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Thursday, February 09, 2012

WattHead is on hiatus

Dear readers,

WattHead is currently on hiatus.

These days, you can find Jesse Jenkins' writing at several sites:

You can also keep up with Jesse on Twitter @JesseJenkins and on Google+ here.

For now, peruse the archives below, home to over 1200 posts from seven+ years of energy news and commentary from the WattHead team.

Stay tuned in Fall 2012 for a revamped and relaunched WattHead - Energy News and Commentary...

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An earthquake, in Virginia??

This is a guest post by Rebecca Anderson, ACE Sierra's Educator and Team Scientist

This is weird. Today at 1:51 pm Eastern time a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck northwest of Richmond, VA. It was felt as far north as New York City.

Being a native East-coaster myself, I can tell you that we don’t get earthquakes in that part of the country. This means people, buildings and bridges are pretty unprepared for an event like this. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any reports of fatalities or serious injuries yet and hopefully that continues.

But this earthquake has got me thinking. Earthquakes have nothing to do with climate change. We know this. Some quakes can strike out of the blue, like this one, in such a random place that there’s no way you could have predicted it. But other places, like along the San Andreas fault in California, you know that living there goes along with the risk of earthquakes. Scientists put a lot of work into calculating those risks and buildings and bridges are built accordingly.

In this way, earthquakes give us a good analogy for dealing with climate change. The risks are understood and the precautions to minimize the risks are also known. You never know on a given day, even in California, if an earthquake is going to strike or not. Likewise, you never know when a big storm, flood or wildfire will hit. But, much like living along the San Andreas fault, with climate change we know that the chances of these events happening – flooding of the Mississippi, drought in Texas, wildfires in the southwest, this summer’s heat wave – are going up. As the venerable Stephen Schneider said, “We are loading the dice.”

Here’s where we get to the difference. Earthquakes are caused by nothing less than seismic ruptures deep inside the Earth, set off by the forces of plate tectonics. There’s not a lot we can do about that. Climate change, on the other hand, we know we can do something about. The cause of this problem is us and that means the solution can be, is and will be u

One of the best parts of my job with ACE is that I know this. I see it every week at high schools in Sacramento, Reno and in between. Those were my kids who started the Eco Warriors Action Team at Reed High in Sparks, NV. Inspired by ACE, they won $12,000 to green their school’s bathrooms. That was my girl, Laura Dang from West Campus High in Sacramento, showing off not just her DOT (Do One Thing to help the environment), but her 15 DOTs in ACE’s DOT Detectives contest this summer.

One of the coolest things I read about the earthquake is that people were getting tweets about it happening in DC just seconds before they actually felt the quake itself. That means with technology, we are faster even that those speedy P waves. Imagine what we’re capable of!

We know it: Climate change is not an earthquake. It’s our mess, we made it and we gotta solve it. Thousands of young people across the country are heading back to school, rejoining their ACE Action Teams and getting to work.

Step 1: Solve climate change.

Step 2: Stop plate tectonics.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

National Journal: Surviving the Coming Clean Tech Crash

Over at the National Journal's Energy forum, my Breakthrough Institute colleague Alex Trembath and I have a new submission to their ongoing discussion asking "How Can Washington Green America's Economy?" Here's the full text...

Before discussing the best way to green the economy, it’s important to note that the U.S. economy has been greening steadily over the past three years. Buoyed by the policies established and extended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the largest federal investment in clean tech in American history, the clean energy industry has experienced precipitous growth, as documented by Mark Muro and colleagues at the Brookings Metro program in their recent "Sizing the Clean Economy" report.

Unfortunately, the path of progress may be coming to an end. Our research shows that over 70% of the federal policies and funding support for clean energy that has catalyzed the recent growth of the industry is expected to lapse in the next three years, or has already expired. And make no mistake—clean energy is an industry dependent on government subsidy: tax credits, depreciation and other subsidies compose one third or more of the total after-tax value of most solar, wind or other renewable energy projects, for example. So while ARRA provided a “down payment” on a green economy, as these public investments fade away, we are now more likely to witness a clean tech crash than a clean tech revolution.

As the current programs supporting clean energy, like the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Section 1603 Treasury Grants, approach their expiration, there are a number of steps the federal government can and must take to avert an impending industry crash.

The first would be to get serious about the long-term energy innovation challenge. Until clean energy becomes cheap and cost competitive without subsidy, the pace of clean energy growth will remain constrained and the markets will face continual risk of industry busts if subsidy and policy support changes. We must treat energy innovation with the same priority we afford other national innovation quests, such as the Apollo or Manhattan Projects or the quest to cure cancer. We must invest far more -- eventually on the order of $15 billion annually -- and far more wisely -- restructuring America's energy innovation system and supporting effective new policy models such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), and new public-private regional innovation consortia.

Second, Congress can establish a Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA). CEDA would act as a public investment bank whose mission is to help leverage private-sector investment to bring emerging, innovative clean technologies to commercial maturity. CEDA would bridge the commercialization “Valley of Death” and provide a viable and predictable development path for technologies from the laboratory to grid-scale deployment. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the agency would cost just $1.1 billion over the next four years. While leveraging billions more in private sector investment, the public bank would return profits from investments and financial products to the fund, making CEDA self-sustaining over time.

Another needed policy change is to reform the current clean energy deployment subsidy regime for maturing energy technologies, which today is comprised of a hodgepodge of tax credits like the PTC and the Investment Tax Credit, depreciation benefits and grants that primarily incentivize firms to deploy more of the same, current-generation technology. Instead, we need a smarter new deployment mechanism that is disciplined and designed to drive technology innovation to decrease the unsubsidized cost of clean energy so that it can be competitive without perpetual subsidy. Such a policy could augment a national renewable or clean energy standard (RES/CES) with a set of technology tiers based on technology maturity, which would provide the incentive for utilities to adopt and deploy clean energy technologies across a range of maturities, and demand continual cost reductions from technology firms over time. One way to augment this smart deployment policy would be with a small price on carbon, wires fee on electricity, or oil import fee, which instead of returning a dividend to consumers would generate dedicated revenues for a federal energy R&D fund to help support the continual innovation needed to get clean tech costs down to parity with fossil competitors.

The fate of many ARRA policies remains uncertain, and the unpredictable political machinations of the “supercongress” and ongoing deficit debate in Washington bring yet more volatility to the clean tech policy debate. Nobody expects a second down payment on the green economy on the scale of the last several years. But as current subsidy support runs out, Washington must support the industry by investing more and differently in clean energy innovation to maintain America’s position in the global clean tech race and avoid an ongoing cycle of clean tech boom-and-bust in the future.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Say No to 'No Nukes' Revival

My colleague Sara Mansur & I have an op ed in today's San Francisco Chronicle, issuing a stern rebuttal to the revival of the "No Nukes" concerts this Sunday at Shoreline in Mountain View, CA.

The world has changed since the original five-night concert series in 1979. An anti-nuclear position may have made good sense then, but is no longer tenable today.

Graham Nash and the MUSE cadre of septuagenerian rockers appear woefully ignorant of the real intergenerational threat faced in the 21st century -- climate change -- and the implications that a 'No Nukes' world would have for public health and the environment.

You can find the print edition in today's Chronicle and an extended edition online here.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

UNIDO: Does energy efficiency lead to increased energy consumption?

In the pages of United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)'s Making It quarterly magazine, I and my colleague and Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow Harry Saunders published an article explaining the impact and implications of the energy demand "rebound effect" spurred on by energy efficiency.

The article builds upon the Breakthrough Institute's "Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena," a comprehensive literature review pointing to the expert consensus and evidence that below-cost energy efficiency measures drive a rebound in energy consumption that can erode much of expected energy savings.

Read the full article: "Hot topic: Does energy efficiency lead to increased energy consumption?," Making It June, 2011

In the article, we argue:

Truly cost-effective energy efficiency measures lower the effective price of the services derived from fuel consumption - heating, cooling, transportation, industrial processes, etc. - leading consumers and industry alike to demand more of these services. There are other indirect and economy-wide effects as well, as consumers re-spend money saved through efficiency on other energy-consuming goods and services, industrial sectors adjust to changes in the relative prices of final and intermediate goods, and greater energy productivity causes the economy as a whole to grow. Collectively, these economic mechanisms drive a rebound in demand for energy services that can erode much - and in some cases all - of the expected reductions in total energy use, along with much-hoped-for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, rebound effects are often most pronounced in the productive sectors of the economy, including industry and agriculture, as well as throughout the world's emerging economies.


Conventional climate mitigation strategies count on energy efficiency to do a great deal of work. For example, the IEA in a global climate stabilization scenario published by the agency in December 2009, estimates that efficiency measures could account for roughly half of the emissions reductions needed. Yet, from a climate or global resource conservation perspective, rebound effects mean that for every two steps forward taken through greater efficiency, rebounds take us one (or more) steps backwards. This is particularly true throughout the developing world, and in the productive sectors of the global economy.

A clear understanding of rebound effects therefore demands a fundamental re-assessment of energy efficiency’s role in global climate mitigation efforts.

A continued failure to accurately and rigorously account for rebound effects risks an over-reliance on the ability of efficiency to deliver lasting reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Without a greater emphasis on the other key climate mitigation lever at our disposal – the de-carbonization of global energy supplies through the deployment and improvement of low-carbon energy sources – the global community will fall dangerously short of climate mitigation goals.

At the same time, however, we can re-affirm the role of energy efficiency efforts in expanding human welfare and fueling global economic development. Unlocking the full potential of efficiency may very well mean the difference between a richer, more efficient world, and a poorer, less efficient world. The former is clearly the desirable case – even if the world uses more or less the same amount of energy in either scenario.

The pursuit of any and all cost-effective efficiency opportunities should thus continue as a key component of an efficient course for global development, even as we reconsider the degree to which these measures can contribute to climate mitigation efforts.
You can also find an introductory FAQ on the rebound effect here.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

5 Reasons I Love the Solar Panel Industry

Its funny how a simple thing like a computer virus can make take a step back appreciate your business. This morning a virus shut down my computer and let me have some time to just think about the business I have. (Anyone else notice how useless you are without a computer these days?)

And in thinking about my business I was able to break down what I love about this industry and why.

1. The People
The people in the solar power industry are different. They get it. Sure there are some jerks and scam artists, but for the most part they people in this business are here because they are passionate about renewable energy and want their work to make a difference. And this translates to how they relate to others and conduct themselves. And the customers that are interested in solar panels usually share the enthusiasm and become infected by it.

2. The Purpose
In my previous business I owned a concrete and excavation company. And my purpose was to make as much money as possible. I wanted to do good work, and provide a living for my employees, but at the end of the day there was very little satisfaction. With solar, I know that even a little system is going to provide clean energy instead of using fossil fuels, and that is very satisfying. Knowing that I can make a good living and help people and the planet? Slam dunk.

3. The Science
I’ll admit it, I’m no genius. How solar power actually works is still a bit of a mystery to me. I know the basics of photons and electrons and yada yada. But how this wonderful science came to be and how we actually turn sunshine into power still amazes me. Making something powerful and wonderful out of something you can’t really see sounds like the stuff of children’s books, and the child in me loves it for that reason.

4. The Technology
I love it that this business changes, if even a little, everyday. All over the world, at any given moment, someone is having a ‘Eureka’ moment in a lab somewhere that will improve how solar power works for us. Whether its more efficient solar panels, racking systems, inverter technology or even financing, millions of people worldwide are working their butts off to make this technology more viable and more affordable.

5. The Future
I’ve never had a business where I could look into the future and say “In 10 years, this industry will be lightyears ahead of where we are now”. Whether its rules requiring solar panels on all buildings (eg in Japan), costs being cut in half, or just widespread acceptance of solar as an alternative to dirty fuels, the future is bright. There will be bumps and misses and setbacks, but the future belongs to solar.

Kriss Bergethon is an entrepreneur and solar writer from Colorado, visit his site at Solar Panels for more information.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Webinar - Fukushima and Nuclear Power: Can we live without it?

Live Webcast June 29, 3 PM ET / 12 PM PT

Following the earthquake and tsunamis that tragically impacted Japan in March, the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has captured public attention for months. Energy experts are now questioning the long term impact of the Fukushima disaster on nuclear policy, international power generation, and the global carbon picture:

  • How has the Fukushima crisis impacted public opinion and policy debates about nuclear energy?
  • What do countries like Japan and Germany stand to gain or lose by giving up nuclear power generation?
  • What is the carbon cost of giving up nuclear plants?
  • How will countries that move away from nuclear make up that power elsewhere?
  • Has the demise of the nuclear industry been exaggerated? While some countries are taking aggressive steps away from nuclear, some accounts suggest that overall, the number of nuclear plants continues to grow.

  • Join The Energy Collective's latest webcast as we seek answers to these questions and discuss nuclear power's role in our energy future. Register here today.

    You'll hear from:

    Matthew Wald is a Reporter for the Washington Bureau at The New York Times, covering environmental and energy issues, as well as transportation, aviation and highway safety. Having joined The Times in October 1976 as a news clerk in the newspaper’s Washington bureau, Wald held positions at the New York metropolitan desk, the State Capitol in Hartford, and as a national correspondent, covering a variety of areas including housing and nuclear power, before joining the Washington bureau in September 1996. Wald has covered the Fukushima crisis extensively in the New York Times.

    Edward Kee is a VP at NERA Economic Consulting and a specialist in the electricity industry with experience in nuclear power, electricity markets, restructuring, regulation, private power, and related issues. For more than 20 years, he has provided testimony as an expert witness on a range of electricity industry issues in state and federal courts, before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and before other legal and regulatory bodies in the US and around the world. Mr. Kee also provides strategic advice to companies and governments on issues related to the nuclear and electricity industries. Mr. Kee holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BS in Systems Engineering from the US Naval Academy.

    Jesse Jenkins is Director of Energy and Climate Policy at theBreakthrough Institute, and is one of the country's leading energy and climate policy analysts and advocates. He is the co-author with Devon Swezey of the "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant" report on global clean energy competitiveness strategies, and is currently working on an update to the report. Jesse has written for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Yale Environment 360,, and, and his published works on energy policy have been cited by many more. He is founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary and a featured writer at the Energy Collective.

    Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer, and a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

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    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    ACE students offer White House fresh ideas to spur energy efficiency

    Shreya Indukuri and Daniela Lapidous, ACE Youth Advisory Board members and juniors at the Harker School in San Jose, CA, paid a visit to the White House yesterday, but they didn't just go for a tour. Through working with ACE, this energy-smart duo is scaling up their efforts to spur efficient energy use in America’s high schools – and sharing their ideas with America’s leaders.

    Yesterday, in front of an invite-only audience of CEOs, White House advisors, and utility industry leaders, Shreya and Daniela shared the story of how they reduced their school’s energy use by 13 percent and founded their own non-profit, SmartPowerEd.

    They shared a stage with U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu; Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack; Director of the Office of Science and Technology, John Holdren; and Chairperson of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley.

    In their talk, they let our leaders know that young people care about the future and energy use, and that they are ready to get involved with solutions. They closed with two questions for Secretary Chu and others: how are you going to harness the potential of young people? How are you going to prioritize energy education and inspire young people to act?

    You can see a video of their talk with White House officials here. More to come from ACE's Emily Adler, who accompanied Shreya and Daniela to the event. What a day!

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