Monday, February 1, 2016

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) preserves net metering in 3-2 vote

As California's Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) fight to raise rates for home solar investors, the CPUC rebukes their bid to move directly to "Time Of Use" pricing and claims that the Utilities have not made a documented case for why rates should be raised.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday voted 3-2 to preserve retail rate net metering for rooftop solar systems, adopting a Proposed Decision released last month with a few notable revisions. 
  • The decision is a victory for rooftop solar installers in the state, which lobbied the commission to preserve retail rate remuneration for solar facilities that send excess power back to the grid. The state's utilities filed an alternative proposal last week that sought to reduce net metering rates. 
  • The dissenting commissioners expressed frustration with revisions to the Proposed Decision, released only last night, that removed increases to non-bypassable charges for solar owners. Commissioner Carla Peterman, who voted for the measure, said the commission would have to revisit the issue and lower remuneration rates by 2019.
A modification makes time-of-use (TOU) rates mandatory for new rooftop solar users in the Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison territories, instead of phasing them in until 2019, when all residents are required to go on TOU rates. Solar owners in SDG&E's service territory will be allowed to remain on the utilities' tiered rate structure for five years after new TOU rates are approved in 2017.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Center for Sustainable Energy Unites with Equinox Center

Newly formed Equinox Project will enhance and expand quality of life research and analysis
As a long-time supporter of Equinox Center, and the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) we want to let you know that we’ve merged Equinox into CSE’s operations to form the Equinox Project, in order to scale our collective impact to larger audiences locally, and new markets around California and the U.S.

We made this decision knowing that Equinox’ and CSE’s values are aligned. CSE is accelerating the transition to a sustainable world powered by clean energy. We’ll continue finding innovative solutions to quality of life issues and expand some of CSE’s reach into areas outside of the energy sector.

Equinox’ research including the Quality of Life Dashboard and H2Overview, will continue to grow and address quality of life issues regionally through the Equinox Project. And, our young professionals program, Leaders 2020, will continue its progress recruiting millennials to help drive sustainable change.

We hope you can continue to support our work in this next phase. We couldn’t have made it this far without you.

We're very excited about these new steps forward. Please see the text from today’s press release (below) for your reference and contact Stephen Heverly at with any questions.


SAN DIEGO, CA (Jan. 27, 2016) – The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) today announced a merger with Equinox Center. The union officially creates the Equinox Project, an initiative to be directed by CSE to enhance and expand the work of the former Equinox Center, which focused on environmental, economic and civic affairs in the San Diego region.

Since its founding in 2009, the nonprofit Equinox Center has conducted research and analysis on quality of life issues in the San Diego region. By engaging policymakers, local leaders and other key stakeholders, the Equinox Project will continue this valuable work in San Diego and expand services to other communities in California and other states, according to Len Hering, RADM, USN (ret.), and CSE executive director.

“Equinox Center provides high-quality, transparent data useful for better understanding the intersection of business, government and the environment in San Diego County,” Hering said. “As a part of CSE, we look forward to the new Equinox Project delivering innovative solutions that balance regional growth with available resources to help create more vibrant communities.”

Equinox Center is well known for its annual San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard. As an initiative at CSE, the Equinox Project will continue to produce this annual resource that measures progress and development related to sustainability and economics. The dashboard also analyzes topics such as energy and water supplies, housing infrastructure, land use and transportation systems.

Among the many policy products that also will continue to be published under the Equinox Project is the H2Overview report series. The reports focus on San Diego County’s water supply, providing an ongoing analysis of water issues and solutions such as seawater desalination and purified water recycling.

Equinox Center’s Stephen Heverly joins CSE’s research and analysis staff as the senior project manager of the newly formed Equinox Project.

“This merger with CSE aligns directly with the vision and values of Equinox Center,” said Martin Brown, former Equinox Center board chairman and founding member. “The Equinox Project will continue to measure what matters for the benefit our local region but now will have the potential to replicate that success in other regions of the country.”

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About the Equinox Project
After six years as Equinox Center, the Equinox Project was initiated in January 2016 following a merger with the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE). Now managed by CSE, Equinox Project assists policy-makers, community leaders, decision makers and other stakeholders in crafting better solutions to address community growth challenges in the areas of energy and water resources, housing infrastructure, natural resources and transportation systems. Through in-depth research, policy analysis, communications and convenings, Equinox Project turns research into action to inform and engage the public to help create more vibrant communities.

About the Center for Sustainable Energy®
Accelerating the transition to a sustainable world powered by clean energy
Founded in 1996, the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is a mission-driven nonprofit, providing clean energy consulting services and program management. Governments, regulators, utilities, businesses, property owners and others look to CSE as an objective implementation partner to develop customized solutions that help lower energy costs and increase consumer choice and accessibility to clean energy technologies. CSE’s suite of services includes expertise in transportation, energy efficiency and building performance, research and analysis, emerging technologies, policy support, workforce development, and marketing, education and outreach. Headquartered in San Diego, CSE works nationwide with support of offices in Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., and Boston. Learn more at and on Facebook - Twitter - LinkedIn.

9325 Sky Park Court, Suite 100
San Diego, CA 92123
United States

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Solo Solar-PV install, Dec. 2015, San Diego, CA

This is time-lapse footage of my first solo SOLAR-PV installation.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

UV & IR Relfective Paints as a Green Solution

The first use of designed-in, energy efficient German pigments in American paints occurred in the 1970's in collaborations between metal roofing manufacturers and makers of industrial coatings. These coatings contained infra­red (IR) and mixed metal oxide (MMO) pigments, were factory applied, and were expensive. Their chemistry was toxic solvent based, and they were exceptionally durable, eventually becoming the standard for commercial and industrial buildings.

Metallic pigments are much more efficient in reflecting away the sun's radiation (infra-red spectrum) than standard organic liquid tints. This trend was brought to the high-end, residential marketplace into the 1980's and hasn’t changed since. The high cost of the metal roof coating system known as Kynar™ (over $100 per gallon) only suited large-capital corporate and industrial jobs and those with unlimited budgets since the lifespan of 20 to 30 years before these coatings failed. Variations of the technology were taken up in military applications as well.

In Australia, there was a huge need for durable, efficient, cool coatings for metal and tile roofs that could be inexpensively field-applied to buildings in the torrid Outback, tropical Queensland and the rest of the vast Australian continent. Thirty years ago, the Australians went with the best acrylic latexes of the day and their own version of the German factory-ground pigments to develop water-based coatings that had the capability to provide the heat reflecting they needed.

While these coatings were slightly more expensive than standard tinted paint formulas (and could not be made at the local store), they still cost much less than the solvent-based roof coatings. Their fully renewable 12 to 15-year lifespans added to their cost-savings benefits with twice the lifespan of standard paints. These paints cooled the buildings dramatically by reflecting away the majority of the sun's radiation (solar reflectance) and by emitting a very high percentage of the heat that did find its way into the underlying substrate materials (thermal emissivity).

Another advantage of reflective paints is that they these required no special procedures to apply, while being substantially more environmentally friendly with low odor. This was in part because the IR reflecting, MMO inorganic pigments were low toxic by their nature, with low-VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) unlike the liquid organic-based standard paint tinting systems. They also did not fade, another big plus, and these paints were breathable but waterproof when used on walls (think Gore-Tex™).

These thermally emissive/reflective coatings offer a range of applications such as on roofs and walls of buildings. These coatings will adhere to a variety of materials such as composite roof shingles, metal roofs, and concrete tile roofs as well as stucco, plywood, and concrete block walls. Manufacturers offer a wide assortment of formulations. So be sure to read the spec sheet and get the correct type before application. When considering thermally emissive/reflective cool coatings be sure to look for metal oxide and infra-red emissive pigments. These ingredients are necessary to block ultra violet rays and reflect infrared radiation.
Heat reflective coatings that have met the standards of the Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) can qualify for LEED credit. This credit is available for new construction and existing building LEED projects. The purpose of this credit is to promote the reduction of the heat island effect, which is a known cause of increased temperatures and pollution in urban areas. In addition, for buildings in the state of California, many of these products exceed the state’s Title 24 energy efficiency requirements of 70% solar reflectance for commercial and residential buildings.
It is important to note that a thermally emissive/reflective coating is not meant to insulate. Insulation is used to slow the transfer of heat. Thermally reflective coatings are used to reflect the heat. If the reflective coating is doing its job, the demand on insulation decreases. This assistance is similar to radiant barriers.
A common misconception is that heat reflective coatings, such as cool walls and cool roofs, can only be found in light colors. However, thermally reflective coatings are offered in a variety of colors to suit design specifications. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory offers a Pigment Database for more detailed information. Generally, lighter colors do offer a higher level of thermal reflectance though a quick review of the database reveals many viable options.

Financial Benefits of Cool Paint Technology

Exterior wall paint job life-cycles can be increased by a minimum of 50% percent and as much as 100%. Combined with electrical cost savings of up to 22% (results for Los Angeles residence in U.S.- D.O.E. Cool Wall Paints study, 2007), in locales where air-conditioning is normally used, these solar-reflective paints just on the walls means large and measurable financial paybacks to those who utilize them for repaint and new construction projects. Further combine this with cool roof top coats on the same building(s) and energy needs will be massively reduced with even larger environmental benefits.
You can calculate the energy cost savings for cool paint for your location with the US Dept. of Energy's Cool Roof Calculator. (link is external)

Cool Roof Rebates and Environmental Impact

Reflective wall coatings are the last area to be explored by the residential paint manufacturing industry, but the new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and national Green-Seal standards will recognize them as a significant factor in total building energy efficiency. After all, wall surface areas will equal or exceed that of the roof surface square footage when the buildings are more than one story tall. And with the amount of energy cool paints can save, it’s no wonder rebates are available.

Rebates, LEED Credits, and the Green Seal

This means that having the walls coated with solar-reflective paints will ensure added energy cost reductions for air conditioning and this will serve to increase the return on investment for any such paint job. LEED credits for both non-roof and cool roof coatings are available (see LEED Credit 7.1 & 7.2 respectively), which can qualify for energy tax credits, increased property values, and publicity benefits for buildings so coated. Depending upon the zip code, public utilities like PG&E and SMUD (link is external) are already giving residential rebates for Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC) qualified "cool roof” top coats for both steep slope and low slope roof types.

Environmental Impact

Carbon pollution reduction from cooling down roofs and walls in our city environments is a real way to reduce the "Urban Heat Island Effect" caused by buildings absorbing the sun's radiation, then re-radiating that heat after the sun goes down. This "hidden" environmental benefit is one that we must all hope we'll be able to notice. Lawrence Berkeley Labs has quantified that 663 grams of CO2 is the environmental "cost" for every kilowatt hour (KWh) of electricity produced by conventional power plants. The average California house in turn uses 3,000 to 4,000 KWh per year for electricity for cooling from these plants. That equals approximately 2,650 lbs. of CO2 emitted to produce that power per Los Angeles household.

Therefore, every reduction in that energy demand has a direct bearing on how much atmospheric, heat-inducing pollution is prevented. When cool paint and cool roof coatings can make an 8% to 60% factored per household reduction in this electricity used, it's easy to see why so energy companies and the government are offering rebates to begin with.

What is a Paint Specification?

A paint specification provides detailed information about preparation for specific substrates, application, color, clean up etc. and specifies what exact products will be used on the repaint: so all contractors will be bidding on the same value line product. This provides the customer a standard to evaluate the painting contractor bids (i.e. so one contractor doesn't include standard paint in the bid while another uses premium). A specification is also a legal document, so the material must be used as directed.
The paint specification should include the following:
  • Paint Product Line–Determines the performance and longevity of the repaint. Premium lines are products engineered to offer excellent hide, color retention, and resistance to chalking and blistering. A standard line offers good performance when budget constraints are an issue.
  • Specific Primers–Includes the primers necessary for all surfaces of the building to be painted, such as wood, ferrous and non-ferrous metal, concrete, and stucco.
  • Topcoat Gloss–Indicates the optimum topcoat gloss level for the surfaces and paint product line.
Keep in mind that Product Information (PI) Sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available on all paint products to explain the technical make-up of the product as well as to provide any special instructions.

from ECHO-CA.ORG - Michael Biel is the founder of The Ultimate Coatings Company. He has been associated with the trade of both residential and commercial painting for 22 years. He was a high-end house painter/restorer for a majority of that time and was sales consultant, estimator and trainer to a well-known northern California painting contractor for their property management clientele.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Engineering for Change

10 Low Tech ways to filter water: a blog post from "Engineering for Change" by Rob Goodier, offers vital information for low cost water solutions.

Ten low-cost ways to treat water
Filed under: Water
Having money helps, but clean water doesn't have to be expensive. Celebrities like Bill Gates, Matt Damon and, a celebrity to us, Ned Breslin, to name a few, have helped clean rivers, dig wells and install pumps, pipes and other hardware to deliver clean water. Their time and money are well spent because the problem is huge. As we've reported before, as many as 1.8 million people die each year from diarrhea linked to bad water and sanitation, most of them under age 5.
Community-wide water infrastructure is as good as it gets. But until everyone has that, there are other, cheaper clean water solutions. Boiling water over a wood fire is one of the most widely used methods, but it is also a health hazard for those working in poorly ventilated kitchens, and it exacerbates deforestation. Instead, we've rounded up ten low-cost ways to treat water, and not one requires boiling. Do you know of other methods? Please let us know in a comment below.
Ceramic filters
Clay, sawdust and a plastic bucket can make a water filter that catches dirt and disease-causing microbes. In the classic design, mix clay with a combustible material like sawdust or rice husks, give it a flower pot shape and fire it in a kiln. The sawdust or rice husks burn away, leaving tiny pores in the ceramic through which water filters. Organizations around the world have been using this kind of ceramic filter to reduce disease in impoverished communities for years.
Clay filter guide by the American Red Cross and Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (pdf)
Rabbit ceramic water filters by iDE and Potters for Peace
EWB-USA's ceramic filter manual (pdf)
Manual for establishing a clay filter factory (pdf)
This prototype is the predecessor of bone-char filters that will strip heavy metals from drinking water on a South Dakota reservation. Photo courtesy of Jacob Becraft
Bone char filtration
Not all filters remove heavy metals or other toxins from the water, but crushed and charred animal bone can. And in areas where they occur in the water, removing them is a good idea. Chronic arsenic exposure, for example, can cause skin cancer, bladder, kidney and lung cancers, gangrene and possibly diabetes, high blood pressure and reproductive disorders. Uranium in the drinking water is linked to nephritis (pdf)—inflammation of the kidneys. As they inflame, the kidneys dump proteins that the body needs into the urine stream, a condition that is lethal at its worst.
When a US Geological Survey study found high levels of arsenic and uranium in wells in the Ogala Lakota tribe's US reservation at Pine Ridge, students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had an idea: Bone char. Crushed and charred cattle bones are cheap and locally available. With the right design, filters can clean drinking water right in the home. It's a solution that can work in Pine Ridge or anywhere arsenic contamination is rampant (bearing in mind potential cultural aversions to ingesting cow products).
Slow sand filtration
Slow sand filtration has the advantage of working on an entire community's water source, not just individual households. Practical Action put together a technical manual for slow sand filtration systems, a complete guide to their construction and maintenance. Follow the link above to see the manual.
A slow sand filtration system is a combination of several parts: water storage tanks, an aerator, pre-filters, slow sand filters, disinfection stages, and filtered water storage tanks. The number of filters and filter types that are used in a given slow sand filtration system will depend on the quality of the source water and will be different for each community.
Practical Action's slow sand filtration technical manual (pdf)
Image from the portable filter manual
Everything-but-the-sink portable filter 
This portable filter design proposed in response to a call for better water filtration at taps in India uses chlorine, silver beads, activated charcoal and sand. Honeybee Network posed the original problem and an E4C member posted this solution. It includes a detailed guide to the specifications, materials and construction of a portable filter built from everything but the kitchen sink.
In the same workspace, Honeybee Network also proposes the development of new mobile applications that employ a phone's camera to sense impurities in water. We Googled up two that are in development: The H2O Mobile Water Testing Lab and Aquatest, though it's not clear if the latter will be phone based or not.
Portable filter manual (pdf)

Image from the bamboo charcoal construction guide
Bamboo charcoal
In this spin on the charcoal filter, a team of E4C members in Bangalore propose a filter made of locally available materials including charred bamboo, gravel and natural adsorbents. "The process we propose is indigenous, eco-friendly, low cost and entails minimum maintenance," the team writes in their workspace. They estimate that their filter can handle 30 liters of water per hour, and it would be affordable for average households in the region.
Construction guide and specifications (doc file download)

Photo courtesy of Solvatten
Solar sterilization
If cost is a bigger concern than time or convenience, the cheapest way to treat water is to leave it in a plastic bottle in the sunlight. Leave clear bottles in the sun for a few hours and the UV radiation and heat kills the microbes that cause diarrhea and other waterborne illness. The Sodis (for solar disinfection) method was deployed in some parts of Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, and it is used in emergencies and impoverished regions worldwide.
If the bottle is too basic or prone to error, Solvatten sells a more highly designed solar disinfection device. It's a jerry-can-like container with a built-in thermal indicator that lets drinkers know when the water is safe to drink. The Solvatten container opens like a book to expose the water inside to sunlight through clear plastic panels. Its black backing helps it absorb more sunlight.
The amount of sun exposure that a bottle needs varies by the amount of sunlight available (it takes longer to sterilize water on a cloudy day). To take the guess work out of the solar method, a disinfection indicator can measure light exposure and signal when the germs are dead. We came across this prototype of a solar indicator at IEEE's Global Humanitarian Technology Conference in Seattle, Wash., last year. And there's also Helioz, a similar concept with a top-mounted design.

Solar distillation 
Not to be confused with solar sterilization or disinfection, solar distillation purifies even muddy, salty or otherwise undrinable water through evaporation and condensation. The power of distilation to purify saltwater makes it unique among the treatment methods featured on this page. A solar still can actually be a cheap and simple piece of shaped plastic or glass, or they can be more highly designed devices. To work, the still allows sunlight to shine through a clear panel onto the impure water. The water heats and evaporates, then condenses on the underside of the panel and runs off into a container of some kind. This simple process takes huge amounts of energy, which is why solar stills can make more sense than stills powered by other fuels. Our Solutions Library links to a technical brief and construction guide to several different still designs from Practical Action.
Practical Actions' construction guide
Bicycle filter
Bicycles in all their glorious versatility and simplicity have got to be one of our favorite devices, and we were pleased to find not just one, but two bicycle-powered water filters. Nippon Basic Co. invented Cyclo Clean, a bicycle rigged with a pump to draw water from a river or well and a robust, three-filter system to purify the water. The filters are designed to last without replacement for two years, and the tires are puncture-proof. It can filter three tons of water in 10 hours.

Then there's the Aqueduct, which is like Cyclo's whimsical little brother. It's a tricycle with bubbly curves and a sky-blue paint job that pumps up to two gallons of water through a filter while the rider pedals. Cyclo handles much greater volumes of water, but Aqueduct's one advantage is that it can do its job on the move.
Both of these designs are in our - ahem - fantastic list of ten things you can do with a bicycle.

Emergency homemade filter 
The plastic bottle makes yet another appearance as a water treatment device, this time as a simple filter that can remove sediment and even disease-causing microbes. Simply cut the bottom from the bottle, fill it with layers of gravel, sand cloth and charcoal, filter the water through it and hope for the best.
This design is also featured in our list of the best appropriate technology DIY plans

The chlorinator, shown here fully assembled and broken down, attaches to a loop in the water pipe that feeds into the community tank. Image courtesy of CTI
We saved the most obvious and probably the most reliable treatment method for last. Chlorine can work in the community water supply to kill microbes before it enters people's jerry cans or home water supplies. And it keeps the water safe from new contaminations long after it is added.
We've seen several interesting chlorination methods at work in resource-poor regions. Compatible Technology International developed this tested and proven device that chlorinates water in gravity-fed systems that fill a community water cistern. And these four experimental designs have worked in field tests to dose water accurately after people fill their buckets at a community well, stream or other source.
CTI's community water source chlorinator construction guide (pdf)
Related resources
Water filters, first Ghana, then the world
Ten things you can do with a bicycle
Ten things you can do with sunlight
Ten solar cookers that work at night
Ten low-tech ways to irrigate crops
Ten great emergency shelter designs