By Elisa Wood
March 30, 2011
This week’s energy news looks bad for the United States – at first glance. The nation has slipped to second behind China in clean energy investment. Moreover, five of the G-20 nations have surpassed the US for clean energy investment relative to size of economy.
But look at little deeper into the report, “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race,” and you’ll see that the US did not slide in all forms of clean energy. In fact, its level of energy efficiency investment tops others worldwide in two of three investment categories analyzed in the report.
The US stood out as the strongest among the G-20 nations for public market financing of energy efficiency and related low carbon dioxide technologies and services in 2009, the year studied. And it dramatically surpassed all of the other countries when it came to venture capital for these resources.
In fact, the report found that the US “remained the overwhelming leader in venture capital investment” with energy efficiency and smart grid among the top resources attracting investors. VC investment totaled $3.9 billion in the US, far exceeding the second place country, Brazil, with $0.7 billion. China had only “negligible” VC activity.
“The United States remained the enduring leader in venture capital investment, reflecting its strong foundation of technology innovation,” the report said.
There are some good arguments to be made for the US’ pursuit of energy efficiency. Energy prices reverberate throughout the economy, pushing up the cost of goods and services when they rise. Efficiency advocates like to say that the megawatt never generated is the cheapest one, so it’s best to pursue all cost effective efficiency before building new energy infrastructure.
Guest blog by Cara Miale
March 23, 2011
As if we don’t have enough phobias already, now there is range anxiety, a malady brought on by the electric car. But it’s okay; there is a cure, or rather an app for that.
Studies indicate that many electric car drivers – and those considering joining the ranks – suffer the fear of running out of power and being stranded with a dead battery. A little planning ahead could take the pressure off; there are an estimated 1,400 vehicle charging stations in the United States today and the number is growing. Even though most people drive less than the 100 miles a day allowed by many EV’s, range anxiety remains a logistical – and largely psychological – impediment to widespread electric vehicle adoption by consumers. One 2010 study showed range anxiety even caused EV drivers to modify their driving behaviors, decreasing the travel range and limiting most trips to no more than 25 miles.
Several companies have stepped up to ease the pain. The navigation system in the new electric Ford Focus finds electrical charging stations nearby and can help the driver conserve power by suggesting turning off the A/C or taking a more leisurely route. Google Maps, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently added electric vehicle charging stations to its popular platform, allowing users to search for and pinpoint more than 600 charging stations.
PlugShare, a new free app from Xatori, goes one step further with a personal touch: users can find home charging stations close by, and even list their own as a safe-haven for range-anxious drivers. PlugShare works with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, and you don’t need an EV or a special outlet to join. Accounts are customizable; those who wish to share can list their name, number and address as well as what types of energy they have available and where to find it (like the garage). The integrated app uses handy icons to identify private and public standard outlets, EV plugs and charging stations. With just a few clicks, you can identify the nearest charging station, call or text the person who listed it, and get directions. PlugShare hopes to launch a study of the app’s impact on the environment so users can celebrate the positive impact they’re making, not unlike other resource-sharing models like Denver B-cycle (members can track their miles ridden, calories burned, carbon off-set and money saved – and compare their stats to other members of the B-cycle community).
By Elisa Wood
March 16, 2011
I have to agree with the Tea Party; the US government should not choose the light bulbs I use in my home. And fortunately, it does not.
Yet that’s the spin being pushed by those who want to roll back federal lighting performance standards. An odd mythology is developing around the standards.
Opponents claim that the standards amount to government picking and choosing winners and forcing them upon us. More specifically, they say that the feds have banned the incandescent light bulb, which has been around since Thomas Edison’s time.
This is not true; the incandescent light bulb is not being banned; the standards are agnostic about technology type as long as they perform as required. The 2007 law is meant to act as a market mechanism that encourages innovation. With a benchmark to work towards, scientists, engineers and product designers are working to displace older, inefficient devices. Already several different kind of light bulbs have made their way into the marketplace, including a new and better incandescent.
We have efficiency standards not only for light bulbs, but also for refrigerators, water heaters, air conditioners, microwaves and other appliances. They are nothing new. Those who see them as government intrusion may be surprised to find that the first US appliance standards were set under Ronald Reagan.
Still one might ask, do we really need appliance standards? Are they worth the bother? That’s a $300 billion question – the amount the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates the US will save on electricity costs by 2030 through existing appliance and lighting standards.
By Elisa Wood
March 9, 2011
It was hard to get excited about IBM’s Watson besting two humans in the TV game show Jeopardy and walking away with a $1 million prize last month. After all, thanks to the entertainment industry, we’ve seen robots and computers win in all kinds of ways, from HAL duping the smart astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey to R2D2 disabling the Death Star. What’s the big deal about racking up some trivia points?
Stay tuned because Watson’s got bigger plans. This computer system understands natural language and can use that ability to solve problems and answer questions precisely. As IBM tells it, Watson can use this ability to bring us beyond smart grid into genius grid.
If you’re an energy company looking to hire something that appears to be a Google/C3P0 hybrid, consider Watson’s curriculum vitae. IBM says that Watson can:
- Assist energy personnel working in the field and educate consumers about their energy use – a distribution line worker and marketing specialists all in one.
- Help with decision-making in energy control rooms. Watson where were you in August 2003?
- Be on standby via cell phone (no lunch breaks) to answer queries from field personnel who need help with troubleshooting. Watson can suggest the correct action to fix a power disruption and identify causes of certain problems in the field.
By Elisa Wood
March 2, 2011
The push for energy efficiency has clearly become worldwide, creating new prospects for US green energy companies to pursue export and foreign partnerships.
One such opportunity comes from Israel, with the help of the United States-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF), a Washington-based non-profit organization.
Israel is not a country we hear much about in terms of energy opportunity. China, India, North America, South Korea, Japan – these countries tend to steal the headlines in energy news.
But Ann Liebschutz, the foundation’s executive director, says new frontiers are opening in Israel because of its drive to adopt clean energy and its expertise in communications technology and software – the foundation of smart grid. Moreover, Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist offers funding that US companies can benefit from when they partner with companies in Israel.
“In the energy efficiency space, Israel is uniquely positioned to provide services and products to US industry. Smart infrastructure and buildings — a lot of that is software driven. And that is where Israel’s core strengths are,” Liebschutz said. “If I were a US company, I would be looking to where the most significant research and development is taking place. Being able to plug into the emerging industry in Israel will produce a lot of assets for US companies.”
How do US companies tap into these opportunities?