U.S. Mayors Place High Priority on Energy Efficiency, New Technology Use

U.S. Mayors Place High Priority on Energy Efficiency, New Technology Use

January 22, 2014

Despite budget constraints, U.S. mayors expect to significantly expand their investment in energy technologies over the next five years, according to a new survey of nearly 300 cities highlighting how cities are deploying new energy technologies to make their city operations and communities more energy efficient.

The survey, titled Energy Efficiency and Technologies in America’s Cities, was unveiled during The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) 82nd Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. at a session with mayors and U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz at the Capital Hilton. The survey can be found at usmayors.org/2014energysurvey.

“This survey shows again how mayors are leaders in energy innovation, deploying new technologies, pursuing new efficiency systems, reducing their communities’ energy use and lowering costs for their taxpayers. Their best practices as well as the findings of this survey confirm that investing dollars in city energy efforts is a very good investment for the private sector and the nation,” said USCM President, Mayor of Mesa, Ariz., Scott Smith.

Done in conjunction with Philips, the survey also indicates that mayors plan to make energy-efficient lighting technology (LEDs as the primary example) a top priority over the next two years. LED/energy efficient lighting was also overwhelmingly rated as the “most promising” technology for reducing city energy use and carbon emissions, with more than four in five cities of those surveyed (82 percent) reporting.

“The impact of lighting on an urban environment cannot be underestimated. It is simply one of the most important steps that mayors can take to make their cities feel safer and meet the sustainability goals of the 21st century city,” said Bruno Biasiotta, president and CEO of Philips Lighting Americas. “When we partner with forward-thinking communities, making their city buildings more energy efficient, their streets brighter and safer, and turn darkened structures into iconic symbols of their cities, we not only aid in cost savings, urban recovery and civic pride, we provide truly meaningful innovations. Our survey results show that mayors recognize this and we can help them take action.”

In addition to lighting, retrofitting public buildings also ranked as a top priority in improving the energy efficiency of city infrastructure. Significantly, mayors expect to use their own local resources, followed by partnerships with the private sector, as the sources of financing these technologies. And in terms of the actual deployment of new technologies, survey findings reveal that more than seven in 10 mayors believe their local utilities are now their city’s most important partner in doing so.

“Mayors remain optimistic about the energy technology marketplace, with two in three cities anticipating increased investment, whether it is for state-of-the-art lighting or solar energy systems. It is not only cities who have a stake in this success, but the U.S. economy when new industries prosper because of these homegrown efforts,” said USCM Energy Committee Chair Gresham (OR) Mayor Shane Bemis.

Of note, survey results also indicate that with recent weather events and associated power outages, three in four cities have developed plans to keep vital city services operating during sustained outages, and within three years, nearly 90 percent of all cities surveyed expect to have such plans in place.

Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and Executive Director said, “This survey provides timely and useful information on how mayors are leading in ways that save taxpayers money, reduce dependency on foreign energy, curb harmful air emissions, and grow jobs, businesses and the economy. With this survey data, we are establishing a record of local success that continues to build over time. Our partnership with Philips – the Mayors’ Lighting Partnership and this survey effort – is an example of how public-private collaborations can further mayoral leadership in this area.”

Survey Results:


  •  54% of cities responding are targeting outdoor lighting for improved energy efficiency or reduced energy consumption, second only to public buildings (83%). This shows a continued strong interest in street lighting and other outdoor lighting, as well as an opportunity to educate on the role LED lighting can play in improving energy efficiency in city-owned and operated buildings.
  • 67% of cities plan to increase their deployment of new energy technologies over the next five years (as compared to current commitments). Twenty-three percent expect their deployment to remain the same, and only 4% plan to decrease their deployment.
  • The most significant challenges facing cities when it comes to increasing energy efficiency and conservation are budget/funding constraints (84%), followed by high up-front costs (71%). Twenty-nine percent said that it is hard to justify upgrades because their current infrastructure is still working.
  • 82% of cities responding named LEDs and other energy-efficient lighting as the “most promising technologies” for reducing energy use and carbon emissions in their city.
  • When asked which of the following technologies their city government “previously” deployed, 82% said LED and energy efficient lighting, followed by 62% who listed low-energy buildings or energy-efficient appliances.
  • When it comes to improving energy efficiency in buildings, 86% said retrofitting city-owned buildings is now a priority.
  • Only 36% of the city’s responding have developed a comprehensive energy plan. Of the 64% who have not, 13% plan to develop one in the next year and 29% plan to develop one within two years.

Three State Capitals to Receive Green Design Assistance from EPA

Three State Capitals to Receive Green Design Assistance from EPA

January 9, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced design assistance to help the capital cities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington develop designs for greener, healthier, more vibrant neighborhoods. The designs will provide models for the growing number of communities interested in sustainable designs that improve the environment, strengthen local economies and protect people’s health. The cities, which were selected through a national competition, are:

– Lansing, Mich. will receive assistance to develop options for transforming a 14-acre parking lot between the state capitol and Hall of Justice into a public park that showcases green infrastructure and renewable energy technologies. The design assistance aims to help reduce combined sewer overflows, prevent flooding, reduce the heat island effect, beautify public spaces near major civic buildings, and connect pedestrian walkways and transit to community and state institutions.

– Madison, Wis. will receive assistance to explore ways to make pedestrian and bicycle improvements and add green infrastructure, such as trees and rain gardens, to streets in the Triangle Neighborhood. The project aims to make it easier for residents to access nearby transit, open spaces, and the Monona Bay, and also improve water quality in the bay.

– Olympia, Wash. will receive assistance to incorporate green infrastructure along Capitol Way to reduce stormwater runoff, improve access to businesses and the waterfront, and adapt to climate change. The project aims to strengthen connections between the capitol campus and downtown, encouraging people to walk and bike to shops and restaurants.

This is the fourth year of the Greening America’s Capitals program. To date, 15 capital cities have received assistance, including Boston; Charleston, W.Va.; Hartford, Conn.; Jefferson City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Jackson, Miss.; Lincoln, Neb.; Montgomery, Ala.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Washington, D.C.,; Baton Rouge, La.; Des Moines, Iowa; Frankfort, Ky.; Helena, Mont.; and Indianapolis, Ind.

EPA recently posted reports for Baton Rouge, Des Moines, Frankfort, Helena, and Indianapolis. EPA assistance will help the cities pursue green infrastructure, more walkable streets and other amenities. View design options for each city at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usepagov/sets/72157633206541248/

Google buys home sensor Nest for $3.2 billion

Google buys home sensor Nest for $3.2 billion

  • nest labs google

I own a Smart TV, but it doesn’t connect or operate through a very smart interface. I have heating for my home, but it isn’t connected to any system or way to make it more efficient or smarter. But if the latest Google shopping spree is any indication, our homes will be getting smarter – and greener.

Google has just announced that it will be buying the company Nest Labs. The company makes internet-connected thermostats and fire alarms. Nest systems are lauded by environmentalists as they have the potential to help us save energy, money and greenhouse gases.

Internet companies like Google are eager to find new ways to get into our lives to quantify and understand what we do so they can sell us advertising. Nest is the recent company which will help Google do that.

Future plans on how this green thermostat will integrate into Google’s holdings is not yet clear, as both companies declined to comment.

No cords, no fuss – charging your gadgets without wires

No cords, no fuss – charging your gadgets without wires

Posted By Ruthie Blum On January 14, 2014 @ 12:00 am In Gadgets,Innovation | No Comments

One does not usually associate high-tech with the alleviation of anxiety, but PowerMat Technologies co-founder Ran Poliakine claims that his venture does just that.

“Imagine a world in which you didn’t have to worry about how and where to charge your mobile phones, laptops and tablets every time you left home,” says the 46-year-old innovator with a degree in industrial design from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.

It is a world that is fast upon us, according to Poliakine and his business partner, Amir Ben-Shalom, 52, the scientist behind the technology that is already taking swaths of the United States by storm.

“Within a few short years, there will no longer be plugs, outlets and wires,” says Poliakine, during an interview with ISRAEL21C at his offices in the Neve Ilan communications complex in Abu Gosh, just west of Jerusalem.

“You’ll simply place your electronic devices on a table, and it will receive electricity from an embedded surface.”

Poliakine, whose workplace and home are both completely set up for this not-so-futuristic scenario, demonstrates on the spot. He puts his iPhone on one of many small round “plates” flush with the desktop, and it begins charging automatically. No cords, no fuss.

The “inevitable” shift to wireless electricity, he asserts, “will become just as intuitive as Wi-Fi. As soon as we stopped having to use a cable between our computers and a telephone jack, we took it for granted that we can receive data from the air. We will soon expect the same from our power.”

In GM cars by 2015

The idea to launch PowerMat was sparked by a 2006 conversation between Poliakine and Ben-Shalom in the parking lot of the building where the two innovators were already collaborating on a series of startups.

Laptops had become smaller and lighter, but the accompanying plugs and cords were – and still are — as cumbersome as ever. Poliakine said to Ben-Shalom: “Come on, we have to solve this problem.”

Ben-Shalom, a leading Israeli expert and teacher in the field of electricity, pointed out that it had been tried before, without success. But his momentary skepticism was replaced by a drive to make it work.
By 2009, the pair had brought their prototype to technological giants, such as Nokia. “All of them said it was great, but nobody was willing to fire the first shot — to ‘cut the cables’ in favor of wireless,” says Poliakine.

Such a sea change necessitates the creation of an entire infrastructure, he explains, “like when the electrical grid had to be created.”

So they decided to go directly to consumers in the United States, through a series of partnerships. One such partnership was forged with Procter & Gamble, the largest consumer product company in the world.

This was crucial for taking PowerMat to the retailers, among them Duracell, which is owned by P&G. It was thus that Duracell PowerMat – a series of wireless charging solutions for iPhones and other smartphones and rechargeable backup batteries for carrying power on-the-go – came into being.

Next came partnerships with AT&T and Best Buy, among other leading retailers like General Motors . Not only did GM invest in the company, but announced that it will begin embedding its cars with PowerMat technology by 2015.

Powering consumers everywhere

During the Christmas season of 2009, PowerMat sold 750,000 units right out of the gate.

“The experience opened doors for us,” says Poliakine. “By 2010, there we were, a small Israeli company in Abu Gosh, using the technology invented by Amir [Ben-Shalom], manufacturing millions of pieces in China and selling to retailers in America.”

It was then, he says, that “we understood that for this revolution to take hold, we would have to create an entire ecosystem. We have to surround consumers 360 degrees, based on where they spend their time away from home, such as airports, train stations, concert halls, universities and restaurants.”

The first two chains he approached were Starbucks and McDonalds, both of which are now involved in pilot testing of PowerMat technology. To date, 26 Starbucks branches in Boston and San Jose — and McDonalds in Manhattan — are fully wired and equipped.

Patrons simply place Duracell PowerMat-enabled mobile devices on the table in any of those locations and it will charge automatically. Those whose devices are not equipped with PowerMat technology receive a small key ring that hooks into their devices. This ring, called PowerKiss, was invented by a Finnish company that PowerMat purchased.

Still, says Poliakine, “To bridge the gap between technology and consumers, mass education is as crucial as it is challenging.”

Rapper and record producer Jay-Z not only invested in the company, but made a jazzy TV commercial promoting it.

This is part of PowerMat’s holistic approach to high-tech and overall aim to “redefine the language” of how everyone views the use of electricity.

“We didn’t invent the idea of wireless electricity. Over the last century, there have been at least 10,000 patents registered in this area. But up until about a decade ago, there wasn’t a real need for it. The two things that have altered this situation are the ability to generate much larger amounts of electricity at a far lower cost, and the fact that people have become mobile.”

But mobility creates anxiety, says Poliakine. At Rihanna’s recent outdoor concert in Tel Aviv, he heard fans complaining about their phones running out of juice while posting on Twitter and Facebook and videotaping the event. He is aiming to eliminate this difficulty when whole regions are powered by the cloud – possibly by 2015.

“This is a shift on a par with that of moving from horses to cars as a method of transportation. It is what we will be remembered for.”

NREL Model Licensed to Improve Accuracy of Battery Simulations

NREL Model Licensed to Improve Accuracy of Battery Simulations

GOLDEN, Colo., Jan 15 – Targeted News Service

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory issued the following news release:The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has licensed its Equivalent Circuit Battery Model to software developer ThermoAnalytics for use in its recently updated RadTherm software package.

The model is a part of the Battery Module within RadTherm, which is used by engineers to simulate the performance of battery cells and optimize multi-cell pack designs.

Before the addition of the NREL Equivalent Circuit Battery Model, the software only allowed for static analyses of heat generation during constant current charge or discharge cycles. The updated version of the software can perform these analyses for transient current loads derived from drive cycles, delivering greater accuracy in evaluation results.

“Increasing the precision of cell and pack-level battery simulations has a direct impact on accelerating the development of next generation electric-drive vehicle batteries,” NREL Energy Storage Group Manager Ahmad Pesaran said. “By adding this model to their software package, ThermoAnalytics will get enhanced simulation capability out to the engineers who are leading this effort.”

The NREL model, developed with funding from the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy , simulates transient charging and discharging of battery packs and is used to capture the dynamic response of a battery to a change in charge or discharge current. It can also be used to model the effect of an internal, temperature-dependent series resistance in the battery, which can be used to limit fault currents in the event of a short circuit.

“The addition of the NREL model enhances our product and provides the industry with the tools that it needs to engineer improved battery technologies for the future,” ThermoAnalytics CEO Keith Johnson said.

NREL is a recognized leader in vehicle energy storage R&D. In addition to groundbreaking thermal evaluation and analysis, NREL’s energy storage modeling, simulation, and testing activities include battery safety assessment, next-generation battery technologies, material synthesis and research, subsystem analysis, battery second use studies, and battery computer-aided engineering.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC .

Is your real estate value blowing in the wind?

Is your real estate value blowing in the wind?

Beyond the pure aesthetic aspect, there’s been growing concern with consumers on how wind farms may impact individual real estate prices. In other words, will that view of the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm that I find an uplifting road trip memory be a real downer for surrounding landowners when they go to sell? Researchers have studied this, actually. Here are the results.

When I was a kid, my father would trek us back to California every year (where he grew up). Sometimes, we went south. Sometimes we went north. Sometimes we went to the coast. Sometimes we did all three. But, I have one really vivid early 1980s memory from that time period—lying in the backseat of the car, looking up through dirty glass at very tall hills that seemed to blend into the gray of an early evening mist. A few points after the outline of the mountain disappeared a bit into the sky, there was a metal tower that seemed to be floating above in mid-air, an exclamation mark topped by a slowly spinning reflective pinwheel.

We were driving through the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm in California.

I couldn’t have told you exactly where we were at the time, but that memory is still incredibly vivid: soft mountain lines punctuated by lazy turns of a turbine that remain hypnotic to this day and could never be fully captured by the best of artists. (That’s one of my favorite vacation memories.)

Tehachapi Pass was one of the first large wind developments in the U.S. Today, wind development is just one arm of a renewables building blitz that is still heavily centered in California but is spreading across the U.S.—a product of bold investments, federal initiatives, state requirements and a consumer desire for cleaner energy.

But, consumer desires may be a bit at odds internally. As with traditional electric power equipment, consumers often want the end results of the technology—the power—without the view of all the equipment that makes it work: substations, pole-mounted transformers, pylons, and, in this case, turbines.

Beyond the pure aesthetic aspect, though, there’s been growing concern with consumers on how wind farms may impact individual real estate prices. In other words, will that view of the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm that I find an uplifting road trip memory be a real downer for surrounding landowners when they go to sell?

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) and the University of Connecticut say it ain’t so—at least in Massachusetts. They recently released a whole report on the subject “Relationship between wind turbines and residential property values in Massachusetts.” [3] And it’s not LBNL’s first study in this area but, instead, builds on 2009 and 2013 data sets of home sales near wind farms in the state.

In this version of the study, they “analyzed more than 122,000 home sales near 26 wind facilities in densely populated Massachusetts, finding no statistical evidence of an impact to property values.”

The team looked at three issues specifically: if the wind farm would alter the sense of place, if it impacted a view or if it was considered a nuisance due to noise or other annoying factors.

They did find one item in their list of “amenities, disamenities and turbine home price impacts” that did reflect a significant price effect: whether it was beachfront property (which kicked up prices over 25 percent).

The turbines, however, were “statistically insignificant.”

So, go ahead and buy that house near the wind farm. You should be A-OK on resale (unless the entire market tanks again).

And enjoy the view.

Reducing a Building’s Appetite for Energy, Water and Materials

Reducing a Building’s Appetite for Energy, Water and Materials

Product certification programs like Cradle to Cradle are to building products as LEED is to buildings.


December 2, 2013

Sustainable architecture is our industry’s declaration that tomorrow shall have a voice in what we do today. The extent to which we value and attend to that voice not only sets our course, but that of future generations as well. It’s not so much that this heightens our responsibility—for certainly it does—but rather it raises our opportunity. As we answer the voice of tomorrow, opportunity extends from product manufacturers to building sites and into every community.

Sustainability is an essential structural element in the framework of a dynamic and necessary paradigm. It is the base of Maslow’s pyramid—ensuring the global population has access to essentials while higher order elements remain available and attainable. Our future relies on this worldview.

We know that the application of sustainable practices can effectively reduce a building’s appetite for energy, water and materials. The resulting economic benefits can persuade companies to commit to sustainability and the added community benefits brought by earning a “green stamp of approval.” But how can the industry surpass the notion that they’re being admonished to act because “eat your peas, they’re good for you”? Is there another way to see this as an opportunity?

Several years ago, former U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Chairman Sandy Wiggins authored an executive briefing highlighting our most pressing environmental issues, each a result of our collective failure to adopt sustainable solutions. Some of his points included:

The global flow of natural resources (not including water) required to sustain the world’s economy today is 1,000,000,000,000,000 pounds per year. Less than 2 percent of this material stream is ever reused or recycled.

  • The ratio (by weight) of waste generated to durable goods manufactured in our economy is 100:1.
  • The energy efficiency of our economy (the percentage of consumed energy that actually does the useful work it is intended to do) is 2 percent.
  • 15,000 of the 20,000 landfills in the U.S. are closed or over capacity.
  • Humanity is pumping 15,000,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day. Global warming is affecting crop yields.
  • World population is increasing at the rate of 10,000 people per hour, or 87,000,000 per year (more than 10 times the population of New York City).

Wiggins says, “…for the past two-and-a-half centuries, society has been liquidating its principal and calling it income.”

In response, the USGBC created a path for the building industry to ease these challenges. Mitigating cures, directly or indirectly, have each found a way to be expressed through the LEED system’s sustainability measures. As LEED evolves, it gets better. LEED v4 is not the end of the road for sustainability efforts. It continues to push the building industry forward in designing solutions that achieve a healthier standard within the built environment.

At Construction Specialties, we share an iterative path toward doing better by our customers and our community. Our first steps toward manufacturing, with regard to human and environmental health, were taken in the early 90s. By 1995, we knew we wanted to operate from a base of sustainability. We developed landfill avoidance programs, tracked results and set ever-increasing goals. We began reducing and eliminating certain process chemicals; repurposed an old 40,000-square-foot building, saving it from demolition; and joined the USGBC in 1999. We had arrived at the starting line. We have been “sustain-abling” (new verb) for more than 20 years and are advocates for the journey, knowing the destination will come in time.

By adding Cradle to Cradle certifications to the Materials & Resources Credits, LEED v4 encourages building product manufacturers to aspire to attain third-party certification for sustainable behaviors. Cradle to Cradle certification is to manufacturers and their products as LEED v4 is to architects and their buildings.

There are five primary components of sustainability under which dozens of subsets drive numerous initiatives, and all five are common to LEED v4 and the Cradle to Cradle Certified program.

I had first heard William McDonough and Michael Braungart speak at EnviroDesign in New York City in 2004, and was inspired to read their book, Cradle to Cradle. Shortly after, the USGBC offered an innovation credit for the certification, and we began the Cradle to Cradle certification process. It was a process that yielded a better understanding of a comprehensive and effective base of sustainability. Today, we have eight product lines and more than 100 variations of Cradle to Cradle Certified products at v2/v3 Silver and v2 Gold certifications.

We have become advocates for sustainability as previously defined and have found no better statement of purpose than that given by President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address in 1961.

“As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”

With the newly released LEED v4, which now includes a focus on chemicals of concern and third-party validation through certifiers like the Cradle to Cradle Certified program, our invitation is to begin to identify the opportunities that green building provides: the ones that highlight the benefits of designing in response to global challenges; improve human health; seek greater energy and operational efficiency; and minimize impact and waste. At the same time, we gain the opportunity to serve as an example to customers and the public what impact and true principle is available by building with sustainably minded principles.

Cradle to Cradle is a registered trademark of MBDC.