Unseen Energy Savings

Pumping insulation into a newly constructed home.
 As fall arrives we notice the house gets colder and is not as comfortable without a sweater. One can chalk this up to the change in seasons, but more likely it could be that there are small places where the warm air escapes. 

Drafty homes are caused by a number of factors one may not see or even think about. Wall and attic insulation are among those unseen items that can increase or decrease energy savings. The California Energy Commission is the state agency that encourages builders and developers to incorporate energy efficiency into designs. 

The Energy Commission sets the state building codes for energy efficiency in residential and nonresidential buildings. Currently the Energy Commission is evaluating proposals for the 2016 Building Energy Standards (Title 24). These proposals include having high performance attic and walls – basically increasing insulation to keep the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. 

Adding insulation to the roofline
can help regulate home temperatures.
Some builders are already embracing these practices to keep eventual homeowners more comfortable year round. For example, Shea Homes and KB Home have partnered with Owens Corning to create an attic insulation system installed at the roofline of the building.

Summer attic temperatures can be up to 40 degrees higher than the outside air; adding additional insulation at the roofline can lower that temperature and result in significant energy savings. According to Shea Homes, the benefits of a reduced temperature in an attic means better performance and efficiency in a cooling system resulting in a possible reduction of one’s energy bill by 25 percent.

This improvement and others the Energy Commission are considering could mean lower energy bills and greater comfort while protecting our environment!
The Energy Commission will have a 2016 Standards draft language workshop November 3 and release draft language in early 2015.

California Solar Increased 350 Percent in 2013

UPDATE: See a short interview with Commissioner David Hochschild  about California's effort to reach the 33 percent by 2020 goal for renewable energy generation.

Solar energy systems are on rooftops throughout California and figuratively blasting through the roof, according to new data compiled by the California Energy Commission. The latest Tracking Progress report for renewable energy shows that solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity increased by 350 percent last year. This growth trend is expected to continue. Solar thermal and PV systems capable of producing 825 megawatts (MW) of electricity have been installed so far this year and an additional 1,650 MW of capacity is being built.

 This chart shows solar PV generation is skyrocketing. Solar thermal generation is down slightly.

As you can see from the second chart, solar is a small but growing part of the renewable energy mix in California. The cost of solar PV panels has dropped 80 percent since 2008, which has helped make large-scale PV plants more feasible. At the same time, incentives from state programs such as the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) are helping drive adoption of residential solar. The goal of the NSHP program is to install 360 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity by the end of 2016 and the Energy Commission has distributed more than $100 million with another $80 million reserved for pending NSHP projects.

The Tracking Progress report covers all types of renewable energy in California: solar, wind, biomass, small hydroelectric and geothermal. The report also shows that wind production continues its significant growth. Wind accounted for 45 percent of renewable generation in 2013, up from 41 percent in 2012. We have seen large-scale solar development in our state for many years, but 2013 data make clear that the dramatic transition to large-scale solar is now changing California’s energy portfolio.

The report estimates that in 2013, California served about 22 percent of retail electricity sales from renewable energy. That exceeds the required level of renewable energy in the state’s aggressive Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS). For 2011 through 2013, the RPS requires all electricity retail sellers to procure an average of 20 percent of retail electricity sales from renewable sources. The target gets higher as we move forward. Renewable energy sources should provide 25 percent of our energy by the end of 2016 and 33 percent by the end of 2020, targets that we are on track to meet.

California’s growth in solar energy tracks with national growth, which was up 418 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s April 2014 Electricity Monthly Update.

World’s First Ever Water-Free Laundry

UPDATE: Read the Energy Commission's full report on this R&D project.

In the midst of a drought, wouldn't a water-free laundry be nice?

CO2Nexus water-free laundry machine.
Well, it’s here. With a grant from the Energy Commission, CO2Nexus is wrapping up an experimental project to bring a water-free laundry machine to market. Aramark, a respected Fortune 500 company, is demonstrating the technology in Los Angeles and piloting a process that doesn't use a drop of water and can cut operational costs by 50 percent.

The process uses carbon dioxide as a textile cleaner. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring and abundant gas that has excellent cleaning properties when converted to a liquid. When the carbon dioxide is returned to a gas, the fabric is clean and dry with minimal recyclable waste. Traditional dry cleaning is a similar process, but uses a petroleum or synthetic solvent and produces some emissions.

Results at the Aramark laundry, where the carbon dioxide process was used for “clean room” garments, found the process is gentler on fabric than a traditional wash-dry cycle, extending the life of clothing resulting in less shrinkage and wear.

While the process is designed for specialty garments, at one laundry, it is estimated the annual water savings would be 60 million gallons. That’s equal to the amount of water 850 homes would use in a year.

The process also uses less energy, cutting utility costs by nearly half.

Laundry cleaned with the water-free system.
The Energy Commission funds research and development projects that reduce emissions and save money. Visit our Research & Development page to learn more about the innovative projects we fund as part of our mission to conserve resources and transform the way we use energy.

Port Transportation Goes Green

Seven years ago the Energy Commission's Tim Olson met entrepreneur Mike Simon to talk about clean transportation fuel ideas for the ports of LA and Long Beach. Shortly afterwards, the Legislature established the Commission's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program and Simon's ElecTruck™ electric drive technology R&D was funded. 

Photos by TransPower

Last week -- to the applause of global innovators at Port Tech Expo -- Simon's TransPower USA launched 4 demo electric Class 8 trucks and tractors. Over the next two years, these vehicles will accumulate hundreds of thousands of miles of real-world testing, paving the way for commercial-scale manufacturing of trucks that can dramatically curb greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality in one of the nation's most challenged regions.

Why Buy an Electric Car?

As a part of National Drive Electric Week, the Energy Commission’s plug-in electric vehicle expert Leslie Baroody offers a tour of her Nissan Leaf and hits the highlights of what it’s like to drive one in this video.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

This week is National Drive Electric Week , a chance for the curious to get into the driver’s seat and test drive a plug-in electric vehicle. Organized by Plug In America, the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association, there are events this week throughout California aimed to encourage more consumers into electric vehicles.

Because the transportation sector accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and a significant amount of the emissions that form harmful smog pollution around the state, making the transition to cleaner zero-emissions vehicles is critical. Through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, authorized by Assembly Bill 8 (Perea/Skinner 2013), the California Energy Commission is working diligently to help speed this transition to a cleaner transportation fleet.

In fact, the Energy Commission has awarded more than $38 million in grants for over 8,600 electric chargers in California. This includes 3900 commercially accessible chargers, 3,800 residential chargers, 756 workplace chargers, and 107 DC Fast Chargers. The Energy Commission is also helping spur innovation in the medium and heavy duty vehicle space by investing $75 million for ZEV truck deployment, demonstration and manufacturing.

Just last month a driver purchased the 100,000th plug-in vehicle sold in California, building momentum toward achieving Gov. Brown's goal of having enough infrastructure to support 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2025.

By building a refueling and charging infrastructure that’s convenient for drivers, California is leading the way for more drivers to opt in on a zero-emission vehicle and, by doing so, to help fight climate change.

Energy Efficient Winemaking

California is America’s top wine producing state, making 90 percent of all wine in the country. But did you know, with the help of the California Energy Commission, the wine industry has made significant strides in energy efficiency?

Part of winemaking involves removing tartrates, tiny crystals that form when tartaric acid and potassium bind together and create sediment in a wine bottle. To remove tartrates, producers have traditionally used an energy-intensive process called cold stabilization.

The Selective Tartrate Remove System (STAR)
Electrodialysis, however, can also remove the crystals and it uses a lot less energy. Winesecrets, a Sebastopol company, recognized this process and imported it from Europe. Winesecrets secured a $300,000 grant from the Energy Commission to demonstrate the process and document the costs and benefits. The process is called Selective Tartrate Removal System (STARS). Winesecrets showed winemakers STARS would more than pay for itself by saving wineries energy, water, and other business expenses, all while preserving wine quality.

In the decade since the Energy Commission funded the demonstration, many large wineries use the service, including 60 wineries in California. It’s estimated that more than 5 million gallons of wine is processed annually using STARS in California, saving electricity, natural gas and water.

Winesecrets co-founder Domingo Rodriguez said Energy Commission (CEC) funding was critical to success: “We came out of nothing with support from CEC and have rolled out in a major development with utility companies across North America.” CEC money was needed, Rodriguez said because, “private funds were not enough to fund prolonged start-up of business to sell electrodialysis. Without the matching grant we would not have been able to establish the business.”

To learn more about Energy Commission’s role in bringing energy efficiency to life, visit our research and development page.

Mexico's Energy Market Reforms Present Golden Opportunity for California

By Robert B. Weisenmiller and Michael Rossi

                   Robert B. Weisenmiller                              Michael Rossi

Coming on the heels of a successful trade mission to Mexico during which Governor Jerry Brown signed cooperative memorandums of understanding on trade and investment, clean energy, and climate change with top Mexican officials, Mexico has taken an important step toward reforming its energy sector to make it more open to foreign investment and market-driven innovation.

On August 11, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed legislation that will facilitate private investment and new development in its electricity and oil-and-gas sectors. For example, its electric utility (Comisión Federal de Electricidad or CFE) that has owned and operated the entire electricity market-from generation to transmission and distribution to grid management-will start operating more like California's electric utilities. These energy reforms significantly alter the structure of Mexico's energy industry and it comes as no surprise that Mexico has adopted these reforms.

California's innovative policies send a clear signal, provide incentives and generate market demand. That is a proven economic advantage of California being a climate and energy leader. We set a goal to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 and are using energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon pricing programs to meet that goal. We set a goal of having 33 percent of our energy come from renewable sources by 2020.

Furthermore, clean energy companies within our borders that are transforming our energy industry are in an ideal position to help Mexico implement its energy sector reforms as Mexico simultaneously seeks to meet its national targets to reduce emissions to half of 2000 levels by the year 2050 and generate a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2024. By doing so, California and U.S. energy companies will create more jobs and tax revenue on both sides of the border and build an even stronger economic partnership.

Last week, Governor Brown welcomed President Nieto to California to expand collaboration between California and Mexico on climate change, energy and trade. Over the coming months, officials in California and Mexico will initiate efforts to take action on the areas of cooperation identified in the MOUs and explore ways to further expand trade and investment, including in the energy sector.

As Governor Brown recently pointed out, California's and Mexico's "roots go back even deeper than the Pilgrim fathers." This joint history and geography have facilitated economic and environmental collaboration for more than a century. Mexico is now California's largest export market, and two-way trade in goods between Mexico and California totaled over $60.1 billion in 2013 - one of the largest two-way trade relationships between Mexico and a U.S. State. The energy reforms in Mexico allow for this collaboration to continue and result in greater economic growth and the achievement of climate and clean energy goals on both sides of the border.

Robert B. Weisenmiller is the chair of the California Energy Commission. Michael Rossi is a senior advisor to Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.