A good short profile of the city of Freiburg, Germany, and their many sustainability initiatives. Freiburg is a little more than double Boulder’s size — both in population and area, so it has a similar average population density. It’s also a university town with a strong tech sector locally. The whole city was re-built post WWII, but they chose to build it along the same lines as the old city, with a dense core, and well defined boundaries. Today about half of daily trips are done by foot or on bike, with another 20% on public transit. They have a local energy efficiency finance program, on top of the national one administered by KfW, and higher building efficiency standards than Germany as a whole. Half their electricity comes from combined heat and power facilities that also provide district heating and hot water. It seems like they’d be a good model city to compare Boulder to, and learn from.
A piece largely referencing Boulder, talking about cities trying to wrest control of their electricity systems from major utilities. At this point I think I’ll probably find any media coverage of this process hopelessly one dimensional, but still, it’s nice to know they care.
A good short English primer on Passivhaus design elements, and the standard itself. If only there were more English documentation.
Geothermal energy is the Earth’s own internal heat. It’s a huge potential resource, but so far it’s seen only very limited use. Traditional geothermal power can only work where there are naturally existing hydrothermal systems that bring the heat of the interior to the surface. A new technique called enhanced (or engineered) geothermal systems (EGS) may make geothermal power much more widely available. If it can be scaled up commercially, EGS will enable us to create hydrothermal systems anywhere there’s hot rock not too deeply buried — which includes a large swath of Colorado. This is potentially significant in the context of creating a zero-carbon electrical system because like hydroelectricity, and unlike wind and solar, geothermal power can be dispatchable: you can turn it on and off at will. This makes it a great complement to intermittent renewable power, as it can be used to fill in the gaps then the wind’s not blowing or the sun’s not shining. It remains to be seen whether it’s technically feasible, and if so at what price, and on what timeline, but it’s certainly worth investigating.
Passive Passion is a good 20 minute long film introduction to the German Passivhaus energy efficiency standard, which reduces building energy use by 80-95% (depending on what existing code you compare it to). It looks at the roots of the design standard in Germany, and gives a few examples from the tens of thousands of Passivhaus certified buildings in Europe, including single family homes, row houses, apartment buildings, public low income housing, and office buildings. They talk about what makes the standard work: airtight building envelopes, super insulation, no thermal bridging, heat recovering ventilation. The film also looks at a few builders and designers in the US trying to popularize the cost effective implementation of these methods. It’s clearly possible. The examples are out there today. We just have to decide to do it! If we’re going to get to carbon zero, someday our buildings will all have to function something like this.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at it again, trying to roll back state renewable energy standards nationwide. The argument behind their model bill, entitled the Electricity Freedom Act, is that renewable energy is simply too expensive. The Skeptical Science blog offers a good short debunking of this claim, based on the cost of electricity in states with aggressive renewable energy goals, and how those costs have changed over the last decade. And this is before any social cost of carbon or other more traditional pollutants is incorporated into the price of fossil fuel based electricity.
- States with a larger proportion of renewable electricity generation do not have detectably higher electric rates.
- Deploying renewable energy sources has not caused electricity prices to increase in those states any faster than in states which continue to rely on fossil fuels.
- Although renewable sources receive larger direct government subsidies per unit of electricity generation, fossil fuels receive larger net subsidies, and have received far higher total historical subsidies.
- When including indirect subsidies such as the social cost of carbon via climate change, fossil fuels are far more heavily subsidized than renewable energy.
- Therefore, transitioning to renewable energy sources, including with renewable electricity standards, has not caused significant electricity rate increases, and overall will likely save money as compared to continuing to rely on fossil fuels, particularly expensive coal.
But really, go read the entire post for more detail.
Passive Passion is a great 20 minute long documentary about the German Passive House energy efficiency standard. It looks at the roots of the design standard in Germany, and gives a bunch of examples of implementations in Europe, from single family homes to row houses, apartment buildings, public housing, office buildings, etc. Talks about what makes the standard work: airtight building envelopes, super insulation, no thermal bridging, heat recovering ventilation. Also looks at a few builders and designers in the US trying to popularize these methods, and do it cost effectively. Clearly it’s possible, we just have to decide to do it!
The Empowerhouse is an affordable, net-zero Passivhaus design, that came out of the Solar Decathlon competition. In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, the team as built a duplex in the Washington DC area that is site net-zero, despite having the smallest solar array of any of the homes entered in the competition. It was able to do this because it took a Passivhaus approach, aggressively minimizing all loads first, sealing the building nearly airtight, and super-insulating it. They also integrated a rooftop garden and terrace. By sharing the heat management equipment between the two relatively small units, they were able to reduce costs substantially. All this means the low income residents will spend much, much less on energy over the lifetime of the building. We need more affordable housing that looks like this.
The NRDC has a plan that would allow the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from existing power plants, without either capitulating to the power sector, or banning coal outright immediately (which would be politically… uh, difficult). The trick is to use fleet-based target, as we do with vehicle emissions standards. The natural (regulatory) unit is the state, so each state could have its own carbon intensity targets or degression pathway, tailored to its initial generation mix. The carbon intensity would decline over time, eventually squeezing coal out of the mix, and could allow energy efficiency improvements to count toward the goal, at least initially. It really amounts to a kind of back-door cap-and-trade for the power sector, and it can be implemented by Obama, all on his lonesome, without any help from the intransigent congress. The hard part here will be setting stringent enough long term targets. 40% reduction by 2025? 90% reduction by 2050?
The LA Times is reporting on the impacts of utility-scale solar power plants in SoCal’s desert counties. What do you get when you start building multi-billion dollar solar installations? Solar land-men, in three piece suits, leaning on your local politicians for favorable tax treatment? Solar astro-turf campaigns, with corporate sponsored buses bringing solar supporters to public meetings? Yeah. Of course you do. How else could it be, within our system? If we do the responsible thing for the climate, and create a wholesale shift away from fossil fuel to renewables like wind and solar, we will have replaced one trillion dollar industry with another, and trillion dollar industries all behave badly. At some level, what we’re fighting for is to create a trillion dollar climate advocate. An incumbent corporate interest, invested in not breaking the sky. And when we’re done, we’ll still have all the greater governance issues lying around, waiting to be dealt with.