ORNL Creates Low Cost Energy Sensors

by Mariah Valerie Barber

Oak Ridge National Library, the largest US Department of Energy science research laboratory has created new low-cost wireless sensor technology that can be used to monitor the energy consumed by commercial buildings (Ornl.gov). Currently, buildings consume 40% of all energy being consumed in the United States. Most commercial buildings poorly monitor and control their energy consumption. For example, systems in commercial buildings such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and electricity often are under controlled and unmonitored. These new sensors have the potential to reduce the energy consumption of buildings by 20-30% (Physics.org). Continue reading

Is Gaming the Future of Saving Energy?

by Abigail Wang

It’s common knowledge that a big problem in environmental issues is the need for people to undertake individual, personal energy-saving initiatives. Scientists and environmental activists trying to push people to care more about personal energy decisions may have found an answer to their struggle in gaming. By making mundane things fun, people might be more open to cutting down energy usage. A few companies have already developed games for both companies and individuals to implement better energy actions. Energy Chickens, created by a group of researches and developers at Pennsylvania State University, is one of the latest apps on the market. The game assigns a chicken to each household appliance and the user is responsible for keeping the chickens healthy by maintaining low energy consumption. Healthy chickens grow and lay eggs, which can be exchanged for market items to customize your chickens. If a user increases his or her energy consumption with particular appliances, the chickens associated with those products will grow sick and not lay eggs. Continue reading

Semitrex launch promises to increase power supply energy efficiency, eliminate phantom load

by Trevor Smith

Laguna Beach-based technology startup Semitrex launched in February 2015, highlighting new power supply technology which aims to dramatically increase energy efficiency. (Energy Industry Today 2015). Semitrex’s innovation revolves around replacing the complex, multi-part power supply used in devices that require AC/DC conversion, including everything from televisions to washers and dryers, with microchips embedded with power supply circuits. The power supplies that can be replaced by the chips, aptly named Power Supply System on a Chip, currently require more than 50 discrete components from 14 different manufacturers (Semitrex 2015). By streamlining this process, Semitrex was able to fully redesign the way these power supplies work, creating a new chip that promises to increase energy efficiency and all but eliminate the phantom load ‘always-on’ devices drain from the grid. Continue reading

The Auto Industry and Climate Change in the US

by Abigail Schantz

The history of the automobile industry, in many respects, illustrates the progression of society’s perception and response to climate change. Caetano C.R. Penna and Frank W. Geels compare the progression of climate change from 1979 to 2012 using the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model in Climate change and the slow reorientation of the American car industry (1979–2012): An application and extension of the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model. The DILC classifies the progression of an issue into five major stages. In the first stage, the problem emerges, generally due to activist groups, and the affected industry rejects the issue and downplays its importance. During this stage, there is little progression in changing technologies. In the second stage, public concern begins to increase as activists generate social movements. Public agendas address the issue and policymakers create committees to study it, although this action is mainly symbolic. In the third stage, rising public concern spurs political debates, leading to formal hearings and investigations. The industry argues for voluntary implementation of solutions and attempts to show that the costs and technical complexity of rapid change make radical solutions impossible. Meanwhile, firms in the industry often take defensive measures, privately exploring solutions in laboratories. In the fourth stage, policies begin to be implemented through legislation. Suppliers and others that support the industry begin to develop technology while the industry itself actively argues against the new policies. At the same time, industry firms begin to invest in alternative technologies and embrace them more publicly in order to maintain the company image. This often leads to an innovation race. Finally, in the fifth phase, a new market emerges due to changes in mainstream consumer preferences and/or because regulators impose taxes or incentives, or other legislation causes a shift in economic conditions. To bolster the public image of the company, most address the problem in the company’s beliefs and mission. Continue reading

Earthtronics new LED Bulbs

by Dylan Goodman

Earthtronics, a Michigan based lighting company dedicated to providing innovative, efficient lighting options, has been producing lightbulbs for commercial use since 2007. Since their creation, Earthtronics has produced compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs ranging from 5 to 65 watts. CFL bulbs were originally designed as a more efficient substitute to incandescent bulbs; although still widely used, there’s been a more recent move from compact fluorescent towards increasingly efficient light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Earthtronics just recently introduced their efficient new 12-watt LED bulbs. Designed for commercial use, the new 12-watt LED bulbs are produced specifically to be able to replace the previous standard, 18-watt CFL bulbs. Continue reading

Reducing the Environmental Impact through Building Certifications: LEED, ASHRAE, and IGCC.

by Abigail Schantz 

Sangwon Suh, Shivira Tomar, Matthew Leighton, and Joshua Kneifel (2014) analyzed the environmental benefits to be gained from three major building certification systems: LEED, ASHRAE, and IgCC. The final analysis showed that GBCC-compliant buildings reduce environmental impacts in major categories by 15%–25%. But, because LEED permits consumers to selectively choose which measures to adopt rather than maintaining strict baseline requirements, it is possible for a LEED certified building to show no reduction. The estimates also assumed proper use of the buildings, whereas after construction, occupants’ behavior can significantly decrease the reduction potential. The authors concluded that overall, with 40% of US energy consumption stemming from buildings, a 15-25% reduction can have a major impact and, therefore, implementing these certification systems should be seriously considered.

It is currently estimated that 40% of United States energy consumption comes from residential and commercial buildings. Efforts to reduce the environmental effects of this consumption include making changes in materials, building structure, uses of insulation, and more. There are already numerous efforts to do this, as demonstrated by the 44,270 LEED-certified projects in the US as of August 2013. In this article, the authors did not attempt to determine the best system but rather used Green Building Code and Certification (GBCC) as a standard basis for reviewing the three. As a base model, the researchers used the life cycle assessment (LCA) developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a model building from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). GBCC used both inputs (materials, services, etc.) and outputs (waste, emissions, pollutants, etc.) to quantify and generate life cycle inventories (LCIs) for all three systems, as well as for a baseline building. The baseline building, a 3-story office building, which is consistent with the national average for office buildings, was estimated to emit 9.9 tons of C02-equiv/per square meter. Bills of Materials (BoM), comprehensive inventories of all products needed in construction, were also generated for all four buildings (baseline, and three GBCCs). The three systems all involve similar requirements, with slight variations. LEED is a voluntary program that assigns points to various potential features, allowing consumers to choose any number of options for impact reduction so long as the total number of points meets certification requirements. ASHRAE and IgCC both use minimum requirements that all buildings must include, as well as supplemental options. These two systems can be either offered as voluntary opt-in strategies or adopted by local governments as building requirements. The quantifiable components used in the LCA do not encompass all benefits or faults of the buildings, but this study ignored these variations because they currently cannot be measured. The unmeasured factors include, though are not limited to, indoor pollutants, light pollution, and improvements in occupants’ productivity. The buildings were analyzed at three stages: preoccupancy (construction), occupancy (use), and post-occupancy (end-of-life, demolition). Results were analyzed for twelve categories: global warming; acidification; human health-criteria pollutants; eutrophication; ozone layer depletion; smog formation; ecological toxicity; human health-cancer (HHC), human health-noncancer, primary energy, land use, and water consumption. Due to the large number of assumptions made in order to analyze the data generally, the team conducted an analysis to determine how responsive each result was to slight alterations in the unmeasured variables. The authors noted that a small number of the inputs represent a large share of the LCI while the majority have negligible effects. For example, of the 380 inputs measured, 13 comprise 99% of the HHC impact.

Suh, S., Tomar, S., Leighton, M., Kneifel, J., 2014. Environmental Performance of Green Building Code and Certification Systems. Environmental Science & Technology. DOI:10.1021/es4040792


Food at what Energy Cost?

by Briton Lee

In a developed society such as in the U.S., there are many things that we take for granted; chief among them being food. The consumer is divorced from how the food reaches the shelves, as well as the labor/energy costs that go into the process. The food industry is heavily energy-consumptive, and while energy consumption per capita may have fallen by 1 percent from 2002 to 2007, food-related energy use increased about 8 percent as more energy-intensive technologies were developed to produce food for our increasing population (Schwartz 2011). In fact, about 80% of the increase in annual U.S. energy consumption is food-related. Some of the significant ways energy is consumed in food production include fossil fuels needed to power machines, synthesis of crop fertilizers, and supplying/transferring water (Biederman 2015). Continue reading

Funding for Energy Initiatives in Africa: U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative

by Alison Kibe

The U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) initiative launched at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. As of August 2014, the U.S. had pledged $30 million to fund ACEF. The United States Trade and Development Agency’s (USTDA) January 2015 press release announced the two entities in charge of funding AFEC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and USTDA, have both obtained initial funds for AFEC projects. Both organizations are involved with connecting private American businesses to international development projects. The goal of ACEF is to promote privately financed clean energy projects with the hope that ACEF acts as a catalyst for economic development and promotes U.S. foreign policy goals in Africa. Continue reading

EPA’s New Energy Star Home Advisor

by Dylan Goodman

In December, 2014 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched its new Energy Star Home Advisor, an online tool dedicated to improving energy efficiency for American homeowners. The release came as a part of the EPA’s Energy Efficiency Action Week, a weeklong event in which regional EPA offices hosted events dedicated to increasing awareness about energy use and potential energy efficient upgrades. The entire initiative is designed specifically for homeowners and encourages a do-it-yourself approach to upgrading your home. According to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, “As we enter the winter months, homeowners can use our new Energy Star Home Advisor to increase energy efficiency and save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.” Their new website, https://www.energystar.gov, allows users to create a custom home energy profile which in turn provides customized feedback to the user. Based on your home’s unique profile, the Energy Star tool recommends prioritized projects to best increase your in-home energy efficiency. Continue reading

Ice Energy: As Cool as Energy Storage Gets

by Alexander Flores

Ice Energy, a privately held company based in Santa Barbara, CA, has developed a cost-effective air conditioning utility known as the Ice Bear. Essentially, the Ice Bear’s primary function is to convert a power-guzzling air conditioner into a more efficient hybrid that consumes 95% less energy during the peak of the day. This supplementary energy storage unit is compatible with 85% of all commercial air conditioning units and simply stores energy at night when electricity generation is cleaner, more efficient, and less expensive, then delivers it during the day. The Ice Bear works in conjunction with refrigerant-based, 4-20 ton package rooftop systems common to most small or mid-sized commercial buildings. One could simply think of an Ice Bear unit as a battery for an air conditioning system. But just how does it work? An Ice Bear unit consists of a large thermal tank, which operates in an Ice Cooling mode and Ice Charging mode to make ice at night to use for cooling the following day. Continue reading