Category Archives: Energy

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.

Dr. Stacey Bent’s work has focused on the fundamental understanding of how different materials behave, or more specifically, how molecules react with certain surfaces.  As Dr. Bent noted, “this is essential to making semiconductor devices used in computer chips and solar panels for example.” And with her understanding of surface science and materials chemistry, she is pushing innovation forward and making these technologies more efficient at the same time.

Dr. Belcher's image credit: MIT

Dr. Angela Belcher, named TIME magazine’s Climate Change Hero in 2007, has pioneered a biomimicry technique which allows her to use the precision of nature as a blueprint for engineering inorganic materials. Lucky for the cleantech world, with this technique Dr. Belcher is creating an entirely new kind of battery, not by building it, but by growing it.

Both women were fueled at a young age by a passion for basic science- how molecules behave, the origins of life, basic chemistry and biology- and both attribute their movement into the clean energy world not just to their fundamental interest in applying science for the benefit of humanity, but in large part to their students. Dr. Belcher assured me that,

You can’t get an MIT student to do things they don’t want to do, and my students come to my lab so passionate about energy and clean technology.

Dr. Bent similarly finds inspiration from the “phenomenal interest at the student level to have an impact” on climate change.

Yet, with all the enthusiasm around these fields, according to Dr. Bent, she realized only after she had completed her own college education that, “I never once had a female professor.” When not spending time with her children and developing new materials for renewable energy devices or next generation microelectronics, she says she’s thought a lot about the question of women in science and engineering.

There has been a progression, but it’s been really slow. The ratio of women to men, particularly in non-biological fields, seems to be creeping up very slowly, especially the higher you go.

Now, between her own research group and roles as Director of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University and Co-Director of a Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Center, Dr. Bent says she takes her advising roles, whether formal or informal, very seriously. “Having good teachers is so key to a student’s trajectory,” and her motivation to solve problems is certainly contagious.

Dr. Belcher clearly agrees, and recalls that one of her proudest moments was the day two of her female graduate students showed her a petri dish with some spots in it. These were not just spots, she helpfully explained, but actually clones that contained a genetic sequence directly related to the output of a battery. This material could be engineered to optimize the performance of a battery, and by using biology to do so, they were also minimizing the energy intensity and toxicity of this process. Looking up at a picture on her office wall of those two grad students holding the battery, she recounted the story of watching President Obama give a speech on clean energy with their battery glowing in the background. “Second to when my boys were born, it was the best day of my life,” she explained.

Thanks to the brilliance, diligence, and sheer curiosity of scientists and engineers like Dr. Bent and Dr. Belcher, we are seeing major breakthroughs in cleantech. They offer important reminders that before a solar panel is mounted, a wind turbine erected, or a chic electric car  driven off the lot, someone can be found in a lab creating, experimenting, and innovating with all the basic materials these technologies require.

Both Dr. Bent and Dr. Belcher attribute their success to having followed their passions. Both also believe it is important to bring more women into the field because without more diversity in backgrounds and perspectives, as Dr. Bent put it, “we are surely missing out on important advances we could be making.”

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices 

Also posted in Clean Energy, Climate | Leave a comment

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 Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid | 1 Response

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 Clean Energy, Climate, General, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs, Transportation | Leave a comment

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, Clean Energy, Climate | 1 Response, comments now closed

LA Better Building Challenge Partners with EDF’s Investor Confidence Project to Accelerate Citywide Energy Efficiency Goals

By Matt Golden, Senior Energy Finance Consultant

Source: LA Better Buildings Challenge

Environmental Defense Fund’s Investor Confidence ProjectSM (ICP) is pleased to announce a partnership with the Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge to help develop a more robust marketplace for energy efficiency retrofits in the city. Los Angeles has set a goal of achieving 20% energy savings across 30 million square feet of existing buildings by 2020 as part of the Better Buildings Challenge, a national leadership initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. If achieved, it is estimated that this 20% reduction in energy costs will create over 7,000 high-quality local jobs, and avert annual carbon emissions equivalent to taking more than 18,000 cars off the road.

The LA Better Buildings Challenge will be promoting the ICP Protocols through its network of building owners and industry stakeholders to help bring even greater transparency and accountability to the energy efficiency market by introducing a system of standardization in the way commercial building retrofits are developed, funded, and managed. The ICP framework assembles best practices and existing technical standards into a set of protocols that define a clear roadmap for developing projects, determining savings estimates, and documenting and verifying results.

David Hodgins, Executive Director of the LA Better Buildings Challenge, describes how the partnership with ICP will help the project meet its goal. The mission of the LA Better Buildings Challenge is to support our partners in achieving a minimum of 20% savings by 2020, and to get there we need to have a clear path. We are excited to partner with ICP, which offers our partners a best-practice approach to developing, underwriting, and measuring the impact of their resource efficiency projects,” he said. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Jobs, Smart Grid | Comments closed

A Call to Action: L.A. Community Comes Together to Tackle Climate Change

It’s easy to get caught up in your “average” Saturday morning in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park neighborhood: a warm, spring sunshine, joggers and walkers lining its paths, families setting up the BBQ and piñatas for afternoon birthday gatherings, and residents practicing Qigong under its trees.

For those of us who grew up here, this is quintessential L.A., a visual display of diversity, well-being and community that many of us cherish – and would like to preserve for future generations.

So it gave me great pride to see a packed auditorium of L.A. residents from all corners of the 43rd Assembly District and beyond ready to discuss an issue affecting millions of Angelenos and threatening the fabric of our culture: climate change.

In a unique forum hosted by EDF and Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), the community discussed a variety of environmental issues, most notably the impacts of climate change to the district and to the greater L.A. Region, and what residents can do to engage their local representatives on this critical issue.  A panel of experts – including the Environmental Defense Fund, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, and the Natural Resources Defense Council – helped kickoff the conversation. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Climate | Comments closed

Climate Action is Turning Green to Gold for Californians

By Lauren Navarro and Emily Reyna

What would you do with extra cash? Starting this April, customers of California’s biggest utilities will experience first-hand how the state’s fight against climate change is actually paying off – in the form of real money.

Wait… real money? How does that work?

Source: Flickr/Mike Schmid

Source: Flickr/Mike Schmid

Yes. Millions of household customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and other investor-owned utilities will automatically receive a “Climate Credit” twice a year through 2020 – every April and October – as a line item on their utility bill. This money comes from California’s cap-and-trade program, which holds the state’s largest emitters, including electric utilities, accountable for their climate pollution. With cap and trade, regulated companies must buy “allowances,” or permits, if they plan to emit carbon pollution –equivalent to nearly $1.7 billion to date. Now, part of this money is being returned to these utilities’ customers. For average Californians, the Credit will cover the slightly higher rates that cover California’s green transformation. But if you’re conscientious about your energy use – and are a below average energy user – your Credit will be a bonus for you.

The Climate Credit is one way Californians are benefiting from the state’s action on climate and it will help people participate in building a clean energy economy. This smart policy builds on years of people-focused efforts, like energy efficiency standards and clean energy installations. In fact last year California more than doubled its rooftop solar capacity to 2,000 MW of power.

In California, we spend less overall on energy because we use it wisely and waste less, even though we pay more per unit of electricity.  In fact, while the state is ranked 8th in average cost of electricity (cents/kWh), we rank 47th in total energy expenditures per capita. Read More »

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Women in Power: Leading the Way to a Clean Energy Economy

WIPThis is the first in a series of posts about leading women in the power, environmental science, advocacy, policy, and business sectors.

Pull back the curtain on climate leadership, and you’ll see women in power. From the author of the country’s leading clean car standards, to the top administrator of the mostambitious climate policy in the nation (California’s AB32), to the scientists and entrepreneurs developing and deploying the advanced technologies driving the nation’s low-carbon economy, women are taking charge of the clean energy sector like never before.

Women have always been on the frontlines of our country’s toughest environmental challenges — including Rachel Carson, who galvanized the country with her exposé of pesticides in Silent Springand Hazel Johnson, the ‘Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement,’ who fought against toxic dumping in her own Southeast Chicago community.

But women have not always dominated the energy sector.

Throughout the Industrial Revolution, the story of energy has traditionally been written by innovative men like Thomas Edison and George Mitchell, who invented and invested in the technologies and companies that made oil, coal, and natural gas the dominant fuels of the 20th century. Today, women are rewriting the history books, spearheading a new era of leadership in the clean energy economy.

Read More »

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The Link Between Water and Energy in California – And Why It Matters

KHK pictureTomorrow is World Water Day and this year’s theme is the “energy-water nexus,” the critical, interdependent relationship between water and energy. The generation and delivery of almost all types of energy requires water and, conversely, treating and transporting clean water requires energy. In fact, water-related activities, such as treatment and distribution, account for almost 20 percent of California’s total electricity use. A disruption in access to one of these precious resources can have a detrimental effect on access to the other, creating a vicious cycle that unsettles our way of life.

The Challenges

Unfortunately, California is learning the hard way about the inextricable link between water and energy. The Golden State is having major water shortage problems and despite some much needed rain a few weeks ago, the state still remains in a severe drought. In fact, this past winter in California was one of the driest on record.

The drought has had perceptible effects on California’s energy production, substantially decreasing hydroelectricity levels, compared to 2011. Due to the decrease in hydroelectricity in the state, which usually makes up about 10% of California’s fuel mix, the state has been forced to increasingly rely on dirty, unsustainable fossil fuels, and energy costs have increased. Energy generation from traditional forms of power, such as natural gas, nuclear power, and coal, are not without their own water demands as well. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Energy Efficiency | Comments closed

PACE Financing for California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 1: Expanding the Residential Market

rp_Scott_Hofmeister-287x377.jpgWhen it comes to protecting the environment and fighting climate change, California has always been a first mover.

Now the state is boldly acting to unleash a new market that saves energy, cuts pollution, and drastically increases clean energy investment for California’s residents.

Last week, California approved a $10 million reserve that will revive the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program for residential customers.

PACE allows customers to take advantage of energy saving upgrades to their home with no money down. Customers simply use a portion of their savings to pay off the investment over time through their property tax bill. Financing can be entirely provided by private lenders at no cost to taxpayers.

Since its first use at a San Francisco office building in 2012, PACE has been a resounding success in the commercial sector. In fact, the commercial markets have quickly taken to PACE and continue to set new deal-size records.

Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, General, On-Bill Repayment | 1 Response, comments now closed