Solar

Unleashing Innovation for a Clean Energy Economy

By Gina McCarthy

One of America’s greatest assets is the ingenuity of its people. President Obama has been driving that theme home since the beginning of his Administration. At EPA, we’ve seen time and again that by unleashing homegrown American innovation, we can bring about big wins for both the environment and the economy.

Just look at renewable energy – today the U.S. generates three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008. And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by half. At the same time, the U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Photo of windmills with a blue sky.

And look at the auto industry – we’ve set historic fuel efficiency standards that promise to send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade—a move that will reduce pollution and save families money at the pump at the same time. Today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles. And since 2009, the American auto industry added more than 250,000 jobs.

These are wins all around. That’s why states, communities, and leading private sector companies are investing in clean energy innovation. Because it’s is good for the environment and it’s good for business. There are countless state-based projects already underway to reduce energy waste, boost efficiencies, and vastly increase the amount of energy solar panels can produce from the sun.

We’re already seeing tremendous progress across the country – including the development of smart, low-cost technologies that help households save on their energy bills. On this front, the state of Illinois is moving ahead at full speed.

Photograph of Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking at a podium.

Just last week, I was proud to join officials from the City of Chicago, utility companies, citizen groups, and two energy-technology companies – Nest and Ecobee – as they announced a major new initiative to get one million “smart” thermostats into northern Illinois homes by the year 2020.

The innovative partnership offers rebates that will nearly halve the cost of thermostats that allow residents to control the temperature of their homes via mobile device. And the technology is “smart” because it adapts to user behaviors over time. The new program is bringing together utilities, environmental organizations, consumer groups, private companies, and the state commerce chamber – all working together toward an ambitious energy efficiency goal.

The one-million smart thermostats effort is a prime example of the power of innovation and partnerships in solving tough problems. Because when we bring diverse skills, perspectives, and expertise to the table, we get creative solutions. The Illinois program will bring efficiencies that move the needle against climate change and it will help consumers’ savings on their energy bills at the same time. That’s a win-win.

And it’s precisely the kind innovative thinking that states across the country are using to help meet the requirements laid out in EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which launched this past summer.

The Plan puts the U.S. on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut harmful smog- and soot-forming pollutants that come along with it.

We’ll start seeing health benefits in the near term, and by 2030, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and hospital admissions, tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and hundreds of thousands of missed school and work days.  In that same year, the average American family will see $85 a year in savings on their utility bills. That’s another win-win.

The bottom line is— America knows how to innovate, and solutions are already here. Technology and innovation are turning what used to be daunting challenges into real, profitable opportunities. The kinds of innovative thinking we’re seeing in Illinois and elsewhere are our best shot at seizing them.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Tools Promoting Reuse-Evaluating Clean Energy for Contaminated Properties

By Mathy Stanislaus

Last month while attending the Brownfields conference in Chicago, I spoke with numerous mayors, community members, developers, financiers, and many others working to revitalize their communities. One common theme I heard was the need for tools and resources that could be deployed at the community or site level to help facilitate the cleanup or reuse of degraded or blighted properties. Toward that end I am pleased to announce the release of our RE-Powering America’s Land electronic decision tree tool. It will let communities and stakeholders examine the key considerations associated with solar or wind development on a formerly contaminated property or a landfill.

You may not have thought about siting renewable energy on a landfill or formerly contaminated property but it presents a unique opportunity to transform dormant and degraded properties into productive community assets. To date, more than 150 renewable energy installations have been installed on contaminated lands, landfills and mine sites across the U.S., providing clean energy to power cleanups, on-site operations and community electricity needs. The Agency’s RE-Powering Initiative has supported and continues to advance this trend. Because of these projects, communities across the country have saved millions of dollars in energy costs, created construction jobs, and received new property tax revenue as a result of reusing these sites for renewable energy.

The electronic decision tree is a downloadable computer application that walks users through a series of questions supplemented by tips and links to relevant tools and information sources. The user is guided through various considerations associated with the site, redevelopment process, and criteria specific to landfills and contaminated properties. In addition, it helps users explore how the regulatory context, financial incentives and future electricity usage affect projects. You would think that the amount of sun and the site conditions would mainly determine feasibility; however, these other factors tend to dominate.

This new tool helps communities and other stakeholders explore their sites, engage developers and drive their vision of productive reuse. The tools inform and empower communities to plan and align their desires for economic development within a sustainable land management strategy.

RE-Powering encourages renewable energy on contaminated lands in a variety of ways by:

  • Identifying and screening contaminated properties
  • Disseminating success stories and best practices
  • Clarifying liability
  • Articulating associated environmental, economic and community benefits
  • Disseminating financing strategies and information on incentives
  • Highlighting favorable policies; and
  • Developing partnerships and pursuing outreach

Most of all, RE-Powering brings two important ideas together: the interest in cleaning up contaminated land and in siting renewable energy. And, all this in the context of what’s appropriate for the site and what is desired by the community.

Check out the new RE-Powering website and all its resources, its updated mapper and, of course, the new electronic decision tree tool.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Eclipse-Mania!

The October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse.

The October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse.

By Jim Haklar

I love eclipses. I mean, I really love eclipses! I love eclipses so much that two years ago, I flew to Albuquerque for the weekend to see a solar eclipse. But more about that later…

An eclipse happens when the Earth, Moon and Sun all line up. Technically, this is called syzygy (try to form that word in a game of Scrabble). A lunar eclipse happens when the earth is between the Moon and the Sun. When the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth you get a solar eclipse. Lunar eclipses happen when the Moon is full and solar eclipses occur when the Moon is new. So, why don’t we have an eclipse twice a month? Well, the Moon’s orbit is tilted by a little over five degrees. So most of the time there isn’t perfect alignment and you don’t have syzygy.

From any given location on the Earth, lunar eclipses are more frequently seen than solar eclipses. That’s because the Earth casts a bigger shadow on the Moon than the Moon does on the Earth. The shadows consist of two parts. There is a smaller, darker umbra surrounded by the lighter penumbra. If you are in a location where the Moon’s umbra passes through, you will see a total solar eclipse. Otherwise the solar eclipse will be partial (since you will be in the penumbra). For lunar eclipses, the situation is a little different. The Moon can completely or partially pass through the Earth’s umbra (resulting in a total or partial lunar eclipse) or just pass though the penumbra (called a penumbral eclipse).

Now for my Albuquerque story. Two years ago the Moon’s umbra passed directly in front of the Sun and this was visible in many cities including Albuquerque (I went to Albuquerque because of the clear weather). But since the Moon was at a point in its orbit when it was farther away from the Earth, it didn’t completely block out the Sun. Instead, an annulus or ring of light from the Sun’s disk encircled the Moon. This is called an annular solar eclipse.

On August 21, 2017 there will be the first a total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States in over 30 years. Information on the best places to see the eclipse is already on the Web, so start think about taking an eclipse vacation!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at the EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his 28 years with the agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Phoenix Rises: From Contaminated Land to Clean Energy

 By Tim Rehder

I’m always hoping to see an F-16 fly over when I drive by Buckley Air Force Base. No such luck today, but as we reach the top of the rise, we’re met by an even better sight: the brand-new 500 kilowatt Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array. I’m here for the ribbon cutting.

Most people know that a big part of EPA’s mission is to clean up contaminated lands. What’s less well known is that EPA also works hard to get contaminated sites back into productive use. An innovative approach to this in Colorado has been the development of community solar gardens on compromised lands. 

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

 I’ve been pitching this idea for some time. The rationale is pretty simple: installing solar cells in developed areas lessens the need to construct projects on pristine lands. These projects typically generate energy close to where it will be used, reducing the need for new transmission lines. And, of course, solar energy generates electricity without the harmful air emissions associated with traditional power generation.

Community-owned solar energy is a big idea whose time has come. Colorado passed legislation in 2010 requiring that utilities establish community-owned solar projects by offering incentives. Customers purchase or lease panels and the electricity produced is credited to the customer as if the panels were on their roof. 

 Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO


Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO

The Aurora solar array is the second community solar project where EPA Region 8 has provided technical assistance this year. The property is located atop contaminated ground water that has migrated from the Air Force base. EPA’s RePowering America’s Lands program funded a study to evaluate placing a solar project at the location. That study caught the attention of Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado company that has pioneered the concept of community-owned solar energy. Earlier in the year, EPA helped them locate a 500 kW project adjacent to the Marshall Landfill Superfund site near Boulder, Colorado, which is another site where contaminated ground water is a concern.

Projects like the ones in Aurora and Boulder County will allow more people than ever to generate electricity, leading them to pay more attention to the energy they’re using and strive to conserve it. Furthermore, these projects are demonstrating that contaminated lands can have a second life, one with a big environmental upside.
As we leave the ribbon cutting, the construction manager tells me that an F-16 flew a couple hundred feet above the site 45 minutes before I arrived – big sigh – but I won’t complain. It’s been a great day.

About the author: Tim Rehder is a senior environmental scientist in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver.  He works in the Brownfields program promoting renewable energy projects and green building on contaminated and formerly contaminated lands.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Power to the People

Over the last few weeks, I have toured sites that hold an exciting potential for the next chapter in America’s energy future. Most people don’t look at landfills, contaminated industrial sites, or parking lots with a twinkle in their eyes, but I do. I hope you will too.

Solar Panels

Solar PV array at Brockton Brightfields installation in MA

As a solar person, I am always on the look-out for prime sites for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. In addition to solar resources, I look for a few simple things: clear southern exposures, flat or gentle grades, and close proximity to power lines. In general, I am looking for space, whether it is an open rooftop or an abandoned rail yard.

With over 13,000 sites and nearly 22 million acres of EPA-tracked potentially contaminated and underutilized properties nationwide, I see an untapped potential for large-scale deployment of renewable energy. That acreage receives a whole lot of sunshine and, in some cases, gets its fair share of wind. For communities interested in renewables, these sites offer a unique value proposition.

In many cases, these properties have blighted the community for years. From the perspective of a renewable energy developer, these sites are attractive due to their proximity to existing distribution or transmission lines, favorable zoning, and potentially lower land costs.  With this redevelopment approach, I see the potential to turn these liabilities into community assets by remediating the site and deploying pollution-free energy facilities.

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and remediation experts here at EPA, the RE-Powering team converted our collective knowledge into new tools to guide state and local governments, site owners, clean-up project managers, and other stakeholders through a process for screening potentially contaminated sites and landfills for their suitability for future redevelopment with PV or wind energy.

This knowledge is now bundled in a simple decision-tree format to enable communities to screen sites without needing renewable energy expertise. We built the screening tools to provide quick feedback on whether or not a site could be viable based on technical or economic criteria. The tools provide a thorough check than my quick check during a site walk. Throughout the process, we provide context for each of the criteria and point to additional tools and references to work through the evaluation process. Our goal is to empower communities to bring their vision of a solar array or wind farm one step closer.

While site walks at brownfields and landfills don’t always offer inspiring views, they are the next step in an inspired approach to expanding our American-made, renewable energy generation. Screen your sites. Take a walk. RE-Power America’s Land.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS Science & Technology fellow hosted in the Center for Program Analysis in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Prior to her fellowship, Katie worked in the solar industry in product development and at NREL on device design and government-industry partnerships.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Keystone State’s Sustainable Sports

Click here to visit the Eagles Green website! By Trey Cody

Soon the Eagles won’t be the only thing green in the City of Brotherly Love. The Lincoln Financial Field, or “Linc,” which is home to the popular football team the Philadelphia Eagles, plans to go green as well. This massive stadium is making a pledge to become “the most sustainable major sports stadium in the world.” Yes that’s right, not only in the Mid-Atlantic States or the United States, but the world.  How are they doing this?  Their plans include adding to an already established composting program, which captures more than 25 tons of organic waste and a water conservation program that replaced more than 600 toilets. The Eagles organization will also install wind turbines and solar panels, converting the stadium to renewable energy.  In other Philadelphia sports, the Phillies are trying to become as green as their mascot (the Philly Phanatic) with their Red Goes Green campaign launched in 2008 to reduce their environmental footprint.

On the other side of the state, Pittsburgh sports teams have been working hard to give the Eagles some competition and become a black, gold AND green city. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ brand new hockey arena, the CONSOL Energy Center, became the first LEED Gold Certified arena in the National Hockey League when it opened this year. Some of the arena’s environmentally friendly features include green space around the arena, locally bought and recycled construction materials, purchased electricity from renewable resources, water use reduction, indoor air quality, and natural light.  Now that the arena is up and running, the greening continues with the use of green cleaning materials, biodegradable utensils, and the donation of prepared but unsold concession food to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.  The Penguins also partnered with the Steelers to increase recycling from tailgating outside Heinz Field.  For the last three football games of the regular season, teams of volunteers circulated in parking lots prior to the game and collected 90,000 aluminum cans, 5,000 glass bottles, 36,000 plastic bottles and cups, and 900 pounds of cardboard to be recycled.  An estimated 4,000-5,000 additional pounds of materials were estimated to have been collected for recycling in the parking lot before the Winter Classic hockey game on New Year’s Day at the stadium.

As you can see in our previous blog about the Washington Nationals’ ballpark, “The field isn’t the only thing green at the Nationals’ Stadium,” major sports teams outside of Pennsylvania have also joined the cause, and our own Mid-Atlantic region has been helping lead the way.  Let’s hope that this growing trend of sustainability in sports continues!

Want to make your home more sustainable like the Linc and CEC?  Need somewhere to start?  Try replacing your toilets; you could save up to 11 gallons per toilet everyday!  To learn more, check out EPA’s WaterSense site. Comment below on some ways you are saving water!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Building Green in Philadelphia

Video: Building Green in Philadelphia

Check out this 11-minute video highlighting innovative efforts by green builders in the City of Philadelphia who are helping to protect and restore environmental quality and beautify the city.

By installing cisterns, green roofs, porous pavers, solar panels, and Energy Star appliances, the builders are capturing rainwater, reducing stormwater runoff, and saving energy.

In the video, “Building Green: A Success Story in Philadelphia,” Howard Neukrug, director of Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds, explains the importance of green stormwater infrastructure. The city is now offering incentives to builders and developers to use green techniques to help meet clean water and other environmental goals.

One of the main objectives is to slow down, spread out and soak in rainwater before it has a chance to surge into the sewer system and harm local waterways.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Moscone Center – A Bright Green Award-Winning Convention Center

I’ve been to a lot of “environmental” conferences over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of not-so-environmental practices. Some convention centers even throw away the floor coverings they use after every trade show. SMG’s giant Moscone Center, in San Francisco, is just one block away from my office, and this bright green convention center was recognized at EPA’s recent Pacific Southwest Environmental Awards Ceremony.

Image of solar panels on the Moscone Center The two million square foot Moscone Center has one of the nation’s largest municipally-owned solar installations. Their 60,000 sq. ft. solar system generates enough energy to power nearly 400 homes and displaces more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually! They also did a major lighting retrofit. You can follow their lead by looking for ENERGY STAR lighting fixtures at home and at work.

SMG pioneered a recycling program at the Moscone Center ten years ago and recently added food composting. They now transform kitchen-based food scraps and corn-based serveware and utensils from large catered functions into compost to grow new food. The catering truck is even fueled with biodiesel. SMG also reduces waste by working with vendors to take back bread trays and pastry boxes.
The facility started using Green Seal certified cleaning products in 2008 and buys environmental products like post-consumer recycled paper, janitorial supplies and garbage bags.

SMG really focuses on improving indoor air quality. The Moscone Center takes the following step to achieve this:

  • Has a full-time air quality technician who regularly monitors and tests conditions ;
  • Requires forklifts to use a propane additive to reduce carbon monoxide emissions ;
  • Reduces diesel emissions by requiring trucks operated by service contractors to use filters;
  • Minimizes idling by drivers, and
  • Strictly enforces the no smoking ordinance.

They’re also improving air quality outside. The Moscone Center is close to nearly 20,000 hotel rooms, making it easy to avoid driving. SMG also promotes the use of public transit in telephone recordings and on the website, as well as encouraging employee participation in the Commuter Check program. The center’s van runs on compressed natural gas and bike racks are installed in front of the facility.

The list of green features at Moscone Center goes on and on, but you get the idea — Moscone Center is truly a model green convention center!

Please share your green conference and convention center information with us.

To learn more about other U.S. EPA Pacific Southwest Environmental Award winners, visit http://www.epa.gov/region09/awards.

About the author: Timonie Hood has worked on EPA Region 9’s Resource Conservation Team for 10 years and is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.
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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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