New local campaigns can bring cheaper and cleaner rooftop solar to communities of color

August 6, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

New local campaigns can bring cheaper and cleaner rooftop solar to communities of color Lacey Shaver Thu, 08/06/2020 – 00:20 There is a new urgency across the United States to address structural and systemic racial inequities in criminal justice , wealth and housing , employment , health care and education . These disparities are also pervasive in energy. One common measure of this is “energy burden,” or the share of take-home income spent on energy bills. Communities of color have been shown to have a 24–27 percent higher energy burden than White Americans when controlling across income levels, and low-income residents experience an energy burden up to three times higher than high-income residents. Rooftop solar has the potential to reduce energy burden in communities of color, but it has not yet lived up to its potential due to systemic barriers: lack of solar education and outreach; financial challenges such as lower income and access to credit; and issues related to home ownership, such as lower ownership rates or roof condition. Rooftop solar has the potential to reduce energy burden in communities of color, but it has not yet lived up to its potential due to systemic barriers. Local governments can play a pivotal role in expanding access to solar for these communities by developing programs that address these systemic barriers and helping to bring the benefits of clean energy to the communities that need them the most. One useful program that local governments can consider is a “Solarize,” or community bulk-purchasing, campaign, which has been shown to reduce solar costs and address marketing and outreach barriers to solar. Cities can take these programs to a new level by partnering with community groups to focus outreach in communities of color and collaborating with financial institutions to develop solutions for low-and moderate-income (LMI) residents. Solar can help relieve energy burden, but has not yet reached communities of color With a simple payback of less than the 25-year life of solar photovoltaics in all 50 states and less than half that time in most states, rooftop solar has reduced energy costs for residents throughout the country. However, these cost savings have mostly benefited White residents. A 2019 report indicated that in census tracks with the same median household income, Black- and Hispanic-majority neighborhoods have 69 percent and 30 percent less rooftop solar installed, respectively, than neighborhoods without a racial majority (versus 21 percent more solar in majority White communities). This is not just because of differences in homeownership. When controlling for ownership, majority Black and Hispanic communities still had 61 percent less and 45 percent less solar installed, respectively, than neighborhoods with no racial majority (versus 37 percent more in majority White neighborhoods). As a result, nearly half of Black majority communities in the United States do not have a single solar system installed. One thing is fairly certain: It is not because communities of color don’t care about reducing their environmental footprint. Recent polls have indicated that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely, at 57 percent and 69 percent, respectively, to be concerned or alarmed about climate change than White Americans, at 49 percent. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. These frontline communities are disproportionately exposed to higher rates of pollution and climate change impacts from a long history of systemic inequities. Marketing and education through ‘Solarize’ campaigns Solar marketing and education provide essential exposure to the many benefits of solar and are necessary for increased and persistent solar adoption in any community. Unfortunately, this outreach and local solar education have not reached all communities equally. Marketing may not be reaching communities of color as effectively due to the solar industry’s focus on profitable and affluent areas, as well as its lack of diversity at the decision-making level. With nearly 70 percent of small-scale solar concentrated in just five of the most profitable states, most of which offer solar incentives and are highly affluent , large swaths of the country and communities of color have been left out of the solar industry’s marketing. Marketing may not be reaching communities of color as effectively due to the solar industry’s focus on profitable and affluent areas, as well as its lack of diversity at the decision-making level. Furthermore, the lack of persons of color represented in solar companies — almost 90 percent of solar senior executives are White and only 2 percent Black and 6 percent Hispanic —  likely affects which communities are predominantly targeted through marketing campaigns and the effectiveness of those campaigns. The significant lack of solar in communities of color also has resulted in a lack of general knowledge of how to access and benefit from solar. These communities have not fully benefited from the ” solar contagion effect ,” in which residents who see solar being installed in their neighborhood are more likely to install their own solar systems. This is no surprise considering residents are significantly more trusting of their neighbor’s opinions of solar than information communicated by the solar industry. In fact, SolarCity released a report indicating one-third of solar customers were referred by a neighbor and another study suggests that the presence of two to three solar installations in a neighborhood results in one additional installation. Notably, this contagion effect has been shown to be highest in communities of color but has not yet realized its full potential. Community purchasing campaigns can help fill this void if they focus outreach to specific underserved communities. Long the target of scams and predatory lending , communities of color may be more skeptical of solar product offerings that sound too good to be true. Community purchasing campaigns can help fill this void if they focus outreach to specific underserved communities. However, partnering with a trusted local community organization that understands the community dynamics can build trust and enable solar education to come through community leaders, newsletters and events. These sources have shown to be most effective for increasing solar uptake in low-income and communities of color . For communities with minimal solar exposure (again, nearly 50 percent of Black communities have zero solar), these campaigns provide the essential education to drive community-wide solar adoption. Bringing down solar costs and — in some cases — reducing credit barriers The top barrier to installing residential solar is typically financial, regardless of income or race. Solarize campaigns have shown to help lessen these financial barriers by reducing solar costs by about 20 percent . These cost savings result from removing solar company costs for customer marketing and using economies of scale. The cost and time savings with this simplified process can be even more prevalent in jurisdictions that streamline solar permitting given the high volume of installations that come with Solarize campaigns. While this discount has been shown to be a leading factor to participate in Solarize campaigns at every income level, these savings alone do not solve the compounding issues of overall cost and creditworthiness facing communities of color. First, Black and Hispanic families have significantly lower median household incomes, 41 percent and 27 percent lower than White families, and therefore additional incentives beyond Solarize may be necessary to enable participation. Second, they are more likely to have lower credit scores that can result in challenges in obtaining a loan to pay the upfront cost ($16,500 for the typical 5 kW system) or meeting the credit requirements for a solar power purchase agreement or lease . This situation can lead to higher interest rates and make solar less economic or uneconomic for these community members. To make Solarize campaigns work for LMI residents, cities can develop partnerships with local green lending institutions (a Green Bank, community development financial institution or local credit union) to address cost and credit barriers. Connecticut’s version of Solarize, the Solar for All Campaign , offers a great example of using a financial partnership to expand the reach of a typical Solarize campaign to LMI residents. To make Solarize campaigns work for LMI residents, cities can develop partnerships with local green lending institutions to address cost and credit barriers. After realizing that business as usual wasn’t spurring solar uptake in low-income communities, the Connecticut Green Bank created new incentives specifically for LMI residents, paired solar with energy efficiency upgrades, instituted “no money down, no credit required” Solarize offerings and recruited contractors with experience reaching underserved markets. In three years, this multifaceted approach increased solar penetration in Connecticut’s low-income communities by 188 percent, and helped over 900 low-income households go solar. Pairing Solarize with community solar to bring solar to renters Lack of home ownership is a major barrier to solar in communities of color due to a long history of discriminatory housing policies. Black and Hispanic households are less likely to own their homes, at 43 percent and 46 percent, respectively, versus 72 percent of White households . With a higher percentage of renters, it is much more difficult for communities of color to access residential solar due to a split incentive between the landlord, who typically decides whether to pursue capital improvements, and the renter, who pay the utility bills. Further, for people of color that do own their home, many live in older homes that need significant roof or structural repairs to support a solar system. One successful way that cities are expanding solar access to renters is through community solar projects, which enable participants to subscribe to a local clean energy project and receive the associated credits on their electricity bill. Combining marketing and outreach on parallel Solarize campaigns and community solar projects can leverage limited local government resources and more effectively reach both renters and homeowners. This has been an effective strategy for NY-Sun’s community solar Solarize option and Denver’s parallel Solarize and community solar campaigns . Take action today to implement a Solarize campaign The American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator , co-led by Rocky Mountain Institute and World Resources Institute, is launching a residential solar cohort this summer to help local governments implement Solarize campaigns and accelerate residential solar adoption in their community, with a particular focus on historically marginalized communities. If your local government is interested in learning how a community purchasing campaign can help expand solar access in your community, please reach out to Ryan Shea at rshea@rmi.org to learn more. Pull Quote Rooftop solar has the potential to reduce energy burden in communities of color, but it has not yet lived up to its potential due to systemic barriers. Marketing may not be reaching communities of color as effectively due to the solar industry’s focus on profitable and affluent areas, as well as its lack of diversity at the decision-making level. Community purchasing campaigns can help fill this void if they focus outreach to specific underserved communities. To make Solarize campaigns work for LMI residents, cities can develop partnerships with local green lending institutions to address cost and credit barriers. Contributors Ryan Shea Topics Energy & Climate Cities Finance & Investing Social Justice Solar Community Energy Equity & Inclusion Collective Insight Rocky Mountain Institute RMI Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off NREL researchers work on a photovoltaic dual-use research project at the UMass Crop Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield, MA. Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash. Close Authorship

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New local campaigns can bring cheaper and cleaner rooftop solar to communities of color

Digital technology, green finance in vogue among fashion’s sustainability trendsetters

August 5, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green, Recycle

Digital technology, green finance in vogue among fashion’s sustainability trendsetters Phylicia Wu Wed, 08/05/2020 – 01:00 The key to long-term success in the fashion industry is to start trends and continually push the envelope — a philosophy that also applies to its ESG priorities. The $2.5 trillion industry accounts for about 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions when considering the entire value chain — higher than the entire iron and steel manufacturing industry combined, for comparison. Without any intervention, that figure is projected to increase more than 60 percent by 2030. However, there is a growing and collective awareness of environmental impact across the industry. Companies are discovering sustainability is not just a fad, but a new standard that is here to stay.  A proliferation of greening initiatives from industry players has emerged with public announcements of policies to tackle this issue, measures to address their supply chain footprints, promotion of circular economy practices and encouragement for sustainable brands growing increasingly popular. However, despite these various green initiatives from several early trendsetters in the fashion industry, formidable challenges lay ahead on the path to scaling up sustainability — especially when it comes to supply chain strategies. The lack of environmental impact information and outdated technology are two ubiquitous issues plaguing industrial supply chains in general, but they are especially significant in the context of the fashion industry.  Due to highly price-competitive environments, upstream supply chain participants have little motivation to invest in improvements. Downstream supply chain participants that rarely have a personal stake, such as powerful brands and retailers, hardly encourage prioritization of sustainability upstream. These dynamics have led to the development of stagnant supply chains largely unable to respond to the urgency of the fashion industry’s significant carbon footprint.  Given that most emissions are produced along the supply chain, companies’ inability to monitor and track this data means that there is not a starting point to begin improving their environmental footprints. In particular, inadequate data collection infrastructure along the supply chain has resulted in a shortage of environmental data and information transparency. According to the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index survey, while 78 percent of brands have policies on energy and carbon emissions, only 16 percent publish data on the annual carbon footprints of their supply chain. Given that most emissions are produced along the supply chain, companies’ inability to monitor and track this data means that there is not a starting point to begin improving their environmental footprints.  The reluctance to upgrade to new technology can be partly attributed to thin operating margins of fashion supply chains leading to inefficiencies along the entire chain. One of the most candid illustrations of inefficiencies caused by antiquated technology is in the manufacturing process, where conventional practices still take 2,700 liters — or three years’ worth of drinking water — to make a typical cotton T-shirt.  Traditional manufacturers abide by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage, while the ultimate retailer of the shirt has no direct ties to the manufacturer. Thus even if the manufacturer had a sustainability policy, it would be difficult to enforce. When both upstream and downstream participants of the supply chain are at odds with modernization, it prevents the changes needed to respond to the climate impact of the industry.  But it is not all doom and gloom. This is where green finance and technology come in. Their dual adoption can begin to address the environmental data gaps and also boost efficiency for production processes in the supply chain that would usher along a much-needed evolution of the fashion industry towards greater sustainability.  Digital technology will play a pivotal role in addressing information transparency and environmental reporting in the fashion industry by facilitating data collection along the supply chain. Using blockchain and cloud-based technology, a number of startups are already laying the groundwork.  For example, blockchain platform Provenance helps trace and certify supply chains to enable ethical procurement decisions. Another startup, Galaxius, offers a cloud-based system that tracks supply chain activity from fabric orders to garment delivery. Beyond startups, fashion luxury giant Kering Group launched an app called My EP&L that tracks carbon emissions, water consumption and air and water pollution along its supply chain to educate designers and students on sustainable design principles. Recently, Stella McCartney and Google Cloud announced a partnership to determine the environmental impact of various types of raw materials. All of these efforts contribute to advancing data collection at different points along the supply chain and have the potential to provide unprecedented levels of transparency for the industry. Dated technology in the production phase of the supply chain creates significant challenges in two ways. The first is in more eco-friendly product material innovation. New textiles, alternative raw materials and sustainable dyeing methods are made possible through scientific and technological ingenuity.  For example, Tencel, a super-absorbent fiber made from wood pulp, offers a great alternative to synthetic activewear. Lenzing Group, producer of Tencel, also uses a closed-loop production process and sustainable dyeing technology in which solvents needed to make the fiber are recycled over and over again to produce new fibers. But the higher costs associated with upgrading machinery to produce more eco-friendly materials typically associated with such innovations hinders their wider acceptance.  The second challenge relates to upgrades and updates to the supply chain that boost efficiency, promote better resource allocation, identify potential cost savings, predict demand and provide other benefits that mitigate the industry’s environmental impact.  Startups such as Optoro and ShareCloth use artificial intelligence, machine learning and other emerging technologies to digitize processes to lower excess inventory and reduce textile waste. However, similar to the cost barriers that impede wider adoption of eco-friendly materials, these new technologies depend on customized machinery or entirely new production facilities, which may be more capital-intensive and require considerable new capital expenditures when compared to traditional manufacturing processes.  Just digital technology for supply chain improvements will not be enough. Fashion will need green finance to drive large-scale transformation. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that commercializing and scaling these innovations will require $20 billion to $30 billion of financing per year.  The Boston Consulting Group estimates that commercializing and scaling these innovations will require $20 billion to $30 billion of financing per year. Promising green finance developments in the fashion industry already are underway. Traditional lenders have begun to ink green bonds and sustainability-linked loans. In November, Prada became the first fashion company to sign a $59 million sustainability-linked loan with Crédit Agricole.  Under the terms of the loan, Prada can pay a reduced interest rate if it achieves targets related to the number of LEED Gold or Platinum-certified stores, the number of training hours employees receive, and the use of Prada Re-Nylon (regenerated nylon) in the production of goods. In February, VF Corporation closed its $591 million green bond, marking the first green bond issued in the industry.  Private equity investors are also paying attention to startup fashion brands. Just last year, The Carlyle Group made its first foray into the industry by acquiring a stake in Jeanologia, and Permira acquired a majority stake in the ethical fashion brand Reformation. In September 2019, the $30 million Good Fashion Fund launched, representing the first investment fund focused solely on driving the implementation of innovative solutions in the fashion industry.  Brands also have started to form corporate venture capital arms to create opportunities for green finance. Examples include Patagonia’s Tin Shed Ventures, launched as a $20 million fund in 2013, and H&M’s CO:LAB, which has made investments ranging from $1 million to $20 million in sustainable fashion.  Prada, by scaling and incentivizing its regenerated nylon technology through its green finance partnership with Credit Agricole, serves as a pioneer for the industry. However, the solutions offered by advancements in technology and green finance admittedly will need more buy-in from companies across the fashion world.  Some ideas that can move fashion in a greener direction include establishing long-term business strategies that incorporate plans for sustainable solutions, employing creative approaches to applying sustainability across supply chains and developing best practices for environmental data monitoring and reporting.  A recent press release from Google and WWF Sweden announcing plans to create an environmental data platform, the latest green financing deal by Moncler for up to $472 million that is tied to its environmental impact reduction targets and a similar arrangement by Salvatore Ferragamo for up to $295 million are welcome steps in the right direction, even in the midst of a global pandemic.  The future is indeed hopeful as sustainability continues to be championed across the industry and its supply chain. Green finance and digital technology will be increasingly critical drivers for the development of greener and more sustainable supply chains. The fashion industry always has been creative, innovative and bold in its designs; now is the time to channel these qualities to secure a fashionable future that is green and sustainable. This article was adapted from the Paulson Institute’s three-part series on sustainability in the fashion industry. Pull Quote Given that most emissions are produced along the supply chain, companies’ inability to monitor and track this data means that there is not a starting point to begin improving their environmental footprints. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that commercializing and scaling these innovations will require $20 billion to $30 billion of financing per year. Topics Corporate Strategy Supply Chain Fashion Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Digital technology, green finance in vogue among fashion’s sustainability trendsetters

COVID-19 reduces UK carbon emissions by 30 million metric tons

August 4, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Toward the end of March, the coronavirus pandemic began to take over in many European countries. Since then, major cities across the world have experienced some form of lockdown. While the virus has come at many costs, the lockdowns have had some positive environmental impacts. Research carried out by The Eco Experts between the months of March and July has revealed that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.K. dropped significantly — by 30 million metric tons — due to reduced travel and power consumption. The report shows that carbon emissions have dropped in five key areas: public transport, road vehicles, air travel, energy usage and pollution in London. In the past 3 months, public transport journeys have dropped to a mere 11.7% of normal levels, leading to 1.89 million metric tons less of carbon emissions. Further, road journeys decreased to 52.6% of normal levels, leading to a reduction of 15.2 million metric tons of carbon emissions. Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Besides public transport and road vehicles, the study also surveyed air transport and energy consumption throughout the U.K. It found that there were 295,713 fewer flights than normal. This led to a 6.9 million metric ton reduction in CO2 emissions. However, the study established that there has been an increase in domestic power consumption, which rose by 30%. On the flip side, the overall power consumption reduced by 15%, because of the reduction in power demand in businesses. Since March, most major industries have either been closed or have reduced production. Consequently, less power has been consumed over this period. In this sector, the U.K. has saved up to 6.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions . The reduction in power consumption and transport has impacted emissions in many cities. The analysis took a closer look at U.K.’s most polluted city, London, and found that the restrictions have led to a reduction of 1.17 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Further, there has been a 26% reduction in nitrogen dioxide in central London . Globally, there have been significant drops in greenhouse gas emissions over the past few months. As the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, it is a time to reflect and look for the positives. We could take some lessons from this pandemic that will help us care for the environment in the future. + The Eco Experts Image via Liushuquan

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COVID-19 reduces UK carbon emissions by 30 million metric tons

Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it

August 4, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it Stephen Nadel Tue, 08/04/2020 – 01:11 As more electric buses and trucks enter the market, future fleets will require a lot of electricity for charging. While some utilities in California and elsewhere are planning for an increase in power demand, many have yet to do so and need to get started. This issue is critical, because freight trucks emit more than one-quarter of all vehicle emissions. Recent product developments offer growing opportunities to electrify trucks and buses and slash their emissions (see our recent white paper ). And just last week, a group of 15 states plus D.C. announced plans to fully electrify truck sales by 2050. Utilities will need to be ready to power electric fleets. Electric truck fleets need substantial power Power for trucks and buses is generally more of an issue than for cars because trucks typically have larger batteries and because trucks and buses are often parts of fleets with many vehicles that charge at the same location. For example, a Tesla Model 3 battery stores 54-75 kWh; a Proterra transit bus battery stores 220-660 kWh. In Amsterdam, a 100-bus transit fleet is powered by a set of slow and fast chargers that together have a peak load of 13 MW (megawatts). This is equivalent to the power used by a typical large factory. And they are thinking of expanding the fleet to 250 buses. California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term. Many other fleets also will need a lot of “juice.” For example, a rough estimate of the power needed to serve a fleet of 200 delivery vans at an Amazon fulfillment center is about 4 MW. And for electric 18-wheelers, chargers may need up to 2 MW of power each; a recent proposal calls for charging stations every 100 miles along the U.S. West Coast’s I-5 corridor, each with a peak load of 23.5 MW. Utilities need distribution planning These examples show the need for more power at a given site than most utilities can provide without planning and investment. Meeting these needs often will require changes to primary and secondary power distribution systems (feeders that deliver power to distribution transformers and to end customers) and substation upgrades. For large loads, a new substation may be needed. A paper recently released by the California Electric Transportation Coalition estimates that for loads over 5 MW, distribution system and substation upgrades will be needed most of the time. According to the paper, typical utility costs are $1 million to $9 million for substation upgrades, $150,000 to $6 million for primary distribution upgrades, and $5,000 to $100,000 for secondary distribution upgrades. Similarly, Black and Veatch, in a paper on Electric Fleets, also provides some general guidance, shown in the table below, while recognizing that each site is unique. Now is the time to begin understanding where such upgrades will be needed and start planning for them. California policy pushes utilities toward planning In California, state agencies and a statewide effort called CALSTART have been funding demonstration projects and vehicle and charger purchases for several years. The California Air Resources Board voted in June to phase in zero-emission requirements for truck sales, mandating that, beginning in 2024, manufacturers must increase their zero-emission truck sales to 30-50 percent by 2030 and 40-75 percent by 2035. By 2035, more than 300,000 trucks will be zero-emission vehicles. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. For example, Southern California Edison operates the Charge Ready Transport program for medium- and heavy-duty fleets. Normally, when customers request new or upgraded service from the utility, there are fees associated with the new upgrade. With Charge Ready, the utility generally pays these costs, and it will sometimes pay half the cost of chargers; the customer is responsible for the other half and for charger installation costs. Sites with at least two electric vehicles are eligible, but program managers report that at least five vehicles are often needed for the economics to make sense for the utility. One way to do this is to develop and implement a phased plan, with some components sized for future planned growth and other components added as needed. Southern California Edison, for example, has 24 commitments so far, and has a five-year goal of 870 sites, with an average of 10 chargers per site. The utility notes that one charger usually can serve several vehicles and that cycling of charging, some storage, and other load management techniques can reduce capacity needs (a nominal 10 MW load often can be reduced below 5 MW). Through this program, utility representatives are regularly talking with fleet operators, and they can use these discussions to help identify needed upgrades to the utility grid. For example, California transit agencies are doing the planning to meet a California Air Resources Board mandate for 100 percent electric or fuel cell buses by 2040; utilities are talking with the agencies and their consultants as part of this process. California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term (seven to 10 years out). They can manage grid needs with good planning (school buses generally can be charged overnight and don’t need fast chargers), load management techniques and some battery storage to address peak needs. Customer conversations drive planning elsewhere We also spoke with a northeastern utility (wishing to be unnamed) that has been talking with customers about many issues, including fleets. It has used these discussions to identify a few areas where grid upgrades might be needed if fleets electrify. It is factoring these findings into a broader grid-planning effort underway that is driven by multiple needs, including fleets. Even within an integrated planning effort, this utility is struggling with the question of when to take action to prepare the electric system for fleet electrification: Should it act on state or federal policy? Should it act when the specific customer request is submitted, or is there something in between? Recognizing that any option has scheduling and cost allocation implications, it notes that there are no easy answers. Many utilities need to start paying attention As part of our research, we also talked with several other utilities and found that they have not yet looked at how fleets might relate to grid planning. However, several of these companies are developing plans to look into these issues in the next year. We also talked with a major truck manufacturer, also wishing to remain unnamed, that views grid limitations as a key obstacle to truck electrification.  Based on these cases, it appears that fleet electrification can have a substantial impact on electric grids and that, while these impacts are small at present, they likely will grow over time. Fleet owners, electric utilities, and utility regulators need to start planning for these impacts now, so that grid improvements can be made steadily as electric fleets grow. Fleet and grid planning should happen in parallel, so that grid upgrades do not happen sooner or later than needed but are in place when needed. These grid impacts can be managed and planned for, but the time to begin this planning is now. Pull Quote California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. Topics Transportation & Mobility Clean Energy ACEEE Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Concept of a Tesla Semi truck. Shutterstock Mike Mareen Close Authorship

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Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it

Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it

August 4, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it Stephen Nadel Tue, 08/04/2020 – 01:11 As more electric buses and trucks enter the market, future fleets will require a lot of electricity for charging. While some utilities in California and elsewhere are planning for an increase in power demand, many have yet to do so and need to get started. This issue is critical, because freight trucks emit more than one-quarter of all vehicle emissions. Recent product developments offer growing opportunities to electrify trucks and buses and slash their emissions (see our recent white paper ). And just last week, a group of 15 states plus D.C. announced plans to fully electrify truck sales by 2050. Utilities will need to be ready to power electric fleets. Electric truck fleets need substantial power Power for trucks and buses is generally more of an issue than for cars because trucks typically have larger batteries and because trucks and buses are often parts of fleets with many vehicles that charge at the same location. For example, a Tesla Model 3 battery stores 54-75 kWh; a Proterra transit bus battery stores 220-660 kWh. In Amsterdam, a 100-bus transit fleet is powered by a set of slow and fast chargers that together have a peak load of 13 MW (megawatts). This is equivalent to the power used by a typical large factory. And they are thinking of expanding the fleet to 250 buses. California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term. Many other fleets also will need a lot of “juice.” For example, a rough estimate of the power needed to serve a fleet of 200 delivery vans at an Amazon fulfillment center is about 4 MW. And for electric 18-wheelers, chargers may need up to 2 MW of power each; a recent proposal calls for charging stations every 100 miles along the U.S. West Coast’s I-5 corridor, each with a peak load of 23.5 MW. Utilities need distribution planning These examples show the need for more power at a given site than most utilities can provide without planning and investment. Meeting these needs often will require changes to primary and secondary power distribution systems (feeders that deliver power to distribution transformers and to end customers) and substation upgrades. For large loads, a new substation may be needed. A paper recently released by the California Electric Transportation Coalition estimates that for loads over 5 MW, distribution system and substation upgrades will be needed most of the time. According to the paper, typical utility costs are $1 million to $9 million for substation upgrades, $150,000 to $6 million for primary distribution upgrades, and $5,000 to $100,000 for secondary distribution upgrades. Similarly, Black and Veatch, in a paper on Electric Fleets, also provides some general guidance, shown in the table below, while recognizing that each site is unique. Now is the time to begin understanding where such upgrades will be needed and start planning for them. California policy pushes utilities toward planning In California, state agencies and a statewide effort called CALSTART have been funding demonstration projects and vehicle and charger purchases for several years. The California Air Resources Board voted in June to phase in zero-emission requirements for truck sales, mandating that, beginning in 2024, manufacturers must increase their zero-emission truck sales to 30-50 percent by 2030 and 40-75 percent by 2035. By 2035, more than 300,000 trucks will be zero-emission vehicles. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. For example, Southern California Edison operates the Charge Ready Transport program for medium- and heavy-duty fleets. Normally, when customers request new or upgraded service from the utility, there are fees associated with the new upgrade. With Charge Ready, the utility generally pays these costs, and it will sometimes pay half the cost of chargers; the customer is responsible for the other half and for charger installation costs. Sites with at least two electric vehicles are eligible, but program managers report that at least five vehicles are often needed for the economics to make sense for the utility. One way to do this is to develop and implement a phased plan, with some components sized for future planned growth and other components added as needed. Southern California Edison, for example, has 24 commitments so far, and has a five-year goal of 870 sites, with an average of 10 chargers per site. The utility notes that one charger usually can serve several vehicles and that cycling of charging, some storage, and other load management techniques can reduce capacity needs (a nominal 10 MW load often can be reduced below 5 MW). Through this program, utility representatives are regularly talking with fleet operators, and they can use these discussions to help identify needed upgrades to the utility grid. For example, California transit agencies are doing the planning to meet a California Air Resources Board mandate for 100 percent electric or fuel cell buses by 2040; utilities are talking with the agencies and their consultants as part of this process. California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term (seven to 10 years out). They can manage grid needs with good planning (school buses generally can be charged overnight and don’t need fast chargers), load management techniques and some battery storage to address peak needs. Customer conversations drive planning elsewhere We also spoke with a northeastern utility (wishing to be unnamed) that has been talking with customers about many issues, including fleets. It has used these discussions to identify a few areas where grid upgrades might be needed if fleets electrify. It is factoring these findings into a broader grid-planning effort underway that is driven by multiple needs, including fleets. Even within an integrated planning effort, this utility is struggling with the question of when to take action to prepare the electric system for fleet electrification: Should it act on state or federal policy? Should it act when the specific customer request is submitted, or is there something in between? Recognizing that any option has scheduling and cost allocation implications, it notes that there are no easy answers. Many utilities need to start paying attention As part of our research, we also talked with several other utilities and found that they have not yet looked at how fleets might relate to grid planning. However, several of these companies are developing plans to look into these issues in the next year. We also talked with a major truck manufacturer, also wishing to remain unnamed, that views grid limitations as a key obstacle to truck electrification.  Based on these cases, it appears that fleet electrification can have a substantial impact on electric grids and that, while these impacts are small at present, they likely will grow over time. Fleet owners, electric utilities, and utility regulators need to start planning for these impacts now, so that grid improvements can be made steadily as electric fleets grow. Fleet and grid planning should happen in parallel, so that grid upgrades do not happen sooner or later than needed but are in place when needed. These grid impacts can be managed and planned for, but the time to begin this planning is now. Pull Quote California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. Topics Transportation & Mobility Clean Energy ACEEE Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Concept of a Tesla Semi truck. Shutterstock Mike Mareen Close Authorship

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Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it

The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset

August 3, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset Lauren Phipps Mon, 08/03/2020 – 02:12 Canceled orders, excess stock, disrupted supply chains: The pandemic has laid bare some fundamental challenges with the way our clothes are designed, ordered, manufactured and sold — or landfilled, incinerated or sold on secondary markets. These impacts have been compounded by COVID-19, but the inefficient and resource-intensive apparel industry needed a redesign well before the pandemic.  One company working to do things differently is San Francisco-based startup unspun . Founded in 2017, unspun is a denim company that specializes in customized, automated and on-demand manufacturing, designing out inventory altogether. Rather than walking into a shop full of jeans in set cuts and sizes, customers instead get a 3D scan of their body — at home using a phone app and the iPhone’s built-in infrared camera or in-person at an unspun facility, currently only in San Francisco or Hong Kong. The scan is used to manufacture a customized, bespoke pair of jeans within a couple of weeks.  It’s not cheap — a pair of custom-fitted unspun jeans will set you back $200 — but like all disruptive technologies it has the potential to become more affordable over time. And while the denim might be pricey, the products’ physical quality and emotional durability encourage customers to keep their garments for longer, a tenet of circularity. Plus, if you factor in the externalized environmental cost of denim production — which unspun does — one could argue they’re a bargain (although that’s not a case I care to make during a recession).  I caught up with unspun co-founder Beth Esponnette this week to talk about her company’s role in designing a better approach to the fashion industry. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.   Lauren Phipps: What problem is unspun solving? Beth Esponnette: The fashion industry has been pushed to the point of efficiency. It’s stuck. There’s a huge mismatch between what the apparel industry makes and what people buy at the end of the day. Especially now with COVID, there’s a huge problem with excess inventory. Margins are so important, and there’s not a lot of R&D budget — it’s not even 1 percent of [apparel] companies’ budgets that go to R&D — and big brands are risk-averse. They’re used to doing things the same way and incrementally improving them, but using a very siloed supply chain.  We produce clothing after someone’s purchased it — build it on-demand versus waiting for someone to show up.  We don’t have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don’t have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions. Phipps: What kind of technology do you use to make custom garments for every customer? Esponnette : There are two main pieces of tech that we’ve been focused on: the software that turns body scans into perfect fitting patterns, and hardware that takes yarn and starts to build the three-dimensional product. Our software takes in body scan information — and not just measurements. It requires the full point cloud of someone’s body: 30,000 to 100,000 points in space, depending on the scan quality. What’s great is that you don’t lose all of the information when taking measurements around someone’s body. We build the pattern all digitally, and before we do anything physical with it, we go back and fit it on our digital avatar a few times before it’s perfect. It’s almost like we’re getting to do multiple fittings with them, and that gives us a huge advantage. It’s automated, so once you’ve written the software it doesn’t cost anything for the program to run it and create a pattern. We’ve gotten rid of the hours of work that a tailor would be spending building a pattern. The idea is that there’s no sewing machine or manual labor. We’re also experimenting with weaving in three dimensions and building the whole [garment] from yarn. The fit is so difficult on woven products, so if you can make something to someone’s actual dimensions and it’s a woven, then you’ve really tackled that big problem. We started with the hardware in 2017 and still haven’t commercialized on it — but hopefully we will in the next six months. Phipps: You’re asking a lot for people to change the way they purchase. How do you get consumers to think differently about the way they buy clothes? Esponnette: I’m excited where consumer mindsets are going. They’re starting to slow down and think about their impact in the world. The average is 84 garments purchased per year per American; it’s insane that we buy more than one product per week. I think consumers will be willing to spend a bigger chunk of their income on fewer products that will last longer and that they’re excited about. We’re starting to see that change. When we talk to customers, it starts with the product: fit, options, etc. If you build something after they purchase it, it can be perfect for them. It can be everything they want and customized to their body. Then the conversation often goes into other excitement. We don’t have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don’t have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions.  It’s not the reason people walk in the door: It’s about not having to shop and finding the perfect fit. But we do it for sustainability and the greater mission of reducing global carbon emissions by 1 percent, which is our main North Star. Want to learn more about unspun and the future of fashion? Esponnette will speak about the potential of custom, on-demand manufactured apparel this month at Circularity 20 . Listen in (for free!) at 10 a.m. PDT Aug. 25 and register here for the event.  This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, Circular Weekly, running Fridays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote We don’t have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don’t have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions. Topics Circular Economy Shipping & Logistics E-commerce Featured Column In the Loop Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Unspun Close Authorship

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The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset

The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

August 3, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis Maddie Stone Mon, 08/03/2020 – 01:00 This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. One of the starkest inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the difference between the digital haves and have-nots. Those with a fast internet connection are more able to work and learn remotely, stay in touch with loved ones and access critical services such as telemedicine. For the millions of Americans who live in an internet dead zone , fully participating in society in the age of social distancing has become difficult, if not impossible. But if the pandemic has laid bare America’s so-called “digital divide,” climate change will only worsen the inequality that stems from it. As the weather grows more extreme and unpredictable, wealthy urban communities with faster, more reliable internet access will have an easier time responding to and recovering from disasters, while rural and low-income Americans — already especially vulnerable to the impacts of a warming climate — could be left in the dark. Unless, that is, we can bring everyone’s internet up to speed, which is what Democratic lawmakers on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis are hoping to do. Buried in a sweeping, 538-page climate change plan the committee released last month is a call to expand and modernize the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure in order to prepare it, and vulnerable communities around the country, for future extreme weather events and climate disruptions. The plan calls for increasing broadband internet access nationwide with the goal of getting everyone connected, updating the country’s 911 emergency call systems and ensuring cellular communications providers are able to keep their networks up and running amid hurricane-force winds and raging wildfires. This plan isn’t the first to point out that America’s internet infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade , but it is unusual to see lawmakers frame better internet access as an important step toward building climate resilience. While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal.   To Jim Kessler , executive vice president for policy at the moderate public policy think tank Third Way, this framing makes perfect sense. “You’ve got to build resilience into communities but also people,” Kessler said. “And you can’t do this without people having broadband and being connected digitally.” While the internet is often described as a great equalizer , access to the web never has been equal. High-income people have faster internet access than low-income people, urban residents are more connected than rural ones, and whiter counties are more likely to have broadband than counties with more Black and Brown residents. We’re not just talking about a few digital stragglers being left behind: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that more than 18 million Americans lack access to fast broadband, which the agency defines as a 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. Monica Anderson , who studies the digital divide at Pew Research Center, says that many more Americans have broadband access in their area but don’t subscribe because it’s too expensive. “What we see time and again is the cost is prohibitive,” Anderson said. A lack of broadband reduces opportunities for people in the best of times, but it can be crippling in wake of a disaster, making it difficult or impossible to apply for aid or access recovery resources. Puerto Ricans experienced this in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which battered the island’s telecommunications infrastructure and left many residents with terminally slow broadband more than a year after the storm had passed. Three years later, with a global pandemic moving vast swaths of the economy online for the foreseeable future, internet-impoverished communities around the country are feeling a similar strain . To some extent, mobile networks have helped bridge the broadband gap in recent years. More than 80 percent of Americans own a smartphone, with similar rates of ownership among Black, white and Hispanic Americans. Nearly 40 percent of Americans access the internet primarily from a phone. As far as disaster resilience goes, this surge in mobile adoption is good news: Our phones allow us to receive emergency alerts and evacuation orders quickly, and first responders rely on them to coordinate on the fly. Of the 240 million 911 calls made every year, more than 80 percent come from a wireless device, per the FCC . But in the age of climate change, mobile networks are becoming more vulnerable. The cell towers, cables and antennas underpinning them weren’t always built to withstand worsening fires and storms, a vulnerability that Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have all acknowledged in recent climate change disclosures filed with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). And when these networks go down — as nearly 500 cell towers did during California’s Camp and Woolsey fires in 2018, according to the new House climate change plan — it can create huge challenges for emergency response. “Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet,” said Samantha Montano , an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “We’re pretty reliant on them.” Democrats’ new climate plan seeks to address many problems created by unequal and unreliable internet access in order to build a more climate-hardy web and society. To help bring about universal broadband access, the plan recommends boosting investment in FCC programs such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund , a $20 billion fund earmarked for broadband infrastructure deployments across rural America. It also calls for increased investment in programs such as the FCC’s Lifeline , which offers government-subsidized broadband to low-income Americans, and it recommends mandating that internet service providers suspend service shutoffs for 60 days in the wake of declared emergencies. Broadband improvements should be prioritized in underserved communities “experiencing or are likely to experience disproportionate environmental and climate change impacts,” per the plan. As far as mobile networks go, House Democrats recommend that Congress authorize states to set disaster resilience requirements for wireless providers as part of their terms of service. They also recommend boosting federal investments in Next Generation 911 , a long-running effort to modernize America’s 911 emergency call systems and connect thousands of individually operating systems. Finally, the plan calls for the FCC to work with wireless providers to ensure their networks don’t go offline during disasters for reasons unrelated to equipment failure, citing Verizon’s infamous throttling of data to California firefighters as they were fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018. Kessler of Third Way said that Democrats’ climate plan lays out “the right ideas” for bridging the digital divide. “You want to be able to get the technology out there, the infrastructure out there, and you need to make sure people can pay for it,” he said. The call for hardening our internet infrastructure is especially salient to Paul Barford , a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2018, Barford and two colleagues published a study highlighting the vulnerability of America’s fiber cables to sea level rise, and he’s investigating how wildfires threaten mobile networks. In both cases, he says, it’s clear that the telecommunications infrastructure deployed today was designed with historical extreme conditions in mind — and that has to change. “We’re living in a world of climate change,” he said. “And if the intention is to make this new infrastructure that will serve the population for many years to come, then it is simply not feasible to deploy it without considering the potential effects of climate change, which include, of course, rising seas, severe weather, floods and wildfires.” Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet.   Whether the House climate plan’s recommendations become law remains to be seen. Many specific ideas in the plan already have been introduced to Congress in various bills, including the LIFT America Act , which would infuse Next Generation 911 with an extra $12 billion in funding, and the WIRED Act , which would authorize states to regulate wireless companies’ infrastructure. Perhaps most significantly, House Democrats recently passed an infrastructure bill that would invest $80 billion in broadband deployment around the country overseen by a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. The bill would mandate a minimum speed standard of 100/100 megabits per second for federally funded internet projects, a speed stipulation that can be met only with high-speed fiber optics, says Ernesto Omar Falcon , a senior legal counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties nonprofit. Currently, Falcon estimates that about a third of Americans have access to this advanced internet infrastructure, with a larger swath of the country accessing the web via older, slower, DSL copper or cable lines. “It would connect anyone who doesn’t have internet to a 21st century line,” Falcon said. “That’s a huge deal.” The infrastructure bill seems unlikely to move forward in a Republican-controlled Senate. But the urgency of getting everyone a fast, resilient internet connection isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the idea that internet access is a basic right seems to be gaining traction every day, even making an appearance last week in presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan . With the pandemic continuing to transform how we work, live and interact with one another, and with climate change necessitating even larger transformations in the future, our need to be connected digitally is only becoming greater. “I think every day the pressure mounts, because the problem is not going away,” Falcon said. “It’s really going to come down to what we want the recovery to look like. And which of the problems COVID-19 has presented us with do we want to solve.” Pull Quote While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal. Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet. Topics Climate Change Policy & Politics Social Justice Technology Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Worker on the site of an ecological disaster.

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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

July 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

AI doesn’t have to be a power hog Heather Clancy Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:15 Plenty of prognostications, including this one from the World Economic Forum, tout the integral role artificial intelligence could play in “saving the planet.”  Indeed, AI is integral to all manner of technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to more informed disaster response systems to smart buildings and data collection networks monitoring everything from energy consumption to deforestation.  The flip side to this rosy view is that there are plenty of ethical concerns to consider. What’s more, the climate impact of AI — both in terms of power consumption and all the electronic waste that gadgets create — is a legitimate, growing concern. Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the process of “training” neural networks to make decisions or searching them to find answers uses five times the lifetime emissions of the average U.S. car. Not an insignificant amount.  What does that mean if things continue on their current trajectory? Right now, data centers use about 2 percent of the world’s electricity. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load, semiconductor firm Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson predicted in August 2019 . Although progress is being made, he reiterated that warning last week. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. “Customized design will be critical,” he told attendees of a longstanding industry conference, SemiconWest . “New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.” So, what’s being done to “bend the curve,” so to speak? Technologists from Applied Materials, Arm, Google, Intel, Microsoft and VMware last week shared insights about advances that could help us avoid the most extreme future scenarios, if the businesses investing in AI technologies start thinking differently. While much of the panel (which I helped organize) was highly technical, here are four of my high-level takeaways for those thinking about harnessing AI for climate solutions. Get acquainted with the concept of “die stacking” in computing hardware design. There is concern that Moore’s Law , the idea that the number of transistors on integrated circuit will double every two years, is slowing down. That’s why more semiconductor engineers are talking up designs that stack multiple chips on top of each other within a system, allowing more processing capability to fit in a given space.  Rob Aitken, a research fellow with microprocessor firm Arm, predicts these designs will show up first in computing infrastructure that couples high-performance processing with very localized memory. “The vertical stacking essentially allows you to get more connectivity bandwidth, and it allows you to get that bandwidth at lower capacitance for lower power use, and also a lower delay, which means improved performance,” he said during the panel. So, definitely look for far more specialized hardware. Remember this acronym, MRAM. It stands for magnetic random-access memory , a format that uses far less power in standby mode than existing technologies, which require energy to maintain the “state” of their information and respond quickly to processing requests when they pop up. Among the big-name players eyeing this market: Intel; Micron; Qualcomm; Samsung; and Toshiba. Plenty of R&D power there. Consider running AI applications in cloud data centers using carbon-free energy. That could mean deferring the processing power needed for certain workloads to times of day when a facility is more likely to be using renewable energy. “If we were able to run these workloads when we had this excess of green, clean, energy, right now we have these really high compute workloads running clean, which is exactly what we want,” said Samantha Alt, cloud solution architect at Intel. “But what if we take this a step further, and we only had the data center running when this clean energy was available? We have a data center that’s awake when we have this excess amount of green, clean energy, and then asleep when it’s not.” This is a technique that Google talked up in April, but it’s not yet widely used, and it will require attention to new cooling designs to keep the facilities from running too hot as well as memory components that can respond dynamically when a facility goes in and out of sleep mode. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.   Live on the edge. That could mean using specialized AI-savvy processors in some gadgets or systems you’re trying to make smarter such as automotive systems or smart phones or a building system. Rather than sending all the data to a massive, centralized cloud service, the processing (at least some of it) happens locally. Hey, if energy systems can be distributed, why not data centers?  “We have a lot of potential to move forward, especially when we bring AI to the edge,” said Moe Tanabian, general manager for intelligent devices at Microsoft. “Why is edge important? There are lots of AI-driven tasks and benefits that we derive from AI that are local in nature. You want to know how many people are in a room: people counting. This is very valuable because when the whole HVAC system of the whole building can be more efficient, you can significantly lower the balance of energy consumption in major buildings.” The point to all this is that getting to a nirvana in which AI can handle many things we’d love it to handle to help with the climate crisis will require some pretty substantial upgrades to the computing infrastructure that underlies it. The environmental implications of those system overhauls need to be part of data center procurement criteria immediately, and the semiconductor industry needs to step up with the right answers. Intel and AMD have been leading the way, and Applied Materials last week threw down the gauntlet , but more of the industry needs to wake up. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt. Topics Information Technology Energy & Climate Artificial Intelligence Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

July 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

AI doesn’t have to be a power hog Heather Clancy Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:15 Plenty of prognostications, including this one from the World Economic Forum, tout the integral role artificial intelligence could play in “saving the planet.”  Indeed, AI is integral to all manner of technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to more informed disaster response systems to smart buildings and data collection networks monitoring everything from energy consumption to deforestation.  The flip side to this rosy view is that there are plenty of ethical concerns to consider. What’s more, the climate impact of AI — both in terms of power consumption and all the electronic waste that gadgets create — is a legitimate, growing concern. Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the process of “training” neural networks to make decisions or searching them to find answers uses five times the lifetime emissions of the average U.S. car. Not an insignificant amount.  What does that mean if things continue on their current trajectory? Right now, data centers use about 2 percent of the world’s electricity. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load, semiconductor firm Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson predicted in August 2019 . Although progress is being made, he reiterated that warning last week. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. “Customized design will be critical,” he told attendees of a longstanding industry conference, SemiconWest . “New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.” So, what’s being done to “bend the curve,” so to speak? Technologists from Applied Materials, Arm, Google, Intel, Microsoft and VMware last week shared insights about advances that could help us avoid the most extreme future scenarios, if the businesses investing in AI technologies start thinking differently. While much of the panel (which I helped organize) was highly technical, here are four of my high-level takeaways for those thinking about harnessing AI for climate solutions. Get acquainted with the concept of “die stacking” in computing hardware design. There is concern that Moore’s Law , the idea that the number of transistors on integrated circuit will double every two years, is slowing down. That’s why more semiconductor engineers are talking up designs that stack multiple chips on top of each other within a system, allowing more processing capability to fit in a given space.  Rob Aitken, a research fellow with microprocessor firm Arm, predicts these designs will show up first in computing infrastructure that couples high-performance processing with very localized memory. “The vertical stacking essentially allows you to get more connectivity bandwidth, and it allows you to get that bandwidth at lower capacitance for lower power use, and also a lower delay, which means improved performance,” he said during the panel. So, definitely look for far more specialized hardware. Remember this acronym, MRAM. It stands for magnetic random-access memory , a format that uses far less power in standby mode than existing technologies, which require energy to maintain the “state” of their information and respond quickly to processing requests when they pop up. Among the big-name players eyeing this market: Intel; Micron; Qualcomm; Samsung; and Toshiba. Plenty of R&D power there. Consider running AI applications in cloud data centers using carbon-free energy. That could mean deferring the processing power needed for certain workloads to times of day when a facility is more likely to be using renewable energy. “If we were able to run these workloads when we had this excess of green, clean, energy, right now we have these really high compute workloads running clean, which is exactly what we want,” said Samantha Alt, cloud solution architect at Intel. “But what if we take this a step further, and we only had the data center running when this clean energy was available? We have a data center that’s awake when we have this excess amount of green, clean energy, and then asleep when it’s not.” This is a technique that Google talked up in April, but it’s not yet widely used, and it will require attention to new cooling designs to keep the facilities from running too hot as well as memory components that can respond dynamically when a facility goes in and out of sleep mode. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.   Live on the edge. That could mean using specialized AI-savvy processors in some gadgets or systems you’re trying to make smarter such as automotive systems or smart phones or a building system. Rather than sending all the data to a massive, centralized cloud service, the processing (at least some of it) happens locally. Hey, if energy systems can be distributed, why not data centers?  “We have a lot of potential to move forward, especially when we bring AI to the edge,” said Moe Tanabian, general manager for intelligent devices at Microsoft. “Why is edge important? There are lots of AI-driven tasks and benefits that we derive from AI that are local in nature. You want to know how many people are in a room: people counting. This is very valuable because when the whole HVAC system of the whole building can be more efficient, you can significantly lower the balance of energy consumption in major buildings.” The point to all this is that getting to a nirvana in which AI can handle many things we’d love it to handle to help with the climate crisis will require some pretty substantial upgrades to the computing infrastructure that underlies it. The environmental implications of those system overhauls need to be part of data center procurement criteria immediately, and the semiconductor industry needs to step up with the right answers. Intel and AMD have been leading the way, and Applied Materials last week threw down the gauntlet , but more of the industry needs to wake up. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt. Topics Information Technology Energy & Climate Artificial Intelligence Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture

July 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture Jean Orlowski Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:00 Nearly a decade ago, as we took in the lush plant life, clean air and warm sunshine surrounding us during a vacation in Hawaii, my wife, Danielle, and I knew a life shift was happening. A connection to the land — this island — was built on that trip, leading us to relocate permanently to Captain Cook, Hawaii. It was there that we came across a six-acre Kona coffee farm that had fallen into neglect. Nurturing this farm back to life strengthened our relationship with the island, taught us the true meaning of sustainability and allowed us to become advocates for organic farming beyond our own acreage. Today Hala Tree Coffee Farm consists of nearly 100 acres, and we’ve built a network of like-minded coffee farmers looking to become fully organic. While organic processes may not change the taste of the coffee beans (the environment here takes the credit for that), the organic processes show respect to the land that produces them. We’re firm believers that authentic Kona coffee is organic and that shifting toward regenerative agriculture is vital. Globally, but especially on an island, just being “organic” is no longer enough.  Moving from ‘minimizing impact’ to regenerating  Our motivation to make a career out of farming stemmed from a love of the land. We wanted to work with this island, not take from it, and leave it even better than we found it. Learning the intricacies of Kona coffee farming from the ground up highlighted the need for organic practices early on. While sustainability is important no matter where you live, living on an island increases the urgency. Our soil, our trees and our water eventually connect to the ocean that surrounds Hawaii. While we want to care for the island itself, the consequences of not using organic practices can reach to the mainland United States and beyond, carried by the currents. Even small island farms leave a lasting effect — both positive and negative — on the environment globally. And because Hawaii must import large amounts of produce (resulting in 600,000 pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere for each flight from San Francisco to Hawaii), regenerative agriculture is imperative for our state. One major way to do that is to shift the way farming is done, especially for key crops such as coffee. Until recently, Hawaii was the only U.S. state that grows coffee beans (California has just started), and Kona coffee is coveted around the world. The mix of rain, quality soil, sunshine and elevation on the island creates the perfect environment for farming coffee beans. The conditions truly can’t be reproduced elsewhere, and that’s why the Kona coffee farming community is passionate about the environment and our island. At Hala Tree, we focus on two key areas: our soil and our trees.  We focus on topsoil regeneration by using perennial peanuts as ground cover to nourish the soil and anchor it. Our farm, as with most coffee farms in Hawaii, covers sloped areas prone to runoffs. Ground cover is vital to stabilizing our soil; we focus on the regenerative piece by choosing materials that give back to the soil. During pruning and clipping seasons on the farm, everything cut from the trees is spread on top of the current soil throughout the farm. We also use natural fertilizer made from fish bones throughout the farm. Wildlife is also a consideration with ground cover; we must ensure that we are not restricting movement or harming native animals. These species are key to the land’s ability to regenerate, and we must work with them, not around or against.  New trees are continuously planted on the farm to boost carbon sequestration. We have about 100,000 trees under our management, each being carefully maintained with organic practices.  Part of our initiative to move toward regenerative agriculture is helping other local farmers obtain organic certification. This initial process can be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive for small farms; for example, the weed maintenance piece is a tall order in a wet, humid climate where plants grow at astounding speeds. By bringing more farms under our wing and helping them on the organic path, we aim to better equip the agriculture community to embrace regenerative farming.  What’s good for one is good for all  While smaller farms may have the most to gain from going organic, the upfront cost to earn that designation can be prohibitive. Materials, tools, processes and labor need to be accounted for, not to mention the cost of certification. Farms also must be fully organic for three years before a certification can be awarded, adding a time investment on top of cost. For a small farm with just a few acres, this may be impossible to achieve alone. In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands ) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support. In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support.   Our own expansion as a company is partially fueled by mentoring other farms. The territory here can be difficult to work with, given the grades of hills and the need for special equipment. We help smaller farms by sharing resources and, in some cases, we manage their acreage to support their journey toward organic certification. Our partners either pay a fee or share a part of their harvest with us in exchange, making organic farming attainable while ensuring that they still see profit. It’s a form of regenerative agriculture itself: We’re investing in the community that invested in us, keeping everything local. Other types of agriculture are starting to use this model, and more need to follow. The wine industry is similar to coffee in terms of cultivation, harvest and processing. Established vineyards with organic certification can lift up neighboring vineyards and share their resources. When more organic wine enters the market, consumers are more likely to try it, which benefits the newly established organic farms and boosts the industry as whole. While new technology can help this process, machines can’t fully replace people or mimic the value of a strong, supportive network. That’s why we all need to work together. We hope to see farms of all kinds on the mainland and beyond consider the model we’ve created in Hawaii. We need more minds behind innovation in this area to continue growing and making regenerative practices accessible. While living on an island initially may have raised our sense of urgency for going organic, it’s no less imperative for our farming community in other U.S. states and around the world to shift their practices. While sustainability discussions can feel overwhelming and difficult, we have an opportunity in the agriculture community to show fellowship, support and positivity — and perhaps improve products and profits along the way. Pull Quote In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support. Topics Food & Agriculture Regenerative Agriculture Organics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Hala Tree Coffee Farm owners Danielle and Jean Orlowski. Courtesy of Charla Photography Close Authorship

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The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture

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