Efficiency profitable for energy-independent Denmark

Thomas Friedman’s OpEd on Sunday describes how Denmark has achieved energy independence, and illustrates the numerous benefits for the country, including a very low unemployment rate and a large new export market.

When the 1973 oil shock hit, Denmark got 99 percent of its energy from the Middle East. Now they get zero. The country has combined massive energy efficiency programs, such as using waste heat from power plants to heat homes (known as “cogeneration”), with alternative energy sources like windmills (20% of their energy comes from the wind now), effective use of their own petroleum resources in the North Sea, and incentives for lowering energy use via high taxes on gasoline.

As a result, Danes enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, an extremely low unemployment rate, and a healthy export sector in alternative energy products.

Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Engel suggests why this might concern us here in the United States.

“We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months, and not one out of the U.S.”

If Denmark has been able to achieve 100% energy independence, at net benefit to their society economically, what does that say about America’s chances? Denmark has some advantages – it’s much smaller than the U.S., it has new oilfields in the North Sea – but we have advantages as well – our Southwest is much better for solar than anywhere in Denmark, we have whole states available for wind power, we have comparatively high rates of energy inefficiency that represent massive “negawatts.” Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute has outlined a set of steps for getting the U.S. off oil by 2025 – Winning The Oil End Game – that provides one possible, well-researched scenario for a profitable transition.

In the 35 years since the ’73 oil shock, Denmark has accomplished something remarkable. Now we in the U.S. need to set ourselves a similar goal. Using new technologies, such as the fuel cell breakthroughs I mentioned last week (here and here), we should be able to get there a lot faster than 35 years.

Feds drop some pocket change on the California Clean Tech Open

The California Clean Tech Open, a three-year-old competition for clean technology startups, got a nice little present from the Department of Energy the other day – a $100,000 grant focused on sustainable building technologies.

The Clean Tech Open focuses on an annual “Business Plan” competition, where clean tech entrepreneurs compete for the six top prizes of a $100,000 “startup in a box” including office space, cash, and services. They’ve already awarded over $1.2 million in prizes, and over three-quarters of their winners are still in business and have raised nearly $70 million in funding.

The DOE grant, part of their Zero Net Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI),is intended to help the Clean Tech Open initiate a clean building category in the competition. Despite the relatively small amount of the grant (for now), it’s a significant milestone. This is the first disbursement in a $250 million program that the DOE and other agencies are administering with the goal of “all new commercial buildings to be so efficient in energy consumption and in on-site renewable energy generation that they offset any energy use from the grid,” part of the Energy Independence & Security Act (EISA) of 2007 passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last year.

Lara Abrams covers this in much more detail at her Clean Tech Report blog.

Which CFL should you buy to replace your incandescent lightbulbs?

I had what I believe is a common experience last week, when I decided to “go green” and replaced the incandescent bulb in my bedside lamp with a compact fluorescent (CFL). Suddenly, my bedroom had that look that you used to get with old black-and-white TV sets, a blueish cast that’s not comfortable at all. It wasn’t a bad light to read by, but overall it gave the room a cold and unpleasant feeling.

Since I “had” to go to Home Depot anyway, I took the opportunity of asking one of the experts there about which CFL I should use to get the old incandescent light feeling back. As it turned out, the answer was simple, although it would have taken me much testing to figure out on my own: buy CFLs that are called “soft white.” The bulb I was using was a “daylight” bulb – these are the ones to avoid. A “soft white” CFL has a warm light, like an incandescent.

I bought a couple, replaced the “daylight” bulb in my bedside lamp, and am now happily saving a few pennies a day on lighting and air conditioning with my wonderful “soft white” CFL.