Central Texas Marks 20 Years of Alternative Fuels

lone-star-20The Lone Star Clean Fuels Alliance in Austin, Texas this week celebrated 20 years of being green, starting before being green was cool.

The LSCFA recognized the achievements of many leaders who helped Austin cut 10 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in one year alone, and attendees had the opportunity to drive renewable energy vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and a stand-up electric police mobility vehicle.

The LSCFA, formerly known as Central Texas Clean Cities, is a non-profit coalition dedicated to reducing petroleum consumption through alternative fuels. Over the past 20 years the association has helped to clean up City of Austin fleet vehicles as well as other fleet and personal vehicles in five Central Texas counties counties. In 2012 alone, its stakeholders reduced petroleum consumption by 1.6 million gallons. Clean Cities helps to advance the alternative or renewable fuels of propane, biofuels: ethanol/E85 and biodiesel, natural gas, electric and hydrogen. It was the sixth Clean Cities coalition started in the U.S. where there are now about 90.

U.S. Clean Energy Struggling from Policy Uncertainty

According to research from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. clean energy sector continues to be buffeted by policy uncertainty with 2013 investment down 9 percent from 2012 to $36.7 billion. The annual report, “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2013,” found that steep declines in the installation of wind overshadowed a record annual deployment of 4.4 gigawatts of solar.

THE PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS“Lower technology prices have made the small-distributed solar market very competitive, and the United States has been a leader in developing innovative financing models that are spurring steadily increasing deployment,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s clean energy program. “We also remain a world leader in venture capital, biofuels, and energy-smart technologies, like smart meters and LED lighting. Wind, however, has been subject to the vagaries of U.S. energy policy. As Congress debates tax extenders, it should aim to level the playing field, accelerate clean energy deployment, and provide long-term certainty to investors.”

The report found in the U.S. marketplace, solar technology prices have declined 60 percent since 2011, and new financing models have spurred more than $17 billion in investment, a 7 percent increase from 2012. The U.S. continued to garner world-leading financing in the biofuels and energy efficient/low-carbon technology subsectors. It also remained the dominant recipient of public market and venture capital/private equity investment, attracting $6.8 billion and $2.2 billion, respectively.

Although wind investment was relatively stable at $14 billion, U.S. wind installations in 2013 were down more than 90 percent—from more than 13 GW in 2012 to less than 1 GW last year found the report. When the production tax credit was renewed in early 2013, slight changes in the law precipitated deferrals in deployment of new wind capacity into 2014, when a strong rebound in capacity additions was forecast. By comparison, China deployed 12.1 GW of solar and 14.1 GW of wind capacity.

The regional and global market remains dominated by China, attracting $54.2 billion, with the U.S. in second place. Japan was third with $28.6 billion. Globally, clean energy investment fell 11 percent, to $254 billion, and renewable power generating capacity additions declined by 1 percent in 2013. Overall, installed clean energy capacity reached 735 GW.

Clean Energy Bill Hits House of Reps

Clean Energy Victory Bonds WillSeveral groups have been promoting clean energy victory bonds, a throwback from World War II. This week the concept gained support as the House of Representatives as the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. The Treasury bonds starting as low as $25 will allow Americans to invest in the country’s clean energy future.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Cali.) and Doris Matsui (D-Cali.) and includes 14 co-sponsors and is endorsed by Green America and the American Sustainable Business Council, which together represent half a million consumers, companies, organizations, and investors.

Todd Larsen, corporate responsibility division director for Green America, said, “This bond is modeled after the successful WW II Victory Bond which millions of Americans purchased. The Clean Energy Victory Bond will provide individual and institutional investors with the opportunity to invest in clean energy sectors such as solar, wind, second generation biofuels, electric vehicles, and residential and commercial energy efficiency programs. There are currently few investment opportunities for the average investor interested in supporting the shift to a clean energy economy so this bond fills a need for both investors and industry.”

Clean Energy Victory Bonds logoAccording to Green America and the American Sustainable Business Council, Clean Energy Victory Bonds will create the following major benefits:

  • Leverage $50 billion investment to provide up to $150 billion in public and private financing to fund the production of innovative energy technologies, at a time when the U.S. is falling behind other countries in clean energy manufacture and installation.
  • Help create at least one million competitively-paying jobs in the U.S.
  • Support America’s clean energy sector, helping to ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in this increasingly crucial and competitive industry.
  • Reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy, enhance national security, and limit price increases and fluctuations.
  • Provide a secure, competitive, government-backed investment vehicle for average Americans and investment institutions alike seeking a safe place for their money.
  • Offer flexible redemption options at interest rates superior to most bank accounts.
  • Help all Americans to invest in the future of their country and benefit from their investments.
  • Promote a cleaner environment through the financing of clean energy technologies.
  • Protect the health and safety of Americans by reducing local air and water pollution throughout the country.

“From a business perspective, the Clean Energy Victory Bond makes great sense,” said Richard Eidlin, co-founder & policy director, American Sustainable Business Council. “The clean energy industry has not had the steady flow of financial support that investors and business need to plan effectively, resulting in investors often deciding to place their investments overseas rather than in the U.S.”

Tax incentives for renewable energy come and go, often without predictability, leaving investors and industry scrambling. The Clean Energy Victory Bond would extend vital tax credits for a decade, giving emerging industries the support they need to develop and become increasing competitive.

IPCC Releases Fifth Assessment Climate Report

AR5cover1_275_355_70The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its Fifth Assessment Climate Report that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The report finds in many cases the world is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

The report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,” from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks. A total of 309 coordinating lead authors and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though the report finds climate change will also continue to produce surprises. The report identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world. It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of Working Group II. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

According to Chris Field, Co-Chair of Working Group II, adaptation to reduce the risks from a changing climate is now starting to occur, but with a stronger focus on reacting to past events than on preparing for a changing future.

“Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation,” Field said. “This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”

Georgia Tech Students Win ACC Clean Energy Challenge

A team of four students from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have taken the $100,000 grand prize in the ACC Clean Energy Challenge hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. The team won with its electrical power grid technology that features an Internet-like control architecture. The $100,000 prize and ACC Clean Energy Cup were Energy Internetpresented by Dr. Darryll Pines, Dean of the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, Dean Chang, Associate VP, Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, University of Maryland, and Jennifer Garson, Technology-to-Market Analyst, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy.

Winning second place was Clemson University’s Brewcovery, whose team is developing bio-separation and bio-digestion processes to recover and refine value-added co-products from the food industry and brewery waste.

The Georgia Tech team, known as Energy Internet, presented their technology to a panel of expert judges from the clean energy community at the ACC Clean Energy Challenge Final Four on March 26 at the University of Maryland, the competition host and organizer. The team, which includes graduate students Marcelo Sandoval, Jennifer Howard, Mitch Costley and Eric Crane, now moves on to represent the southeast region in the DOE National Clean Energy Business Plan Finals, to be held in Washington, D.C., on June 11-12, 2014.

ACC Clean Energy Challenge winner Energy Internet is developing a new electric power grid approach and solution with a decentralized, autonomous, Internet-like control architecture and a learning control software system. The proposed architecture leverages smart grid investment in sensing and communications and is massively scalable and incrementally deployable, enabling grid flexibility and numerous desirable value propositions, according to the Georgia Tech team. The new architecture is based on the emerging concept of electricity “Prosumers,” i.e., economically motivated parties (residential, commercial, industrial and institutional) that can produce, consume or store electricity as determined by their unique needs and capabilities.

The Clemson Brewcovery team is developing a bio-separation and bio-digestion system to create energy and additional products from food industry and brewery waste while reducing the carbon footprint of these facilities. Those products could include bio-lipids for biofuel production, organic nitrogen and phosphorus rich soil amendments, and high protein animal feeds.

The ACC Clean Energy Challenge event featured keynote speaker Mark Johnson, Director, Advanced Manufacturing Office, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy and former Program Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The $100K ACC Clean Energy Challenge is a business plan competition encouraging students from all universities throughout the southeastern United States to develop business plans for new clean energy companies focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements and advanced fuels/vehicles.

New Budget Would Roll Back Oil Subsidies

2015-budgetThe recently proposed Obama administration Fiscal Year 2015 Budget includes $4 billion a year in cuts to oil industry subsidies, notes Americans United for Change (AUFC), which calls that “a big win for taxpayers and consumers.”

Under the Department of Energy section, the budget calls for elimination of “Unnecessary Fossil Fuel Subsidies” stating that as “the Nation continues to pursue clean energy technologies that will support future economic growth, it should not devote scarce resources to subsidizing the use of fossil fuels produced by some of the largest, most profitable companies in the world.” The proposed budget would repeal “over $4 billion per year in tax subsidies to oil, gas, and other fossil fuel producers.”

americans-change“We are elated that the President has renewed his commitment to doing away with billions of dollars in pointless subsidies for big oil that shortchange investment in cleaner burning, cheaper renewable fuels of the future,” says AUFC executive director Caren Benjamin, adding however that the EPA proposal to cut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) at the same time is inconsistent. “It’s a proposal that runs totally counter to the President’s strategy to address climate change by supporting clean energy — because a weak RFS means less incentive for innovation in cleaner burning, next generation renewable fuels and guarantees a greater use of dirty fossil fuels.”

AUFC also points out that there seems to be some bipartisan consensus building in Congress against special tax treatment for the oil industry. The draft tax reform proposal circulated by Republican House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), for example, would eliminate some of the accounting tactics that allow oil companies to report lower net profits and pay less taxes.

AUFC encourages House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to follow that lead and hold a hearing on “why an industry that made $100 billion in profits last year can’t do without billions of dollars in subsidies every year courtesy of the taxpayers.”

Clean Jobs Increase 19% in 2013

Ecotech Institute Clean Jobs IndexThe Clean Jobs Index shows 2013 ended with a 19 percent increase in clean jobs. The study also shows more than 3.5 million clean jobs were available in 2013 with a 57 percent increase in solar jobs. Published by Ecotech Institute, the Clean Jobs Index was created to provide objective job information about the renewable energy industry. In addition, the index looks at various sustainability factors including alternative fueling stations, LEED projects and total energy consumption across the U.S.

The index found large growth in clean jobs when compared to 2012 job postings, with solar jobs increasing 57 percent, wind jobs up 20 percent and renewable energy jobs increasing 9.3 percent. The report also looked at states with the most incentives for sustainability and renewables: Minnesota, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Indiana, Colorado, Florida, New York and Iowa.

“Renewable energy is the future and this data proves that more than ever,” said Kyle Crider, Ecotech Institute’s Program Chair and Manager of Environmental Operations. “With solar jobs up 57 percent and clean tech jobs up overall nearly 20 percent, it’s definitely an exciting time in the sustainable energy industry.”

Camp Releases 2014 Tax Reform Draft

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) has released draft of the “Tax Reform Act of 2014,” which he says will spur stronger economic growth, greater job creation and put more money in the pockets of taxpaying Americans. Camp’s goal is to fix America’s broken tax code by lowering tax rates and making tax policy simpler and fairer for families.

Based on analysis by the independent, non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), without increasing the budget deficit, the Tax Reform Act of 2014:

  • Create up to 1.8 million new private sector jobs.
  • Allow roughly 95 percent of filers to get the lowest possible tax rate by simply claiming the standard deduction (no more need to itemize and track receipts).
  • Strengthen the economy and increases Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by up to $3.4 trillion (the equivalent of 20 percent of today’s economy).

organization of the ways and means committeeUsing data provided by JCT, Camp says the average middle-class family of four could have an extra $1,300 per year in its pocket from the combination of lower tax rates in the plan and higher wages due to a stronger economy.

“It is no secret that Americans are struggling. Far too many families haven’t seen a pay raise in years. Many have lost hope and stopped looking for a job. And too many kids coming out of college are buried under a mountain of debt and have few prospects for a good-paying career,” said Camp about the need to fix America’s broken tax code. “We’ve already lost a decade, and before we lose a generation, Washington needs to wake up to this reality and start offering concrete solutions and debating real policies that strengthen the economy and help hardworking taxpayers. Tax reform is one way we can do that.”

The tax code would also affect energy companies including those who are developing and providing renewable energy. In response to the draft proposal, Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC), said, “While the draft plan falls well short of the goal of ensuring that the multi-trillion dollar global clean energy sector sets up shop in the United States, Chairman Camp should be commended for taking tough positions on many of the most distortive oil and gas subsidies in the federal tax code.”

“Inequitable provisions like percentage depletion, last-in/first-out (LIFO) and various incentives for the production of marginal oil and gas distort investment decision-making and drive capital away from renewable fuels,” continued Coleman. “Chairman Camp is right to point out that only extractive industries are allowed to recover more than their investment under current percentage depletion and depreciation rules. Doing away with these provisions will do little to dissuade oil and gas investment given the magnitude of the opportunity, but will help level the playing field when it comes to investments in next generation fuels of all types.”

Coleman concluded that while AEC is not supportive of the proposal’s treatment of the emerging cellulosic and advanced ethanol industry, they are looking to working with the Committee to ensure the U.S. is in the best position to develop  new technologies and commercials clean energy on American soil.

Cali Drought Intensifies, Climate Action Calls Heat Up

As California battles the worst drought the state has seen in centuries, calls for climate action are heating up. During the U.S. Climate Leadership Conference taking place this week in San Diego, California, more than a dozen businesses including Apple, SolarCity, San Diego International Airport, Sapphire Energy and Sungevity signed the Climate Declaration. The declaration urges federal and state policymakers to “seize the economic opportunity of addressing climate change”.

Launched last year by Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization, and its business network, Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), the Climate Declaration has more than 700 signatories nationwide. The California signatories have added their own special message to the declaration for Washington:

Ceres_BICEPDeclaration_Ad_CA_022414_1“As the world’s 8th largest economy, California is a champion of clean energy progress and innovation,” states the declaration. “Thanks in part to its smart energy policies including its landmark climate law, AB32, California has been a global leader in job creation, clean energy investments and GDP growth.”

In 2012, California supported more than 43,700 jobs in the solar industry (one-third of all solar jobs in the U.S.) and more than 7,000 jobs in the wind industry. In 2013, the state doubled its solar rooftop installations, from 1,000 megawatts to 2,000 megawatts. It also ranks 48th in the country in per capita energy consumption, due in part to the state’s strong energy efficiency programs.

“The 140 plus California companies which have signed the Climate Declaration see the financial upside of tackling climate change today, both for their own bottom lines and the overall economy,” said Anne Kelly, director of policy and BICEP at Ceres. “We welcome them, invite others to come on board and applaud the state of California for its bold steadfast leadership on climate and energy policy.”

Among those is Sungevity, a Bay-Area based solar provider whose workforce has grown from four to about 400 since 2007. The company has operations in nine U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Europe and Australia, and its global network of customers has offset over 100 million pounds of carbon emissions to date.

“Actively addressing climate change is the biggest economic opportunity of our time,” said Danny Kennedy, co-founder of Sungevity and author of Rooftop Revolution, How to Save Our Economy – and Our Planet – from Dirty Energy. “Sungevity’s rapid growth is proof positive that the solar service sector can spur the economy with high-paying jobs that cannot be easily off-shored, particularly in sales, service and maintenance.”

Beyond signing the declaration, or taking their own steps to become more sustainable, many of the company signatories are engaging further with policy makers. Seventy percent of the major company signatories (those with over $100 million in annual revenues) have expressed their views on the need for climate policy by lobbying on Capitol Hill, sending a letter, and/or engaging with the public through social media.

GreenTECH Provides Youth with Green Education

greentech_smallMOUSE and Solar One have launched GreenTECH, a program that provides youth with an opportunity to positively impact the greening of their schools and communities. GreenTECH, funded by a three-year, $1.08 million grant from the National Science Foundation to Solar One, MOUSE, and the NYU Wallerstein Collaborative, is an initiative to boost youth interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills while introducing them to environmental sustainability and green technology.

MOUSE is about harnessing the spirit and talent of young people to affect change through technology, which for us starts with their learning environment,” said Marc Lesser, MOUSE Education Director. “Ultimately, we view GreenTECH as a way to empower youth to engage with and apply science and technology in ways that position them as activists to address real world problems.” MOUSE is a national nonprofit organization that empowers youth to learn, read and create with technology.

Using Solar One’s CleanTech science curriculum as a platform, MOUSE launched its own badge-based learning program, which includes three levels of hands-on activities for students and teams, and videos that profile engineers and designers involved in energy careers. MOUSE also developed the GreenTECH Lab, a web app that allows youth to visually-display carbon footprint data in their school and reduce its impact.

badge“MOUSE has done a really terrific job adapting our CleanTech program to help students better understand energy and renewables,” said Chris Collins, Executive Director, Solar One. “GreenTECH is so engaging and fun that I am confident it will inspire the next generation of green engineers, scientists and architects.”

To formally recognize the achievements and validate their experience in blending technology with environmental science and leading the greening projects in their school, participants in this program will earn a new MOUSE Squad GreenTECH Badge.

GreenTECH will help youth to learn how energy is created and the potential of renewable energy. It offers a range of projects, such as building an electric generator, performing an energy audit and creating solar-powered toys. These projects will create multiple opportunities for young people to gain expertise in technology, data collection and analysis, and sustainable solutions as they improve their STEM skills and prepare for higher education and careers in the growing green economy.

U.S. Utlility-Scale Solar 60% to Goal

The U.S. solar industry is more than 60 percent of the way to achieving cost-competitive utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity – only three years into the Department’s decade-long SunShot Initiative, reports the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). To help continue this progress, the DOE announced $25 million in new funding to strengthen U.S. solar manufacturing for photovoltaic and concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies and to maintain a strong domestic solar industry – supporting the Department’s broader Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative.

Falling Price of US Utility Solar CostsThe U.S. is playing a growing role as a global leader in solar as demonstrated in a new industry report which recently found that U.S. utility-scale solar set a record with 2.3 gigawatts installed in 2013.  As a direct result of increased solar generation, over the last three years, the cost of a solar energy system has dropped by more than 50 percent, helping to give more and more American families and businesses access to affordable, clean energy.

“In just the last few years, the U.S. has seen remarkable increases in clean and renewable energy – doubling the amount of energy that we produce from solar and wind and supporting a strong, competitive solar supply chain that employs American workers in every state,” said Energy Secretary Moniz. “To continue this growth and position the U.S. as a global leader in clean energy innovation, the Energy Department is helping to advance new technologies that further reduce costs, improve performance and support new jobs and businesses across the country.”

In 2011, DOE launched its SunShot Initiative to make solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade. As a result of the program, today, the utility-scale PV industry is more than 60 percent of the way to achieving SunShot’s target of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. In the United States, the average price for a utility-scale PV project has dropped from about $0.21 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $0.11 per kilowatt-hour at the end of 2013. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. electricity price is about $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.

Reductions in the cost of electricity are based on estimates of the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). The LCOE is a measure of the national average of electricity cost based on certain assumptions regarding financing costs and generation availability projected over the life of a generating asset. The LCOE model provides a benchmark for measuring relative changes in electricity costs.

Clean Energy for Resilient Communities

“Resilient communities need resilient power. Without dependable power, a community can be brought to its knees, and the most vulnerable will suffer the most,” was written in a new report, Clean Energy for Resilient Communities. Based on the success of Baltimore, the report is a blueprint for how a city could become more “power resilient” and details how cities use clean energy to create a more reliable electric system – especially during severe weather events.

To way to achieve this, finds the report commission by the Clean Energy Group (CEG), is to rely on proven distributed energy technologies like solar with energy storage to protect consumers during power outages.

Clean Energy for Resilient Communities“We have entered a new “normal” after Hurricane Sandy, where severe weather events are more frequent, leading to more power outages and increased risk to people and businesses,” said Lewis Milford, President of CEG and co-author of the report. “Last week over a million people in the U.S. lost power during damaging ice storms. Today, due to a record ice storm developing in the Southeastern U.S., hundreds of thousands of people have already lost power, with those numbers expected to rise. We need new strategies like distributed solar with energy storage to protect communities against the harmful effects of power outages. Relying only on the utilities to do the job is no longer safe or dependable.”

CEG said the report is the first in-depth review of national policies and finance strategies to use solar and energy storage to provide more power protection in an urban setting. The report finds that critical public facilities like hospitals, fire stations, gas stations, community shelters and schools should use more resilient power technologies to protect people during power outages. The report also recommends new business models and highlights the emergence of companies that now sell solar with battery storage services to customers– to address the overlooked problem of stand-alone PV systems not working during power outages.

The report recommends:

  • Deploy solar with storage at critical community and government facilities that serve low-income, disabled and elderly communities during emergencies.
  • Promote targeted public funds to increase the use of clean energy in those communities.
  • Use existing bond financing tools to finance solar projects in public and community facilities like schools, community centers and senior housing.
  • Address the existing legal obligations of government agencies under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide electricity so the elderly and the disabled can fully access emergency services during power outages.

Study Finds U.S. Solar Jobs Grew 20% in 2013

The Solar Foundation (TSF) has released its fourth annual National Solar Jobs Census, which found that the U.S. solar industry employed 142,698 Americans in 2013. This figure includes the addition of 23,682 solar jobs over the previous year, representing a 19.9 percent growth in employment since September 2012. Solar employment grew 10 times faster than the national average employment growth rate of 1.9 percent in the same period.

TSF National Solar Jobs Census Graphic“The solar industry’s job-creating power is clear,” said Andrea Luecke, Executive Director and President of TSF. “The industry has grown an astounding 53 percent in the last four years alone, adding nearly 50,000 jobs. Our Census findings show that for the fourth year running, solar jobs remain well-paid and attract highly-skilled workers. That growth is putting people back to work and helping local economies.”

The good news was mentioned by President Obama in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 and he has been vocal in his support of clean energy in including solar.

Solar employers are also optimistic about 2014, expecting to add another 22,000 jobs over the coming year. By comparison, over the same time period, the fossil fuel electric generation sector shrank by more than 8,500 jobs (a decline of 8.7 percent) and jobs in coal mining grew by just 0.25 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Survey.

“This is an exciting time for the solar industry in the United States, made even more clear by the latest industry job figures,” commented U.S. Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz.  “According to the Solar Foundation, today there are more than 140,000 Americans employed up and down the U.S. solar supply chain and across every state. Since 2010, the solar industry has created nearly 50,000 new American jobs and employment has grown nearly 20 percent in the last year alone.”

“President Obama has set an ambitious goal to double electricity generation from renewable sources once again by 2020, and a vibrant U.S. workforce is vital to achieving this, Moniz added. The DOE has a solar program known as the SunShot Initiative to help support the future of the solar industry. “To support a growing workforce and a new generation of clean energy leaders, the Energy Department is providing training and education opportunities for engineers, utility workers and students, as well as supporting projects across the country to ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy innovation.”

UK Government to Boost Community Energy

According to a survey conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) located in the UK, more than 50 percent of people surveyed said that saving money on bills would be the major motivations for getting involved with community energy programs. The survey also found that approximately 3.5 million bill payers are ready to get together with other people in their local community to take more control of their energy. Four in 10 respondents said they were already interested in joining a community energy group or are already taking part in collective switching or collective purchasing programs.

DECC notes that local communities will now be able to take control of their energy bills and help to transform the energy system due to a proposal unveiled as part of Britain’s first Community Energy Strategy. The Government’s vision is that every community that wants to take forward an energy project should be able to do so. The Community Energy Strategy sets out how to remove barriers faced by communities that want to take action on energy to create opportunities for more people to get involved.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: “We’re at the turning point in developing true community energy. The cost of energy is now a major consideration for household budgets, and I want to encourage groups of people across the country to participate in a community energy movement and take real control of their energy bills. Community led actiosignlandscape1n, such as collective switching, gives people the power to bring down bills and encourage competition within the energy market.”

Under the plans Government will broaden the support available for community energy projects, whereby people come together to reduce their energy use or purchase and generate their own energy. Plans include:

  • £10m Urban Community Energy Fund to kick-start community energy generation projects in England;
  • £1m Big Energy Saving Network funding to support the work of volunteers helping vulnerable consumers to reduce their energy;
  • a community energy saving competition, offering £100,000 to communities to develop innovative approaches to saving energy and money;
  • and a “one-stop shop” information resource for people interested in developing community energy projects.

“The Community Energy Strategy marks a change in the way we approach powering our homes and businesses – bringing communities together and helping them save money – and make money too,” said Energy and Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker. “The Coalition is determined to unleash this potential, assist communities to achieve their ambitions and drive forward the decentralised energy revolution. We want to help more consumers of energy to become producers of energy and in doing so help to break the grip of the dominant big energy companies.”

In the future, the generation of electricity by communities themselves could put pressure on energy suppliers to drive down prices, creating warmer homes, cutting carbon emissions and diversifying the UK’s energy mix says DECC. Estimates suggest that energy generation programs involving local communities, such as installing solar panels on social housing buildings, could supply enough electricity for 1 million homes by 2020.

Sugar, Bringing in the New Age of Batteries?

Cutting back on your sugar intake? Than consider using it to create a battery. Not really but doesn’t it sound cool? A Virgina Tech research team did just this and has developed a battery that runs on sugar. The research team believes it has an energy density unmatched by any on the market and could lead to the replacement of conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable and biodegradable.

The findings from Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, were published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications.

sugar batteryWhile other sugar batteries have been developed, Zhang said his has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled. In as soon as three years, his new battery could be running a myriad of electronic gadgets.

“Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature,” Zhang said. “So it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery.”

This is one of Zhang’s recent successes that utilize a series of enzymes mixed together in combinations not found in nature. He has published articles on creating edible starch from non-food plants and developed a new way to extract hydrogen in an economical and environmentally friendly way that can be used to power vehicles.

In this newest development, Zhang and his colleagues constructed a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Then, low-cost biocatalyst enzymes are used as catalyst instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries.

Like all fuel cells, the sugar battery combines fuel — in this case, maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch — with air to generate electricity and water as the main byproducts.

Zang explained, “We are releasing all electron charges stored in the sugar solution slowly step-by-step by using an enzyme cascade.”

Different from hydrogen fuel cells and direct methanol fuel cells, the fuel sugar solution is neither explosive nor flammable and has a higher energy storage density. The enzymes and fuels used to build the device are also biodegradable.