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Energy Efficiency

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Power play: Can utilities turn energy efficiency into fun and games?

Big Fan: Simple Energy rewards power-conscious consumers with unlockable achievements. Click to embiggen.

At any given moment, Collin Faunce can see exactly how much energy he’s using in his house. When he turns on the dishwasher, his consumption spikes on the colorful head-up display on his computer monitor. If he and his wife, Erica, set the air conditioning just a few degrees higher, they can watch the dollars spared tick upwards in real time. They don’t have to wait for the monthly bill to understand their savings, and when a gadget siphons away precious energy, the Faunces can immediately identify the culprit.

“After about a week or two [of using the program], I could figure out which appliances were using how much energy and kind of plan accordingly after that,” said Faunce.

Welcome to our gamified future: where energy efficiency competes with Foursquare and Angry Birds for your attention. Winning brings badges and high scores, but it also translates into money saved for the consumer and a smarter grid for everyone.

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Of the world’s 12 largest economies, the U.S. is the ninth-most energy efficient

This image has something to do with efficiency. Insulation, maybe.

Yesterday, we wrote about the outrageously ridiculous amounts of energy Americans spend air conditioning things (cars, houses, themselves, cats).

Today, a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) tells us that America has one of the least energy-efficient major economies in the world.

From the ACEEE's press release:

The United Kingdom comes in first in a new energy efficiency ranking of the world’s major economies, followed closely by Germany, Italy, and Japan, according to the first-ever International Energy Efficiency Scorecard published today by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The report finds that in the last decade the U.S. has made “limited or little progress toward greater efficiency at the national level,” putting it in 9th place out of 12 economies around the globe. …

On a scale of 100 possible points in 27 categories, the nations were ranked by ACEEE as follows: (1) the United Kingdom; (2) Germany; (3) Italy; (4) Japan; (5) France; (6) the European Union, Australia, and China (3-way tie); (9) the U.S.; (10) Brazil; (11) Canada; and (12) Russia.

Click to embiggen.

Ha ha Canada.

Read more: Energy Efficiency

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U.S. Navy on its green initiatives: Damn the torpedoes!

Logo on a Navy FA-18. (Photo courtesy of the USDA.)

Rep. Mike Conaway (R–Texas) hates the Navy's biofuel program. "It's not about proving the technology," he told Reuters. "It's [Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus wanting to waste money ... on a publicity stunt for his green fleet." Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) hates it too. "I don't believe it's the job of the Navy to be involved in building ... new technologies. I don't believe we can afford it."

How does the Navy respond? Cool story, bro.

The Navy has been at the forefront of energy innovation for over a hundred years, Mabus says, transitioning from sail, to coal, to oil and then to nuclear from the 1850s to the 1950s.

"Every single time there were naysayers," he said recently. "And every single time, every single time, those naysayers have been wrong, and they're going to be wrong again this time."

Earlier this month, the Navy announced a $62 million investment in biofuel technology. David Roberts has been covering this issue for a long time, noting that such investments in biofuels make an enormous amount of sense over the long term. As Mabus points out, the Navy uses 2 percent of all of the fossil fuels consumed in the United States. In 2011, the Daily Energy Report posted the breakdown of military energy consumption from 2009, below. That year, the military used 731 trillion British thermal units of oil.

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This summer’s blockbuster: Tiny House, THE MOVIE

The best cinema taps into our secret dreams, and TINY taps in specifically to our secret dreams about running away to Colorado and building a tiny house. Thus, we think it’s reasonable to assume it’ll be bigger than Avengers.

TINY chronicles filmmaker Christopher Smith’s attempt to build a tiny house more or less from scratch.

Smith directed the movie and Merete Mueller, who will also live in the house, wrote and produced it. They're both quite charming, and to get a sense of both their ambitions and their learning process, consider this bit from the blog chronicling the project:

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Baseball’s All-Star Game: So green, you’ll forget the game doesn’t matter

Photo by Rich Anderson.

Baseball fans will gladly tell you why tonight's All-Star Game doesn't matter. Even when the Bud Selig-tie-game debacle led to a contest that determined which league played host during the World Series (basically always the American League) it didn't make a whole lot of difference to the outcome.

So here's something that matters anyway: The All-Star Game is very, very green.

Very green. So green, uneaten hot dogs will be composted.

The Royals, in conjunction with Missouri Organic Waste, will divert organic waste from food prep and from the suites to composting. Uneaten food will be collected and donated to Harvesters.

So green, the toilet paper is made from recycled paper.

Paper products in the restrooms contain post-recycled content such as the toilet paper (30% post-consumer) and paper towels (up to 73% post-consumer).

So green, the power used in the stadium will be offset.

120,000 KWh of energy used during the All-Star Game and related events, including the Home Run Derby, the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game and the All-Star Futures Game will be offset with Green-e Certified Renewable Energy Credits supplied by Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

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Apple withdraws its products from national environmental standard

The grass in this image is likely glued on. (Image by Earl Wilkerson.)

EPEAT (the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is a national standard (funded in part by the EPA) that certifies electronic products as "environmentally preferable." Among other things, EPEAT considers energy consumption and recyclability in awarding products one of three levels of certification.

Last week, all of Apple's desktop and laptop computers were certified as EPEAT Gold. Today, none of the company's products appear on the index at all.

From the Wall Street Journal:

In order to meet the standards, recyclers need to be able to easily disassemble products, with common tools, to separate toxic components, like batteries. The standards were created jointly by manufacturers, including Apple, advocacy groups and government agencies. Frisbee says an Apple staff member told him at the end of June that the company no longer wanted Apple computers to be listed as EPEAT certified.

“They said their design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements,” Frisbee said. The company did not elaborate, Frisbee said. “They were important supporters and we are disappointed that they don’t want their products measured by this standard anymore.”

IFixit.com suspects that design changes seen in the new MacBook are to blame.

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Mayor Bloomberg uses a full-sized room A/C unit to cool his SUV

It really would be interesting to find out what moral calculus goes into Mayor Michael Bloomberg's environmental decisions. It must go something like "I'm a big city mayor, working hard to draw down emissions on a municipal scale. Therefore, it is 100 percent justifiable that in my personal life, I fly regularly to the Bahamas and use A/C units intended for a whole apartment to keep my SUV a comfortable temperature."

Because that's what he had his staff do this week: take a standard room air conditioner and try sticking it into the window of an SUV. The New York Post reports:

If the strange plan gets a green light, the units would be plugged into electrical outlets and cause less pollution than running the vehicles’ own A/Cs on an idling engine.

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Your iPad is costing you (a tiny bit) more than you think

And at a low, low price! (Image courtesy of Engadget.)

An iPad costs you at least $400. That's for an older model; the latest version runs up to $830. And that doesn't include the data plan. Depending on your carrier and options, you could be paying another $50 a month. So for a year, the high-end iPad with the most expensive data plan will run you over $1,400.

On top of that, you have to charge the thing. According to a study from the Electric Power Research Institute, adding the cost of powering your $1,400 investment brings your annual total up to ... $1,401.36.

Consumers who fully charge their iPad tablet every other day can expect to pay $1.36 for the electricity needed annually to power the device, according to an  assessment by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

The analysis shows that each model of the iPad consumes less than 12 kWh of electricity over the course of a year, based on a full charge every other day. By comparison, a plasma 42” television consumes 358 kWh of electricity a year.

Read more: Energy Efficiency

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Columnist: Millions for coal and oil, but not one more penny for clean energy

The Washington Post's Charles Lane has a column today in which he argues that the Obama administration's efforts to bolster clean energy is money "wasted," and that if government does "double down on clean energy, it’s the federal budget that will end up busted."

He's wrong.

Lane bases his arguments largely on a report released earlier this month by Brookings. "Clean Energy: Revisiting the Challenges of Industrial Policy" assesses the value of subsidies in bolstering a clean energy economy.

What Brookings found probably won't come as much of a surprise: Subsidizing clean energy initiatives is not always effective and is not the ideal way to bolster the sector. Instead of subsidies, the most market-efficient way to support clean energy is to internalize the costs of fossil fuel-based energy production. In other words, to build a system that -- among other things -- ends the ability of coal power producers to emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere where they will produce long-term costs in global warming and negative health impacts.

We tried this one way; it was called cap-and-trade. It was proposed by Republicans, then killed when Democrats began to champion it. Politically, it's a non-starter.

There's another way to do it: regulation. The EPA has issued several rules that would lower the allowable baseline for fossil fuel pollution. This is the sort of reception such efforts receive.

Which is why the fossil fuel industry and its allies focus on subsidies as a target. Subsidies are the primary support the government provides to clean energy. If you remove subsidies for clean energy projects, it's almost impossible for them to get a foothold in a crowded marketplace -- even if, over the long run, the technology will obviously be dominant and more cost-effective. If you came up with a new retail system, one that held real promise to vastly improve the consumer experience, how do you think you'd do if Walmart wanted to take you out?

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Yes, the economy could soon run on (mostly) renewable power

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a series of billboards sponsored by FORCE, a pro-coal lobby, make the argument for coal-based power by arguing that "wind dies" and "the sun sets." Coal wants you to think renewable energy is unstable, uneven.

Bad news, coal. A massive study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) modeled the impacts of a national energy grid with renewable power comprising between 30 and 90 percent of the mix -- including the requisite generation, transmission, and storage. In short:

The central conclusion of the analysis is that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States.

That quote scratches the surface of the NREL's findings, which follow collaboration with 110 contributors from 35 organizations inside and outside the government. (The list of abbreviations used in the report itself runs two-and-a-half pages.) Another study released in 2010 found that Europe could similarly make a transition to a renewable-heavy energy infrastructure.