Posts Tagged ‘energy’

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Blog-Sep 05, 2016

By Ellie Ramm

Governments, businesses and universities are focusing increasing resources and attention on what is now our nation’s largest generation, millennials.

Generally defined as those born between 1982 and 2000, millennials now represent the largest share of the American workforce. They’re more educated than prior generations. They’re more culturally diverse. And they’re more socially conscious.

How will this millennial generation shape our climate and energy future? Consider just two observations about how millennials want to live and get around — housing and transportation.

A study found more than 6 in 10 millennials prefer to live in mixed-use communities. They’re more interested in living where amenities and work are geographically close. More than a third of young people are choosing to live as close as 3 miles from city centers.

As for transportation, millennials drive less than other generations. They’re opting for walking, biking, car-sharing or public transit. From 2001 to 2009, vehicle-miles traveled dropped 23 percent for 16- to 34-year-olds.

Capital BikeShare in Washington, DC

Capital BikeShare in Washington, DC

These preferences point to a future that is low-carbon and more sustainable. Dense urban living and mixed modal transportation options can result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions. A 2014 report from the New Climate Economy notes that “more compact, more connected city forms allow significantly greater energy efficiency and lower emissions per unit of economic activity.”

Millennial demands are influencing other sustainability topics, too. A Rock the Vote poll earlier this year found 80 percent of millennials want the United States to transition to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2030. An earlier poll from the Clinton Global Initiative found millennials care more than their parents’ generation about the environment and would spend extra on products from companies that focus on sustainability.

These facts indicate that this generation of 75.4 million people (in just the United States) wants to live differently than previous generations. Energy policies and technology habits will need to change to keep pace.

Government is paying attention, with President Barack Obama calling on millennials to tackle the challenge of climate change. Businesses, like energy providers, are working to deliver service in a seamless and more socially connected way. And universities are offering more sustainability-focused programs than ever before. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)’s program list is growing, and university presidents are being asked by students to join the Climate Commitment to reduce emissions and improve resilience to climate impacts.

While millennials wield huge influence, the real power of change will come from all generations working together to develop innovative solutions and implement pragmatic policies to shape a low-carbon future and environmentally stable and economically prosperous planet for all who will inherit it.

Photo by Ellie Ramm

Photo by Ellie Ramm

Ellie Ramm works in a variety of capacities to build engagement and action on climate and energy issues of interest to states, cities and businesses to foster low-carbon, pragmatic, and sustainable solutions. She also researches the connection between behavior and sustainability, in an effort to raise awareness about actions that individuals can take at home and in the community to live more sustainably. She is currently the Solutions and Engagement Fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

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By Sarah Peters

At last December’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21), the USA set ambitious goals to cut carbon emissions and to invest in clean energy. One of the ways that we will reach those goals is through renewable energy technology. And already, we can see industry and policy pushing forward.

Meeting the current challenge

When I say “renewable energy” you probably imagine this:

renewables

Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are inconsistent; on sunny or windy days, they produce more energy than the grid demands. The primary challenge is how to store that extra energy efficiently for use during windless nights and sunless days.

Currently, the most common and cheapest way to store energy is pumped hydro. Here is how it works:

Water is pumped from a low elevation reservoir to a high elevation reservoir during peak energy production. When renewable sources are not meeting the energy demand, water falls from the higher reservoir, spinning a turbine to generate electricity.

PumpedHydro

Although pumped hydro stands at 99% of global bulk energy storage, it is clearly impractical for residential use.

Innovating a better battery

When I think of renewable energy, I think about this: TeslaPowerWall

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are one option for storing energy in the home. In the past, this option was impractical due to high cost.

However, in recent years lithium-ion batteries have become more attractive as prices fall, which has driven further private sector innovation. A Deutsche Bank report estimates that lithium-ion battery prices could fall by 20-30% a year, becoming cost-competitive with traditional batteries by 2022.

This has heated up international competition to build the best home energy storage options.

Using the infrastructure that we already have

Electric water heaters are essentially pre-installed thermal batteries that are sitting idle in homes across the U.S. – the Brattle Group

waterheaterAnother potential form of energy storage harnesses the storage potential of a common household appliance – the water heater. Using water heater tanks as thermal energy batteries can reduce communities’ environmental footprints and electricity costs by storing excess energy for use during higher-priced peak periods.

An energy cooperative began testing this concept in February, launched in Minnesota by Great River Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA).

“When the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, large capacity water heaters can make immediate use of that energy to heat water to high temperatures. The water heaters can be shut down when renewables are scarce and wholesale costs are high,” explains Gary Connett of Great River Energy.

By controlling the water heaters of 65,000 participants, Great River Energy has managed to store a gigawatt-hour of energy every night.

With political will, there is a way

Adopting home energy storage will only happen where it makes economic sense. Chances are, the leaders will be in regions with supportive policies.

One such policy is called net metering, which is a billing policy where utility companies pay residential and commercial customers for the excess renewable energy generated at home. Early adopters include Germany, Australia, as well as a few U.S. States: California, Oregon and New York.

Daily_net_metering

As renewable grid-connected resources mature, it is likely that more governments, regulators and utilities will enact their own incentives for energy storage. The momentum is growing.

Moving forward in this emerging market, a combination of economic and political forces will determine where and how residential energy storage flourishes.

Sarah Peters graduated from Gettysburg College in 2010 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. She has written articles and blog posts for the Wilderness Society, Maryland Sierra Club, and DC EcoWomen. She volunteers for the Wilderness Society while seeking her next career opportunity.

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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Think big potato, act small fry

The conclusion of COP21 created much needed space for serious efforts to incite comprehensive, structural change for the planet and its inhabitants. By whatever means, we’ve got a critical mass that at least agrees that merely mitigating the most damaging effects of climate change isn’t enough.

The next challenge is to break from the attitudes, systems, and assumptions that got us into this mess. Huzzah! We are, at long last, looking at the scope of environmental questions through a lens of global, geo-political, inter- and intra-governmental equity, and with no time to spare.

As we shift from old methods to new practices, we rouse the bulwarks of fossil fuel energy—coal, oil and natural gas. We take on a future filled with more people and considerably less time, natural resources, or room for error. And we look with no shortage of hope for technological advancement to make ends meet.

GratisographyIt’s an awesome time to be alive! Each of us has in her own way accepted the vexation of big environmental questions because we are Ecowomen, actively creating kinship to face the challenge of our time: survival.

I propose that in contemplation of the big deal we draw our response to scale. Let’s take ownership of the future with our present day decisions.

As engaged Ecowomen, it behooves us to link grand efforts to ground level actions that support the nearest and most immediate form of power available to us: community.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Community is a combination of persons with shared aims, interests, or ends.

Functionally, community is a living thing, composed of living things, organized by choices. It performs as a series of relations characterized by the raising up and pulling down of interpersonal boundaries, replicated in reality. Consequently, community is a construct of our experience and our making.

Community as a creature of proximity

Last year, I heard Bryan Stevenson speak on the subject of pursuing justice. In his conclusion, he issued a challenge that struck me as an entirely elegant mode of approaching problems. He dared the audience to get into proximity with the things we find most uncomfortable. In discussing the tragic folly of mass incarceration, he implored us to “find our way to justice” by avoiding the temptation to sidestep problems that seem too big or scary to handle.

So, let’s start there. As Ecowomen, we unite in concern for the health of our planet. We nourish our bodies with foods on the low end of the food chain, choose glass over plastic, and conserve resources to diminish our ecological footprint. Collectively, we a force for sustainable economics, politics and bionetworks. We begin with people we know and increase capacity in our spheres of influence,plying our individual skills and abilities in the places we work, live, and play.

Neighborhood Gratisography135H

Make yourself at home

In the District we don’t need to look too far to find the makings of community. There are truly local environmental concerns of every stripe within the 68.25 square miles we call home.

  • There are trash transfer stations in the Fort Totten, Brentwood, and Langdon neighborhoods that cause residents to question the effects of commercial activities on their long term health.
  • In recent years, the Capitol Power Plant was at the heart of local debate on coal fired plant conversions and the changeover to natural gas.
  • Months ago, residents of Northeast’s Ivy City took up the fight against pollution clustering from a planned bus depot, and won.

Free stock photo dc metro

Community as a creature of necessity

The national news is flush with stories about communities of necessity. Groups who may be friends or neighbors who transcend those associations when faced with out-sized danger, from ecological events or man-made forces.

Communities of environmental concern stretch across borders and boundaries because they are forged by the power of empathy. Its members arrive as strangers drawn together to address a common plight. Whether the cause is contrived deprivation, or rising tides, those who are able go where needed to join with vulnerable peoples fighting corruption and the unfettered evil of scarcity or degraded resources.

There is strength in amalgamated capacity. It supports transformation or avoids catastrophe in the making. When the need arises, community comes together as quickly as is dissipates. And it has, in Virginia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and North Carolina, among others.

As change agents, we should add our voices and leverage the strength of whatever agency we possess to tackle local, regional, and national environmental issues because we see ourselves in the plight, the fight, or the solution. And we don’t need permission to do it.

Multiracial earth photoThe larger environmental movement is an aggregate of the actions we take in community. Our level of engagement aides our sophistication; it colors who we see as victims or victors, what we see as wrongdoing, and our response to the call.

So, what are you waiting for? The issues are the invitation.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga. 

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Extraction Has A Human Face

Written by Caroline Selle, the Zero Waste Girl

At Power Shift 2013, thousands of young people gathered to talk and learn about justice in the environmental movement. Held Oct. 18-21, the latest edition of the biannual conference focused on the the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality with fossil fuel extraction and climate change. And as the problems with racism and environmental justice issues continue to be prevalent in Washington, D.C., this conference couldn’t have come sooner.

As an environmental reporter focusing on justice and as a past Power Shift organizer, I was eager to attend the conference’s newest iteration. It’s no secret the environmental movement is deeply divided. Environmental justice (EJ) advocates have long said mainstream environmental activists focus on politics and policy at the expense of people. Mainstream environmentalists argue some sacrifice is necessary for progress. But sacrifice for whom?

“We don’t think of the people who are sacrificed to make our lives easier,” said Yudith Nieto, one of the conference’s keynote speakers. “I am one of them.”

With panels such as “A Cage or a Classroom?: The School-to-Prison Pipeline Affecting EJ Communities,” and “Economic Justice and Empowerment: Challenging Classism in Our Communities,” attendees were introduced to the impacts felt by frontline communities by people from those communities. “People, not policies,” is an uncomfortable reality, but one that needs to be faced.

Nieto lives in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, Texas, one of the most polluted neighborhoods in the U.S. The community is surrounded by the Valero, Lyondell Basell, and Texas Petro-Chemicals oil refineries, and residents suffer from elevated incidence of cancer and asthma, among other disease. Now, the community is preparing for an onslaught of tar sands from the Southern half of the Keystone XL.

In addition to Nieto, activists traveled from frontline communities in states ranging from Louisiana to California, and Indiana to Utah. The keynote speakers included Kimberly Wasserman of Little Village, Chicago, Josh Fox, director of Gasland, and twelve-year-old Ta’Kaiya, singer-songwriter of the Sliammon Nation who performed to thunderous applause.

Power Shift 2013 wasn’t without its controversies, including a counter protest and pamphlet handed out criticizing organizers for using empty words. “I wasn’t sure if this was the right space for my voice, my community,” Wasserman told the crowd at her keynote, explaining she her tough decision. She decided to attend Power Shift, she said, because, “…the reality of our movement calls for tough conversations.”

If the conference had a theme this year, it was a simple one: Extraction has a human face.