Tuesday, December 22, 2009

East Coast Blizzard Seen From Space

From Betsy Mason, Wired Science blog

NASA’s Aqua satellite took this image centered on Washington, D.C., on Sunday with its MODIS instrument.

The image covers 300 miles lengthwise. The two big rivers near the center are the Susquehanna (to the north) and Potomac rivers, which run into Chesapeake Bay. Washington, D.C., sits alongside the Potomac, just north of the river’s hook-shaped curve. The inlet to the north is Delaware Bay.
Higher-resolution image from NASA

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NPR on Ball State

All Things Considered feature on Ball State's campus-wide, 50 building, $80 million effort to displace their daily 130-tons of coal habit.
Link here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

An Affordable Truth

Good Krugman column today (may require sign in) on optimism at start of COP15. Some notable excerpts:

The truth, however, is that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is affordable as well as essential. Serious studies say that we can achieve sharp reductions in emissions with only a small impact on the economy’s growth. And the depressed economy is no reason to wait — on the contrary, an agreement in Copenhagen would probably help the economy recover.


Still, should we be starting a project like this when the economy is depressed? Yes, we should — in fact, this is an especially good time to act, because the prospect of climate-change legislation could spur more investment spending.
Consider, for example, the case of investment in office buildings. Right now, with vacancy rates soaring and rents plunging, there’s not much reason to start new buildings. But suppose that a corporation that already owns buildings learns that over the next few years there will be growing incentives to make those buildings more energy-efficient. Then it might well decide to start the retrofitting now, when construction workers are easy to find and material prices are low.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Periodic Table Cupcakes

An idea whose time has come. From neatorama.com.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Clean Tech Open Gala

The Cleantech Open is the world's largest Cleantech Business Competition. They're running an amazing Expo and Awards Gala at the Masonic Center in San Francisco this coming Tuesday, November 17th. You need to be there!

The details:
* Expo from 10am to 2pm - showcasing cleantech from innovators throughout the US and ideas from around the world
* Awards Gala from 2pm to 6pm - technology demonstrations and speakers
* Networking Reception from 6pm to 8pm.

There will be networking all day, and speeches from Bill Weihl - Green Czar at Google, Lesa Mitchell - VP of Innovation at Kauffman Foundation, Gil Friend - CEO of Natural Logic, Steve Westly - CEO of Westly Group and Marc Stanley - Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. Outstanding speakers, all.

The Cleantech Open is a nonprofit and the Awards Gala is intended as a fundraiser. Tickets normally go for $129 and up – but I have some discounted tickets which will give you a 40% reduction – just click this link: www.cleantechopen.com/gala

Greenbuild Phoenix

Great, big (30k?), inspiring event. Real nice to meet people on the other side of the conference call, but real nice to be back home.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Long time, no talk...

A few pictures to put things in perspective: A Hubble mosaic of the Crab Nebula, the remains of a "tremendous" stellar explosion. According to NASA, observers in China and Japan recorded the supernova nearly 1,000 years ago, in 1054.

More here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Energy Star Not in Alignment?

Energy Star Appliances May Not All Be Efficient, Audit Finds

Published: October 18, 2009
New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Energy Department has concluded in an internal audit that it does not properly track whether manufacturers that give their appliances an Energy Star label have met the required specifications for energy efficiency.

Some manufacturers could therefore be putting the stickers on unqualified products, according to the audit, by the Energy Department’s inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman.

The Energy Star program, jointly managed by the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, has benefited from a renewed emphasis by the Obama administration, as a mechanism for reducing the waste of energy and curbing resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Under the federal stimulus bill, $300 million will go to rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star products.

Some consumers choose energy-efficient appliances for the same reason they might choose a car with good fuel economy: to save money or reduce the environmental impact.

Teams from the Energy Department and the E.P.A. oversee different categories of products. Last December, the environmental agency’s inspector general said the Energy Star ratings for products it oversees, like computers and television sets, were “not accurate or verifiable” because of weak oversight by the agency.

The Energy Department vowed then to scrutinize its performance in evaluating the products that it oversees, like windows, dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerators.

The new audit, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, indicates that the Energy Department has also fallen far short. Those shortcomings “could reduce consumer confidence in the integrity of the Energy Star label,” according to the department’s inspector general. The audit is to be submitted to Energy Secretary Steven Chu this week. While the Energy Department requires manufacturers of windows and L.E.D. and fluorescent lighting to have independent laboratories evaluate their products, the report said, companies that make refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and room air-conditioners, which consume far more energy, can certify those appliances themselves.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Industrial Revolution, Carbon and Warming

Abrupt reversal detected in Arctic cooling trend

The Arctic climate has been warmer over the past decade than during any 10-year period in 2,000 years, according to a study by an international research team that adds powerful new evidence that human-generated greenhouse gases have speeded the pace of the planet's recent warming.

The report from an international team of climate scientists concludes that climate change in the Arctic has accelerated since the Industrial Revolution, abruptly reversing a long-term worldwide cooling trend.

"The study provides a clear example of how increased greenhouse gases are now changing our climate," said Caspar Ammann of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., a co-author of the report published Thursday in the journal Science.

To deduce the Arctic's decade-by-decade climate trend over the centuries, the leading scientists in the international study analyzed sediment cores in 14 Arctic lakes that revealed the varied growth rates of long-buried plants. They also studied Arctic tree rings to determine their growth rates and ages as well as ice cores from glaciers across the Arctic that showed patterns of relative warm and cold.

Read more.

A late 19th century postcard shows the Muir glacier in Alaska's Glacier Bay.

But a 2005 photo of the area shows water.

Al Franken Explains It All For You

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Single molecule, one million times smaller than a grain of sand, pictured for first time

It may look like a piece of honeycomb, but this lattice-shaped image is the first ever close-up view of a single molecule.

Scientists from IBM used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to reveal the chemical bonds within a molecule.

'This is the first time that all the atoms in a molecule have been imaged,' lead researcher Leo Gross said.

The researchers focused on a single molecule of pentacene, which is commonly used in solar cells. The rectangular-shaped organic molecule is made up of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms.

In the image above the hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings are clear and even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be seen.

To give some perspective, the space between the carbon rings is only 0.14 nanometers across, which is roughly one million times smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Potter Drilling Gets Wired

GroundSource Geo spun off from noted deep drilling hotbed Potter Drilling and enjoys a special relationship with the crew there even though you cannot fit everyone in one car to go to lunch anymore. So it with certain pride that we see that the guys (and Tina) of Potter are now "cool" having been feted in Wired Magazine. Here's what they say in this month's issue:

The process of punching a well hasn't changed in a century. The search for oil, gas, or water may extend more than 7 miles, but it's still done with a tricone bit—three grinding cones angled inward and downward, with spinning teeth. This system is effective at crushing and shearing, but every time a bit wears out, engineers have to "trip" the drill: They bring the head to the surface, change it, and send it back down. A lot of drilling time is actually tripping time, which means a project's cost goes up exponentially with depth. So researchers are developing replacement technologies to reach superheated water for geothermal power or stretch down to previously inaccessible fossil fuel. Here are a few ideas for parts that will be greater than the hole.

The Next Drills

Hydrothermal Spallation
Potter Drilling of California uses jets of superheated fluid to break through granite five times faster than traditional techniques, which don't do well against hard rock types. The first field test of the technology is scheduled for next year in the Sierra Nevada.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First LEED PLatinum Geo-cooled Data Center

August 13th, 2009 : Rich Miller, DataCenterKnowledge.com
Special thanks to Daniel Bernstein at Gaia Geo

Geothermal cooling systems haven’t been widely used in data centers. One of the first implementations we’ve come across is a new data center for American College Testing in Iowa City, Iowa that has been awarded Platinum certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, a voluntary rating system for energy efficient buildings overseen by the US Green Building Council.The ACT facility becomes the first data center in the U.S. to complete LEED Platinum certification. A Citigroup data center in Germany has earned Platinum status, while Advanced Data Centers in Sacramento has been pre-certified for Platinum status.

The ACT data center opened in February 2008 and features 4,000 square feet of raised-floor data center space within an 8,000 square foot building. The facility is cooled by a geothermal “bore field” - a system of vertical holes drilled into the earth’s surface which house a closed-loop piping system filled with water and/or coolant. The cool earth allows the underground piping system serves as a heat exchanger. The ACT data center also has an exterior dry cooler as a backup to the geothermal system.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Popular Science GreenDream House

Special thanks to Brad Borgman from the TWT Group.
Putting the Earth to Work: John B. Carnett, PopSci’s staff photographer, is using the latest green technology to build his dream home in the appropriately-named town of Greenwich, N.Y. Lots of nice, innovative features besides the ground source heat pump, including a new kind of structural insulating panel from Kama Energy Efficient Building Systems of Las Vegas. They custom-make the rigid panels out of light-gauge metal studs and a special type of expanded polystyrene called Neopor that's non-toxic, fully recyclable and blended with graphite to lock out heat, moisture and mold. Carnett's home is the first in the U.S. to incorporate Kama's new panels. They cost about 5 percent less than a stick frame would have, but they're reportedly much more energy-efficient.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Advertisement for Myself

"Groundsourcing" the Carbon Problem
HCSF Clean Tech Thought Leader Series

Ground, Ice & Water - a networking event and panel discussion on the positive power of "Negatherms" and the role that ground source heat pumps (GSHP) and allied thermal transfer techniques like ice storage and water-gridding can play to significantly reduce energy demand throughout the built environment.

Where: University Club, 800 Powell Street, San Francisco
When: Thursday, August 6th, 2009
6:30-7:00 pm - Dinner
7:00-8:30 pm - Talk and Q&A
Who: Energy innovators focused on new solutions to the age-old problem of providing heating, cooling and hot water.
What: a networking event and panel discussion on the positive power of "Negatherms" and the role that ground source heat pumps (GSHP) and allied thermal transfer techniques like ice storage and water-gridding can play to significantly reduce energy demand throughout the built environment.

  • I will kick off by doing a brief primer on energy efficiency, green building, heat pump mechanics and novel drilling techniques.
  • Dan Bernstein of Gaia Geothermal has a lot of macro and micro data about carbon, cost, energy and water savings from heat-pump based demand reduction plus some examples of larger pond loop projects.
  • David Kaneda of Integrated Design Associates will present "whole building" EE/RE concepts using his design lab as a starting point.
  • Ed Lohrenz, the "Ice Man" of GeoExergy will talk about his ice storage system projects. (*Ed is based in Manitoba and in Taiwan right now; he is a maybe on being in SF in person...Dan and I may cover some of his (n)ice presentation)
  • Finally, a report on groundbreaking water gridding concepts through the SCWA GeoExchange Energy Efficiency Project from Cordell Stillman.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Despite Global Economic Meltdown, Consumers Have Increased Appetite for Green

2009 Cohn & Wolfe Green Brands Global Survey Reveals Consumers in Brazil, China, and India are Most Eager to Embrace Green Products and Corporate Actions

NEW YORK – July 21, 2009 – A newly released survey, conducted in seven countries -- the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, India, Germany and France -- indicates that while many environmental beliefs and behaviors are shared across different consumer cultures, others vary widely. Generally, consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France tend to align in their attitudes, while consumers in Brazil, India, and China have divergent views, and are particularly inclined to seek green products and to favor companies they consider green.

The research, conducted by WPP agencies (NASDAQ: WPPGY) Cohn & Wolfe, Landor Associates and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) as well as independent strategy consulting firm Esty Environmental Partners, also identifies some critical trends on which consumers are in global agreement.

Consumers from all seven countries believe that green products cost more than comparable non-green products, and also indicate they plan to spend more money on green products in the coming year. China, India and Brazil showed significant support for additional spend: 73 percent of Chinese consumers say they will spend more, 78 percent of Indians say they’ll spend more, and 73 percent of Brazilians plan to increase their green spend. The percentage of respondents who indicate willingness to spend 30 percent or more on green ranges from 8 percent (UK) to 38 percent (Brazil).

“With the global climate change discussion focused on what the major new economic powerhouses like China, India, and Brazil are willing to do to control their emissions, those three countries stood out in our polling as more interested in buying from environmentally friendly companies and more willing to spend more on green products,” said Scott Siff, executive vice president of PSB. “From a political perspective, this turns the assumptions about those countries on their heads, and from a business perspective it says the market for green branding and green products may be even bigger than generally thought.”

The study finds similar global agreement when consumers are asked about how important it is that companies be “green.” At least 77 percent of consumers in all countries say it’s somewhat or very important; in India and China the numbers are significantly higher: 87 and 98 percent, respectively, say that corporate reputation is an important purchase consideration. Consumers from all seven countries also agreed that the most important step a company can take to demonstrate its “green-ness” is to reduce the amount of toxic or other dangerous substances in its products and business processes.


Steven Chu on Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Steven Chu
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Geothermal Most Efficient Renewable Energy Sources - Study

SustainableBusiness.com News via Suzanne Nolan

As the U.S. Congress debates an energy and climate bill, government organizations and corporations are assessing renewable energy alternatives. Which are the most efficient and improving the fastest? According to a new study from NYU's Stern school of Business, geothermal and wind energy are more efficient, and are yielding greater returns on the R&D invested in them, than most other renewable energy alternatives.

NYU Stern Professor Melissa Schilling, an expert in strategic management and technology and innovation management, finds that the cost of generating electricity with geothermal or wind energy is a fraction of the cost of solar energy. More important, the performance of both is improving much more per dollar of R&D invested in them than solar technologies. This is the first study to explore the trajectory of performance improvement of renewable energy alternatives.

Schilling examined data on government R&D investment and technological improvement and found taht geothermal energy is the most efficient renewable energy alternative and is improving the fastest. Wind energy is second.

In addition, fossil fuel technologies are no longer improving (in terms of efficiency) much--if at all. These technologies have likely reached their performance limits, though the government still spends far more on them.

According to stern, geothermal energy could become cheaper than fossil fuels with R&D spending of as little as $3.3 billion.

Both geothermal and wind energy technologies have been underfunded by national governments relative to funding for solar technologies, and government funding of fossil fuel technologies might be excessive given their diminishing performance, the report concludes.

The full paper was recently published in Energy Policy and is available as a PDF at the link below.

Website: w4.stern.nyu.edu/news/docs/JEPO_Technology_S_Curves.pd

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Inaugural CAC Advocacy Day a Big Success

Katie Johnson, USGBC-NCC

The USGBC California Advocacy Coalition (CAC) conducted its first ever Advocacy Day in Sacramento on July 8th. Members of the newly-formed CAC gathered in the state’s capitol to introduce California’s eight USGBC Chapters to 38 state lawmakers and their staff. Nearly 40 USGBC volunteers from all corners of the state joined forces to highlight how green building legislation, education and regulation are integral for ensuring a healthy environment and economy in California. They were joined by USGBC National Advocacy staff. USGBC-NCC Director Elizabeth Echols affirmed that the day was an overall success. “We exceeded our expectations for the CAC’s first Advocacy Day and laid the groundwork to take our statewide advocacy efforts to the next level.”

Immediately following a day of lobbying, the CAC hosted a reception honoring Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for his leadership on SB 375—Redesigning Communities to Reduce Greenhouse Gases. SB 375 lays out a smart growth strategy in order to reach California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals set forth in the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). USGBC CAC members were joined by a dozen State policymakers and their staff including guest of honor, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senator Fran Pavley (author of AB 32), Senator Loni Hancock, Senator Mark Leno, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, Assemblymember Paul Fong and Assemblymember Norma Torres.

Dennis Murphy, NCC Advocacy Committee Chair and newly named California Advocacy Coalition Chair, was very encouraged. “During the last meeting of the day, the staffer we were meeting with commented that she couldn’t believe that this was our first time out. Today we introduced ourselves and let people know that the united chapters of the California USGBC will be a key policy resource moving forward. Elizabeth Echols, Justin Malan, Dan Geiger and NCC staff did a tremendous job putting this together. Now it will be incumbent on us to continue to build on this success.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

T. Boone Pickens to Sell Off 667 Wind Turbines

From Triple Pundit

As part of the first phase to build a 4,000 MW wind farm in the Texas panhandle, Pickens ordered 667 turbines from GE. These turbines are to be ready in 2010 and 2011, but the wind farm was called off due to funding and transmission problems. Now that's a boondoggle.

The economy and the wind energy market were very different just over a year ago when this order was placed. The wind industry was booming and a massive 8,900 MW of wind energy capacity was installed in 2008 in North America—this represents 40% of all total new capacity. Steel prices were sky high and demand greatly exceeded turbine supply. Prices soared and it was difficult to buy small quantities of turbines.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The (Health) Cost Conundrum

Yes, this blog focuses on novel drilling technology for ground source heat pumps and may delve into energy efficiency issues and get into clean tech esoterica like the N. Young's diesel-battery '59 Lincoln...but, health care? Well, considering that health care takes up 1/6 of our collective spending and the share is rising, we have to fix this.

Just as we talk about the GSHP market comprising buildings, (residential/commercial, retrofit/new) on the ground, health care policy affects us all. No getting around it.

So that's why we want to mention Atul Gawande's excellent article in the recent New Yorker. He compares health costs in the otherwise similar areas of McAllen, Texas and El Paso and tries to determine why McAllen spends twice per patient as El Paso ($7,504) does. From there, it is on to review of the efficiencies found at the Mayo Clinic and Grand Junction, CO. "Americans like to believe that, with most things, more is better. But research suggests that where medicine is concerned it may actually be worse."

Gawande frames the choice ahead: "As America struggles to extend health-care coverage while curbing health-care costs, we face a decision that is more important than whether we have a public-insurance option, more important than whether we will have a single-payer system in the long run or a mixture of public and private insurance, as we do now. The decision is whether we are going to reward the leaders who are trying to build a new generation of Mayos and Grand Junctions. If we don’t, McAllen won’t be an outlier. It will be our future."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Potter Flame Jet Drill Video Surfaces

National Geographic Channel excerpt, previously shown outside the US. Link here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Land Conservation Wise Use..Who Knew?

Study finds potential profits in conservation

BANGKOK (AP) — Selling credits for the billions of tons of carbon that are locked in Indonesia's tropical rain forests could be as profitable as converting these areas into palm oil plantations, a study released Friday found.

The study, in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Conservation Letters, also found that conserving the 3.3 million hectares (8.2 million acres) that are slated to become plantations on Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, would boost the region's biodiversity. The 800 proposed plantations that were studied contain 40 of the region's 46 threatened mammals including orangutans and pygmy elephants, the study found.

"Our study clearly demonstrates that payments made to reduce carbon emissions from forests could also be an efficient and effective way to protect biodiversity," said Oscar Venter, a conservation biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and the study's lead author. "We now need to see policy discussions catch up with science because at the moment the potential co-benefits of linking forest protection to biodiversity are not getting the attention they deserve."

Under an international climate change agreement which would replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, governments are expected to create a framework allowing countries to get compensated for protecting their forests.

Among the scenarios being considered are providing countries with direct financial assistance for reducing their emissions from forests or allowing them to gain credits, which they could sell on an international carbon market to companies that have exceeded their allotted carbon cap.

Under the latter scenario, the study concluded that conserving forests would be more profitable than clearing them for palm oil if the credits could be sold for $10 to $33 per ton. Currently, the rate per ton is around $20, the study said.

A carbon trading market — or "cap-and-trade" system — works much like any commodities market except that traders make their fees selling a ton of carbon dioxide instead of corn or copper. At this point, the carbon dioxide traded for the most part comes from industrial sources.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Moving, ARPA-E and GSHP

The crack team of GroundSource bloggers have been somewhat preoccupied of late moving offices and equipment around as well as dealing with the onslaught of opportunity generated by our federal friends at the Department of Energy. Talk about government in action. More posts after we catch our breaths.

Friday, May 15, 2009

GroundSource Cited as "Geothermal Upstart"

Unique Applications of Building-Integrated Renewable Energy Systems
by Charles W. Thurston
[from RenewableEnergyWorld.com]

Thanks to outdated design, buildings consume close to 70 percent of all U.S. energy, so it's not surprising that President Barack Obama's stimulus package includes $65 billion in funding and tax credits for green energy and energy efficiency. But the technology choices for adopting building-integrated renewable energy (BIRE) can still be awe-inspiring: should architects focus on the U.S. subsidy of $5 billion for weatherization, $4.5 billion for transforming federal buildings into green buildings or the $3.6 billion for efficiency and other savings?

"The overall green building market (both non-residential and residential) is likely to more than double from today's $36-49 billion to $96-140 billion by 2013."

-- McGraw-Hill's Green Outlook 2009

Geothermal Upstart Targets Residential Installations

Beneath virtually every building in the country, ground source heat pumps (GHPs) hold out much promise for building integrated use, especially for new buildings where drilling access is presumably easier. Indeed, geothermal could provide a leading share of the renewable mix in a modern structure. According to Patrick J. Hughes, an analyst at the Energy and Transportation Science Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, "If the federal government set a goal for the U.S. buildings sector to use no more non-renewable primary energy in 2030 than it did in 2008, based on previous analyses, it is estimated that 35 to 40 percent of this goal, or a savings of 3.4 to 3.9 quads annually, could be achieved through aggressive deployment of GHPs. "

One company pushing the edge of drilling technology for ground source heat pumps is GroundSource Geothermal Inc., of Redwood City, CA, which is developing shallow dry-rock engineered geothermal systems or EGS, at depths ranging between 250 and 400 feet. A 2008 Clean Tech Open award winner, the company is "testing its GeoJetter drill system, comprised of four independently-operating units that use high-pressure and steel shot to yield a finished borehole," says Dennis Murphy, the president of the company.

Unlike standard drilling, their borehole is elliptically-shaped rather than circular, reducing cuttings by 40%. While building up its capital base, the company expects to launch a pilot residential business in Northern California next year, and subsequently to roll out franchise-detailed operations across the country, he said.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The LEED Platinum House includes GSHP

A funny thing happens when I check out the articles about the Net Zero Energy and LEED Platinum houses featured on the very well-done Jetson Green blog...almost all seem to feature a ground source heat pump to take care of their heating, cooling and hot water. Just imagine that

The RainShine House has received LEED Platinum certification, the first modernist residence in the Southeastern U.S. to achieve such a lofty award. Gound source heat pump? Check.

This home doesn't have a catchy name like "Tara," but it is the first LEED Platinum home in Vermont, although perhaps more importantly, it's a documented and legitimate zero net energy home.
It was also a multiple award winner: GreenSource Best Green House of March 2009, 2008 AIA Vermont Honor Award for Sustainability and Design, Efficiency Vermont's Best of the Best Award in 2008, and NESEA $10,000 Prize for Zero Net Energy Residence. GSHP? Yah sure, you betcha.

Located on the beach of Cape Cod, this home features a jaw-dropping, west-facing view of the water that, although gorgeous, isn’t particularly energy efficient. Nevertheless, the narrow site and desire for an ocean view pretty much mandated large and expansive windows in that area of the home. The rest of the envelope, therefore, compensates for what is lost in energy performance on westerly facade and the heating, cooling and hot water is taken care of by the ground source heat pump. The combined effect of this and a solar array ensures that the Truro Residence produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. It’s a net-zero energy home. Plus, the site is landscaped with indigenous plants that require no irrigation, and the design prioritized materials (and GSHP) that maintain healthy indoor air quality.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Congress To Stop Using Coal In Power Plant

Filed by Nick Sabloff, Huffington Post
WASHINGTON — The 99-year-old Capitol Power Plant, which provides steam for heat and hot water in congressional buildings, is ending its distinction of being the only coal-burning facility in the District of Columbia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday that the switch to natural gas as the sole fuel source used at the plant was part of their efforts to reduce the carbon pollution impact of Congress on the nation's capital.

"The Congress of the United States should not only be a model for the nation, but also a good neighbor," Pelosi said.

The two Democratic leaders have for the past several years initiated steps to make the Capitol grounds more environmentally friendly. But moves to change light bulbs, use less paper and buy fuel-efficient vehicles have in some respects been overshadowed by the smoke that continues to rise from the power plant about four blocks south of the Capitol. The D.C. government has complained that the plant worsens air quality and has affected the respiratory health of residents and workers in the area, particularly children.
The plant last year operated on about 65 percent natural gas and 35 percent coal. Pelosi's office said the plant has not burned coal since March and would continue to go without coal barring problems.Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers cautioned in a letter to Pelosi that work still needed to be done to upgrade the natural gas pipelines. He said coal might still have to be used as a backup in circumstances where heating needs exceed capacity of the natural gas pipelines, when abnormally cold conditions increase demand or when there are equipment outages.The Capitol complex would not totally end its dependence on coal. Electricity is supplied by a local utility company that uses coal as a power source.Ending the use of coal at the power plant has met some resistance from coal state lawmakers, who have said it sends the wrong message about the possibilities of But Hill Residents for Steam Plant Conversion, a neighborhood group, has urged Pelosi and Reid to move quickly to stop using coal at the plant, saying it was a major source of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate air pollution.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Green House of the Future Includes GSHP

The Wall Street Journal asked architects to draw up plans for the most energy-efficient houses they could imagine. They imagined quite a bit.

What will the energy-efficient house of the future look like?

It could have gardens on its walls or a pond stocked with fish for dinner. It might mimic a tree, turning sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen. Or perhaps it will be more like a lizard, changing its color to suit the weather and healing itself when it gets damaged.

Those are just a handful of the possibilities that emerged from an exercise in futurism. The Wall Street Journal asked four architects to design an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable house without regard to cost, technology, aesthetics or the way we are used to living.

The idea was not to dream up anything impossible or unlikely -- in other words, no antigravity living rooms. Instead, we asked the architects to think of what technology might make possible in the next few decades. They in turn asked us to rethink the way we live.

"This is a time of re-examining values, re-examining what we need," says one of our architects, Rick Cook, of the New York firm Cook + Fox. "We are re-examining the idea of home."

A fresh look may be long overdue, given the amount of damage that homes can do to the environment. It's easy to envision a power plant spewing pollution or a highway full of cars burning billions of gallons of petroleum. But buildings -- silent and unmoving -- are the quiet users of much of our energy, through electricity, heating and water consumption. The U.S. Energy Department estimates buildings are responsible for 39% of our energy consumption and a similar percentage of greenhouse-gas emissions.

The growing awareness of that fact helps explain why green building is one of the most pervasive trends in the construction industry -- even as the economy struggles and home-building is at its lowest level in a generation.

So, how will the green homes of tomorrow help solve the energy puzzle? Here's a gander into the future.

"I'd love to build a house like a tree," says architect William McDonough of the Charlottesville, Va., firm William McDonough + Partners. And that's what he set out to do here.

The surface of his house, like a leaf, contains a photosynthetic layer that captures sunlight. Unlike today's solar panels, which are often pasted above a roofline, these are woven into the fabric of the exterior. They heat water and generate electricity for the home -- and create oxygen for the atmosphere, to offset carbon produced in other areas of the home.

Mr. McDonough envisions a sleek, curved roof with generous eaves to provide shade, which lowers the heat load in summer, thereby reducing the need for energy-hogging air conditioning. The roof also insulates and provides an outdoor garden. (Mr. McDonough designed a similar "green roof" for a Ford Motor Co. factory -- one of the first large U.S. buildings with that design.)

The "bark" of the treelike house would be thin, insulating films that would self-clean and self-heal, Mr. McDonough says, thus avoiding the need to replace them after years of exposure to the elements.

William McDonough + Partners envisions its house like a tree. The "bark" of the house is made up of thin, insulating films that would self-clean and self-heal if damaged. A curved roof with large eaves provides shade, which lowers the heat load in summer. The "trunk," or the frame of the home, consists of carbon tubes, while the "roots" are a heat-pump system buried in the yard.

It sounds far-fetched, but some of these technologies already exist. Self-cleaning glass, for instance, has a special coating that uses ultraviolet sunlight to break down organic dirt; rainwater then washes the filth away.

Self-healing paints that contain microscopic capsules of color are in use on some car paint, for instance. These vessels break open when the surface of the paint is scratched to repair the damage. Similar ideas could expand to repair other materials such as glass or cladding.

The "trunk" -- or the frame of the home -- would eschew wood or metals. Instead, lightweight, "resource efficient" carbon tubes would keep the structure standing upright.

Finally, the "roots" of the home would be a ground-source heat-pump exchange system buried in the yard. It would take advantage of the relatively constant temperature of the soil to control the home's climate -- bringing in heat in winter, when the ground is warmer than the surrounding air, and cool in the summer, when the ground's temperature is lower. Such systems exist today, but cost puts them out of the reach of most homeowners. (Until GroundSource Geo debuts next year...-ed.)


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Going Back to School for Earth Day

When it comes to promoting energy efficiency and our part to play, we value all aspects of the educational pipeline. Last week, Dennis Murphy was part of a provacative discussion entitled "Integrating the Clean Tech Value Chain." This MIT/Stanford VLAB Emerging Business Forum was produced by GroundSource mentor Ron Long, moderated by Dan Lankford of Wavepoint Ventures and hosted by Cooley, Godward. Quite a good time was had.

Not to be outdone, Palo Alto's trailblazing El Carmelo Elementary School will be the hub of Earth Day afternoon Expo activities. GroundSource was invited by Deloitte/CTO/PTA member Brian Goncher to explain heat pump mechanics to children and their parents. We look forward to many "aha" moments, despite the absence of a cute heat pump mascot.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bob Potter's Deep Pursuit of Hot Dry Rocks

"Drill, baby, Drill"
BY: Todd Woody @ grist

A veteran of the Manhattan Project is developing technology that could make it easier to tap geothermal energy locked deep underground.

[disclosure: GroundSource Geo is affiliated with Potter Drilling]

It’s the archetypal Silicon Valley story: Unknown entrepreneur toils away on a Big Idea in an anonymous office park until discovered by one of the Valley’s legendary deep-pocketed investors.

Another boy wonder CEO hatching the next Twitter or Facebook? Not quite. Meet Bob Potter, 88. He started his hardware company when he was just 83 with technology that grew out of his work on the Manhattan Project (yes, that Manhattan Project) back in the 1940s at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

It’s all about bits, not bytes. Bits as in drill bits. Potter Drilling is developing a deep-drilling technology to tap geothermal heat miles below the earth’s surface—heat that could be used to generate carbon-free electricity.

Conventional geothermal power plants draw upon underground aquifers of hot water relatively close to the surface to create steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. The problem is that underground water currently tapped for geothermal is found mainly in the western United States. But the technology Potter is developing could drill much deeper, meaning geothermal energy could be generated nationwide.

According to a 2006 MIT study, so-called Enhanced Geothermal Systems could potentially supply 2,500 times the country’s current energy consumption. That grabbed Google’s attention, and last August the Internet giant’s philanthropic arm agreed to invest $4 million in Potter Drilling as part of its green energy initiative.

The tech twist: Potter drills not with hard-as-diamonds bits but with water—extremely hot water. (More on that in a bit.) The goal is to radically cut the cost of EGS to spread the technology to regions that rely too much on coal for generating electricity but are not suited for solar, wind and other renewable energy generation.

“It is fun to see some old dreams come true,” says Potter standing in the company’s Redwood City lab-slash-workshop in a light-industrial park wedged in between Interstate 101 and the railroad tracks. He has just pulled into the parking lot after making the 1,200-mile drive up from his home in New Mexico (with a side trip to Fresno to visit his 95-year-old brother).

Tall and lean and partial to bolo ties, Potter looks as much a western rancher as a rocket scientist. He is in fact one of the fathers of EGS. Starting in the 1950s, Potter and colleagues at Los Alamos began investigating the potential of fracturing pockets of super-heated rocks located deep beneath earth’s surface. Their idea: Inject water in the fractured rock and pump the hot water to the surface to create steam to drive a turbine. The water is then re-circulated back underground in a closed loop.

But Potter soon encountered a major obstacle to making geothermal as common as coal: Drilling as deep as six miles below the earth’s surface is incredibly expensive, presenting a host of obstacles to overcome. Even conventional geothermal developers spend millions of dollars to just drill test wells. But EGS rigs must penetrate miles of hard rock that slows drilling to a crawl. And a broken drill bit 30,000 feet underground can force the abandonment of a $10 million well.

“Getting into the drilling was forced on us in a way because that was thing that really prevented hot fractured rocks from being viable,” says Potter.

When government funding of geothermal research dried up with the crash of oil prices in the early 1980s, Potter moved on to other endeavors. But in the late 1990s he returned to geothermal, and with MIT chemical engineering expert Jefferson Tester patented a drilling technology called hydrothermal spallation. Potter then persuaded his son Jared to start a company in 2004 to commercialize the technology and serve as its CEO.

The younger Potter holds a Ph.D. in geology from Stanford University and had already started two Silicon Valley geological-related companies. Potter Drilling limped along for a few years, unable to interest the Valley’s venture capitalists to fund basic R&D on something that seemed so, well, industrial and old economy.

Then Google came calling on a recommendation from Tester. “If Google hadn’t come along, the company would have died,” says Jared Potter, 56.

What sealed the Google deal was a demo of Potter Drilling’s technology like the one I’m about to see. We’re standing in front of a contraption that looks like a prop from the original “Star Trek.” Salad plate-sized analog gauges line either side of the seven-foot-tall U-shaped device. Suspended in the center is a silver container about the size of small beer keg connected to various tubes and valves.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Are ultracapacitors the key to making hybrids king of the auto market?

The Dark Horse in the Race to Power Hybrid Cars

By Larry Greenemeier Scientific American

MEAN GREEN MACHINE: An ultracapacitor-equipped Toyota Supra HV-R coupe was the only hybrid to win the 24-hour endurance race held at Japan's Tokachi International Speedway. Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The greatest victory so far for the cars, fueled by a combo of electricity and gas, came just weeks ago when an ultracapacitor-equipped Toyota Supra HV-R coupe became the first hybrid to win the 24-hour endurance car race held at Japan's Tokachi International Speedway. The hybrid Supra finished 616 laps of the 5.1-kilometer (roughly threemile) course—19 more laps than the second-place nonhybrid Nissan Fairlady Z. "The Toyota that won was able to deliver energy more quickly, accelerate faster, and use braking generation more efficiently," says Kevin Mak, an analyst with research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics and author of a recent study that explores the potential for ultracapacitors to complement and possibly even replace batteries in hybrid vehicles. "The days of the large hybrid vehicle battery pack may be numbered," he adds.

The reason, he says: capacitor technology that stores energy in the electric field between a pair of closely spaced conductors. An ultracapacitor, also called a supercapacitor, is an electrochemical capacitor with a higher energy density than normal capacitors, which potentially makes them a better fit for hybrid vehicles.

Ultracapacitors store electricity by physically separating positive and negative charges. Batteries store energy using toxic chemicals and their effectiveness fades over time. In addition, recycling the heavy metals in batteries is a difficult task. Capacitors, on the other hand, are constructed of much smaller fine carbon nanotubes, Mak says.

A major advantage of ultracapacitors is their ability to efficiently capture electricity from regenerative braking systems and provide that electricity to power a car's acceleration. Ultracapacitors not only charge more quickly than batteries, they also release energy more quickly, Mak says.

A drawback to their use is the technology's inability to store as much energy as a battery. But the Tokachi race proved that ultracapacitors could be more widely used in conjunction with smaller batteries to power hybrid cars. "Without the need for chemicals, capacitors can be lighter, thereby enabling the hybrid car maker to improve fuel economy further and reduce costs," Mak says. "The low weight would then make hybrid power trains more readily available to compact car segments as [has been] seen on Honda and Mazda concept cars since 1997."


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Introducing iBone

Congratulations to GroundSource Geo friend Tom Scharfeld for the unleashing of the iBone trombone app."Our aim is to produce something playable, practicable, and fun," said Tom."With iBone, we've brought the (trom)Bone and the band to the phone so users can make music, have fun, and even learn wherever they may be."

Visit http://ibone.spoonjack.com for video and images. iBone is available in the iTunes App Store now with an introductory price of $2.99.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cap & Trade: Two Views, a Correction and a Modest Proposal

Thomas Friedman: Show Us the Ball

Representative John B. Larson, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has circulated a draft bill that would impose “a per-unit tax on the carbon-dioxide content of fossil fuels, beginning at a rate of $15 per metric ton of CO2 and increasing by $10 each year.” The bill sets a goal, rather than a cap, on emissions at 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, and if the goal for the first five years is not met, the tax automatically increases by an additional $5 per metric ton. The bill implements a fee on carbon-intensive imports, as well, to press China to follow suit. Larson would use most of the income to reduce people’s payroll taxes: We tax your carbon sins and un-tax your payroll wins.

People get that — and simplicity matters. Americans will be willing to pay a tax for their children to be less threatened, breathe cleaner air and live in a more sustainable world with a stronger America. They are much less likely to support a firm in London trading offsets from an electric bill in Boston with a derivatives firm in New York in order to help fund an aluminum smelter in Beijing, which is what cap-and-trade is all about. People won’t support what they can’t explain.

Michele Bachmann: Lost jobs, big hikes in your bills -- that's cap-and-trade

President Obama has repeatedly said he will not raise taxes on low- and middle-income families, yet his policies do not match his rhetoric. Take for instance, a new tax he has proposed on the use of energy. It's called cap-and-trade or, more appropriately, cap-and-tax. The tax would require energy producers and businesses to pay to emit carbon emissions in the hope of reducing greenhouse gases.

The Democrats need the revenue this will generate to pay for their expensive agenda. But getting it this way would be shortsighted because it will cost far more in the long run than it will bring in. While the president originally estimated that implementing this plan would cost $646 billion over eight years, his deputy director for the National Economic Council, Jason Furman, recently stated that it could cost up to three times that -- bringing the cost closer to $2 trillion.

Any way you look at it, it's low- and middle-income Americans who will pay dearly for this. According to an analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the average American household could expect its yearly energy bill to increase by $3,128 per year. Using an analysis by Peter Orszag, President Obama's budget director, that number would be closer to $4,000.

MIT Scientist: Republicans Misusing My Climate Change Paper

Apparently from this M.I.T. study, which found that a cap-and-trade plan along the lines of the one envisioned by the Obama administration would raise $366 billion a year at the outset. In reality, many of those costs will be passed on to consumers, but those costs will be offset by rebates and conservation and efficiency measures and the transition to other fuel sources and so on. In fact, the exact same study concluded that the actual costs to consumers would begin at $31 a year--or $79 per family.

Gilbert Metcalf in Technology Review

A leading economist explains why a carbon tax is the best strategy for cutting greenhouse gases and the use of fossil fuels.

The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long May You Run: Electric Car Killer on Life Support

From Nate Silver's excellent fivethirtyeight.com blog:
Let's take something of a 30,000-foot view on the condition of General Motors. The chart below details GM's operating margin -- its profits divided into its revenues -- over the past 50 years (below).

I haven't provided the dates on the chart because they aren't important. The auto business is highly cyclical because consumers are buying expensive assets that last for years at a time. Nobody ever really has to buy a new car (they can buy a used one if their car breaks down), and therefore consumers are willing to hold on to their existing vehicles and wait out economic slumps. You can't do that with, say, a loaf of bread, or even something like a cellphone, which has a much shorter lifespan.

But you knew all of that already. The remarkable thing is that, once you account for the economic cycles, the trend for GM is exceptionally steady -- an exceptionally steady trend downward. There were still bad times thirty years ago -- but they weren't bad enough to threaten GM's survival, and conversely, the good times were much better. These are General Motors' operating margins by decade:
Average Annual Operating Margin, General Motors
1960s: 8.7%
1970s: 5.5%
1980s: 3.0%
1990s: 1.3%*
2000s: -0.5%
* Excludes one-time $20 billion accounting charge for retiree health benefits in 1992.
If I were an alien beaming down from Rigel-3 looking at this pattern -- an alien with an MBA degree -- my first guess is that it would reflect some sort of systemic problem, some chronic imbalance that magnified over time. Something, in other words, like the costs of GM's retiree pension and health care programs. It's difficult to get a precise figure on these so-called legacy costs, but they averaged about $7 billion per year between 1993 and 2007 and are probably at least $10 billion per year now. Considering that GM has never made as much as $10 billion in profit in a year and that its entire operating lossses in 2008 were $13.8 billion, you can see why this is a significant problem.

How To Save A Major Automobile Company by Neil Young of LincVolt in Huffington Post

Find a new ownership group. The culture must change. It is time to turn the page. In the high technology sector there are several candidates for ownership of a major car and truck manufacturer. We need forward looking people who are not restricted by the existing culture in Detroit. We need visionary people now with business sense to create automobiles that do not contribute to global warming.

It is time to change and our problems can facilitate our solutions. We can no longer afford to continue down Detroit's old road. The people have spoken. They do not want gas guzzlers (although they still like big cars and trucks). It is possible to build large long-range vehicles that are very efficient. People will buy those vehicles because they represent real change and a solution that we can live with.

The government must take advantage of the powerful position that exists today. The Big 3 are looking for a bailout. They should only get it if they agree to stop building autos that contribute to global warming now. The stress on the auto manufacturers today is gigantic. In order to keep people working in their jobs and keep factories open, this plan is suggested:

The big three must reduce models to basics. a truck, an SUV, a large family sedan, an economy sedan, and a sports car. Use existing tooling.

Keep building these models to keep the workforce employed but build them without engines and transmissions. These new vehicles, called Transition Rollers, are ready for a re-power. No new tooling is required at this stage. The adapters are part of the kits described next.

At the same time as the new Transition Rollers are being built, keeping the work force working, utilize existing technology now, create re-power kits to retrofit the Transition Rollers to SCEVs (self charging electric vehicles) for long range capability up to and over 100mpg. If you don't think this technology is realistic or available, check out the Progressive Insurance Automotive X prize. Alternatively, check out Lincvolt.com or other examples.

A bailed out Auto manufacturer must open or re-purpose one or more factories and dedicate them to do the re-power/retrofit assembly. These factories would focus on re-powering the Transition Rollers into SCEVs but could also retrofit and re-power many existing vehicles to SCEVs. These existing vehicles are currently sitting unsold at dealerships across America.

Auto manufacturers taking advantage of a government bailout must only sell clean and green vehicles that do not contribute to global warming. No more internal combustion engines that run exclusively on fossil fuels can be sold period.

No Big Three excuses like "new tooling takes time". New tooling is not a requirement for SCEV transition rollers.

Build only new vehicles that attain the goal of reversing global warming and enhancing National Security.

Government legislation going with the bailout should include tax breaks for purchasers of these cars with the new green SCEV technology. The legislation accompanying the bailout of major auto manufacturers must include directives to build only vehicles that attain the goal of reversing global warming while enhancing National security, and provide the financial assistance to make manufacturing these cars affordable in the short term while the industry re-stabilizes.

Eventually the SCEV technology could be built into every new car and truck as it is being assembled and the stop gap plan described above would have completed its job of keeping America building and working through this turbulent time.

Detroit has had a long time to adapt to the new world and now the failure of Detroit's actions is costing us all. We pay the bailout. Let's make a good deal for the future of America and the Planet. Companies like UQM (Colorado) and others build great electric motors right here in the USA. Use these domestic electric motors. Put these people to work now. This plan reverses the flow from negative to positive because people need and will buy clean and green cars to be part of World Change. Unique wheel covers will identify these cars on the road so that others can see the great example a new car owner is making. People want America to win!

This plan addresses the issue of Global warming from our automobiles while enhancing our National Security and keeping Detroit working.

Neil Young, activist (Bridge School, Farm Aid) rock legend, has assembled a team that is in the process of transforming his gargantuan 1959 Lincoln Continental from a gas guzzler into a showcase for green technology and sustainability. The car will be entered into the Automotive X Prize that offers a $10 million prize to develop a vehicle that can get 100 miles per gallon or better. The almost 50 year old Lincoln, one of the biggest, heaviest production cars of all time, has been re-named "Linc Volt" and is the subject of a feature documentary called "Repowering The American Dream" that is now in production under the aegis of Young's Shakey Pictures. New york times article link.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs...City Hall in San Jose

"Clean Tech Open Stretches its Reach, Adds More Prize Money"

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal 3.20.09
By: Lisa Sibley

Clean Tech Open Executive Director Rex Northen on Thursday unveiled the nonprofit’s newest challenge — and it goes far beyond its initial endeavor of connecting entrepreneurs with a network of vendors and funding.

Northen said the Open’s goal is to create 100,000 jobs in 10 regions by 2015.

To accomplish this, Northen said, “We need to take the best of Silicon Valley and bring it to the rest of the nation. It’s about giving regional players access to venture capitalists and venture capitalists access to these businesses.”

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, an early champion of clean techology, jumped right on board. “ I am signing up for 25 percent of this cleantech challenge,” he said.

Reed announced his commitment to add 25,000 jobs to the industry at the launch of the fourth annual Clean Tech Open competition at the City Hall Rotunda.

This year’s competition will also be the richest with $1 million in regional prizes -- including a grand prize of $250,000 -- and will add two more regions to the field, the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. Already 120 competitors have signed up in the three regions, which Northen said is ahead of schedule.

Since it began four years ago, the Clean Tech Open has spawned 125 companies, raised $125 million in capital and added 500 jobs.

GroundSource Geo, a 2008 winner and San Jose Environmental Business Cluster member, developed non-impact drill technology for ground-source heat pumps. GroundSource aims to be a major provider of green collar jobs locally, through equipment manufacturing and HQ operations -- as well as nationally by spurring streamlined installations of ground-source heat pumps throughout residential, commercial and institutional buildings in North America.