Sunday, April 27, 2008

Energy Efficiency Credit broker?

I had an odd thought yesterday while I was attending a Northwestern University student sponsored Energy Day conference. The odd thought is could we partially resolve our energy crisis by creating a tradeable Energy Efficiency Credit?

Now the odd thing about this is that currently an end user gets 100% of the benefit of any energy efficiency measure. But investments into energy efficiency are almost always lower than they should be from a system wide perspective. If you turn off an unused light, you save money that would otherwise be wasted. But there are large forces in the world (utilities, bulb manufacturers, and their various supply chains) that benefit almost as much if you don’t turn off the unused light. Many times the person in charge of turning the light on or off isn’t even the one paying the bill, (i.e. employees, guests, children!) further separating a more efficient act from the beneficiary.

Normally or in cases of much greater value attached to the “wasted resource” such a disconnect is addressed by government regulation, like mandating higher safety levels/inspections if life or limb is at risk, or private regulation, “supervisors” or “managers” are hired (presumably or at least initially) to minimize wasted human time/effort. But the cost of wasted energy hasn’t generated this level of attention yet.

There is almost a paradox of energy efficiency that although the savings from greater energy efficiency are massive in aggregate, they are quite small for each consumer efficiency action (almost negligible) and diminish with each additional action. A single 100watt lightbulb left on 24/7 all year long costs $87.60 assuming $0.10/kwh electric rate. An equivalent CFL/efficient bulb left on all year long costs $21.90. Obviously if the bulb is not used, it is big waste in either case, but by installing a more efficient bulb, the further savings from turning off the unused efficient light is much less.

People familiar with the renewable energy market know that certain governments have created a tradeable item called a renewable energy credit/certificate (REC) to capture the environmental benefits of producing electricity from clean sources. Since electrons (and more importantly electric meters) presumably don’t care how they are generated—it might be fun to write a SciFi story about how electrons feel—utilities (with rare exceptions) haven’t felt much urgency to invest in newer cleaner generating technologies which at least initially are more expensive than fossil fueled generation technologies. So a REC allows a power generator that uses a clean generating technology to sell the “clean benefit” to someone who cares, completely apart from whoever uses the actual electrons generated. Before the REC, a clean power generator could only sell electrons, now the generator can sell both the electrons and the clean benefit, thereby recouping some of the initial high cost of the clean technology. RECs have been a significant incentive that has increased investment in renewable technologies where it has been implemented.

So how would an Energy Efficiency Credit (EEC) change things? For starters, if even a small fraction, 10% or 20%, of the energy savings of an efficiency action/investment could be aggregated over all users, and then bought and sold by a third party (say an EEC broker who could derive a profit), there would immediately be a self-interested party big enough to effectively press for greater efficiency from all parties in and across the energy supply chain. And yes I understand that it is "inefficient" in a way to insert a broker between the energy generator and the energy user--I'm not the least bit certain an EEC broker is a "good thing" in and of itself, but it might radically alter the energy landscape and incentives and possibly in the right direction. (Alternately it could be a horrible idea akin to the HMO fiasco--provided the EEC broker isn't properly regulated.)

An EEC broker would of its own self interest promote more efficient technologies (such as lights with sensors that turn themselves off, if no one is around—a well known technology but one that is vastly under used) and educate the public or businesses about them. Like the “Intel Inside” branding campaign the EEC Broker could endorse/co-brand/subsidize advertising for more efficient technologies. The EEC broker could encourage (perhaps even “bribe” by selling them discounted credits) electronics manufacturers to chose technologies without/with lower vampire drains, more efficient power supplies, invest R&D dollars alongside electric utilities in reducing electric line losses and more efficient transmission equipment. The EEC broker could be present at the biggest energy decision points, advocating efficiency, and “greasing” the wheels of efficiency.

I’ve used some hard-knuckle language to describe the activities of the EEC broker but, in fact it would be (ideally?) pursing goals that benefit all of us in the long run.

PS This is my 2-year blogversary! I've recieved over 2600 visitors, 3300 page views. Thanks for stopping by!

Edit 4/28/08 as I was drifting off to sleep I realized that I slipped a decimal point on my always on lightbulb example--now fixed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A (fun) use for spam?

I may be opening a can of bad karmic worms...but I thought of a mildly entertaining use for spam. I feel compelled to share...

Basically, every spammer sends you an email use their address to sign them up for "free" stuff, emails and online newsletters from groups you oppose (or support depending on your bent), pump & dump trading sites, biological enhancements, chemical enhancements, campaigns, and other scams...why there is almost no end to the mischief one can start.

I know its a dirty trick...but hey they're the ones ruining our email experience for the past decade...don't get mad, get even!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Inverted pyramid solar panel design--30% savings

I'm really excited about this patent pending design for making a solar panel. I think of these as "baby pictures"...still in the cute and fuzzy stage. So bear with me as I try to explain what you are seeing. (pictured below)

The basic idea is to place trapezoid shaped mirrors on each side of a solar cell as shown. The dark green part that lies flat along the bottom is the solar cell, and all four of the sloping side walls are reflectors. There is a transparent glass cover shown...well okay that is a bit tough...maybe you can see the "clips" along the top edge of each reflector that the cover rests on.

When the sun is directly over the panel, you get between 3.5-4 times (4x if you use 100% reflective mirrors) the amount sunlight, and hence the 3.5-4x the power from each cell. The result is a panel that uses 1/4 the number of solar cells of a typical panel, significantly reducing the panel cost. I estimate that this design will cost 30% less than a standard panel after adding in the cost of the mirrors. These panels should be mounted on solar trackers for best results.

The first image shows two "compartments" and the second shows how multiple compartments added together to form a panel. I think of this as an inverted pyramid design, but the full panel looks a little like an egg-crate.