Sunday, November 17, 2013

Net Zero and Beyond

All mistakes are mine.

Cambridge, MA has been debating a net zero energy and/or emissions standard ( for new buildings over 25,000 square feet since the Spring of 2013, partially because of an ecodistrict plan with MIT and others on a large parcel in East Cambridge (a plan MIT refused to make net zero even though they are rumored to be building a net zero project with some of the same partners in Basel, Switzerland).

The City Manager (Cambridge has a city manager form of municipal government, along with proportional representation so city politics get weird fast) has established a "Getting to Net Zero" Task Force to study the issue.  Cambridge Community Development Department produced a fine overview of the state of the art in larger buildings for zero net emissions at (pdf alert)

As the national Ecodistrict Summit was in town recently, the Community Development Department and Sustainable Performance Institute ( hosted experts from Integral Group (, a deep green engineering firm to present lessons from the more than 40 net zero buildings they've worked on.

Cambridge Public Library
Andrea Traber
Dave Ramslie
Ben Galuza

Community compact on sustainable future - Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, with business partners Akamai Technologies, Novartis, Institutes for BioMedical Research, Whole Foods, and others to come.

Integral has 41 net zero projects in process or completed
"We have to take out 80% of our footprint" in order to control greenhouse gas emissions
Fort Collins, CO - zero energy district, 2 square miles, 7000 residential and commercial customers, municipal utility, 45 MW, generate local energy from 50 mile radius, demand reduction and response, resilient design and passive survivability, district heating cooling and power, microgrids, net zero water
Walter Reed Medical Center - 2 million sq ft, 62.5 acres, 2030 zero net energy target, 2040 carbon neutral, phased infrastructure development, "future proofing"
Vancouver - district heating through underground water loop with business buildings providing waste heat for residential buildings
Vancouver Cambie Street corridor - airport to downtown, ambient water loop for district heating, hydronic heating and cooling

Recovering bureaucrat
Vancouver's green building and energy policy
Only one North American city met its Kyoto goal, 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, and that was Portland, OR through decommissioning a coal plant.  Vancouver was about six months later, within the year but not the month of Kyoto goals.  Vancouver has 55% of its ghg from buildings and gets most of its power from hydro (92%).  New goal is 33% below 2012 levels by 2020
Building energy disclosure - New York, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, California and Washington as well reports Institute for Market Transformation
300% difference in how buildings are performing [two similar energy efficient buildings built in New Orleans after Katrina by the same architects as part of the same development exhibited entirely different energy expenditures, almost purely because of the habits of the different residents]
Vancouver will be carbon neutral in operations by 2020
82kbtu/sq ft now to 41kbtu/sq ft by 2020 with natural gas displaced by renewables
New buildings will show how they meet the target so that lessons learned are shared
Connect existing loads for fuel switching, creating a local carbon offset market, fund energy efficient retrofits
Passive design toolkits for commercial and residential buildings for local conditions

Net zero is zero combustion energy with all energy used generated onsite or within area
Green or net zero can be built at or near conventional costs
Living building challenge - k-12 schools are early adopters
"Net zero buildings will be at market rate within five years" - for office buildings and even for wet labs [labs seem to be the most energy-intensive buildings]
First address building envelope, lighting, hvac and only then the plug loads which can make up the bulk of building energy use
Standard office plug load is 2.5 w/sq ft, integral's Oakland office is at .45 w/sq ft
Z-squared office is a bank retrofit to net zero - envelope, day lighting,
Packard Foundation, near Palo Alto
49,000 sq ft office net zero building
Chilled water thermal storage with ambient water loop and heat pumps
Exploratorium in SF -
all electric heat pump for all heating and cooling, will be first net zero museum, radiant heating and cooling in floors
J Craig Venter Institute
lab building, three stories [question about a new net zero energy building in an area where everybody has to commute miles to get there and back again - transportation policy is an unacknowledged key to sustainability and resilience]

Andrea:  Talbot Northgate, Codman Square, Boston ecodistrict charette
with over 80 people participating from the Ecodistrict Summit

Slides will be available at Cambridge Community Development

Monday, November 11, 2013

What I Do and Why I Do It

I publish a weekly listing of Energy (and Other) Events at the colleges, universities, and in the community around Cambridge, MA ( and have been doing it consistently since the end of January, 2010 (  This is the second iteration of the idea as I published a similar listings service plus reviews and articles from February, 1995 to February, 1998, "A List of Environmental and Telecommunications Events and Issues" or "AList…." for short ( [The issues from April 1997 to February 1998 are available at but you have to click on the weekly issue heading first before you can read any of the articles.]

My original idea was to have a searchable calendar of all the public lecture information at all the colleges and universities around the Boston area, something like 54 of them, so that anyone could take the opportunity to gather in all the free learning they want.  Imagine the resource for anyone from high school kids to retired people.  I'd been availing myself of the privilege for a number of years already, meeting in small seminar rooms with distinguished experts and famous names that normally you'd only see on TV.  And I even got to ask them questions.  What a gift!  As an experienced autodidact, I took notes at the events I went to, when something of actual note occurred, and thought that the next step would be to invite others to contribute their notes from the events they went to that I couldn't attend so that all that wealth of information could be captured, a community commonplace book.

With "AList…", I began to explore the listings systems of the local colleges and universities and quickly found that, back in the 1990s, few colleges had centralized listings and even those that did, like Harvard and MIT, didn't collect all the public events occurring.  Some lectures and presentations stopped at the department level.  My grand idea was not ready for primetime then but I continued to scan the listings that I could find, published my listings on a weekly basis, and wrote up my notes with book reviews and links to interesting articles I found.  Soon I had a growing audience.  Every week I offered an invitation to participate, "'A List...' is a freeware/shareware publication. If the information is of any value to you, please contribute - money, information, encouragement, prayers and good wishes are all valid currencies for feedback and will be gratefully appreciated…" and ended each edition with a section called "The Begging Bowl" where I asked for contributions and wrote, sometimes, about a different kind of economics.  I thought I'd get notices of events, letters to the editor, pointers to interesting books or reviews of same but what I actually got was money.  The first year I got enough to cover my Internet provider costs and it doubled each year.  By the time I burned out on publishing about 25 pages every week, I had a readership of over 1000 and some serious pin money.  If I had continued "AList…", and the growth rate had remained consistent, within five years I would have been making a decent living.  But I burned out.  It got to be too much.

When I came back to the idea, I separated the writing from the listings.  Energy (and Other) Events is simply a listings service.  I spend a few hours each week scanning a series of sites, my sources are included at the bottom of each issue, and arranging them in my preferred format.  I publish on Sunday so, stupid me, work a few hours every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when others are doing non-work things.  The website, Hubevents, has a link list that includes every central events listing at every local college or university that I could find, although I haven't updated it in a while.  The original idea of a searchable calendar for all the public events at all the local educational institutions is still alive and I've tried to interest Boston's Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Governor's innovation office, and Code for Boston in instituting it.  None of them have picked up on that idea yet.  I've also tried to talk to people at the Boston Globe and have had conversations with the Weekly Dig, a local "underground" paper, and the Boston Institute for NonProfit Journalism [BINJ] but, again, no pick up to date.

Fred Hapgood, author of a fine book on MIT, _Down the Infinite Corridor_, also does a listings service which focuses on "Selected Lectures on Science and Engineering
in the Boston Area" (  His focus is tighter than mine but he drills down deeper with a list of sources that includes 419 entries and goes directly to different departments and programs in the various educational institutions.  Fred looks at my ambitions for a centralized and searchable system with a skeptical eye.

My greater vision, dare I say it, is that, if the concept can be proved in Boston, it can be replicated anywhere there is more than one educational institution offering public lectures and events.  As R Buckminster Fuller wrote, "Quite clearly, our task is predominantly metaphysical, for it is how to get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous behaviors that will avoid extinction."  A system of actually letting the public know about public events at educational institutions might be useful in generating those "spontaneous behaviors that will avoid extinction."  At least, that's my hope.

Energy (and Other) Events reaches a little over a thousand people again now.  I see my readers at many of the events I go to and get a lot of thanks.  This time I don't ask for contributions and run this enterprise as an experiment in reputational economics and community networking.  I also see it as a way of leveraging political power.  Since almost everybody of note comes through Boston to speak at one of our colleges or universities, a group of people who were interested in asking hard questions to powerful people could actually exert a little influence.  I've been able to ask George Schultz, the Reagan cabinet secretary, about the ramifications of his administration's energy polices (I told him, "Reagan killed us");  Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency, what the response of the energy industry was to their 2012 Energy Outlook report that concluded about 80% of the known reserves of fossil fuel should stay in the ground ("Disappointing," he said);  and, a few weeks earlier, Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chairman of both BP and AB Volvo, about how much fossil fuel will have to be left in the ground in order to keep the atmosphere fit for our species (he responded by saying that there is no problem with fuel supply, a non-answer that left many in the audience with puzzled expressions and the distinct impression that he ducked the question).  Imagine that there were others present who had follow-up questions that wouldn't let these powerful people off the hook, that such a group could send the powerful home with the idea that "those people at Harvard/MIT/BU/BC… are really pushing back against fossil fuels and climate change."  I've been trying to convince 350MA, the climate activists, that such a tactic could be extremely useful but, again, have seen little success so far.  

As Pogo said, "We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities" and the imagination to recognize them, the will to grab them is always in short supply.  Still, I will continue to do what I do because I enjoy what I'm doing.  I've pared my workload down to a point where burn out is nowhere near the horizon and remain hopeful that others will begin to see and act on the "insurmountable opportunities" so readily available soon.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

US Oil Production and Energy Security

Rough notes from a seminar session.  All mistakes are mine.

Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Carl Pope, Principal at Inside Straight Strategies and Former Executive Director for the Sierra Club (’92-’10); Carol Lee Rawn, Director, Transportation Program, Ceres; and Robbie Diamond, Founder, President and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE)

Diamond: electric vehicles are a "holy grail" of energy solutions.  After 40 years from first oil crisis, US oil production is growing at historic rates while demand for liquid fuels (oil) is declining or flattening.  We now import about 40% of our oil and do not export crude, by law, but lightly refined products.  We spend the same percentage of our economy on oil as we did 40 years ago. Bush tax cuts and Obama payroll tax holiday both equaled the higher oil prices in those periods. Extra cost of OPEC is on the order of $7 billion per year now.  Every recession since 1973 has been preceded or coincident with oil price increases.  92-93% of our transportation sector is oil.  By 2030, the projection is 91% oil for transport.

Carl Pope:  oil is future largest climate threat;  climate security requires cheaper oil; competition is key; monopoly and volatility keep competition down
Greenpeace's carbon bombs, known resources that should not be tapped, are mostly oil,  We use 90 million barrels per day, if demand were 75 million barrels, the price would fall and exotic oil (shale oil and others) would become too expensive to produce. To get on the right carbon path, world demand should be 45 million barrels per day with a price of $45 oil - the sources of which are Saudi, Middle East, and China.

In cars, hybrids, electric and CNG vehicles are all currently cheaper to operate than internal combustion gasoline cars. One reason is lack of distribution channels, locked out by oil companies.  Another is the price volatility of oil which drives biogas and others out of the market - they can't weather long periods of loss.  Cities could mandate alternative fuel distributions, index oil taxes to oil prices to even out price spikes, something like a renewable portfolio standard for transportation fuels, and build global oil substitution partnerships.  CA, OR, WA as well as the Northeast have talked about a liquid fuel portfolio standard (ring fenced market)

Carol Lee Rawn - US ghg emissions are one third from transportation.  Low carbon fuel standard (lcfs) are being developed with CA leading the way using a life cycle analysis.  These measures could result in over $4 billion in savings

Q: OPEC as a shadow tax?
Pope:  yes, but no availability of alternatives. Saudis have charged about $280 per ton carbon "tax" on oil.  Qatar has levied about $180 per ton on natural gas to Japan.  BP chief economist wrote recently that oil survives only where it has a monopoly
Diamond:  Saudis and others are not selling their cheapest to produce oil and holding vast reserves. Electricity has a diversified fuel base and the only other national distribution channel for transportation. Brazil's flex fuel vehicles saw the prices of the different fuels equalizing.

Q: ethanol?
Pope:  no distribution for e85 even though there are 9 million US flex fuel vehicles [out of 254 vehicles on the road]

Q: subsidies?
Diamond: most subsidies are general corporate subsidies.  Better idea is to use revenues to gov from oil industry to fund alternatives
Pope:  OPEC is big subsidy

Q:  lessons from Sierra Club beyond coal project?
Reduce political power by reducing market share.

Q: stranded costs, the 80% of the known reserves that should not be burned?
Pope: industry is schizophrenic.  Shell is no longer going to pursue reserves after two disappointing quarters but reneges after third disappointing quarter.  "I expect the majors to recognize the reality but it is lucrative for them to slow the future down."  In a 45 million barrel world the majors know they'll lose.

Pope:  France is one place where you would expect electric vehicles to take off but it hasn't.  French pay the Poles to take night time electricity but the national utility is not interested in small customers like electric vehicles even though gasoline is $8 per gallon

Projection is that global oil transportation demand grows at 1 million barrels per year. 

An international collaboration of oil consumers has a lot of opportunities to counter OPEC cartel and build alternatives.