Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Taking a page from Mothers everywhere, conventional wisdom says that we should be eating our energy efficiency “vegetables” before having any renewable energy “dessert”. While it certainly makes sense that undertaking low cost and no cost efficiency measures should come first, that advice often gets ignored. For when it comes to using energy, habits and cognitive limitations cause people to not act rationally. Energy appears cheap with just the monthly utility bill to go on. This creates the disincentive to adopt even simple energy efficiency measures. The result is that bowl of healthy “vegetables” often remains uneaten.

Research is emerging which indicates that the conventional wisdom has it backwards; that in order to reduce energy consumption, renewable energy should come before energy efficiency. In an exhaustive 632 page report on the impact of the California Solar Initiative, one of the key findings was that  participants adopted 30% more energy efficiency measures than non-participants (see CPUC California Solar Initiative 2009 Impact Evaluation Final Report, Section 10, page 10-68). This finding supports what has been observed many times in the field; that it is not until people have made the switch and adopted or endorsed renewable energy that they significantly change their wasteful energy habits. Whether it is energy or food, vegetables are always good for us. But when it comes to energy, research and observation is telling us that we should be eating our dessert first.

I welcome your comments.


Recent newsstand editions of business magazines have featured a full-spread advertisement with the title “A watt saved is a watt shared” and a compelling set of juxtaposed photos from Schneider Electric.
This $16 billion company is bringing energy management solutions to the Global North that pair electrical efficiency efforts with electrical *access* efforts in the Global South (much of Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa).
Schneider does so through a program called BipBop (note to SE’s branding folks: please give this important program a name that does not sound like the next teen dance video game), which stands for Business, Innovation and People at the Base Of the Pyramid. This is the bottom billion you hear Oxford university world poverty scholar Paul Collier and others talking about.
The goals of this program are real and aggressive; by the end of 2011:
  1. 1 million households at the base of the pyramid have access to energy via Schneider Electric solutions.
  2. 10,000 young people at the base of the pyramid are trained in the electricity field.
  3. 500 contractors at the base of the pyramid set up their activities in the electricity sector.
This is a marked difference from the normal advertising we see coming out of energy companies as they scramble to convince us they are trying to save the planet. This is bringing people back into the equation, not something most energy companies consider to be their responsibility. This is not just about energy efficiency for the sake of the environment, but about bettering the daily lives of people around the world by launching new companies and job creation.
Schneider Electric created its own internal metrics back in 2005. In 2008 they added public metrics, including the two Dow Jones Sustainability indexes. In 2009 the company gave itself a rather humble grade of 3/10 and stated its goal of hitting 8/10 by the end of 2011. That’s massive progress in just two years, if Schneider hits it.
While I normally dislike internal company standards that are dubiously positioned as externally-verified in advertisements, the honesty and humility behind Schneider Electric’s internal/external mix of metrics is refreshing. When other energy companies are behaving irresponsibly – some might even say foolishly – it is encouraging to see progress from other players in the industry.
What do you think of Schneider Electric’s mixture of both internal and external rating systems? Real or bogus?  
This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Owning a home is a well-accepted American dream. Even after the mortgage crisis, home ownership in the US in 2009 still ranged from the lowest of 62.6% in the West to 71% in the Midwest. It is interesting that Americans feel so strongly the need to be a homeowner, and yet are so comfortable with having no equity in the means that make that home livable. For electricity is a staple, we need to have it readily available (a lesson that gets hammered in when you go without it for more than a day). Most of us simply take electricity for granted, dutifully writing our monthly check to the utility company, with nary a thought about our economic and environmental exposure. So let me show you why it makes sense to own a renewable energy system.

Let’s take a photovoltaic (PV) system in Seattle area as an example. A 4 kilowatt (kW) PV system would produce about 4,400 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity on an annual basis. This is about a third to a half of an average home’s electricity consumption. The installed cost of a PV system is about $6,500 to $10,000 per kW depending of the type of components. If we take the Silicon Energy-made modules and invertors, the cost will be at the upper end. The benefit is a $0.54 per kWh of Washington State Renewable Energy Production Incentives. Below is a rough calculation comparing owning vs. renting:

Owning a PV System Renting Electricity
Initial Investment $40,000 Nil
Investment Tax Credit 30% Nil
Annual WA Renewable Energy
Production Incentives
$2,500 Nil
Netmetering (1st yr.) $460 Nil
Electricity payout (1st yr.) Nil $460
Net Cash In/Out flow (1st yr.) $1,350 ($5,600)
Net Cash In/Out flow (30 yrs.) $15,000 ($20,000)
Environmental Benefits Priceless Adding 70MT carbon to the atmosphere

If you are still unconvinced, here are my top five reasons to act now:

  1. The price of renewable energy systems, especially solar electric systems (photovoltaic) have come down sharply due to the weak economy.
  2. The days of plentiful, cheap electricity are fast coming to an end. The price of electricity is forecasted to increase, especially in those regions where hydro power is maxed out.
  3. Both NASA & NOAA report that 2010 was the wettest year on record, and tied 2005 as the hottest year. More and more scientists are confirming that human activities have contributed to the warming trend. Why not do something about it?
  4. Washington State’s generous renewable energy production incentives are set to sunset in 2020. Why pass up on a great opportunity?
  5. Even if you don’t have a proper site for solar, you can still get ownership benefits through Washington’s innovative Community Solar program.

I like to hear your comments.



Submitted by CES on Thu, 12/02/2010 - 23:10

Nature fired its warning shot across the bow at the beginning of Thanksgiving week this year. The Arctic winter front brought not only below freezing temperatures, but also strong winds. The wind had knocked out the power of many homes and businesses in Kitsap County. Given that Winter Solstice is still three weeks a month away, it is highly possible that we will experience more winter storms in the next few months. We want to make sure that everyone will have a safe and comfortable home. This is why we have decided to compile a list of power outage preparedness to help everyone be better prepared for the next big one. Power Outage Preparedness:

  • Sufficient supply of clean, safe to drink water
  • Solar charger for cell phones and other essential entertainment devices
  • Land line phone - Hand crank/solar powered radio
  • Hand crank LED lamps - Oil lamps with good supply of oil (exercise caution especially with young children in the house)
  • Candles (exercise caution especially with young children in the house)

  • Dress warm.
  • Drink lots of warm water. This will help you stay warm without adding calories. It is easier if you have gas stove. Barbeque stoves work in a pinch, but make sure that you use your stove outdoors. Remember, carbon monoxide is extremely deadly.

  • When the temperature drops below freezing outside, it is better to store food outdoors rather than in your refrigerator. You can keep it in a well sealed container or even in the trunk of your car.
  • Have plenty of ice packs in your freezer. When the power goes out try not to open the freezer door. For mike and eggs, take couple of ice pack from your freezer and put them in an ice chest. The ice packs will be able to keep the smaller area cold for a longer period of time.

During this last storm there were a lot of people who lost all sources of heat. Some of them were elderly or with physical difficulties in getting around. These could be your neighbors. Get to know them and check up on them during the next storm. If you have a generator or backup source of heat that does not rely on electricity to warm your home, invite your neighbors. After all, more bodies equal more heat!


Submitted by CES on Mon, 11/22/2010 - 12:55

Early 2009, Puget Sound Energy, the largest privately owned utility company in Washington State informed Bainbridge Island residents that their peak demand load had exceeded the carrying capacity of the existing three substations. These peak load events occurred during extreme cold weather mornings. Whether it is due to too many long hot showers or too many cups of latte. As a result, the utility was considering adding a new substation and new power transmission lines with a price tag of $6 million for the substation and $6 million for the transmission lines. Community responses ranged from supportive to indifferent with small groups of oppositions. This is not surprising as we live in a society that our culture is deeply entrenched in the belief that we must support our lifestyle at all costs. However, as the economy turned south and anti-tax sentiment grew, we learned that peak load is a major headache for utilities. Why? Because utilities cannot count on customers quietly accepting rate increases. The response may be something along the lines of the recent defeat to increase taxes. This is why utilities are instead asking their customers to help them cut costs. Peak load is an interesting issue that combines technical and social/behavioral challenges. One cannot approach this subject with just technical fixes or basic educational outreach solutions. A more reliable long-term solution must include changes in policy and regulation along with technical and social investments. Any measures short of this will be simply a band-aid.


Would you like to see more solar energy systems in your community? Community Solar is a new way to go solar! If you are interested in solar energy but do not have good solar access, do not own real property, have financial barrier for the minimum investment, or do not have time to do the technical research, the new Community Solar legislation has lowered these barriers. Washington State is one of the few states that provides higher incentives to those who fund and own renewable, non-polluting community solar energy systems. Community Solar brings a community together, bolsters self-reliance, strengthens energy security, keeps energy dollars local, and creates local jobs. This is taking localization to a new level. Under Washington State law, "Community Solar" projects are defined as privately owned solar energy systems placed on public property owned by a local government entity or 'solar host'. These could be County or City Governments, Public School Districts, Parks District, Fire Departments and more... What this means is that the Community Solar owners get 'green', the Solar Host gets 'green electricity', and the Community gets 'green-jobs.' Community Energy Solutions wants to hear from you of your favorite location and preferred public entity to be benefited by Community Solar in Kitsap County. Please take this one minute survey. Your vote will help move Community Solar forward in your community. If you enter your email address and contact information, you will receive our e-news about CES's work and Community Solar, and how you can make this happen in your community. Click on below link: