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Smart Grid Savings Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Smart Grid Savings Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Highlights from SGCC’s Dead Simple Consumer Education Program.

What’s a major obstacle to wider smart grid adoption? Consumer education. Yes, there’s ample information available online, but few programs break smart grid technology down into plain English.

Enter the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) and their no-nonsense educational site: WhatIsSmartGrid.Org. The site not only serves up Smart Grid 101 and local energy resources, but showcases real-world success stories and benefits illustrated through a series of interactive graphics.

Throughout its arsenal of educational tools, the SGCC always goes back to the basics. Case in point this oft-cited definition of the modern smart grid, saying:

“The smart grid is the evolution of our current electrical grid, using new technology to optimize the conservation and delivery of power.”

The definition (like the site) is purposefully simplified, hoping to reach the over 50% of U.S. consumers who claim they've never heard of the smart grid.

Their mission clear, SGCC is setting out to educate the public, using the new site to make energy efficiency interesting and easy to adopt through options like their e-learning center or drop-down menus for state-wide smart grid programs.

To make the data more real and strike a chord with consumers, SGCC also channels more complicated energy projections into these memorable sound bites:

  • By 2030, the smart grid promises to improve the current system by 9%, saving roughly 400 billion kilowatt-hours each year in the U.S.
  • The potential efficiency improvements could save enough energy to air-condition 378,000,000 homes.
  • This energy savings generated could also power the entire city of Vegas, 207 times over.

The site’s central focus is providing consumers with a single resource to find and share information, as well as staying current on efficiency programs in their regions.

This approach is a good reminder to marketers, startups and smart grid advocates of the power of simplicity in messaging. SGCC’s goal: make the smart grid approachable. Their impact: promoting every-day adoption and spurring consumer demand for more smart grid initiatives in their area.

Find out more on the SGCC’s new site and scroll down their page to find smart grid management programs in your state.

By Gretchen Fitzgibbons

Solar Power International and the Rise of Women in Solar

Solar Power International and the Rise of Women in Solar

Two inspiring SPI events highlight the growing purchasing power of women in solar.

In October, Yelloblu joined thousands of industry leaders for the Solar Power International conference in Chicago. Amid the excitement of all-star executive panels and solar QuickTalks, we were pleased to see SPI’s focus on an underrepresented (yet growing) demographic: women in solar.

Championed by industry icons including Julia Hamm, CEO of SEPA and Founder of Solar Power International, this year’s event placed greater emphasis on female leadership and sales strategies tailored to powerful female consumers.

Though examples abound, we found two distinct events captured the burgeoning influence of women in the PV market. First, we’ll offer highlights from the sold-out Women in Solar Breakfast and the panelists that energized the room. Then we’ll share discussions at the “Shining a Marketing Light on Women" session, a pre-cursor to the first solar survey on female consumers.

A Seat at the Breakfast Table

The room filled quickly with women of all ages and industry roles, all there to network and be inspired by the impressive female panelists. While PV remains male-dominated, the room provided new promise by hosting the likes of:

Carol Neslund – VP of North American Sales, Enphase Energy
Zeina El Azzi – VP of North American Business Development, SunEdison
Caroline Venza – CEO, MissionCtrlCommunciations

Kicking off the panel discussion was Dr. Isabelle Christensen, president of Professional Women in Solar. A champion in the space, she highlighted recent successes with companies like SunEdison, but also noted that "women still only hold about 19 percent of top leadership positions in U.S. corporations.”

Dr. Christensen shared the movement toward more collaborative leadership and introduced the all-female panel as a pivotal launching pad for a larger movement.

Of all the panelists, Carol Neslund of Enphase stole the show. Witty and self-effacing, Carol shared her experience of being a sole female lead at IBM and her current role at Enphase. She ended by calling for more peer-to-peer mentorship and directed female executives not to “pull the ladder up behind them” as they pave the path for future leaders.

Leaving for the remainder of the show, the room buzzed with energy as women in attendance spoke about how they would apply the hard-fought lessons shared by the panelists.

Women in Solar Survey

Hosted by #SolarChat founder Raina Russo and Identity3’s Glenna Wiseman, the discussion aimed to promote insights from a first-ever women in solar survey.

After getting settled in the exhibit hall, Raina shared data from Marti Barletta of TrendSight Group, who wrote the book (literally) on marketing to women. Amidst the wealth of data, Barletta found that women initiate 80 percent of all home improvements, but a whopping 70 percent feel misunderstood by marketers.

For Glenna and Raina, this represents a serious disconnect between key purchase decision makers and providers, and was the impetus for the female-oriented survey.

One of the most interesting elements shared during the event were from solar installers, like Kristin Underwood, Co-Owner of Planet Earth Solar, who said: “Women do tend to have the pocketbook for the family and be an equal decision maker on many or all of the sales I have sat in on…but more often than not the salesperson directs the conversation to the man of the house.”

This and host of other anecdotes helped whet our appetites for the final survey results, due to be released mid-November 2013 during another #SolarChat tweet series.

The first of its kind, the survey promises to offer unique insights into female purchasing decisions and new marketing methods; elements PV providers would be wise to internalize as the role of women in the industry expands.

Posted by Gretchen Fitzgibbons

Battlefield Roof

Rooftop Solar

How the fight between residential solar and utilities is shaping the future of household energy.

On rooftops across the U.S., a battle for the future of household energy is raging. On one side stands residential solar. On the other: American utility companies.

According to industry data, the pace of residential photovoltaic installations is booming, with one new solar unit installed every four minutes by the end of 2013.

But as more households take advantage of the falling cost of rooftop solar, utilities struggle to make up for lost revenue and stem customer attrition. Many utilities fear that as solar transitions from a niche to mainstream energy source, they’ll lose the revenue they need to maintain the far and distant reach of the power grid.

A Stormy Situation

Despite its inherent eco-friendly advantages, solar alone can’t sustain the future of residential energy. Even if every American household installed solar panels, the intermittent energy source still leaves considerable gaps in electricity demand. Though recent innovations have dramatically improved solar cell efficiency, advanced storage technologies lag behind. When the sun goes down, most customers still rely on utilities for a steady stream of power.

Utility companies are left trying to figure out how to make up for the revenue shortfall, and they’re coming to different conclusions.

When only a portion of energy customers utilize solar, a utility company’s costs are absorbed by the rest of the population — which carries the risk of disproportionately hitting lower-income households that cannot afford solar startup costs.

Some utilities are responding defensively, charging premium prices to those who install solar panels on their homes. Others are going straight for the solar companies themselves, fighting for regulations that would curb solar subsidies. Both of these approaches heighten customer resentment toward utilities, exacerbating tense relationships between residential customers and energy providers.

Better Collaboration Is Needed

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of household is energy is going to depend on solar and utility companies overcoming the current struggle and working together. And many utilities are already realizing this.

Some utilities are choosing to invest in residential solar companies, offering customers more control over the energy that powers their homes. Edison International, for example, recently acquired SoCore Energy, allowing the major utility to install solar panels for the customers who request them. Other utilities are buying excess solar energy from residential PV and selling it back to other consumers at a discounted rate.

However solar and utilities choose to work together, one thing is clear: energy collaboration will reign supreme. And pioneering solar and utility companies that choose to work together, instead of in opposition, will be able to take advantage of the shift toward alterative energy.

Produced by: Patrick French

Blue Hawaii Is Going Green

Hawaiian Energy

How the island’s lush setting became a paradise for green energy startups.

Hawaii’s tropical setting long ago solidified the island as a premiere vacation destination. The year-round sunshine, pristine beaches, and lush landscape beckon visitors from around the world. But Hawaii’s remote locale and unique environment make it a favorite for another, less obvious group: providers of green energy.

Thanks in large part to an influx of money from the Honolulu-based non-profit Energy Excelerator, green energy startups are flocking to Hawaii to test their innovative technologies on a commercial scale. Energy Excelerator, which just received $30 million from the US Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research, is funded by the US Department of Energy and provides burgeoning clean energy startups with funding, strategic advisors, and powerful networking opportunities.

Hawaii’s compact, isolated location makes it the ideal testing ground for budding green energies. Because it’s forced to import oil, Hawaii’s electricity costs are 3-4 times the national average. Families in Hawaii pay nearly $4,000 per year for electricity, compared with a national average of $1,200 annually. These increased utility costs motivate the state to welcome green energy projects, even if short-term costs are slightly higher.

In addition to funding and financial incentives, Hawaii also has politics on its side. The state’s clean energy initiative hopes to transition 70% of energy consumption to clean sources within one generation. Pair money and political backing with an island chain full of over-burdened utility customers, and you’re left with an optimal environment for emerging clean energy projects.

Energy Excelerator has already supported 17 innovative energy startups, and they’re currently accepting applications for next year. The program matches funds of up to $100,000 for early- stage startups, and as much as $1 million for later-stage companies.

Below are some of Yelloblu’s favorites from the Energy Excelerator portfolio:

Referentia Systems
Referentia enables utilities to manage the inconsistent energy inputs of renewable technology sources with real-time data visualizations, allowing greater control of the grid and lower operational costs.

IBiS Networks
IBiS Networks produces “InteliSockets” that fit snuggly over existing power outlets. These smart socket transmitters track usage data through a user-friendly software system, enabling corporations to precisely measure energy consumption and implement effective corporate efficiency measures.

Bright Light Systems
Utilizing certified efficiency technologies, such as LED and light emitting plasma (LEP) bulbs, Bright Light Systems offers efficient commercial lighting solutions without reducing brightness or durability—each light is constructed from marine-grade stainless steel and aerospace aluminum. And with an average lifespan of 50,000 hours, the longevity of Bright Light’s bulbs allows for additional savings.

Know of any green energy startups looking to take the next step? There’s still time to apply for Energy Excelerator’s 2014 program. The application period closes on September 27.

Produced by: Patrick French

The Wave of the Future May Be Down Under

Wave Energy

How Australia’s revolutionary wave technology could produce power and fresh water with zero emissions.

The ocean has long been one of our closest allies. It’s allowed us to discover new lands, feed entire communities, and cool off in the summer heat. But it’s only very recently that the ocean, in all its vastness, has finally become an efficient and reliable source of renewable energy.

Researchers at Carnegie Wave Energy Limited in Western Australia have just redrawn the boundaries of wave energy technology by creating a system to generate efficient electricity and produce fresh drinking water through reverse osmosis.

The technology, named CETO (after the Greek goddess of sea monsters), is powered by a system of buoys anchored to the ocean floor. As waves roll in, the buoys move up and down, pumping high-pressure water to shore. This piston-like pumping action shoots water into hydroelectric turbines and creates electricity.

Unlike previous wave energy systems, CETO’s buoys are fully submerged. The buoys aren’t visible from shore, stemming complaints about the technology marring beautiful costal views. In addition to aesthetics, CETO’s full submersion provides another benefit: safety. By operating under the surface, CETO’s buoys are protected from the elements, allowing them to withstand harsh conditions that may be present during storms, and remain out of the way of watercraft.

Where CETO shines brighter than other, however, is in its ability to produce fresh water in addition to electricity. The hydraulic system that generates energy can also produce fresh water more efficiently and cost-effectively than any other wave energy device.

Previous wave energy systems rely on outside electricity to power pumps that draw in huge amounts of seawater for the desalination process. CETO takes out the middleman. The electricity that would have been required to pump water is removed from the equation, and CETO’s buoys pump high-pressure water directly to shore. This cuts greenhouse gas emissions from the process entirely, and reduces operating and capital costs.

The key distinguishing factor with CETO’s process is a way to potentially generate electricity and water with zero emissions. Two valuable outputs with one streamlined system.

CETO units have been deployed off the coast of Western Australia, but have yet to produce scalable results with respect to MW energy production and desalination. A second stage of the project is set to connect their buoys to the grid in early 2014. We’ll be revisiting this topic later in the year to see if wave energy technologies like CETO can deliver on their promises when put to the test.

Produced By: Patrick French

Are You Green Enough?

City of Chicago Challenge

Inside The City of Chicago’s Green Office Challenge

Chicago’s competitive spirit may be taking a hammering around the nation’s baseball diamonds but it’s being re-energized by the City of Chicago’s Green Office Challenge. Literally.

About the Green Office Challenge
The City of Chicago co-created the Challenge in 2008 with ICLEI USA. Together, they wanted to create a collegial and inclusive way to reduce energy consumption in the Loop. The Challenge has since branched out into River North and, with support from companies such as Office Depot and Delta Institute, it’s now open to all Chicagoland businesses.

After just three years, the Challenge was already making a big impact:
• Over 263 offices and 98 buildings participated in 2011
• Spending $17,503,891 less on energy
• Saving 124 million kilowatt-hours (equivalent to ~45K homes)
• Reducing more than 85,000 metric tons of carbon emissions

How the Challenge works
The voluntary program is free to Chicagoland companies and runs from February through October, though new companies can jump in at any point. Participating businesses win points along the way for curbing consumption of materials, water and energy.

Aside from this core focus, businesses are also encouraged to take part in various subcategories, such as innovation, transportation, education and community outreach. Winners at the end of each round receive an award from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and traditionally get good media coverage.

What’s new this year?
The Challenge aims to broaden the base of participants in 2013. As Alex Moree, from the Delta Institute explained in a recent UR Chicago Magazine interview, they want to see Chicagoans “learning more about how they can save energy and why that matters.”

A new, user-friendly website makes it quicker and easier for offices to register and for browsers to see who’s participating. There’s also a “Knowledge Base,” providing tips on green office practices and listing relevant events. You can follow the Challenge on Twitter via @ChiGreenOffice or on Facebook.

Sustainable city
It’s a big year for Sustainable Chicago. Besides co-running the biggest ever Green Office Challenge, they’re also marking the first anniversary of their 2015 action agenda. The agenda maps out City Hall’s plan for a more sustainable Chicago and we’ll be providing updates as the City tracks progress against key milestones.

Posted by: Alex Yester

"Crop that": biodiesel can be best of all worlds

Crop that: biodiesel can be best of all worlds

At about 300 million years, nature takes its sweet time turning plant matter into combustible oil.

Attempts to expedite the process through biofuels have been maligned for taking arable land out of food production. Others argue the net energy gain is minimal when agricultural inputs are taken into account.

However, a group of farmers in Western Australia, led by Bev and John Logue, are dispelling some of these myths with a backyard refinery, an intelligent farming system and an eye for win-win-win scenarios.

They’re using unwanted fields to produce biodiesel that’s kinder to engines, produces more torque and churns out 70% fewer emissions than the mineral alternative. Oh, and the by-product is food.

The feedstock for this best-of-all-worlds scenario is canola, which is grown in the area as a disease break, not a cash crop. Wheat is what makes the Logue’s bread, literally and figuratively, but it can’t be grown continuously in the same field. That’s where the canola comes in. By giving fields a break, it allows wheat-specific plant diseases to subside.

The difficulty was in finding a valuable use for the canola which, given local climatic conditions, didn’t produce enough grain or oil for food production.

“We decided to give biodiesel a go so John found refining techniques on the internet and we set up a makeshift refinery in the shed, using an old hot water system,” Bev Logue explained. “We made 100 gallons and tried it in the 220 horsepower International tractor. Immediately, we found it could operate at lower revs without stalling and we were sold.”

Just a few years later, the Logues were powering half their farm equipment on 15,000 gallons per year and were making plans to go 100% biodiesel.

“The customary diesel rattle is gone; everyone that uses it will tell you how kind it is to engines,” Bev continued. “It can be washed off your hands in water and it’s biodegradable, so spillage in a waterway won’t cause the damage it might otherwise. And the economics add up.”

When they started in the early 2000s, the Logues were producing diesel at 40c/gallon, against commercial at-pump prices of $3.60/gallon. The biodiesel costs include transport to and from a crushing facility, where grains are turned to oil. A local crusher would deliver even greater savings and may become a possibility as more local farmers have spotted the advantages of biodiesel and joined the Logues to form the Northern Biodiesel Company.

What’s more, the by-product of canola oil extraction is a meal that makes excellent animal feed. Other growers produce biodiesel from mustard seed, which creates a by-product that kills plant diseases and pests in the soil when used as a ferilizer.

Saving money and 300 million years with biodiesel

The Logues begin biodiesel production with the overnight addition of sodium hydroxide to methanol, which creates methoxide. Canola oil enters the mix the next morning and separates into biodiesel and glycerol.

The glycerol settles to the bottom and is drained before the biodiesel goes into a tank where water is misted onto the surface. That causes the raw biodiesel to separate into a layer of water, a layer of soap and a layer of tractor-ready biodiesel.

“It only takes about six hours to convert oil to biodiesel using our plant,” Logue said.

No more “Second City”: Chicago as a cleantech leader

No more "Second City": Chicago as a cleantech leader

Chicago’s green credentials are well established. We’re America’s only recycled city (rebuilt 1872), we’re nicknamed after renewable energy and our Cubs do their darnedest to prevent fans from bothering to drive to Wrigley.

Now the co-founder of the Global Cleantech Cluster Association (GCCA), Shawn Lesser has listed ten more reasons why we can, and should, be a cleantech hub. As managing partner of trans-Atlantic investment bank, Watershed Capital Group, Lesser’s opinion comes with serious credentials.

His list is below. Seeing as it was first published in February 2011, we’ve taken the liberty of updating it to account for intervening developments.

1) Employment

Exelon and the SunPower Corporation are helping make Chicago a center for green employment. The 2012 World Business Chicago report, A Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, shows we’re now the US’s second-largest center for clean jobs, with 79,388.

2) Chicago cleantech companies

Chicago is home to many large cleantech corporations, including heavyweights such as SoCore Energy and G-Tech Energy, Inc. Other reports also indicate significant advancement in the cleantech startup sector.

3) Chicago Climate Action Plan

As of October 2010, the Department of Energy had retrofitted 19,000 homes with energy efficient improvements; 30,000 square feet of green roofs had been established by the Department of Aviation; and energy-efficient code updates had been mandated by the Department of Buildings.

4) Keeping it green

Our mayors make moves. At the time of Lesser’s report, Daley had created the Chicago Green Office Challenge and Chicago Climate Action Plan. Now Rahm Emanuel is showing similar dedication.

Prior to taking office, he said: “People want to invest in our city…And I want to make clean technology the cornerstone of that investment.”

Since taking control, his legislation has prompted ComEd to invest $2.6 billion modernizing Chicago’s smart grid technologies.

5) Chicago Clean Energy Alliance

Providing networking opportunities to businesses in wind, solar, biomass, biofuel and general cleantech sectors, the Chicago Clean Energy Alliance (CCEA) is alive and well. Just last week, they hosted a successful cleantech pitch competition in association with the GCCA.

6) The residents of Chicago

Chicagoans are embracing renewable energy through the Chicago Climate Action Plan. We’ve also seen significant activity from the Chicago Green Homes Program, which promotes water-, waste- and energy-efficient residential living.

7) Chicago as an international cleantech business center

A variety of global cleantech companies have set up headquarters here, including Chinese wind energy company, Goldwind, plus Johnson Controls, Siemens Building Technologies and Schneider Electric.

8) Education and awareness

Awareness programs are driving greater community interest in sustainable housing. The Museum of Science and Industry’s “Smart House” and the Chicago Centre for Green Technology both showcase the upside of eco-friendly housing. In doing so, they’re growing the market for residential-focused cleantech companies.

Universities are also introducing cleantech programs into their curriculum. DePaul, IIT, and UIC all feature programs, while the University of Chicago has a cleantech lab.

9) Mainstreaming cleantech

City officials have set ambitious goals for the expansion of sustainability initiatives. By 2020, they want 50% of Chicago buildings to be energy efficient and 35% to consume zero carbon-derived energy. They also want 90% of new construction to be built green.

10) Improved transportation systems

In conjunction with the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) and the US Department of Transportation, Chicago is developing a High-Speed Rail Plan to promote environmentally friendly transportation.

What to learn more? Follow us on twitter: @yelloblu

Posted by: Julia Sparkman

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