Category Archives: Energy Innovation Series

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.

Also posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , | Comments closed

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."

Also posted in Electric Vehicles| Comments closed

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.

Also posted in Energy Efficiency| Comments closed

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.

Also posted in Energy Efficiency| Tagged , | Comments closed

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #14: Home Energy Management From Consert

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.

If innovation is where expertise and opportunity intersect, then San Antonio-based Consert Inc.(Consert) is a perfect case study.

Founded in 2008 by veterans of the telecom industry, Consert’s Virtual Peak PlantTM provides an energy management solution that gives consumers control of the highest energy-consuming electrical devices in their home or business and provides utilities with a low-cost way to tap into an unused energy source during key peak demand periods.

"We find the key is to offer a simple solution to consumers that also benefits utilities," said Jeff Ebihara, vice president of Consert. "Our goal at Consert has always been to facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between the consumer and their electric provider."

The result is cutting-edge technology that connects, monitors and controls high energy-consuming devices including air conditioners, water heaters and pool pumps, which can represent over half of the total load for electric utilities during times of peak demand. The devices in a "Consert-enabled house” are linked using the wireless technology “ZigBee,” creating a Home Area Network (HAN) that can either be controlled remotely or configured to make decisions based on user preferences or outside weather conditions. Utilities may call upon this load during peak hours to reduce stress on the grid, with the consumer never losing comfort or control.

According to Consert, its home automation system can save consumers 15-20 percent on their energy use. When consolidated, these homes add up to a considerable amount of unused energy that utilities do not have to buy, sell or deliver.

Credit: Consert Inc.

This "negawatt" concept isn't new – a megawatt of energy that is NOT used through demand response is just as helpful for a stable energy supply as a megawatt of new generation. However, the consumer appeal of Consert's products is more personal and customizable than traditional load control measures. Customers can control their energy consumption 24/7 from any web-enabled device, such as laptop, tablet or smartphone, but most configure the system to work automatically.

The development of a consumer-friendly service that helps save money – and provides some “coolness” while requiring no sacrifice in comfort or convenience – is an important achievement as we look for new ways to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency. Reducing electricity demand and making more efficient use of electricity is very important both environmentally and for electric grid operators. But beyond the appeal of doing the “right thing,” or the novelty of controlling appliances, there had previously been little to no incentive for consumers to make it a priority. Cutting their energy bill, Ebihara said, has proven a strong incentive.

"Of course there is a small segment of the market that wants to control every last part their energy use," Ebihara said. "And we are happy to provide that level of control. But we are finding that most people want to “set it and forget it.” They want to save on their energy bill and they might like the convenience of remotely accessing their programs, but they don't want to have to think about it all the time and they certainly don't want it to be a hassle."

Appealing to a broad market has been one of the challenges of HAN products. The industry is young, and products are either complicated or expensive. It may be obvious that Consert wants its product to be ubiquitous, but such products will have to be deployed in large numbers to make a meaningful contribution to peak demand management.

Consert's systems are available through utility companies, most of which offer the equipment free when customers participate in conservation measures. Others sell the equipment at a deeply-subsidized price. In San Antonio, CPS Energy will deploy Consert systems in 140,000 homes at no charge to the customer, reducing peak demand by 250 megawatts.

Also posted in Energy Efficiency| Comments closed

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #13: Building Interaction and Reimaging From e7

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.

Over the last few months, our Energy Innovation Series has featured companies and organizations that are working on various energy generation, management and efficiency issues. But there are other innovations that extend far beyond what most of us conceptualize as energy.

Across the country, many universities and colleges are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy and adopting a conservation mindset that has helped these institutions cut energy usage and expenditures, and direct the money saved towards education and other core initiatives.

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is the largest community college system in the country, serving more than 250,000 students on more than 10 sites around the region.  The system is in the midst of a $6.2 billion bond project that will add 80 state of the art buildings on nine campuses.  And rather than simply sticking new buildings in empty lots, planners are reimagining how these facilities will operate and work together.

e7 Studios is a new architectural organization that is leading the process.  And while the e7 team has energy on its mind, its approach to both data analysis and visualization reaches far beyond standard energy efficiency measures.

"This isn't a simple renovation," said architect and e7 director Michael Rendler.  "It's a re-imagining of how these campuses function and how their pieces interact.  And we believe that to do that correctly, you have to see what you're working with.  Being able to visually move through a design allows us to find new opportunities for energy efficiency and understand how our design choices impact usability and environmental performance."

A cornerstone of e7's approach is a massive database that allows designers to build 3D walk-though visualizations of their designs.  It allows for a whole systems design approach to building management, which will – in turn – help LACCD achieve their “carbon neutrality” sustainability goals.

"Large facilities and campuses really need to be viewed as interconnected organisms, and each part and aspect of a facility generates data that can be captured and visualized," Rendler said.  e7 is working to develop a single, standardized data model to which buildings, campuses and urban areas around the country can be applied.  "Eventually, designers in any part of the world will be able to tap into this information and see their designs."

The wealth of standardized and shared data, Rendler says, will allow better design and performance for a lower cost, as well as more environmental benefits.

In addition to its new approach to design, e7 Studio is focused on bringing new approaches to education.  The studio is not only leading the design process, but it is also involving LACCD students in the process.  Its internship program provides front row seats to one of the world’s largest education design and construction projects.

This approach not only serves as a model for urban and campus redevelopment, it trains a generation of experts who can apply their skills to projects around the world. LACCD hosted Sukreet Singh, an EDF Climate Corps fellow this past summer from the University of Southern California.

Also posted in General| Comments closed