Renewable Energy Archive


Now Available: Reinventing Fire!

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Chelsea Green is proud to announce the availability of Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, by Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute.

Reinventing Fire (October 2011) shows how to run the 2050 U.S. economy with no oil, coal, or nuclear energy, one-third less natural gas, a $5-trillion lower present-valued cost (ignoring all externalities), compelling business models that drive the transition, and smart policies to speed it without requiring an Act of Congress. Shifting the electricity system to efficiency and renewables depends critically on super-efficient buildings, where integrative design presents important opportunities for expanding returns.

Amory B. Lovins, a 63-year-old American consultant, experimental physicist and 1993 MacArthur Fellow, has been active at the nexus of energy, resources, environment, development, and security in more than 50 countries for 35 years, including 14 years based in England. He is widely considered among the world’s leading authorities on energy—especially its efficient use and sustainable supply—and a fertile innovator in integrative design.

Watch video of Amory’s recent keynote at Green Build: http://vimeo.com/30217707

Reinventing Fire Infographic: 5 Interesting Facts About our Energy-Hogging Economy

Friday, September 30th, 2011

From Think Progress and Stephen Lacey:

For a while, we almost had it. Before America’s comprehensive climate and energy bill turned into a devastating failure in 2010, the U.S. seemed to be on the verge of having an energy plan based on a sustainable vision for the future. But today, with “climate,” “clean energy investment” and “green jobs” being dirty words to one major political power, we’ve moved further away from that goal than ever.

That’s why the Rocky Mountain Institute’s recent project, Reinventing Fire — a peer-reviewed, commercially-viable vision for the future of energy — should help inform the future conversation around energy. In typical RMI fashion, it provides an aggressive-but-plausible scenario for economic prosperity based on clean energy and efficiency, blending together the different disciplines from the organization.

RMI’s book Reinventing Fire will be out soon. For now, the organization reminds us where we are today and what the future could be:

  1. The U.S. transportation sector burns 13 million barrels of oil a day (half of it imported), at a cost of $2 billion. Personal transportation is now America’s #2 consumer cost after housing, totaling $740 billion in 2009 and consuming, on average, 17.6% of household expenditures.
  2. America’s 120 million buildings consume 42% of the nation’s energy—more than any other sector. If they were a country, they would rank third after China and the U.S., in primary energy use.
  3. We spend more than $400 billion a year to heat and power buildings, even more than the government spends on Medicare.
  4. U.S. industry employs almost 131 million people and generates more than 40% of U.S. GDP, but uses roughly one-fourth of the nation’s total energy per year.
  5. 86% of U.S. electricity is generated in large, centralized power plants.

What could the energy landscape of 2050 under the Reinventing Fire scenario look like?

  1. Efficiency efforts plus switching from oil and coal and one-third less natural gas to renewable energy would save a net $5.0 trillion.
  2. A $2.0 trillion investment to make cars, trucks and planes more efficient, and more effectively used would save $5.8 trillion.
  3. Buildings’ energy use can be 40–60% more efficient in 2050 than today—despite 70% more floorspace.
  4. U.S. industry can produce about 84% more output with 9–13% less energy—without mandates or breakthroughs in innovation.
  5. We can capture and integrate the renewable energy needed to meet 80% or more of our electricity needs by 2050.

Under the plan, we could be looking at $5 trillion in net savings. If you can’t imagine that, just look at the infographic RMI put together below.

 Read a Q&A with Amory Lovins from Sustainable Industries.

Flame image: Capture Queen

It’s Time to Reinvent Fire!

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The old fire, the one Prometheus stole from the gods way back when, is undeniably awesome. It heats our homes, cooks our food, and now, in the info-tech-saturated 21st century, it powers our Google mail and our Facebook, arguably the most revolutionary social tools since amish friendship bread…

But it’s also hot, dirty, and you just simply cannot have it without producing greenhouse gasses. They’re sort of automatically part of the equation when you’re burning something. Don’t you remember balancing equations in high school chemistry class? No? Believe me, it’s not possible.

Which is why it’s time to overhaul the whole shebang. And it’s why we’re so excited to share with you our first review for Rocky Mountain Institute’s new book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Hazel Henderson, author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, has just reviewed the book over at Seeking Alpha.

In “Reinventing Fire,” Amory Lovins and RMI are summarizing their case for shifting from digging and drilling to collecting our energy as nature does by photosynthesis and other chemical and thermal processes: from the daily photon shower arriving free from our sun. This book is meticulously researched, relying on their own scientific team as well as many outside studies.

“Reinventing Fire” is an essential, in-depth summary of all the evidence of the great energy transition now under way. …We think the transition is inevitable, a result of better science and technologies and a huge opportunity for a prosperous, fair, equitable, sustainable future for all.

 Read the entire review here.

Solar Interview with Energy Policy Expert Paul Gipe

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

The interview below appeared originally online at SolarServer.com

Paul Gipe is an expert on wind energy and energy policy, and is among the foremost advocates for European-style feed-in tariff policies in the United States. He has written extensively about renewable energy for both the popular and trade press, including regular updates on global developments of feed-in tariff policies for his site Wind-Works.org.

His most recent book, Wind Energy Basics: A Guide to Home- and Community-Scale Wind Energy Systems, was published by Chelsea Green in May, 2009.

In 2004, Mr. Gipe served as the acting executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association where he created, managed, and implemented a provincial campaign for Advanced Renewable Tariffs. The campaign sought to adapt electricity feed laws to the North American market and was instrumental in placing the European concept on the political agenda in Canada and the United States.

Mr. Gipe first publicly called for a feed law in the US in his campaign for the board of directors of the American Wind Energy Association in 1998.

Solar Server: How do you feel the disaster at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant is affecting renewable energy policy globally, and particularly national government appetites for feed-in tariffs?

Paul Gipe: Well, I think the most interesting development is in Germany, and I think that we will see if the coalition government will come out with new policies to increase the installation of wind energy in Germany. I think that is one very positive development, elsewhere, particularly in the United States, we still have our head in the sand, and continue business as usual.

Solar Server: In terms of the feed-in tariff policies which have been passed or modified over the last year, which ones do you see as the most promising, and why?

Paul Gipe: I continue to find the German program the model for the rest of the world to follow, in part because they have been able handle the explosive growth of solar PV. And have been able to accept that growth and regulate that growth in a responsible manner by a dialing down of the tariff in interim steps and in creating a growth corridor that they use to increase the degression to reduce the growth rate – the most responsible means of regulating the potentially explosive growth of solar PV.

The next most sophisticated program is in Ontario, Canada, modeled of course after the European programs.

And a very interesting development is that in Uganda. Uganda has a feed-in tariff policy that could be useful to states in the United States. It’s not often that the United States looks to deepest, darkest Africa for a model program, but it might be wise for us to do so.

Continue reading this article at SolarServer.com.

Wind Energy Basics by Paul Gipe is available now.

Atomic Energy: Climate Fix…or Folly?

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Nuclear power is on everyone’s minds at the moment as our eyes remain fixed on the crisis in Japan. Earth Island Journal printed the following debate on nuclear energy between Stewart Brand and Amory Lovins in their Winter 2011 issue. Amory is co-author of a forthcoming book from Chelsea Green, due out in fall of 2011, entitled Reinventing Fire.

Nuclear vs. Renewables

In the 1970s and 80s, halting the expansion of nuclear power was a key priority for many environmental groups. But with global greenhouse gas levels continuing to rise, some greens say that carbon-free nuclear power plants deserve a second look. In an energy-hungry world, is splitting the atom smarter than burning fossil fuels? Stewart Brand thinks so, and says that concerns about nuclear waste are overwrought. Amory Lovins disagrees, arguing that cheaper, faster, more effective, more secure climate and energy solutions can deliver the services the world needs.

Nuclear Power is Safe, Sound…and Green
by Stewart Brand

Since he first published the seminal Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, Stewart Brand has been a leading thinker about how to create an ecologically sustainable society. More recently, he has been encouraging environmentalists to rethink their opposition to geo-engineering, transgenic crops, and nuclear power.

For the definite word on how much to worry about climate change, environmentalists in American have taken to relying on James Hansen, NASA’s outspoken climatologist. When Hansen declared that we must not settle for leveling off carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million (ppm) but must take the level down from the current 387 ppm to 350 ppm or lower, the new environmentalist slogan became “350!”

Environmentalists take no notice of Hansen’s views on nuclear power, however. As President Obama was taking office, Hansen wrote him an open letter suggesting new policy to deal with the climate crisis. Hansen proposed what America needed: a carbon tax “across all fossil fuels at their source”; the phasing out of all coal-fired plants; and “urgent R&D on 4th generation nuclear power, with international cooperation.” He warned: “The danger is that the minority of vehement anti-nuclear ‘environmentalists’ could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed such that utilities are forced to continue coal-burning in order to keep the lights on. That is a prescription for disaster.”

Environmentalists have much less to fear from the current nuclear power industry than they think, and much more to gain from new and planned reactor designs than they realize. Hansen is right: Nukes are Green. Here’s how. …more…

Nuclear Nonsense
by Amory B. Lovins

Dubbed one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People by TIME, physicist Amory Lovins has spent 40 years integrating radical energy efficiency with renewable supply. He is cofounder, chairman, and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent “think-and-do tank” that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources.

I have known Stewart Brand as a friend for many years. I have admired his original and iconoclastic work, which has had a significant impact. In his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, he argues that environmentalists should change their thinking about nuclear power, and predicts that I won’t accept his nuclear reassessment. He is quite right, because I believe its conclusions are greatly mistaken.

Stewart’s nuclear chapter’s facts and logic do not hold up to scrutiny. Over the past few years I’ve sent him five technical papers focused mainly on nuclear power’s comparative economics and performance. He says he’s read them, and even summarizes part of their economic thesis in his book. Yet he then says, “We Greens are not economists,” and disclaims knowledge of economics, saying environmentalists use it only as a weapon to stop projects. Today, most dispassionate analysts think new nuclear power plants’ deepest flaw is their economics. They cost too much to build and incur too much financial risk. Nuclear expansion therefore can’t deliver on its claims: It would reduce and retard climate protection, because it saves between two and 20 times less carbon per dollar, 20 to 40 times slower, than investing in efficiency and micropower. …more…

Read the original article at EarthIsland.org. Image above left courtesy of Rocky Mountain Institute.

To learn more about Reinventing Fire, visit RMI’s website and check back soon.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren discuss A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Stephen and Rebekah Hren authored The Carbon-Free Home a couple of years back, and they’ve just released a new book entitled A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office: Navigating the Maze of Solar Options, Incentives, and Installers.

This is an incredibly helpful guide for homeowners and small business owners who are interested in utilizing solar energy but are daunted by the wide array of options, systems, rebate programs and incentives out there (not to mention the intimidating price tag).

In the following video, Stephen and Rebekah give an introduction to the book and their motives for writing it, as well as detailing some of the excellent tips and tools readers will glean from it. Have a look!

Stephen & Rebekah Hren: Obama Sees the Light! Solar Coming to the White House

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Just two weeks ago we were whining and moaning over at Scientific American that Obama had refused free solar for the White House.

In the pantheon of cool presidents, this put him beneath Jimmy Carter, and probably lower than old codgers like the two Roosevelts. Well we’re happy to report he had a change of heart! We like to think Michelle got wind of this lemon of a decision and gave her beau a nice good boot to the rump. Solar for Everyone!

Even George W. Bush put up solar at the White House grounds, including the first ever solar electric system, coming in at around 9kW. Carter’s were just solar water heater panels, but they were actually on the White House, an important symbolic gesture that represented a belief in the future of the technology that Bush’s squirreled away PV didn’t give. In fact, it’s believed that the sole purpose of Bush’s solar electric system was actually to remotely power Cheney’s robot brain, stored many miles beneath the swamp of Washington.

This article appeared originally at The Carbon-Free Home blog.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of, most recently, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office, available now.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren featured in Scientific American blog

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Sustainable living pioneers Stephen and Rebekah Hren were invited by Scientific American blogger George Musser (Solar At Home) to write a guest blog coinciding with the release of their new book, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office. Here’s the result.

Someone Please Tell the Obamas: Solar Works Now!
By George Musser
Sep 22, 2010 01:00 PM

Editor’s Note: Scientific American‘s George Musser has been chronicling his experiences installing solar panels in Solar at Home (formerly 60-Second Solar). Read his introduction here and see all posts here.

One of the hardest things about installing solar panels is getting good information, so I’m happy to report that a new book by fellow solar bloggers Stephen and Rebekah Hren, A Solar Buyer’s Guide, is coming out in a couple of weeks. I invited them to write a guest blog on where they think home solar technology stands.

Many people feel inclined to wait on the sidelines until some breakthrough makes solar energy “work” or until it becomes “affordable.” Some of those people are apparently the Obamas, who have refused to allow free installation of solar panels on their roof! But even though solar installations are generally not free, they are still a good deal.

We are quite capable of designing buildings and lives in a sustainable way powered by the sun, and much of the basic technology goes back millennia. Yet historically it has taken a crisis of energy supply or ecological devastation to encourage widespread use of solar energy. After they had burned all there accessible forests, ancient Romans developed the heliocaminus, or “sun furnace,” a south-facing room that heated their homes in winter. Similarly, once the British had eliminated their woodlands during the late Middle Ages, they also discovered the joys of solar heating. Access to the sun became a fundamental right in Britain for any building, eventually codified in the Law of Ancient Lights. Today, the impetus comes from global climate disruption and the peaking of per-capita fossil energy supplies.

Hren's 1932 bungalow with various forms of solar energy Why solar has been regarded as a technology of last resort is a mystery to us, because it can be extremely cost-effective. We can harvest the sun’s energy in multiple ways. Instead of just using solar energy to heat our homes in winter, we can heat our water, cook our food, and of course convert solar energy into electricity. You can make your home carbon-free, as we have done with our 1932 bungalow (see photo above), or you can put up a solar water heater or smaller photovoltaic (PV) system that offsets only some of your home’s or office’s fossil energy use.

Cost-effectiveness depends not only on a wide array of varying federal, state, and local incentives, but also on the efficiency of the system. Turning solar energy into heat is simpler and typically more efficient than converting it to electricity, so paybacks on solar water heaters are often quicker than for PV systems, but check out your local situation before making any assumptions. Some areas have spectacular incentives for PV at the moment. While a system of patchwork incentives is obviously less than ideal, until the mammoth subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industries are removed and a carbon cap or tax is established to account for their detrimental effects, such breaks for solar energy allow it to be on a more level playing field. They help create economies of scale and drive technological progress that should help reduce prices in the future.

Technology is advancing all the time. One very cool gadget that is now being incorporated into solar electric panels is the microinverter, a topic of past Solar at Home blog posts (here and here). These sophisticated gizmos are capable of converting the DC juice being pumped out by each individual PV module directly into AC power right there at the module.

One huge advantage of the microinverter is that it mitigates shading problems on the PV array. When installed on the roof, an array will often suffer from partial shading some time during the day due to trees, another building, chimneys, and so on. Conventionally, the output from an array of PV modules is sent to one main inverter, and even small amounts of shade can have disproportionately large effects on the electricity output due to the way the modules and arrays are wired. Without microinverters, the shading of just one PV module could possibly disrupt production for the whole array. But with microinverters, the production from the shaded modules can be isolated, allowing the solar juice to keep flowing from the rest of the array.

Using microinverters, PV array wiring is faster and more straightforward, and the power is easier to shut off in an emergency. Microinverters also allow web-based production monitoring of individual PV modules, providing entertainment when the office gets slow. Maybe no one explained these nifty things to the White House.

As the novelist William Gibson quipped, the future is here now; it’s just not widely distributed yet. The technology to harvest solar energy effectively is already available, but it’s up to us to make its implementation a priority, despite what our First Family does. From high-tech gadgetry like the new microinverters to the more prosaic technologies that can heat our buildings and hot water, solar energy is varied in what it can accomplish. There’s no need to wait for some theoretical time in the future, because solar power is here and ready now.

Photo: The Hren’s home, courtesy of them

Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home, and, most recently, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office, available now.

Citizen Powered Energy Handbook, An Excerpt

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook; Community Solutions to a Global Crisis, by Greg Pahl.

In this excerpt, the problem of fossil-fueled energy is summarized, as are many renewably-sourced solutions. Pahl makes a point of distinguishing large, corporate renewable energy installations from community-scaled, community-supported models. Even in progressive, environmentally-attuned places like Vermont, towns can find good reasons to oppose sustainable energy projects that are out of scale with their needs.

Pahl says,

“Don’t get me wrong, given the choice between a large, corporate-owned coal-fired power plant or a large, corporate-owned wind farm, the obvious choice is the wind farm, regardless of who owns it. And…there is no question that large companies are going to have a role to play. But that’s no reason to exclude smaller…community projects that are far more effective in promoting distributed-generation strategies.”

Read the entire excerpt from Chapter 8: The Community Solution.

Claim your energy independence! Get a copy of this book in our bookstore.

Feed-in Tariffs Best for Spurring Investment in Renewable Energy, Says SEMI

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

By Paul Gipe

Originally published on his blog at wind-works.org.

The world’s semiconductor manufacturers have now waded in with another of a cavalcade of recent reports on why feed-in tariffs are best for spurring investment and innovation in renewable energy.

The reports, papers, and briefing notes on the role of feed-in tariffs are starting to pile up. If reason alone won’t prevail in the North American policy debate maybe the sheer weight of reports will.

The latest is SEMI’s white paper Advancing a Sustainable Solar Future: Policy Principles and Recommended Best Practices for Solar Feed-in Tariffs.

SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International) is the trade association representing the semiconductor industry. They’re not exactly bit players on the world stage of industrial development.

The association’s release by its PV Group announcing the report summarizes its contents succinctly.

“The White Paper shows that feed-in tariffs are the single best policy approach to spur growth of the PV industry. The continued spread of national feed-in tariffs that are stable, transparent, and substantial will fuel the rapid PV market growth the world requires and support new investment in the emerging solar economy.”

To reassure reviewers that SEMI was serious about its views on feed-in tariffs, the report opens with a specific statement that the trade group’s board of directors authorized the report.

As any good business report should, the white paper clearly states SEMI’s position. SEMI “supports the development of feed-in tariffs as the most effective means to ensure sustained growth for the PV industry and rapidly realize the benefits of large-scale solar energy deployment.”

Lest they be labeled cranks on the far margins of energy policy, SEMI was quick to note the “proliferation of feed-in tariffs” globally and that SEMI was “pleased to join other industry organizations that support feed-in tariffs, such as the International Solar Energy Society (ISES), the European Photovoltaic Industries Association, Solar Alliance, and many others.”

The heart of SEMI’s report are simple clear explanations of key design features of successful feed-in tariff policies that policy makers can emulate. These “best practices” include.

  • tariffs differentiated by technology,
  • tariffs based on the cost of generation,
  • equitable rules on interconnection and the sale of generation,
  • fixed-price tariffs with long-term contracts, and
  • predictable degression of the tariffs over time.

The latter is particularly important for solar PV, the most expensive of the new renewable technology being developed today.

In North America, only Ontario, Vermont, and possibly Washington State come close to SEMI’s best practices requirements. Neither California’s so-called feed-in tariff nor the “voluntary” tariffs in the upper Midwest would qualify.

In addition to the best design practices, the report also summarizes the tariffs for solar PV worldwide. While most in the trade are aware of the solar PV tariffs in Germany, France, and Spain, many do not know that the former east block offer far more aggressive tariffs than typically found across North America outside Vermont and Ontario. Here’s a sample of tariffs from the former east block converted to US dollars with the contract terms.

  • Bulgaria: $0.62/kWh, 25 years
  • Croatia: $0.68/kWh, 12 years
  • Czech Republic: $0.74/kWh, 20 years
  • Slovakia: $0.41/kWh, 12 years
  • Slovenia: $0.61/kWh, 15 years

Even more surprising is what some sunny European countries pay. These are countries that don’t get the same press attention as Spain.

  • Italy: $0.71/kWh, 20 years
  • Portugal: $0.62/kWh, 15 years

It should be reassuring to Ontarians that SEMI’s research confirms that the Ontario Power Authority’s tariff for rooftop systems less than 10 kW, $0.76 USD/kWh, while higher than anywhere else in North America, is substantially less than that being paid in sunny Italy and Portugal for an equivalent yield.

To reiterate their findings for both the media and policy makers, Dan Martin of SEMI’s PV Group emphasized in their release that “There is now broad consensus among both the renewable energy policy-making and the financial communities that feed-in tariffs are one of the most powerful solar energy policy tools available.”

Policy endorsements don’t get much stronger than that.

The question now becomes how long will we have to wait before the wind and geothermal industries issue similar unequivocal conclusions.

-End-


Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com