31 October 2009

Great Clip

From Frank Capra's 1932 film ~ American Madness.

It is speaking to our condition!


New DIY Renewable Energy Club Forming

REEVA = (Renewable Energy & Electric Vehicle Assn) and will be revived in November in the Roanoke Valley!!

Initial meeting is November 8th Sunday at 1pm at Shoneys at Exit 137 off Route 81

The idea is to make renewable energy affordable for interested people by doing the labor yourself and learning the process.

Typically we'd meet at a project house on solar, wind or EV's for a build & learn session to help people with renewable energy projects and reduce their cost.

30 October 2009

350.org

Here is our 350.org day photos from Roanoke:


29 October 2009

Denmark vs. Virginia

In 1973 there was surprise and revulsion in the western world as the Arab world, upset at the US resupply of Israel after the surprise of the Yom Kippur attack, retaliated with a knife in the soft belly of the western world and embargoed oil supplies. For those old enough to remember, it was as rude an awakening to our collective 28-year comfort enjoyed since our victory in 1945. The western world’s reaction to the events of 1973 – 1974, while rhetorically very similar, were in fact were quite different in terms of real world action.

Almost to a country, the western world decried the moves as unacceptable and almost to a country vowed to reduce their dependence on foreign energy supplies. It is here that the story becomes very interesting both for the student of history and as an insight into the probable near term consequences of actions we will take.

In examining the reaction of a western country let’s first look at Denmark. They made the decision to commit themselves to a future that was not dependant on foreign energy supplies. They made commitments not only on the oil side, but also on conservation, heat and electrical generation. In the 1980’s they also made the decision not to allow any nuclear power plants on their soil.

In examining the reaction of the US, and specifically Virginia, we made a lot of verbal noise about energy independence and freedom from foreign energy sources. We made some first steps in the years from 1974 – 1979, but with the election of Ronald Reagan and the return of cheap oil, all focus was diverted and the goals were forgotten.

Why did this happen and what were the results? Well, the American public has never had a taste for putting off gratification today for the betterment of tomorrow, and the Danes were focused on two generations down the line. An examination of the results thus far is very telling. Here is a brief comparison between Denmark and Virginia.

The GDP per capita for Denmark is $37,300.00
The GDP per capita for Virginia is $46,521.00
Per capita Virginia is 25% richer than Denmark.

The population of Denmark is approximately 5.5 million.
The population of Virginia is approximately 7.7 million.
Virginia has 40% more people than Denmark.

Denmark (proper) is approximately 17,000 sq miles
Virginia is approximately 43,000 sq miles
Virginia is 153% larger than Denmark

Total energy usage per capita in Demark is 46,722 kWH/year
Total energy usage per capita in Virginia is 99,442 kWH/year
The average Virginian uses 113% more total energy than the average Dane.

Electrical energy usage per capita in Denmark is 6,506 kWH/year
Electrical energy usage per capita in Virginia is 13,662 kWH/year
The average Virginian uses 110% more electrical energy than the average Dane.

Cost of electrical energy in Denmark is $0.322 / kWH
Cost of electrical energy in Virginia is $0.104 / k WH
The average Dane spends $2,094 on electricity annually and the average Virginian spends $1,420 on electricity annually.
The average Dane spends $674 (47%) more on electricity annually than the average Virginian.

Percent sustainable energy (including hydro) in Denmark is 17.0%
Percent sustainable energy (including hydro) in Virginia is 2.6%
Denmark produces 554% more sustainable energy than Virginia.

So what do all these numbers tell us. Before I answer that I would like to tell the reader why I chose Denmark. Denmark has the highest cost of energy of any country in the European Union. Denmark also is consistently listed as one of the freest markets in the European Union and also had the least dependency on foreign energy supplies. I wanted to compare Virginia to a real world success story.

So, back to the numbers.

First, we see that Virginia is richer (per capita GDP), larger (population) and has more natural resources (gross land area) than Demark.

Second, there is a simple truth which shines thorough the second set of figures. There is a correlation between energy cost and energy usage. In study after study it has been shown that the higher the energy cost, the lower the usage. We see this in the US in states like Vermont, which has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, but per capita has the lowest energy usage.

Third, we see that this energy independence is costing the average Dane $1.85 per day more than the average Virginian.

So for less than a Starbucks Coffee per day, we could conceivable create a sustainable and foreign intervention free energy supply. Wow, sounds like a deal to me!

So what is standing in our way Virginia? Oh, I can answer that, political will and vision. Here are three items that happened to me at the Conference on Virginia Energy Symposium (COVES) in Mid October 2009:

(excerpts from by blog)

There were 400 or so folk who showed up, most of the regular characters you find at such things: solar, wind and biomass folks, utility reps, college facility people, politicians or there reps, etc..

As I circulated among the seminars and talked to the people at the conference, I got a very clear understanding of how far we are from grasping the scope of the change that needs to be made. At this symposium, I found just what I expected, many of the people on the front lines of energy policy change and renewable generation had a clear understanding of just how much has to happen in a small amount of time.

Unfortunately, the political folks had an inkling of understanding but a lack of will and vision. I will site three examples and you judge for yourself:

At a symposium where an Assistant Secretary of DOE gave a presentation, he discussed the much needed work to be done on existing buildings in the area of energy retrofits. He described energy retrofit as “not low hanging fruit, but fruit rotting on the ground”. There is a huge potential for energy reduction that is easily achievable and compared to other energy reduction strategies, relatively inexpensive. After the presentation during the question and answer portion I asked if we could get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it mandatory that any home purchased using their funds (which is the majority of all homes sold in the US) have an energy audit done. We could get folks used to having audits done and use this to quantify the homes energy footprint in an eye towards making energy upgrades mandatory with the sale of homes. This is a program that is not pie in the sky; rather it is currently being done in the UK. The answer was depressing a generic, "we are looking into many ways of encouraging energy audits". To me this was the failure to recognize two facts, first is that the US taxpayer now owns Fannie and Freddie (for all intents and purposes) and secondly it would take no political maneuvering, as Fannie and Freddie can impose that type of requirement at will.

The second was what happened at the final symposium, the summation of the conference. They had four speakers, one from biomass, solar and wind and one from the governor’s office. After the presentations during the questions and answer period I asked this question: I said that it seemed to me that all the presenters were ignoring the elephant in the room. Every alternative energy presenter lamented the fact that it is hard to compete with the cheap energy we have in Virginia, and that with little political and financial support from Richmond, the alternative energy community was facing a tough road. The elephant is Virginia's cheap energy. I asked the governors rep. this ~ since we all generally agree that we need sustainable, non-polluting sources of energy in Virginia and that we have cheap energy here in the olde dominion, why not use that as a positive and raise the cost of energy to create the revenue to pursue a faster switch to a sustainable future. The response was once again what I expected, the gov's rep started in saying that Virginia could not act "in a vacuum" and that making a change while the rest of the US and the world did not would hurt Virginia. I responded that we cannot abdicate our responsibility for energy independence and that is exactly what he was doing by making that argument. He said, "I did not say that" to which I said, "you most certainly did". With that the moderator took another question.

The third thing happened in a presentation by Dominion Power’s Vice President in charge of sustainable energy. She gave a presentation about the “smart meter” installations that Dominion was doing and bemoaned the fact that the customers did not seem interested in the monitoring abilities of the smart meter interface. She said that the customers were not monitoring their energy usage to lower their consumption. My hand shot up in an instant and I asked, why not have a usage carrot and stick. For example, if you use the base amount of energy you pay the base rate, but for every kWH you use over that amount the rate increases, and alternatively for every kWH you use under the base amount the rate decreases, I told her that I bet folks would pay attention to their usage then! She brushed my comment aside as unrealistic, but I muttered that I guess the meters aren’t as smart as they want to make out. I also asked her if we could institute a voluntary check box like the neighbors to neighbors fund to support customer generated energy (wind, solar, biomass). I let her know that right now North Carolina is doing this and it has almost tripled the amount of money going to the customer for electrical generation, without costing the utility a cent. Once again she said that she thought it would not work in Virginia.

So you see, this is the situation and the problem. Left in the hands of the politicians, who are guided by those with a lot of money and access and a vested interest in business as usual we are not going to see change.

So what I am asking is to think about the kind of Virginia you want for your grandchildren and act as if your actions today will have a direct effect on their lives, because they do.

28 October 2009

Why Fox Isn't News



27 October 2009

Another Nice Vid

26 October 2009

More info on the Solar Decathlon

Solar Decathlon Winners Embrace Passivhaus Standard

Technische Universität Darmstadt takes first-place with its surPLUShome, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign second with its Gable Home. Both modeled their entries to the Passivhaus standard


25 October 2009

Nice Vid.

24 October 2009

New Study on the Cost of Fossil Fuels

Here is an excerpt from the National Academy of Sciences regarding the hidden cost of fossil fuel energy:

News from the National Academies
REPORT EXAMINES HIDDEN HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF ENERGY PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION IN U.S.

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Research Council examines and, when possible, estimates "hidden" costs of energy production and use -- such as the damage air pollution imposes on human health -- that are not reflected in market prices of coal, oil, other energy sources, or the electricity and gasoline produced from them. The report estimates dollar values for several major components of these costs. The damages the committee was able to quantify were an estimated $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation. The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examines but does not monetize.

Requested by Congress, the report assesses what economists call external effects caused by various energy sources over their entire life cycle -- for example, not only the pollution generated when gasoline is used to run a car but also the pollution created by extracting and refining oil and transporting fuel to gas stations. Because these effects are not reflected in energy prices, government, businesses and consumers may not realize the full impact of their choices. When such market failures occur, a case can be made for government interventions -- such as regulations, taxes or tradable permits -- to address these external costs, the report says.

The committee that wrote the report focused on monetizing the damage of major air pollutants -- sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and particulate matter – on human health, grain crops and timber yields, buildings, and recreation. When possible, it estimated both what the damages were in 2005 (the latest year for which data were available) and what they are likely to be in 2030, assuming current policies continue and new policies already slated for implementation are put in place.

The committee also separately derived a range of values for damages from climate change; the wide range of possibilities for these damages made it impossible to develop precise estimates of cost. However, all model results available to the committee indicate that climate-related damages caused by each ton of CO2 emissions will be far worse in 2030 than now; even if the total amount of annual emissions remains steady, the damages caused by each ton would increase 50 percent to 80 percent.

For more click here.

23 October 2009

22 October 2009

21 October 2009

20 October 2009

Passivhaus Comment

I received this comment and thought it may be helpful to other to share the response.
Nelson Labbe said...

Adam,
How does Passive House certification work? Does one have to go to a PHIUS certified architect to get a house design/plans and Passive House certification? Can a non-PH architect get house plans certified? If so, by who? PHIUS? What are the approximate costs for PHIUS review, consultation, and certification?
Thanks,
Nelson Labbé

Here is the Reply...

Passivhaus certification for a project requires that the plans be analyzed and and submitted to PHIUS by a Certified Passivhaus Consultant. The design can either be by a TEAM of a certified PH consultant & a non certified architect or by a PH certified architect. Personally, as an Architect and a PH certified consultant I find that it would be difficult and time consuming to coordinate with an architect who does not have a good, solid understanding of the concepts, however, I think a good PH consultant can give the Architect and Client a good overview of PH principals in about 4 hours.


The real tough part is the coordination of the design details with the PHPP (Passive House Planning Package). As a design/builder I can tell you that when I am designing I have both my CAD program and the PHPP open to determine the optimal outcome to maximize efficiency and minimize price.


I would think that the the client should be prepared to spend more for an untrained architect as there will be a learning curve and it is likely that there will be considerable redesign to bring the iterations of the plans into compliance with PH principles.


As far as the costs, that depends on the project and the team. My personal recommendation is that the best, most cost effective approach is true design/build, where the architect, PH consultant and builder are one entity and have one point of responsibility to the Owner.


If you want to pursue separate architect, PH consultant and builder, then I would recommend a very intimate process where the team is assembled day one and the Passivhaus Consultant is responsible for orienting the team to PH principles. I cannot stress how important the builder is in all this. You can have a great design and an efficient PH concept, but without a builder grounded in real world details and a deep understanding of PH concepts, the entire project can spin out of control, because of the high level of quality and attention to detail that is required to implement Passivhaus techniques.


I hope this helps!

19 October 2009

Passivhaus Conference Report

I am now convinced more than ever that simplicity of design, conservation of cost and reduction of size is the required model for future sustainable construction. If you have any ideas on how to convince the American public of this please comment!

18 October 2009

Passivhaus Conference Report

The national Passivhaus conference was completed today. It was an exciting time for me and other sticks and bricks nerds. It was very exciting to see the projects that are just getting ready to break ground. I hope that by next year's conference we will see a ten fold increase in Passivhaus projects in the US. I gave a presentation on the CEED, and it was warmly received. What was amazing was to meet the folks from all over the US that share the passion for this technology. I hope that I am able to find a market segment in my region that will embrace this and that I will be able to create the structures of the future along with the many talented folk I met in Illinois. My fear is that without a crisis, folks in Southwestern VA will not be interested in Ultra High Performance, Healthy, Low Carbon, Zero Energy Buildings.

17 October 2009

Passivhaus Dominates Solar Decathlon

The scores are in and the two Passivhaus projects entered in the Solar Decathlon came in One and Two. Team Germany won the contest with the University of Illinois placing second, both projects were Passivhaus constructions with the U of I actually being certified. (Team Germany did not certify before leaving Germany because of timing). Both teams smoked the competition once again showing the world that Passivhaus is a quantum leap in energy efficiency. The last solar decathlon two years ago was won by the only Passivhaus entry. YEAH BABY!

16 October 2009

From the Passivhaus Conference

Well today the Passivhaus consultants got together to discuss basic issues of the PH movement. It was a very eye opening thing to sit in a room with less than 100 folk and to realize that we represent the bulk of the movement in the US, a country of 250 million +. An average of 2 consultants per state. Wow do we have a large way to go. Passivhaus represents a quantum leap in energy efficiency in the US. We have such a long way to go it is truly amazing how far we have to go. We need to gird ourselves for a long hard slog. Get ready, Get set and go.

15 October 2009

German Passivhaus

I am attending the National Passivhaus Conference in Urbana, Illinois. Here is a nice vid in celebration of the conference.

14 October 2009

Passivhaus Conference

Folks, today i am off to the National Passivhaus Conference, being held in Urbana, Il. I will be there the rest of the week and hope to do some posting regarding the events at the conference. Please go to the PHIUS web site to learn more about the conference and have a great week.

13 October 2009

Virginia Energy Symposium

This past week I attended the Virginia Energy Symposium, held in Lexington, VA. The symposium was somewhat informative and yet, to me, depressing. There were 400 or so folk who showed up, most of the regular characters you find at such things: solar, wind and biomass folks, utility reps, college facility people, politicians or there reps, etc..

As I circulated among the seminars and talked to the people at the conference, I got a very clear understanding of how far we are from grasping the scope of the change that needs to be made. At this symposium, I found just what I expected, many of the people on the front lines of energy policy change and renewable generation had a clear understanding of just how much has to happen in a small amount of time.

Unfortunately, the political folks had not an inkling of understanding. I will site two examples and you judge for yourself:

At a symposium where an Assistant Secretary of DOE gave a presentation, he discussed the much needed work to be done on existing buildings in the area of energy retrofits. This is a huge potential for carbon reduction that is easily achievable and compared to other carbon reduction strategies, relatively inexpensive. After the presentation during the question and answer portion I asked if we could get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it mandatory that any home purchased using their funds (which is the majority of all homes sold in the US) have an energy audit done. We could get folks used to doing them and use this to quantify the homes energy footprint in an eye towards making energy upgrades mandatory with the sale of homes. This is a program that is not pie in the sky, rather it is currently being done in the UK. The answer was depressing a generic, "we are looking into many ways of encouraging energy audits". To me this was the failure to recognize two facts, first is that the US taxpayer now runs Fannie and Freddie (for all intents and purposes) and secondly it would take no political maneuvering, as Fannie and Freddie can impose that type of requirement at will.

The second was what happened at the final symposium, the summation of the conference. They had four speakers, one from biomass, solar and wind and one from the governors office. After the presentations during the questions and answer period I asked this question:
I said that it seemed to me that all the presenters were ignoring the elephant in the room. Every alternative energy presenter lamented the fact that it is hard to compete with the cheap energy we have in Virginia, and that with little political and financial support from Richmond, the alternative energy community was facing a tough road. The elephant is Virginia's cheap energy. I asked the governors rep. this ~ since we all generally agree that we need sustainable, non-polluting sources of energy in Virginia and that we have cheap energy here in the olde dominion, why not use that as a positive and raise the cost of energy to create the revenue to pursue a faster switch to a sustainable future. The response was once again what I expected, the gov's rep started in saying that Virginia could not act "in a vacuum" and that making a change while the rest of the US and the world did not would hurt Virginia. I responded that we cannot abdicate our responsibility for climate change and that is exactly what he was doing by making that argument. He said "I did not say that" to which I said, "you most certainly did". With that the moderator took another question.

This is the situation and the problem. Left in the hands of the politicians, who are guided by those with alot of money and a vested interest in business as usual we are screwed! So once again I am making a call to action.

Good luck!

12 October 2009

Coal Week Summary

Well folks, I hope you enjoyed "Coal Week". What has it taught us?

Well first, we have learned that the process of coal extraction is devastating to the local environment and can have deleterious effects on those folk living in proximity to the mines. We have also learned that the coal companies and their money go to support a don't ask, don't tell mentality on the political leadership charged with regulating the mining processes and protecting the citizenry.

Second we learned that the processes of burning coal is devastating to the global environment and that unlike the mining process these effects are insidious and far reaching yet hidden from view. We have also learned that the utility companies and their money go to support greenwashing and national energy policy arguments that keep the political leadership charged with regulating the pollutants and protecting the citizenry from strong regulation.

I hope that the take away from this for you is that the problem is with our political leaders, and that is where we need to apply pressure. Good luck, I know I try every chance I get to talk about such things with political leadership, but compared to the coal and utility lobbies I feel that I am no more than a fly not even worth swatting. My hope is that we will take this seriously enough to work together to get our voices heard.

11 October 2009

One more for Coal Week

Coal Ash




Utilities



10 October 2009

Think we have already treated our Smokestacks?

For those minority of folks who care about such things as coal fired power plant produced pollution, there is a perception among some that the Clean Air Act has regulated and thus cleaned up such pollutants as sulpher dioxide and mercury. But here is a snippet of a GAO report released this summer.

The 491 U.S. coal-fired power plants are the largest unregulated industrial source of mercury emissions nationwide, annually emitting about 48 tons of mercury--a toxic element that poses health threats, including neurological disorders in children. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that mercury emissions from these sources should be regulated, but the agency has not set a maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standard, as the Clean Air Act requires.
For the rest of the article click here.

More fun reading ~ from 1982:

GAO undertook a study to explore whether developing a market in air pollution entitlements is feasible.

Establishing a market in air pollution entitlements could be a less costly, more flexible way to meet minimum standards of air quality. These entitlements would allow emissions consistent with present standards governing air quality. Such a market could save the public millions of dollars relative to the present price of meeting the requirements of the Clean Air Act. By using scarce economic resources more efficiently, more economic growth could be achieved without sacrificing the benefits of good air quality, and taxpayers would benefit from more efficient operations of regulatory agencies. Controlled trading gives firms considerable flexibility in choosing pollution abatement measures. A full-scale market in air pollution entitlements could develop from a workable system of controlled trading. The Environmental Protection Agency's controlled trading approach allows: (1) a variation in pollution controls among individual existing sources of pollution within a single industrial plant; (2) construction of major new industrial plants in areas which do not presently comply with the air quality mandates of the Act by obtaining emission reductions from owners of existing plants; and (3) the creation of a central facility to make emission reductions more readily available. Certain technological requirements of the Act limit controlled trading. In addition, delays and expense can arise in the permit process or firms might hoard, rather than trade, their entitlements. However, the obstacles to implementation do not appear to be insurmountable. For more info click here.

Here is another GAO report of the initial effects of the sulfur & nitrogen cap and trade program.

In 1990, Congress adopted a new regulatory approach to reduce acid rain, allowing electric utilities to trade allowances to emit sulfur dioxide, a major cause of acid rain. Utilities that reduce their emissions below their required levels can sell their extra allowances to other utilities to help them meet their requirements. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this flexible approach to curbing acid rain could reduce costs significantly because trading allowances can be less costly than other methods of controlling pollution. This report discusses the (1) extent to which trading is expected to cut sulfur dioxide emissions and compliance costs, and the status of the allowance trading market; (2) impediments to increased trading of allowances; and (3) implications of designing a similar approach to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
For more info click here.

These are important ~ why? Because we have been through this all before for SO2 and NO and we do not need to debate the wing nuts about the effect on the economy or if global warming is a problem. WE NEED ACTION.

09 October 2009

More Coal to Ponder.







08 October 2009

Hurray for AEP!

Congratulation are in store for American Electric Power. In a study released this year they were named #2 on the countries list of "Greenwashing" corporations. Here is a snipet:

2) American Electric Power (AEP)

According to the company, American Electric Power’s 2008 Sustainability Report is a “comprehensive report offering a frank discussion” about their environmental performance and their strategies for sustainability. Michael G. Morris, the chairman, president, and CEO, says that sustainability is “Transparency and accountability, along with a close working relationship with our stakeholders, will grow our business, serve our shareholders’ interest and create a better world for our children and grandchildren.”

For the rest of the article click here.

07 October 2009

06 October 2009

05 October 2009

It's Coal Week @ ZEC

Folks, welcome to "Coal Week". For those of you reading this blog that live in the Katuah bioregion, I thought it was time for a week of consciousness raising.

First, here is a snapshot of a slide that AEP presented. Notice that they are promoting the fact that American Electric Power is the largest consumer of coal in the western hemisphere!
Now for some fun facts about AEP go to this link. This report will open your eyes for those who have never wondered about the political correctness of their light switch.

If you live in Katuah, and your power comes from AEP, your get over 90% of your power from coal.

In the next week I will be posting some eye opening items about Katuah's electrical power. Please enjoy!






04 October 2009

I did it!

Well folks I passed the Passivhaus Consultants Exam! Congrats to me. I am now an official PH consultant. So please help me find some folks who would like Passivhaus projects!

03 October 2009

Bad Economy is Good for GHG Reduction

Well we are seeing the effects of the economic collapse on greenhouse gas. The US is experiencing it's first reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in years! The right will point to this and say"we don't need climate change legislation".

Don't fall for it, all generations for the foreseeable future are all going to pay dearly for the lifestyle we have enjoyed for the last 150 years. A blip, a millisecond of geologic time, yet we feel as if we have a right to this life style. Why? The real truth is that our species has acted as a virus on the face of the earth.

Agent Smith said it well:

02 October 2009

AEP's Mike Morris Tells the Truth

In Sunday's Roanoke Times Mike Morris AEP's head wrote a Letter to the Editor that let's one read the underlying conflict and interests that will effect climate change legislation in the US. In his letter Mr. Morris pushes for the passage of the the house bill rather than have EPA regulate CO2 emissions. I blogged about this in an earlier post. You can see it clearly here ~ Not only are the coal utilities pooping their pants over the idea of EPA regulating emissions, they are betting on the Senate watering down the already relatively weak house bill. Between the corporate monied interests stirring up the rabid right about climate change action and the lobbyists stranglehold on the Senate we are screwed!

After what we have seen the same big money interests do to the healthcare debacle, turning it from something that would help the American Public to an insurance give away, the chance of real significant climate change legislation being gutted through the senate are about the same as finding a pedophile in the catholic church!

I hope that we find a real solution to our problems, but I think this is what it must have been like in Rome around 300 AD. The empire is collapsing and we can't see it through our wine soaked togas and heavy money bags.

01 October 2009

Local Professor's Take on Peak Oil

Professor L. David Roper, whom I have quoted from before has applied his exceptionally analytical mind to another of our collective issues: Peak oil and economic crisis. Rational and very interesting reading.