March 30 News: California raises 2020 renewable power standard to 33%; Cooling buildings with heat, not electricity

California Raises Renewable Energy Requirements

California lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that would require a third of the state’s power to come from renewable energy sources by 2020, setting a new bar for the rest of the country.

The U.S.’s largest energy consumer is increasing its renewable portfolio standards and continues to pursue a cap-and-trade program that would put a price on carbon after similar initiatives to do so in Congress have flatlined.

California is typically seen as a trendsetter when it comes to setting environmental regulations aimed at slashing harmful emissions. The new law would make it the most aggressive adopter of renewable energy in terms of the amount of newgeneration that will be needed, which will draw investment dollars and create jobs through wind, solar, geothermal and other alternative projects.


The legislation “sends a signal to renewable energy providers that California wants them here,” State State Sen. Joe Simitian, who authored the bill, said in a statement. “They will respond, as they have in the past, with billions of dollars in investments that will provide jobs and tax revenues.”

Using Heat to Cool Buildings

Novel materials could make practical air conditioners and refrigerators that use little or no electricity.

It could soon be more practical to cool buildings using solar water heaters and waste heat from generators. That’s because of new porous materials developed by researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. These materials can improve a process called adsorption chilling, which can be used for refrigeration and air conditioning.

Adsorption chillers are too big and expensive for many applications, such as use in homes. Peter McGrail, who heads the research effort, predicts that the materials could allow adsorption chillers to be 75 percent smaller and half as expensive. This would make them competitive with conventional, compressor-driven chillers.

All refrigerators and air conditioners cool by evaporating a refrigerant, a process that absorbs heat. They differ in how that refrigerant is condensed so that it can be reused for cooling. Unlike the technology inside most air conditioners, which employs electrically driven compressors to mechanically compress the vaporized refrigerant, adsorption chillers use heat to condense the refrigerant. Adsorption chillers are typically far less efficient than chillers that use electrical compressors, and are bulky and expensive. But they have the advantage of being cheap to operate, since they require very little electricity. “If you have waste heat, you can run it for free,” McGrail says.

So far these chillers have been limited to applications where there is a lot of waste heat””such as industrial facilities and power plants””or where electricity isn’t always available. Cutting their size and cost could make them attractive in more applications, including in homes, where they could be run using hot water from solar heaters, McGrail says.

Unused Oil Leases in Gulf May Meet Two Years of U.S. Demand

Undeveloped oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico may hold 11.6 billion barrels of crude, enough to meet U.S. demand for almost two years.

Companies are producing from less than 20 percent of 34 million acres leased in the Gulf, according to data released today by the Interior Department. Less than half of leases on federal lands are active, the report found.

The Obama administration said it sought the inventory of leases as a way to press companies into speeding development of energy resources. The oil industry and Republican lawmakers in Congress are seeking to open the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for additional exploration, to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

“They should either use the leases they have, and score on it, or give them up,” Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said today in an interview. “ I hope this will give us a new impetus.”

Republican measures seek to expand offshore drilling

House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a suite of bills that aim to expand offshore drilling by forcing the Obama administration to vet proposed exploration quickly and sell more oil and gas leases along the East Coast.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., led the move, which seizes on worries that spiking oil prices could constrain the U.S. economic recovery and taps into drilling advocates’ frustration with the pace of the government’s approval of offshore projects in the wake of last year’s deadly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The majority of Americans support offshore energy production, and these bills will allow it to move forward in a safe, responsible and efficient manner,” Hastings said. “With thousands un- employed in the Gulf region and gasoline prices nearing $4 per gallon, swift action must be taken.”

As head of the House Natural Resources Committee, Hastings is positioned to leverage the legislation through that panel and onto the House floor, where the bills could swiftly get a debate and vote. The measures would face an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

It’s not easy being green anymore

Big votes are coming on the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, and green groups are being forced to play defense in a world where D.C. pols aren’t scared of them.

Environmentalists are being pummeled by Republican- and Democratic-minded competitors in advertisements and lawmaker donations, and they are finding it difficult to convince members that voting against their issues could hurt them at the ballot box.

What’s worse, the greens’ political punch has grown weaker as their issues stay in the headlines, from California’s rolling blackouts a decade ago to last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill to more warnings about global warming. None of those have translated into political victories they can claim credit for.

“I don’t understand how these guys, the funders, don’t ask for their money back or start suing for political incompetence,” a longtime Democratic strategist said of the Washington-based environmental movement. “You’re judged by how many campaigns you win, lose or come damn close. They haven’t gotten anywhere with that.”

Obama doesn’t want to be the pain-at-the-pump president

In what a senior aide has promised will be a “concerted” transition to a new energy initiative, President Obama Wednesday will declare that he wants to reduce America’s oil imports by a third in ten years.

The political context is obvious: The president has long sought to inoculate himself from criticism over rising gas prices. Last year Obama announced that he would allow oil and natural gas exploration in untouched areas of the outer continental shelf. Then the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama reversed his decision, closing off some areas he had been poised to open. And his Interior Department has since moved cautiously in permitting new drilling in the gulf. So now that gas prices are up, Republicans are mercilessly attacking the president. No doubt exactly what the White House thought it would avoid as it developed its original offshore drilling plan.

And the policy? High gas prices, of course, aren’t Obama’s fault “” as if a few drilling leases would make a noticeable difference in the massive world oil market. But a focus on oil imports can lead to funny energy policy. Reducing carbon emissions “” which directly addresses climate change, the great environmental threat of our time, and should also discourage oil consumption “” is a lot more important than simply reducing foreign oil dependence “” which has led policymakers to do things such as over-subsidizing corn ethanol, with dubious environmental benefits.