Walmart Greening Through Buyers

The Walmart Club of DC Green Business Forum met May 23 with Walmart’s Director of Sustainability for Stakeholder Engagement Katherine Neebe.  She explained that the background of Walmart’s 2005 commitment to going green:  1) to be supplied with 100% renewable energy, 2) to create zero waste and 3) the sell products that sustain people and the environment was rooted it its experience of the hurricane Katrina.  Walmart executives realized that their ability to maintain operations after the storm, to provide the affected communities with the supplies they needed afterwards, made it an indispensable part of the community and that they must rise to the challenge by becoming even more reliable and resilient members of that community.  The experience led Walmart leadership to adopt the ambitious goals outlined above and has gradually exerted a growing influence over its energy procurement and other operational decisions since then.  Neebe reported that as of spring 2014, Walmart gets 24% of its energy in worldwide operations from renewable sources, some 8% directly installed on its buildings and the rest obtained from local renewable energy providers.  It is currently the largest purchaser of solar and fuel cell energy in the U.S.  It also has achieved 82% of its goal of producing zero waste.

Concerning procurement of sustainable products, the company has recently compiled a scorecard for products that rates producers according to various metrics and makes it possible to evaluate comparatively sources of the items it stocks in its stores on sustainability elements.  Most recently, it has advised its buyers that 5% of their income will be directly affected by how well they do at improving their net sustainability scores for products they buy for the stores.  In short, the sustainability effort has moved from the leadership down to the buyers’ level, sure to make it a key criteria in making buying decisions.

Commercial Scale Renewable Power Storage – in Hydrogen

This brief report is the most recent indication that commercial scale enterprises are looking at Hydrogen generation and storage as a means to capture the excess power produced by renewable sources.  The project could prove key in demonstrating the potential for H2 production to smooth out the variability of various streams of renewable power and provide the stored resources necessary to move towards full reliance on renewable sources for baseload power.

Solar Panelled Roads – A Solution to Several Problems

Here’s a fascinating report about a way of deploying solar technology on roads in a way that would a) collect solar energy from the surface, enabling distributed power generation nearby, b) generate enough power to illuminate roads, including lane dividers, advertisements or notifications to motorists — even warnings about hazards — and these could be changed as needed, and c) use the power collected to melt snow or ice and even possibly to charge electric motors travelling over the surface.  The panels have been tested for strength and durability, even under heavy truck traffic, and borne up.

The costs of the technology are not stated, and it would take time to resurface roads, but what a quantum step forward this could be towards the new energy future.

Pension Funds Key to Renewable Energy Finance

This fascinating piece explains how pension funds can hedge their investments in utilities against the potential and/or pending disruption of a growing share of distributed, renewable power generation on utilities’ revenues within current tax laws, while also supplying more financial resources to accelerate progress towards distributed generation.  It also makes clear that renewal of existing federal incentives such as the Production Tax Credit for wind and the Investment Tax Credit for solar are not necessary to growth for these (and other) renewables in the market.

Tri-Generation: the ultimate in renewable energy?

Taking recycling and renewable energy to the next level, this article outlines the process and the potential gain from “Tri-Generation”:  the production of hydrogen, heat and electricity from sewage, a process which also reduces the residue to fertilizer.  Denmark has recently launched a large-scale Tri-generation project which will test the process on a large-scale for the first time.  If it succeeds, the potential could be huge and there would be no problem with intermittency, the problem with some renewable sources.

Wharton Club Green Biz Forum: Off-grid Power Solutions for the Developing World

The Wharton Club of DC Green Business Forum met with Aneri Patel, Senior Associate, United Nations Foundation in Washington on April 21, 2014.  She described the joint effort by the United Nations and the World Bank to bring electricity to the 1.4 billion people around the world who do not have access at all, and to the additional 2 billion people who have intermittent access, by 2030.  Part of that initiative involves the UN Foundation, the organization created by Ted Turner in a $1 billion gift to the UN.  Among other things, the UN Foundation runs the Energy Access Program, which monitors the activities of about 1,600 organizations worldwide engaged in various programs to bring off-grid power solutions to developing countries.  The Program collects information about their activities, maintains a website where opportunities and best practices information is made public and endeavors to connect actors with both financing and partners in developing countries.  Aneri described “pay as you go solar” as one of the innovative approaches that has proved effective in many places, since it treats solar-generated electricity as a utility and also stimulates entrepreneurial activity in underdeveloped areas.  “Green towers” telecommunications assets — powered by solar or wind — also have been successful.  And the Program has also seen effective programs focused on creating microgrids in areas where there is no access to centralized grids.  Interested parties can sign up for free to get access to information about opportunities on the UN Foundation, Energy Access site.

Utilities Need to Face the Future

In this interesting article, the head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory refers to the surprising fact that the electric utility industry has spent a remarkably low amount, just 0.3% of its revenues over the past decades in research.  The statistic indicates just how entrenched in the old ways of producing and selling electric power the industry is, and why most of it is fighting so hard against the emerging new infrastructure which will rely more heavily on renewable sources.

US Army Winning on Sustainability Mission

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability Richard Kidd outlined  at the March 21 Wharton Club Green Business Forum the fundamental shift in thinking — as described in its mission statement and related orders to reduce resource waste — that has taken place since 2003.  Net Zero consumption of energy, water use and waste generation is the objective, composed of five interrelated steps: reduction, re-purpose, recycling and composting, energy recovery and disposal.  The Army operates under about 150 different mandates from Congress or the Administration pertaining to how its uses resources, each of which requires periodic reports.  But the current leadership decided that rather than just respond to these mandates, it would instead inculcate sustainability into the overall mission of the army — together with its other strategic goals.  This has resulted in dissemination of a focus on conservation and resource reduction throughout the Army, from cadets at West Point to soldiers in the field carrying rechargeable batteries.

The Army has set for itself ambitious goals:

Reduction in Energy Intensity by 3% per year to a total of 30% by 2015 — currently behind schedule.

Increase Use of Renewable Energy for electricity by 3% per year (for FY 07-09), 5% (FY 10-12) and 7.5% (FY 13) — ahead of schedule, have achieved 7.1% already.

Reduction in Potable Water Intensity by 2% per year for 26% total reduction by FY 2020 (2007 baseline) — ahead of schedule, achieved 26.6% vs. 12% goal.

Reduction in Fleet Petroleum Use by 2% per year through FY 2020 (Baseline 2005) — 7 years ahead of schedule, achieved 32.8% vs. 16% goal for petroleum, 1162% increase in alternative fuels vs. 195% goal.

Kidd explained that over the 13.5 million acres of land, 1 billion square feet of buildings and 152 small cities it manages with approximately $18.9 billion annually, it has put the payment stream to use working with industry to develop more efficient means of disposing of waste (such as extracting energy from old ammunition) and new sources of renewable power.  An Energy Initiatives Task Force within the Army is in charge of actively developing and managing a cost-effective portfolio of large-scale (greater than 10 MW) renewable energy projects on or near Army installations, often with private sector financing, under power purchase agreements.  The Army’s presence in the power market is often significant:  once a new renewable power system is online in Alabama, for example, it will increase the total amount of solar power in the state by 10 times.  The Army is currently in the process of acquiring about 175 MW of power from a variety of renewable sources.

And the Army has developed innovative power systems for forward-deployed units that use solar as the primary base load power source, with generators as back up fuel.  Although the initial investment in these systems is more expensive than the traditional setup (with generators as the base load source), when total operations and maintenance costs are figured in, Kidd said, these new configurations “pay for themselves in weeks.”

New Energy Infrastructure: Germans Lead

It makes sense that Germany, which has one of the most aggressive pro-renewable energy policy programs in the world, would also be the first market in which the traditional energy infrastructure would have to adapt and show the way to a different future.  The large German utilities, faced with declining demand for power and an increasing share of power provided by solar and wind facilities they do not own — in other words, a threat to their exiting business model — have adjusted to the reality and positioned themselves to be part of the emerging energy infrastructure.  Instead of fighting the changes, as no few US electric utilities have chosen to do, the three largest German electric utilities have gotten into the business of offering to finance and maintain solar systems on their customers roofs.  As this report makes clear, the shift potentially positions these German electric companies to benefit and profit from the changes underway, even as customers benefit from fixed electricity bills.  In other words, win-win and win for the climate, as well.

Energy Transition Point is Here

The energy marketplace is complex with factors including technological advances, economic factors, infrastructure issues, financial elements and consumer preferences.  Many of the technologies now achieving greater impact and reach in the market have been decades in development.  In short, it can be difficult to assess clearly where the market is in the overall transition to a more profitable and efficient system that seems clearly on the horizon.  This excellent summary lays out the reasons why the tipping point is here, now.