As reported in Huffington Post Green

By Stuart Schwartzapfel EmailOctober 05, 2008 | 11:00:00 AMCategories: Plug-In Hybrids  

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Everything about Alison Gannett is green, from her straw-bale house to her solar-powered appliances. But when you’re as serious about curbing carbon as she is, a mere hybrid won’t do. That’s why she spent $35,000 to install an extension cord on her Ford Escape Hybrid.

She is among a small but vocal — and growing — number of people who aren’t waiting for automakers to deliver plug-in hybrids. These early adopters are shelling out big money to have already thrifty cars like the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid converted into full-on plug-in hybrids capable of triple-digit fuel economy. “I love watching the mileage go up,” says Gannett, a world champion extreme skier and dedicated eco-evangelist. “The highest I have gotten is 232 mpg. I average around 80-100 mpg.”

Several automakers are scrambling to develop plug-in hybrids, with the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius plug-in expected within two years. But a growing number of start-ups are leap-frogging Detroit and Japan, offering plug-and-play conversion kits you can buy right now. Enterprising mechanics are opening shops to install them, and they’re finding plenty of customers sick of waiting for automakers to build truly fuel-efficient cars.

“Business is good and we are shipping a lot of product,” says Rob Protheroe of Plug In Supply, a Northern California company that sells a $4,995 conversion kit for the Prius. “Plug-ins are here to stay.”

The conversions aren’t cheap, and top-of-the-line kits with lithium-ion batteries can set you back as much as $35,000. Even a kit with lead-acid batteries — the type under the hood of the car you drive now — starts at five grand. That explains why most converted plug-ins are in the motor pools of places like Southern California Edison and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. No more than 150 or so belong to people like Gannett, who had her $30,000 Ford Escape converted in December. Yes, that’s right. The conversion cost more than the truck.

“They are crazy expensive right now,” Gannett says of conversions, “but the goal is to inspire people by showing them what’s actually possible. People have had enough preaching. They need real live examples.”

Advocates expect more people to jump on the plug-in bandwagon as the cost of the kits come down. They argue there will be loads of used hybrids just waiting to be plugged in once the Volt and plug-in Prius push the technology into the mainstream. “The combination of gas and electric technology is a happy medium for getting us off of oil and appeasing those who need to travel long distances,” says Protheroe. “Until batteries get good enough where you don’t need the assistance of an internal combustion engine, plug-ins will become the dominant mode of technology for pushing cars around.”

For all their high-tech allure, conversions are straightforward and a decent shop can do the job in an afternoon. In many cases, it’s a relatively simple matter of swapping the car’s nickel-metal hydride battery for a lead acid or lithium-ion pack and installing the electronics needed to charge it from a wall socket. The kits add anywhere from 75 to 360 pounds to the car, depending on battery type, and some of them require ditching the spare tire.

The second-gen Prius is by far the most common car for the switch, but companies like Hybrids Plus will do the job on Ford Escape hybrids, and ConVerdant Vehicles has a kit for many of the pickups and SUVs Detroit’s been cranking out for the better part of 20 years.

It wasn’t all that long ago that converting your car meant rolling up your sleeves and setting to work, a task made somewhat easier with the help of California non profit CalCars (credited with the very first conversion) and the PriusPlus open-source wiki. But theses days shops like Advanced Vehicle Research Center or Luscious Garage will do the job for you. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about frying your car — or yourself — because many of the safety concerns have been addressed. The $9,995 kit from Hymotion, for example, has been crashed-tested and comes with a three-year warranty. The California Air Resources Board wants to take things a step further with a rule that would, among other things, require kits be warrantied for seven to 10 years.

Although the plug-ins burn less gas and emit a whole lot less CO2 — even when drawing their juice from coal-fired powerplants — than cars running on dino juice, you’ll probably never save enough money to recoup the cost of the conversion. Uncle Sam so far hasn’t been inclined to cut early adopters any slack. Although the Senate has approved a bill that includes some serious tax credits for plug-in hybrids built by the automakers, there’s no word on whether it’ll cover converted cars. But EV evangelists say money isn’t the point. “If you’re using payback to justify buying these systems, forget it,” Protheroe says. “Ride a bicycle.”

Our Perspective:

This is just another example of being proactive.  Many times, when new features are introduced, a premium is paid by those that help bring the idea to market. Over time these cost will drop as it becomes mainstream.

It is a shame that we are being penalized by the lack of foresight in the auto industry. They have us all hooked on oil and we were all were a willing participant. Due to the recent activities, we have all woke up and stated, ” Not anymore more”. Let’s continue our cries and demand that the future belongs to energy innovation.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

 

As reported in Huffington Post Green

By Noah Shachtman EmailOctober 07, 2008 | 11:59:00 AMCategories: Cammo Green  

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The Army says it wants to build what could be the world’s most powerful solar power plant, as part of a far-reaching effort to cut back on the service’s dependence on fossil fuels. The question is whether the Army will actually make good on its green promises.

Currently, the most powerful photovoltaic array in the country is at Nellis Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas. It generates about 15 megawatts of power. Other plants are in the works in New Mexico, Arizona and California that could produce up to 300 megawatts.

Yesterday, the Army declared that it would “partner with the private sector to construct a 500-megawatt solar thermal plant at Fort Irwin, California, in the Mojave Desert, that will provide renewable power on the grid and provide the sprawling Army post with added energy security against disruption of power supply.”

The U.S. military has been making all sorts of bold declarations in recent years about the need to wean itself from fossil fuels. It is “imperative” that the Department of Defense “apply new energy technologies that address alternative supply sources and efficient consumption across all aspects of military operations,” thundered one Pentagon report.

Effectively immediately,” shouted another, Pentagon planners must factor in “energy efficiency” when designing “all tactical systems.” That’s because the Defense Department is not only one of the world’s largest consumers of oil and gas — slurping up “110 million barrels of premium fuel and 3.8 billion kilowatts of electricity at a cost of $13.6 billion,” as Defense News notes. But the stuff is ridiculously expensive: War-zone fuel prices can reach up to $400 per gallon.

The military’s record of answering those clarion calls has been uneven, however. For every promising, isolated effort — wind-powered bases, garbage-munching generators in Baghdad — there have been disappointments, too. Long-promised hybrid Humvees never materialized. “Urgent” pleas from battlefield commanders for green power stations were negged by the Pentagon brass.

In a statement, the Army claims this effort will be different, because it’s putting in place a “Senior Energy Council to serve as a board of directors focusing on Army energy policy, programs and funding to leverage the Army’s nationwide energy-conservation efforts.”

The service also announced a number of “test” programs that the new council will oversee. There’s the solar plant at Fort Irwin. A “geothermal project at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada, with the capability of producing 30 megawatts of clean power.” Six more posts that will experiment with “biomass to fuel” efforts. And the purchase of 4,000 electric vehicles “to replace gasoline-powered vehicles traditionally used by maintenance and operations staff for use on its posts.” Whether any of these projects will actually be completed — or whether they add up to any kind of coherent alt-power, alt-fuel strategy — remains to be seen.

Most jobs cut in more than five years; jobless rate at 6.1 percent

updated 2:27 p.m. ET, Fri., Oct. 3, 2008

WASHINGTON – Jobs are vanishing at the fastest pace in more than five years with pink slips likely to keep stacking higher in the months ahead, an urgent signal the country may be careening toward a deep and painful recession just as Americans prepare to elect a new president.

Whether that’s Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, one of them will be dealing with the weakest employment climate in years.

Increasingly skittish employers dropped the ax even harder in September, chopping payrolls by 159,000 — more than double the cuts made just one month before. It was the ninth straight month of job losses. A staggering 760,000 jobs have disappeared so far this year.

The Labor Department’s report, released Friday, also showed that the nation’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, up sharply from 4.7 percent a year ago. Over the last year, the number of unemployed people has risen by 2.2 million to 9.5 million.

“Washington, the labor market has a problem,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. “Firms are hunkering down and running as lean as possible. … We are likely to see more months of job losses before conditions turn around.”

The unemployment rate for blacks shot up to 11.4 percent, the highest since late 2003.

Even with Congress’ unprecedented $700 billion financial bailout, the faltering economy and the jobs markets probably will get worse. Many believe the economy will jolt into reverse later this year — if it hasn’t already_ and will stay sickly well into next year.

The unemployment rate could hit 7 or 7.5 percent by late 2009. If that happens, it would mark the highest since after the 1990-91 recession. Some economists say the jobless rate could rise even more before the situation starts to get better.

Pressure is growing on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to do an about-face and lower a key interest rate in a bid to revive the economy. Many now think that will happen at the Fed’s next meeting on Oct. 28-29 or even earlier.

The hope riding on such a move would be to spur nervous consumers and businesses to spend more freely again. They’ve clamped down as housing, credit and financial problems intensified last month, throwing Wall Street into chaos.

Friday’s employment snapshot is the last before America goes to the polls in November.

Mounting job losses, shrinking paychecks, shriveling nest eggs and rising foreclosures all have weighed heavily on American voters.

The economy is their No. 1 concern. An Associated Press-GfK poll earlier this week showed that likely voters now back Obama 48 percent to McCain’s 41 percent. They believe Obama is better suited to lead the country through the financial turbulence.

“I will rebuild the middle class and create millions of new jobs by investing in infrastructure and renewable energy,” vowed Obama.

 

 

McCain pledged to “open markets around the globe for our products, cut taxes and expand domestic production of energy … I will create jobs and get the economy on the right track.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto called the latest employment figures disappointing “but not unexpected given the shocks to the economy.”

The 159,000 tally of total job losses — government and private payrolls — was the most since March 2003, when the labor market was still struggling to get back on its feet after being knocked down by the 2001 recession. The picture was even darker for private employers. They cut 168,000 jobs last month, the 10th month of such losses.

The pink slips were widespread.

Manufacturers (especially auto makers), home builders, retailers, securities and investment firms, hotels and motels, accountants and bookkeepers, architects and engineers, and legal services all cut back. So did temporary help firms — usually a barometer of future hiring. That overwhelmed employment gains by the government, in education, health and elsewhere.

Cost-cutting employers are getting rid of workers as companies chafe under all the economy’s problems. Companies announcing layoffs in September included Hanesbrands Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Schering-Plough Corp., Alaska Airlines and Alcoa Inc.

Spooked consumers and businesses have pulled back so much that some analysts fear the economy could stall out — or even worse — shrink in the July-to-September quarter. Many predict the economy will contract in both the final quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year, meeting the classic definition of a recession.

“The economy was on the way down even before the latest tightening in the credit crunch,” said Nigel Gault, economist at Global Insight.

Wage growth for workers is slowing, meaning they’ll be more hard-pressed to spend and help the ailing economy.

Average hourly earnings rose to $18.17 in September, a 0.2 percent increase from the previous month. That was half the pace logged in the previous month. Over the past year, wages have grown 3.4 percent, but paychecks aren’t stretching as far because of high food and energy prices.

Strains on Americans were sorely evident. The number of consumer bankruptcy filings rose about 29 percent in September from a year ago, the American Bankruptcy Institute reported Friday.

The financial crisis that intensified in September is forcing a seismic shake-up on Wall Street.

Lehman Brothers, the country’s fourth-largest investment bank, filed for bankruptcy protection. A weakened Merrill Lynch, deciding it couldn’t go it alone anymore, found help in the arms of Bank of America. AIG was thrown a financial lifeline. And, the last two investment houses — Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — decided to convert themselves into commercial banks to better weather the financial storms. The number of banks that have failed this year are up sharply from last year. On Friday, Wachovia Corp. said it will be acquired by Wells Fargo & Co. wiping out Wachovia’s previous plan to sell its banking operations to rival suitor Citigroup Inc.

San Francisco Business Times – by Lindsay Riddell

The solar industry is elated after Congress passed an eight-year extension to the solar investment tax credit as part of the $700 billion financial industry bailout package.

The president signed the legislation Friday morning.

The bill included $128 billion in tax incentives and breaks including the $18 billion solar energy tax credit that offers 30 percent credit to both commercial and residential solar installations. The industry has been pushing for the extension, saying it’s needed to scale the industry and drive down the costs of solar to compete with fossil fuel sources.

“What you’re going to frankly see now is a tremendous herding of investors who want to get into the marketplace,” said Alex Welczeck, CEO of Mill Valley-based Solar Power Partners.

And despite widespread support among both Chamber of Congress, multiple bills extending the tax credits that would have expired at the end of the year, failed to pass because of disputes that included White House veto threats over how to fund them.

The House of Representatives had voted on the legislation seven times in the current legislative cycle, while the Senate had voted on an extension 10 times.

The extension that finally passed in the bailout bill lifted a previous $2,000 cap on residential installations – meaning residential projects will qualify for a 30 percent credit no matter the size of those systems.

Utilities for the first time will also be eligible for the credits, something the utility industry been urging Congress to approve for years.

California will benefit the most from the credit, as it’s the largest solar market in the country.

“Deploying solar projects that can provide power on the scale of a public utility, requires a stable investment environment,” Robert Fishman, president, CEO and chairman of Palo Alto-based Ausra, which is working to develop utility-scale solar thermal power plants. “The eight-year extension of the tax credit will allow Ausra to continue its leadership in developing innovative technologies to meet our customers’ needs and the energy challenges of our future in a clean, reliable, cost-competitive manner.”

The eight-year extension is expected to create more than 400,000 jobs nationwide, with 214,000 of those in California alone by 2016.

“It’s everything we wanted,” said Monique Hanis, spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington. “It’s huge for the industry, it’s huge for developing solar in the U.S. market and it’s huge in terms of making solar available to every American.”

The House voted 263 to 171 to pass financial bailout legislation Friday morning. The Senate had attached the tax relief package to it, and voted in favor of the bailout on Wednesday.

Arno Harris, CEO of San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy, which finances, owns and operates commercial and municipal solar projects, said his company was relieved to see the extension passed even though the entire industry was not convinced it would see an extension this year.

“We’re even more relieved to see the economic rescue plan achieve passage,” said Harris in an e-mail to the San Francisco Business Times. “Renewable energy projects are highly dependent on a functioning credit market for construction and project financing. The last two weeks were very worrying. Getting a rescue plan in place is key to achieving our country’s solar and renewable energy goals.”

Our Perspective:

This is a great step forward which will open the door to promoting alternative energy. With the rising cost of energy, much has been said about investing our efforts in solar, wind and the geothermal solutions. Sad to say but ROI (return on investment) always plays an important part in making this decision.

If you are currently paying 14 cents per kwh for electric and you are willing to make an investment in alternative energy from $40,000 upto $100,000 for a residential solution or $500,000 plus for a commercial solution, your first question would be, ” How much will it cost per KWH after I spend all this money.”  Without the financial incentives you would be paying more. How many people would be happy with that answer.

With the 30% Feseral Tax Credit and other incentives provided by the states we are seeing a 4.5 year ROI for commercial installations. With the lifting of the $2000 cap on residential installations, we will see the ROI of less tha 6 years.

This is sending a clear message that the alternative energy market is open and ready to do business.

Let us know your thoughts? To learn more about solar opportunities in NJ and PA email george@hbsadvantage.com Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com  

 

Q: I’ve been reading a lot about solar electric PV systems lately, and really would like one for my home. Do you think now is the time to buy, or should I wait for prices to come down and technology to get even better?

A: I don’t know if it is the $4-a-gallon gas prices or the high utility bills people paid this past summer, but I’ve gotten a number of emails in the past month asking this same question. My answer to all of you is simply “now is the time to buy.”

While there isn’t enough room on this newspaper page for me to go into all the detail I’d like to share with you, let me just say that photovoltaic systems (usually just called PV) are reliable, proven, long-lasting and in many cases, affordable today.

Thanks to a tremendous number of financial incentives and government programs that support the use of PV systems, many homeowners can have a system installed for half or even less of the actual system cost.

There is a federal tax credit in effect until the year of this year, more than half the states have some type of their own state tax credit, and a number of utility companies and local governments around the country offer rebates, buy-downs and credits, as well as special programs that encourage the use of PV on homes and businesses.

By taking advantage of incentives, you can actually cut the cost of a system in half or even less. If the financial savings isn’t enough reason to convince you that now is the best time to use a solar electric system at your home, then consider that PV power gives you a hedge against rising utility costs, cuts down on the burning of fossil fuels and thus helps the environment, and gives you the satisfaction of being energy independent.

If you’re worried that the technology is still new and they’re working to get the bugs out, consider that the first silicon solar cell was developed back in the early 1950s by researchers at Bell Labs, based upon a theory proposed by a French scientist back in 1839! The growth of America’s space program in the 1960s and its need for remote power set off a huge research effort in labs around the country, and the result is a technology today that has been proven to work in all kinds of climates and to produce power silently, reliably and pollution-free.

Getting back to your question, yes, I think prices will continue to come down, and I think technology will get even better, but why wait? You can start enjoying energy savings the first day your home’s PV system is turned on. A 5-kilowatt system that is big enough to power all the needs of a typical American home costs somewhere around $35,000 to $40,000 these days, though the financial incentives can cut this in half or even more.

But if that cost is too much for you, why not consider getting a smaller system that can offset just a part of your utility bill? Because PV systems are modular, you can add to your small system over time to power more and more of your home’s energy needs.

I could use the rest of this newspaper page to tell you all the things a solar electric system can do for you, but since I have to share this page, you should check out http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35297.pdf for a detailed consumer guide to the technology from the U.S. Department of Energy.

After you learn more about photovoltaics, visit http://www.findsolar.com and get more information and a listing of solar contractors who can give you specific details for your home. There have never been so many financial incentives and programs supporting this technology, so now is definitely the time to consider how you can use it at your home.

Our Perspective:
Solar is the new sexy. Everyday we see more and more information speaking about the price of oil and the need for energy independence. If we truly are going to achieve this goal we must be open to multiple alternative solutions. Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Biofuels will all play a part. We also must be open to new ideas that may prove to be viable.
Let us know your thoughts? leave a comment or send an email to george@hbsadvantage.com

___

(Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society

As reported In Bloomberg.com

By Daniel Whitten

Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) — U.S. tax legislation valued at more than $100 billion, including a host of alternative energy credits, gained new hope after Senate leaders late yesterday announced plans to tie it to a $700 billion financial rescue bill.

The tax plan will extend roughly $17 billion in tax breaks for solar wind and other renewable energy sources. It includes $42 billion in incentives for businesses and individuals for two years, including an $8.6 billion annual research and development benefit, and it would spare 24 million households from a $61.8 billion alternative-minimum tax due to take effect this year.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, agreed in principle on a bailout plan that they hope will draw the support of the House and Senate. It will now include tax measures, the energy proposals among them, that have been the subject of an impasse between the two chambers. The Senate has scheduled a vote on the bailout legislation tonight.

“We are fired up that Senator Reid and Senator McConnell have brought the extenders into play by attaching it to the financial rescue plan,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington. “The American public has engaged in a debate about the need to pass legislation that stabilizes our economy.”

The Senate is attaching unrelated tax legislation that it passed and that was opposed by some in the House of Representatives to the bailout bill. It is likely the last chance to get the tax measures passed and sent to President George W. Bush before next month’s election.

Risk to Legislation

The risk is that the bailout legislation may be jeopardized by contested tax legislation. The Senate leaders are calculating that the House will heed President Bush’s call to pass the rescue measures, ensuring the passage of the tax laws at the same time.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and fiscal conservative Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, rejected the Senate tax plan because it wasn’t fully paid for. Hoyer and the Blue Dogs, about 24 of whom supported the bailout in a failed House vote Sept. 29, may have to decide whether to reject the new rescue plan because of their opposition to the Senate tax bill.

“I am talking with my House colleagues about the Senate action and how to best proceed,” Hoyer said late yesterday in a prepared statement, adding he was seeking the “most successful” outcome in the House.

Geothermal, Biomass

The rescue package would give the Treasury Department broad power to buy troubled assets, chiefly mortgage-backed securities that are burdening investors and financial institutions.

The energy tax provisions in the final legislation could still be altered from those the Senate passed by a 93-2 margin Sept. 23. That bill included $1.9 billion for an eight-year tax extension for solar energy, $5.8 billion in tax breaks for wind, geothermal, biomass and other alternative energy production and credits of as much as $7,500 for plug-in hybrid vehicle buyers.

“As soon as this legislation passes, good-paying jobs will open up in the green energy sector as wind and solar projects get up and running,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat.

“We all support the tax extenders,” said Florida Blue Dog Allen Boyd at a news conference Sept. 29. “So this debate is not about the need for those, it’s about an underlying principle of whether we, as a government, are willing to pay for the things that we buy.”

The Senate measure would pay for all of the energy tax breaks and about half of the business and individual extenders by curtailing tax breaks oil companies get for job creation and for overseas production, and by ending the ability of hedge-fund managers to defer taxes on profits earned in offshore funds.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Whitten in Washington at dwhitten2@bloomberg.net

Our perspective:

The Senate has been persistant in voting to get the energy tax credit provision passed. This is politics at its’ best, they are now attaching it to the bailout bill. Although I am 100% for the energy tax credit, I feel the delemna we now face with the Wall St meltdown, should be addressed specifically, without dilluting it with special provisions that may drag the passage out longer.

We all are not happy with the bailout and we all could be pointing fingers but the bottom line is we are where we are and we must take the necessary steps to fix it. We must also determine what check valves should be instituted in the future that will will prompt us to respond sooner.

The energy tax credit is important but it should be part of an overall vision of stimulating the economy, promoting energy technology  and achieving energy independence.

Let us know your comments or email your thoughts to george@hbsadvantage.com