By Elisa Wood
June 29, 2011
Who doesn’t pat themselves on the back when Google puts money into their industry? Ah, the giant likes this market. I must be on the right track!
So what does it mean now that Google has announced it will retire its Google PowerMeter because it didn’t catch on? Are all those companies who are investing in smart grid on the wrong track?
Clearly not. Google had star quality in the market. But other, more boring companies continue to pursue tremendous smart energy innovation, and they do so with strong government backing.
The energy entrepreneurs are out of the barn, as they’ve never been before. Here are just a few intriguing advancements that made the news around the time Google said that it was quitting the race.
- Echo is a solar energy system that its makers say is three times more efficient than a basic solar electric photovoltaic system. Echo does this by capturing and using the excess heat generated by solar panels, giving the panels a dual purpose – they generate electricity and provide thermal energy. And there is more, according to C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes: “Echo not only sets the standard for energy generation, its advanced technology lets us communicate the benefits of solar to our homebuyers. When we show homebuyers that they can use their mobile phone to monitor their home – and act as a remote control for their thermostat – they don’t want to settle for anything else.”
- Intel is offering Tech Wonders, which features a free app that lets you donate to researchers your computer’s power when it’s idle. When you are away from your desk, your computer contributes its spare processing power to a massive environmental model intended to forecast climate conditions in the 21st century.
By Eric Woods
Guest Blogger, Energy Efficiency Markets
June 22, 2011
At Connectivity Week in Santa Clara, recently, I took part in a series of panel discussions on data center energy efficiency. The discussions covered a wide range of issues from the practicalities of infrastructure optimization to the possible role of data centers in demand response schemes. There was a particular focus on the importance, and also the challenge, of making a closer connection between overall data center efficiency and the effective work being done by IT equipment. A more general theme was the sheer complexity of the changes happening in the data center industry. It seems everything is in flux, from changes in the power grid to the impact of smart devices on IT demand. This is the context in which operational changes like the move to more dynamic management of power and cooling infrastructures and the introduction of virtualization are taking place.
In the midst of these changes, it was a pleasure to hear what some of the leading companies are doing in terms of increasing the energy efficiency and lowering their environmental impact of their data centers. An important point was made about the benefits of sharing good ideas, experience, and best practice. The data center professionals at the event, which included people from Cisco, NetApp, and Sybase/SAP, were generous with the insight they provided on what they are doing in their data centers and the challenges they face. The question was also asked why some data centers are less willing to talk about the specifics of their operation. While commercial sensitivities are often cited, the issues that are being addressed in terms of cooling efficiency, for example, can hardly be seen as business critical. More importantly, lack of transparency makes it harder to assess the real environmental impact of a given data center.
This discussion came back to me as I read the latest Greenpeace report on the environmental performance of the IT industry. In the report, “How Dirty Is Your Data?“, the organization takes a critical look at the environmental impact of the growth in data centers. Greenpeace is largely positive about the role that IT can play in reducing carbon emissions and other forms of environmental damage. It also recognizes the impact of the move to cloud computing on demand patterns and on how the industry operates. However, the report makes the case, that cloud computing will only be as green as the data centers that support it. We have made a similar point regarding how realizing the potential environmental benefits of cloud computing depends on how the model is actually instantiated. One of Greenpeace’s strongest criticisms of current practice is that there is still a tendency among some of the biggest players in the cloud space to build data centers in low-cost energy regions that are largely dependent on coal-powered generators. The organization’s bust-up with Facebook over this issue is well-known, but it points out that other major cloud providers have also shown inconsistency in their location planning for data centers.
By Elisa Wood
June 15, 2011
The US has grown an energy conscience. Just look around in stores that sell appliances, computers, televisions, light bulbs or any kind of electric equipment. You’ll see the words ‘energy saving’ or ‘energy efficient’ on a lot of the packaging.
This trend didn’t just happen, but is the result of some careful nurturing by government, most of it relatively invisible to the average consumer and certainly painless and free of sacrifice.
Of these policies, one of the most ingenious is the state energy efficiency resource standard, or EERS. Okay, it’s mouthful to say, but the concept is actually pretty simple. A state sets a requirement to reduce the amount of electricity (and sometimes natural gas) used within its borders by a certain date. Some states come up with a catchy goal, like New York’s 15-by-15, meaning New York wants to reduce energy use 15% by 2015.
Utilities and others that supply electricity are responsible for meeting the goal. To help them do this, inventors, entrepreneurs and other enterprises offer a variety of energy efficient products, systems and services.
These states, of course, also are simultaneously trying to build industry and add jobs, so the electricity reductions are not about scaling back on commerce. Quite the opposite, they are about getting more economic bang out of each electron buck. To the consumer, the new television, the clothes washer and the computer works the same as the old one; it just uses less electricity.
By Elisa Wood
June 8, 2011
We hear a lot about energy efficiency these days, but who is actually pursuing it?
In recent years most of the big players that install efficiency measures, the energy service companies (ESCos), have found work largely in the MUSH market: municipal and state governments, universities, schools and hospitals. In fact, a report in June 2010 by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Association of Energy Service Companies found that MUSH made up 70% of the work done by ESCos.
Private businesses, on the other hand, were backing away from making energy efficiency improvements when the report was written. A year has passed. Is the market still MUSH?
I looked at the projects announced by the big players in recent months. Here’s a sampling of a few.
- Ameresco struck deals with the Greensboro Housing Authority, Boston Housing Authority, state of Alaska for public university buildings, New York State School District, Penn State University and City of Portland, Maine.
- Chevron Energy Services is bringing efficiency to East Side Union High School District in San Jose, California; North Carolina Central University; the city of Victoria, Texas; as well as Orange County, California and Santa Monica College.
- Noresco is working with the state of Hawaii, Fort Worth Naval Air Station, the Allendale County Schools in South Carolina, Capitol Hill and Elkhart County, Indiana.
- And on and on as I made way down the list of large ESCos.
My very unscientific survey indicated that MUSH still predominates. And that’s not a bad thing. The MUSH market certainly has a lot of room for energy savings. And federal-stimulus dollars and state clean energy funds are available now particularly for government-backed institutions.
Fewer financial incentives are available for businesses. But even when money is offered, small to medium-size businesses are harder to sell on energy efficiency, especially now. Even if an energy efficiency project offers a quick payback, businesses are reticent to make any initial capital investment. Or in a lot of cases, it’s hard for energy efficiency companies to even get a meeting with busy business people, especially in an economy that has left so many paddling furiously to stay above water.
The state of New York is attempting to crack the business market. One program, funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), tries to make it easier for small businesses to analyze building energy usage.
By Elisa Wood
June 1, 2011
As a parent, I don’t expect world changing results when I gripe at my kids. I’m happy if they at least leave a path through the dirty clothes on their bedroom floors.
If you’re like that too, you’ll be a little sheepish when you hear the story of inventor and journalist Pierce Hoover. His 13-year-old son, Nash, kept forgetting to shut off the lights, so Hoover made a very big deal about it, the kind that changes the world.
Hoover took Nash to a local gym to ride an exercise bike that measures energy output in watts. He challenged his son to pedal hard enough to generate enough power to light a 100-watt bulb. Nash found that it took a lot of sweat.
“I wanted to instill in him the awareness that electric power, while inexpensive, doesn’t just flow effortlessly from a socket. Electric energy is the product of a complex infrastructure that runs back through the grid to places where big wheels labor and massive boilers consume natural resources, create heat, and emit waste gasses,” said Hoover in his blog at PopSci.com.
Then Hoover and Nash got an idea. Would it be possible to cross the country peddling their way on just a light bulb worth of energy each day?
With a team of engineer friends, the father-son duo built a human-electric hybrid vehicle with a motor fueled by a battery and kinetic energy generated through pedaling. They leave Virginia June 2 to cross the country to Oregon, a 4,500 mile trip, in the cart-like two-seater, which is powered by a 100-watt battery.