Category Archives: Energy Innovation Series

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature: Desalination – Here Comes the Sun. And Freshwater.

EDF-EIS-emailHeader-2EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here

WaterFX can turn virtually any water source into clean, drinkable water. And all they need is a sunny day.

This is great news for drought-stricken states like California and Texas, where water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. In Central California, for example, the drought has essentially cut off thousands of farmers this year; they have no water, and their land now lays fallow.

Part of what’s draining this precious resource is our energy use. Taking into account the acquisition, treatment, and movement required to ensure water comes out the faucet when we turn it on, it is no surprise that water is among the country’s greatest users of electricity. Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature: Intelligent Energy Storage That Makes “Cents”

EDF-EIS-emailHeader-2EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here

America’s electricity grid was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. But it is showing its age.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that if just nine of the 55,000 electric-transmission substations were knocked out, the entire country could plunge into a months-long blackout. Power outages caused by severe weather events already cost the U.S. between $25 to $70 billion a year. And Americans are using more energy than ever – 2.3 quadrillion thermal units more in 2013 than in 2012, which is greater than the total energy consumed by Maine, Montana, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Delaware, and Rhode Island combined.

Fortunately, we know how to protect ourselves from this vulnerability: move away from a highly-centralized energy generation and transmission system to one that looks more like the Internet, with decentralized energy production and smart technologies that allow us to use power most efficiently.

That’s exactly what Green Charge Networks (GCN) is doing. Over the past few years, this Silicon Valley smart grid company has been building an intelligent energy storage system called GreenStation™ that reduces stress on the electric grid, reduces greenhouse gas pollution, and, the company says, offers customers a five-year return on investment. Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature: Treehouse's One-Stop Shop for Solar

EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.

Few people walk into a car dealership and ask to see all of the 2.0 liter engines or only the 200 horsepower cars. Those technical specs are important, but most people shop by model, price or features.

Yet homeowners that want to install solar panels often find themselves buried in a mound of technical details that are not only confusing, but intimidating. And expensive. Austin-based sustainable living retailer Treehouse is changing that and proving that energy innovation is sometimes less about technology and policy and more about thinking like customers.

"The solar industry has done a great job educating people about the benefits of solar energy," said Treehouse founder and president Jason Ballard. "But it's done a bad job of making solar easy to buy." Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature: Green Mountain Energy Company Sparking Solar In Texas

EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.

As this series has demonstrated, energy innovation is happening around the world in a wide range of areas, from energy storage and smart grid technologies to renewables, electric vehicles and energy-saving software and services.

But innovation isn’t just about inventing new technologies.  It’s about getting those technologies out into the market.  And when it comes to bringing renewable energy options to residential and commercial customers, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy Company was the first to be 100% dedicated to cleaner energy with the electricity market opened to competition in the state in 2002.

Founded in 1997, Green Mountain is the country’s longest-serving retailer dedicated to renewable energy, selling all-renewable energy options directly to residents and businesses in competitive markets in Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, and partnering with utilities in other regulated markets.

Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #20: Renewable Energy Financing From Mosaic

EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.

Mosaic’s "crowd-investing" concept gives people the opportunity to invest in a clean, low-carbon energy economy

Over the last decade, web-based crowd funding has grown from a clever way for fans to fund their favorite artist to a multimillion dollar funding option for just about anyone with a new widget.  For as little as a few bucks, anyone can help a friend or stranger get a good idea to market, and you might even get one of the first CDs or gadgets that come off the line.

But crowdfunding isn’t really an investment.

Source: Mosaic

Oakland-based Mosaic wants to do for renewable energy investing what crowdfunding sites have done for entrepreneurs. But rather than just offering a chance to help, Mosaic offers a piece of the profit.  Think of it as a renewable energy Kickstarter with a kickback.

"We connect individuals and institutions with high quality solar project investments," said Billy Parish, president and founder of Mosaic. "The fastest way to grow the clean energy economy is to allow more people to benefit from it." Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #19: Energy Analytics From FirstFuel Software

EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.

Driving improvements in the built environment is extremely impactful because buildings emit more than a third of our country’s greenhouse gases. Furthermore, according to IBM, roughly 30 percent of building energy usage is wasted. From location to location, however, these changes are sometimes hard to prove beforehand or demonstrate quantitatively after changes or investments are made. As the need to comprehensively tackle energy inefficiency has increased, so has technology's ability to identify and measure the impact that building upgrades (retrofits), operational shifts or basic behavior changes can make.

Companies like Lexington, Mass.-based FirstFuel Software (FirstFuel) are doing for energy information what Google has done for online search: using complex algorithms to help make simple, usable sense of the massive amounts of energy data being collected by smart meters and other energy management devices.  Needing only one-year of hourly meter data and an address, FirstFuel’s Remote Building Analytics platform screens entire building portfolios for high-potential opportunities, conducts deep building audits and tracks energy savings – without ever going onsite or installing connected devices.

Using hundreds of proprietary algorithms and external weather and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping technology, FirstFuel can provide detailed insight into each facility's energy use and lay out specific, actionable recommendations for improved efficiency.  "We call it a ‘zero-touch’ approach," said FirstFuel Software CEO Swapnil Shah. "It's a very simple and compelling value proposition for the customer.  No hardware and no on-site visits mean you can begin to achieve true scale." Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #18: Gas Leak Detection From Picarro

EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Picarro's innovation.

With the surge in shale gas discovery and development, natural gas, which is approximately 90% methane, is a growing part of our nation’s energy mix. There are now more than 40,000 shale gas wells in operation in the U.S. today – three times as many as in 2005.

Despite its great promise though, current production practices all too often impose unacceptable impacts on air, water and landscapes. Methane leakage is a key area of concern, as leaks during the production, distribution and use of natural gas have the potential to undermine and possibly even reverse the greenhouse gas advantage that natural gas has over coal or oil. This is because methane is a remarkably powerful greenhouse gas and its effect on the climate is 72-times more potent than that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. Estimates of fugitive emissions range from 1.5 to 9.0%; the truth of the matter is that no one knows for sure.

Enter Picarro SurveyorTM from the Silicon Valley start-up Picarro, which makes devices and software that detect, measure and analyze a range of gasses from acetylene and CO2 to ammonia and formaldehyde. This high-tech solution, which integrates a mobile methane gas analyzer with cloud-based, geo-informatics software, is currently in use by companies like PG&E (not to mention EDF’s own scientists).

"When it comes to safety and environmental impact, we know that fugitive natural gas leaks are an important factor, which gas companies must manage carefully," said Michael Woelk, CEO of Picarro. "Our technology is making that process easier by modernizing the way these companies detect leaks along their pipelines. The result is better public safety and a healthier environment.”

Source: Picarro

About the size of a suitcase, Picarro Surveyor can be installed in the trunk of a car. Additional sensors installed on the car’s roof capture wind speed and direction to determine the source of even the most trace amounts of gas. The technology also distinguishes natural gas leaks from other sources of methane, such as landfills, sewers or livestock. The results are matched with GPS data via Picarro’s cloud-based data processing platform, P-Cubed®, and reporting is available online to anyone with a web-enabled device and secure connection.  This allows personnel to investigate gas sources and coordinate necessary responses to repair the leaks. This real-time, networked detection system replaces the incumbent process of monitoring natural gas pipeline leaks by workers on foot patrolling areas with hand-held detectors and manually logging their results.

PG&E is currently deploying multiple Picarro Surveyors and is optimistic about its results.  "This gas detection technology is revolutionary," PG&E's EVP of Gas Operations Nick Stavropoulos noted in a PG&E video. "It is going to change the way all gas companies across the world try to find and detect leaks. It is so much more precise, so much more real-time, in terms of the information it provides us."

Picarro also layers current wind and weather data on Google Maps and satellite images, providing visual simulations that help pinpoint potential sources and predict possible affected areas.

Natural gas can have significant climate benefits over coal and oil. But only if leaks are adequately detected and quickly reduced.  New emissions detection technology, like Picarro Surveyor, make it possible for industry to implement more effective methane leak detection and repair programs today, and enables regulators to establish emission limits and detection practices that mitigate methane pollution.

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #17: Electric Vehicle Charging From Evatran

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight around 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.

In the last few years, the first wave of electric vehicles (EVs) has been introduced in the U.S., marking the most significant technology shift in the auto industry's 100-plus year history.  The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have received the most attention, but Ford and Toyota also have models on the market and nearly every major auto manufacturer has at least one partial- or all-electric model in the works. In other words, EVs have arrived.

Source: Evatran

All EVs can plug directly into a regular 120-volt outlet. But for faster charges, a crop of 240-volt (240v) charging stations are available at Lowe's, Home Depot and other retailers.  Some companies, like Virginia-based Evatran, are taking charging to a whole new level, introducing technologies pioneered in the consumer electronic industry into the garage. The company’s Plugless Power EV charging system takes the plug out of EVs, making the "refueling" process as easy as parking your car.

"Our philosophy is based on ease and simplicity," said Kevin Beck, vice president of business development and sales at Evatran.  "EVs are very simple to own and maintain.  Developing the plugging habit is one of the only hassles, and wireless charging is a game changing technology that will make the EV transition even easier."

The Plugless Power system consists of two parts: a floor sensor connected to a wall-mounted 240v charger and hardware installed under the EV.  When the car parks over the sensor, the system uses inductive charging to refuel the car battery – no plugs necessary. The charging time varies by car model, but the Plugless Power system will provide a full charge in the same amount of time as plugging it in.

Wireless, or inductive, charging is already available for some consumer electronic products.  Several companies make smart phone cases that allow users to simply place their phones on a "charging mat" instead of searching for a charging cable.  EV batteries are a lot bigger, but the technology for Plugless Power is similar.

Inductive charging has its tradeoffs. The process isn't as efficient as wired charging, meaning that not all the energy that makes it to the wall charger makes it into the car battery. Evatran executives acknowledge that the process isn't perfect, but the company has already made significant improvements in efficiency and has made it a focal point of their research and development.

EVs provide a remarkable carbon benefit over gasoline.  Even an inefficient charging system using 100 percent coal-fired electricity is better for the environment than an inefficient gasoline engine.

Currently, the Plugless Power system will be installed after market by local and certified service centers, but true to its mission of simplicity, Evatran is working with EV manufacturers to provide the feature as an option when customers buy the car, like a navigation system, leather seats or tinted windows.  "The goal is to install our system into EVs before customers drive them off the lot."

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #16: Demand Management From REGEN Energy

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight around 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on REGEN Energy's innovation here.

Mark Kerbel would like the world to think of every building as a giant beehive. In these bustling hubs of activity, each electrical device not only takes care of its individual tasks, but it is also aware of what the other devices are doing. They are part of a team and work together to minimize work and strengthen the "hive."

Kerbel is co-founder of Toronto-based company REGEN Energy (REGEN). For REGEN, which makes wireless controllers that monitor and manage equipment with high power needs like heating and cooling, or “HVAC” systems, the beehive isn't simply a sales pitch metaphor. Swarm theory is the company's foundation.

For the last century, our outdated electric grid has generally worked the same way: energy is generated in a remote location and pushed to homes and businesses, where humans make most of the decisions about what switches are turned on and off. Demand management – like REGEN’s energy load management methodology – brings intelligent decision making into the process, which allows for more efficient use of energy, and helps reduce stress to the electric grid during peak times of energy demand by lessening consumer energy consumption.

Credit: REGEN Energy

"We think the natural world has a lot to teach us about efficiency," said Kerbel. "And bees and other swarming animals are among nature's best examples of teamwork and efficiency. Our technology injects swarm theory into a grid that has historically been simple and manual, and makes it intelligent and automatic."

And much, much more efficient.

REGEN's Swarm Energy Management technology employs a node at each electrical load in a building. For example, a large corporate campus might install a REGEN node on each HVAC unit. Using REGEN's patented algorithms (which the company calls “swarm logic”), the nodes communicate with each other wirelessly and are able to balance the attached loads to smooth out the overall demand of a building. In a simple scenario, one HVAC unit might detect that another on a different part of a building will turn off in two minutes, and delay just long enough to avoid adding that extra load. But REGEN's system can also handle more complex scenarios that consider dozens of nodes that control various types of loads.

All of this, REGEN states, can add up to a peak electrical demand reduction of 30 percent for commercial and industrial properties.

In the energy efficiency industry, things that save small amounts of energy are fairly simple and inexpensive. But improvements that reduce energy use as much as REGEN's system are often cost prohibitive on the front end. REGEN promises quick energy reduction with a small up-front expense. And, because the parts of the system communicate wirelessly, it doesn’t require advanced metering or utility-side grid investments. It can work today, in many markets.

"The beauty of our system is that it is simultaneously elegant and simple," Kerbel said. "It is very easy to install — one node per device you want to manage, and they communicate with each other. It doesn’t require any intervention from a customer’s IT department. So it's easy to get online quickly and manage your loads without a massive retrofit or capital expense."

Credit: REGEN Energy

In two early deployments in the U.S. — a big box retailer and a movie theatre chain — REGEN's system resulted in enough energy savings to recoup the system’s cost in one to two years.

As the consumer electronic world evolves, we expect electrical devices to have this kind of awareness and intelligence. But heating and cooling represent such a large proportion of peak demand that it's a logical, helpful and profitable place to start. And, because the payback period is so short, this is a great investment for schools, large corporate campuses and other multi-building sites that have intensive energy needs.

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #15: Building Efficiency Financing Model From SCIenergy

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight around 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on SCIenergy's Managed Energy Services Agreement here.

In our feature on Honest Buildings, we noted that the building sector is responsible for nearly half of CO2 emissions (transportation is a third) and that 75 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. is used to operate buildings. However, the economics of making buildings more efficient can be tricky. Improvements often require significant capital, and since the tenants – not the building owners – pay the energy bills and reap the savings from efficiency upgrades, building owners often lack the incentive to invest in energy-saving measures.

Enter Managed Energy Services Agreement (MESA), the innovative financing structure from Dallas-based SCIenergy, which provides building owners and managers a way to cut their energy usage without incurring high up-front costs. It does so by allowing an investor to agree to provide energy to a building at a price based on the building’s historical costs. The investor pays for energy efficiency upgrades and then uses the savings to provide a return on their investment.

"We think about intelligence as a source of energy, just like we think of coal, nuclear, oil, and renewables as sources of energy," said Woolsey McKernon, managing director of SCIenergy. “Building operators are leaving billions of kilowatt-hours, and therefore millions of dollars, on the table because the expense is short-term and the payoff is long-term. We flip that model."

Credit: SCIenergy

Tackling the energy challenge from the economic side of things is tough, because in many cases, saving energy dollars long-term requires up-front capital. Services like SCIenergy’s MESA remove that cost barrier and allow customers to reduce their energy use and cost.

Making this approach work requires a unique business model. Customers agree to purchase their electricity and gas from SCIenergy at a monthly cost based on their historical usage. SCIenergy then makes investments in system automation, energy management tools and other building improvements that are expected to save energy. SCIenergy uses the savings to finance their upfront investment at no cost to the property owner. If the savings are less than expected, SCIenergy absorbs the risk.

One SCIenergy customer, Corporate Office Properties Trust, is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that owns more than 20 million square feet of rentable office space, primarily in the Washington, D.C. area. SCIenergy applied its services and made $16 million in improvements to 26 office buildings, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in annual energy costs and more than an 11,000-ton reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions.  In addition, there was an added benefit to tenants as well:  the number of calls to building managers complaining about an office being too hot or too cold dropped 95 percent.

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