Technology News

FigBytes Sustainability Platform Aligns with UN Global Goals

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Many companies around the world have signed on to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the key to success lies in integrating these goals into their business models in a way that is productive, profitable and true to their core identity. The enormous breadth of the 17 SDGs and 169 targets could be a barrier for companies looking to integrate them and make an impact beyond business as usual.

Texas Breaks the Mold and the Record with Wind Power

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — Check out any old western movie and you’re bound to see tumbleweeds rolling across the open prairie. One thing we learned from those old films that beside cowboys and Indians, outlaws and sheriffs, two other things that Texas had, and still has a lot of, is open space and wind.

The open space gave rise to a booming cattle ranching industry long ago, though it has been suffering recently from a drought that has cost farmers and ranchers billions. The move to exploit the state’s abundant wind resource came more recently.

They did that through the construction of massive wind farms. We tend to associate renewable power with liberals and environmentalists, not something you’d expect to see a lot of in oil and gas-rich Texas. But it happened anyway. It didn’t just happen, of course. There were strong state government incentives that somehow survived administration changes that went from the liberal Ann Richards, to conservatives like George W. Bush and Rick Perry. It’s a model that few other states have followed, though many more could benefit from.

In fact, it’s the drought, which scientists agree is at least indirectly caused by climate change (since warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of drought), that, having brought those farmers and ranchers to the brink of disaster, has also led to their enthusiastic embrace of wind power. Many farmers now say it's the only way they've been able to hold onto their land.

“We rarely talked about the environment,” recalls Michael Osborne, co-founder of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA) and developer of the state’s first wind farm in the early 1990s. “We talked about farmers and ranchers getting rich on windmills.”

The regular income generated by wind turbines keeps the lights on in ranchers’ homes, regardless of how their herds might be faring.  Annual land lease payments last year, which went mostly to farmers and ranchers were in excess of $60 million.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA), Texas has six of the ten largest wind farms in the nation. The largest is the Roscoe Wind Farm, some 220 miles west of Dallas which also happens to be the largest in the world. It consists of 627 turbines, spread across 100,000 acres that produce 781.5 MW. That’s enough electricity to power 265,000 homes.

But Roscoe is one of many wind farms. Altogether, there are 11,592 wind turbines currently installed (likely more by the time you read this) in Texas with a combined capacity of 20,321 MW. In the year ending last October, wind power was responsible for 12.68% of the total electricity production in the state. That’s a new record.

Schneider Electric Combines Energy Management with Renewables

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — Schneider Electric, the global specialist in energy management and automation, has recently added a healthy dose of renewable energy to their portfolio.

The company has announced the signing of a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) that will allow their client, Sun Chemical, to cut electricity costs at its Carlstadt, N.J., production facility by roughly $400,000. This extends the energy savings the company has realized through their partnership with Schneider, which runs into the millions.

This highlights the direction that the company has taken in their recent acquisition of Renewable Choice Energy, a leading provider of renewable power to industrial and commercial clients. By the time of the acquisition, the two companies had already helped clients install over 2 GW of renewable power.

At Sun Chemical’s Carlstadt facility, rooftop and carport photovoltaic (PV) arrays at the site will generate over a million kilowatt-hours annually. That’s more than thirty percent of the facility’s total electricity demand.

The move deeper into renewables by Schneider is a smart one. As knowledge of building performance has grown, practitioners like Schneider are better to prepared to take a holistic view of energy opportunities. Clients will often ask, I want to go green, how do I get the best bang for my buck? Is it efficiency, or should I just go with renewables? While it’s certainly not a black and white issue, one thing is clear. If energy demand can be reduced up front, through efficiency, that will reduce the size and cost of the investment in renewables.

Steve Wilhite, Schneider’s Senior Vice President of Energy and Sustainability Services, puts it this way, “As clean energy reaches price parity with traditional energy, companies are taking aggressive steps to integrate renewables. We are seeing tremendous demand from clients to source a mix of green energy at a competitive rate.” He says that as a team, Schneider and Renewable Choice can effectively address the concerns of “clients looking to diversify their overall energy strategy, while providing critical sustainability and risk mitigation benefits via clean energy solutions.”

The recent solar installation is a case in point. Gary Andrzejewski, Corporate Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Sun Chemical said, “Our decision to build PV arrays at our Carlstadt facility is the latest example of how our own facility managers have been challenging themselves with regard to eco-efficiency.”

Using a data-driven process, the company worked with Schneider to identify the best path to cost reduction. Schneider then oversaw the solar bid process and contract negotiation.

Offshore Wind is Making Big Waves

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — When it comes to renewable energy, there’s a new kid on the block and he’s making lots of new friends quickly. We’re talking of course, about offshore wind. While once resisted as too expensive and too unsightly, the technology has finally found its sea legs and is now really making a splash.

Europe is, of course, where most of the activity has been. It started with Vindeby, the world’s first offshore wind farm, off the Danish coast. Vindeby, which was commissioned in 1991, has eleven turbines, with a combined capacity of 4.95 MW.

That’s significantly less than the output of just one of the thirty-two 8 MW turbines that Danish-based Dong Energy is installing at the Burbo Bank Extension  wind farm off the English west coast near Liverpool. Dong, which also operates Vindeby, currently has 3,000 MW of offshore wind online, and plans to grow that to 6,500 MW by 2020. Their 21 existing facilities are located off the coasts of Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. Dong, which both builds and operates these wind farms, is one of a growing number of players in this market.

Better known perhaps, are the turbine manufacturers. Vestas, the Danish turbine maker, has now formed a joint venture with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan, to compete with Siemens, the longstanding frontrunner. General Electric is now getting into the game as well, along with a number of Chinese manufacturers.

Here are some reasons why offshore wind makes sense. First, it overcomes most of the not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) concerns about visual pollution and noise, though there has been resistance from certain upscale seaside communities, notably the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, and Donald Trump’s lawsuit attempting to block a wind farm off the coast of Scotland, near a golf course he owns. (Trump lost, Cape Wind is apparently “dead in the water.”)

Some Facts Regarding the Safety of Oil and Gas Pipelines

(3BL Media/Justmeans) —Within the next few days, the US Army Corps of Engineers will grant an easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with the controversial and much-opposed Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). President Trump has signed the order. Opponents have shifted their tactics to pressuring the banks financing the project, but it might be too late, as binding contracts have already been signed. Meanwhile, protestors have pledged mass resistance. If the project moves forward, it will be against environmental prudence, good judgment, or any concern for social justice. Like many decisions being made these days, facts seem to have little bearing on their outcome.

The fact is, these pipelines pose a considerable threat, to people, water supplies and the environment, not to mention the cultural impacts being delivered, yet again, to this country’s first inhabitants. In return for the risks, the benefits are small by comparison, with the exception of the considerable profits funneled to a small number of investors

The company behind DAPL, Energy Transfer Partners, currently manages some 62,500 miles of natural gas pipelines, and they are planning quite a few more. Just after election day, Sunoco Logistics, which is also involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline agreed to acquire ETP, for a reported $21 billion.

An environmental advocacy group called the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LBB) held a conference call last week in opposition to a 162-mile long Bayou Bridge pipeline being planned by the two companies that would connect refineries with export facilities on the Gulf coast. Note that despite the rhetoric about energy independence, this pipeline will be used for shipping American oil and gas overseas.

Republicans Are Buying Solar, Too

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — If you think you know everything there is to know about red people and blue people, how they vote, what they buy, what they drive, and how they power their homes, you might be surprised at the results of a recent study—at least when it comes to that last item. PowerScout, a California-based solar company, uses satellite technology to help potential customers to assess how much sunshine they can expect to fall on their houses, to help assist them in their buying decision.

They decided to use that capability to find out if Republicans and Democrats vary widely in their use of rooftop solar panels. What they learned might surprise you.

First, a note about their methodology. They used publicly available records of donors to each of the political parties. From this, they compiled a list of 1.5 million homes across the top 20 solar states in the US. They then utilized the satellite imagery for all those addresses and fed it into something called a convolution neural network, a type of artificial intelligence system that mimics the human nervous system. The network had been trained in advance of this study to recognize the presence of solar panels in a photo of a rooftop. (Going through all those photos by hand, would have been rather time consuming.)

What they found was that overall the two parties were pretty close. A total 3.06% of Democratic donors and 2.24% of Republican donors had solar on their roofs.

They also broke down their data, state by state. In California, where solar has become mainstream, 7.24% of Republicans and 7.43% of Democrats had solar—nearly a tie. In Hawaii, Republicans actually outsolared Democrats, 9.58% to 8.50%. These are both states where solar is well-established. In other states, where solar is newly arrived, the numbers favor Democrats.

Environmental Experts Say New EPA Head Can't Stop Clean Energy Revolution

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — The World Resources Institute (WRI) has held a press call to discuss the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as the EPA Administrator for the Trump administration. Pruitt’s nomination has been quite controversial given that in his previous job as Oklahoma’s state attorney general he had sued the EPA on numerous occasions, particularly over regulations dealing with the electric power industry. Pruitt has been a leading opponent of Obama’s Clean Power Plan which gave the EPA the authority to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act.

On hand for the call were several authorities in the area of environmental and energy policy, including:

  • Sue Tierney, Managing Principal, Analysis Group, and former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy (and a WRI Board Director)
  • Ralph Becker, former Mayor of Salt Lake City
  • Anne L. Kelly, Senior Program Director, Policy and BICEP Program at CERES
  • Sam Adams, WRI US Director and former mayor of Portland, OR
  • Martha Roberts, EDF, Attorney, U.S. Climate Legal and Regulatory Program

Adams opened by saying that “scrutiny is warranted, considering the responsibility that EPA bears in ensuring public and environmental health of our nation.” Thoughtful analysis is also called for, he said, considering the urgency of issues like climate change.

Recounting some testimony from Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, which, somewhat ironically, fell on the same day that NASA announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record, for the third consecutive year, Pruitt did say that he acknowledged that climate change is real (moderating his prior position) and that there is a human aspect to it. However, he questioned the scientific consensus as to the severity of the problem and the need for action. In his testimony, he conveyed no sense of urgency about the issue. Pruitt, according to Adams, also overstated the significance of the Supreme Court’s temporary suspension of the clean power rule on procedural grounds, and played down his ties with the fossil fuel industry

Pruitt has said, on the record, in reference to his repeated use of his role as the state’s chief enforcement officer to file lawsuits on behalf of companies that have supported his political career, to challenge regulations put in place to protect the health and safety of the people he was sworn to protect, "That's actually called representative government, in my view of the world....” Others might call it political patronage. In one case, it was discovered that Pruitt had copied a  letter from an oil and gas company, nearly verbatim, onto his stationary as Attorney General, before submitting it to the EPA.

Mr. Pruitt also refused to commit to recusing himself as EPA administrator, when confronted with lawsuits against the EPA that he personally filed when Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Martha Roberts shared EDF’s view of Scott Pruitt. Describing him as someone who “has spent his entire professional life attempting to dismantle environmental protections, working hand-in-glove with some of our nation’s biggest polluters, who have bankrolled his political career, that nominee becomes an unacceptable risk to the American people.”

Pruitt is the first EPA nominee that EDF has opposed in its 50-year history. Roberts went on to quote Christine Todd Whitman, EPA administrator under George W. Bush, who said of Pruitt’s record, “I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”

2016 Sees Dips in Renewable Investment Levels

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), global investment in renewable energy dropped 18% last year to a total of $287.5 billion. This could be sobering news indeed on Donald Trump’s inauguration, considering the indications that Trump has a preference for fossil fuels. Has the reversal already begun?

It’s worth looking into the numbers before jumping to conclusions. There were several factors that contributed to the decline. It’s important to keep in mind that because costs are dropping so fast, the installation of the same amount of renewable power this year would have cost less than it did last year. In fact, data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that solar prices in the US dropped by 19% for the 12 months ending September 30th.

That is, in fact, what happened. According to Veronika Henze at Bloomberg, purchased clean energy capacity grew from 127.6GW to 139 GW, an 8.9% increase, even as overall dollars fell. In fact, purchased solar capacity grew by 30% while wind saw a 10% drop. It shows that just following the dollars can, at times, be misleading. Bear in mind that the purchased capacity could take a year or more before it’s installed, particularly in the case of wind. A record level of 70GW of solar was installed last year as well, though wind installations were down 10.3% at 56.5GW. That was still the second highest annual figure ever.

There were other reasons  for the decline as well.

Investment in renewables dropped in both China and Japan, by 26% and 43% respectively. According to Justin Wu, head of Asia for BNEF, “After years of record-breaking investment driven by some of the world’s most generous feed-in tariffs, China and Japan are cutting back on building new large-scale projects and shifting towards digesting the capacity they have already put in place.”

Presumably, by digesting it, he means connecting it and integrating it into their grid, which is where considerable investment is now going. This then, in a central planning economy, is simply a pause, in which, says Wu, “The government is now focused on investing in grids and reforming the power market so that the renewables in place can generate to their full potential.”

Have You Already Bought Your Last Car?

(3BlLMedia/Justmeans) — It’s getting hard to know what’s really true anymore. There are a number of reasons for this: fake news, political mischief and perhaps even a greater tolerance for liars. But there is also another reason: technology. Technology is changing so fast, that when people make pronouncements about deliveries by drones, exploration of other planets, or a rapid transformation of the car industry from what it is today, to a preponderance of electric, self-driving cars that are no longer owned by car-owners but hailed by a tap on a smartphone, it’s hard to know if they are simply making all this up.

According to Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal, the one about the cars is true. With the convergence of electric powertrains, self-driving technology and the growth of new ride-sharing business models, we could be looking at a transportation revolution on a par with what Henry Ford’s Model T did a century ago. Ford’s revolution happened surprisingly quickly. Car ownership leapt from 8% to 80% of the population in just ten years.  Is it about it to move that quickly in the opposite direction? A lot of trends seem to indicate that it could.

For one thing, there will be a multitude of attractive alternatives. Urban planners, concerned about making their cities greener, have put increased emphasis on public transit, bike lanes and walkable neighborhoods. For those too old or out of shape to walk or bike, new electrified bikes, scooters, and even skateboards can get you where you want to go quickly and affordability without wearing you out, safety concerns notwithstanding. These latter fall into the category of consumer electronics, vying for a market segment known as the last mile, getting a commuter home from a bus stop or train station.

These are some of the reasons why millennials seem to be opting out of car ownership. Surveys by the Urban Land Institute show that they are far less likely to use a car and more likely to use alternatives. Futurist Alex Steffen quipped that it’s because they can’t surf the web while driving. It’s more likely because they can visit their friends online without needing to drive over to their houses.

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