Green Energy and Oil

Renewable Energy Supplies About 7% of our Needs

What is the future of our energy landscape? Renewable energy has a long way to go, but there are need and opportunity.

Renewable energy supplies about 7% of all energy consumed in the United States, says the Energy Information Administration. More than 50% of renewable energy is used to generate electricity. China leads the world in total renewable energy consumption thanks to several large hydroelectric projects, but the U.S. is second in renewable electricity production. However, the U.S. is by far the largest consumer of non-renewable energy in the world.

Oil is Important but it is Not Renewable.

Though energy (including petroleum) consumption is down in this recessionary period, the annual U.S. per capita consumption is about 25 barrels of oil, as opposed to Japan at 14, Britain at 11, and China at 2 (and growing). As Peter Tertzakian’s book is titled, world oil consumption is “A Thousand Barrels a Second”. Oil is very ingrained in our society, supplying the fuel for our cars and planes, the means to heat and cool our homes, to fertilize lands and feed animals, to store and cook food, to transport goods nationally and internationally.

Petroleum-based products are as diverse as heart valves, aspirin, computer parts, footballs, and disposable diapers. Oil and natural gas provide 61% of our domestic energy needs, are powerful sources of energy and they are necessary. But, on the negative side, they are not renewable and supplies will one day start to recede (sooner or later). The U.S. imports about 65% of its oil needs, and though this number may have gone down over the last year due to the recession and lower consumption (some estimates are at 57 to 59%), relying on imports can be an issue for national security. And of course, oil is not friendly to the environment.

All Sources of Energy Need to be Developed

There is no question that oil is necessary, and that no other energy can meet its strength. However, it also seems clear (even to oil companies) that we need to develop all sources of energy. Indeed, renewable energy is expected to grow. The EIA projects the total American electricity generation from renewable energy may reach 16% by 2030. Wind power has made the largest strides among renewable energies recently, growing by 50% between 2007 and 2008 (yet still providing a minuscule percentage within the overall renewable energy category). Renewable energy has a long way to go.

Something that may help it along is state-mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). RPS essentially requires a certain amount of electricity be generated (or acquired) from renewable sources. More than half of the U.S. states have RPS in place, but many have escape clauses if the costs go too high. Others have delayed implementation. The EIA, among others, tracks the states and their RPS policies.

Difficulties Facing Green Energy?

What can work against the development and implementation of renewables?

  • The new technologies are often capital-intensive, and these days the banks are not open to much financing and capital is not abundant. Consumers (whether they are residential consumers or commercial consumers) have to weigh the cost and immediate benefits.
  • To help offset the expense, tax credits or other federal or state incentives need to be in place for a long period of time, rather than short periods.
  • Some of the technologies are still being developed, and consumers may hesitate to buy, waiting for the next best version.
  • There is also some resistance to change and the unknown. And there can be other kinds of resistance, too. There are many stories of residential communities fighting against windmills in their “neighborhoods”, for instance.

Renewable energy has a long way to go, but the frontier is opening and many see it as full of opportunity.

Solar Power for the Roofless: Off-site Solutions

Innovative Programs Offer Greater Accessibility To Clean Renewables

Novel models can overcome common solar qualification obstacles. There is hope for those with shade trees, divided roofs, poor roof pitch, orientation, or no roof at all.

Eighty five percent of Americans polled would rather have clean, renewable energy (Efrid, 2009). However, after nearly three decades of tax credits and rebates, only seven percent of the nation’s usage is clean, renewable energy; only one percent of the nation’s usage is solar (E.I.A., 2009).

Innovative solutions increasing accessibility to solar power have emerged. Among these and discussed this article are: Solar Shares, Solar Community Gardens, Forced Air Window Sill Solar Space Heaters, and Community Choice Aggregates.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Solar Shares

Per the website SolarShares is a program that is the first of its kind begun by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), in Northern California. It is the largest in the nation serving between 800 and 1,000 customers that have purchased shares of its 1MW solar farm.

As the solar farm generates electricity, that amount of Kwh produced will pay out as a credit on the customer’s bill. The size of the credit will be deducted from a flat monthly upfront fee that is agreed upon during the signing of the agreement.

The program is best appreciated during Sacramento’s long hot summers. There are more customers than there are available shares, and so SMUD is expanding the program to accommodate demand.

Solar Community Gardens

Colorado State Representative Claire Levy (D-Boulder), has introduced HR 1342 that would create solar community gardens. Residents would buy into the off-site solar gardens like shareholders, and receive a portion of the energy produced.

Laura Snider (January, 18, 2010) of the Dailycamera interviewed Levy. “The intent of (the bill) is so people can have the benefit of what they would get if they had solar panels on their rooftops,” Levy said. “It’s for people who are renters, who live in condominium projects and don’t have rooftops, people whose lots are shaded, people whose houses aren’t the right orientation — a whole variety of things.”

Joy Hughes writes in a note posted on the Facebook page Solar Gardens “ has been organizing in counties around Colorado. Potential sites include a public library, a food co-op, a farm, a ranch, a church, an office building, and a land-based community energy group. Each of these community institutions could benefit financially from hosting solar panels.”

Forced Air Window Sill Solar Space Heater

Kevin Campbell tells Suite 101 that his first Window Sill Solar Space Heater was “just a cardboard box with tin foil, and some saran wrap with a computer fan.” That was many units ago. The Window Sill Solar Heater will fit comfortably into a window frame and heat a 600 square foot space he says. The panel collects heat from the sun. An automatic fan will turn on and off as is needed per the thermostat inside the panel.

Typically persons are discouraged from going solar with a lack of desired southern exposure. However, Kevin’s customers have told him they have been able to put the unit into an eastern facing window and migrate it to a western window in the afternoon, to track the winter sun. Customers buy the heaters for their cabins, houses, and businesses. Kevin thinks architects ought to make it a standard practice to design windows and homes to capture the heat of the sun.

During a sunny winter with little cloud cover, the unit has saved up to 30% on winter heating bills. As the standard heat he sells is roughly only $300.00, the cost is easily recovered within the year.

Community Choice Aggregates

Community Choice Aggregates (CCAs) are to energy reform what the public option is to health care. Cities form the equivalent of a buyer’s cooperative by purchasing bulk energy on the market to build local green-power facilities. That electricity is then re-sold to local residents and businesses using the distribution system built by the city’s current private electric service provider, PG&E.

Dan Walters (2010), reporter for the Sacramento Bee writes “Nearly a century later, PG&E is still resisting efforts to create publicly owned utilities.” The provider has recently collected enough signatures from paid gatherers to qualify as an initiative termed Proposition 16 New Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. Walters writes this will cost PG&E at least 25 million dollars to persuade voters to adopt the constitutional amendment.