Author Archives: Andy Darrell

Clean Mountain Air Brings Clarity to Energy Debate at Vail Global Energy Forum

Vail_Mountains-CompressedLast month, I attended the Vail Global Energy Forum in Colorado. Billed as a “mini-Davos” of energy (studiously ignoring the Aspen crowd a few hours down the highway), that moniker may have felt aspirational when the conference launched three years ago. But, this year it paid off: momentum for frank dialogue and global innovation is building on the slopes of the Vail Valley.

Here’s my take on how the clean air of the mountains cuts through the hot air of energy debates to illuminate practical, actionable ideas.

Three big ideas drove the conference:

  1. North American energy independence

Mexico, the United States, and Canada could, together, innovate their way to an energy marketplace that weakens dependence on overseas imports, scales up clean energy solutions, and charts a path to low-carbon prosperity. At times, the discussion was framed by the rise of unconventional oil and gas exploration (yes, “fracking”), collaboration around pipelines (yes, “Keystone”), and whether these could disrupt traditional geopolitical frames. Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, California, Cap and Trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Colorado, Energy Efficiency, Energy Financing, Methane, Natural Gas, New York, Utility Business Models| Comments are closed

How Smarter, More Flexible Energy Can Help Communities Weather Future Storms

Last week, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released a Rebuilding Strategy, which aims to rebuild communities affected by Hurricane Sandy in ways that are “better able to withstand future storms and other risks posed by climate change.”  From an energy perspective, the main goal of these recommendations is to make the electrical grid smarter and more flexible.  This effort would minimize power outages and fuel shortages in the event of similar emergency situations in the future.

The Task Force is led by President Obama and chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan.  The recommendations put forth in the report were developed with Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and a number of federal agencies and officials from across New York and New Jersey, representing an unusual opportunity to make changes that will help communities weather future crises.

This key idea – smarter, flexible energy – is central to resilience, safety and quick recovery in a storm, as well as reducing the harmful pollution linked to climate change in the first place.  This has been a key theme of EDF’s efforts to help the Northeast region respond to Sandy.

When the power grid went down on most of New York City following Hurricane Sandy, a number of buildings were able to keep their lights on thanks to existing microgrids and on-site, renewable energy sources.  The Task Force report lays out a path forward for taking these isolated success stories to scale and making these clean technologies available to everyone.

Read More »

Posted in Climate, Investor Confidence Project, New York, On-bill repayment, Smart Grid| Tagged , , , , | Read 1 Response

NYC’s Storm Preparedness Means Rethinking How We Make And Use Energy

Source: Metamatic/Flickr

This commentary, authored by Andy Darrell, originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Last Tuesday, I caught a ferry from the lower Manhattan waterfront (just south of the substation that shorted out so dramatically in the midst of Hurricane Sandy) to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled his vision of a New York that will be far better able to withstand the battering from giant storms that, thanks to climate change, are likely to arrive with increased frequency and fury.

The Mayor began by noting some stark facts:

  • “We expect that by mid-century up to one quarter of all of New York City’s land area, where 800,000 residents live today, will be in the floodplain.”
  • “[Wi]ithin FEMA’s new 100-year flood maps there are more than 500million square feet of New York  City buildings – equivalent to the entire city of Minneapolis.”
  • “About two-thirds of our major substations and nearly all the city’s power plants are in flood plains today.”
  • “A day without power can cost New York City more than a billion dollars.”

A lot of media attention in the wake of the speech focused on Bloomberg’s call for levees and seawalls to keep rising waters at bay. But embedded in the address was also an ambitious but practical rethinking of how New York City makes and uses energy. The plan frames a future in which solar, wind and microgrids play a much larger role in the city: Read More »

Posted in Climate, Energy Efficiency, New York, On-bill repayment| Tagged | Comments are closed

Bloomberg's State Of The City Ideas Good For Health And The Environment

Source: CBS New York

A lot happened yesterday: Brooklyn Nets cheerleaders. Jay-z soundtrack. Kids dancing on stage. The new stadium at Barclays Center. Popcorn. Valentine’s Day. Mayor Bloomberg's birthday? Yes. But also his last State of the City speech.

In his speech and a small briefing in advance, he identified recent environmental wins: clean heat's 170 tons of soot per year gone so far, a 16 percent cut in GHG pollution since 2005, the monumental third water tunnel under city streets, new waterfront parks underway at Fresh Kills, Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Mindful of 320 days left in his term (this guy counts data), he announced some ideas that can get done now:

  • Electric vehicles. A network of charging units citywide with 30-minute charges — one third of NYC's taxi fleet to be electric. New York City could become a great place to charge a Tesla, a Leaf or a Volt. With traffic just behind heating oil as the main reason why some neighborhoods have unusually high pollution, that's a good idea for health and climate. It also opens a conversation about the electric grid that extends well past his term. Will those cars run on electricity created by solar, hydro, wind, nuclear, natural gas, coal? Here's an example of how to get it right: Pecan Street Inc.
     
  • Recycling. Expanded recycling for plastic, including those take-out containers so familiar to New Yorkers.  And – an issue that’s getting a bit of press – ridding our city of styrofoam cups used in schools, delis and restaurants.   This reminds me of EDF’s work with McDonald’s many years ago, getting rid of the Styrofoam clamshell.
     
  • Third, a citywide bike share program, to launch this summer.  This could end up being one of the largest bike share programs in the world.

Equally interesting are some of the ideas not explicitly framed as "environmental," for instance:

  • A post-Sandy commitment to "rebuilding here," on the waterfront — but doing so sustainably, in a way that "keeps the lights on" in a storm. That will take unprecedented collaboration with state and federal policy makers, tech innovation, architecture and design and efficiency finance.  A first step is to make sure that federal dollars flowing in to the region after Sandy are spent in a way that helps local communities make fully informed choices about not just “where” to rebuild, but “how” to rebuild.
     
  • And an idea that could reshape the skyline for a long time: "Midtown rezoning." Sound boring? Could be.  But imagine midtown Manhattan with buildings that are far at the forefront of resilience and clean energy – taking full advantage of the latest technologies to generate clean electricity and waste as little as possible. Could Manhattan be the next Pecan Street? This is an opportunity not yet fully-seized. Read More »
Posted in New York, Smart Grid| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Weathering The Storm Next Time: Gov. Cuomo’s NYS 2100 Panel Offers Smart Plan To Keep The Lights On, Emissions Down

Extreme weather and aging infrastructure came together with a vengeance in Sandy, showing the fragility of the basic systems that sustain this vibrant city and region. Like so many others, my family lost power, heat and water during Superstorm Sandy, and I watched out my window as a giant flash marked the moment that waters crested a 12-foot retaining wall at the 14th Street ConEd plant.

New Yorkers are all too familiar with the devastation that followed, and the disruption that spread far beyond the water’s reach. As the immediate crises are resolved, our attention is now on the complex challenge of long-term resilience.

One big step: The NYS 2100 Commission, a panel of experts assembled by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo back in November, just two weeks after the storm. EDF President Fred Krupp served on the commission, and our energy team prepared extensive recommendations on how to make our energy system more robust, resilient and adaptable. In yesterday’s State of the State address, he talked about the results.

As it turns out, some important solutions were right under our noses.

For example, amid the darkness and devastation, there were dozens of homes, businesses, even whole communities that kept their lights on and the water because they were designed to isolate breakdowns, heal quicker, and work with natural systems rather than against them.

Success stories were located across our region: 

  • Lights stayed on for sixty thousand residents of Co-op City in the Bronx thanks to a combined heat and power plant that can operate independent of the grid. Ditto the office tower at One Penn Plaza, an apartment building at 11 Fifth Avenue, and large parts of the campuses at Princeton and NYU. 
  • In Bayonne, NJ, the Midtown Community School used a combination of solar panels and a generator to offer a safe, warm place to stay for over 50 residents during the storm. 
  • On Long Island, the Villani family kept their lights on thanks to a 4.8 kw solar array that happens to have a battery bank. “We had friends and neighbors coming over to charge phones and batteries,” Stephanie Villani said. 
  • In lower Manhattan, the community group Solar one used solar panels to offer residents of Stuyvesant Town, the sprawling 35-building apartment complex, a place to charge their phones and computers.

Exceptions like these should be the rule next time. Unfortunately, today’s utility grid is set up to discourage more of these success stories – which are also cleaner and more efficient.

Source: Reuters

In fact, many buildings outfitted with fresh new solar arrays stayed dark thanks to cumbersome, outdated rules and regulations. Ironically, the solar panels were not making electricity when the grid was down, precisely because they were permanently connected to the grid and had to be shut down, rather than simply unhook when the larger system failed. So instead of sunshine, they were running on diesel power – if they were running at all.

Building a smarter grid, and encouraging clean, efficient ‘microgrids’ that provide islands of heat and light means fewer outages and faster recovery. A smarter grid would also have the intelligence needed to pinpoint outages, cordon off damage, and reroute power.

Clearing out the legal cobwebs and requiring utilities to unlock their grids more easily would make their systems stronger and more resilient in a crisis, and open the door for more efficient, renewable energy solutions. It would also open up opportunities for new ways to finance the upgrades needed to take full advantage of efficiency and renewables in today’s buildings.

(You can read EDF’s blueprint for a smarter, more robust grid here.)

Climate change means that higher sea levels and more extreme storms are the new normal. Unfortunately, some of this is already locked in. But we still have an opportunity to prevent the worst, most costly consequences by working together to reduce heat-trapping pollution. Superstorm Sandy reminded us of the need to prepare for a more challenging future. We need to make sure the steps not only protect against the impacts we can’t avoid, but also help prevent those we can.

Yes, we will have to fortify our buildings and infrastructure, change building codes and keep generators on hand in the face of extreme weather. But a lot of the steps we can take to keep the lights on during a crisis are also steps we can take to cut the pollution that is linked to climate change and extreme weather in the first place.

As we invest federal emergency dollars to rebuild, as we get ready for the next time – let’s make sure we’re taking every step that solves for both safety and less pollution at the same time. Efficiency, a smart grid, transparent information, renewables. Unlocking multiple benefits like these can help us rebuild better, faster and stronger. And lead the way for the world’s great cities, many of which are on the coast and in harm’s way just like New York.

My kids and I were lucky to weather the storm with just inconvenience. But as I think about how might live in a future New York City, I’d like to be sure that we’re doing everything we can now to run this town on safe, clean energy. The Cuomo commission report takes a big step in that direction: let’s join the Governor and the members of this commission in making its recommendations a reality. This is an opportunity that business, political and community leaders must not miss.

Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, New York, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Tagged , , | Read 1 Response

Big Data – Launch Pad For Big Ideas

Source: TechCrunch

When the internet came along, it transformed our relationship to big data – unleashing innovation, markets and, yes, funny dog videos at a global scale.  “Big data” is all the rage these days in the energy sector, as investors, utilities and consumers wake up to what smart use of data can do for them.

A few weeks ago, I posted about Clean Heat – a project in which organizing data about buildings attracted nearly $100 million to finance upgrades to cleaner heating systems.  If we can cut soot pollution from heating oil in New York City 50% by 2013 with the power of open data  … what opportunities might be out there at even bigger scales?

This week, EDF teamed up with the White House, Google and HonestBuildings to pull together a “data jam” at Google’s New York City headquarters in the impossibly hip meatpacking district of Manhattan.  Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, kicked of a brainstorm among  tech entrepreneurs, energy experts, finance whizzes, web designers and government agencies, to answer this question:  if government makes its energy data open and computer-friendly, what could entrepreneurs invent to “improve energy outcomes for families and businesses?”

For six hours, we divided up into teams and jammed on this question, inspired by the extraordinary public data sets squirreled away in federal, state and city agencies on topics from energy efficiency to power plant pollution, electricity markets, transportation and health.   The jam session generated at least ten great ideas, ranging from consumer energy apps to ways to save money on your commute.  Teams are coalescing around these ideas – and similar ideas developed earlier this year at a similar data jam at Stanford.   The goal is to turn the most promising ones into prototypes over the next 90 days. 

Whether any of these ideas make it to market, it’s too early to tell.  But if this group can generate so many prototype-worthy ideas in one afternoon, imagine what could happen if consumers, students, entrepreneurs, businesses and families across the country were empowered to harness “big data” to find the best ways to save money, cut pollution and improve quality of life?   

It worked for the internet.  It worked for smart phones.  Now let’s see if it can work for energy and pollution.  I’m hoping to be back in 90 days to tell you about the great idea the folks in my sub-group are developing to increase investor confidence in energy efficiency.  Stay tuned.

Posted in New York, Smart Grid| Read 3 Responses
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