A solar thermal system is installed on a Minnesota barn in 2008. (Photo by Clean Energy Resource Teams via Creative Commons)
While soaring propane prices last winter helped build interest in solar thermal systems, results from a Minnesota rebate program show the market is still lukewarm.
The state’s Department of Commerce has enough rebate money left over to fund dozens more solar hot water or solar thermal projects through its Made in Minnesota (MiM) program. Meanwhile, a much larger pool of money for PV has been exhausted.
Although the deadline for rebates has formally passed, MiM’s coordinator Kim Havey said the department has extended the program until the end of the year. Solar thermal could be particularly attractive to rural customers using propane, which may be in short supply again this winter.
Workers install a municipal geothermal system in West Union, Iowa. (Photo courtesy Main Street West Union)
District heating and cooling, typically powered by steam, is going underground in a small Iowa town.
The community of West Union, with a population just shy of 2,500, has completed a geothermal system beneath its town square, and early this year began providing heating and cooling to nearby businesses. About a dozen now are connected to the system, and more are expected to join.
While several universities have installed large-scale geothermal systems to serve multiple buildings, the West Union project is believed to be one of the first of its kind for a municipality.
These Habitat homes in Wisconsin are equipped with solar panels and other energy -saving technology. (Photo courtesy St Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity)
If all goes according to plan, a nearly completed neighborhood of 18 Habitat for Humanity houses in northern Wisconsin will produce as much energy as it consumes.
And along with photovoltaic panels and a solar thermal system and walls that are 17 inches thick, very detailed monitoring of energy production and consumption at each of the houses will be used to try to keep the occupants on track to achieve “net zero” status.
When they applied to Habitat, potential purchasers of the house were notified that they would have to agree to intensive energy monitoring for three years.
“There was a little reluctance at first,” said Jim Cooper, project manager for the St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity. “People were not understanding and were thinking we were going to have cameras and microphones in their house. We assured them that we will maintain confidentiality and won’t share individual results or who’s doing what.
The District Energy cogeneration plant (lower left) provides heat for buildings in downtown St. Paul. (Photo by rhoadeecha
via Creative Commons)
District Energy St. Paul was the only American project to be recognized in a recent report on the potential of district energy by the United Nations Environment Program.
The UN’s “District Energy In Cities: Unlocking the Full Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” cited the St. Paul organization’s work using biomass, thermal storage and solar arrays to produce 289 megawatts of heat annually while reducing CO2 emissions by 280,000 tons. The facility’s electric plant has a capacity of 33 MW.
The major source of fuel for the downtown St. Paul facility is 300,000 tons of municipal wood waste, the report said, which displaces 275,000 tons of coal annually.
District Energy’s CEO and president, Ken Smith, isn’t surprised by the UN’s citation. The utility was created 30 years ago as a model for district energy and has received visitors from around the world, he said.
“I spoke to the folks at the UN and what they’re hoping to do is identify leading systems that others can reach out to, learn from and be mentored by,” Smith said.
Students compete in the EcoCar 2 competition in 2013. (Photo by Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions via Creative Commons)
Working on energy-efficient cars at the college level can be a route to a career in the Michigan auto industry. That’s what generations of students participating in the United States Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions have discovered over the past 26 years.
The trend continues with the EcoCAR 3 competition — an automotive engineering challenge in which 16 teams will engage in a four-year race to design the most eco-friendly and cost-efficient Chevrolet Camaro they can build.
EcoCAR 3 will give students hands-on experience integrating energy storage systems, simulating and testing hardware and software, developing interactive interfaces for displays, creating control systems, testing powertrain components, and improving aerodynamics.
Bloomfield, Iowa could save millions on utility costs through increased efficiency and renewable energy, according to a new study. (Photo by Pete Zarria via Creative Commons)
A pair of Iowa studies found that both utilities and their customers in small towns can substantially cut costs if they invest in deep efficiencies and, to a lesser extent, in renewable sources of generation.
The analyses, done by energy consultant Tom Wind and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities with some funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, explored whether the communities of Bloomfield and Algona could become energy independent.
The conclusion: in about 15 years, Bloomfield could get to net-zero — generating as much energy as it consumes over a year — but not necessarily always at the times needed.
Algona could get about half that far, cutting current electricity use by about 50 percent.
Electric vehicle parking in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Ian Muttoo via Creative Commons)
Despite its automotive legacy, Michigan is behind its Midwestern neighbor states in establishing a better market for electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles, according to a recent report by clean-energy experts.
“Michigan’s auto history, manufacturing expertise and legacy of innovation in the personal transportation sector position it arguably better than any other state in the country — or any other place in the world — to be the dynamo for these advanced transportation policies,” said Joshua Rego, project associate at the Clean Energy Coalition who co-authored the report. “I believe there needs to be an effort for us in Michigan to lead and not be led.”
“We really should be at the top,” added the coalition’s Allison Skinner, another author of the report.
(Photo by 36ViewsGuy via Creative Commons)
A unique data project in Minnesota is giving city leaders a clearer picture of how their residents use energy.
For instance, conventional wisdom would suggest that densely populated Minneapolis and St. Paul would use the least energy per capita in the Twin Cities metro area.
However, it’s actually Hopkins, an inner-ring suburb near Minneapolis, followed by Falcon Heights, a small burg on the edge of St. Paul, that take the top spots (the most energy-intensive is Lake Elmo, a largely rural exurban community).
That’s the kind of micro-data on Duluth, Rochester and 20 Twin Cities communities that can be found on the Regional Indicators Initiative (RII) website. The RII offers data on energy, water, waste, vehicle miles traveled and global greenhouse gases.
No other urban area in the country has anything like the RII, said Rick Carter, who oversees the program and is senior vice-president of LHB, Inc.’s Minneapolis office.
“Many communities around the world have done something like this, but in terms of doing a whole community like this or set of cities, we haven’t found anything like it,” he said.
Conditions inside a swine barn can be tough on lighting fixtures. (Photo by Virginia Cooperative Extension via Creative Commons)
Over the past few years, LED fixtures have taken over streetlights in cities and towns across the country. Next up: American agriculture, especially Midwestern hog-confinement operations.
In Washington County, Iowa, the bullseye of hog production in the state, LEDs “are coming on, and increasing in popularity exponentially,” said Jason Prochaska, owner of Sitler’s Supplies. Since his business began selling a combined LED fixture and bulb about 18 months ago, Prochaska said, “We’ve been doing a ton of projects. We’ve probably sold close to 10,000.”
And hog-confinement buildings, which are seemingly under perpetual construction in this part of the world, use a lot of electricity. According to Prochaska, a typical “finishing” building, where hogs spend the last few months of their lives, might have between 40 and 150 lights that would be turned on for 10 to 12 hours a day.
Kansas City was able to save energy use at its 30-story City Hall by changing the timing of heating and cooling. (Photo by Yudha P. Sunandar via Creative Commons)
When cooled air is being pushed into an empty room in Kansas City’s health department or City Hall, odds are good that word will quickly reach the people who oversee such matters – and that they’ll get it stopped in short order.
This city government’s got ESP – the Enterprise Sustainability Platform, a digital system for keeping very close tabs on energy use. It’s one of the most important tools that enabled Kansas City to slash energy use in four of its larger city buildings by an average of 29 percent between 2010 and 2013. Now, the city is aiming to bring those strategies and savings to other large structures in town.
With a federal Department of Energy grant awarded to 10 cities nationwide, the city is angling to get other large property-owning institutions in town to start measuring, or “benchmarking,” their energy use – the first step towards cutting energy use.
“We’re hoping to drastically increase the amount of utility-consumption information disclosure,” said Robert Rives, the city’s facilities manager. “It’s been commonly found that when people begin to look at utility consumption not just as a cost of doing business, but start looking at the data and seeing how much they can save by making operational changes, it puts it more in the forefront of their minds that this is a cost where there is savings available.”