Breakthrough nano-technology solar cell achieves 18.2% efficiency, eliminates need for anti-reflection layer
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have produced solar cells using nanotechnology techniques at an efficiency – 18.2%—that is competitive. The breakthrough should be a major step toward helping lower the cost of solar energy.

Read more:
Energy Efficiency Policy at the Federal, State, and Local Levels: Transportation (Fuel Efficiency Standards, Labeling and Consumer Education, Incentives, Technical Assistance, Urban Planning and Behavior Change); Industry (Incentives, Technical Assistance, R&D)

This is the second post summarizing a late 2009 paper by the National Renewable Energy Lab titled “Energy Efficiency Policy in the United States: Overview of Trends at Different Levels of Government” that details various federal, state, and local policies for promoting energy efficiency across a variety of sectors. Part one on buildings is here. Part three on power is here.

3. Transportation

These policies focus primarily on developing and deploying new technology to increase fuel efficiency and incentivize changes in transportation patterns, shipping strategies, and consumer behavior. Transportation accounts for 28% of primary U.S. energy consumption.

3.1 Fuel Efficiency Standards

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the federal government’s main tool for increasing the national fleet’s fuel efficiency (FE), were instituted in 1975 in response to the Arab oil embargo. Two weeks ago, the Obama Administration reaffirmed its goal of ratcheting up CAFE standards over the long term: 

External image

While efficiency and fuel use requirements are in place for the federal fleet, DOE determined in 2008 that mandating private and local fleet compliance was not necessary to achieve the Replacement Fuel Goal by 2030.

States can also be key players in the FE conversation, as evidenced by California’s impact on the country’s near-term fuel economy strategy. This is in addition to fleet procurement, through which states can lead by example while expanding the market for FE vehicles. Other state strategies include requiring X number of vehicles sold to be low-emission, establishing standards for tires (both California), and restricting idling. Regional collaboratives are also turning to questions of FE; the Western Climate Initiative plans to include transportation fuel under its cap-and-trade program. 

Local government can implement similar policies. In 1993, Denver set out to reduce GHG emissions from its municipal fleet by 1% each year over 10 years. The city achieved that goal ahead of schedule in early 2000 and continues re-up its efforts.

The direct impact of FE policy is difficult to isolate owing to mitigating factors like fluctuating gas prices, changes in consumer behavior, and technological advancement, but it does maintain a basement for fuel economy when prices drop while reducing vehicle-related pollution in accordance with the Clean Air Act.

3.2 Labeling and Consumer Education

The federal government requires that all new vehicles are labeled with city and highway FE estimates and class comparisons. Consumers can also find this information and do car-by-car comparisons at Though no reports have drawn a direct correlation between these labels and energy savings, sociological research generally supports this strategy. (Like the Energy Guide program, labeling could still be made more effective.)

3.3 Incentives

There is obviously a lot to absorb when it comes to federal and state-level FE incentives, and a lot has developed since this report was published in December 2009, so I’m going to save the topic of incentives for a more comprehensive post at a later date. At the local level, incentives can be financial (tax rebates on FE vehicle purchases) or non-financial (preferred parking).

3.4 Technical Assistance

Technical assistance programs strive to make the expertise of various federal agencies available to states, municipalities, and private businesses. They include:


The study looks at Clean Cities in particular. The program was created in 1993 to help provide informational, technical, and financial resources as mandated fleets pursued compliance with the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The program has since led to a cumulative reduction in petroleum consumption of 3.1B gallons while leveraging $357M in project awards for twice as much in public and private contributions and spurring the establishment of 90+ local coalitions. These local Clean Cities coalitions exemplify the successful marriage of local, state, and federal efforts advocated by this report.

3.5 Urban Planning and Behavior Change

Zoning and forward-thinking transportation planning can have huge impacts on fuel consumption. State strategies vary as they are developed according to corresponding stakeholder input. Locally, these policies focus on transportation infrastructure, public transportation, population density, land use planning, and limited vehicle miles traveled. Berkeley’s goal of reducing transportation emissions by 30% below 2000 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050 is a great example.

4. Industrial Sector

This sector accounts for 31% of primary U.S. energy consumption and includes a number of subsectors, each of which has its own unique energy needs and constraints.

4.1 Incentives

Industrial incentives typically aim to A) help with the upfront costs of adopting EE technology and/or B) attract green industries to a particular jurisdiction with an eye towards job creation. 

At the federal level, this includes tax credits for appliance manufacturers and home builders and a loan guarantee program run by DOE. State-level incentives range from reduced-rate loans to tax credits to R&D grants. General state funding programs – PBFs, SBCs, and the like – can also be tapped to fund EE incentives. Locally, municipalities are paying greater attention to (and occasionally working with?) utilities as efficiency-related programs can have a direct impact on economic development and job creation.

4.2 Technical Assistance

This category includes energy audits and information campaigns with the goal of incorporating EE thinking into industry’s systematic decision-making process, helping industry to “learn by doing." 

Much of this occurs at plant level, typified by DOE’s Industrial Assessment Centers. The program pairs teams of engineering faculty and students from 24 participating universities with small and medium-sized manufacturing plants that might not otherwise have the resources to perform an efficiency assessment that examines "potential savings from EE improvements, waste minimization and pollution prevention, and productivity improvement.” This instance of a successful public/private partnership increases EE in the industrial sector, educates university students and faculty, and aggregates data that can illustrate current conditions while informing future strategies.

The study includes some cool macro and anecdotal evidence re: IACs:

The IAC program has made a total of 105,656 energy-efficiency recommendations since 1981. Leveraging federal IAC funds, companies invested $461M in implementing 47% (49,602) of the recommendations, with a resulting savings of $554M. 

Investments in energy efficiency have also achieved benefits that extend beyond energy and financial savings. For example, in the plastics subsector, an IAC audit led to the implementation of energy savings equivalent to over $340,000 dollars annually ($100,000 over the original estimate). These investments had the ancillary benefit of reducing water consumption by over 1.5 million gallons annually. companies invested $461 million in implementing 47% (49,602) of the recommendations, with a resulting savings of $554 million. (34)

Technical assistance programs at the state level frequently draw from general state funding sources, as well. 

4.3 Research and Development

The federal government is will hopefully continue to be a major proponent of R&D. Fun examples include energy conservation and utilization (gasification, high-efficiency boilers, waste recovery heat exchangers, cogeneration), energy-intensive and high CO2-emitting processes (producing high-quality iron without using metallurgical coke*), and resource recovery and utilization (improved use of recycled materials, waste, and byproducts).  

*I think this is in the same vein as direct reduced iron, which Steve Rowlan mentioned in his Senate subcommittee testimony, but I’m not sure.

Update: More on the new fuel efficiency standards from Earth2Tech.

Update II: And a good op-ed by Thomas Friedman. 

Watch on

SMALL BUSINESSES to get vouchers from @ENERGY for #renewables consultation #SBV @NREL video

As part of the Small Business Vouchers (SBV) Pilot to help advance the clean energy economy, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) is funding up to $20 million worth of vouchers to eligible small businesses.

Factors Affecting Solar Energy Adoption, Utilization

Factors Affecting Solar Energy Adoption, Utilization

External image

C O N T E N T S: KEY TOPICS According to a published set of best practices that prioritize the maximum development of solar markets within states, the Minnesota policy does not incorporate many of the important best practices that may help other states transform their solar energy markets and increase the amount of grid-connected distributed solar generation assets.(More…) POSSIBLY USEFUL The…

View On WordPress

NREL: Genetically Modified Algae Could Replace Oil for Plastic

NREL: Genetically Modified Algae Could Replace Oil for Plastic

External image
Tweaked cyanobacteria can churn out a plastic precursor, potentially replacing fossil fuels.

From polyester shirts, plastic milk jugs and PVC pipes to the production of high-grade industrial ethanol, the contribution of the chemical feedstock ethylene can be found just about everywhere around the globe.

But ethylene’s ubiquity as a building block in plastics and chemicals masks an underlying…

View On WordPress

I made friends with a Cancer (Or maybe Leo? I don’t remember the exact date but I think it was in Cancer) recently.
So I decided to invite her over and she pulled me aside while we were on a walk, after I apologized for interrupting her, to say something along the lines of “Hey…just so you know…you don’t have to apologize for interrupting me. You can be however you’d like to me. I’ve never had a close friend, so I will not stop being your friend if you mistreat me.”


Benefits and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards

Should we extend #RPS (renewable portfolio standards)? Here’s what they’ve done over the last 2 decades (@NREL report):

External image

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY (NREL) Executive Summary State renewable portfolio standards (RPS) currently exist in 29 states and Washington, D.C. Most of these policies, enacted largely during the late 1990s and 2000s, will reach their terminal targets within the next decade. As states consider extending, eliminating, or otherwise revising existing RPS programs, or developing new ones,…

View On WordPress


Idea from relatablepicturesofholopearl

Feat. relatablepicturesoflittlebuttler, relatablepicturesofunclegrandpa, relatablepicturesofonion, relatablepicturesofperidot, relatablepicturesofobama, and with a guest star appearance from relatablepicturesofsourcream.

This is my worst post tbh and I hope everyone likes it because not only did it take forever but my brother looked over my shoulder while I was editing the obamasnail one and I couldn’t explain myself


Some have charged that solar power isn’t feasible because it takes up too much land. That’s not really true, finds a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The new report has some exciting results.

Read the full article on SolarReviews to see how much land it actually takes to build a solar plant — it’s less than you think! 

What is Battery Systems Engineering?

What is Battery Systems Engineering?

External image

C O N T E N T S: KEY TOPICS She is well remembered and respected in the industry as the Director of Global Battery Systems Engineering at General Motors, where her team successfully developed and launched the lithium-ion battery system used in the Chevrolet Volt, working closely with the LG Chem team.(More…) “The work we are doing with LTU is important because we can develop, optimize and…

View On WordPress

NREL: Genetically Modified Algae Could Replace Oil for Plastic

NREL: Genetically Modified Algae Could Replace Oil for Plastic

External image
Tweaked cyanobacteria can churn out a plastic precursor, potentially replacing fossil fuels.

From polyester shirts, plastic milk jugs and PVC pipes to the production of high-grade industrial ethanol, the contribution of the chemical feedstock ethylene can be found just about everywhere around the globe.

But ethylene’s ubiquity as a building block in plastics and chemicals masks an underlying…

View On WordPress


By 2025, wind and solar electric generation could be cost-competitive new natural-fired electric generation without federal subsidies in the western United States, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Find out how on SolarReviews

Your office is too cold. Or too hot. But science wants to help

Ciara O’Rourke, Wired, Dec. 7, 2015

The forever war over the office thermostat has a new beachhead: the “Comfort Suite” at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where researchers are chasing detente between the half of the office that wants the air conditioning on maximum and the other half shivering in their cubicles, huddled under sweaters, pointing their toes toward wan little electric heaters.

In the suite–actually a 250 square-foot office simulator in NREL’s Golden, Colo. headquarters–engineers and ergonomics specialists are testing all kinds of technologies to see if they can improve comfort while reducing the energy an office building uses. Desk chairs warm up and cool down in seconds, controlled via a smart phone app. Infrared cameras show when someone’s fingers are starting to chill. Sensors track the concentration of carbon dioxide as 20 registers alternately blast hot and cold air at pretend-office workers.

Some of this kind of tech is already out in the world–heated computer mice, desk fans, and so on, says Dane Christensen, manager of Residential Systems Innovation and Performance at NREL. But the lab wants to see personal comfort bear energy savings. “The purpose of this project is really to try to improve the interactions between those individual devices,” Christensen says, “and the whole building.”

As it becomes easier and cheaper to put computer chips in more devices, systems that previously couldn’t communicate will be able to talk to each other. And that’s not limited to electronics. NREL retrofitted the chairs in the Comfort Suite with a $30 Arduino microcomputer.

Comfort Suite-type technologies aren’t just experimental. More and more companies are getting into the business of improving the office climate. Last month, Personal Comfort Systems shipped 70 Hyperchairs to the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, says Peter Rumsey, the Oakland-based company’s co-founder and CEO. Like the ones in the Comfort Suite, Hyperchairs have luxury car-like climate controls built in, controlled from an interface on the chair or with a smartphone. Sitters charge them overnight, and they use a maximum power of 15 watts, compared to about 1,500 watts consumed by a space heater. Of course, a space heater is also a fraction of the cost; Hyperchairs cost $1,900 a pop. That’s about $750 more than a top-of-the-line Aeron.

But it might be worth it. “When you ask a building facility manager, ‘what’s the No. 1 complaint?’ By far it’s ‘too hot, too cold,’” Rumsey says. When HVAC systems are set to maintain a temperature between, say, 72 and 74 degrees, they use extra energy throttling up and down as the building overheats and then gets too cold. Rumsey thinks that as more people using devices like the Hyperchair would let buildings broaden that range while the people inside stayed comfortable.

Meanwhile everyone in working in a high-fashion collaborative space (as opposed to offices, which are so 20th century) can also use an app called Comfy to vote on the temperature setting for their thermostat. The system considers the time of day and the weather but has an added dose of instant gratification, cooling down a stuffy meeting room for about 15 minutes on command. After debuting Comfy on two floors of the headquarters of Johnson Controls in Hayward, Calif. in January 2014, the building reduced steam used for heating the space by about 23 percent over a four-month period. Electricity used for cooling went down by about the same amount.

And at the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley, architect Edward Arens is working on adapting standing desks to the same climate ideas. Arens, director of the center, uses a standing desk himself. And he’s working on insoles that use electricity wirelessly transmitted from a floor mat to warm a pair of feet.

Ideally, all this new gear will mesh into the burgeoning Internet of Things, integrated into energy systems overall. NREL researchers are now taking what they’ve learned from tests of the heating-and-cooling chair and building it into simulations of whole buildings’ energy use. Then they’ll try to figure out how to connect the chairs to building HVAC systems directly–no thermostat resetting required. “We’ll be able to reduce operating costs for buildings but actually keep people more comfortable than we do today,” NREL’s Christensen says. “The work that we’re doing should make the world better for occupants of the buildings, as well as for the owner and the operator.” Which all sounds…pretty cool, actually.

Methods for Energy Analysis

Methods for Energy Analysis

C O N T E N T S: KEY TOPICS The U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, provides information on more than 200 software tools for energy analysis.(More…) The book describes analytical methods (based primarily on classical modal synthesis), the Finite Element Method (FEM), Boundary Element Method (BEM), Statistical Energy Analysis (SEA), Energy Finite Element…

View On WordPress