: Stephan Ridgway, courtesy flickr

The post Reduce Your Small Business’s Environmental Footprint appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

October 21 2013


October 09 2013


Businesses Still Need to Stop Wasting Energy and Improve Efficiency

Businesses can do more to improve energy efficiency By Abbie Clarke

It wasn’t long ago that Forbes was reporting America as the worldwide leader in wasting energy. But that’s not to say other countries are doing much better in energy efficiency. We all play a part in this process; homeowners, business owners and corporations. Governments are working for change; in the US, there is the Alliance to Save Energy that recently released the Energy 2030 plan which aims to double US energy productivity, while in the UK there has been set energy efficiency targets  that have now been extended for energy intensive industries to 2023. But is enough being done for change? What role do businesses play in energy efficiency, and where can they still make improvements?

Where is energy still being wasted by businesses?

There has been a significant call for businesses to make changes in order to improve their energy efficiency and stop waste. The same issues are being raised: many businesses continue to leave computers and appliances on overnight; lights are being left on when not in use; heating and air-conditioning are still being improperly utilized; recycling of print cartridges and paper is still done through wasteful methods; and so on. To further emphasize this pint, half of energy used by UK businesses is wasted when employees aren’t working. Business energy efficiency should be an issue that relates to individuals from the top to the bottom, and yet it is an issue that continues to go round in circles. So, what needs to change?

Attitudes need to change

According to the DECC Public Attitudes Tracker quarterly survey, the number of people supporting renewable energy in the UK has risen to 82 percent. However, energy-wasting behaviors such as excessive water usage and not switching off lights continue, with only 26 percent saying that they give much thought to saving energy. Then again, this is not just homeowners; this is employees and businesses too. One way that attitudes can be changed is by setting an example; an example of how energy efficiency can work, an example of how stopping the waste of energy can actually save money. What seems to be missing is confidence that these targets set by government and these promises of improving the environment will make any difference for a business owner, or an employee, or a homeowner. But it rests on all our shoulders to inspire this confidence if we are going to stop wasting energy.

Business savings through energy efficiency

As mentioned above, confidence is important if energy efficiency targets are going to be met and actually have any effect. And even though many employers and employees remain unconvinced, there is the case for business energy efficiency. According to Energy Star, many organizations can make energy savings of around 2-10 percent through improved management. But, what many organizations fail to consider is that being energy efficient can actually save them money. Like most things in business once you take a closer look and start asking where improvements can be made, processes are able to be improved and the result is improved efficiency. This is no different for business energy efficiency, where it is often chances in outlook, behavior and procedures that make the difference.

In the long run, a business should aim to keep saving, to stop waste and to keep improving. Only then will we start to see real changes in energy efficiency.


This guest article is provided by Abbie Clarke who works with Find Energy Savings where you can find out more about the prevention of wasting energy and improving efficiency.

Image credit: Nkululeko Masondo, courtesy flickr


The post Businesses Still Need to Stop Wasting Energy and Improve Efficiency appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 10 2013


Financing Energy Efficiency Projects for Businesses

Energy efficiency and the triple bottom line for small businessesEnergy efficiency and other environmentally friendly initiatives are a no-brainer for forward-thinking small business owners. Sustainable businesses distinguish themselves from the competition while broadening their market appeal, saving money and fostering healthy communities. By prioritizing the triple bottom line of people, profits and planet, sustainable enterprises are “energy efficient” in the truest sense, streamlining processes and optimizing human and financial resources alongside the natural.

However, funding an energy efficiency project is more involved than lowering the lights (still important!), and may seem far less straightforward—particularly in an uncertain economy. The wisest course for many small businesses may be to seek outside funding, and government resources aimed to promote energy efficient technology and business practices may be the solution.

The following are just a sample of available resources; for more information, Grants.gov (search by category for “environmental” or “energy” grants) is an excellent site for businesses across all industries. Account registration at Grants.gov is the best way to expedite the application process, and applicants should allow at least two weeks for registration to finalize before submitting proposals.

  • EERE Better Buildings Initiative: Administered by the USDE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), this grant program awards funding on a competitive basis to small businesses proposing energy efficient solutions that limit consumption by at least 20% in buildings of no more than 50,000 square feet.
  • Buildings Technology Innovation Program (BTIP): Also administered by the EERE, the BTIP funds innovative technology that lowers energy costs and consumption to support commercialization within five years.
  • Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Technical Assistance Partnerships (TAPS): Designed to support industrial energy efficiency, CHP TAPS are available to businesses able to provide technology, education and outreach to utility companies, manufacturers and government entities in order to achieve implementation of CHP systems throughout the nation.
  • DSIRE Initiatives: The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) offers a comprehensive source of funding opportunities available through state and local governments. State programs cover energy efficient initiatives from research and development to program or technology innovation; some programs focus on specific technologies, like photovoltaic (PV) systems or geothermal energy, but most are broader in range.
  • EPA Research Funding for Science and Technology Firms: The EPA’s Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) program awards seed funding annually on a competitive basis; businesses typically use the money disbursed to attract venture capital. Qualification criteria are minimal: for-profit enterprises employing fewer than 500 workers and owned and operated within the U.S., by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, are automatically eligible, but solicitations are highly specialized. Many solicitations involve medical research and technology, narrowing their applicability in comparison to the broader aims of EERE funding opportunities.


Matthew Speer has provided this article on behalf of the Business Administration Information website, which helps people get prepared for a career in business.

Image credit: photologue_np, courtesy flickr

The post Financing Energy Efficiency Projects for Businesses appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

March 01 2013


On Our Radar: Asian Dust and California Snow

Even when two storm systems in the Sierra Nevada carry the same amount of water vapor, scientists found, the presence of dust from Asia in one will cause far more precipitation.

September 04 2012


Do as I Say, Not as I ...

The Energy Department fails to take some relatively easy low-cost steps to cut its energy consumption, an audit finds.

August 29 2012


Republican Platform Opposes Agenda 21

The Republican Party platform, approved this week, includes a resolution condemning a 40-year-old United Nations resolution the encourages sustainable development.

August 06 2012


Sparing Sewers All That Restaurant Grease

A plant in Oregon aims to use restaurant wastewater to produce electricity and a fuel akin to natural gas.

August 01 2012


A Glimpse of the Alternative Fuel Future

While the biofuel, electric battery and liquefied natural gas technologies are advancing, the internal combustion engine will reign supreme for decades, a group reports.

July 30 2012


From the Ground Up: An Adventure Begins

A couple quits the city to volunteer for green construction work in Utah, with the ultimate goal of building their own home in rural New York State.

May 03 2012


May 01 2012


Q&A: Greening the City's Zoning Rules

New York City's sustainability director and a green developer discuss how changes in zoning rules could speed the adoption of green roofs, renewable energy and energy-efficient features.

April 27 2012


Ministers Wrap Up Clean Energy Meeting

Ministers meeting in London agreed to share technology on energy-efficient appliances, map the potential for solar and wind energy and bring modern lighting to two million people in India by the end of 2015.

April 25 2012


On Our Radar: Urban Energy Patterns

Two M.I.T. students generate an interactive map that helps users understand energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in urban environments.

April 21 2012


For Earth Day, a Bit of Perspective

A PBS series offers a low-key but encompassing explanation of climate change and lays out common-sense strategies for addressing it.

April 19 2012


Lead by Example, Clinton Tells Sustainability Forum

Saying that the nation is too wedded to habit, the former president urges a crowd to embrace small steps toward sustainable development and energy efficiency.
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