Energy Exchange

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 Grid Modernization, New York / 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, Grid Modernization, New York, Renewable Energy / 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 Grid Modernization, New York / Read 3 Responses

Saving Lives By Upgrading Buildings

NYC Government, Private Sector and Civic Groups Collaborate to Cut NYC’s Soot Pollution from Heating Oil 50% by 2013

At a press conference in the Bronx today, EDF stood with leaders in government, finance and real estate to launch an unprecedented partnership to upgrade thousands of buildings in New York City to clean heating fuel and greater efficiency, with the goal of cutting soot pollution in the most polluted neighborhoods.

EDF President Fred Krupp said “The heating oils used in one percent of New York City buildings create more soot pollution than all the cars and trucks in the City combined – that’s why upgrading these buildings to cleaner heating fuel is the single largest step New Yorkers can take to solve local air pollution.”

This project can only set such ambitious goals – and win – because the right stakeholders are at the table to get it done.  Everyone is doing their part: 

  • Government is setting background regulations in a way that gives buildings flexibility on how to achieve the pollution reductions;
  • Real estate leaders (from supers to landlords and managers) are “doing the math” for their buildings to find the most cost-effective path to solutions that both cut heating costs and reduce pollution;
  • Utilities and fuel providers are expanding their services to deliver a wider range of cleaner fuels — from low-sulfur oil to biodiesel and natural gas to energy efficiency upgrades; 
  • Banks , entrepreneurs and local government are stepping up to provide financing to buildings that need it in order to swap equipment that can handle the cleaner fuels; and
  • EDF (and other non-profits) are organizing reams of data to be actionable by government and the private sector, doing outreach at the community level and making the health and business case.

In fact, today’s announcement puts almost $100 million on the table to help buildings take advantage of clean fuels and technologies.  This financing, made possible by  JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, Hudson Valley Bank, the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, and the Community Preservation Corporation, will target low- and moderate- income buildings.

Leading up to this announcement, this teamwork has already resulted in 450 buildings upgraded, even before the launch.  It’s one of the largest clean energy projects for buildings anywhere.  We expect over a thousand more by the end of the year; and by targeting the most polluting buildings, we will cut pollution from heating oil in half by the end of next year.

Buildings from the legendary Beresford on Central Park West, to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx are on track.  I believe that this collaboration is a powerful model for cities around the world.  By bringing together government, real estate, finance, utilities, advocates and community leaders, we’re finding practical solutions that work for health, for the planet and for today’s economy.

As New Yorkers, 80% of our carbon footprint is the result of the energy used in our buildings.  Mega-cities around the world are huge ecosystems of buildings: imagine if we could take this model of collaboration to scale, across the U.S. and the world.  Next week, leaders are gathering in Rio to work on global solutions to help save the planet.  I hope they look to what we’ve accomplished, by working together, here in New York City.

For more information about Clean Heat, see NYC Clean Heat’s webpage and EDF’s website describing the background and progress so far.

Posted in Climate, Energy Efficiency, New York / Tagged | Comments are closed

Is Government Getting Out Of The Clean Energy Business?

Source: Front Page Magazine

Tuesday’s debt deal makes one thing clear:  whatever it is that you may want government to spend money on, there will likely be less money to go around in the future.  That said, I think it’s time to rethink government’s role in the clean energy marketplace.  Whether or not it has money to spend, governments at all levels can do a lot to build a robust American market for clean energy.  Here are some suggested ways forward:

First, engage the private sector.  Our government is highly skilled and effective when it comes to enabling clean energy research, which in turn leads to high-risk investments in emerging clean technologies, but it cannot pay for everything.  This is not the era of the New Deal, and we’re not China.  We are, however, a nation of innovators with the ability to mobilize private capital second to none.  So let’s get innovators, entrepreneurs and regulators in a room together and begin to work on projects that establish what economists have been telling us for years:  clean energy and efficiency will make and save money.  In some places, government can be a convener – for example, cities across the country (and the world) could work with their real estate and banking communities to aggregate efficiency upgrades at a scale large enough to attract major investment from institutional investors and other sources of capital.  Government could basically be a source of data and the initial step in drawing parties together to help broker deals

Second, lead by example and cut waste.  From energy needed to fuel our troops on the front lines to the air conditioning used for government officials in Washington and state and local capitols – there’s a huge amount of money to be saved and strategic advantage to be won by running our government’s own energy use more effectively.  In fact, EDF’s Climate Corps Public Sector is currently engaging in this type of exercise in its efforts to reduce the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) energy use by more than 45 percent.  These types of energy efficiency efforts should appeal to all sides of the political aisle:  government will do more with less; we’ll send less money overseas for imported oil; we’ll pioneer new technologies through smart energy applications; and Americans will be put to work upgrading government buildings with less wasteful technology.  If there’s a role for money here, it’s to finance upfront costs that get replenished out of energy savings – possibly a mix of private and public capital. 

Finally, open the energy marketplace to truly fair competition.  America’s utilities are governed by an arcane mix of rules that get in the way of innovation and tend to favor traditional fossil fuels.  Our grid is a long way from a smart grid.  Don’t even get me started on subsidies for oil and coal companies.  Rules that shape the energy market and grid are set at the federal, regional and state levels.  It’s time for a national effort to make it easier for households and businesses to use renewable sources of energy like solar and wind, as well as enable drivers to plug in their electric cars.  Homes and businesses should be able to sell extra solar electricity into the grid easily and without limit.  There should be a simple way to aggregate the benefits of efficiency; for example, consumers should be able to sell saved energy to compete with new power plants and this cleaner energy should be valued by regulators on par with new supply.  Consumers should be able to charge electric cars at off-peak times, which could end up costing as little as about three cents a mile to operate.  We can have all this – if we get the rules right at Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) across the country.

The role of government would change.  It would become a source of data, culled from public sources like demographics and building department filings.  It would help ensure that information is disclosed, like the SEC requires disclosure of information to investors on the stock market.  It would change the rules to remove barriers to clean-energy investment inherent in our current electric grids and markets.  It would use its bully pulpit not to harangue, but to create the negotiating table around which unlikely partners come together.  It would enforce rules clearly and consistently to protect health and environment. It would use its own buildings, agencies, vehicles and supply chain to test and develop technologies – to be out front and demonstrate what works.  And where possible, it could be a source of grants or loans, but that role would be overshadowed by the value of the vibrant private energy market that it would support by doing all of these other described duties. 

If the government commits to moving ahead in this way, America will leap ahead in the clean energy sector – and we’ll be moving so fast that its citizens will barely have time to lament the relatively smaller amount of government spending.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, Renewable Energy, Washington, DC / Read 1 Response