In green technology developments this week, the United States and United Kingdom both unveiled new initiatives that will encourage more widespread consumer use of next-generation technology including plug-in electric vehicles, household energy efficiency improvements, and distributed energy.
When the U.S. Department of Energy issued a call for companies nationwide to encourage workplace EV charging, 13 major American employers responded with, “That’s how we roll.” Among the high-profile participants in the new Workplace Charging Challenge will be 3M, the Chrysler Group, Duke Energy, Eli Lilly and Company, Ford, GE, GM, Google, Nissan, San Diego Gas & Electric, Siemens, Tesla, and Verizon (News - Alert). Their pledges commit each partner organization to assess workforce plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging demands; and then develop and implement a plan to install charging infrastructure on-site at one major worksite location, at minimum. In addition, eight stakeholder organizations have signed the Ambassador Pledge to develop and execute plans to support and promote the workplace charging initiative, including: California PEV Collaborative, CALSTART, Electric Drive Transportation Association, Electrification Coalition, International Parking Institute, NextEnergy, Plug In America, and Rocky Mountain Institute. To support the partners and ambassadors who sign the pledge, DOE will provide technical assistance and establish a forum for Partners and Ambassadors to share information.
Householders in England and Wales will be able to “insulate their homes from the cold and their wallets from rising energy prices,” now that the Green Deal has become effective, according to the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Secretary, Edward Davey. As of January 28, the U.K. is making £125 million (US$196 million) available for the Green Deal program, which will enable homeowners and landlords to install energy-efficient improvements at no upfront cost. Instead, they will be able to pay for the property upgrades over time via a charge on their electricity bills.
What’s more, they can participate in a government cash back scheme, if the assessed property improvements are eligible. Packages could be worth over £1,000 (US$1,570), and if they are feeling generous, householders can choose to donate some or all of the cash they receive to a charity or community organization that has signed on with the scheme. The energy-saving improvements that DECC is encouraging include insulation, heating, double-glazing on windows, and installation of distributed energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines. The more work households decide to have done, the more cash they could receive. To qualify for the cash back scheme, prospective householders should schedule a Green Deal property assessment posthaste because funds are limited on a first-come, first-served basis and the rush for remuneration has officially started. The Green Deal is now the U.K.’s flagship energy efficiency improvement program, aiming to improve more than 14 million homes by 2020. The scheme will run for a limited period, and there’s a different scheme in Scotland.
A similar program is starting up in California, where authorities recently launched a Clean Energy Sacramento in partnership with Ygrene Energy Fund, an expert in clean energy finance programs for local governments. Envisioned as a pioneering public-private partnership, Clean Energy Sacramento will offer energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation upgrades to local property owners at no up-front cost. The project is expected to generate thousands of jobs, drive property values while also helping the city of Sacramento to reduce its energy consumption by 15 percent by the year 2020. Funding already has been approved for commercial and residential properties under the program.
In related news, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E (News - Alert)), California’s largest utility provider, has received unanimous approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to buy power from SolarReserve’s planned 150-megawatt (MW) solar thermal plant in eastern Riverside County—which will be the first large-scale solar system in the state to offer energy storage capabilities. The Rice Solar Energy Project’s molten salt system will provide as much as ten hours of energy-storage capability. Construction on the plant—which represents in excess of $750 million of direct investment in California and is expected to generate more than 5,300 jobs across the supply chain—is expected to break ground in early 2014 and begin commercial operation in mid-2016. Construction activities on-site are expected to peak at more than 670 workers. The 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with PG&E for the output from the Rice project will become effective on June 1, 2016. The PPA will help PG&E to conform to a state law that mandates utilities to supply 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2016 and 33 percent by 2020.
Additionally, Volkswagen has “powered up” a 9.5 megawatt (MW) solar system that represents both the largest single solar installation at an automotive manufacturing facility in the United States and in the state of Tennessee—as well as Volkswagen’s largest photovoltaic deployment worldwide. At a dedication ceremony on January 23, dignitaries flipped a giant light switch to signal the official opening of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park, built on 33 acres adjacent to VW’s manufacturing plant. The solar park comprises 33,600 solar modules from Shanghai-based JA Solar, designed to produce 13.1 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity annually. The electricity produced by the solar installation will not be sold back to utilities. Instead, it is expected to meet 12.5 percent of the energy needs of the Chattanooga plant during full production and 100 percent during non-production periods.
Finally, North America’s cities are, quite literally, helping to “pave the way” for the warmer winters that the United States and Canada have been experiencing recently, according to the findings of a new study. In a paper just published in the journal, Nature Climate Change, researchers contend that the “urban heat island effect “is partially responsible for the somewhat milder weather that North Americans have experienced for several years.
What is the urban heat island effect? Anyone who lives near a city has noticed that the heat seems to radiate off the concrete and asphalt surfaces at night, making the metropolitan area at least several degrees warmer than the surrounding suburbs and rural regions. The reason is that urban paving and building materials are good conductors of heat. They absorb the heat during the daytime leaving the surface and the air above the sidewalks, streets, and buildings a little cooler. At night, however, the heat is conducted upward and released in and around the city. And now, the scientists say, when ambient city heat–which is a few degrees higher than it was prior to global warming— is picked up by the jet stream currents in the air, it can lead to massive changes over a large area; causing temperatures to rise or fall by nearly 2°F thousands of miles away. Winter warming was detected as far away from cities as the Canadian prairies. The climatologists found a similar pattern in Asia, where major population centers conducted heat throughout Russia, northern Asia, and eastern China.