Posted in climate refugees, flooding, geothermal, jobs, refinery, remediation, solar, solutions

Nov 22, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council – options for refinery site

Nov 22, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council, video here.


My name is Meenal Raval, a Mt Airy resident and lead volunteer with the Sierra Club’s Rrady for 100 campaign, here in Philly and all of Southeast PA. I’m here today to speak on resolution 190676, to assess our options for the future of the refinery.

Yesterday, I mentioned that we cannot revive the refinery again, nor accept any industry that dumps into the atmosphere.

Being sensitive to near neighbors as well as creating family sustaining jobs, we’ve heard most people suggest something “green”.

We’ve heard mention of solar farms with energy storage. This means ground mounted solar panels generate electricity during the day, and saved in batteries for night time use.

Some people have mentioned geothermal fields offering district heating and cooling. This means pipes going deep in the ground, either horizontally or vertically, where temperatures remain a near-constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Bringing up air, water, or coolant from this near-constant 55 degrees means that in the winter, we only need to heat from 55 to 65 degrees. Laying pipes is something our laid-off refinery workers, and even the PGW workforce are skilled to take on.

Some others have dreamt of manufacturing turbines for offshore wind projects. With the nascent offshore wind industry, this idea was brought to Mayor Kenney’s attention by his first transition team, 5 years ago.

A new idea is manufacturing building materials from hemp — a renewable resource.

  • From hemp, we can make hemp-crete, a concrete alternative with 80% lower carbon emissions — because we have an insatiable desire for concrete.

  • From hemp we can make insulation, much needed as we bundle up our buildings for more comfort.

  • Also from hemp we can make paper & textiles. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp; as were ship sails, ropes and clothing.

There are many budding industrial hemp growers across Pennsylvania, who could supply our local market. All of these have the potential to create family sustaining jobs in our city.

Whatever we decide to do, we need to clean up this site.

The past owners have abused this land. Though they have pledged to remediate the land, they have done little. Their plans are based on the assumption that there would continue to be a refinery here. Since this is no longer what Philadelphians want or need, this site needs to be cleaned, I think they call it remediation — for uses other than a refinery. So we ask Evergreen, Sunoco, and PES, to remediate to the highest standard — that of a green space.

With this level of remediation, we could design for public access to our riverfront. We could design for ground mounted solar farms surrounded by plants that invite pollinators — the bees and the butterflies.

We also need to consider flooding of this site due to rising sea levels — another result of a warming planet. I learned yesterday that basements at The Navy Yard get flooded regularly by the ground water seeping up, and that fish have been seen in these flooded basements. So, whether from an instant cloud burst, rising ground water, or rising sea levels — we will get flooded. We don’t need to worry about climate refugees from New York, but instead, from Eastwick, The Navy Yard and South Philadelphia.

With an awareness that some portions will be swallowed up by rising waters, these low lying spaces will need to be remediated to marshland.

The most cost effective way to remediate seems to be by using the mycelium network of mushrooms. I spoke about this at the first meeting of the refinery advisory group. That basically, mushrooms thrive on the hydrocarbons, breaking them down to hydrogen, oxygen and carbon.

Since then, we’ve heard about using bacteria to break down the spilled fossil fuels. From someone who does this type of remediation in Ohio, we learned that “cleanup could take anywhere from less than a year to 5 years depending on level of contamination.”

We’ll need to monitor the remediation costs, so that the insurance proceeds are  adequate for the cleanup work required, before they disappear as bonuses to executives far away. Again, using bacteria and mushrooms to break down the hydrocarbons seem to be the most cost effective way of cleaning up.

We can research and expound on each of these…

  • creating family sustaining jobs,

  • remediation for a use other than a refinery,

  • consideration of rising sea levels

But we need you, Council, to remove all tax incentives and zoning that allowed this refinery for as long as it has. We once offered them all this because we thought we needed this industry. We no longer need the fossil fuel industry, and we need to make it financially unattractive for anyone to restart this refinery.

Thank you!


 

Posted in clean renewable energy, decarbonization, electrify everything, EV, goals, policy, solutions, transport

Testimony on 10/2/19

Below is my testimony on 10/2/2019 at a meeting of PHL Council’s Environment Committee. Video available here.


Hello! I’m Meenal Raval, an active member of Philly’s Ready for 100! I also write an Energy column for GRID magazine and produce a weekly radio show Philly Talks Climate.

Today is October 2nd. Mahatma Gandhi was born 150 years ago today. Gandhi is known for satyagraha — sticking to the truth, and ahimsa — non-violence toward all living things. In the US, ahimsa, or non-violence has been used by many activists. I’d like to expand non-violence to the climate movement, to saving the ecosystem we all call home.

In light of this, I support bill 190600, also known as the building energy performance policy. Regularly checking on thermostats, motion sensors, HVAC systems and more could save the owners money, use less energy & water, and reduce emissions. They also make the space more comfortable. How many times have you complained about an auditorium, a library or an office space being too warm or too cold?

In reading this bill, it seems our Office of Sustainability would be reviewing the energy usage of 2000 or more large buildings. If you want this bill to succeed, this office may require additional staffing.

I’d like to remind this committee that the building energy performance policy is but one component of our bigger ask — to transition our entire city to renewable energy as soon as possible, that all of Council voted upon last week — bill 190728, AKA the Ready for 100 resolution.

A recent report titled Halfway There, shows how the US can reduce emissions by 50% by just being smart — by focusing on energy efficiency. We’ll be looking at the policy suggestions on this report, and plan to have a list ready for when this committee meets next with a new chair.

A hint of what those could be are…

Zero energy buildings could reduce emissions by 11%. This is for new buildings, whether residential or commercial, which can be built so that they don’t need much energy. How? Make ‘em tight, make ‘em electric, and what little energy they need would be electricity from rooftop solar panels. Policy-wise, this translates to all new construction being electric only, with no gas hookups and of course, rooftop solar.

Building improvements account for about 14% emissions reduction — whether tuneups like being discussed today, or smart buildings, or heating with electricity instead of gas.

About 30% emissions reduction can be had by encouraging more fuel efficient cars. The most fuel efficient cars are, of course — electric cars. Policy-wise, this means massive buildout of public EV charging stations at under-utilized parking lots — churches, schools, and of course, grocery stores and hospitals. Yesterday’s article in the Inquirer, with me showing off my electric car, was a start towards this policy.

We could have 16% emissions reductions by reducing our vehicle miles traveled and flying less. This means encouraging walking, cycling, using SEPTA, and… tele-commuting! It also calls for being smart about how we move our stuff around.

As we loop in other groups, we’re hearing that we need to move faster on this timeline.

So, though we’ve agreed on 2030, 2035, and 2050 as milestones, when we put our ear to the ground, we hear that we’ll need to move fast, with much sooner milestones, like 2030 — to do away with all emissions, and power only with clean renewable energy sources.

Are you ready? We sure are Ready for 100% !!

In closing, I’d like to thank Council and the entire behind the scene team, for running with us, for getting the Ready for 100 resolution introduced & passed in Council. I look forward to working with you all come January!


Wed Oct 2, 2019, Sierra Club press release: Philadelphia Commits to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy

 

Posted in clean renewable energy, climate, decarbonization, electrify everything, no fossil fuels, solutions, transit

Understanding the climate crisis — with Al Gore

Late last August, I traveled to Los Angeles for a 3 day training with The Climate Reality Project. Many may not have heard of this non-profit anchored by Vice-President Al Gore. The training is free, but one needs to apply and get accepted to participate. We are also expected to pay for our travel and lodging expenses. 

la-training
Climate Reality Training, Los Angeles, August 2019. Photo credit: Meenal Raval

We were told this was the largest Climate Reality training to date, with over 2,200 people from all over the world. About 25% came from Southern California, another 25% came from the State of California, the remaining 49 states brought in 25%. The rest were from outside the US. Tweets from the training have the hashtag #LeadOnClimate. An example: 

  • 25% from LA, 25% from CA, 25% from rest of US, 25% from rest of world, all 2000 trainees ready to #LeadOnClimate

We were grouped by geographic proximity so I mostly interacted with people from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I ran into people I already knew plus some new ones, notably Tim Mahony (a science professor at Millersville University), Shweta Arya (an environmental educator from Delaware County), Dave Walbert (a grad student at Drexel) and Ankit Agarwal (a Center City Philadelphia resident). 

The 3 days with Mr Gore was interspersed with many notables, some very new to me.

There was Amanda Gorman, a young poet laureate, who was amazing. Her poem Earthrise brought us all to tears, find her @amandascgorman, see some quotes below. 

So I tell you this not to scare you,
But to prepare you, to dare you
To dream a different reality

And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet,
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Now
Now
Now,
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial.

So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.

Because an environmental movement of this size
Is simply another form of an earthrise.


Mr Gore led a question and answer session about “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solutions” with Dr Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Some tidbits from that session:

  • The climate crisis is inter-generational, thus the realm of religion and morals. It’s something he can’t bring to scientific discussions
  • He sees the cliff, and the shift in colleagues, all wanting to talk about shifting to solutions – working with 25 university collaboration – with demo projects – then bringing in community partners – He’s got no pushback when presenting because all scientists concur that this is an existential threat. This phrase was repeated by many of the presenters.
  • no massive public support
  • most important message from Dr Ramafor the climate crisis: It’s happening now, there’s an urgency, and we know how to solve it
  • Foreign Affairs magazine article referenced here
    • The climate crisis will affect the rich as much as the poor
    • The climate crisis will get worse if we do nothing
    • He is one of the advisors to the Vatican, which included best health experts
    • He doesn’t see how CA ag could survive 30 years out
    • Future generations don’t deserve what we’re doing to them
    • Referred to a climate solutions course at undergrad level, for all UC students – then at community college, to replicate across US, and also at K-12 level, working with DiCaprio Fdn, to build environmental literacy.
    • This 73 year old man says… we won’t solve this in his lifetime, but wants to leave by offering solutions to those in their 20s
    • The climate crisis is a human tragedy
    • Sees 2 degree warming in 7-8 years due to oceans warming
    • Reduced oxygen in oceans – due to GHG absorption, also fertilizer runoff – causing dead zone – sustainable ag imp to protect oceans
    • transpo sector has BIGGEST emissions
    • 40% of food thrown away – bio-digestor – regenerative ag to sequester more carbon in soil (also plants) – put a price, reward farmers – upcoming soil carbon conference in TN
    • V. Ramanathan shares $1.33M sustainable development prize with fellow climate science pioneer
  • black carbon from diesel – more potent than CO2 – the panel discussion on transportation repeated this message; see below. Must stop diesel combustion, esp in urban areas.
  • We must take CO2 out of the air

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Mr Gore for a discussion on “Inspiring Global Action thru Local Leadership”. 

  • how to lobby our mayor? – quote from movie ‘lost city of Z’ on Amazon – “reach should always be greater than grasp” – beyond what we think is possible – confront the reality
  • ask 4 questions of  local leaders
    • How do you and stuff get around? how do consumables get to you?
    • How do you stay comfortable? physical built environment? heat, cool and power buildings
    • How do you turn on the lights? What is the source of electricity? Then push people like him to get it done.
  • And then:
    • Be ready: Know your stuff better than people sitting with;
    • Be specific – green building ordinance;
    • Be flexible – get victory, bang it, and move forward. Learn to tie victories, one at a time
    • Be inclusive – desegregate, all engaged, labor, women, hunting, too important to get divided
    • Be proactive – stop playing defense – the power that you hold – exercise it
  • Layout a plan, desegregate sustainability – each of the 37 departments he manages, all have a sustainability component – eg police dept reports on reduced crime, as well as reduced paper usage
  • He has a 100 page plan – read it – replicate it – I think this is THE PLAN that he’s referring to. 
  • LA reduced emissions 11% in a year
  • Brother is Mayor of nearby Long Beach, a major port. Their emissions reduction at the ports is 5 years ahead of schedule – clean air standards
  • Mayor Garcetti co-founded Climate Mayors w Houston & Philadelphia Mayors when Trump pulled out of Paris, which brought in 100 cities, now 400 cities. If he’s out, we’re in!
  • Global network of Mayors – C40 – the mega cities – playbook includes bus electrification – local communities setting agenda for big countries!
  • Cannot be paralyzed by magnitude we face – we’re in the post NOW era – the post carbon era is now – the post ICE (internal combustion engine) is now – picture this – will realize the power we have – truth wins out
  • I wish I were a mirror – so you could see what I see – your power – we’re the writers of history – let us make history together! Really revved us up!! (and I rarely use double exclamation points)

Though we were excited, energized and exhausted, Mr Gore kept going. Next up was a conversation with Hal Harvey on “Getting Real about Rapid Decarbonization”. This is Hal Harvey of energyinnovation.org – has an upcoming book  – see Climate: How to Win – spoke of the 4 zeros for rapid decarbonization: 

  • Zero-carbon grid
  • Zero-emission vehicles
  • Zero-net energy buildings
  • Zero-waste manufacturing

Zero-carbon grid – electric utilities are biggest emitters on planet – 80% of our problem is from energy sys – solar and wind cheaper than operating capital of plant – who chooses whether we get brown or green electricity? small number of policies and small number of people – In the US, the PUC decides – 50 states x 5 commissioners = 250 people. If we exclude smaller states, and 3-2 vote is enough, only need to convince 90 people. We were promised an analysis of all 50 PUCs so we could pressure ours. Was told Advanced Energy Economy has research on each PUC, that we need to work with multi local corps (versus multi—national corps) – to show util how to make money, and they’ll come along – 2/3 of all wind and solar in US is in red states – TX, WY, IA – story about NV flipped PUC

Zero-carbon vehicles – zero grid enables others – Americans keep cars for 14 years – keep pressure on both clean cars and EVs

Zero-net energy buildings – Santa Monica zoning – insulated well, almost zero – CA has best building code – CA split to 16 weather zones – if tech pays for itself within 7 years, it’s in the code – written by Governor Brown in 1978. We expect seat belts to work, we expect air bags to work, why don’t we expect buildings to work? utils don’t make money selling electricity – they make money building power plants, then passing the cost to base rates – change incentive – performance based regulation – people want affordable, safe, reliable, clean electricity – give util 5 years, thy’ll get…?

Zero-waste manufacturing – China 70% of emissions from industry – substitute design for material – example of 3D printing to reduce concrete used in new construction – lets unleash our minds – hi value jobs – rethinking materials – SOlivia – carbon? DOE 90% of budget for nuclear – list 5 to 10 most energy intensive industries – study them – circular economy – bottle bill on steroids – manufacturer buy back

Mr Harvey’s advice? Be precise when we speak; we can’t afford to be fuzzy. He ended with a sermon on our levels of consumption. The we need to triage – ethos, pathos, logos – the ethics, the stories, the logic. 

There was a California specific discussion titled “California’s Roadmap for Climate Leadership“. Again, with Mr Gore moderating.

  • Al Gore’s quotes from this session
    • We must electrify the transportation sector
    • 100% committed campaigns, re-educators (an organized effort) leads to advocacy
    • Kept asking – Must we? Can we? Will we change?
  • We learned of monthly coordination amongst the many agencies within California. A collaboration on people working on air quality, electricity generation, with the Community Choice Aggregation team working together with the Investor Owned Utility.

A discussion titled “Fighting for Healthy Communities” was led by groups local to Los Angeles. The PSR-LA (Physicians for Social Responsibility chapter in Los Angeles) team spoke of capturing vapor and VOC (volatile organic compounds) when tankers were unloaded. The California Environmental Justice Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment wanted to get 1 million EV’s on the road. They spoke of SB350, a bill to get to 50% renewables by 2040. They brought young people in yellow shirts, saying these urban youth were the canaries in our current coal mines — the drilling within the City of Los Angeles. Their demand – Stop Drilling Where We’re Living, and asked why their human rights were not valued. These groups together asked that the city’s land use policy must be tied to proximity to fossil fuel infrastructure.

Dr Ramanathan was brought back for a discussion on “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solution” with with Al Gore and Don Henry. Some notes:

  • We need to wake people up, and also give them hope. 
  • There’s been noisy denial. During the last 3 presidential campaigns, there was not one  question about the climate crisis.
  • We need to develop innovative partnerships
  • Mr Gore working in collaboration with William Barber.
  • Most effective messengers are us – willingness to shoulder the burden – topic complicated – communicate to neighbors – once we reveal what’s right and wrong – there’s the opportunity to do right – massive GOTV (get out the vote) effort. 
  • Legacy businesses want to extend their business  plans & manipulating the system, tamping down concerns. 
  • For climate justice, we need to move from transactional to transitional movement. I remember Judy Wicks saying much the same thing years ago when talking about building the local living economy. 
  • We need to be multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and cross religions
  • University of California intends to be carbon neutral in 10-15 years
  • Mr Gore spoke of the necessity for a Sustainable Revolution, one with the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the Digital Revolution.
  • An example of speed – Google has largest server farm in world; leading artificial intelligence company (Deep Mind’s Mustafa Saleyman) analyze and within 30 minutes had a recommendation for 40% electricity reduction; with a reiteration of the algorithm, they achieved a 56% reduction. Just with smarter management. Stories like this are our Call to Arms!
  • There was a question about CCS (carbon capture and sequestration), nuclear, and methane (also known as natural gas) in helping solve the climate crisis. The advice?
    • NO CCS – It’s expensive, 30% of current generation would be needed to run CCS.
    • NO nuclear – no engineering firm in US would even design a nuclear plant now.
    • NO methane –
      • It’s 86 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 20 years
      • 34 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 100 years
      • and has 50% less CO2 emissions than coal
      • It’s NOT our bridge to the  future

Since wildfires were raging throughout California last summer, Mr Gore brought local experts to talk about “Facing Reality: Firefighters on the Climate Frontlines“. Some notes:

  • Ken Pimlot, Director of CA Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection said
    • things are different now
      • they’ve never seen a fire last as long as 13 days.
      • 100,000 acre fire was rare, now common
      • They’re experiencing fires of 2700 degrees F!
      • They’re experiencing a year-round fire season, even in December with weeks and months of deployment, away from home. The life of firefighters is much like soldiers, facing greater risk than they ever stepped up for.
    • Asked us to talk to the politicians!
  • Martha Karsten of Chief Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade said
    • The whole state of CA is a tinderbox
    • Their fire station used to run 6 months, now 9 months
  • Ken Thompson, Former Deputy Fire Chief, New South Wale in Australia said
    • It’s exactly the same in Australia.
    • In Melbourne, 1st responders to fire – gonna be 1st responders to global warming!
    • new level of fire code: catastrophic
    • it really is a tinderbox out there
  • Each of them said – Name them – call out the politicians

On a session on “Clean Transportation: Moving Beyond Carbon”, Mr Gore led discussions with people from LA Clean Tech Incubator, CARB (the California Air Resources Board), Proterra and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

We learned from Ryan Popple of Proterra Buses that a diesel bus uses 10,000 gallons annually. This is our tax dollars.

The NRDC speaker shared that diesel accounts for more than 70% of  carcinogenic effect of emissions. That diesel for transportation is like coal for electricity generation. We need community based policy. There was a belief that consumers will do the right thing when given options. One out of 12 Americans live in Southern California. Don’t underestimate the purchasing power of a City or County. Not a dollar more for fossil fuels. 

In a discussion about the Paris agreement, there was an excited discussion about we are still in, even if President Trump has walked away.

Being in Los Angeles and proximity to Hollywood, there was a discussion about “Climate Crisis on camera” with Alan Horn. We learned that Alan is also on the NRDC board, with wife Cindy Horn on the Climate Reality board. This one couple paid for the venue for over 2200 people.

In closing, some take-away quotes from Mr Gore: 

  • Climate change is not a political issue, it’s a personal issue
  • “95% of time spent persuading people to do something when they damn well knew they should do it in their own self interest” – Al Gore quoting President Harry Truman
  • We’re an army of activists that won’t go away
  • Each month less than 1 American hears about climate change from a trusted source. We need to present to family, schools, civics
  • Policy doesn’t match public opinion – amplify voices of others
  • 65% population get urgent need to act on climate, yet the climate crisis doesn’t make list of top 10 issues in US. In Germany, the climate crisis is #1, terrorism is #2.
  • important to change light bulbs, more important to change the laws and policy
  • we’re working with 3 budgets
    • time budget – complete presentation in allotted time
    • complexity budget – don’t overtax people
    • hope budget – this is a problem from hell, leave the audience with hope
  • Politicians see uncertainly as an opportunity to delay.
  • CA decision by cities and towns to go 100% RE – things change when you make commitment – yeah!
  • Georgetown TX example – red state, mayor was CPA and numbers made sense  
  • Colorado State – student pressure
  • GDP up, population up, emissions down – Both CA and Sweden show that economy can be decoupled from fossil fuel emissions
  • In response to a question about energy storage other than Lithium Ion, there’s compressed gas storage, flywheels, flo batteries (?), and… 90% of storage in world is pumped hydro. 
  • Paris agreement agreed not only on voluntary targets, but also transparency on the info. Our governments are obligated to review and ratchet commitments. My translation – we can demand more transparency from PHL.
my-pin
Pin awarded to each person completing the Climate Reality training. Photo: Meenal Raval

The Climate Reality Project has focused on training presenters. In 2017, they tried forming chapters, many across the globe. Of note is that the Pittsburgh chapter has 500 members. And a Mayor who is on-board with the transition. The Southeastern PA chapter, which would include Philadelphia, is gearing up. 

See this post from another attendee: THREE MOVING MOMENTS FROM CLIMATE REALITY’S TRAINING IN LOS ANGELES.

I’m now a member of the Climate Reality Corps, able to give presentations on climate science, and able to customize for audience and geography.

 

Posted in clean renewable energy, solar, solutions

We went solar – You can too!

Originally published on the Northwest Philly Solar Co-op site, here.

Months ago, we learned of DC SUN, a neighborhood solar co-op in Washington DC. Some of us met with Anya Schoolman, their founder, and decided to bring their model to our neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia.
See this early video to understand how DC SUN helps neighbors negotiate with utilities, contractors and the government to get solar energy installed on residential rooftops.
Looks like the solar co-op can not only assist with bulk buying, i..e a volume discount from the installer, but other ways to help with the installation costs, such as…
  1. the DC Rebate program, basically a subsidy from utility funds, now called Affordable Solar
  2. the Federal tax credit for renewable energy
  3. option to sell the green value of clean energy, or SRECS (solar renewable energy credits), earning the household about $900 per year
  4. option to lease the system, where the household pays 1/3 less than the utility rate for 25 years.

If you or your organization is in the vicinity of Northwest Philadelphia, come join us!

Posted in EV, no fossil fuels, solutions

Refueling our EV

So we got ourselves a electric vehicle, the smart fortwo coupe 13507087_10207747020931794_8761258531375557893_nwith electric drive, or the Smart ED.  Tiny, and powered by plugging into our outdoor outlet, which we’re led to believe, is supplied by mainly by Pennsylvania wind farms.

Refueling our EV has been an education about the car’s battery capacity, the charger and the charging rate.

The Smart ED has a battery capacity of 17.6 kW,

It also comes with an EVSE charger that you can plug into any 110V outlet. A button on this charger allows you to select between 8A and 12A based on the circuit.

The maximum charging rate for the Smart ED is 3.3 kW per hour. Most other cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, are designed to charge at a faster rate (6.6 kW per hour), while the Tesla charges at 19.2 kW per hour, almost 6 times faster.

Therefore, the theoretically fastest this car can charge is 5.3 hours on a 220V outlet or 10.6 hours on a 110V outlet.

capacity / rate = 17.6 kW / 3.3 kWh = 5.3 hours

If we’re to use a standard 110V outlet and the given charger, it would take between 13 and 20 hours to fully charge our car based on the amps selected.

110V x 8A = 0.88 kW per hour
17.6 kW / 0.88 kWh = 20 hours

110V x 12A = 1.32 kW per hour
17.6 kW / 1.32 kWh = 13 hours

If we installed a 220V outlet, and purchased a 220V charger, our refueling rate would go down to 6.6 hours.

220V x 12A = 2.64 kW per hour
17.6 kW / 2.64 kWh = 6.6 hours

For now, the 13-hour refueling rate seems adequate.

In the few days we’ve used this car, people have asked us another question. About the cost to refuel our EV. Our PECO bill (with electricity generation from The Energy Co-op’s EcoChoice 100 program) shows us paying about 18 cents per kWh. A full recharge (17.6 kW x 0.18 per kWh) would be $3.17 and take you 75 miles. That’s 4 cents per mile.

13576707_10209568355550269_2600144925251380969_oNot a bad price for declaring independence from the gas pump. Half the length, just as much fun. #fossilfuelfreefun, powered by the wind and the sun.

 

Posted in energy efficiency, solutions

Staying Cool without AC

Last summer, I wrote about staying cool with fans. This summer, I’m sharing lessons from Hap Haven, our region’s long-time energy efficiency specialist. This essay was originally published in the June 2016 Shuttle, a monthly publication of Weavers Way Co-op.

The “dog days” of summer will be here soon; high temperatures and high humidity. This phrase was created by the Greeks and related to the time of year when the Sirius constellation rose with the sun. It’s a time when seas “boil” and people go mad. While I’m not certain about the seas boiling, we all understand the physical and emotional problems we experience with hot, humid weather. Skip forward to 1902 and we find Willis Carrier inventing modern air conditioning. Since then two things have happened. First, electric companies have collected hundreds of millions of dollars from their air conditioning customers. Second, many people have forgotten how to stay cool without air conditioning. Fortunately for us, there are still many non-AC strategies available. Here are just a few:

SHADE: Staying cool is easier in the shade. This is true for your home, as well as for you. It helps if you have large trees that cast long shadows, but not everyone has older trees around their homes. To those people I say, “Plant one for the next generation”. In the meantime buy an umbrella, install an awning or build a trellis. Nothing has to be fancy. A king sized sheet tied between poles will work just fine to block the sun’s radiation. You might be surprised that the temperature difference between sun and shade can be 30 degrees. One cautionary note about plants; they block sunlight, but they can also raise the humidity level near them. Higher humidity means lower comfort so give yourself plenty of room between your patio and plants like vines on trellises.

REFLECTION: If you cannot shade a home, the next step is to reflect the sun as best as possible. If you need to purchase new windows, choose ones that can reflect part of the sun’s heat. Go to the manufacturer’s web site to see how much reflection you should have. You need more reflectivity in hotter climates. Some new windows even allow you to “dial-in” the shade and reflectivity you need. These windows have reflective mini-blinds inside the window. Assuming that your windows don’t need to be replaced, window film is a good second choice. Thousands of homes and commercial buildings in the Delaware Valley have been retro-fitted with reflective film to cut down on summer heat gain. Typically, you put the film on west facing windows or windows that get direct sun for more than a few hours every day.

Philadelphia has more row homes than any other city in the USA and most still have black colored roofs. The black color turns the top floor into an oven during the summer, but this can be changed. A new trend in flat roof rehab is the white roof. The elastomeric white roof coat has a lot of limitations in terms of when and how it is applied, but once applied, it is far superior to silver or black (oil based) roof coatings.

MOVING AIR: Fans come in every shape and size and continue to be an important way to stay cool. Most fans, such as a desk fan or even a ceiling fan over the dining room table or in the bedroom, are designed for local cooling. Fans cool you by evaporating your sweat. Changing liquid water into vapor (evaporation) removes energy and, in turn, cools your skin. Remember to drink water to replenish the water evaporated from your skin.

There is another type of fan that is very effective, but not for cooling people directly. It’s called a whole house fan. Some older homes have them, but they are rarely used properly. The whole house fan’s job is to cool the house. Yes, the moving air will help to cool you as well, but the fan is designed to remove the heat built-up in your house during the day. Whole house fans and window fans should not be used unless the outside temperature is cooler than the inside temperature, otherwise you are just going to heat up the inside.

SEAL THE SHELL: You wouldn’t walk outside with holes in your rain coat, but your home has thousands of little, and not so little, holes. These holes allow your nice conditioned air to escape and hot humid air to come indoors. Sealing your home used to mean caulking your windows and weather-stripping your doors. That’s a good start, but just a start. Modern air sealing contractors use computers and powerful fans to find out how leaky your home is, where those leaks are and which ones are cost effective to seal. Sealing the shell means you get to control how and when your home interacts with the outside weather.

LIFE STYLE: Philadelphians have historically closed up shop and vacationed in the Poconos, “down” the shore or to any body of water that could provide a cool dip. One all-time Philadelphia favorite is the fire hydrant sprinkler. Staying cool before air conditioning demanded a slower life style in the summer, maybe something we should consider again.

So to wrap-up, the easiest way to keep your home cool is to open up your windows at night then close them during the hot day. Keeping cool is a dance between you and the sun. Use whole house or window fans at night after the outside temperature is lower than the inside temperature. Use personal or ceiling fans during the day. Shade the house where ever possible. If you do all these things, you will only need your AC when there is a heat wave or to knock down humidity levels. Either way, if you do all these recommendations, you shouldn’t need to run your AC more than about an hour a day.

And to lighten the message, here’s a  humorous reflection on seasonal clothing for the office: Frigid Offices, Freezing Women, Oblivious Men. Please re-assure me that Mt Airy men are different, that we heart summertime under the fans and under the trees.

If you found any of Hap’s material useful, or are considering a home energy audit, I know Hap would love to hear from you. He is reachable at hap@usgreenhome.com.

Posted in clean renewable energy, no fossil fuels, solutions, transition

Solar in the Northwest

I’ve been hearing about solar panels since I was in high school, over 3 decades ago. But yesterday, as a member of the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op, I interviewed a Mt Airy couple who have had solar panels on their roof for a year and a half now. Both were eager to talk about their experience.

They raved about their installers. Showed me their 2 electric meters; one for electricity coming from PECO and the second one added to track the electricity that their rooftop was pushing back onto the grid. bud-n-mollie-1

I asked where all their other equipment was that I’d read about: the inverters and batteries and such. And realized that when a solar installation is grid-tied (meaning not off-the-grid), it’s a lot less involved. All they had were the 13 panels on the roof, and the second meter. No other equipment on the porch or basement.

For 7 months of the year, I learned, this system produces in excess of the household’s consumption. During this time (April thru October), their bill is about $7 per month. The other 5 months, it triples to about $20 per month.

They have monitored their production and consumption via an online application, and once noticed a spike in their usage. Concerned that someone was tapping into their system, they drilled into the data and discovered usage during one month, in the wee hours of the night.  A month that coincided with a visit from their teenage granddaughter with all her electrical devices!

When asked why they invested in this solar installation, it was simply… Why, for the common good! Sitting on their serene back porch, I realized the beauty of this. There was no need to explain the horrifying effects of climate, nor of the immediacy of action required.

Weavers Way Co-op and The Shalom Center have teamed up to get solar-coop2more solar installed in Northwest Philadelphia, by forming the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op, explained on the flyer here. We all benefit from increased reliance on renewable energy and it is important to develop community-based initiatives that increase its use.

Know that a solar photo-voltaic (PV) system generates clean electricity using a free energy source that will never run out and never go up in price. The fuel requires no mining, no drilling, no mountain-top removing and no transporting, doesn’t require burning or processing, and is never in danger of spilling, emitting, or polluting. In fact, the clean energy produced by your solar energy system emits no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and helps reduce global climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels and the volatile fossil fuel market. As with all manufacturing, there is some waste in that process.

When will solar become the norm, so that every Philly structure with the solar potential achieves this potential? To get to this tipping point, we’re sharing stories from people who already have solar installed at their home or workplace. Each installation will be summarized on a Solar Facts sticker, shown below, for easier comparison.

As you’ll see, the 30% Federal tax credit really made this investment affordable and economical. I remember when we got an estimate 11 years ago, a 2kW system was priced at $18,000. And there was no Federal or State incentive that we could apply for. That’s going from $9 per watt to $2.8 per watt!  With the industry scaling up, and government policies to support & encourage us all, this one example looks to be a third cheaper than what we were quoted.

solar facts

Want to join NPSC? Or simply share your story? Please contact NPSC via Barbara Bloomfield at (215) 247-9204 or barbbloomfield2 [at] aol.com.

What is it that’s keeping people from installing solar on their rooftop? Some of the responses we’re heard are:

  • We’re tenants.  Have your landlord contact NPSC.
  • We’re in a condo. Have your condo association contact NPSC.
  • We have plenty of sun, but are short on cash. The Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op is looking at financing, perhaps thru the Free Loan Association of Germantown (FLAG). Please contact NPSC.
  • We have too many trees and not enough sun. No solar potential. I hear you. Keep the trees. Maybe you’d like to lend through the Free Loan Association of Germantown for other solar installations.

The Earth needs YOU!

Posted in clean renewable energy, climate, solutions

Uniting around our climate target

Last Thursday, a few of us met at a Quaker facilitated discussion on climate targets, specifically around the international Paris agreement last December, about getting our planetary temperature well below 1.5 degrees centigrade.1449778748021

The topic? Uniting around targets.

We represented research & policy folks from regional environmental non-profits plus grassroots & faith-based activists.

Professor Donald Brown of Widener Law School, and blogger at Ethics & Climate,  spoke about the need to set a carbon budget, asking us to keep in mind not just the business of reducing our carbon emissions, but to also maintain an ethical & moral perspective as we go forth.

We learned that this meant weaving in responsibility to future generations, equality for the current generations as well as the rights of developing nations.

Given all this, he suggested that the US target is not 80% carbon reduction by 2050, but the more equitable one of 100% carbon reduction by 2035.

In other words, we need to be carbon neutral in 18 years. Gasp! Apparently, speed matters.

In the discussion that followed, I learned that the Sierra Club’s goals include a carbon-free electric sector for 2030, and carbon neutral by 2050.

We had some excited discussion about targets that are politically acceptable versus those that are demanded by physics and ethics.

As we parted, I sensed an agreement that we need to work together, despite our divergent tactics, but still reeling in shock at the carbon budget for our state and the speed by which we need to get there.

A follow-on solutions-based public meeting to discuss getting our state of Pennsylvania to this goal of carbon neutral in 18 years, is set for the evening of Wednesday May 18th. It’s from 7 to 9 in the evening at the Friends Center at 1501 Cherry Street in Center City Philadelphia. If Center City is too far for you, you can also join via a webinar. Details and registration here on EventBrite, and here on Facebook, too, for up-to-the-minute dialog. Please join me & others for this discussion.

Posted in solutions

Wither on the vine

When I have to reassure family about my participation in upcoming events; when I hear their concerns about possible violence hearing words like revolution; when I hear suggestions that we need to teach the next generation to do things differently, this is the quote I turn to.

In effect, we need to start the world all over again – not through step-by-step reform of the status quo, because that won’t get us where we need to be; or by revolution, a head-on fight with the present powers-that-be, because nobody wants that, and the outcome of revolution is far too uncertain; but by creating the kind of world we want to see, in situ, and allowing the present methods and the institutions that are serving the world so badly to wither on the vine.

quote from page 11 of Resurgence & Ecologist, Issue 294 Jan/Feb 2016, A Food Renaissance Goes Live by Colin Tudge

 

Posted in solutions

Comfort in this never-ending summer

Last week, at both my evening meetings, I sweltered. No, the meetings weren’t outdoors at mid-day!

One meeting was on the 18th floor of a building with an Energy Star plaque in it’s fancy lobby. Although it had turned into a lovely evening, and we met in a corner office with windows on two sides, we discovered that the windows were painted shut. Not a chance of bringing in some evening cool. I scoured the offices for an oscillating fan to borrow. Not a one to be found.  So we stoically sweated.  We were, after all, discussing how to save the climate by reducing Philadelphia’s emissions.

The following evening, the meeting was in a conference room in a building targeted to be double LEED.  Again, very stuffy. And again, I prowled the facility in search of a portable fan.  We found one and it made an amazing difference in our comfort. Regretably, it was also quite noisy making it difficult to hear the person at the other end of the table.

I was surprised at the inadequacy of the “sustainable” surroundings I found myself in. As I cooled off on the train ride home, I decided that each of these meeting spaces could use the gift of a good portable table fan.

photo credit to http://touring.bicyclingaroundtheworld.nl/bicycle/india/photos/gallery_1/07/07.htm

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photo credit to http://touring.bicyclingaroundtheworld.nl/bicycle/india/photos/gallery_1/07/07.htm

Having grown up in India, with ceiling fans in every room, I knew what a difference a fan made.  And remain surprised that these aren’t a fixture in the US, in every office and hotel room.

With a budget of about $50 per fan, I went looking. This well-written review of the Best Desk Fan: Dyson vs Vornado vs Honeywell stopped me in my tracks.  That there existed a stylish fan that was also quiet, moved air through the room, and used less energy than any other fan I’ve come across was amazing.

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The Dyson fan looked so different that I had to go experience one in person. Which I did at a local big box store. And surprised my frugal self by bringing one home.  An overnight run proved it’s quietness.

The next day, I tested it in my office.  There, in the air conditioned space set to 80 degrees, I found that the fan added a surprising amount of comfort to the room.

Just to compare, a window air conditioner uses 525 watts, while this uses about 26 watts, just 5% of the electricity. Other fans typically use about 50 watts.

I’ve learned that it’s not a case of either an A/C or a fan; that I can keep the A/C at a higher temperature (meaning it runs fewer hours each day), and spin the fans in the occupied space to remain comfortable.