By Seth Masia
San Diego, May 7 – If we’re going to halt global warming, we need to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions within seven years, and then cut emissions by 20% within another decade.
Fortunately, according to speakers at today’s SOLAR 2008 plenary session on community solutions, the tools and technologies to achieve those goals – while repairing the U.S. economy – are available now.
Ed Mazria, AIA, founder of Architecture 2030, pointed out that during the 11 years from 1973 to 1983 the U.S. reduced its greenhouse gas emissions thanks largely to improved building efficiency and federally-mandated mileage standards. “We did that with the knowledge and technology we had in the ‘70s and early ‘80s,” he said. “Imagine what we could do now.”
Mazria said that there is a silver bullet to save the climate: Simply eliminate coal as an energy source. Petroleum and natural gas are now in such short supply that they cannot, economically, contribute much more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But there’s enough coal left to drive greenhouse gas pollution for several centuries, and no economically viable way to clean it.
Mazria outlined “Blueprint 2030,” a road map for achieving zero-net building practices over the next 40 years and thereby eliminating the market for coal-generated electric power. California mandates that all new homes be net-zero on energy use by 2020. If the U.S. were to adopt zero-net building codes nationally, it would cut electricity demand by more than half. It would save roughly $215 billion per quad of delivered energy and reduce building sector energy consumption by 5 quads annually. It would save consumers about $128 billion, thus more than covering the cost of conversion, and create more than 1 million permanent new jobs. “You can’t outsource construction jobs,” he noted.
Moreover, Blueprint 2030 would lead to a global solution. “The EU and Japan want to stop global warming,” Mazria said. “If we make common cause with them, between us we buy 78% of China’s industrial output. We have the economic leverage to drive change in China.”
Achieving net-zero building practices requires investment in energy efficiency and in rooftop PV solar power. PV has now become affordable, according to Julie Blunden, vice president for public policy and corporate communications at SunPower Corp. Through a program of technology improvement and operating efficiencies, the company has driven down the installed cost of its products to the point where it’s a rational economic choice for California homeowners and small businesses, and soon will be in states with lower electric rates and thinner incentives. “Market penetration will soar over the next year,” she promised. The company expects to cut the installed cost of solar systems by 50% before 2012.
The California Energy Commission has established a New Solar Home Partnership aimed at getting 400 megawatts of new PV capacity installed on the rooftops of new production homes, according to Timothy N. Tutt, first advisor to the commission’s chair.
Tools to accomplish the mission include performance incentives, energy efficiency requirements, certification and verification requirements, and a couple of clever marketing campaigns aimed at homebuilders (“Solar is another world for sold”) and consumers (“Solar is hot, solar is cool, solar is working”). The number of applications received for the programs have zoomed from an average of about 225 per month in the second half of 2007 to over 800 per month in the first quarter of 2008.
Local governments need to start planning for fuel-shortage emergencies, said Daniel Lerch, post carbon cities program manager and the Post Carbon Institute in Portland, Ore. After Hurrican Katrina, when gasoline stations dried up, city and county officials discovered that they couldn’t fuel police, fire and ambulance vehicles, and that the states’ strategic fuel reserves were reserved for the states’ own emergency vehicles.
Beyond that, cities need to plan for the population shifts and new traffic patterns that will emerge when commuting becomes so expensive that people want to live closer to work.
“It’s important to give your local officials the information on distributed generation and solar technologies so that they can make informed decisions,” Lerch said. “Right now they get information only from utility companies and the oil and coal businesses.”
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