Emissions impact of distributed generation studied

California researchers, using a supercomputer, have analyzed the impact that distributed generation could have on the state’s air quality by 2010. They concluded that emissions could “slightly increase” but would be “far less” than resorting to the construction of new natural gas and coal plants. While things like solar and wind obviously wouldn’t contribute emissions, the small increase would be due to the use of small stationary generators — fuel cells using natural gas, microturbines, and natural gas generators. “Decision-makers will need a way to assess distributed generation’s impact on air quality, and our computer model and methodology are the first to address this need,” Donald Dabdub, a professor of mechanical and environmental engineering from The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, told Today@UCI.

Cleantech reminder: It’s about the money, baby

Nick Parker, co-founder and chairman of the Cleantech Venture Network, is profiled in the New York Times (via CNET’s News.com) today talking about the rising interest in the “cleantech” sector and how this shouldn’t be confused as a treehugging trend. The piece also touches on how companies are starting to rebrand their products “cleantech” so they can take advantage of the flow of investment going into the area. What Nick, and I think others, are concerned about is a backlash against the whole term cleantech. The buzz and hype is nice, but only to an extent. The bottom line, emphasizes Nick, is exactly that: the bottom line. The associated environmental benefits may boost the business case, but they’re not the foundation for it. This sector is about business fundamentals and real economic drivers.

Environmentalists may criticize this approach, but the fact remains if you want to get businesses to embrace a more sustainable way of operating and convince consumers to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle you’ve got to go back to basics: Will this lower costs/monthly bills? Will this improve operational efficiency? Will this lower risk? Will this give me an edge over rivals?

If a clean technology can answer YES to any of the above questions, then the hype and investment around it is justified. If it can’t, then it may not be that different than all those dot-com companies that bit the dust after their 15 minutes of undeserved fame.

Cleantech reminder: It’s about the money, baby

Nick Parker, co-founder and chairman of the Cleantech Venture Network, is profiled in the New York Times (via CNET’s News.com) today talking about the rising interest in the “cleantech” sector and how this shouldn’t be confused as a treehugging trend. The piece also touches on how companies are starting to rebrand their products “cleantech” so they can take advantage of the flow of investment going into the area. What Nick, and I think others, are concerned about is a backlash against the whole term cleantech. The buzz and hype is nice, but only to an extent. The bottom line, emphasizes Nick, is exactly that: the bottom line. The associated environmental benefits may boost the business case, but they’re not the foundation for it. This sector is about business fundamentals and real economic drivers.

Environmentalists may criticize this approach, but the fact remains if you want to get businesses to embrace a more sustainable way of operating and convince consumers to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle you’ve got to go back to basics: Will this lower costs/monthly bills? Will this improve operational efficiency? Will this lower risk? Will this give me an edge over rivals?

If a clean technology can answer YES to any of the above questions, then the hype and investment around it is justified. If it can’t, then it may not be that different than all those dot-com companies that bit the dust after their 15 minutes of undeserved fame.

Tackling climate change through creative insurance

Ceres, a national coalition of investors and environmental groups working to combat climate change, has put out a lengthy study that looks at what the insurance industry is doing — and should be doing — to address climate change. It’s no secret the industry has been pummelled over the last couple of years through a combination of devasting hurricanes and extreme weather, and increasingly insurance companies are realizing that climate change is playing a role. “Climate change poses unprecedented risks to the insurance industry, but it also creates vast opportunities for new products and services to help consumers and businesses reduce their losses, while also reducing the pollution causing global warming,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, in a statement accompanying the study. “We’ve seen encouraging progress from big-name insurers and brokers since last year’s devasting hurricanes, but many more creative services will be needed as we confront what is perhaps the biggest threat in the industry’s history.”

Examples of some insurance products that are influencing change? The Firemen’s Fund Insurance is launching “green” coverage that offers credits and other incentives to commercial building owners who re-build damaged properties using green and LEED-certified practices. Marsh and AIG have launched carbon emissions credit guarantees that are allowing companies to participate in carbon offset projects. Other are offering discounts for people who buy hybrid cars and install renewable energy in their homes.

I’ve always said that the insurance industry can play a crucial role in the climate change battle, and as standards emerge that allow companies to more accurately account for their emission reductions, we’ll hopefully see more of these green insurance products on the market. Clearly, much more needs to be done. But when you consider this wasn’t even on the industry’s radar screen two years ago, it’s nice to know they’ve taken notice.

Tracking the performance of solar

I’ve got a little piece in today’s Toronto Star about a Web site being created that tracks the performance of a 100-kilowatt solar PV system recently unveiled at the Exhibition Place in Toronto. Sadly, this pilot system is the largest in Canada — when the rest of the world is talking multiple megawatts!!! — but the plan is to expand to 1.5 to 2 megawatts after a feasibility study is done on the pilot. Data will be collected on the performance of the system through a number of seasons and weather conditions, and how much the system offsets energy use at the Exhibition Place’s historic Horse Palace, which is hosting a combination of four different solar arrays (a mix of Sharp and Evergreen panels, and Xantrex and Sunny Boy inverters) atop its roof.

The decision by Exhibition Place to make this data publicly available through a Web site is an excellent one, as it will give people a chance to monitor the technology 24-hours a day and get a feel for how well a solar PV system works in an urban setting such as Toronto, which I suppose is also considered a northern climate (though it’s technically further south than the tip of northern California). Two Web cameras on the Horse Palace roof will also transmit images to the Web site, so people can see the relationship between weather and clouds and the output of the arrays. Other metrics, such as temperature and wind speed/direction, will also be included on the Web site. The data is being collected and displayed in a user-friendly way using software from Malboro, Mass.-based Fat Spaniel Technologies Inc. (see image above, left). Carmanah Technologies Inc. of Victoria, B.C., installed the solar PV system and is overseeing development of the tracking Web site. The site itself should be up and accessible sometime in September, and a link will be available through Exhibition Place’s Web site (www.explace.on.ca).