Energy Department Announces $4 Million for Projects Launching the Orange Button Solar Energy Data Initiative

The Energy Department today announced nearly $4 million for projects to increase access to solar data. Four partners will help launch the new Orange Button℠ initiative, which will increase solar market transparency and fair pricing by establishing data standards for the industry.

In order to understand the financial risk of solar energy project development, the solar energy community relies on fragmented datasets released by state energy offices and a limited number of private organizations regarding project origination, grid integration, operations, and retirement. These datasets vary widely in format, quality, and content, which makes it difficult for potential providers to have an accurate understanding of potential markets. The Orange Button project will standardize this data, making it easier to share and secure, which will ensure a more standardized and transparent marketplace.

Data for solar energy system performance and electricity production is widely used throughout the industry by developers, utilities, consumers, and financial institutions. Establishing data standards and sharing key datasets throughout the industry will reduce the cost of capital for new solar energy projects by making information about the potential performance of solar projects more readily available and easy to understand. Implementing the Orange Button standards for accessible, self-sustaining, industry-regulated data marketplaces will improve the ability of apps, software, and other websites to store and use energy data and will ensure that the evolving data needs of the solar industry are met. These data marketplaces will help the solar community to rapidly share quality data and will increase competition by improving cost, performance, and pricing transparency.

The SunShot Initiative’s Orange Button project will do for solar what the Green Button project did for energy use data and the Blue Button project did for health records: simplify and standardize solar data so that state governments, customers, utilities, financiers, solar companies, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders can exchange quality data. After the Orange Button data standards are created and launched, data producers like solar companies and utilities can embed a graphic showing an orange button into their app, software, or onto their website to show data users like consumers or financial professionals that a given dataset can be downloaded in the established Orange Button format.

The awardees are as follows:

  • kWh Analytics (San Francisco, California) will receive $1,000,000 to develop a data format translation tool that will instantly translate individual data formats into standardized data formats, significantly reducing efforts and time required from data standards adopters.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, Colorado) will receive $400,000 to develop a platform that will enable data sharing across the solar marketplace in support of consensus-based data standards.
  • Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (Boston, Massachusetts) will receive $615,426 to lead a 24-month stakeholder and public engagement effort that will help drive out inefficiencies in data exchanges and thereby reduce non-hardware “soft costs” associated with solar projects.
  • SunSpec Alliance (Santa Clara, California) will receive $1,638,765 to establish an open, commercially-embraced solar data exchange system that will enable the free flow of data between commercial software products that addresses all aspects of the solar energy system life cycle. The data exchange system will be comprised of uniform data taxonomy, information models, application program interfaces, a compliance test suite, and reference software.

These new projects build on the work of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative to grow markets that support solar businesses and increase solar access and deployment, making solar energy affordable and accessible for all Americans.

ARPA-E Announces $60 Million in Funding for Two Innovative New Programs

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) today announced up to $60 million in funding for two new programs that aim to solve some of the nation’s most pressing energy challenges by accelerating the development of novel energy technologies. The first program, NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated on-Road vehicles (NEXTCAR) seeks to develop new technologies that decrease energy consumption of future vehicles through the use of connectivity and automation. The second program, Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS) seeks to improve crop breeding for root and soil function to allow for greater carbon storage in plants.

“We must continue to invest in programs that encourage the scientific community to think boldly and differently about our nation’s energy future,” said ARPA-E Director Dr. Ellen D. Williams. “The NEXTCAR program’s focus on exploiting automation to improve energy efficiency in future vehicles and the ROOTS program’s exploration of carbon capture using crops demonstrate ARPA-E’s unique and forward looking approach to energy innovation.”

NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated on-Road-vehicles (NEXTCAR)
Significant research and development is underway to make future vehicles more connected and automated in order to reduce road accidents and traffic fatalities, but these technologies can also be leveraged to improve energy efficiency in future vehicles. The NEXTCAR program is providing up to $30 million in funding to create new control technologies that reduce the energy consumption of future vehicles by using connectivity and vehicle automation. The program seeks transformative technological solutions that will enable at least a 20 percent reduction in the energy consumption of future Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs), compared to vehicles without these technologies.

For more information and to view the full funding opportunity announcement, please click here.

Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS)
Improving the ability for plants to store carbon in the soil has the potential to significantly reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. The ROOTS program is making up to $30 million in funding available to pursue technologies that develop new crop breeding approaches for improved root and soil function that will help plants to store more carbon in the ground and take up nutrients and water more efficiently. ROOTS seeks to develop novel technologies that measure root and soil function and advance predictive models that accelerate the selection and development of plants with more favorable root and soil traits. These technologies could greatly improve crops and production systems that increase carbon storage, water productivity, and fertilizer efficiency which reduces the emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

For more information and to view the full funding opportunity announcement, please click here.

Skoll, Ford, and BRITDOC Launch Flex Fund to Expand Impact of Storytelling

Via the Ford Foundation.

At the Ford Foundation, we believe creative visual storytelling is vital to the pursuit of justice and equity in the 21st century. We have a long history of partnering with courageous visionaries, whose powerful stories inspire imaginations, disrupt stereotypes, and help transform attitudes that perpetuate injustice.

We’re pleased to announce a new collaboration with Skoll and the BRITDOC Foundation that will build upon this legacy.

Through the Flex Fund, the three foundations will provide second-stage funding for joint projects by social entrepreneurs and filmmakers. The fund is open to projects that are well positioned to further, widen, or deepen their impact, and projects that propose to explore new arenas of experimentation informed by rigorous data and evidence. The first funding round will be focused on Skoll and Ford’s common grantees, with the goal of giving promising storytelling projects a boost to the next level of impact.

Why do we need the Flex Fund? Storytelling for impact remains more art than science, with expertise fragmented across a small number of funders, artists, and impact producers. Like many in the not-for-profit world, filmmakers often must assemble a mosaic of funding from different sources, each with their own agenda and expectations. Knitting these together into a coherent whole is difficult enough. Actually leveraging the story and effecting change in the world is hardly a foregone conclusion.

But what if we could experiment with alignment, and do so with some of the smartest visual storytellers? Create a portfolio of promising storytelling projects, partnered with some of the most effective social entrepreneurs in the world, and give them not only funding but also access to the knowledge, experience, and contacts they need. What if we built on existing efforts, like Sundance Stories of Change, rather than competing with them? This is the promise of the Flex Fund.

For now, the Flex Fund is a pilot project that expects to make four to five grants in its first year, each ranging from $25,000 to $75,000. Ford and Skoll are funding the project equally. BRITDOC will bring its remarkable acumen and network to bear, providing direct management of the portfolio in consultation with Skoll and Ford.

Through our JustFilms initiative led by Cara Mertes, Ford will offer deep knowledge of artist-led moving image storytelling and impact, along with insights from its extensive global network. And Skoll will contribute expertise on catalyzing large-scale social change, bolstered by its portfolio of Skoll Awardees and deep commitment to storytelling.

The Flex Fund is an experiment in alignment, risk-taking, and stakeholder collaboration. The potential pay-off—in the form of social change—is high. While these first few grants may be baby steps, we believe they point to the potential for funder collaboration to chip away at inefficiencies in financing storytelling projects and shed light on what works—and what doesn’t—in storytelling for impact.

The Flex Fund has invited eligible grantees to apply for funding—there is no unsolicited application process at this stage. Skoll, Ford and BRITDOC will post updates on the fund as it evolves.

EERE Postdoctoral Research Awards

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Postdoctoral Research Award Program supports emerging scientific leaders focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy to help solve our nation’s energy challenges. The award will provide an annual stipend of $65,000, allowances for health insurance and research-related expenses, and limited reimbursement for relocation expenses. Deadline to apply is May 20.

Rural Communities Encouraged to Apply for USDA Water and Waste Disposal Loans and Take Advantage of Historically Low Interest Rates

USDA has announced that interest rates have fallen to historic lows for USDA water and waste disposal loans and encourage rural towns and cities to apply for funding assistance.

The following rates are available through June 30, 2016:

  • Market: 2.875%
  • Intermediate: 2.25%
  • Poverty: 1.75%

Applications may be submitted by most state and local governmental entities, private non-profits, and federally-recognized tribes who are unable to obtain commercial credit at reasonable rates.

Applicants are encouraged to use Rural Development’s new online application tool RD Apply.

The Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program provides funding to construct clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal, and storm water drainage to households and businesses in rural areas with a population of 10,000 or less.

Find a Community Programs Specialist nearest you at http://www.rd.usda.gov/contact-us/state-offices/.

FY 2016 and FY 2017 Request for Proposals for the Source Reduction Assistance Grant Program

Source Reduction Assistance (SRA) awards support pollution prevention through source reduction and resource conservation work.  In FY 2016 and FY 2017 nine out of the ten EPA Regional Pollution Prevention Program Offices are announcing a two-year grant competition cycle to support two-year SRA agreements. Region 1 is not participating in this announcement. The Regions anticipate awarding approximately $2.2 million in federal grant funding ($1.1 million in FY 2016 and $1.1 million in FY 2017) to support SRA agreements offered as grants and/or cooperative agreements. EPA will not issue a funding announcement in FY 2017. Proposals are due Monday, June 6.

SRA awards will be issued to fund projects that support one or more of the P2 Program’s National Emphasis Areas – 1) Climate Change Mitigation/Prevention of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2) Food Manufacturing and Processing and 3) State or Community Approaches to Hazardous Materials Source Reduction. These areas will promote national environmental themes and strategies reflected within EPA’s P2 Program. As authorized under the statutory authorities for this grant program, proposals must carry out project activities using one or more of the following methods – surveys, studies, research, investigation, experimentation, education, training and/or demonstrations. For more information, please refer to the Request for Proposals.

Water Funder Initiative releases blueprint for philanthropy to advance sustainable water management

The Water Funder Initiative (WFI), a collaborative to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments, has released a blueprint to guide and inspire efforts to make our water systems more balanced, resilient, and sustainable.

WFI is supported and guided by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation as well as the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Energy Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Pisces Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Water Foundation.

Toward Water Sustainability: A Blueprint for Philanthropy (the “blueprint”) offers a roadmap for collaborative and expanded philanthropic action to advance sustainable water management at a scale never before attempted in the water field.

This document, available at www.waterfunder.org, describes the need and opportunity in water issues and describes the six priority strategies that emerged from the Water Funder Initiative’s consultation with experts and stakeholders.

In addition to outlining roles for funders and examples of near-term opportunities, the blueprint summarizes a set of funding action plans that detail how philanthropy can address high-priority problems.

Water is the essence of life and vital to the well-being of every person, economy, and ecosystem on the planet. But around the globe and here in the United States, water challenges are mounting as climate change, population growth, and other drivers of water stress increase. Public, private, and philanthropic investment in water solutions has not been commensurate with the challenges we face.

This underinvestment has led to heightened conflicts and costly litigation among water users as drought and other extreme weather have caused billions of dollars in damage. Precipitous declines in water supplies—both above and below ground—simply cannot be sustained, nor can we continue operating with deteriorating infrastructure and outdated policies that further jeopardize human communities and freshwater ecosystems.

Recognizing the urgent need to solve water problems at scale, a group of foundations launched WFI, a collaborative effort to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments in the U.S., starting in the West where scarcity and reliability of clean water are urgent issues.

Over the past 15 months, WFI has been gathering the most promising ideas from across the American West—and from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including NGO experts, policymakers, funders, scientists, farmers, attorneys, water utility executives, and others. More than 140 people have contributed through individual interviews and six WFI workshops in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas. WFI’s analysis also included an extensive survey of foundation interests and we continue to seek insights from a network as diverse as the West and its water community.

WFI envisions a sustainable water future where:

  • Clean water supplies are available for people and nature.
  • Freshwater ecosystems are recovering.
  • Cities, agriculture, and industry continue to thrive by proactively managing the water supply risks that accompany population growth and a changing climate.

To realize this vision, we must achieve two goals:

  • Bring basins into balance for people and nature. We must use existing supplies more carefully so that, over the long term, we use no more water than is available and our supplies support vibrant ecosystems, communities, and economies.
  • Strengthen resilience of water systems in a 21st century climate. Extremes are becoming the norm as the planet warms, and many of climate change’s impacts will manifest through the hydrological cycle. Water management systems must be flexible and resilient enough to cope with times of water stress and mitigate risks to water users.

WFI’s expanding network of experts and advisors has identified key areas where targeted and strategic philanthropic investment can advance sustainability:

  • Shape healthy water markets: Meet changing needs, reduce over-allocation, and embed social equity and environmental considerations into equitable and transparent markets.
  • Develop new funding sources: Expand and diversify funding for sustainable water management and infrastructure, including by properly valuing water.
  • Improve water governance: Promote governance structures that reduce over-allocation, protect environmental values, support disadvantaged communities, and respond to climate variability.
  • Drive decisions with data: Accelerate the development of open data and information systems to support sustainable management.
  • Strengthen communications and build political will: Improve the field’s strategic communications capacity and build the political will and constituencies needed to support water management reforms.
  • Accelerate innovation: Accelerate development and deployment of innovative technologies and practices to advance goals in the urban, agricultural, energy, and environmental water sectors.

The American West, where WFI has focused its efforts thus far, is a complex, diverse landscape that ranges from deserts to rainforests and defies any simple definition, but much of the region faces inherent water challenges due to its aridity and highly variable precipitation. Across the region, policymakers, water managers, industry executives, NGO leaders, and others are seeking new ways to meet the water needs of cities, farms, energy providers, and ecosystems sustainably.

Within the West, WFI is focusing on three areas—California, the Colorado River Basin, and Texas—where nearly a third of the nation’s people and GDP depend on increasingly unreliable water supplies. Although WFI’s initial focus is on the American West, many of the approaches are applicable elsewhere in the world and lessons from other regions can help solve water problems confronting the West.

WFI is continuing to work with funders, NGOs, water experts, and a diverse group of stakeholders to develop funding action plans to address the most pressing water challenges. WFI is not a grantmaking institution and does not accept proposals. For more information on WFI, see our website, www.waterfunder.org, which provides the full blueprint, an executive summary, graphics, frequently asked questions, and other resources.