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Increasing Energy Efficiency with New Federal Incentives

By Alyson Kenward

Last week during the State of the Union address, President Obama announced new plans to promote the development of clean energy technology and increase the use of clean energy sources in America. Today he unveiled a detailed strategy to improve the energy efficiency of commercial buildings across the country. The new proposal, known as the "Better Business Initiative," aims to introduce financial incentives for business owners to upgrade offices, stores, schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and other types of commercial buildings, with the goal of increasing the total energy efficiency in America’s buildings by 20 percent by the end of this decade.

Switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs is one recommended way businesses can increase energy efficiency. Credit: Anton Fomkin/flickr

Aspiring to save business owners an estimated $40 billion dollars by 2020, the Better Business Initiative proposes tax incentives for businesses to upgrade their facilities and to adopt new energy-saving practices in the workplace. The proposal also promotes increased financing opportunities for the commercial sector and offers incentives at the state and municipal level for governments to streamline the standards that will encourage owners to install upgrades in older buildings. Businesses accounted for about 20 percent of all the energy consumed in the America in 2009.

In a press release describing the new initiative, the White House says the plans will not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but will also, like other clean energy proposals, create jobs, save money, and reduce the...


A Million New Vehicles, but Unknown Emissions Savings

Three things for you to think about:

1)   During his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama announced that the U.S. aims to have one million “advanced technology” vehicles on the road by 2015.

2)   Advanced technology cars are electric or hybrid electric vehicles that don’t run solely off a traditional combustion engine. They are expected to emit less carbon dioxide than regular cars if the electricity does not come from coal power.

3)   A new report from MIT says that the technology to reduce vehicle emissions is ready and waiting to make a difference — but building the infrastructure to support the technology is a tough task.

The debrief:

For the United States, there are plenty of benefits to ramping up the production of “advanced technology” cars, which are cars without plain old combustion engines. According to the Department of Energy, producing hundreds of thousands of these vehicles would stimulate the economy and create new jobs. And because the cars don’t rely entirely on petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel, switching to hybrid and electric cars means the country may not have to rely as much on other nations for transportation fuel. Policy makers are also often quick to mention that advanced technology cars can help lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

A Toyota Prius hybrid plug-in vehicle, plugged in and charging. Credit: Tom Rafferty/flickr.

But according to a new analysis from MIT’s Energy Initiative, just bringing on new and cleaner burning vehicles won’t be enough to lower emissions; an overhaul of e...


Carbon Markets for Developing Communities

Guest post by Evan A. Thomas, Manna Energy Limited, and Alison Hill, Vestergaard Frandsen

Climate change is expected to impact people in developing countries in significant ways, including dramatically changing water and energy availability. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico in December that, “We know that the poorest countries will suffer the earliest and the most from climate change. They will bear the brunt of changing weather patterns, water shortages, and rising sea levels even though they are the least equipped to deal with them.”

The carbon finance markets created by the UNFCCC exist to enable the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide through economic incentives, while allowing cleaner economic development to take place.

However, the carbon markets have not yet been well utilized for humanitarian technologies in least developed countries, particularly in Africa. For example, the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM, is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, yet less than two percent of that benefits African nations.

Meanwhile, voluntary carbon markets, led by the Gold Standard Registry, are working to demonstrate significant impacts in rural communities around the world.

However, those markets are not easily accessible to smaller non-profits, companies, or even countries. Firstly, they are expensive to develo...


Getting the Carbon Out of Hydrocarbon Fuels

We Americans love our cars, and our cars love gasoline. Like most love triangles, this one is not without its problems. Namely, the transportation sector, which runs almost exclusively on oil, accounts for a full one-third of U.S. fossil fuel greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These greenhouse gases are likely responsible for a large portion of global warming that has occurred in the past several decades. And an even greater cause for concern in many people’s view is the nation’s dependence on imported oil — in 2009, the U.S. imported 2.2 barrels of oil for every barrel produced domestically — not exactly a ratio for self-sufficiency.

A paper published online in the journal Energy and Fuels on December 6th, reporting on research I did with colleagues at Princeton University, identifies technologies that just might help solve both problems simultaneously. The paper builds on one we published earlier this year.

We designed and analyzed systems that would use technologies that are mostly already available at commercial scale to co-produce low-carbon petroleum-like fuels and electricity. These systems would use coal, an abundant domestic energy source, as the major energy input.  

How can hydrocarbon fuels be low carbon, you might ask, with coal as the starting material?  After all, the fuels are hydrocarbons and coal is the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels.

There are two key features of these systems that would enable low carbon emissions — one involv...


Midwestern Wind Turbines Keep Fresh Breeze Over Nearby Crops

Climate In Context

Three things you need to know

-- The U.S. Department of Energy projects that it is possible for the U.S. to get 20 percent of its electricity from wind energy by 2030, if there is a major investment in building the needed infrastructure.

-- Some of the country’s best wind energy resources are found blowing over the rich agricultural lands of the Midwest.

-- Wind turbines set amidst agricultural land in the Midwest refresh the air around the plants, and now researchers are studying how changes in airflow will impact corn and soybean crops.

The Debrief

Wind turbines such as these have been erected across the Midwest recently. Credit: flickr/WindeBabe. 

When wind turbine blades absorb energy from the wind to generate electricty, they also channel some airflow down towards the ground. Now, researchers are getting a sense of how air currents change at the ground level near large turbines, fueling speculation about how this might affect crops growing nearby.  

Last week at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco, Eugene Takle, an agricultural meteorologist from Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, shared new data (not yet published) showing that at ground level where crops are growing, areas below wind turbines experience more exchange of air than where there aren’t any turbines. Last summer, Takle and his collaborators sampled the air within cornfields that also contain large wind turbines. By measuring the temperature changes, moisture levels, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and wind speeds of...



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