Medium and heavy-duty trucks account for 25% of all fuel use in America, and President Obama wants to improve their efficiency by an “ambitious” amount. But can Obama get it done before his presidency comes to a close?
In his most recent State of the Union address, Obama’s energy goals were fixated on natural gas and semi-truck fuel economy. This isn’t exactly new territory for the Obama administration, which has helped fund the Supertruck project that aims to improve big rig fuel economy by 50% by 2016.
Obama has delivered on the details though in a recent speech at a Safeway distribution center in Maryland, where he outlined several aspects of the proposed plan that gets trucks on clean street as early as 2016. The efficiency-improvement plan takes place in steps, and begins with the setting of new medium and heavy-duty fuel economy and emissions standards by March of 2016.
The administration is also going to push for more powertrain diversity among big rigs, from hybrids to CNG to more aerodynamic solutions. The goal is to cut fuel consumption, one of the single biggest expenditures owner-operators suffer on the open road. But don’t expect these standards to go into effect without a fight, as Obama also wants to end some $4 billion in oil and gas subsidies to major corporations, putting that money towards cellulosic ethanol and other biofuel research.
It’s a step in the right direction for Obama, but it could come a little too late in his presidency. By March of 2016, Obama will have less than a year left in office. While the trucking industry seems receptive to these ideas and ambitions, how will buyers react to the higher prices this new technology adds to their bottom line?
Christopher DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMI’s. When he isn’t wrenching or writing, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
According to a provincial government study called the Potential for Solar Power in British Columbia: 2007 to 2025, BC’s climate is much more amenable to solar than either Germany’s or Japan’s. The average production of a PV solar array in Kamloops, for example, is 1160 kWh/kW of PV installed. Even Vancouver (1009) has much more solar potential than Tokyo (885) or Berlin (only 848). Ben Giudici, of Kamloops-based Riverside Energy Systems, provided a copy of the study.
“I believe a modestly equipped sustainable home, utilizing solar to produce 50% or more of its own operating electricity, can be built with little or no increase to the building budget if the owner and builder base key construction details on reduction of energy consumption, and are willing to trade off some aesthetics for renewable energy equipment,” said Giudici.
“Construction practices and results in our building industry suggest BC residents are more inclined to equip their homes with granite counter tops, hot tubs, swimming pools, cobblestone driveways and/or other features devoid of monetary payback, than with grid-connected solar arrays which do offer a return on investment,” he added.
Riverside was founded in 1995 and will have completed more than 20 grid-connected solar PV installations by the end of this year. It also provides off-grid solar, wind and micro-hydro systems.
In 2010, Riverside designed and installed the solar PV system for what was meant to be a zero-net-energy home. Though PV produced almost exactly as expected, the building’s other operating systems consumed more than estimated and solar hot water production fell short of projections.
“During the year CMHC monitored the home, it self-produced about 75% of the energy it consumed,” Guidici said. “That is about 25% short of the net zero target.”
The design of a net-zero home begins with an ultra-insulated and very airtight building envelope. Every construction detail revolves around the goal of reducing energy consumption. After everything else — every electrical, heating, and cooling need — is reduced as much as possible, “then and only then are renewables such as solar PV, solar thermal, etc added.”
“The design and building process is arduous, requiring builders and homeowners to be very committed to the process and the desired net-zero outcome,” he said. “Zero net energy homes, like many other high performance systems, are dependent on their owners to reach full potential. (e.g.. a Ferrari will safely reach much higher speeds with a professional driver at the wheel than if I were driving) Thankfully, sustainable building practices do not need to be ‘net-zero or nothing’ in order to have significant impact.”
Jim and Cathy Brown agree. They are retired teachers who purchased a 5.8 kW system from Riverside in 2012. This provides more than 100% of their energy needs during the summer months, but not nearly enough from November through February. Cathy estimated it supplies 1/3 of their power needs then. They intend to purchase another 5.8 kW array and try to get that up to 2/3.
“You wouldn’t get anything near this rate of return if you left your money sitting in a bank account,” Cathy said. “And it makes you feel good to know you are doing something to help the environment.”
Guidici emphasized the fact it is all about choice. If a new homeowner decided to live with a a $30,000 kitchen instead of a $45,000 kitchen, and chose an asphalt driveway instead of cobblestone, “… renewable energy systems would soon be paid for.”
“If all else fails, construction and operating costs can be reduced by making the home a little smaller. This is a paradigm shift which may not come naturally for many of us, but fading perceptions of ‘forever cheap’ electricity in BC seem to be moving more people in this direction.”
Roy L Hales is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theechoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance has released their 2014 instalment of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook for The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and found that renewable energy, natural gas, and energy efficiency advancements are leading a transformation of America’s energy systems.
While there have been political shifts to and from over the past year, this latest Factbook only adds to the data showing the need and value of transitioning to cleaner and more energy efficient systems, while increasing the data documenting the long-term trend towards the same.
“The U.S. energy transformation that began in the mid-2000s gained additional momentum in 2013,” said Lisa Jacobson, president of The Business Council for Sustainable Energy. “The Factbook plays a vital role in chronicling this fast-moving transformation, which is creating whole new industries and thousands of new jobs in the energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors.”
According to the Factbook research, renewable energy provided 13% of US electricity generation across 2013, while simultaneously reaching all-time lows in costs, allowing renewable energy technologies to be cheaper than fossil fuel electricity in some parts of the US. According to BNEF, however, “small, distributed generators and off-grid installations, meanwhile, began to emerge as a transformative force in the power industry.”
“The changes unfolding in the US energy industry have been profound and, by the typical time scale of the industry, abrupt” said Michel Di Capua, Head of North American Analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The effects of these changes will be felt in seemingly every nook and cranny of the American economy, from military bases to manufacturing plants, from homes to highways. 2013 saw some detours from the long-term trends, but overall, it is clear that the long-term transformation of how the US produces and consumes energy continues.”
Energy efficiency financing and natural gas production and consumption have all boomed over the last year. Energy efficiency spending by energy service companies and electric and gas utilities totalled more than $12 billion in 2012 while 31 states and the District of Columbia, representing 77 percent of the U.S. population, have legislation in place to enable the financing of energy efficiency via property-assessed clean energy programs (PACE). Natural gas investment reached $15 billion for the midstream.
The need for clear energy policy in Washington was also made abruptly clear in 2013, thanks to the chaos surrounding the late extension of the wind Production Tax Credit. The wind industry only installed 600 MW in 2013, a massive drop from the record 13.8 GW it installed in 2012, and the root of the problem can be traced back to the uncertainty surrounding the PTC. Conversely, the solar tax credits did not require renewal in 2013, allowing the industry to make a clear 50% increase in cumulative solar installations.
“We urge legislators and policy makers to clarify and stabilize clean energy policies both at the federal and state levels in order to accelerate America’s energy transformation,” Jacobson added. “Clean energy technologies have made major gains in the last five years, and further growth will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve our energy security and strengthen the U.S. economy.”
Joshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium. I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.
When the world thinks of countries that could go 100 percent renewable, the immediate thoughts go to islands with solar and storage, hydro and geothermal rich countries such as Iceland, or even wind and wave-rich countries like Scotland.
One of the last economies imagined going fully renewable would be India, the rising economic giant that is still yet to connect several hundred million people to its mostly coal-fired grid, and is expected to have the highest growth of electricity consumption. But according to environmental group WWF, India could reach a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2050.
The study examines the possibility of a near 100% Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India by the middle of the century against a reference scenario (REF) in which the economy is likely to be dependent primarily on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.
WWF says that to get there India must make some large-scale changes to get on the right track as soon as possible. According to the report, aggressive energy efficiency improvements alone can bring in savings of up to 59 percent (by both the supply and demand sides) by mid-century.
Biofuels are set to play a large role, especially in the transport sector accounting for nearly 90 percent of the industry’s requirements. According to WWF the third-generation biofuels in question are currently still in R&D phase and for the plan to go accordingly they must become commercially viable within the next two decades.
Overall, biofuels account for 23 percent of the total commercial energy supply, most of the transportation needs. Solar thermal accounts for much of industry’s heating needs, and the electricity supply increases nearly 8 fold, with wind contributing the largest component.
The report says the reference scenario depicts an unsustainable, polluting and relatively inefficient energy future in 2051. The renewable scenario, on the other hand, presents a modern, cleaner and highly efficient India and shows that it is, in principle, theoretically feasible to achieve close to 90 percent penetration of renewable energy sources in the energy mix by 2051.
“However, there are still many unresolved questions in the REN scenario related to resource potentials, availability, commercial viability of alternative options, policy and finance mobilization, barriers of cultural and technological lock-ins, etc,” it says.
“Several feasibility studies are, therefore, needed to lay the basis for moving toward the REN scenario; these have not yet been carried out. There are many interventions that would be necessary to remove various barriers and to achieve higher levels of renewable energy deployment in India.”
Concentrated solar thermal technologies, many of which are currently still in the research and development phase, will take on a large chunk of the nations electricity needs as well as meeting thermal demand in industries that require temperatures below 700°C.
Wind is also set to push India towards its 100 percent goal. Currently India has no estimates of its offshore wind potential but the WWF predicts that it could have up to 170 GW installed by 2051.
Rural households will be forced to change their cooking habits, meeting their needs through improved cook stoves while urban households switch to electrical based cooking.
In 2010, fossil fuels accounted for 74 percent of India’s total energy consumed as well as being the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide. India’s greenhouse gas emissions have also steadily risen by 2.9 percent each year between 1994 and 2007.
Much of the rural population still relies on biomass (such as firewood and agro-residue) for much of its basic cooking needs (around 24.6 percent of the primary energy supply) as well as using kerosene for lighting purposes.
Coal currently accounts for 42.4 percent of India’s total primary energy demand in 2010, with the national rail network being the largest coal consumer before 1975 – now overtaken by the power sector (87.7 per cent of total consumption).
Electricity alone plays a crucial role in improving levels of human development and the quality of modern life – with a strong positive link between human development, economic growth and growth in energy and infrastructure.
To sustain India’s own growth it requires large amounts of energy, with little oil reserves and much of its large coal reserves being inaccessible due to technological, social or geological factors, the country has many push factors to get its renewable base up and running. Due to the low oil reserves India has a high import dependence making it more economically vulnerable and well as supply issues.
India started its National Solar Mission in 2010 and is aiming to get 20 GW of grid connected solar power by 2020. As well as this, the Mission is promoting 2,000 MW of off-grid applications; including 20 million solar lighting systems and 20 million square metres of solar thermal collector area by 2022.
In general, India has a vast potential for solar power generation, with about 58 percent of the country’s total land area receiving an annual global insolation about 5 kWh/m2/day. These areas with 5 kWh/m2/day or above can generate at least 77 W/m2 at 16 per cent efficiency.
Rooftop PV is likely to play a major role in both rural and urban areas with residential, agricultural and industrial priorities reducing the amount of available land for solar programs.
It was estimated that almost 30 percent of industrial processes in India require heat below 250°C which can be supplied with heat from solar thermal concentrators. Temperatures below 80°C can be met through solar air heaters and solar water heaters. Industries – with the exception of iron, steel, cement and fertilizer – could in theory shift to CSP based heating.
Wind energy in India currently ranks second to hydro in renewable energy’s generating electricity. With 17,700 MW of installed capacity India’s rank in harnessing wind energy is fifth in the world after USA, China, Germany and Spain. Over the period of 1992-2010 the wind energy installed capacity in India witnesses an annual growth rate of 37 percent.
According to the Centre for Wind Energy Technology, most of India’s wind energy is concentrated in five states – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The WWF estimates that India’s total wind potential in megawatts stands at 49,130 at 50 metres, when taken up to 80 metres the reading more than doubles at 102,788 MW.
Hydropower is also being considered, with estimates around 148GW of energy potential. Two rivers, Brahmaputra and Indus, have the highest potential, with only 11 and 50 per cent respectively being utilized thus far.
India’s first tidal power project, with a 3.75 MW capacity, is being set up as well as the Kapasar project which involves building a 30 km-long dam. A recent study cited in the report suggested that also tidal power generation is feasible in certain areas it may not be commercially viable due to diesel costs. Currently, The Government plans to build 7 MW of grid-connected ocean tidal power plans in its 12thfive-year plan.
India’s geothermal potential is around 10,600 MW, distributed across various states and in 2009 the country’s geothermal power capacity stood at 10.7 GW. Although geothermal power development is restricted to tectonically active regions, and seeing as India lacks volcanic activity on its mainland, it also faces issues such as costs of drilling and transmission of energy.
Comparing the REF’s and REN’s final energy demands in 2050 highlights not only a stark mix of energy uses but also efficiency levels. In 2051 the REF is approximated to have increased the countries’ energy demand up to 2,545 Mtoe when compared to the REN sitting at 1,461 Mtoe – highlighting an overall energy savings of 43 percent.
Modeling done by the WWF has estimated that the total undiscounted technology investment cost for the renewables scenario is 42 per cent more than the reference (fossil-fuel) scenario, requiring 544 trillion Indian Rupees from 2011 to 2051. Although the figure sounds quite high it is only around 10 percent higher than if India was to stick to its reference scenario.
In the renewables scenario, India will have almost a quarter more electrical generation capacity (in GW) than if it continues along the reference scenario path. Furthermore, in 2051 the renewables scenario will yield less than one billion tonnes of carbon emissions, compared to the reference scenario with almost 12 billion tonnes.
WWF highlights that although the renewables scenario is preferred it will not be easy for government to get there, recommending various policy options available including; tax holidays for renewable energy uptake, creating incentives for new projects, enhancing R&D, increasing the budgetary allocation, pricing energy and technology for efficiency and strengthening policy and regulatory set-ups.
Consumer attitudes toward clean energy technologies in America rebounded strongly in 2013 to reach their highest levels since 2010, countering several years of declines in favorability ratings between 2009-2012.
This good news comes from Navigant Research’s 2013 Energy and Environment Consumer Survey, and indicates clean tech may finally be established as a preferred option for consumers despite high-profile conservative attacks.
Overall support for clean energy swung from 2012’s low of 44% to a 51% average favorability in 2013. In fact, out of ten technologies ranging from clean energy to clean transportation to energy efficiency, only one – nuclear power – declined in popularity over the past year.
This Just In – Renewables Rule
Navigant’s survey is the latest in an annual series dating back to 2009, and surveyed over 1,000 people in representative samples across the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2013. Respondents were asked to share their feelings about each technology and their replies were then compared to previous years to show trends.
Without a doubt, this year’s headline simply reads: renewables rule, especially solar. 79% of respondents favored solar energy, a 10% surge compared to 2012 and just under the all-time high of 81% in 2009. Solar energy also had the lowest unfavorable rating at 6% and the highest “very favorable” rating at 50% – not a surprise if you consider 2013’s record-setting pace for new US solar installations.
Wind energy ranked second overall out of all surveyed technologies, coming in just behind solar in overall favorability (72%), “very favorable” (42%), and unfavorable (7%), despite the controversy over renewing the Production Tax Credit. When combined, these two renewable energy technologies appear to have cemented themselves among Americans. “Consumers consider these renewable energies to be important pieces in the power generation portfolio of the future,” says the survey’s white paper.
Clean Transportation Pulls Ahead
But positive attitudes toward clean energy aren’t just limited to our power sockets – they also extend to our highways and byways. Clean transportation options pulled ahead of the pack in 2013, led by hybrid and electric vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles ranked third in overall favorability with 67% of consumers supporting them, up an incredible 13% from 2012, and third lowest with just an 8% unfavorable response rate. Interestingly, the bulk of unfavorable responses for hybrids came from those with a high school degree or lower education.
While electric vehicles came in just behind hybrids at 61% favorability, they jumped 12% from just a 49% approval rate in just one year, hinting the increasing number of EVs on US roads could be making them more attractive to drivers.
Lack Of Understanding = Lack Of Support
Ironically, the same trend of consumers equating more solar panels and more EVs on the road to higher approval ratings may be the reason smart grid and green building concepts continued to rank poorly.
The concept of a smart grid was viewed favorably by just 37% of respondents, but unfavorably by just 6% of consumers – the same negative rank as solar energy. 57% of consumers said they either didn’t have an opinion or were neutral on smart grid technology, meaning the potential for support exists but educational efforts are lagging by utilities.
Smart meters in particular also showed the same trend as smart grid in general, with 43% viewing them favorable and 10% viewing them unfavorable but 47% saying they were neutral or unfamiliar with the technology.
This trend was most apparent, however, when it came to LEED certification. A massive 72% of all respondents said they were either unfamiliar (41%) or had no opinion (32%) of green building. While this is somewhat surprising considering green buildings could be half of all US construction by 2016, the potential is still bright considering those who knew about LEED supported it at a 4-to-1 ratio.
Seeing Is Believing For Clean Energy
Navigant’s annual survey generates multiple possibilities in the evolution of consumer support for clean energy technologies, but the underlying story is clear: When people learn about clean tech by seeing it in their everyday lives, they support it in large numbers.
That’s a powerful message to throw back at fossil fuel proponents or poorly informed media reports that argue support for clean energy is a mistake, and is a good omen for our potential to decarbonize and build a sustainable future.