Category Archives: renewable energy
In this year’s Solar Decathlon wrapped up earlier this month with 19 homes – more than half of which cost less than $300,000 to build. Affordability was one of the 10 categories on which the homes are judged this year in the biannual competition pitting universities from around the United States and a few foreign countries. The new cost/affordability bar, which replaced the lighting contest, inspired the student designers to drive down the cost considerably. According to the event’s sponsor, U.S. Department of Energy, this year’s houses were about 33 percent cheaper this year than those that competed two years ago. “Solar for less” was just one of the industry trends reflected in this year’s entries.
Read my story in Architecture Week.
When gas prices soar, I guess it’s only a matter of time before complaints and government investigations ensue. But what’s interesting about the current spate is how it reflects the transformation underway across he country as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell sell off their gas stations to regional middlemen, known as “jobbers.” This time around, it’s not Big Oil or the little station operators who are taking the heat for price gouging; it’s the jobbers.
While the price spikes have drawn lots of attention, perhaps more interesting in the long-term is what the (until now) relatively unnoticed round of selloffs may lead to: the eventual disappearance of local fueling depots altogether.
What with predictions of peak oil, the rise of alternative fuels and electric cars, Joe Mamo, D.C.’s biggest jobber, told me his company, Capitol Petroleum Group, is really a real estate business. As his properties in Washington and New York City become more valuable for the “dirt” beneath them than the gas or junk food they can sell, he says they will become condos.
Whether this trend could contribute to the high cost of gas in D.C. and other urban areas is a question I don’t think anyone has seriously examined. It’s not an industry that gets much sustained scrutiny (beyond the occasional price gouging uproars). My profile of Mamo, which ran in the Washington City Paper in February, is one of the few (perhaps the only) in-depth look at Big Oil’s pullout from a major metropolitan marketplace. The Washington Business Journal suggested it helped prompt the District’s anti-trust investigation of Mamo’s company.
The Washington Post has a story about how “geoengineering” — let’s just call it the mad scientist approach to stopping global warming — is gaining ground in the absence of political will in Washington to deal with the problem through more conventional means such as capping and/or taxing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, and phasing fossil fuels out of the economy.
What is geoengineering? As the story points out, the ideas gaining the most traction generally aim at reflecting the suns rays away from Earth and hoovering up the excess greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Sound like science fiction? Well, these ideas are still more sci-fi than sci-fact though we may be seeing some of them deployed as global warming becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But nobody really knows what kind of reactions such evasive measures will take. Reporter Juliet Eilperin quotes House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.):
“The more you know about it, the more you’re concerned about if we can ever implement it,” Gordon said in an interview. “However, there may be a point where we’re up against the tipping point, and the consequences of climate change are even worse.”
Brings to mind a dieter who doesn’t really want to stop eating Twinkies or go for a jog, instead turns to untested diet pills, and ends up with irreparable heart damage.
The D.C. government has zoomed to the number 3 spot in the U.S. EPA‘s Top 20 Local Government list of “green” power purchases.
The city’s government gets half of its total energy consumption, or about 244. 3 million kWh a year, in the form of wind power, according to the federal agency. Only Houston and Dallas beat D.C.’s overall kilowatt-hours, coming in one and two, respectively, in the ranking. But D.C. gets a higher percentage of its energy from renewables than either of those larger cities. So, how big is the impact? Here’s what the EPA has to say:
“The District’s green power purchase of more than 244 million kWh is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of nearly 34,000 passenger vehicles per year or the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of more than 21,000 average American homes annually, according to the EPA press release. You can read more here.
While lawmakers on The Hill have failed to pass legislation to rein in greenhouse gases that cause global warming, municipal and state governments, businesses and universities have moved on their own to switch to wind and other renewable power sources in the last few years. And more and more city residents are going solar too.
City programs to reward energy efficiency measures and renewable energy usage can be found here.