Four Lessons Learned from Washington D.C.’s Green Building Act

green building act dc

As of January 2012, Washington D.C.’s Green Building Act (GBA) now requires that all public buildings in the district meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification standards for environmental performance. Because it was the first law of its kind, government agencies, lawmakers and environmentalists alike should take away some valuable lessons that became apparent during the law’s evolution.

1. Environmentally friendly policies take time to adjust to.

Although the GBA was passed in 2006, it wasn’t enacted until January of this year. During that time, lawmakers had to work out some kinks and ensure that everybody affected by the GBA understood not only its requirements but also the consequences for failing to follow them. Now that the new green building expectations have been enacted, they must be enforced, which can be tricky to navigate. Although we’d obviously like environmentally friendly policies to become effective immediately, it’s understandable why implementing them takes time.

2. Lawmakers must fully understand the implications of the policies they pass.

One of the major flaws with the GBA was its requirement that contractors purchase green performance bonds before being approved for contracts in the district. Surety bonds are frequently used on construction projects, but no ”green performance bond” has ever existed. (For a more detailed explanation of surety bonds, click here.) The lawmakers had essentially invented a new type of surety bond insurance — one that surety providers objected to underwriting because it was so risky. In the end, lawmakers had to pass emergency legislation in December 2011 – right before the law was slated to go into effect — to provide alternatives to the bonding requirement.

3. All stakeholders must fully understand the changes being made.

A number of different professionals were affected by the changes included in the GBA’s text. Construction professionals, surety underwriters, insurance companies, and project owners all had to consider how the changes would affect their markets and how they do business. When these various stakeholders realized the GBA’s inherent flaws, they sent letters and wrote blog posts that explained what the GBA meant for the construction and surety industries, not to mention for public and private construction project investors.

4. Government agencies do have the power to enforce energy efficiency policies.

The implementation of the GBA shows that we can overcome the challenges the cleantech sector faces on a much larger scale. Slowly but surely, our advocacy for cleantech can ensure steps are taken to provide solutions to environmental concerns, be they about green building practices or fuel emissions. If the implementation of the Green Building Act is any indication, we’re on the right track.

Danielle Rodabaugh is the chief editor of SuretyBonds.com, a nationwide surety bond producer that helps professionals meet certain licensing requirements. As a part of the company’s educational outreach program, Danielle writes to inform construction professionals and their clients on emerging green building practices. You can keep up with Danielle on Google+.

Image Credit: screenshot of DDOE website

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1do3v)

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California and American West Top 2012 State Clean Energy Index

California is the top clean energy state in the United States for the third consecutive year, and the American West region continues to lead the national clean tech economy, according to a new ranking from industry analysts Clean Edge.

The 2012 State Clean Energy Index, the third-annual such analysis, aggregates various industry data into one scoring system. Overall scores are awarded on a 100-point scale based on three categories – installed technology (clean electricity, clean transportation, energy intelligence & green building), policy outlook (regulations & mandates, incentives), and invested capital (financial, human & intellectual).

#1 — California

California dominated the rankings with a 91.1 score, more than 10 points higher than the second-ranked state, even though it lost 4.2 points from 2011. The Golden State “has established itself as the world’s preeminent testing ground for clean technology of all kinds,” and led the country in nearly all aspects of market expansion, including new wind and solar, hybrid and electric vehicles (EV), and green building.

However, the state’s most notable achievement comes in attracting venture capital. California-based clean energy startups saw $9 billion in investment over the past three years, more than the combined total of all 49 other states.

#2 — Oregon

Oregon held onto its second-place rank, gaining 0.5 points for a 79.9 score. Clean Edge credits the state’s success to consumer-driven demand for clean tech products and services, the highest national participation rates for voluntary green pricing programs, the largest concentration of LEED-certified buildings, and one of the highest rates of hybrid-electric vehicles per-capita.

#3 — Massachusetts

Massachusetts jumped 4.3 points to retain its third-place rank with a score of 76.1. Clean Edge attributes the state’s strength to an existing base of energy efficiency measures, a $500-million infusion of venture capital investment in 2011, and the Boston metro region’s network of universities. The index considers this concentration of education and startups second only to Silicon Valley.

#4 — Washington State

Washington State, buoyed by a 9-point increase, jumped from sixth overall in 2010 to the fourth-ranked state in 2011 with a score of 69.0. This ranking was due to newly added wind capacity and strong hydropower output, which helped to generate more than 84 percent of all in-state electricity from low-carbon sources (up from 72 percent in 2010). In addition, the state’s focus on building out an EV charging network could make it an industry epicenter moving forward.

#5 — Colorado

Rounding out the top five was Colorado, which maintained the fifth-overall rank from 2010 with a five-point score increase to 65.1. Clean tech infrastructure continues to grow in the state, especially in green building, wind power, and solar photovoltaics. Interestingly, Colorado also checks in as the third most attractive destination for venture capital investment, thanks largely to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

National trends

Clean Edge also noted four impressive national trends:

  • Six states now generate more than 10 percent of their utility-scale electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal – twice as many as 2010.
  • Nearly two million hybrid cars are now registered in the U.S., and nearly 50,000 all-electric vehicles now ride our roads.
  • The 29 states with renewable portfolio standards (along with Washington, D.C.) now represent nearly two-thirds of the total national generating capacity.
  • Clean energy patents granted to U.S. entities exceeded the 1,000 mark for the first time in history.

Remainder of top ten

The index also highlights interesting factors that helped determine the rank of the rest of the top-ten states:

  • New York State (64.9) ranked sixth, generating more GDP dollars per kilowatt-hours consumed as a result of extensive energy efficiency measures, and the upstate region is a growing hotbed of clean energy R&D.
  • Illinois (59.8) ranked seventh, reflecting rural areas of the state’s focus on agriculture and biofuels development as well as Chicago’s leadership in green building and energy efficiency.
  • New Mexico (58.1) ranked eighth, due largely to the state’s growing importance to the solar industry and importance as a key market for PV deployment and technology development.
  • Vermont (56.5) ranked ninth on the strength of an environmentally minded population, high percentage of hybrid-EV deployment, and energy efficiency measures.
  • Minnesota (54.6) ranked tenth as a notable national leader in wind energy and biofuels. The state was one of only five in 2011 to generate 10 percent of its power needs from wind, and is among the highest national ethanol producers.

Even though national support for clean energy technology may be uncertain, state-level support remains strong and the green economy continues to grow. “The state-level scene shows a diversity that crosses political boundaries and regions,” said Ron Pernick, Clean Edge managing director. “The next decade will determine which nations, states, and cites lead in clean tech.”

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1d4mi)

China to Spend $27 Billion on Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency This Year

Just confirming the easy bet Goldman Sachs is putting on cleantech (which I just wrote about), China is reportedly going to spend $27 billion this year alone on cleantech (energy efficiency and conservation, clean energy, and emissions reductions).

“The country’s finance ministry said it wants to promote energy-saving products, solar and wind power and accelerate the development of renewable energy and hybrid cars,” the Guardian reports.

hong kong china

Of course, this comes on the heels of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showing that China’s rapid growth was a key factor in bringing annual CO2 emissions up to a record and very concerning level in 2011, despite carbon emissions reductions in the US and EU. Nonetheless, as noted there, China’s carbon intensity has actually dropped 15% (from 2005 to 2011) due to its tremendous cleantech investments.

“In the long term, China is targeting to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45% by 2020, compared with 2003 levels and aims to boost its use of renewable energy to 15% of overall energy consumption,” the Guardian piece adds.

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1cKhh)

New Inexpensive and More Environmentally Friendly Solar Cell

Researchers from Northwestern University have devised a new design of a solar cell that minimizes the flaws in conventional solar cells — relatively high production costs, low operating efficiency and durability, and reliance upon toxic and scarce materials.

Dye-sensitized solar cells have already addressed some of these issues, but up until now have been very inefficient. Northwestern nanotechnology expert Robert P.H. Chang, however, challenged chemist Mercouri Kanatzidis to design a solar cell that did not suffer from the same problem as the innovative dye-sensitized Grätzel cell, a low-cost and environmentally friendly solar cell that “leaks” (the main cause of the lost efficiency). Kanatzidis’ solution was to design a new material for the electrolyte that actually starts as a liquid but ends up as a solar mass.

“The Grätzel cell is like having the concept for the light bulb but not having the tungsten wire or carbon material,” said Kanatzidis, of the need to replace the troublesome liquid. “We created a robust novel material that makes the Grätzel cell concept work better. Our material is solid, not liquid, so it should not leak or corrode.”

Kanatzidis reportedly “knew that scientists at IBM and elsewhere had been developing good solid electrical semiconductors for years” and teamed up with Chang to try one of them, “a fluorine-spiked mixture of cesium, tin, and iodine,” in solar cells.

Chang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Kanatzidis, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, are the two senior authors of a new paper outlining the development of the new solar cell. The paper was published in the most recent edition of the journal Nature.

The solar cell developed by Northwestern exhibits the highest conversion efficiency so far reported for a solid-state solar sell equipped with a dye sensitizer, approximately 10.2 percent (10% is often considered a benchmark for commercial success). This figure is close to the highest reported performance of a Grätzel cell of around 11 to 12 percent, and is much higher than the 6% previously attained by dye-sensitized solar cells.

“Our inexpensive solar cell uses nanotechnology to the hilt,” Chang said. “We have millions and millions of nanoparticles, which gives us a huge effective surface area, and we coat all the particles with light-absorbing dye.”

For more information on the design and construct of the Northwestern solar cell, check out the paper in Nature.

Source: Northwestern University & ScienceNOW
Image Source: R Walker

Low-Income Households in Colorado Going Solar

30 low-income households in northeast Denver, Colorado are going solar thanks to a partnership between Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC), Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Bella Energy, Groundwork Denver, and the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado. Good news! Here’s more from NREL:

Until recently, the low-income housing community has been a tough nut for the solar industry to crack.

Low-income housing developments have historically avoided going solar due to the obvious difficulties of incorporating high-cost, discretionary photovoltaic (PV) systems into affordable housing. However, a unique mix of local, utility, and federal support combined with a little financial creativity allowed a community in Colorado to demonstrate the application of PV into a low-income housing program.

Here’s how it worked.

Figure 1. Solar PV and a low-income housing development in Denver, Colorado [1]

It Takes a Village

In northeast Denver, Colorado, a partnership of community stakeholders came together to pilot the first U.S. low-income housing project to take on solar. The partnership itself was a large and diverse collaboration of various interests groups. No less than six organizations were involved in the effort, including:

  • Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC)
  • Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Bella Energy
  • Groundwork Denver
  • Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado.

Collectively, these organizations put the pieces together to develop the Whittier Affordable Housing Project (WAHP). Within WAHP, 30 affordable housing rentals across 12 buildings received residential-scale solar PV systems [1]. Figure 1 shows three of these systems.

One of the key enabling factors of the low-income solar housing is also evident in Figure 1; each of the housing units selected in the program is smaller than the average American home and has undergone recent energy efficiency retrofits (e.g., insulation, lighting, and building envelope improvements). Because of these small and energy efficient housing characteristics, the WAHP program was able to utilize relatively small 1.88-kW systems to offset approximately 85% of the occupant’s energy usage. The small size of the individual systems allowed for a greater number of system installations across WAHP [1].

The Financing Puzzle with One Wildcard

Like most renewable energy financing arrangements, the partnership utilized any and all available revenue streams to have the PV system’s economics pencil out. First, the project was set up for the first six years as a third-party financing mechanism, where a private tax-paying investor owns the PV system to take advantage of the federal 30% investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation benefits. Second, WAHP received a $2/Watt upfront cash incentive from the local utility Xcel Energy that significantly bought down the cost of the PV systems. Xcel also agreed to purchase the renewable energy certificates (RECs) at a healthy $0.11/kWh for the first 20 years of the project’s operation. Additionally, the low-income housing residents paid $0.08/kWh for the energy produced by the PV systems. By comparison, the average electric rate for NDHC residents was $0.95/kWh, thus the PV is projected to save NDHC money over the course of the 20-year contract period.

Even with these large revenue streams, there was one more puzzle piece required to complete the financing [1]. NDHC was successful in applying for a $107,500 grant from the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado to finance the project. The NDHC award was immediately loaned to the investor to provide the final revenue piece to make the project viable. The investor, in turn, repays the loan with interest to NDHC over six years. At year seven of the project, NDHC will buy out the investor using the loan and interest repayments and will own the low-income solar project [1]. Figure 2 illustrates the lifetime cash flows between the investor and NDHC.

Figure 2. Lifetime cashflows of Whittier Affordable Housing Project [1]

Good for the Goose and for the Gander

Although not all tenants in NDHC received PV systems on their rooftops, WAHP program designers also implemented several community-wide programs to broaden the overall appeal.  First, a PV installation training and education program was created for low-income residents. From this training program, several community residents were hired by a local PV installer. Second, a neighborhood-wide energy conservation incentive program was established and funded through savings from the PV installation [1]. Lastly, the community was able to showcase its program as a first-of-a-kind in the nation with successful implementation.

Despite WAHP’s use of the one-time grant to fully fund the program, it was intended for the model to be a roadmap for other communities to follow. Since the development of WAHP, there have been sizable reductions in both renewable energy subsidies as well as PV system prices. Therefore, other communities will need to customize their program to take advantage of local financial strengths and resources, but WAHP demonstrates the successful application of PV to all income classes.

Resources:

[1] Dean, J.; Smith-Drier, C.; Mekonnen, G.; Hawthorne, W. “Integrating Photovoltaic Systems into Low-Income Housing Developments: A Case Study on the Creation of a New Residential Financing Model and Low-Income Resident Job Training Program,” September 2011. Accessed April 23, 2012.

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1cem7)

Adventurer to cross Africa in electric post van

Electric Post Van

A man is attempting to drive an electric van from Nairobi to Johannesburg to highlight the reliability of zero carbon vehicles under extreme conditions.

Adventurer and English teacher Xavier Chevrin set off on the UN-backed 4,800km trip at the end of last week, two years after driving from Shanghai to Paris – the longest ever journey made in an electric car.

Chevrin will spend a month and a half battling through the bush of Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa in a souped-up version of a French electric postal van. The Citroen Berlingo has three batteries as opposed to the regular single issue, as well as raised suspension to cope with bumpy roads.

The modifications enable the van to cover 500km without recharging the battery, which takes seven hours from empty using a standard 240V socket. But the car has no back-up generator so Chevrin will be reliant on local electricity infrastructure to complete the journey.

The aim is demonstrate that electric cars are not only cheaper to run – the Shanghai-Paris trip cost less than $200 in electricity instead of $4,000 worth of diesel – but also better for the environment.

According to a forthcoming report by the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP), the current fossil-fuel based transport system accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and this figure is expected to rise to almost a third in the coming decades.

“We have been using combustion engines for over a century, but now it is a new revolution,” Chevrin said. “Within a few decades it will be logical for everyone to have an electric car as it fits with the philosophy of having to be careful how we use energy.

“We want to prove that electricity is an alternative energy source that can be used for transportation.”

Source = Business Green

Rocket EV Electric Bike Sets a New Quarter-Mile Record (201 MPH in 6.94 Seconds)

Electric Spider-bike

One of the advantages to driving an electric vehicle is all the torque — you get off the line super fast. Where that has typically started to go ever so slightly downhill for the average EV drag racer is in sustaining a quicker top speed than drivers in a conventional gas-powered vehicle for an entire quarter mile. This is no longer quite the case.

The aptly named Shawn Lawless and his group have been working on getting their Rocket EV drag-racing motorcycle to go faster, get there quicker, and do it longer. All that hard work has paid off — he set a record of reaching 201 mph in 6.94 seconds at the Virginia Motorsports quarter-mile strip. Check out the video below:

Electrons — They Go Fast

The electric bike itself has been around for a couple years — Lawless has apparently been tweaking it since 2010 — but it’s been pretty solidly updated for this run. It runs on a 13-inch DC motor with a custom Zilla controller, and sports a 14.2-kWh battery (which, by the way, is 150 lbs. lighter than its previous battery, so good work there).

No matter what’s under the hood or how many wheels are touching the ground, a 7-second quarter miles is pretty quick, and the Rocket EV can more or less repeat its performance — it’s made the run in 7.16 seconds (reaching 188mph) and in 7 seconds flat (reaching 195 mph) on the same track.

Inexplicably, the driver is dressed like Spiderman (who, despite his affinity for flying from roof to roof like a ninja with gobs of sticky string, would still probably have trouble beating this thing in a race). Whatever his reasons, it’s a super neat bike going really fast in a straight line, and not emitting any greenhouse gases doing so.

Source: Treehugger | Image: YouTube