Monthly Archives: August 2011

Energy Saving: The “ACTION” On Sustainability At Howard University

By: Ehizogie Idugboe, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Sector Fellow at Howard University, MBA candidate at Howard University School of Business, Washington DC

As a student at Howard University, I was excited about spending my summer at my Alma Mater in a non-student capacity.  I will be working hand-in-hand with the University in implementing green principles and policies that supports its mission to “provide an educational experience of exceptional quality to students, while reducing the institution’s carbon footprint on the environment.”  My job helps to identify and analyze energy efficiency/investments opportunities that can reduce the university’s energy use and CO2 emission, while increasing cost savings.

 “Sustainability” initiatives at Howard University have improved drastically over the last two years. The College Sustainability Report Card grade has improved from an “F” in 2009 to a “C-” in 2011. While this is a significant change, it is definitely not good enough. Howard has been working relentlessly to reduce its energy use/carbon footprint by utilizing “green building” techniques to improve lighting and HVAC system in several buildings. A few examples of these energy efficient technology improvements include:

  • Installing heat recovery systems,
  • Installing lighting sensors in some offices and classrooms,
  • Switching the old vending machines to energy star approved machines, and
  • Using renewable energy by installing solar panels for heating domestic water in the gymnasium, including the swimming pool.

As part of its Green building initiative, the institution is currently renovating six buildings under a program named “Extreme Make-Over.” Designs and construction will meet or exceed LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards, which is an internationally recognized green building certification system. Material that will be used in these buildings will not only be energy efficient, but will be sustainable as well. Upgrades will include improvements to mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems in the buildings. Building envelop improvements include: the installation of energy efficient doors and windows along with the installation of a green roof, which will absorb rainwater, provide insulation, create a habitat for wide life, as well as to help lower urban air temperatures and combat the heat island effect.

I am happy to see that my Alma Mater has moved beyond the “talking sustainability stage” to a more active stage in trying to make the campus “greener.” The institution has been taking significant action to ensure that it achieves its sustainability goals by involving students, faculty, and staff in its recycling program and overall participation in the national completion called “Recycle-Mania.” Earth Day is another campus-wide activity intended to create awareness and appreciation for Earth’s natural environment, both on campus and throughout the entire community. This year’s celebration included establishing an organic garden on campus run by students.

I am extremely proud to have contributed to the cause this year. I am looking forward to seeing some of my recommendations included in the Extreme Make-Over project this year. I hope to see Howard University move their Green Report Card grade to an “A” and be included in the top sustainable institutions of higher education in the country, if not the world.

EDF Climate Corps Public Sector (CCPS) trains graduate students to identify energy efficiency savings in colleges, universities, local governments and houses of worship. The program focuses on partnerships with minority serving institutions and diverse communities. Apply as a CCPS fellow, read our blog posts and follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this program.

Posted in EDF Climate Corps / Tagged | Read 1 Response

California Smart Grid Plans Expect Significant Benefits

But Missing Metrics and Milestones to Achieve Them

Over the course of the next 10 years, California’s electric grid is getting a 21st century facelift. Last month, the three biggest utilities, PG&E, SDG&E and SCE (with more than 11 million customer accounts) released smart grid deployment plans outlining roughly between $2.4 and $3.6 billion of new investments to make the smart grid a reality.

These plans were required by a 2009 law passed by the State legislature (SB 17), and the investments they outline are critical to helping California meet new infrastructure, efficiency and environmental policies. The state policies of note include reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, increasing renewable electricity use from 20 percent to 33 percent by 2020 and installing 1,940 megawatts (MW) of solar energy by 2017.   

Last January, EDF began developing a framework for evaluation. The framework determines how close a plan is to achieving the full range of smart grid benefits. In particular, it looks at whether plans have clear visions, effective deployment strategies, meaningful metrics, accurate baselines, and demonstrable roadmaps for success.

After nearly 1,000 pages of smart grid plans were released by the utilities in June and July, EDF energy experts used the framework to evaluate them and filed comments to the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”).

What we found was dramatic. Most importantly, according to the plans, if California deploys the smart grid in an effective way, utilities are going to significantly reduce air pollution, eliminate massive inefficiencies in the system, dramatically increase California’s reliance on renewable energy (including “distributed” energy generated in communities’ own backyard), accommodate hundreds of thousands of zero-emission electric vehicles, and empower consumers to manage their energy use, footprint and bills.

These benefits, if realized, will be significant. PG&E, for example, estimated that it will cut costs by up to $2 billion and reduce up to 2.1 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. SCE estimated it will be able to charge 1 million electric vehicles by 2020 and avoid up to 1,900 (MW) of peak demand by 2014 (peak demand is typically the most costly to deliver and often the most polluting). SDG&E estimated that it will cut 6.8 MMT of different types of global warming pollution and cut fuel costs by $615 million.

Smart Grid Plan Evaluations and Scores

EDF evaluated plans on the individual pieces—their vision, strategy, metrics, baseline, and roadmaps—and also as a whole.  What we found was that while utilities are visionary and openly strategic about how the smart grid will be deployed, they are missing some key ingredients to overall success – such as quantifiable goals and numerous metrics which progress can be tracked. No utility plan scored above a B- because data was lacking.

EDF gave SDG&E and SCE the highest cumulative grades of a ‘B-‘; though SDG&E edged ahead of SCE with a higher overall points score (32.3 out of 40 for SDG&E compared to 31.8 out of 40 for SCE).  PG&E’s plan earned a ‘C’ (with 28.9 points out of 40). SDG&E earned the most overall points by working with numerous stakeholders and digging into ways to provide the full range of expected benefits.

From the beginning of this process, we advised utilities that these plans should be viewed as roadmaps that will guide a multi-year journey toward a modernized grid. The public, however, and the state’s elected and appointed officials need more information to gauge whether the state’s on the right track. 

EDF views the scores as mid-term grades, with room for improvement. Luckily, the smart grid planning process is still underway at the California Public Utilities Commission so utilities can improve their plans and raise their overall scores before they become final.

Posted in California, Grid Modernization / Read 1 Response

Strength In Numbers: Unifying For Environmental Protection

By: Jennifer Morales-Muñoz, 2011 Climate Corps Public Sector Fellow at the University of Texas at Brownsville; MPPM candidate at the University of Texas at Brownsville

As a resident of the Rio Grande Valley in the deep south of Texas, I understand that unification is vital for addressing environmental issues in the region. At every green conference I attend, the message is the same: what happens in Brownsville, Texas, affects the neighboring towns: McAllen, San Benito, and Harlingen. Every environmental win or loss has a domino effect in Texas, for good or bad. Moreover, what happens around the Valley affects my EDF Climate Corps Public Sector site, The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB), and vice versa.

During my time at UTB this summer, I learned that the university is great at developing and fueling community movements. This can be attributed to its supportive staff and enthusiastic students, who are on board with my energy efficiency recommendations, which include:

  • Occupancy sensors in hallways, lobbies, and restrooms
  • Window and skylight replacements
  • De-lamping vending machines

My ultimate goal was for the community at the university to realize that efforts to improve environmental conditions in the Valley must be shared since we are interconnected. Just as pollution crosses municipal, state, and national boundaries, positive actions and movements to reduce greenhouse gas pollution also flows through these invisible lines.

With unification on my mind, I helped the university’s Sustainability Council develop an outreach event to promote sustainable stakeholders’ practices from around the Valley. The council invited staff from neighboring universities who practice and teach sustainable behaviors. In the past, the council held awareness events promoting energy efficiency, community gardens, recycling, farmer’s markets, and ecotourism. They have also created a Sustainability Trail with signs identifying local wildlife and plants around campus to promote awareness and ecotourism. Also in the works are exciting projects including:

  • Bringing renewable energy to Brownsville’s campus by installing wind turbines
  • Developing a campus community garden

UTB’s Sustainability Council has been able to do a lot in a short period of time because of the support and cooperation of the administration and key staff. I believe UTB is proving to the Valley that unification is essential in developing strategic plans to address environmental issues of concern—just as discussed at our regional environmental conferences.

EDF Climate Corps Public Sector (CCPS) trains graduate students to identify energy efficiency savings in colleges, universities, local governments and houses of worship. The program focuses on partnerships with minority serving institutions and diverse communities. Apply as a CCPS fellow, read our blog posts and follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this program.

Posted in EDF Climate Corps / Read 2 Responses

Waste Not, Want Not: Finding Energy Savings At A Waste Water Treatment Plant

By: Mohammad Sayemuzzaman, 2011 Climate Corps Public Sector Fellow at Elizabeth City, NC; PhD candidate at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

As an EDF Climate Corps Public Sector fellow at Elizabeth City in North Carolina, I spent five weeks finding ways to reduce energy waste at the city’s waste water treatment plant, which serves 20,000 people. I asked myself, “Why do we spend so much money to process waste? And can we cut energy usage while meeting state and federal regulations for waste treatment?”

As the first and only EDF fellow at a waste water treatment plant, I had to lay the groundwork for future fellows: Read and understand the federal regulations, gather plant design blueprints, make a list of the special equipment, and determine the baseline energy usage. I interviewed the director of the Public Works department, the plant manager, the head of operations, and the energy officer. I learned that the plant’s motors and pumps are the most energy intensive parts, adding up to 85-95% of total electricity usage. I identified two giant motors and six pumps that run 24/7, which make up 60-70% of total energy usage. I found cost and energy savings by finding ways to make these motors and pumps run more efficiently and having a few go offline when they’re not needed.

In addition to the plant, I also investigated Elizabeth City’s Parks and Recreations Center and the Senior Center, built in 1976 and 1991. Since the centers were built, there haven’t been any upgrades on lighting, insulation, or HVAC. These facilities are very popular with the city’s residents and provide social outlets for teenagers and senior citizens. There are basketball games every two weeks in the Recreation Center’s 12,000 square feet gymnasium. My challenge involved planning the installation of an energy efficient HVAC system at the gym, while making sure people stayed comfortable. As for the lighting, the high bay lights in the gym had the biggest potential for energy and cost reduction. Both centers also can benefit from entire upgrades to energy efficient lighting.

With the training from EDF, support from Elizabeth City’s staff, and help from an amazing EDF Climate Corps Public Sector staff, I found many ways to cut greenhouse gas pollution, trim electricity bills, and pave the way for energy efficiency at a waste water treatment plant. I’m looking forward to finding more savings for Elizabeth City.

EDF Climate Corps Public Sector (CCPS) trains graduate students to identify energy efficiency savings in colleges, universities, local governments and houses of worship. The program focuses on partnerships with minority serving institutions and diverse communities. Apply as a CCPS fellow, read our blog posts and follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this program.

Posted in EDF Climate Corps / Read 1 Response

DOE Panel Offers Consensus Guidelines For Extracting Natural Gas Safely

Natural gas plays an important role in our nation’s economy, and has the potential to help reduce greenhouse gas pollution, bolster energy security, and reinvigorate domestic manufacturing.  Unfortunately, these potential benefits are jeopardized by inconsistent and often poor natural gas production practices, leading to real threats to public health and the environment, that understandably engender community opposition to natural gas production. 

To say the natural gas industry has a credibility problem is an understatement.  If the recent spate of critical articles in the New York Times escaped your attention, than perhaps you saw this recent bit on the Colbert Report, which demonstrates, among other things, that the general public has little understanding for the complex issues surrounding shale gas development, and the industry has been doing little to engage them in a serious way.  The Colbert bit is funny, but the need to get the shale gas issue right is no joke.

In March, President Obama directed Energy Secretary Steven Chu to appoint a group of energy and environmental experts to study the issue.  EDF President (and my boss) Fred Krupp was appointed to the panel.  During 90 days of intensive investigation and deliberation, the panel, chaired by MIT professor John Deutch, held a series of public hearings. They heard from industry officials, environmental leaders, federal and state regulators, scientists and others.  They visited well sites to see drilling and production first hand.   They held a public meeting in southern Pennsylvania to hear directly from people who are living with intensive shale gas development – both the good and the bad.  Supporters and opponents packed the auditorium and told stories about how the shale gas boom had affected them. For some, it had provided an economic lifeline. For others, it had made life a nightmare. 

And today, after much study and deliberation, the committee has issued a report with some very specific recommendations which, if implemented, could materially reduce the risks to public health and environment from shale gas development and begin to build public trust. 

The report calls for increased oversight: robust enforcement practices and modernized rules to safeguard communities and improve communication between state and federal regulators. The report makes it clear that “effective and capable regulation is essential to protect the public interest. The challenges of protecting human health and the environment in light of the anticipated rapid expansion of shale gas production require the joint efforts of federal and state regulators. This means that resources dedicated to oversight of the industry must be sufficient to do the job and there is adequate regulatory staff at the state and federal level with the technical expertise to issue, inspect and enforce regulations.”

The report also makes clear that regulation alone will not be enough.  It calls for the full public disclosure of all chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing.  It calls for gathering the data necessary to determine whether, and to what degree natural gas provides greenhouse gas benefits when substituted for coal or oil in energy production or transportation.  It recommends that the industry get its own house in order by organizing itself to identify and share best practices across the industry with a relentless focus on continuous improvement in reducing air and water pollution and other environmental harms. 

These recommendations won’t solve all problems, and there is much work to be done simply to make these recommendations a reality, but today’s report is an important step in getting beyond the comedy bits and headlines to focus on those measures that can make a material difference in improving public health and the environment.

Posted in Natural Gas, Washington, DC / Read 2 Responses

Energy Efficiency In The Catacombs

By: Koko Iyoho, 2011 Climate Corps Public Sector Fellow at Trinity Episcopal Church in Asheville, North Carolina; MGIM graduate from North Carolina State University

My EDF Climate Corps Public Sector fellowship took me to Trinity Episcopal Church in Asheville, North Carolina. Listed in the National Register of Historical Places, Trinity is a 100-year-old structure that has 30,000 square feet. Trinity has three floors with two stained-glass enclosed sanctuaries, which illustrate the stories of the early church. Achieving energy savings without compromising the integrity of historical buildings poses quite a challenge. However, before my arrival, the church already took commendable energy efficiency initiatives: replacing 70% of T12 fluorescents with T8s, installing Energy Star office equipment, and upgrading its HVAC system. I found a lot of energy savings, but my most exciting finding took me to an unexpected place – “The Catacombs.”

My search for energy efficiency had begun with the basic areas of lighting and temperature settings. I found savings by installing lower wattage bulbs, replacing incandescent lights with fluorescents, switching to LED exit signs, and using temperature controls and setbacks. These retrofits showed significant energy and cost savings, but my financial analysis showed room for improvement. One clue was the basement floor, which has an uninterrupted cold air supply. The mystery was that Trinity’s basement had exceptionally high humidity levels despite the use of several dehumidifiers. To solve this puzzle, I put on my detective goggles and joined a weatherization expert to investigate the source of the high humidity. Our quest led us to “The Catacombs.”

The basement is referred to as The Catacombs because of its likeness to ancient underground cemeteries, but thankfully, without burial chambers. It is an underground area consisting of a network of tunnels, pipes, and ducts, but also of several mounds of bare earth. Basements are naturally prone to high levels of humidity because of moisture seeping from the earth outside the walls and floors. In this case, mounds of earth are piled up inside a significant portion of the basement, contributing to higher than normal humidity levels. We had solved the mystery. Also, according to the weatherization specialist, if the bare earth is encapsulated with a vapor barrier, along with other weatherization opportunities we identified, there is potential to save the church about 15% in heating and cooling costs with a 9-year payback. What great energy savings!

With this finding, The Catacombs would no longer contribute to rising energy consumption at Trinity… not unless actual ghosts moved in.

EDF Climate Corps Public Sector (CCPS) trains graduate students to identify energy efficiency savings in colleges, universities, local governments and houses of worship. The program focuses on partnerships with minority serving institutions and diverse communities. Apply as a CCPS fellow, read our blog posts and follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this program.

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