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


CITRIS Floating sensors: Monitoring water and traffic: CITRIS researchers at UC Berkeley are exploring new ways to use sensors to monitor our infrastructure—including water and traffic

(Once more) Thank you to Colin and Ian
Floating sensors: Monitoring water and traffic

CITRIS researchers at UC Berkeley are exploring new ways to use sensors to monitor our infrastructure—including water and traffic. The Lagrangian Sensor project, led by UC Berkeley Professor Alexandre Bayen, is developing new technologies for managing estuarial water systems like the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta of Northern California.

Bayen and his colleagues build innovative floating sensor packages that gather and transmit data while floating in the river; the engineers also develop the analytical tools needed to "assimilate" the data: to put it into context with other sources of information and deliver a complete, integrated view of the state of the water system.

They are currently investigating the use of "active" sensor devices that are able to modify their trajectory through the water, delivering themselves to the places where they are needed most. By collaborating with environmental engineers and hydrologists, they will develop an innovative sensing technology that meets the need for high-quality, real-time data.

Another flowing network—that of highway traffic—also requires innovative monitoring to help alleviate congestion and allow for smoother rides to work. With the emergence of GPS-equipped cellular phones, the possibility of gathering large amounts of data on highways at a very low cost is launching a new era of mobile traffic-sensing technologies.

In collaboration with Nokia, Caltrans, and the California Center for Innovative Transportation, Bayen and coworkers are planning to obtain position and velocity measurements of vehicles using on-board cellular phones equipped with GPS. This technology will penetrate the cellular phone market in an even more prevalent manner in the coming years. The researchers will study how the incorporation of mobile sensing can add value to already existing monitoring infrastructures and add information to areas which are currently unmonitored.

Last Updated: November 5, 2007 - 12:53pm

Business of Green: A Special Section (NY Times)

Thanks to Lloyd

Business of Green: A Special Section
The Carbon Calculus
The Carbon Calculus
Chris Richards for The New York Times
SHAKEUP A coal-burning plant in Washington, where a Senate subcommittee approved a bill to create a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions. Support is not as strong in the House.

A proposal in Congress to put a price tag on greenhouse-gas emissions could overturn the economics of energy.
For Suppliers, the Pressure Is on
For Suppliers, the Pressure Is on

Call it Phase 3 of the greening of corporate America. Companies are looking at their supply chain as the next frontier for combating climate change.
Radioactive Nimby: No One Wants Nuclear Waste
Radioactive Nimby: No One Wants Nuclear Waste

More than a half century after the opening of the first commercial reactor, there is still no permanent disposal site for highly radioactive waste.
Foreign Firms Envision Wind Farms Dotting the U.S.
Foreign Firms Envision Wind Farms Dotting the U.S.

The United States is the fastest-growing market in the world for wind power. Despite a patchwork of laws and regulations, many European energy companies would like to plant their windmills here.
Private Efforts to Preserve the Coast

The concept of an easement is clear when it comes to land. But who owns the water, or the fish, or the right to fish?
Aiding the Environment, a Nanostep at a Time
Aiding the Environment, a Nanostep at a Time

The ability to manipulate matter on a tiny scale could lead to environmental breakthroughs. Billions of dollars are being spent, but the most exciting green nanoproducts are still on the drawing boards.

BBC Poll: Most ready to alter lifestyle for environment

Thanks to Colin

Juicing the System: With a flood of renewable-energy supplies coming online, it's time for the electricity grid to get smart.

Thanks to Colin and Lloyd


Juicing the System

Daniel Fisher
11.12.07, 12:00 AM ET

With a flood of renewable-energy supplies coming online, it's time for the electricity grid to get smart.

In a yearlong trial run that ended in the spring, 200 or so homes on Washington's Olympic Peninsula engaged in a daily bidding war for electricity. It was a sort of robotic Ebay auction in which the thermostat in one house, say, bid against the clothes dryer in another for scarce electrons. The loser would turn off and wait for prices to drop before jumping back onto the grid. Engineers at the federally funded Pacific Northwest National Laboratory showed that by equipping appliances and thermostats with a few cheap microchips and Internet connections, they could cut peak demand by as much as 50%. That's a big number, because 8% to 12% of peak demand for power capacity comes during the busiest 1% of hours. Most of the extra supply comes from inefficient gas-turbine generators.

Such an experiment would have been sci-fi a few years ago. But ubiquitous silicon and broadband have suddenly made such second-by-second tinkering with demand possible, and the idea of upgrading the century-old electric grid to make it more efficient isn't so crazy anymore.

CenterPoint Energy of Houston, for example, plans to install 2 million Internet-capable electric meters over the next five years. The utility likes the $120 devices: They eliminate the need for meter readers and contain wireless chips that communicate with Internet-enabled appliances in the home, letting consumers use a simple Web-based program, say, to raise the air-conditioning thermostat when electricity prices rise or turn on the dishwasher in the middle of the night when prices are low. "We're on the threshold of being able to digitize the system," says Thomas Standish, the head of regulated operations at CenterPoint. The grid "is one of the last things that can be completely transformed by this technology."

That won't happen overnight. One of the biggest and oldest networks around, the U.S. electric grid seems hopelessly stuck between the 19th and 21st centuries. It's broken up for historical and regulatory reasons into 8 regional transmission systems and some 130 smaller "control areas." While many systems are computerized, grid operators at the higher levels still communicate largely by phone and fax. Hundreds of thousands of switches and circuit breakers must be operated manually, and the main transmission lines have little instrumentation to monitor the second-by-second flow of electricity from unpredictable new sources like windmills. "If Thomas Edison came back to life, he'd recognize our electric utility system immediately--and that's not a good thing," says Jesse Berst, publisher of, in Redmond, Wash.

Each year U.S. electric utilities waste tens of billions of cubic feet of natural gas on "spinning reserves," for example, generators that are running below top efficiency so they can supply electricity on a moment's notice. From 5% to 20% of capacity is in reserve at any given time.

The problem of matching supply and demand will worsen as utilities increase the supply of green energy under mandates like California's, which requires 20% renewable electricity by 2010. Windmills, for instance, are unpredictable and must be paired with gas turbines that can be throttled up when gusts die down. Utilities need as much as 1 megawatt of spinning reserves for every 2 megawatts of wind power, says Douglas Houseman with CapGemini, a Paris consultancy. To supply the extra juice, utilities turn on inefficient single-cycle gas turbines, which turn 25% of the fuel's energy into electricity, as opposed to 45% for combined-cycle plants that use turbine exhaust to make steam to run a second generator.

The ideal solution is to counter fluctuations in wind power by changing demand, as in the Washington experiment, but it's a big job. Houseman estimates the average home uses about 3 kilowatts of electricity at peak hours; General Electric's most popular windmills generate 3 megawatts. "You've got to pick 1,000 homes to turn everything off in--or 10,000 homes to turn something off in--to counter one windmill," he says.

As the industry shifts from large central plants to a diverse collection of windmills and biogas generators, managing the complex balance of supply and demand will require fat communications pipes and complex calculations. Luckily, the utility industry needs to upgrade large portions of its transmission system. CapGemini estimates that North American utilities will spend $500 billion over the next 15 years replacing aging wires, transformers, electric meters and poles. It's an ideal time to add compact instruments, Internet links and automated switches to control the flow of electricity. "The longer we wait, the more we're going to spend," says Houseman, who worked his way up from lineman to chief operating officer of a small utility.

Houston may set an example for other U.S. utilities as it rolls out one of the most ambitious upgrades yet. CenterPoint's network was engineered by IBM and runs on open-source software, meaning anybody can access the underlying code to develop new products to ride on the communications system CenterPoint is building.

Going to open source was a big step for Itron of Liberty Lake, Wash., which controls approximately 60% of the electric meter market and until four years ago was committed to protecting itself with proprietary technology. The change came as Itron's research group in Paris realized it could exploit inexpensive new wireless chips and open-source software to create a so-called mesh network of electric meters that passed information among themselves, like firemen in a bucket brigade, instead of relying on expensive and less reliable individual connections to the Internet.

The meters CenterPoint is installing store billing information and upload it three times a day to nearby radio receivers that are connected to computers via broadband over power lines. They also have wireless chips that will use the ZigBee standard, a sort of longer-range version of Bluetooth, to communicate with a future generation of wireless appliances and thermostats. Meantime, IBM executive Allan Schurr expects retailers like Home Depot eventually to stock simple ZigBee devices that look like lamp timers and can turn energy-hogging appliances on and off according to commands that consumers send over the Web.

CenterPoint figures the project will cost $550 million or so, which it will recover from customers if regulators approve a charge of $2.50 a month over the next 12 years. Consumers could save several times that much if the system cuts peak energy demand, however, since prices at peak hours are set by the least efficient, most expensive generators on the grid. As communications networks become more widespread, utilities will be able to balance flow by harnessing everything from solar panels to back-yard generators in order to supply electricity when and where it's needed. This country has an estimated 220 gigawatts of what you might call amateur power: emergency generators, industrial fuel cells and other user-owned power plants, compared with 1,000 or so gigawatts of central station capacity. Only 1% of the amateur power is connected to the grid now, but Portland General Electric in Oregon has hooked up 21 large customers with 43 megawatts of generating power that can be turned on electronically and supplied to the grid.

Factoring in the software and systems to control all those units, utilities would spend $75 to $150 per kilowatt of generating capacity, says Steve W. Pullins, an analyst with consultants Horizon Energy Group in Maryville, Tenn., versus $1,000 or more for peaker plants that can be turned on rapidly to supply peak loads. "But instead of 25 generating assets in your portfolio, now you're looking at 25,000," Pullins says. "Our traditional, older control systems aren't capable of handling it."

There are other barriers to transforming the grid across America. GE, which supplies the National Grid operator in the U.K., would dearly love to outfit the U.S. network with control software and thousands of sensors to report voltage and other information on a second-by-second basis. That way grid operators could, say, automatically lower the cost of transmitting power from a region with excess to capacity to one with a shortage, instead of letting the problem fester until the peaker plants turn on and phone calls and faxes fly. But utilities and regulators alike protect their markets and are unlikely to support any such national electricity authority.

Another big problem is safety. Networks are riddled with circuit breakers that prevent electricity from flowing backward to the substation when voltage drops--the moment when utilities need solar cells and basement battery packs to support the grid. Those systems are designed to protect utility workers when they're fixing supposedly dead lines, but will vastly complicate the job of achieving distributed generation.

And programs to cut household demand almost certainly require price changes by the hour, if not the minute. That could spark a political backlash as consumers see that a kilowatt at 6 p.m. costs five or ten times as much as one at 4 a.m. A colorful Web-based program showing them exactly how much they're saving by running their dishwasher at night would make the change more appealing.

Clinton says she will introduce US emissions trading scheme: 100% of tradable allowances would be auctioned

06.11.07  Clinton says she will introduce US emissions trading scheme

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Monday that her energy plan would feature a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking at a factory in the Midwestern state of Iowa, Clinton said her energy strategy aims to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 per cent below that in 2050.

Clinton, a New York senator, is currently a co-sponsor of a climate change proposal by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, which sets the same short- and long-term targets.

But unlike Clinton's plan, the Sanders-Boxer bill does not weigh in on what percentage of allowances should be auctioned, placing that decision in the hands of the administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Clinton said yesterday that under her cap-and-trade scheme, 100 per cent of tradable allowances would be auctioned.

Earlier this summer, Clinton had not yet taken a position on allowance auctions, saying only that she was "intrigued by the carbon auction idea."

Her energy strategy calls for auction proceeds to be used to provide tax benefits for working and middle-class families and affected energy-intensive industries, and to fund research and development for energy efficiency and renewable technologies.

"The climate crisis is also one of the greatest economic opportunities in the history of our country," Clinton said on her campaign trail speech. "It will unleash a wave of innovation, create millions of new jobs, enhance our security and lead the world to a revolution in how we produce and use energy."

Clinton also touted her $50 billion (€34.5 billion) Strategic Energy Fund proposal, first unveiled in a campaign stop New Hampshire in July, which would "jumpstart a clean energy future" by eliminating tax breaks for oil companies. That money would be used to fund 10 years of research, development and deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean coal technology and domestic biofuels.

The senator also championed the creation of a national requirement for utilities to generate 25 per cent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Renewable electricity standards have been adopted by some states and endorsed by a number of senators and representatives and business groups.

The Energy Information Agency, the statistics unit of the Department of Energy, analysed the impact of the so-called 25-by-25 proposal, finding that it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 by 724 million metric tonnes, or 22 per cent.

The Clinton energy plan also addresses emissions from vehicles, calling for an increase in fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030, and $20 billion of "Green Vehicle Bonds" to help US automakers retrofit their plants to meet new, cleaner standards.

Washington DC

Launch of International Carbon Action Partnership: A coalition of European countries, US states, Canadian provinces, New Zealand and Norway has announced the formation of the International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP) to fight global warming

Sorry for the duplicates -- and thanks to Claire

Launch of International Carbon Action Partnership


A coalition of European countries, US states, Canadian provinces, New Zealand and Norway has announced the formation of the International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP) to fight global warming.

ICAP will provide an international forum in which governments and public authorities adopting mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade systems, will share experiences and best practices on the design of emissions trading schemes.

This cooperation will ensure that the programs are more compatible and are able to work together as the foundation of a global carbon market. Such a market will boost demand for low-carbon products and services, promote innovation and allow cost-effective reductions, so as to allow swift and ambitious global reductions in global warming emissions.

The ground-breaking international and interregional agreement was signed by US and Canadian members of the Western Climate Initiative (Click Here), northeastern US members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (Click Here), as well as European members including the United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and the European Commission. New Zealand and Norway joined on behalf of their emissions trading programs.

Leaders attending the summit included - President José Sócrates, Council of the European Union and Prime Minister of Portugal; European Commission President José Manuel Barroso; Governor Jon Corzine, New Jersey; Governor Eliot Spitzer, New York and Premier Gordon Campbell, British Columbia. Gordon Brown, UK Prime Minister and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, participated with video messages.

ICAP will open lines of communication for sharing valuable information, such as research, effective policy initiatives, lessons learned and new developments. By working together to establish similar design principles, ICAP partners are ensuring that future market systems - in conjunction with regulation in the form of enforceable caps - will boost worldwide demand for low-carbon products and services, provide a larger market for innovators and achieve global emissions reductions at the swiftest pace and lowest cost possible.

The new partnership supports the current ongoing efforts undertaken under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which all ICAP members agree has a central role in fighting global warming.

Global warming is a problem that requires a global solution. ICAP will facilitate such a global solution by -

  • Rigorously and accurately monitoring, reporting and verifying emissions and working to determine reliable sources appropriate for inclusion in a globally linked program.
  • Encouraging common approaches and furthering partners' working together to expand the global carbon market - helping to prevent leakage.
  • Creating a clear price incentive to innovate, develop and use clean technologies.
  • Encouraging private investors to chose low-carbon projects and technologies - generating the flow of money needed to support a shift to a low-carbon future - and
  • Providing flexible compliance mechanisms that ensure reliable reductions at the fastest pace and lowest cost.
The following signatories and/or participants of the event said -

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown - "The launch of the International Carbon Market Partnership is a truly significant step forward in the global effort to combat climate change. Building a global carbon market is fundamental to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while allowing economies to grow and prosper.
Trading emissions between between nations allows us all to reach our greenhouse gas targets more cost-effectively - and it, therefore, allows us to reduce emissions more than we could by acting alone."

Governor Jon Corzine, New Jersey - "My background as the former head of Goldman Sachs has given me a unique perspective on many market-based solutions to important public problems, such as environmental degradation. But it is my life in public service that has helped me understand that it will take the courage and commitment of a core set of leaders - like those of us gathered today - to drive implementation of smart, feasible and measurable policies needed to address an issue as urgent as global warming."

Governor Eliot Spitzer, New York - "Global warming is the most significant environmental problem of our generation and, by establishing an international partnership, we are taking the vital steps to address this growing concern.
In the absence of federal leadership, New York is implementing a greenhouse gas emissions trading program that will achieve a 16 percent reduction in power plant emissions by 2019.
Today, we continue that work by joining the International Carbon Action Partnership - or ICAP - where we can begin working with our global partners, share experiences and address issues of program design and compatibility, thereby strengthening our markets."

Premier Gordon Campbell, British Columbia - "Tackling global warming requires international cooperation and collaboration unlike anything we have seen before. It is vitally important that, as we design our own market systems, we coordinate with other provinces, states, nations and continents.
The partnership we have signed today opens the door, for the first time ever, to jurisdictions around the globe to share ideas and new technologies and, ultimately, will lay the foundation for a compatible market-based system to trade carbon offsets and credits worldwide."

John Hutton, secretary of state for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, UK - "This initiative is an extremely important contribution to the global effort to solve the urgent problem of climate change. Business tells us they want clarity on what they will be asked to do and that they prefer a market-based approach.
That is why the global carbon market will be fundamental in the move to a low-carbon economy and why ICAP is such a valuable forum - with its practical emphasis on collaborating and sharing experience and expertise."

SJ Mercury - How Silicon Valley could become the Detroit of electric vehicles

Thanks to Colin for this one