Residential energy efficiency works. Don’t make a mountain out of the E2e molehill

Read the full post from ACEEE.

The Internet has been burning up these last two days with reactions to a new academic working paper (Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver? Evidence from the Weatherization Assistance Program) by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the University of California, Berkeley, associated with the E2e Project.

Let me be blunt and to the point. The “results” of this very narrowly focused and arguably conceptually flawed study are being blown out of proportion, with many news article headlines taking this one example as representative of all residential energy efficiency programs. Unfortunately, this flawed conclusion has been promoted by the Energy Policy Institute themselves in their press release and accompanying policy brief.

For those not yet familiar with this story, the authors conducted a study of one particular low-income program (the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP), as implemented in portions of one state (Michigan), and somehow ended up with the sweeping headline “Study Finds Costs of Residential Energy Efficiency Investments are Double the Benefits.”

Some of the popular press is already picking up on this theme, and the concern is that a misunderstanding (or misuse) of this study will lead to low-income families having less access to important programs that drive down their utility bills. Or worse yet, as a broad-brush attack on all types of energy efficiency programs.

Evaluation wonks will be able to point to several minor to moderate problems with the study’s assumptions and calculations. But in the interest of time, let me focus on two fundamental flaws in the study and how the results are being “spun.”

Unlocking fermentation secrets open the door to new biofuels

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have, for the first time, uncovered the complex interdependence and orchestration of metabolic reactions, gene regulation, and environmental cues of clostridial metabolism, providing new insights for advanced biofuel development…

“In this study, we developed an integrated computational framework for the analysis and exploitation of the solvent metabolism by C. acetobutylicum,” said Chen Liao, a bioengineering graduate student and first author of the paper, “Integrated, Systems Metabolic Picture of Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol Fermentation by Clostridium acetobutylicum,” appearing in this week’s Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

 

Everyone Benefits: Practices and Recommendations for Utility System Benefits of Energy Efficiency

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This report details the wide range of benefits of energy efficiency to the electric utility system, including traditional avoided cost of energy as well as many other economic benefits. These benefits accrue to all utility customers, including those who have not participated in programs. The report also discusses the ways in which efficiency program administrators currently quantify these benefits. Many states lack coherent policy regarding which utility system benefits should be included in cost-effectiveness testing. As a result, utilities and jurisdictions omit relevant benefits, leaving cost-effective energy efficiency and significant cost savings on the table. Finally, the report reviews quantitative benefits of energy efficiency in integrated resource plans and makes recommendations for improving the analysis of utility system benefits in cost-effectiveness screening.

Can we (should we) put a price tag on nature?

Read the full story from GreenBiz.

For businesses, natural capital has often been seen as the environmental economics equivalent of a free lunch.

Companies could use water or timber, or emit vast amounts of carbon with little recognition to the actual impacts or value it had on the natural world.

Yet, as any student of business or economics knows, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Meaning that as the impacts of climate change, severe droughts and ravishing natural disasters are being seen throughout the world, the value of nature’s finite resources will eventually be felt by businesses.

Although most businesses are still not adequately valuing their use of natural capital, the Natural Capital Project recently released a special feature entitled “Nature as Capital” on the current state of how different organizations—including businesses—“incorporate the value of nature in economic and social development plans.” …

The Nature as Capital feature was published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, and highlights 12 different reports. The reports, in part, provide a snapshot of the current state of how far the world has come in valuing natural capital in past ten years.

Tuning Biochar Properties via Partial Gasification: Facilitating Inorganic Nutrients Recycling and Altering Organic Matter Leaching

Sui Boon Liaw and Hongwei Wu (2015). “Tuning Biochar Properties via Partial Gasification: Facilitating Inorganic Nutrients Recycling and Altering Organic Matter Leaching.” Energy & Fuels Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/acs.energyfuels.5b01020.

Abstract: This study reports a systematic study on the potential of employing partial gasification at low conversions for tuning biochar for better properties and facilitating the recycling of inorganic nutrient species. The raw biochars were prepared from mallee wood and leaf at fast pyrolysis at 500 C (a temperature pertinent to bio-oil production) and subsequent tuning via partial steam gasification at 725°C and low conversions (5 and 10 % on a carbon basis). The favourable structure tuning is achieved at the expense of 8–23% carbon which would otherwise be available for sequestration during biochar application in soil. The development of pore structure and transformation of the chemical forms of inorganic nutrient species as results of partial gasification increase the leachability of the inorganic nutrient species in biochars via both water and Mehlich I solution. In addition, <1.5% of the organic matter in raw and tuned biochar are water soluble. The leaching of water-soluble organic matter from the tuned biochars after re-pyrolyssi and partial gasification (but absence in the same biochars after re-pyrolysis) suggests that partial gasification increases the accessibility of organic matter trapped in closed or blocked pores formed during pyrolysis. While some aromatic compounds can be leached from the raw biochar via solvent, no aromatic compounds are detected in the leachates from the tuned biochars. The tuning of biochar via partial gasification also improves the leaching kinetics of the inherent inorganic nutrient species. The overall recyclability of the inorganic nutrient species in the raw and tuned biochar shows that tuning biochar via partial gasification can be an effective strategy for facilitating the recycling of the inherent nutrient species in biochar.

Renewable Energy: BLM Has Limited Assurance That Wind and Solar Projects Are Adequately Bonded

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What GAO Found

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has different policies for the bonding of wind and solar projects on federal land. For example, BLM’s 2008 wind policy established minimum bond amounts, but BLM’s 2010 solar policy set no minimum. However, the agency has issued a proposed rule that would establish consistent requirements for the bonding of the two types of projects in several areas, including minimum bond amounts.

BLM has about $100 million in bonds for the reclamation of wind and solar projects on federal land. These bonds are primarily letters of credit and surety bonds. BLM has two data systems for tracking bonds, but GAO found that neither system is reliable for this purpose. Specifically, GAO found instances in both systems where information was missing or inaccurate, or had not been updated. The agency does not have a timeliness standard for wind and solar data entry, contrary to having such a standard for its mining program. Without accurate or complete information, BLM has limited assurance that its data systems are reliable for tracking wind and solar bonds to ensure that bonding policies are being followed and that projects have the required bonds.

BLM has limited assurance that bonds for wind and solar rights-of-way will cover reclamation costs, leaving the federal government potentially at financial risk if developers do not complete reclamation. GAO found about one-third of the wind and solar rights-of-way were underbonded by as much as $15 million in total. Also, BLM did not clearly document how it made its bond decisions, contrary to government standards that call for documentation of significant events. Specifically, GAO found that for about two-thirds of the wind rights-of-way, there was little or no documentation to support the bond amount. In addition, BLM does not adequately ensure that wind and solar bond instruments are properly secured, handled, and stored and does not have policies related to this. In one BLM field office, a staff member told GAO that someone mistakenly shredded several bonds. BLM also does not consistently adhere to its policies calling for periodic review of wind and solar bond amounts to verify their adequacy. GAO found about half of the bonds were at least 4 months overdue for review. BLM officials acknowledged that automatic notifications could be established in their data system as to when reviews are due. Without policies to document decisions and properly secure bonds, and steps to ensure bond adequacy reviews, BLM has limited assurance that bonds in place will be adequate to cover reclamation.

Why GAO Did This Study

Renewable energy projects can affect thousands of acres of federal land and involve significant infrastructure. BLM directs renewable energy developers to obtain bonds to cover the costs of returning the land to its pre-developed condition when the project terminates, a process called reclamation. Reclamation can cost millions and take years to complete.

GAO was asked to review the bonding policies for renewable energy projects on federal land. This report examines (1) BLM’s policies for the bonding of wind and solar projects on federal land; (2) the amount and types of bonds held by BLM for the reclamation of these projects, and how BLM tracks the bonds; and (3) the extent to which BLM ensures that bonds for wind and solar rights-of-way are adequate to cover reclamation costs. GAO conducted a file review of all 45 wind and solar development project rights-of-way with a bond as of April 15, 2014; analyzed data from BLM data systems; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and BLM policies and procedures; and interviewed agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that BLM develop policies on documenting bonding decisions, the proper handling and storage of bonds, and timely data entry. GAO also recommends that BLM take steps to ensure projects are periodically reviewed to ensure bond adequacy. Interior generally concurred with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact Anne-Marie Fennell at (202) 512-3841 or fennella@gao.gov.

Cap-and-Trade Support Linked to Revenue Use

Download the document. Published by the University of Michigan Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy.

The Obama Administration’s creation of the Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector has renewed interest in possible state or regional adoption of cap-and-trade programs to meet mandatory reduction targets. The latest version of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE) sought to understand Americans’ awareness of existing cap-and-trade programs in their state, and to gauge their receptiveness to this policy option. The survey finds that a large percentage (71%) of Americans do not know whether their state had adopted a cap-and-trade program, and more than a third (38%) of Americans haven’t formed an opinion about whether or not their state should adopt such an approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When provided with more details about various options on how revenues generated through allowance auctions from such a program might be used, more Americans express an opinion, and some options clearly rise to the top. In particular, support is highest amongst both Republicans and Democrats for a cap-and-trade program in which revenues are used to expand energy efficiency programs.