State Funding for Energy Efficiency Set to Boom: Report

LBNL imageThe federal stimulus bill is allocating billions for energy efficiency projects, but a new report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab predicts that state-level, ratepayer-funded efficiency programs already in the pipeline will be an even bigger recipient of funding in coming years. The study found that funding for these projects –- in the form of subsidies for energy-saving light bulbs, for example, or home energy audits or incentives for commercial building retrofits — will increase to anywhere from $5.4 billion to as much as $12.4 billion a year by 2020, from just $3.1 billion in 2008. The result will be a “fundamental re-drawing of the energy efficiency map,” according to the recently released report, entitled “The Shifting Landscape of Ratepayer-funded Energy Efficiency in the U.S.

There’s been a proliferation of new state-level policies enacted in recent years that promote energy efficiency, the report found.  These policies include energy efficiency portfolio standards, requirements that utilities adopt cost-effective energy efficiency programs, and regulatory incentive mechanisms to better align utility financial interests with improvements in customer energy efficiency. These programs are funded through rate increases on the sale of electricity and gas (as opposed to federally funded initiatives like the Weatherization Assistance Program), hence the “ratepayer-funded” focus of the report. 
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Energy Retrofits Not so Stimulated by Stimulus Bill

greenbuilding3The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — that $787 billion behemoth of a bill that was signed into law in February and was meant to stimulate the U.S. economy — so far seems to have had a beneficial but lackluster impact on the home energy retrofit market. The $4.3 billion in stimulus tax credits for better insulation, double-paned windows, and other energy-saving measures are having a “small but positive” effect on the home remodeling market, research firm Canaccord Adams concludes in a report published today. Any uptick is welcome in this struggling economy, but such modest results after six months raise the question of whether or not the credits will be able to generate $6 billion in remodeling activity through next year, which was the fed’s original estimate.
The report doesn’t dig into how much remodeling activity the credits have delivered to date, but it took a look at other indicators like a building index and various media reports. One reason for less-than-stellar growth is the structure of the tax credits, says Matt Golden, president of home energy retrofitter Sustainable Spaces. If you purchase energy-saving windows, roofs and heating systems, you are eligible for tax credits that are worth 30 percent of the cost of the purchase, up to a maximum of $1,500. But the bulk of the cost of a home energy retrofit is for labor, for which the tax credits don’t apply.
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Top 5 Misconceptions About Home Energy Performance

As recently as two years ago, home energy retrofits might have been called esoteric territory best left to well-off eco-enthusiasts. But today, with increased attention and funding from the federal government and growing  consumer interest, energy retrofits will soon become more common as people look to reduce energy bills and shrink their carbon footprints. The residential sector — through space heating, plug loads and more — accounts for about 21 percent of total energy use in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But this drive to reduce energy consumption in homes in some cases has led to the marketing of “silver bullets” in the industry, from rooftop solar PV systems to tankless water heaters.
The truth is that no one solution is right for every house, under all circumstances. If someone tells you any differently, they’re selling you snake oil, says Matt Golden, president of Sustainable Spaces, a San Francisco-based home energy auditor and retrofitter. In the hope of dispelling some of these myths, below are our top five misconceptions about making your home more energy efficient:
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Energy Retrofits Meet Group Solar Organizers

buildingsolarIf group purchasing of solar systems reduces costs, the same should be true for home energy retrofits. We’ve learned that two San Francisco-based startups, building retrofit firm Sustainable Spaces and community organizer 1 Block Off the Grid, have launched a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area and neighboring Sonoma County that promises to make home energy retrofits more accessible and affordable. 1BOG will search for and find customers grouped in neighborhoods, essentially carrying some of the marketing burden for Sustainable Spaces, and the energy retrofiter can then pass those cost savings onto home owners.
Sustainable Spaces, which raised $6 million in venture funding last year, conducts energy audits for homes and commercial buildings and then implements retrofit measures such as sealing air ducts or adding more energy-efficient furnaces. 1BOG, an initiative of Quest Venture Partners-backed Virgance, has made a name for itself essentially as a community organizer for solar installations — the company aggregates customers by neighborhoods and then collectively bargains with solar installers on their behalf. The two outfits now want to try this type of partnership in the home performance retrofit industry.
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Nottable Laptop Stand- Use Your Notebook In Any Position

Nottable sittingNotebook stands are a dime a dozen, and they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s unusual, however, when one appears that can be used in many different configurations while sporting high-quality aluminum construction. A new stand from a Brazilian inventor is definitely well constructed and it’s amazing how it can be adjusted to fit any working pose. Want to use your notebook sitting in a chair? How about sitting on the floor? Maybe you’d rather stand while working? Or use your notebook lying in bed? The Nottable stand can be configured to provide access in any of those stances, and more.

The Nottable is available for $150 in a variety of colors. The manufacturer’s video shows how well constructed it is, how quickly it can be set up, and how adjustable it is. You can literally adjust the Nottable to fit the exact height needed for the way you want to work, no matter what position you prefer. You can quickly change the position from time to time to vary your working ergonomics —  a good thing. I need me one of these, that’s for sure.

Nottable floor


Sustainable Spaces Scores $6M

It’s not that hard to make new buildings greener; it’s the ones already built that are a big problem. That’s where a startup like Sustainable Spaces comes in — the company founded by Matt Golden in 2004 will analyze your home and sell various green retrofits, like better insulation and more-efficient heating and cooling systems. This morning the company said it had raised $6 million in its first round of venture funds from RockPort Capital Partners and Shasta Ventures.

Golden previously told us that the company had been scaling up and had been working on this first round for the past few months. The team has now grown to several dozen employees, and earlier this year took seed capital from angel investors Blueshift Partners. Also unusual for a cleantech startup: Sustainable Spaces says it’s already profitable.

Home retrofits are exactly the kind of low-tech solution that get less attention but will make real differences in climate change. Golden says with houses responsible for a little under a quarter of U.S. emissions, leaky heating and cooling ducts could account for as much as 2 to 3 percent of electricity used in the U.S. Sustainable Spaces can reduce an existing home’s energy expenditure by 10 to 50 percent, Golden says; the startup has done around 400 retrofits in the Bay Area.

For now, though, there are a few hurdles to the green home retrofit market. First it can be seen as a luxury for higher-end home owners. Sure your energy bill will go down, but it could be hard to convince a family with a variety of bills to pay to invest in leaky air ducts first. Then there’s the regulatory market, which hasn’t really stepped up to encourage retrofits. Golden would like to see more incentives for energy efficiency remakes.

Did Club Penguin Sell-Up or Sell-Out?

By Carleen Hawn
I’m just as impressed as everyone else by Disney’s announcement Wednesday that it will pay as much as $700 million for the “tween” social networking site, Club Penguin. Impressed, because it’s a huge amount of money – $200 million more than what Sony and News Corp. were rumored to be bidding for the barely two-year-old Canadian company back in May.
Impressed, but not surprised. We’ve written previously about the market value of Club Penguin, and for an earlier story in Business2.0, I got to hear from a ton of kids about why they are addicted to the game. I even picked out my own waddling avatar and played the game myself for a while.
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