Archives December 2014

Why Falling Oil Prices Won’t Reverse Our Move Toward Clean, Renewable Energy

Silhouette of offshore jack up rig at sea during sunset

Since June, global oil prices have fallen an incredible 40%.

Much of this can be attributed to the U.S. oil industry, which has ramped up crude oil production since 2008 and poured an extra four million barrels into the global oil supplyBloomberg reported in a December 3 article. In addition, OPEC has largely decided to not cut production, meaning the world now has much more oil on hand than it actually needs.

Another reason for this decline in global demand is the worldwide push toward cleaner, greener energy. According toBloomberg, green energy will receive nearly 60% of the predicted $5 trillion that will be invested in building new power plants throughout the next 10 years. Major economic powers like the U.S., China and the European Union are all pushing for more austere restrictions on greenhouse gases to help stimulate the shift toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

But while lower oil prices could spell trouble for oil companies and countries whose economies largely depend upon oil drilling, it’s good news for homeowners when the price of oil and natural gas determines how much they’ll pay to heat their homes this winter. That’s because heating and cooling make up more than 50% of the average home’s energy costs.

In fact, the New Yorker reports that these falling prices could put $75 billion dollars back into Americans’ wallets and even add 0.4 points to the U.S. GDP in 2015. This seemingly small GDP growth would be the first time the U.S. economy has grown by more than 3% since 2005.

All these facts don’t even take into account the fact that gas prices will be cheaper, as well. For the average American, the fall in crude oil prices around the world is something to be very happy about.

It’s great news for the environment, as well — with energy developers headed toward the $250 billion mark for this year’s spending on wind, solar, geothermal power and more, the increasingly rapid adoption of green energy should help slow down climate change and reduce the amount of pollution entering ecosystems everywhere.

Energy Efficient Building Occupants Don’t Understand High-Performance Features, According to New Study

View on the interior in skyscraper
Energy efficiency and sustainability may be the new buzzwords when it comes to environmentally friendly building construction, but a new study reveals that energy efficient lighting and windows don’t matter if building occupants don’t understand how those features work.

The study’s author, Julia Day, was a graduate student in interior design when she first encountered issues with building sustainability. Her interest in the subject began when she walked into an office designed for energy-saving daylighting techniques only to see the blinds closed and numerous lights turned on.

Worse, Day discovered that the controls for the blinds and lights were hidden high up on walls or down underneath desks, and not many of the workers knew how to properly use these devices.

From there, Day embarked on her study of effective training in using the features in high-performance buildings, which consist of over one-third of new commercial building constructions in the U.S.

Perhaps most encouraging is that Day discovered that those who had proper training in their building’s energy-saving features reported being the most satisfied with their work environments.

Day, who is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University, worked with WSU School of Design and Construction professor David Gunderson to examine more than 50 high-performance buildings across the United States. Day gathered data on the buildings’ architectural and engineering plans, and interviewed and surveyed the occupants of those buildings.

In many cases, Day found that workers in office buildings received an email or a quick overview of energy features in their buildings during a meeting, but they didn’t actually understand the best practices for those features.

Windows, for example, are often upgraded to provide daylight, ventilation and heat in the winter, but they can also account for at least 10% to 25% of a heating bill if they are outdated. As a result, many commercial and residential property owners upgrade their single pane windows to energy efficient models, especially as utility costs increase all around the country.

Day looked at energy efficiency for the windows of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings in her study. These spaces, certified as high-performance in energy efficiency by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program and/or the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED initiative, have increased from 5.6% in 2005 to 39.3% by the end of 2013, according to CBRE Research.

One building certified LEED gold by the Green Building Certification Institute had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows for natural ventilation. But out of the 15 people Day interviewed, all thought that the lights were part of the fire alarm system.

“There’s a gap,” she said of green building occupants’ knowledge, “and people do not really understand these buildings.”

Day found that the most successful of these green buildings had workers who were involved in the act of conservation by receiving adequate training on their buildings’ features.

After concluding her study, Day said she has plans to develop an energy lab to develop occupant training programs for these high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” Day commented. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments.”

Navy to Host New Solar Energy Storage Project

Pannelli solari illuminati dai raggi del sole

Score one for renewable energy, particularly solar energy, as the U.S. Navy’s Mobile Utilities Support Equipment facility in Port Hueneme, CA, has announced it will be hosting a new cutting edge microgrid project.

This project aims to create a solar powered microgrid that will enable a system to operate in “island” mode, working off of only its own solar energy. This island mode is critical for security and resiliency.

The system uses vanadium flow batteries for solar energy storage, but how do these flow batteries actually work? Imergy Power Systems, the brains behind the flow batteries, explain that flow batteries generate a charge through the interaction of two liquids flowing next to each other.

Flow batteries have a huge advantage when it comes to lifecycle durability, and have have a strong safety and scalability advantage, because the liquids are stored in separate tanks.

The biggest challenges of this system have been compressing the energy density of the system into a useful size, and finding a cost-effective way to get the liquids close enough to interact, without contaminating each other.

The solution is valadium, a silvery transition metal that lends itself to this application, because it can exist in more than one state, which helps to cut down on cross-contamination. Unfortunately, there are no functioning valadium mines in the U.S., but Imergy is working to make that system more manageable.

The Navy has long proven to be ahead of the crowd when it comes to keeping its finger on the pulse of energy trends, whether its been wind power, coal, oil, or nuclear energy. It is the most progressive branch of the armed service when it comes to renewable energy.

With solar energy increasing in popularity, it’s no wonder the Navy has hopped on the solar bandwagon. Solar energy use has surged at about 20% a year over the past 15 years, and shows no signs of stopping, as the price of solar panels continues to drop.

Imergy is contributing an energy system it’s calling ESP30, which contains three vanadium flow batteries, to the Navy’s project. It has a capacity of up to 50 kilowatts and stores up to 200 kilowatt-hours.

ESP30 also delivers a cost of less than $300 per kilowatt-hour, and Imergy is confident it will meet the Energy Department’s energy storage goal of $220 per kilowatt-hour within about two years.