Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

20.5.06

The H prize: A helping hand from government for hydrogen power


Alternative energy

The H prize

May 18th 2006 | DETROIT
From The Economist print edition



A helping hand from government for hydrogen power

WHETHER for God, glory, or simply the cash, big prizes often inspire tremendous feats of courage and innovation. But is there a modern-day “Lucky” Lindbergh lurking in obscurity, hoping to cash in on the promise of a $100m “H Prize”? That is the potential payout from a scheme now working its way through Congress, that its sponsors hope could help break America from its “addiction” to foreign oil.

Congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina and head of the House of Representatives' Hydrogen Caucus, is sponsoring the H Prize, in an effort to spur development of a hydrogen-based economy. On May 10th his bill was voted through the House by 416-6 votes, and it now awaits approval by the Senate and the president.

If the H Prize succeeds, it would not be the first time that the promise of prize money motivated an assault on a daunting technological challenge. A $25,000 prize offered in 1919 convinced a barnstormer named Charles Lindbergh to attempt a solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Seventy-seven years later, the $10m “X Prize” provided the impetus for Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne to make a pair of manned flights into space.

The H Prize would spread its largesse out over a decade—offering a $1m payout every second year for an advance in hydrogen production, storage or distribution technology. A further $4m would be presented in alternating years for breakthroughs in hydrogen-powered vehicles. And the grand prize—$100m—would eventually be awarded for paradigm-shifting “wells-to-wheels” technology, covering everything from production to vehicle manufacturing.

Mr Inglis's bill is a sign of the growing political demand to deal with America's ever-increasing dependence on foreign oil, and more immediately, with petrol prices that have doubled in less than two years. Both Republicans and Democrats see political mileage in the idea, ahead of the mid-term elections. Mr Inglis says he is expecting support from the White House.

Hydrogen is viewed by many as the fuel of the future. Use it to power a car, for example, and water vapour is all that spills from the exhaust pipe. But even though the gas is the most abundant element in the universe, it is not found naturally in its free and usable form. Finding ways to produce hydrogen cheaply and efficiently is an enormous task, as is shipping and storing it. Most big carmakers are working on hydrogen technology, and many believe it could be commercialised within the next decade—provided there is a supporting infrastructure. The H Prize could help to spur its development.

19.5.06

Making the Power Grid Smarter


Thanks to Norbert

----- Forwarded -----

Bernie/Jean-Francois, an approach to power management and grid management different from the GridPoint/battery idea.  In fact, the article references the lack of battery storage within the grid.  It enables other forms of distributed energy storage (the water heater is effectively a flywheel that is 'charged' when power is cheap and runs down when power is expensive).  Now, if we could build an 'icy ball' air conditioning system that was charged at night and ran passively during the day....


It is also intriguing to read the article as a re-statement of the problem 'we do not have enough energy'.   Intelligence (information) is being used to offset energy, by building feedbackup and adaptation into the system.  - build intelligence (information) into the system, add feedback loops, and allow the system to learn/adapt.  In this particular case, statistical averaging does not  result in an even load distribution, so more active methods are needed to 'shave off the peaks'.  Implementing intelligence throughout the grid would be expensive, but I recall that every motor had to be replaced in Ontario (Canada?) in the early 1950's when we switched to 60Hz power.  

       Regards, Norbert

 

Content:

Making the Power Grid Smarter by Kate Greene
A project is networking home appliances and thermostats to electricity grids, lowering utility costs and electricity loads.

http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16843

Friday, May 12, 2006

Making the Power Grid Smarter

A project is networking home appliances and thermostats to electricity grids, decreasing utility costs and electricity loads.

By Kate Greene

dIn a project launched earlier this year, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, WA have modified power-hungry appliances -- such as water heaters and dryers -- in hundreds of homes in the state to test how networked technology can both save homeowners money on electricity bills and relieve the strain on power grids.

The experiments are done under an umbrella project called GridWise, a U.S. Department of Energy-supported initiative to modernize the country's power grids by installing telecommunication, sensor, and computer technology into the existing power infrastructure. By networking major appliances to the Internet in order to monitor real-time electricity prices, and equipping others with specialized chips to track grid stability, the researchers hope to overhaul the antiquated electricity infrastructure and harness the power of real-time tracking to optimize energy use.

"GridWise is the notion that information technology will revolutionize the way power grids work," says Robert Pratt, manager of the program at PNNL.

The GridWise project consists of two parts: one gives customers the option to set appliance electricity consumption, to either optimize cost savings or comfort, and the other helps to automate electrical activity on a grid by monitoring use across a region. While consumers have more direct control over electricity use in their homes with the first project, Pratt says that both are aimed at creating a more cost-effective and reliable network.

The first portion of the project, which gives control over electrical use to individual homeowners, is the most ambitious, since it attempts to cull real-time data from households while load balancing the strain on the power grid. So far, 200 homes on Washington's Olympic Peninsula have water heaters and thermostats wirelessly communicating with an Internet-capable "gateway" box that contains specialized software. The networked box, Pratt explains, monitors the cost of electricity every five minutes, a feature that depends on the overall supply and demand in the region. Then, according to the homeowner's preference -- for cost saving, comfort, or a combination of the two, registered through a website -- the software automatically adjusts the thermostat and turns the water heater on or off, depending on the current price of electricity in the region, which is updated every five minutes.

Moderating electricity use based on real-time price is a radical departure from current utility fee structure. Today, most people buy electricity from utilities using a flat-rate structure, which can lead to higher charges per kilowatt-hour during certain times of day and days of the year, says Greg Bartolomei, vice president of engineering at GridPoint. For instance, the Pacific Gas & Electricity Company charges more than three times the amount during peak time in the summer than during off-peak times. Therefore, having a system that tracks these price changes in real time can save customers a significant amount of money, he says.

The second portion of GridWise, dubbed the Grid Friendly Appliance Project, is much simpler in design, allowing Northwest utilities to automatically monitor the energy needs of appliances and regulate power distribution more uniformly.

Currently, the testing involves placing Whirlpool dryers in 150 homes, with a chip in each one that monitors the amount of power coming into it. When the chip in the grid-friendly dryer registers a frequency drop below what the grid considers normal -- the current entering the home usually oscillates at 60 cycles per second -- the heating element on the dryers across the grid will randomly turn off, then turn back on when the grid is stabilized. It only takes a few extra minutes for clothes to dry, Pratt says, but when those appliances drop off the grid, he says, "it's the equivalent of turning power stations on."

Pratt explains that since there is virtually no battery storage within the grid, if a power station goes off line, there is a sudden decrease in the frequency of power that's sent to each home, which creates a strain on the grid. While these strains don't necessarily lead to blackouts, grid-friendly appliances could potentially offset the grid strain that caused the 2003 blackout in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada. By allowing the dryer to monitor electricity load, Pratt says, the researchers have "put a brain on board an appliance that was previously dumb as a stone."

He admits, however, that there is some skepticism about the Grid Friendly Appliance project. Since the power grid relies on a balance of supply and demand, some people question whether dropping appliances off the grid will add further instability. While the chip has been designed to minimize shocking the grid, by delaying the shutting off a dryer's heating element and turning it back on randomly across a region, the "jury's still out" on how well it will work, says Carl Hauser, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Washington State University in Pullman, who's a researcher on a project called GridStat.

Despite the skepticism, Pratt says that so far the results are encouraging, although the final results will be available only sometime next year. Ideally, he says, both PNNL projects would be combined so that the Grid Friendly Appliance Project could be networked to the Internet and take advantage of real-time pricing of electricity.

GridWise tackles one aspect of modern grid research, says Hauser; there are numerous other projects with similar goals. Each aims to incorporate information technology into the grid in slightly different ways, he says. For instance, Hauser's GridStat research involves developing an Internet-like communication infrastructure between power stations and transmission lines, addressing grid stability from the utility company's side, as opposed to GridWise's customer orientation.

There are businesses looking into ways to reduce the stress on the nation's power grids. One company, GridPoint, recently began selling a product that monitors power consumption on household circuits and, using Internet-based communication, adjusts the amount of electricity they use.

Everyone agrees that projects such as GridWise could help overcome some of the barriers to overhauling the electricity infrastructure in the United States. But it's a challenging task, which will take researchers, technology companies, utility companies, and policy-makers working together for five to ten years to implement, says Don von Dollen, program manager of IntelliGrid, a project with a vision similar to GridWise. "I believe that [PNNL's research] is going to be important," he says. "It's a fundamental change in the way the systems operate and how consumers are integrated into the system."

18.5.06

Office Depot Pledges Higher Fuel Efficiency, Less Emissions from Shipping Operations


Office Depot Pledges Higher Fuel Efficiency, Less Emissions from Shipping Operations
Source:
GreenBiz.com

MARINA DEL RAY, Fla., May 12, 2006 - Office products retailer Office Depot has joined the SmartWay Transport Partnership, a voluntary collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and commercial, industrial, and public sector organizations.

The SmartWay Transport Partnership brings together major freight shippers, trucking companies, railroads, and logistics companies to pursue mutually beneficial efficiencies that result in emissions reductions and other environmental improvements, as well as cost savings to the companies. As a program participant, Office Depot will contribute to the partnership's goal to reduce 33 to 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and up to 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxide per year by 2012. Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, and nitrogen oxide is an air pollutant that contributes to smog.

"I am pleased to welcome Office Depot to the SmartWay Transport Partnership," said Margo T. Oge, director of EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality. "They are the first office supply retailer to join the Partnership in a commitment to freight-related environmental performance and fuel efficiency."

As a SmartWay Transport Partner Shipper, Office Depot has committed to:

  • measuring the greenhouse gas emissions at distribution facilities;
  • instituting no-idle policies at these facilities;
  • encouraging carriers to consider participation in the partnership;
  • considering participation in the Partnership when awarding contracts to "for-hire" carriers; and
  • tracking company performance to meet these goals.
"Joining the SmartWay Transport Partnership was the natural next step in our long-standing commitment to increasing fuel efficiency in all of our operations," said Mark Holifield, Office Depot's executive vice president, supply chain. "In 2004 and 2005 alone, we saved well over 4.5 million gallons of fuel by increasing the efficiency of our local distribution trucks, shifting from truck to inter-modal shipping, and reaching a target of 98% battery-operated forklifts in our distribution centers."

Japanese Electronics Giants Lead the CSR Pack


Japanese Electronics Giants Lead the CSR Pack
Source:
Edie News

CLAREMONT, Calif., May 8, 2006 - An analysis of the corporate and social policies of leaders of the electronics and semiconductor industries has placed Japanese firms in the top two slots, followed by companies from the U.S. and Europe.

Every year the Roberts Environmental Center at California's Claremont McKenna College looks at the ethical intentions, and perhaps more importantly the performance, of several key global industries including forestry, oil, mining, and metals.

This week the center published the results of its scrutiny of the hi-tech electronic industries that provide us with everything from computer chips and mobile phones to vacuum cleaners and stereos.

Standing head and shoulders above the competition as the only company to warrant an A+ grade was Hitachi, followed by another Japanese giant, Matsushita.

Two American companies, Applied Materials and Intel, were also awarded A grades, as was Dutch firm Royal Philips Electronics.

Familiar household names from the Far East such as Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, Sanyo and Sweden's Electrolux were all within the respectable B bracket while the D grades were mainly reserved for companies from the USA.

The only grade lower than a D given out by the center was an appalling F, reserved for Taiwanese company Hon Hai Precision Industries.

The findings are based on the information from the web sites of the largest 30 companies in the electronics and semiconductor sectors of the 2005 Fortune Global 500 lists as of Oct. 18, 2005.

The results take into account how well the companies meet social and environmental criteria in terms of transparent reporting, stated policy and its implementation.

As might be expected intention far outweighs action, with most companies publicizing plans to dramatically reduce waste, emissions, energy use, and water use, for example.

More often than not these goals have not been achieved as yet, but do demonstrate the companies' willingness to put their necks on the line and make moves in the right direction.

When it comes to reporting, the trends are less clear-cut, with some companies apparently happy to be frank about their failures and successes while others tend to operate behind closed doors.

In these sectors the most reported environmental variables were energy used, waste disposed of, and research and development into green technologies.

The most reported social information was employee health and safety, compliance with a code of business conduct, and the training of employees.

The full report can be found on the center's
Web site, along with the results from other sectors recently analyzed.

IBM Power and Cooling Technology Symposium


http://www-03.ibm.com/procurement/proweb.nsf/ContentDocsByTitle/United+States~IBM+Power+and+Cooling+Technology+Symposium?OpenDocument&Parent=Global+Procurement

IBM Power and Cooling Technology Symposium

September 12-13, 2006, The Kahler Grand Hotel, Rochester, Minnesota

   
IBM announces the ninth annual Power and Cooling Technology Symposium to be held on September 12 and 13, 2006 (1 1/2 days), at the Kahler Grand Hotel, in Rochester, Minnesota. The theme for this year’s symposium is “Technology for Powering Computing Systems in the Future.” The purpose of the Symposium is to have in-depth technical presentations and discussions based on topics related to efficient, high current power conversion, cooling, interconnect, and packaging. Topics of interest include power density improvements in AC/DC and DC/DC converters, server reliability and availability requirements and impacts, cooling technology advances, high current and low inductance interconnect, packaging, reliability, lead free solder process for power assemblies, and smokeless design considerations. Contact Kari Welti at (507) 253-0767, or at
platform@us.ibm.com for information on how to submit papers for this Symposium.

This year, the keynote address will be presented by Sophie Bechu, IBM vice president and brand advocate for z, i, and pSeries, Integrated Supply Chain. As in past years, IBM Power and Cooling Procurement Engineering is encouraging IBM and the industry to partake in the Symposium.

Registration


Attendees must be pre-registered to participate in this year’s event. The last day to register for the Symposium is August 18, 2006.

16.5.06

Hbc Releases 2005 Corporate Social Responsibility Report

HBC
HBC


Attention Business Editors:

Hbc Releases 2005 Corporate Social Responsibility Report
    TORONTO, May 15 /CNW/ - Hudson's Bay Company (Hbc) today released its
fourth annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report offering greater
transparency on four core areas of its operations: ethical sourcing, energy
conservation, associate wellness and community investment programs.
   "Hbc continues to be a leader in CSR reporting, and we are proud of our
accomplishments in 2005," said Michael Rousseau, President, Hudson's Bay
Company. "Although Hbc operates solely in Canada, our effect is global - from
our vendors, to the factories we source from, to our associates. Everyone who
works with or for Hbc can be proud of what we represent."
   The 2005 CSR report provides greater transparency in the areas of
environment, career development and community giving, as well as more detail
about factory audit results and audit methodology. Some of the unique programs
Hbc undertook in 2005 include:

   <<
   -   An ethical sourcing and compliance program specifically targeted to
       Hbc's involvement in the development of Olympic and Paralympic
       uniforms for Team Canada;
   -   Environmentally friendly Olympic themed shops in British Columbia
       using green energy only;
   -   A commitment to raise $20 million for amateur athletes over the next
       seven years;
   -   Participation in Enwave's Deep Lake Water Cooling project that will
       see Hbc's head office in downtown Toronto, as well as its flagship
       Queen Street store's air conditioning operated using green energy.
       This will help to reduce energy consumption by the equivalent of over
       400 homes per year;
   -   Participation in a Biodiesel pilot project with Transport Canada to
       determine the environmental, cost and maintenance effects of using
       biodiesel fuel; and
   -   Launching a new Health and Safety training program that reduced our
       lost time claims by 30 per cent.
   >>

   To obtain a copy of Hbc's CSR report, please go to
http://www.hbc.com/hbc/mediacentre/reports/2005/Hbc-CSR_2005.pdf.

   Hudson's Bay Company, established in 1670, is Canada's oldest diversified
general merchandise retailer. The Company provides Canadians with the widest
selection of goods and services available through retail channels that include
almost 500 stores led by the Bay, Zellers and Home Outfitters chains. Hudson's
Bay Company employs nearly 70,000 associates and has operations in every
province in Canada.



Business debates the energy challenges with ministers at UNCSD


Business debates the energy challenges with ministers at UNCSD

New York City, 12 May 2006 - Business was well represented at this year’s UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in New York. It was the first time the business community was officially invited to dialogue with energy, development and finance ministers about its role as an agent for change in the sustainable development process. In his opening address, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan named business as one of the key conduits to finding solutions to global environmental challenges.

The main topic for this and next year’s UNCSD is energy, and Mr. Annan talked about the role of energy in creating healthy and prospering societies. “We cannot deny the 1.6 billion people in the world who today live entirely without electricity a better life. And we can not deny developing countries the right to industrialize,” he said.

He also recognized the impacts caused by swift economic growth on resources and the environment. Mentioning hybrid cars and cleaner fuels as some of industries’ recent contributions to a more sustainable energy future, he called for a revolution in energy efficiency as one of the means to move forward.

Mr. Annan called on governments to provide the robust and long-term frameworks industry needs to attract investment to research and infrastructure-heavy projects. “We need to show greater imagination when we think about financing,” he added.

Present at the dialogue were ministers and high-level officials from China, Egypt, the Netherlands, South Africa, the USA and Qatar. The business contingent included some of the world’s largest energy producing and consuming companies, including Alcan, EdF, Enel, Hinopak Motors, GEF, Shell, Vattenfall and Qatar Oil and Gas. Some prominent business organizations were also represented, under the banner of Business Action for Energy, including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Energy Council (WEC)).

The ministerial dialogue aimed to discuss the critical factors for fostering private-public partnerships, enhancing the contributions of the private sector to improving access to modern energy services, industrial development and combating climate change.

Valli Moosa, Chairman of Eskom, and the Chairman of the Business Action for Energy Initiative, highlighted that much has already been done by business to meet the sustainability challenges on energy and environment.

“There is no reason on earth today why anyone should live without access to, and correctly priced energy,” he continued. “But it requires a proper financial strategy. Governments should make a global concerted effort to put the necessary frameworks in place to meet important goals on access, availability and affordability of energy. We also need to change patterns in production and consumption of energy, and make the infrastructure processes more affordable.”

WBCSD Chairman Travis Engen argued that under the current agreements we do not have a level playing field to address climate change. Only harmonized regulations will allow companies to successfully reduce emissions. He also said that the current uncertainty about the future framework is a barrier for business to invest in clean energy infrastructure.

Government leaders, including Dutch Minister, Agnes van Ardenne, and US Under-Secretary of State, Paula Dobriansky, acknowledged business as an important agent for change. Examples were given of concrete actions that governments are making to facilitate business activity to sustainable development solutions in their respective countries, including public-private partnerships and incentives that could make new energy projects more attractive to investors.

Day of Business and Industry

Many of the messages at the 14th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD 14) ministerial meeting aligned closely with those coming out of the Day of Business and Industry, which was held on 9 May. Hosted by the ICC, WBCSD, and World Energy Council (WEC), the founding partners of Business Action for Energy (BAE), a trilogy of panels on energy focusing on technology, climate change and development, demonstrated business capacity as an engine for sustainable development.

During these panels, technologies were explained, options given, and examples presented of the different ways in which business is addressing energy and sustainability challenges.

In the last high-level panel on energy for development, Dutch State Secretary for the Environment Pieter van Geel referred to the 2004 Energy for Development conference (organized by the Dutch government, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank and the WBCSD) and described how his government is now collaborating with business, in an ambitious project to provide 10 million people with access to energy around the world. Shoji Nishimoto, UNDP Director of the Bureau for Development Policy, stressed the importance of domestic capital markets in this process.

However, domestic funding within certain nations is not always enough. The question was raised why we are not able to better combine official development assistance with private sector investment, and how public and private funding to expand access to energy might be better combined.

WBCSD Chairman Travis Engen pointed out that capital is not lacking, but that to progress the right frameworks and incentives are needed to attract investors.

US Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky said that innovative financing for targeted projects, which can be leveraged from the bottom up with localized solutions that can impact multiple sectors, is one way forward. “We need an integration of ingenuity and innovative financing combined with regularity, predictability and room for growth,” she added. She referred to the Asia-Pacific Partnership as a vehicle striving to bridge energy security with economic growth in an environmentally respectful way. “It is business’ role to come up with solutions, and government’s role to open doors so that deals can be closed.”

WBCSD President Björn Stigson moderated the energy and development panel and said it was sobering to realize that the gaps between what is needed and what can be achieved today remain vast.

He commented that the private sector has been slowing down energy investments in developing economies in recent years because of the risks and scale involved. “This is very much about turning around an investment flow that has been going in the wrong direction,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that our dialogue with governments and civil society organizations within the scope of the UNCSD can help change that, and I believe we will be able to find ways to set the urgent action in motion necessary to secure a more sustainable energy future.”


The business panelists were:
  • Travis Engen, Chairman of IBLF and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development;
  • John Hofmeister, President and USA Chair of Royal Dutch Shell;
  • L-G Josefsson, CEO of Vattenfall;
  • Valli Moosa, Chairman of Eskom and Business Action for Energy;
  • Failsal Muhammad Al-Suwaidi, CEO, Qatar Gas;
  • Claude Nahon, Senior Executive Vice President, Sustainable Development and Environment, EdF;
  • Massimo Romano, Executive Vice President for Public and Regulatory Affairs, Enel;
  • Imtiaz Rastgar, CEO, Engineer Development Board Pakistan;
  • Fasihul Karim Siddiqi, Director, Hinopak Motors;
  • Claire Chian, Senior Vice-President, Banyan Tree Holdings, Singapore;
  • Len Good, Chairman and CEO, GEF;
  • Kathy Sierra, Vice-President, Infrastructure, World Bank.


More information: