Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Waxman-Markey: New energy research centers across the country

We clearly don't have all the answers in energy and efficiency, and the House's version of the Waxman-Markey bill addresses that with a dramatic boost for research and outreach.

This is the fifth in RaisingIslands' series on what's in the legislation, which is alternatively called Waxman-Markey, HR2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, or ACES. The bill is now being considered by the Senate.

The bill calls for the establishment across the United States of eight Energy Innovation Hubs, each with a specific research focus, whether that be solar, wind, battery or another clean energy technology.

The goal, the bill says, is “ensuring that the United States maintains a technological lead in the development and commercial application of state-of-the-art energy technologies. '

Additionally, the bill calls for the establishment across the country of ten regional Centers for Energy and Environmental Knowledge, each of which would work on industrial research and assessment, clean energy applications and development of techniques to build the most energy efficient buildings possible.

The bill puts a lot of emphasis on getting energy efficiency into the nation's building codes—so that homes, offices, and other structures aren't energy hogs to the degree they now are. Within five or six years, it wants new buildings to use half or less power than new ones now do. It also promotes retrofits to make existing buildings far more efficient.

Green building has been a cachet of sorts—something organizations did because they cared, or wanted to appear to care, about the environment. Under Waxman-Markey, green building becomes the standard.

Here's an acronym to remember: REEP, for Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance. Here's another: GREEN, for Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods.

There's a carrot (some might call it a stick): a state gets a greater share of energy money from the feds the faster it moves toward more energy efficient buildings—or a smaller share otherwise.

The centers will be charged with involving in the research private business and private capital, of encouraging the work of known energy innovators, and of leveraging the work of private and public research centers.

Waxman-Markey calls for new research to make gas turbines—a power plant used by many utilities—far more efficient than they are. The bill calls for finding ways to get more power out of existing hydroelectric facilities.

Nuclear energy is considered clean energy under the bill, which would provide grants, loans, bonds and other support to nuclear as well as other advanced energy options. There would be a huge amount of cash available as loan money for the development of clean energy.

Waxman-Markey encourages competition for grants to advance clean energy. It sets aside $20 million for a Clean Technology Business Competition Grant Program.

But it's not all high technology. Waxman-Markey also calls for tree planting, noting that shade can reduce cooling needs, that trees capture particulate pollution, and they suck carbon dioxide. Not only that, they make economic sense:

“...In over a dozen test cities across the United States, increasing urban tree cover has generated between two and five dollars in savings for every dollar invested in such tree planting,” the bill says.

Since much of the nation's water is pumped with electric pumps, there's a water efficiency program called WaterSense.

The bill contains all kinds of measures to improve the energy efficiency of the nation's transportation infrastructure, including things as simple as walkways and bikeways, increasing public transit ridership, and making decisions about the most energy efficient means of freight transport.

The nation's industry would need to get more energy efficient under Waxman-Markey, reusing waste heat, for instance, and installing the most efficient motors.

The human side isn't missing. The bill would fund behavioral research—to identify ways to convince people to make the efficiency changes that are needed.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

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