Green Tags part 2
Native Energy runs a program called WindBuilders, which supports new wind-power generation facilities buy purchasing up-front all the Green Tags a facility is expected to generate over its lifetime. Doing so ensures the facility has enough money to get up and running, offsetting risks associated with market forces (as mentioned in the previous post).
Native Energy raises money by soliciting contributions from individuals to buy Green Tags via monthly payments. The Green Tags are then donated on behalf of the individuals to the non-profit Clean Air-Cool Planet, which retires the Green Tags and provides the individuals some tax-deduction benefits.
Another program is the Seattle Green Power program run by Seattle City Light. Residential customers can choose to pay an additional $3, $7, or $10 a month above their regular energy rate, with the funds supporting local power generation, community education, and construction of renewable resources such as wind power generation. However, this program does not involve Green Tags -- customers simply pay the premium.
If people are willing to pay (.pdf) a premium to construct new green power generation facilities, even without a Green Tags scheme, perhaps opportunity exists to create a similar scheme which assists the fuel poor. As the concept of negawatts illustrated, efficiency improvements are also effective in reducing CO2 emissions.
Purchasing renewable energy for your home is one way of stimulating demand for green power generation. Green Tags provide another way to make voluntary, direct contributions towards the construction of renewable energy sources.
Green power plants produce electricity and environmental benefits by displacing electricity on the electrical grid produced by conventional power plants, reducing overall CO2 emissions. These environmental benefits can be accounted for under a Green Tags scheme. Electricity is then sold as generic electricity, while the environmental benefits are packaged under Green Tags. Individuals or businesses can buy Green Tags and either retire them or use them to offset their emissions. Individuals who cannot purchase green power can still achieve the same environmental benefits by buying Green Tags in addition to purchasing ordinary electricity.
Because Green Tags are traded commodities, market forces can affect revenue streams to green power plants which rely on Green Tag income to offset the costs associated with the new technology. Another concern with Green Tags is whether the money spent on them is used to support existing green power generation facilities or if it used to fund construction of new facilities. (see Regional Green Power)
Assisting the Fuel Poor
Measures to improve energy efficiency, such as green taxes, can inordinately affect moderate- to low-income homeowners and renters. Yet they are also the least able to afford energy-efficiency measures which will end up saving them money.
Several programs help qualifying households reduce energy demand by taking steps to properly insulate homes, seal ducts, and insulating pipes. The city of Berkeley, California, offers free attic insulation and other services based on varying income levels. The US Department of Energy, which estimates low-income households spend an average of 14 percent of their annual income on energy costs, runs the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Sustainable Homes and People for Action work to create sustainable communities. Taking their cue, further opportunity may exist to work with other UK housing assistance and management organizations, such as Care & Repair, Network Housing Group, Stadium Housing Association, Longhurst Group (among many more).
Of note: Longhurst Group runs the Just Rewards program. Members receive discounts and can earn points during the year for being good tenants.
Also of note: a July 2005 scoping study of the fuel poor (.pdf)
Encouraging Efficiency Uptake
Seattle City Lights, the energy provider for Seattle, Washington, runs a yearly program called the Neighborhood Power Project. Since 1995, the project has focused on different neighborhoods within Seattle and helped residents reduce their energy usage and improve water, wastewater, and solid waste management.
One major focus of the program is mobilizing volunteers to hand out free compact fluorescent bulbs amongst the community. Community involvement means that education becomes much more dispersed -- knowledge isn't centered upon a single individual or group.
City Lights also offers free Home Inspections where they provide advice on how to reduce energy usage based on your particular circumstances. During their visit, they also give you a free compact fluorescent bulb and water-conserving shower-head.
The city of Berkeley, California, runs the Smart Lights program, offering small businesses on-site facility assessments and subsidies for equipment and installation costs. An important difference between subsidies and rebates, as their site points out, is that a subsidy is paid to businesses immediately, while a rebate requires the business to pay up-front costs which are later reimbursed. Receiving cash in-hand for renovations can serve as compelling motivation and help to overcome initial reservations or resistance.
Energy Use and Loyalty Rewards
Contact is a power generation company in New Zealand which has partnered with a program called Fly Buys. Fly Buys is a loyalty rewards program which enables members to collect points redeemable for rewards such as flights, hotels, food, electronics, and more. Members earn points by shopping at a variety of stores and retailers.
Customers of Contact who are also members of Fly Buys can receive points based on their electricity and gas bills, wherein every $50 equals one point. Although this rewards scheme is not centered around conservation or promoting efficiency like the 20/20 program in California, it could easily be altered to reward such positive behavior.
The following facts illustrate the stakeholders involved in this arrangement: According to their website, Fly Buys has over one million household members, equal to over 70 percent of New Zealand households. Contact is one of the two largest retailers of gas in New Zealand, and a major producer and retailer of electricity. The relationship between the two companies might be explained by the presence of Shell New Zealand, which is one of the major producers of natural gas in New Zealand (supplying, among others, Contact) and one of the joint owners of Fly Buys.
Tree Rings and Metering
Dendrochronology is the science of using tree rings as a dating technique. However, trees and tree rings contain much more information besides time, and a variety of scientific branches are dedicated to their study.
Trees "manage" energy usage through reduced growth in unfavorable conditions, with certain limiting conditions, such as a drought, producing measurable effects. Thus, scientists can determine rainfall from past years; the effects of air pollution, fires, and insects; changes to the earth's surface (such as landslides); and changes to glaciers and water levels. Scientists can even determine the origin (location information) of particular pieces of wood.
The attraction for metering is that tree rings contain essentially multivariate data. Tree rings offer long-term information about the past, from which it may be possible to divine the future. Comparing rings of multiple trees helps to build a larger picture of a specific area over time, and information from trees of various ages can be combined to reconstruct timelines longer than might be possible from a single tree.
From these cues, one can imagine large-scale, collective or collaborative metering, with energy usage history and trends representing the unique circumstances of specific areas or neighborhoods.
Energy efficiency credits
In addition to rebates for upgrading old appliances to newer, more energy-efficient models (similar to programs run by Texas, Florida, and New Jersey, among others) and for installing emerging renewables, the state of California runs a variety of energy-related programs, including the 20/20 Rebate Program.
Customers of California energy providers such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE) are automatically enrolled to receive a rebate for a reduction in energy use during the summer months.
Your energy usage between June and September of 2005 is compared to your energy usage between June and September of 2004. If the June-September 2005 amount is at least 20 percent lower than the June-September 2004 amount, you receive a credit on your October bill equal to 20 percent of your June-September 2005 electric charge total.
Energy use is calculated on a per-household basis, which means that if you just moved into a rental property, your energy usage will be compared to that of the previous tenant.
Of note: Southern California Edison also runs the Summer Discount Plan where they pay you to allow them to cycle your air conditioning system on and off (if needed) during periods of peak energy usage.
A.C. Pigou and Green Taxes
Another economic theory I've come across is one proposed by British economist Arthur Cecil Pigou and discussed by Paul Hawken in The Ecology of Commerce (Amazon.com, Review) (pp 82-83). (The Ecology of Commerce is a great book which I couldn't hope to summarize here.)
Pigou proposed taxation (Pigovian taxes) as a way to mitigate the effects of negative externalities on society, thereby causing producers to internalize costs they had previously externalized. Pigou posited that companies fail to account for the total social costs of their externalities (e.g.: pollution, CO2 emissions, acid rain) and the costs associated with these effects (e.g.: health care costs, property damage) are typically paid for or borne by others (i.e.: citizens or government). Pigovian taxes effectively shift these costs to producers, thereby a) raising money to correct problems and b) providing incentives for producers to change their behavior and reduce these negative effects.
Green taxes are (I think) essentially the same as Pigovian taxes, and while some arguments point out that the poor may be disproportionally hurt by green taxes (Policy Studies Institute), perhaps efforts to improve home energy efficiency (better insulation, compact fluorescent lights) can be part of a comprehensive approach. That is, not only taxing energy use, but providing homeowners with solutions to reduce energy use.
Negawatts - Reconceptualising saving energy
I am just beginning to delve into the economics associated with sustainability, and my knowledge of this area is admittedly limited. That said, I have come across several interesting economic theories and practices, one of which I have outlined below.
Amory Lovins, co-founder and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, coined the term negawatt as a measure of energy efficiency. Objects such as light-bulbs generate electricity (negawatts) by not using electricity (i.e.: by being more efficient). At a 1989 conference in Montreal, Lovins presented The Negawatt Revolution -- Solving the CO2 Problem, in which he proposed creating a market for negawatts.
Negawatts are not a technological trick, but rather constitute a shift in economic perspective. Consumers save money through efficiency, while power generators can "re-sell" this "generated" electricity, making money through margin rather than volume (The Culture Revolution, Electric Efficiency and Asian Development). An overall increase in efficiency across the electrical system (supply and demand) has the effect of reducing resource consumption and emissions.
However, Lovins recognizes that efficiency alone is not enough, and in this same keynote presentation proposes sustainable farming and forestry as necessary in the overall scheme of reducing CO2 emissions.
Home Automation and energy savings
Home automation technology offers interesting possibilities extending into energy use and reduction. Through a web interface over the Internet (Indigo, XTension), or even through your mobile phone or PDA, you can directly control and monitor multiple facets of your home: lights, air conditioning, heating, and even whether the drapes are pulled. You can also delegate control to sensors which detect temperature, rain, humidity, motion, or light levels.
Recently, Fujitsu developed a light bulb which informs you via SMS when it dies. Although mundane, this light bulb points towards self-contained, automated system-components, which can be simply plugged into the existing (albeit enhanced) electrical infrastructure of the home. Although not focused on energy use, Microsoft and GE have a partnership exploring this concept (as do other companies, all to various degrees of success).
These control systems provide alternate and possibly more usable interfaces for appliances, such as temperature control through voice (HAL2000, Kelvin), phone, or computer (screenshot) -- better understanding and control mean an increased likelihood of more effective use. Remote or automated management of home systems can lead to cumulative energy savings, while remote and smart sensors can respond to climate or seasonal conditions (turning lights on later in the summer), or control functions on a room-by-room basis. Systems range from DIY (x-10Europe, Maplin, Laser) to professionally installed.
Posted by Dave Chiu
Stop looking at what everyone else is doing
To add to the current state-side design fever Business Week have launched a new innovation channel on their site. Yves Béhar is offering a five step recovery programme on how to get through the rush and maintain your creativity."
Step 1: If the client asks for the next iPod, your answer should be, "Are you the next Steve Jobs?"
Step 4: Stop looking at what everyone else is doing
Via the excellent Noise Between Stations
Design vs Business
You may not agree with it all but LukeW has put together a table comparing a business approach and a design approach. It's partly informed by Tim Brown's recent article in Fast Company which should have been mentioned on these pages a long time ago.
Energy project initial concepts
In our first week in the house we held an extended team meeting to bring together the information gathered; through 2 hour interviews with householders across London; through research into domestic energy use and sustainability gathered from experts and other sources; initial ideas from brainstorming sessions.
This meeting was an opportunity to develop a shortlist of concepts which we will be investigating further and developing over the next two weeks. They will form the shortlist for the 3-5 concepts which will go forward to become scenarios. Comments or thoughts on these ideas are welcomed, click the link to find out more about them.
1) Personal energy improvement credits
2) Easy Bill
3) Home energy diagnosis toolkit
4) Intelligent metering
5) Total house Service/Deep service model
6) Roof leasing
7) Small scale nuclear
8) Energy mobs
9) Wedding/Children trust fund for windmills
Energy Project Week 3:
Broadcast from the RED House
A video broadcast from our first week in Lewisham. Download movie (1.9mb Quicktime)