ICAST http://www.icastusa.org Wed, 15 Aug 2018 14:07:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 A house could be printed in a day using a novel peat material created in Estonia http://www.icastusa.org/1095-2/ http://www.icastusa.org/1095-2/#respond Tue, 31 Jul 2018 20:49:34 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1095 Cut peat blocks were already being used for building houses thousands of years ago. Now, scientists at the University of Tartu in Estonia have developed a material which could make it possible to print energy-efficient houses out of milled peat and oil shale ash using a 3D printer. A couple of years ago, Dr Jüri Liiv invented an organic humate soil improver, ...

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Cut peat blocks were already being used for building houses thousands of years ago. Now, scientists at the University of Tartu in Estonia have developed a material which could make it possible to print energy-efficient houses out of milled peat and oil shale ash using a 3D printer.

A couple of years ago, Dr Jüri Liiv invented an organic humate soil improver, TURPS, made from peat, poultry manure and wood ash, which makes plants grow faster and increases the fertility of soil. When testing which granules have suitable hardness, he began to consider whether peat could be used to produce a self-supporting construction material.

Today, Jüri Liiv can say for sure that it is possible, writes Universitas Tartuensis, the magazine of the University of Tartu.

In collaboration with scientists from the University of Tartu and the Estonian University of Life Sciences, he has created a construction material consisting primarily of peat and oil shale ash which may reduce the construction costs of a private house nearly tenfold.

The aim was to create such a self-supporting construction material based on local natural resources and waste that could be used to 3D-print houses that are up to two-storeys high directly on the construction site. The Environmental Investment Center funded the scientists’ project with approximately $230,000.

Better use of resources

According to the Estonian Wetland Society, wetlands cover almost 22% of Estonia’s area and only a third of this is being used as peat deposits. Less than a third of the examined peat reserves are considered usable reserves and about 2% of these have an extraction permit.

This means that even though there is enough peat in Estonia, an extremely small amount of it gets used. So far, only the drier top part of the peat layer has been deemed usable. The thickness of the peat layer of larger wetlands is, 10–15 feet on average, sometimes  22–26 and, although rarely, even up to 60 feet. The unused part is left to decay.

Ergo Rikmann, a PhD student of chemistry at the University of Tartu, does not like such waste. “This peat could also be used in an economically beneficial way. Many fractions can be separated from peat, for example humic substances and waxes, and the final residue can even be used for producing cellulose,” said Rikmann.

In addition to a waste of resources, the current drained cutover peatlands create another problem: instead of binding carbon dioxide, they begin producing it themselves. And the amounts are not small.

Liiv makes a startling comparison: “Based on international data, it can be said that the partially used peatlands in Estonia emit more carbon dioxide per year than the power stations in Narva.”

Less carbon dioxide!

The most common way for mining peat is milling. During milling, a 10–20-mm layer is cut loose from the top layer of a peat deposit and left to dry on the milling field. When the cut part is dry enough, it is piled in stacks and the next layer is cut loose. For this method to pay off, most milling fields are larger than 100 hectares.

When the top layer of a peat deposit is removed, what remains is a layer of highly acidic decomposing peat on which even peat moss does not grow. Measurements made in Sweden show that peat mineralises extremely fast on a milling field. This means that Estonia’s drained peatlands presumably release up to 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

Growing peat, however, binds carbon dioxide. To get the peat growing again, the entire reserve of peat should be taken out during mining. In Finland, where peat is used in great amounts, the peat fields are actively restored; after the extraction of peat, the same place is sowed with peat moss.

According to Liiv, Estonia’s peat deposits are generally thicker than those in Finland and restoring them would require more work. However, taking into account how widespread our peatlands are, their growth, if used sensibly, would be larger than we could utilise.

“So far, no one has produced peat composite as a construction material because peat prevents many materials from hardening. In our project, we managed to overcome this issue,” said Liiv excitedly.

Instead of the usual cement, scientists from Tartu use oil shale ash as the binder in their mix because it is the most excessive substance in Estonia. In all actuality, any ash could be used in the printing of the material.

Raising the value of waste

Oil shale ash is classified as a hazardous waste because it becomes very basic when in contact with water. The pH of drinking water is 7 but the pH of oil shale ash can be almost 13, which makes it harmful to the environment. However, ash with such a pH is the best fit for construction materials.

If the pH of a pore solution is below 9, it won’t harden at all. This issue can be solved at a high pH by binding the potassium oxide and alkali metals found in oil shale ash to insoluble compounds. Inside the peat, oil shale ash reacts with humic acids and absorbs carbon dioxide. This means that, due to chemical reactions, the binder becomes regular concrete and limestone.

When developing this novel construction material, scientists from Tartu carried out an abundant number of analyses which demonstrated that the material is completely harmless and safe for the environment. Furthermore, during testing, a solution was found for reducing the setting time from about 30 days to one day.

In Estonia, it is estimated that about 7 million tonnes of oil shale ash are created in a year, only 5% of which is reused (for producing cement and for liming fields). The rest is deposited in ash hills and this creates considerable environmental pollution. Using such a peat material would definitely help reduce deposits of new ash.

According to Toomas Tenno, chair of colloidal and environmental chemistry at the University of Tartu, nanosized additives, e.g. nanosilica or silica fume, are added to peat and oil shale ash to improve their properties.

“As the particles are very small, they dissolve well and distribute throughout the material evenly. Silica fume improves the quality of this material significantly,” said Tenno.

At first, recycled plastics were going to be used in the construction of peat houses for inserting a reinforcing armature inside the entire material. However, the newly created material turned out so well that it doesn’t need arming  to stand up. Reinforcement is only needed for openings, arches and other special architectural solutions.

Good properties

The developed peat material achieves its initial hardness in 24 hours but remains elastic for a considerably longer time. Thus, there is no need for insulation or fillers and the entire structure becomes airtight without adding any wind protection.

“It is a breathing material that does not need separate vapour or wind barriers. There should be no issues with mould. Furthermore, it is a good noise blocker. In Finland, peat is used for making acoustic panels and our material is just as suitable for this purpose,” explained Liiv.

Tenno added that research took about a year before they found the right mixture for the material that is strong and has very good thermal insulating properties. After final hardening, the material is strong and very light, has low heat transfer module and is durable. Even though peat is also used as fuel, the material developed by scientists is incombustible.

This material has more advantageous properties. Country houses often have issues with rats, insects and mould; the novel composition, however, is not favourable to any of them. Also, with this composite, there is no fear of grass or trees growing on the wall as the peat mixture used in plant production is entirely different.

As peat and oil shale ash are not very expensive, house builders would be especially happy about the price of the material. According to Liiv, scientists calculated that the cost for the construction of a house shell printed from this material with a floor surface of 325–500 square feet could be about $5,800 (compared to the construction of the shell of a framed building of equivalent size, which would cost about ten times more).

Thus, peat material could be used to build a very cheap house with an energy class A. It is already possible to print the internal or external finish onto the material while printing the building. The surface of the material is rustic and can be smoothed with plaster and painted, if desired.

Printing in the future

By now, the research, as well as many tests, has been completed. Issues with materials technology have been resolved successfully, but due to insufficient funding, the planned 27-cubic-metre test building was not printed. Peat material is essentially ready for manufacture as elements, but a lot of work still needs to be done for 3D printing.

“Building a house from our material could look something like this: the foundations are laid and a vehicle with the printer drives to the site, bringing with it two or three loads of peat, oil shale ash and other additives. A two-storey house could be printed from these materials in one or two days,” describes Liiv.

Modern industrial 3D printers print a layer of material up to 15 mm thick at once. This would make the work go fast. The only thing left to do on-site would be to manually install the plumbing and the doors and windows into the correct openings.

The Estonian University of Life Sciences, where Tõnis Teppand helped conduct the mechanical tests, might buy such a printer from Voronež, Russia in the near future. With any luck, scientists could be continuing the applied research next year.

Currently, they are waiting for a response to their application for financing. Funding is needed for continuing the construction-material project and for developing other branches deriving from it which require the use of peat.

With the same technology, self-destructive blocks of a different composition can be prepared and used for pre-growing plants and, for example, creating compositions in urban landscaping. Scientists also hope to develop a technology for utilising hazardous waste. This technology would encapsulate all the harmful substances into capsules and either make them insoluble or process them into useful substances.

Tenno added that they have also proposed producing activated carbon from peat. Results of initial tests look promising but there is no funding for this application.

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Scientists use ‘funnel-vision’ to pioneer cheap and efficient solar energy http://www.icastusa.org/scientists-use-funnel-vision-to-pioneer-cheap-and-efficient-solar-energy/ http://www.icastusa.org/scientists-use-funnel-vision-to-pioneer-cheap-and-efficient-solar-energy/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 21:34:49 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1091 Scientists have developed a pioneering new technique that could unlock new methods of making solar energy more efficient. A team of experts from the University of Exeter has discovered an innovative way for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy – or ways in which to convert light into power. The new technique relies on ‘funnelling’ the sun’s energy more efficiently directly into ...

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Scientists have developed a pioneering new technique that could unlock new methods of making solar energy more efficient.

A team of experts from the University of Exeter has discovered an innovative way for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy – or ways in which to convert light into power.

The new technique relies on ‘funnelling’ the sun’s energy more efficiently directly into power cells, such as solar panels or batteries.

Crucially, this ground-breaking method has the potential to harvest three times the energy compared with traditional systems. The researchers believe their breakthrough could result in solar panels, no bigger than a book, producing enough energy to power a family-sized house.

The results are published in Nature Communications.

Adolfo De Sanctis, lead author of the paper and from the University of Exeter said: “The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container, as we all know it is much more efficient if we use a funnel. However, such charge funnels cannot be realised with conventional semiconductors and only the recent discovery of atomically thin materials has enabled this discovery.”

In the research, the team of physics experts developed how to ‘funnel’ electrical charge onto a chip. Using the atomically thin semiconductor hafnium disulphide (HfS2), which is oxidized with a high-intensity UV laser, the team were able to engineer an electric field that funnels electrical charges to a specific area of the chip, where they can be more easily extracted.

While current solar cells are able to convert into electricity around 20 per cent of the energy received from the Sun, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60 per cent of it by funnelling the energy more efficiently

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Xcel Energy plans to retire two coal plants, and rely more on wind and solar http://www.icastusa.org/xcel-energy-plans-to-retire-two-coal-plants-and-rely-more-on-wind-and-solar/ http://www.icastusa.org/xcel-energy-plans-to-retire-two-coal-plants-and-rely-more-on-wind-and-solar/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 19:33:19 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1086 Colorado’s biggest utility company recently released details of its $2.5 billion proposal to become a cleaner power generator, retiring two coal-burning plants and by 2026 replace them with projects generating nearly 55 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Xcel Energy (Nasdaq: XEL) submitted its plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission late Wednesday, laying out extensive options how it ...

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Colorado’s biggest utility company recently released details of its $2.5 billion proposal to become a cleaner power generator, retiring two coal-burning plants and by 2026 replace them with projects generating nearly 55 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Xcel Energy (Nasdaq: XEL) submitted its plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission late Wednesday, laying out extensive options how it could source electricity to meet growing Denver metro-area demand in coming years.

The company has, since it unveiled the broad outlines of its Colorado Energy Plan last August, sought to retire its coal-fueled Comanche 1 and Comanche 2 power plants in Pueblo and replace them with natural gas-generated power and a combination of Xcel-owned and third-party wind and solar projects.

The company estimates doing so would reduce its carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2026 and cost $213 million less than continuing to run both the coal plants.

“Our recommended plan secures long-term and low-cost renewable power, stimulates economic development in rural Colorado, and substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions – all at a savings to customers,” said Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy — Colorado, in a written statement. “It is a solid plan that moves Colorado forward, and we are excited to present it for the commission’s consideration.”

Xcel Energy’s coal-fired Comanche Generating Station near Pueblo.

The report Xcel submitted late Wednesday afternoon is meant to answer PUC questions about the Minneapolis-based utility’s planning and its review of more the 400 bids from potential vendors and power partners.

The PUC will accept comments on Xcel’s plan in coming weeks and enlist a third-party review of the company’s proposal before holding scheduling expected in September.

A majority of the 707 megawatts of solar power proposed and 1,100 megawatts of capacity from wind farms would be purchased from third-party owners.

Whether the PUC Commissioners are comfortable with Xcel’s proposed reliance on purchases of renewable energy and ambitious battery storage projects remains to be seen.

Some environmental groups watching for the Colorado Energy Plan submission praised the Xcel Energy proposal, saying it shows renewable energy projects have become cheaper than continuing to rely on coal.

“We believe the proposal to retire coal plants and replace them with a combination of wind and solar energy and battery storage reinforces Colorado’s position as a national leader in clean energy,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for Western Resource Advocates.

Xcel’s proposal notably includes three, large-scale battery projects to put electricity on the grid when wind turbines and solar panels aren’t generating power.

Two of the proposed battery facilities, both of them in Pueblo, would be among the biggest battery projects in country and of a scale not possible just five years ago.

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Little-Known Accounting Policy Could Fuel Green Infrastructure Surge http://www.icastusa.org/little-known-accounting-policy-could-fuel-green-infrastructure-surge/ http://www.icastusa.org/little-known-accounting-policy-could-fuel-green-infrastructure-surge/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 21:30:57 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1077 Most water agencies don’t think of local water projects like green roofs or efficiency rebates as assets, but now they can. And that means agencies can now access capital markets for funding, which could help dramatically grow these projects. IN THE YEARS to come, we’re likely to see a lot more “green” and distributed infrastructure projects from water utilities, like permeable pavement, ...

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Most water agencies don’t think of local water projects like green roofs or efficiency rebates as assets, but now they can. And that means agencies can now access capital markets for funding, which could help dramatically grow these projects.

IN THE YEARS to come, we’re likely to see a lot more “green” and distributed infrastructure projects from water utilities, like permeable pavement, rainwater capture and efficiency rebates. That’s because coming up with the money needed to scale these projects just got a lot easier.

In the water world, most big infrastructure projects like treatment facilities and pipelines are usually financed by water agencies selling bonds, which can help them raise millions of dollars for a project that only needs to be paid off a little bit at a time over many years. That’s because these projects are owned by the agencies and are considered an asset on which they can capitalize.

But turf removal programs, green roofs and other localized water projects that can have significant impact on water consumption – often referred to as “distributed infrastructure” – weren’t typically considered an asset because they weren’t actually owned by an agency. Instead rebates for these kinds of projects were funded from operating budgets, which often isn’t enough to really scale such efforts.

But the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which is an independent organization that establishes accounting and financial standards, approved a policy implementation guide on May 7. This time one of the guidelines it addressed was Statement No. 62 (also referred to in shorthand as GASB 62).

GASB 62 has actually been around for years, but it wasn’t well known. That prompted GASB this month to clarify the language around “business-type activities” of public agencies.

“There is a universe of things that public agencies spend money on. Some of it is straightforward: If you’re buying chemicals every year, that’s an annual expense, and if you’re building a treatment facility, that’s a capital asset,” said Cynthia Koehler, executive director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit WaterNow Alliance and board member of the Marin Municipal Water District. “In between are things that GASBrecognizes as ‘business type activities’ of public agencies.”

GASB also refers to these as “regulated operations,” and GASB 62 says that it’s possible for these regulated operations to be considered assets that can be capitalized.

While this language may be new to many folks not in the accounting world, what it means in the real world is that many water agencies will now be able to use bonds to fund things they didn’t typically consider an asset before. In particular, distributed infrastructure projects.

It’s “potentially a massive game changer,” said Koehler.

But for a water agency to be able to capitalize regulated operations, it needs to meet some criteria. It has to have a governing board able to set its own rates and it needs to be able to set rates that are likely to recover the cost of the regulated operation.

If a public agency can do that, “the money you spend can be considered an asset and once you have an asset you can bond-fund it,” said Ed Harrington, who served as the controller for the city and county of San Francisco and later as the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission until he retired in 2012.

This is a big shift for most water utilities, which are used to thinking about fixed things like pipes and pumps as assets. But GASB’s latest guideline is confirming that this practice of capitalizing regulated operations is definitely above board. “This guidance connects the dots from a statement that has existed for some time, specifically to water utilities and how they book expenses for distributed infrastructure,” she said.

Now utilities can raise a lot more money for distributed infrastructure projects that they can then pay off slowly over many years, instead of trying to finance projects with cash on hand. That opens up the door to more money for initiatives like cash-for-grass rebates, leak detection devices, rainwater capture, graywater reuse, green roofs, constructed wetlands, permeable pavement, direct installation of high efficiency toilets or fixtures, and smart irrigation control rebates.

These distributed infrastructure projects have huge potential. A 2014 report from the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based global water think-tank, found that there’s the potential to save 3.1 billion to 6.4 billion cubic meters (enough water for 5.8 million to 10.4 million families a year) through efficiencies in the urban water sector alone in California. “Our analysis focused on the savings that could be achieved through more widespread adoption of technology and practices that are available and already in use in California and elsewhere around the world,” the Pacific Institute found.

And that will bring more than just financial benefits, said Rowan Schmidt, program director for finance and investment strategies at Earth Economics, a nonprofit that helps organizations make investment and policy decisions by taking nature into account. “Green infrastructure will support core services, but you also get these co-benefits out of it like increased resilience compared with centralized infrastructure, as well as health benefits and property value improvements.”

If a community has issues with flooding, for example, Harrington said, instead of using pipes and pumps to tackle the problem, agencies can explore other distributed or green infrastructure options. “You can say I’m going to go much more into permeable pavement, green roofs, those kind of things that use nature, that bring the water back into the aquifer, that avoid flooding, that can be very efficient and cost effective and can be done much quicker,” said Harrington. “It’s not to say you’re never going to need pipes and pumps, but you could probably meet a good amount of the flooding problem if you just returned things back to the way they were before there was so much concrete.”

The next step now is getting the word out, said Schmidt. “I think there is a lot of education required. How do we get the mechanism to scale up across thousands of utilities and special districts across the country?”

The challenge, added Koehler, is for groups like WaterNow Alliance and Earth Economics to help explain what this opportunity is all about, and to socialize and normalize it. “Opportunity is the operative word,” she said. “There’s no mandate here. What to me is great about it is the flexibility. It’s there if you want to use it, it’s this opportunity, but nobody is forcing you to go this way.”

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Florida’s Newspaper Editorial Boards Collaborate to Raise Awareness of Sea Level Rise http://www.icastusa.org/floridas-newspaper-editorial-boards-collaborate-to-raise-awareness-of-sea-level-rise/ http://www.icastusa.org/floridas-newspaper-editorial-boards-collaborate-to-raise-awareness-of-sea-level-rise/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 21:25:25 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1074 Across South Florida, people are joining hands to address the threat they face from sea-level rise. To that list, add the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, along with WLRN Public Media. The media outlets have created an unprecedented collaborative, “The Invading Sea,” because the threat of sea level rise becomes more ...

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Across South Florida, people are joining hands to address the threat they face from sea-level rise. To that list, add the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, along with WLRN Public Media. The media outlets have created an unprecedented collaborative, “The Invading Sea,” because the threat of sea level rise becomes more evident every year. South Florida’s major media organizations plan to use their collective voices to communicate the unrelenting threat of sea level rise, help people see what’s at stake, and engage experts, citizens, businesses and political leaders on the tough choices ahead. They believe the time is right for such a project because 2018 is a big election year in Florida with elections for the U.S. Senate, Governor, and the Florida Legislature. The editorial boards plan to ask all the candidates about sea level rise while WLRN plans an in-depth series of reports, roundtable discussions and other community engagement events.

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Hydro, wind and solar: Undeniable synergies http://www.icastusa.org/hydro-wind-and-solar-undeniable-synergies/ http://www.icastusa.org/hydro-wind-and-solar-undeniable-synergies/#comments Tue, 26 Jun 2018 21:14:40 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1072 “There is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” said Mark Z. Jacobson with Stanford University. This is the key finding of research completed and published in early 2018. At the heart of this study is the need to match energy supplied by ...

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“There is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” said Mark Z. Jacobson with Stanford University. This is the key finding of research completed and published in early 2018.

At the heart of this study is the need to match energy supplied by wind, water and solar power and storage with what the researchers predict demand to be in 2050, according to a Stanford University press release.

Scientists studied 139 countries (divided into 20 regions) and matched supply and demand in 30-second increments for five years (2050 to 2054) to account for the variability in wind and solar power as well as the variability in demand over hours and seasons. The researchers used two computational modeling programs, one to predict the amount of energy that could be produced from “weather-related energy sources,” which are variable and don’t necessarily produce energy when demand is highest. The second incorporated energy produced by more stable sources of electricity, including hydroelectric plants and tidal and wave devices and also included methods of energy storage.

Under all three scenarios studied, blackouts were avoided in all 20 world regions for all five years examined. This suggest that “many possible solutions to grid stability with 100 percent wind, water and solar power are possible.”

It is clear that synergies exist between intermittent renewables and hydropower, including pumped storage, which makes up 95% of the currently deployed energy storage capacity worldwide. This will be the focus of the upcoming Grid-Scale Energy Storage Summit, taking place June 25 to 26 in Charlotte, N.C., U.S.

At this summit, individuals working in the hydro, wind, solar and battery market sectors will discuss how to collaborate to provide grid-scale energy storage.

The summit kicks off with a keynote presentation from Timothy Unruh, assistant secretary for renewable power at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This is followed by a roundtable discussion among representatives of various market sectors on changes in the electric power industry, the case for grid-scale storage, gaps created by the deregulated market structure, and more.

Other sessions will cover policies and regulations, technologies and case studies of projects that combine hydro with wind and/or solar, and the business case for grid-scale energy storage.

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Income Needed To Afford The Average Home Price In Every State in 2018 http://www.icastusa.org/income-needed-afford-average-home-price-every-state-2018-2/ http://www.icastusa.org/income-needed-afford-average-home-price-every-state-2018-2/#respond Wed, 06 Jun 2018 19:43:15 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1064 The housing market has not only recovered its pre-recession levels, but some observers are actually starting to worry about yet another housing bubble. Housing prices are on the rise, thanks in large part to extremely tight inventory, so it’s worth asking:  are potential home buyers getting priced out of the market? The answer depends on where they live and how ...

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The housing market has not only recovered its pre-recession levels, but some observers are actually starting to worry about yet another housing bubble. Housing prices are on the rise, thanks in large part to extremely tight inventory, so it’s worth asking:  are potential home buyers getting priced out of the market? The answer depends on where they live and how much money they make.

Howmuch.net collected average home prices for every state from Zillow which they then plugged into a mortgage calculator to figure out monthly payments. Remember, mortgage payments consist of both the principal and the interest for the loan. The interest rate used varied from 4 to 5% in each state, depending on the market. The lower the interest rate, the lower the monthly payment. To keep things simple, they assumed buyers could contribute a 10% down payment. Another thing to keep in mind is that financial advisors commonly recommend the total cost of housing take up no more than 30% of gross income (the amount before taxes, retirement savings, etc.). Using this rule as the benchmark, HowMuch calculated the minimum salary required to afford the average home in each state.

Top Five Places Where You Need the Highest Salaries to Afford the Average Home

1. Hawaii: $153,520 for a house worth $610,000

2. Washington, DC: $138,440 for a house worth $549,000

3. California: $120,120 for a house worth $499,900

4. Massachusetts: $101,320 for a house worth $419,900

5. Colorado: $100,200 for a house worth $415,000

Top Five Places Where You Need the Lowest Salaries to Afford the Average Home

1. West Virginia: $38,320 for a house worth $149,500

2. Ohio: $38,400 for a house worth $149,900

3. Michigan: $40,800 for a house worth $160,000

4. Arkansas: $41,040 for a house worth $161,000

5. Missouri: $42,200 for a house worth $165,900

The map creates a quick snapshot of housing affordability across the United States. There are several pockets in which only the upper middle class and above can afford to own even the average home, most notably across the West and in the Northeast. There are only two states west of the Mississippi River where a worker with an annual salary under $40,000 can afford a mid-level home:  Missouri and Oklahoma. Colorado stands out as the only landlocked state requiring a significant amount of income ($100,200), thanks in large part to the housing market around Denver.

Homes tend to be more affordable in the eastern half of the country, with a notable pocket of “green” (less expensive) states located in the upper Midwest. The North is generally more affordable than the South and the typical home is significantly easier to buy in places like Michigan or Ohio than in Louisiana or Arkansas.  Additionally, the map indicates that workers can more easily afford homes in the East than in the West, which is surprising given how much more land is available out West. It is important to note that there are certainly deep pockets of poverty in all of these places, which suggests that this map obscures the inequality behind averages.

The best takeaway from the map is that housing remains affordable in large swaths of the country, even though there will always be places like California and New York where there is simply too much demand for the available inventory. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean that buying a home is suddenly out of reach for average Americans in Ohio or Mississippi, for example.

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Degrees and Concentrations in Renewable Energy Programs Grow at US Universities. http://www.icastusa.org/income-needed-afford-average-home-price-every-state-2018/ http://www.icastusa.org/income-needed-afford-average-home-price-every-state-2018/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 22:13:42 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1050   The Wall Street journal reports that American universities are increasingly offering college degree programs in renewable energy technologies to meet growing industry demand for renewable energy skills. Across the U.S., universities that have long offered degrees related to the fossil-fuels industry are starting to offer degrees and concentrations in wind and solar technologies. Companies such as Tesla Inc. are ...

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The Wall Street journal reports that American universities are increasingly offering college degree programs in renewable energy technologies to meet growing industry demand for renewable energy skills.

Across the U.S., universities that have long offered degrees related to the fossil-fuels industry are starting to offer degrees and concentrations in wind and solar technologies. Companies such as Tesla Inc. are seeking recruits with specialized skills in renewable energy, even as some oil-and-natural-gas companies pull back on hiring graduates in fields such as geology as they automate more tasks.

Texas Tech began offering a bachelor of science in wind energy in 2011 and today Texas leads the nation in wind power capacity. University of California-Davis just launched its Energy Graduate Group with masters and doctoral degrees in renewable energy specialties. University of Texas-Austin has a graduate program in energy and is finding that students are interested in renewable energy jobs over higher paying positions in oil and gas.

“They get an offer from an oil and gas firm for $85,000, they will say no and take a $50,000 offer from a progressive utility with a clean energy program,” says UT’s Michael Webber.

Chance Zajicek, a 23 year old graduating senior from Texas Tech, grew up just south of Fort Worth, Texas, in a community where it was common to know people working for Exxon Mobil Corp. and Halliburton Co. When he decided to pursue an energy career, though, he saw more opportunity in renewables. “It’s still a young industry, so that means there’s a lot of room to grow professionally and as a person,” he said.

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Energy efficiency now employs 2.25 million Americans http://www.icastusa.org/energy-efficiency-now-employs-2-25-million-americans/ http://www.icastusa.org/energy-efficiency-now-employs-2-25-million-americans/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 20:41:24 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1046 Looking for a job or smart investment? The energy efficiency field is an increasingly good bet for workers and financiers. Here’s why: new data show it employed 2.25 million Americans last year — more than the combined total of jobs to produce coal, oil, gas, and electricity (including renewables). These data are contained in the 2018 U.S. Energy & Employment ...

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Looking for a job or smart investment? The energy efficiency field is an increasingly good bet for workers and financiers. Here’s why: new data show it employed 2.25 million Americans last year — more than the combined total of jobs to produce coal, oil, gas, and electricity (including renewables).

These data are contained in the 2018 U.S. Energy & Employment Report (USEER), compiled by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative, a nonprofit think tank founded by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The groups secured private funding to continue the report, which the US Department of Energy had previously issued in 2016 and 2017.

“Over the last three years, the most surprising finding has been the sustained growth of energy efficiency jobs,” the groups said in releasing their report, noting a 3% increase from 2016 to 2017. Their release said the efficiency sector has “flattened electricity demand, driven greenhouse gas reductions, made American manufacturers more competitive and created millions of jobs.

The report counts part time or full-time workers who design, make, or install ENERGY STAR®-certified products or install other advanced building materials such as insulation. The majority of these jobs — 57% — are in construction, where workers install efficient insulation, windows, lighting, and heating and cooling equipment. Others occur in manufacturing, wholesale trade as well as professional and business services.

The efficiency job tally is a conservative number. It doesn’t include jobs related to energy-efficient manufacturing processes or combined heat and power systems. It doesn’t include indirect jobs that result when customers spend or invest the money they save in lower energy bills somewhere else in the economy. It also doesn’t include the 650,000-plus jobs that the report said are focused on increasing fuel economy or transitioning to alternative fuels, and it doesn’t include retail jobs. Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics, it said another 4.2 million Americans work in retail trade industries that sell or distribute ENERGY STAR appliances and building materials, along with other products.

The report said more than 60% of energy efficiency employers, especially in the construction industry, have difficulty finding qualified job applicants because of a lack of experience, training or technical skills. On a positive note, it said these employers expect efficiency jobs will increase 9% this year.

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US Wholesale Energy Prices Could Fall 25% or More If Solar and Wind Hit 50% of Generation http://www.icastusa.org/us-wholesale-energy-prices-could-fall-25-or-more-if-solar-and-wind-hit-50-of-generation/ http://www.icastusa.org/us-wholesale-energy-prices-could-fall-25-or-more-if-solar-and-wind-hit-50-of-generation/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 20:05:00 +0000 http://www.icastusa.org/?p=1040   In a world where wind and solar resources make up 40 to 50 percent of generation, wholesale energy prices will drop by as much as $16 per megawatt-hour, according to a study released Wednesday from a group of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Modeling 2030 scenarios in which CAISO, NYISO, SPP and ERCOT reach combined wind and solar ...

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In a world where wind and solar resources make up 40 to 50 percent of generation, wholesale energy prices will drop by as much as $16 per megawatt-hour, according to a study released Wednesday from a group of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Modeling 2030 scenarios in which CAISO, NYISO, SPP and ERCOT reach combined wind and solar penetration at or above 40 percent, the researchers found electricity prices will fall — but price fluctuations may increase and the number of peak net-load hours will spread to a greater number of days.

According to co-author Joachim Seel, the study offers a “holistic” analysis of price formation in a decarbonizing market. He said that data is not generally available to the public.

Researchers hope the results, part of a three-part study stretching into the next several years, will offer policymakers, utilities and grid authorities a long-range view of how current choices could impact their future ability to cope with changes in the electric sector. Seel said it should help them “make sure their decisions are robust in a high wind and solar future.”

In all four regions, the high variable renewable energy (VRE) scenario brought lower average energy prices.

In SPP, NYISO and CAISO, prices fell most under a high solar scenario — defined as 30 percent solar and 10 percent or more wind. ERCOT’s largest drop was in a high wind scenario, with a 25 percent drop in prices.

The data also demonstrated that a grid loaded with more renewable sources can cause issues, making flexible companion resources more important.

While the dreaded duck curve persists in all the VRE scenarios — most pronounced when solar accounts for 30 percent of generation — it’s generally shifted later into the day.
In higher VRE scenarios, peak net-load is shifted toward 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. rather than 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. In high solar scenarios, peak demand may also shrink to a smaller portion of the day. Prices also see more variability in both high wind and high solar scenarios.

“What we believe to be the most significant is the change in the diurnal price profiles where, especially in the high solar scenarios, we really see this bottoming out of prices in the middle of the day,” said Seel.

Taken together, these impacts indicate the need for more dispatchable resources that can quickly respond to changes in demand or production.

“Units that are able to ramp down their generation at times when electricity prices are very low are going to be least susceptible to those average price declines,” said Seel. “Other traditional, more baseline units such as a nuclear plant or a coal plant that cannot change its output level and only generate during the high-priced hours — it will feel those average price declines much more.”

The authors point to demand response and energy storage as helpful for managing load. However, researchers did not yet assess the impact of storage beyond the 1.3-gigawatt CAISO mandate.
“When we started out in the year 2016 writing this report, storage was not quite as hot as it is now,” said Seel. “Instead of investing in a gas peaker plant, one could imagine that solar-plus-storage could do similar services.”

Prices for ancillary services increased by up to nine times under the new scenarios as well, with a high solar scenario in SPP showing the highest growth.

“Battery developers will see a great business case for themselves,” said Seel. “We believe that storage probably has an important role to play.”

The study partially considered the impacts of nuclear. The Energy Information Administration’s forecast for nuclear generation remains stable, with 99 gigawatts in 2017 falling slightly to 79 gigawatts in 2050. Researchers point to California’s move to close the Diablo Canyon plant as a sign that a higher VRE future might spur nuclear retirements.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

While models indicate retirements of some firm capacity, with most occurring in ERCOT territory, researchers did not find that any scenario forced higher nuclear capacity retirement than the low VRE scenario. Research and development for more flexible nuclear capacity, however, might better help jurisdictions utilize those resources as clean energy capacity grows.

Researchers plan a deeper dive into the impacts on all types of generators, including nuclear and energy storage, in the third phase of the study to be released in 2020.

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