America’s Updated Energy Strategy

by John Brian Shannon

President Obama visited the Argonne National Laboratory today in Argonne, Illinois, to give a major speech on the future of American energy. A new, USD $2 billion dollar program called the energy security trust was announced which gives focus to the administration’s plans for more renewable energy and proposes lower subsidies for fossil fuels.

Much of the resulting policy statement is based upon information supplied to the administration by the nonpartisan, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) which represents senior business and former military leaders on both ends of the American political spectrum.

Here are the main points of the energy security trust – more detailed information is available by clicking here and here. And you can read the transcript of the President’s speech today in Argonne, Illinois, as compiled by the Chicago Sun-Times here.

By 2020, the President and Energy Secretary Steven Chu want the US;

  • To double the present level of U.S. renewable electricity generation
  • To double American energy productivity (by 2030)
  • To cut energy waste in the U.S. by half over the next twenty years
  • To invest in technology promoting energy efficiency & reduced waste
  • To cut net oil imports in half by the end of the decade
  • To enable safer production & cleaner electricity from natural gas
  • To promote safe & responsible oil and natural gas development
  • To assist the Nation’s truck fleets to adopt natural gas & alternative fuels
  • To improve energy efficiency through the Better Buildings Challenge program
  • To help U.S. states cut energy waste, improve efficiency & modernize grids
  • To streamline Interior Department regulations for faster project permitting
  • To work with the G20 & other fora to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies worldwide
  • To work with the IEA & others to strengthen energy security
  • To promote energy efficiency & development & deployment of clean energy via Clean Energy Ministerial & other international fora
  • To promote safe & secure nuclear power in nations pursuing nuclear energy
  • To design a responsible nuclear waste strategy for the U.S.

As the President continues to pursue his ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, it should be noted that significant progress has been made. As President Obama stated in his speech today,

“We produce more oil than we have in 15 years. We import less oil than we have in 20 years. We’ve doubled the amount of renewable energy that we generate from sources like wind and solar. We have tens of thousands of good jobs to show for it.

We’re producing more natural gas than we ever have before with hundreds of thousands of good jobs to show for it. We supported the first new nuclear power plant in America since the 1970’s. And we’re sending less carbon pollution into the environment than we have in nearly 20 years. So we’re making real progress across the board.” – President Barack Obama

All of this is adding up to huge changes in the American energy sector and for the producers, consumers and investors of energy, the energy map in 2020 will bear scant resemblance to our present-day energy model. And that means that seven years from now, the air in and around large U.S. cities will be the cleaner for it.

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JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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Renewable Energy Hits the Roof

by John Brian Shannon

Several major retailers with worldwide operations are busily installing solar panels on top of their ‘big-box’ retail stores and offices. Walmart, Walgreens, IKEA and others, are spending huge sums of money to cover their rooftop spaces with solar panels — and are installing wind turbines at, or near, their retail store locations.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and is fully committed to obtaining 100% of the energy it uses from renewable sources. As Walmart continues to add stores around the world and increase its car and truck fleets, it bases its calculations for CO2 emissions (from all sources) on the calculation of tonnes of CO2 used/emitted – per $1 million U.S. dollars of retail sales.

In 2005, Walmart operations emitted just over 60 tons of CO2 per $1 million (USD) it took in from retail sales. While adding more stores and adding capacity to existing stores, that ratio had decreased to just over 50 tons of CO2 per $1 million (USD) by 2009. This lowering of CO2 emissions occurred during a period of unprecedented growth for the chain, which means that Walmart got a lot more energy-efficient.

In addition to solar panels on its rooftops and wind turbines on its properties, Walmart is purchasing green energy from utility companies which operate solar and wind power plants, via power purchase agreements (PPA’s).

We are in the second year of a four-year agreement to purchase clean energy from a state-of-the-art Duke Energy wind farm in Notrees, Texas. The agreement supplies up to 15 percent of the energy needs in 350 of our Texas locations. It has reduced our carbon emissions by 139,000 metric tons per year, which is the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road or eliminating the CO2 produced by 18,000 homes annually, raising environmental quality and quality of life in the communities we serve. — Walmart

And in Canada: The opening of the Balzac Fresh Food Distribution Centre on November 10, 2010, marked a major ­milestone. With hydrogen fuel cells used to power forklifts, as well as solar thermal and wind power, the 400,000-square-foot facility serves as a living lab for ­sustainability. It will boost energy efficiency by an estimated 60 percent over the company’s traditional refrigerated centres, while cutting costs by USD $4.83 million over the next five years. – Walmart

Walgreens, which owns and operates 8000 stores is building the first of many Net Zero Buildings – so designated for producing as much electricity as they use and often producing surplus electricity to sell to the local grid.

The first such store will be located at Evanston, Illinois, and according to Energy Manager Today, the store will include:

  • more than 800 roof-top solar panels,
  • two wind turbines,
  • geothermal energy obtained by drilling 550-feet into the ground below the store, where temperatures are more constant and can be tapped to heat or cool the store in winter and summer,
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting,
  • carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment,
  • and energy efficient building materials.

Engineering estimates, which can vary due to factors such as weather, store operations and systems performance, indicate the store will use 200,000 kWh per year while generating 256,000 kWh per year.

Walgreens will attempt to have the store achieve LEED Platinum status from the US Green Building Council, and plans to enter the store into the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. The store will be Walgreens second showcase project in the Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, Walgreens has committed to a chain-wide 20 percent energy reduction by 2020.

The Better Buildings Challenge is gaining momentum. Recently, Sprint became the first telecommunications company to join the program. And more than 100 companies have joined the DOE’s Better Plants program. – Energy Manager Today

IKEA has a robust renewable energy program dedicated to 100% energy self-sufficiency by 2020 with plans to spend 1.5 billion euros by 2015 towards that goal.

IKEA Group’s chief sustainability officer, Steve Howard said “within three years, IKEA will receive 70% of its electricity from renewable energy [which] we own and operate” adding, “We’ll expand that from 2015 – 2020 to 100 per cent”.

In reference to utility-supplied electricity rate spikes anticipated by IKEA, Howard said, “We know we’re going to be using energy in 20 years’ time. If we can own our own renewable energy plants, it gives us complete price certainty.”

It appears that major users of electricity such as ‘big box’ stores and other large commercial spaces are predicting higher prices for utility-supplied electricity — and rather than pay those higher rates, are opting for their own solar and wind power plants. As polysilicon solar panel prices have fallen in price almost every month since September 2010 and continue to fall in price (bottoming-out in June or July of 2013) you may see solar panel installations appearing on large buildings featuring (largely empty) rooftop spaces, such as the rooftop of your favourite retail store.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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