Category Archives: Clean Energy

New Study: California Climate Law Cuts Billions in Health, Pollution Costs

rp_OCONNOR-PHOTO-MAY-20121-200x300.jpgCalifornia drivers don’t have much choice when it comes to what fuel they fill their cars with, or how dirty it is. As recently as five years ago, nearly 97 percent of the energy used for transportation in the Golden State came from gas and diesel – over half of which was made from imported oil.

This basic lack of consumer choice means that California drivers like myself are stuck with a high-priced product that is made from dirty crude and controlled by a few major multinational oil companies.

What’s more, our transportation system has a direct effect on our health – in addition to contributing to climate change and energy insecurity.

And it’s not a pretty picture.

A study just out from the Environmental Defense Fund and the American Lung Association, with modeling by Tetra Tech, finds that the negative impacts of California’s transportation system cost us a staggering $25 billion per year. It also shows that the benefits of policies aimed at supporting the use of cleaner fuels can significantly reduce such costs.

25 million drivers, worst air pollution in the U.S.

I’m probably similar to many other drivers around here. Last year I drove some 15,000 miles, paying about $2,400 for gas – a sizeable portion of my disposable income. This gas is always more expensive in the summer than in winter, and it won’t matter if I fill up my car at the Shell station on the corner or from Chevron at the freeway on-ramp.

My 15,000 miles of driving last year released about 5 tons of greenhouse gas pollution and other air contaminants. When combined with the pollution released from California’s other 25 million drivers, I have, unfortunately, helped give California the nation’s worst air pollution.

Not only is our state home to the top five most polluted cities in the United States, but countless Californians suffer from lung and heart problems, and even risk early death, from pollution-related health impacts cause by transportation. Read More »

Also posted in Cap and trade, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Transportation | Comments closed

Five Reasons California Latinos Should Care About Clean Fuels

Jorge-MadridFor the first time since becoming a state in 1850, Latinos are the “new majority” in California, representing the largest ethnic demographic in the country’s most populous state.  While Latinos account for 39 percent of California’s population, they are disproportionately exposed to dangerous air quality, health impacts, and adverse economic risk from dirty fuels.

In fact, the five most polluted cities in America are all in California – and all have majority Latino populations living in them.  The main source of the pollution is the transportation sector, more specifically, the dirty fuels that power California’s transportation sector, responsible for nearly 70 percent of smog-forming gases and 40 percent of the state’s climate change pollution every year.

A new report by EDF and the America Lung Association gives us a stark look at the impact of dirty fuels and offers a path forward to build healthier and stronger communities with cleaner fuels via the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) and cap-and-trade (C&T) program.  California Latinos, the population with the highest risk and exposure, should be paying close attention.

Here are five reasons why:

1. We Breathe the Dirtiest Air – Latinos account for nearly two-thirds of California residents in the top 10 percent most polluted ZIP Codes.  This pollution can have serious health impacts on communities; roadway pollution alone causes 9,200 premature deaths per year in the state.  However, the report outlines how the LCFS and C&T will prevent 600 heart attacks and 880 premature deaths by 2025, and provide savings of $8.3 billion in pollution-related health costs.

Read More »

Also posted in Cap and trade, Engaging Latinos, General, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Transportation | Comments closed

Nest’s Promising Results for Reducing Peak Electricity Demand

Back in January when Google announced it would spend $3.2 billion to purchase Nest, EDF knew this was a company to watch. The results of three new reports, released today, confirm that controllable thermostats like the Nest Learning Thermostat are both customer-friendly and useful for energy system planners. Moreover, the reports signal that smart devices, such as those Nest manufactures, have potential for generating marked savings for utility customers.

The reports analyze 2012-2013 energy use data gathered from four major utilities across the U.S. that offer Nest energy services programs: Austin Energy, Reliant Energy, Green Mountain Energy, and Southern California Edison.

The first report evaluates the results of Rush Hour Rewards, a demand response service that changes the temperature of the homes of Nest users during energy “rush hours”, or times when demand on the grid is highest. The second examines Seasonal Savings, a program that runs for three weeks and slowly modifies the temperature according to the customer’s behavior (which this smart thermostat is able to ‘learn’ via its built-in motion sensor and understanding of its owner’s temperature preferences). Both operate during times of heavy usage, namely winter and summer. The third report analyzes home energy data of Nest customers more broadly, comparing energy use before and after the installation of a Nest Thermostat. Read More »

Also posted in Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid | Comments closed

The spread of green banking paves the way for clean energy investments

rp_Brad-Copithorne-Photo1-200x3001.jpgWhile no two “green banks” are exactly the same, the idea behind these government-created financial institutions is to dramatically expand the clean energy market. Rather than providing grants to stimulate clean energy investment, green banks use attractive interest rates and other incentives to leverage money from the private sector.

In addition to offering attractive interest rates, loan-loss reserves and other market supports, these innovative banks draw on deep expertise from the public and private sectors to help demonstrate the profitability of clean energy investments.

By the end of the year, green banks should be up and running in Connecticut, New York and Hawaii. We hope that California will follow soon. These states form a vanguard that has recognized the value of using a small amount of public capital to generate significant private investment in clean energy.

It’s working in Connecticut

In 2012, Connecticut created the first green bank, known as CEFIA,  in the United States. It did so by combining several state agencies, increasing their responsibility and funding, and leveraging a small amount of public funds to generate lots of private-sector investment. According to CEFIA’s 2013 annual report, for every one dollar of ratepayer funds CEFIA invested, roughly $10 was invested by private sources.

Connecticut’s Property Assessed Clean Energy program accounts for much of this investment. It lets commercial customers finance clean energy upgrades to their buildings through their property tax bill with no money down.  Additionally, CEFIA has been able to create an innovative financing solution that is expected to dramatically expand the market for solar projects on commercial properties. Read More »

Also posted in Jobs | Comments closed

Powering Up: How Three Companies Are Energizing the Electric Bus Industry in California

rp_ca_innov_series_icon_283x204.jpgEDFs Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.

Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley have bad air pollution.  Sure, it’s not the 1970’s style pollution that doctors say was like smoking two packs a day, but California is still home to the top five most polluted cities nationwide.

Who: BYD America, Green Automotive, and Motiv Power Systems, three companies that each employ between 25 and 75 employees in California, and work to facilitate the use of electric buses in the state.

What: BYD America and Green Automotive manufacture heavy-duty electric vehicles, and Motiv Power Systems builds electric power systems to electrify buses.

Where: BYD America is based in Lancaster, Green Automotive is in Riverside, and Motiv is located in Foster City.

Why: All three companies are dedicated to expanding the use of clean, cost-effective transit buses, shuttle buses, and school buses in order to benefit the economy, environment, and public health.

The most significant offender is the state’s transportation sector, responsible for significant ground level ozone and nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.  Indeed, in too many California cities, the city buses and school buses are still powered on diesel fuel and spew harmful pollution into the air – further degrading the already compromised air.

Enter AB 32, a program that has created an entirely new way of thinking about transportation pollution and is resulting in powerful alternatives and new companies that offer a different approach to mobility.

BYD Ltd., Green Automotive, and Motiv Power Systems – are three companies working to accelerate the growth of electric buses and cost-effectively reduce pollution.

BYD Ltd., originally founded in 1995 to build batteries for small electronics, has significantly expanded their portfolio in recent years to include electric buses. They’ve opened an American factory in Lancaster and have already made inroads in that market by selling transit buses to Antelope Valley Transit and Los Angeles Metro, and recently showcased a new bus that runs up to 24 hours on a single charge. Read More »

Also posted in California Innovators Series, Jobs, Transportation | 5 Responses, comments now closed

Connecticut’s Green Bank Uses PACE to Accelerate Commercial Solar, California Expected to Follow

rp_Brad-Copithorne-Photo1-200x300.jpgUp to now, the most popular and cost effective forms of financing solar projects have been leases and Power Purchase Agreements (‘PPAs’), which allow homeowners to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their property and purchase power from the system’s output via a financial arrangement with a third-party developer who owns, operates, and maintains the solar panels.

Unfortunately, these creative financing mechanisms have not generally been available for commercial property owners. The only exceptions were buildings owned (or leased for a very long time) by investment-grade entities such as Google, Walmart, or a state or local government. Most small or medium businesses, office buildings, shopping centers, and apartment buildings could not access financing for money-saving solar projects as investors have been wary of extending 20-year solar financings for most commercial properties.

Fortunately, our good friends at Connecticut’s Green Bank (CEFIA) have created the first solar leasing investment fund that uses Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) to provide investors assurance that they will be repaid. The ‘CEFIA structure’ allows commercial property owners to sign a lease or PPA in the same manner and terms as their investment-grade brethren. The only difference is that payments are linked to the property tax bill and survive foreclosures. Since the taxman almost always gets paid, this structure allows investors to consider a much wider range of commercial credits. Read More »

Also posted in Energy, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Two female scientists making a "material" difference in clean energy

WIPThis is the second in a series of posts about leading women in the power, environmental science, advocacy, policy, and business sectors. Each entry stands on its own, and you can view the first post here.

Today, women earn roughly half of the bachelor’s degrees in the earth and biological sciences, but only about 20 percent of the degrees in physics and engineering. And as women’s careers continue to develop—through higher degrees and into professional positions—these numbers start small and only get smaller. Despite the tremendous educational and professional gains women have made in the past 50 years, progress has been uneven, and many scientific and engineering fields remain overwhelmingly male-dominated. The so-called “leaky pipeline” is a real issue. However, highly accomplished women in science and engineering do exist, and they are making huge differences in the way we make and manage clean energy.

I had the opportunity to sit down with two awe-inspiring female scientists who truly define “cutting edge” when it comes to the critical technologies we need to transition away from dirty fossil fuels. Dr. Stacey Bent, Professor of Engineering at Stanford University, and Dr. Angela Belcher, Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, are both exploring the frontier of materials science, a critical area of study leading to advancements in renewable energy and energy storage. Read More »

Also posted in Climate | Comments closed

Demand Response: People, not New Power Plants, are Driving the Clean Energy Future

Clean energy resources, like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, have certain key advantages over traditional, fossil fuel-based resources: they don’t require expensive, polluting fuels or large capital investment, consume little to no water, generate negligible carbon emissions, and are easily scalable. To take full advantage of low-carbon, renewable energy sources, we need a power grid with enough flexibility to harness clean energy when it is available and abundant. That’s where demand response, a people-driven solution, comes in.

On a hot summer day, for example, electricity use rapidly increases as people turn on air conditioners to avoid the heat of the late afternoon. A decade ago, the grid operator’s only option is to turn on another fossil fuel power plant to meet the increased need for electricity. But, at any given time, there are thousands of light switches left on, idle water heaters, cycling swimming pool pumps, and forgotten thermostats that people could temporarily turn off or down, if only they were offered the right incentive. If asked, people can adjust their power usage in exchange for a financial reward. We call this “demand response,” and it is increasingly helping to balance the flow of electricity with our energy needs at a given moment.

Demand response diverts money that would generally go to a fossil fuel power plant to homeowners and businesses instead. In this scenario, a utility or demand response provider sends a message for participants to reduce electricity use at key times in exchange for a credit or rebate on their utility bill, in addition to the cost savings they will earn through conservation. Of course, participants always have the option to opt-out with the tap of a button on their smart phone or thermostat. Read More »

Also posted in Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid | 1 Response, comments now closed

Fueling the Future: How California Businesses are Advancing Earth Day’s Vision

By Emily Reyna and Larissa Koehler

To mark the 44th Earth Day, EDF has released a new Green Roads map celebrating clean transportation, an economic sector that is helping the Earth by producing groundbreaking and sustainable technologies.

We Californians like to drive, but unfortunately our dependence on petroleum is harming our state, giving us the nation’s most polluted cities and the state’s biggest contributor to climate pollution (see the graph).

California greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Source: California Air Resources Board - May 2013 Investment Plan

California greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Source: California Air Resources Board – May 2013 Investment Plan

Fortunately, state policies like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) and the AB 32 cap-and-trade program are helping to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, while bolstering California’s economy and allowing green companies to grow and thrive.  In fact the number of clean transportation jobs in California tripled from 2001-2011. Read More »

Also posted in Climate, General, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs, Transportation | Comments closed

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How Two Companies are Turning Your Trash into Low Carbon Fuel

ca_innov_series_icon_283x204By Tim O’Connor and Chloe Looker

EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goal of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technology and ideas.

Modern society makes a lot of garbage. The decomposition of organic material from garbage in landfills releases methane gas, a potent global warming pollutant.

At the same time, the modern transportation system is powered mostly by fossil fuels and also releases global warming and toxic air pollution. Today, two companies are turning rotting lemons (garbage) into lemonade (low carbon fuels for cars and trucks), and are showing that AB 32 creates a powerful incentive for new ideas and innovations.

Although the ultimate solution to the problem of waste generation and pollution from landfills must include reduction of waste going into the landfills, the fact of the matter is landfills aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Read More »

Also posted in California Innovators Series, Climate | 1 Response, comments now closed