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Utilities Dive into Home Energy Services and Products

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - We’ve written in the past about the challenges facing the utility industry, with Barclay’s downgrading the entire industry as a poor investment prospect. The phenomenon of grid defection, customers cutting their ties with the utility in favor of a solar array with batteries, or a grid-tied system enabled through net metering is taking its toll on profitability. Traditional electric utility business models have rather suddenly become an endangered species. Not that the companies will necessarily disappear. Some might, of course, but those that remain will look very different than they do today.

Take a look at NRG, one of the nation’s largest power companies, operating in the Midwest, that has traditionally burned coal for about a third of its power. CEO David Crane, who has a degree in Public Policy from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, has apparently seen the writing on the wall. The company has taken dramatic steps over the past year including natural gas conversions and plant closings to reduce its dependence on coal. One plant is even being converted to run on low-sulphur diesel. When combined, these changes will result in a 25% reduction of coal purchases.

There was a time not long ago when such moves would be considered iconoclastic for such a staid industry. But that is just the beginning of this latest chapter in the NRG story. Last week NRG announced the acquisition of Goal Zero, a manufacturing start-up that produces small solar charged battery packs. Their products are popular in big box sporting goods stores, ranging from solar powered speakers for camping to 1250 Watt-hour solar home generators.

“It allows us to expand the opportunity of solar,” said Crane. “Our ultimate goal is to energize people wherever they are.”

It sounds reasonable enough, though it’s a big move for a utility company to start selling consumer products. That might just be what it takes to stay afloat in this changing world.

Military and Business Leaders Alike Cite Costs and Risks of Climate Change

Conservatives have been reluctant to talk about or acknowledge the actual cause of climate change, because they fear that doing so will lead to action that will cost money. But despite their efforts to cast doubt on the reality of the issue, awareness is steadily  growing that not only is climate change real, but that over time, the cost of not taking action will far exceed the cost of actions being proposed.

Red state politicians and talk radio hosts continue to press the denial agenda, but among the more respected leaders in traditionally conservative areas such as big business and the military, the tone has shifted considerably.

According to the Climate Disclosure Project (CDP), 60 major American companies from Google to Gap, have reported significant impacts to their business as the result of climate change. Business leaders are making strategic investments now, to reduce future risk. Says CDP President Tom Carnac, “Dealing with climate change is now a cost of doing business.”

Large companies with large supply chains are particularly vulnerable. In a new report entitled, “Major Public Companies Describe Climate-related Risks and Costs,” impacts are described confronting ten business sectors ranging from Consumer Discretionary, to Energy, to Industrial, to Health Care.
Over the three year period since the first report was issued, the average likelihood of physical risks, according to the companies responding, grew from 34% to 50%. And the fraction expecting to see impacts within the next 1-5 years also grew from 26% to 45%. Four of the top five assessed physical risk drivers remained the same over the three years. These were:

  • Changes in precipitation extremes and droughts
  • Major storms (hurricanes, cyclones,etc.)
  • Induced changes in natural resources
  • Uncertainty of physical risks

Sea level rise emerged as a top risk driver this year. The top 3 impacts also remained the same. These were:

  • Increased operational cost
  • Reduction/disruption in production capacity
  • Inability to do business

Other impacts included reduced demand for products and services, and increased capital cost.

Some specific examples include soft drink companies like PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group stating concerns over changing temperatures, unreliable crops, uncertain water availability and surging energy costs disrupting business and putting US$2.5 billion of their sales costs at risk.

Data centers are becoming more expensive to cool as temperatures rise.

Have We Reached the Point of "Peak Cars"?

We've all heard a lot about Peak Oil, the point at which global oil production begins to decline because the accessible supply is simply not as big as it was the year before. Whether it has been passed or is looming in the near future, is still being debated, especially in the light of the recent boom in U.S. production. But it is highly likely that it is imminent, which is, despite the hardship involved, really a good thing, given the carbon emissions entailed, which have not been reason enough for many people, institutions and governments to press for alternatives.

But what about all of those cars and trucks that most of that oil goes into? There are a number of analysts who think that, despite the optimistic sales projections of automakers, we may be approaching the point of peak cars.

Given the fact that more and more people are pouring into cities that are getting more and more crowded, will there come a point where driving a car is simply not the best way to get around? For many, it already has. Here is the US, a significant number of people, particularly young people have relinquished that dream. Based on an analysis by Advisor Perspectives, the percentage of 18-years-olds with driver’s licenses fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 61 percent in 2010. The number of miles driven per person has also downshifted from historic highs by almost nine percent.

Of course, there are many people coming up in the developing world who see car ownership as a rite of entry into the middle class, and emblematic of the American Dream which has spread across the globe through movies and television.

Shape of Things to Come? Huge Concentrating Solar Plant Opens in Mojave Desert.

They say that enough sunshine falls on the Earth in one hour, to meet the demands of the whole planet for a year. But how much area is needed to collect what we need? If we divide the area of the earth (196 million square miles) by the number of hours in a year (8,760), we end up with around 22,500 square miles, a little less than the size of West Virginia.

 The massive Ivanpah concentrating solar thermal power—also called concentrating solar power (CSP)—plant stretches out over five square miles, the largest of its kind in the world, has opened in the Mojave Desert, at a site 45 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The plant, which consists of 350,000 tiltable tracking mirrors, each the size of a garage door, can produce 392 megawatts, enough power to run 140,000 homes. The mirrors are focused on three towers, forty stories tall, each containing a boiler. The steam produced from the concentrated sunlight then drives a turbine-generator, much like the steam from a coal-fired plant would. The three-tower system is more space-efficient than a single tower, requiring 25% less land. The plant is also unique in that it uses far less water than other similar plants. The $2.2 billion complex is jointly owned by NRG Energy, Google, and Oakland-based BrightSource Energy. The plant will sell power to PG&E Corp. and Edison International under a 25-year contract.

Throughout its history, response to the project has teetered on the line between the desire for clean, renewable energy, and the desire to preserve open land. In 2012, the government stepped in to designate 17 "solar energy zones" in areas identified as being less wildlife-sensitive and having fewer natural resources. The zones include about 450 square miles in six states—California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Despite these precautions, government documents show that dozens of dead birds from sparrows to hawks have been found on the site, some of them with melted feathers. The suspected causes of death include collisions with mirrors and scorching. In November alone, 11 dead birds were found, including two with singed feathers. This was enough for the ever-skeptical Wall Street Journal to refer to the plant as a “$2.2 billion bird-scorching project.”

The bird problem is potentially serious enough to forestall a similar project near the Joshua Tree National Park because of the impact it might have on golden eagles and other protected species.

While the successful commissioning of the plant certainly bodes well for the future of solar energy in America, the question of whether we will be seeing lots more plants like this one is a little harder to answer. Besides the bird issue, which is currently undergoing further study, there is another issue that could effect more decision makers: cost.

Ancient Wisdom Practices and the Next Economy

Buddha image(3BL Media/Justmeans) - It’s not often in the middle of the workday, or at a business conference, you see a circle of colleagues in suits participating in a session of meditation practice. But that is exactly the type of activity some organizations, such as Google, are beginning to use to empower and de-stress employees. How much can this practice contribute to shifting organizations to the next low carbon economy?

Google’s Sustainable Energy Portfolio Reaches 2 GW

Google has added 161 MW of wind power to its portfolio of renewable assets.

Google Successfully Tests Breakthrough Biofuel

google_campus_2Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been successfully testing a breakthrough biofuel at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The biofuel, made by California-based Cool Planet Energy Systems, is produced using a "carbon negative" process that actually removes carbon from the atmosphere during the course of production.

The Royal Web 2.0 Wedding Sealed with a Kiss

The royal wedding is now the sixth biggest event in internet history...

Technology Changing the UK's Advertising Landscape

Is there a risk that Google will overtake ITV as the biggest source of UK advertising?

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