Trees can lower your energy bill


Grace Smith | October 7, 2022

Planting specific types of trees can reduce utility bills, per the “Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees.” The statement said a Midwest electric utility explains that the proper placement of just three trees can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually. 

“Attention to the species of trees we plant and their care will be crucial for their survival. Strategies are needed both to sustain the many benefits of existing large mature trees and to increase planting of appropriate new trees for mitigating and adapting to climate change,” said Jan Thompson, Morrill Professor, Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Iowa State University. 

Trees can provide shade, block the sun, and keep the interior of homes cool. In addition, through a process called transpiration, trees lose water vapor to cool the environment. These processes combined create a lower energy bill for homes. 

In the summer months, plant deciduous trees where direct light enters a home. Deciduous trees have leaves in the summer, but lose them in the fall, allowing sunlight to naturally warm a house in the colder months. During the winter, planting evergreen trees on the sides of houses can stop the wind from entering through a house’s gaps and cracks.

Iowa May See Blackouts Summer 2022


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 2, 2022

Iowans and other Midwestern residents could experience energy blackouts this summer if extreme heat and spiking demand coincide with insufficient power.

This warning was made by North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), a Georgia-based regulatory authority, and it prompted state regulators to question utilities on how they would handle controlled outages. Iowa and 14 other states are at high risk of “energy emergencies during peak summer conditions,” NERC said.

Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) told utilities whose power grid it serves, including the majority of those in Iowa, that it expects summer demand to increase 1.7% over last summer. 

Iowa utility leaders told state regulators they anticipate having enough energy to meet consumer demand for electricity. If MISO calls for reducing energy use, they have plans in place to comply.

While the greatest risk of summer outages is in the Midwest, most of the western U.S. will be at moderate risk, NERC said. That forecast includes Southwest Power Pool, another grid operator that includes part of western Iowa.

Green Iowa AmeriCorps offers free home energy audits


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 19, 2021

Green Iowa AmeriCorps is offering energy audits and weatherization services to residents of six cities in the state.

The organization is a community service program based at the University of Northern Iowa focusing on environmental education and stewardship. Free audits are open to Iowans in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, and Iowa City. According to Green Iowa AmeriCorps’ website, the audit process begins with an assessment of how much energy a home consumes. From there, home owners can learn about measures they can make to improve their home’s energy efficiency. Weatherization services specifically aims to seal drafts and prevent the loss of conditioned or heated air.

560 homes have been audited in Iowa City alone, according to The Daily Iowan. The program has operated in the city for five years. The audits can help lessen heating and air conditioning costs by offering home owners more insight on their residences. Alongside identifying potential problems, audits can also make corrections to a home to make residents more comfortable indoors.

Free audits can be signed up for via the Green Iowa AmeriCorps website or this Google Form. The audits do not have an end date yet.

The Iowa Environmental Council is Holding a Clean Energy Talk


Via Iowa Environmental Council

Josie Taylor | November 16, 2021

On Thursday, November 18, the Iowa Environmental Council will hold a two-hour Bright Ideas 2021 event to discuss sources of clean energy in Iowa, like solar and wind power. 

The event runs from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Des Moines but has satellite, group-viewing options in Iowa City and Waterloo. Attendees also have the option to watch a livestream that doesn’t allow participation. 

The featured speaker is Destenie Nock, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She plans to address energy equity. 

The in-person locations include a brunch. The cost to attend ranges from $25 for online viewing to $65 for the Des Moines location. Students and young professionals will get discounts.More information is available here.

Alliant Energy has Plans for Iowa’s Largest Solar Power Project


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | November 4, 2021

Alliant Energy says it will invest $750 million in 400 megawatts of solar power generation and 75 megawatts of battery storage in eastern Iowa, making it the state’s largest solar project to date.

They will file a plan on Tuesday with the Iowa Utilities Board stating its plan for a 200-megawatt installation, part of which would be on the grounds of the Duane Arnold nuclear power plant. The plant in Palo, northwest of Cedar Rapids, is being decommissioned.

Alliant has committed to building 400-megawatts, which would be the state’s largest solar project, said Morgan Hawk, an Alliant spokesman. Once it’s complete, about half of Alliant’s energy would come from renewable sources, which already include 1,300 megawatts of wind energy, Kouba told the Register.

Iowa utilities are investing heavily in renewable energy. The state got nearly 60% of its energy from wind last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

MidAmerican Energy, Iowa’s other large investor-owned utility, has invested mostly in wind, which provides about 80% of its power generation. The Des Moines-based company said this year it’s also investing in about 140 megawatts of solar generation.

Iowa Climate Statement 2021: Strengthening Iowa’s Electric Infrastructure


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | October 13, 2021

Since 2011, researchers and educators at nearly every college and university in Iowa have produced annual statements to communicate in plain language the state of climate science and the impacts of climate change on Iowans. Today, the Climate Statement for 2021 was released. This year’s focus is on Iowa’s Electric Infrastructure.

Last year’s August derecho, the most destructive thunderstorm in US history, knocked out power to more than 500,000 Iowa households for as much as two weeks. “The loss of power left people in the dark without air conditioning, refrigeration, access to food, phone chargers and life sustaining medical equipment,” said Dave Courard-Hauri, Chair of Environmental Science and Sustainability Program, Drake University. “This was a potentially deadly combination for many vulnerable and low income Iowans.”

“Iowa’s power outages from the 2020 derecho resulted from extreme damage to transmission and distribution systems,” said Jim McCalley, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Iowa State University.

Climate disasters are not over. To prepare for future Iowa extreme weather events, it is recommended that industry, policy makers and stakeholders identify ways to strengthen Iowa’s electric infrastructure, protect vulnerable people, and consider enhanced risks from climate change while managing costs. Climate change is here. We need a resilient electric infrastructure as we curtail carbon emissions for a more sustainable future.

Cryptocurrencies found to use more electricity than individual states, countries


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 10, 2021

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin currently uses more energy than countries like Finland, which has a population of 5.5 million.

Bitcoin was invented back in 2009, and 12 years later, one would need a room full of specialized machines to mine a single Bitcoin. The process of mining one takes up 9 years’ worth of a typical U.S. household’s electricity bill. According to a New York Times article, this currency’s network uses the same amount of electricity as the state of Washington. The state has 7.6 million residents. In comparison to the search engine Google, Bitcoin uses seven times as much electricity. Google has several locations across the globe.

While all cryptocurrencies are strictly digital and exist only electronically, Bitcoin is adding to the climate crisis by using power grids and fossil fuels and contributing to harmful emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that nearly all pieces of an electricity system can affect the environment through greenhouse gas emissions and using up water resources to cool down systems and produce steam.

Since cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are inefficient in transactions, they are also inefficient when it comes to the use of electricity. Bitcoin’s energy consumption fluctuates frequently, as its price ebbs and flows. Regardless of the cost of the currency, Bitcoin continues to contribute to excessive energy usage.

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals


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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.

 

5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.

 

 

Alliant energy offers trees at significant discounts to costumers


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Maple trees make up one-third of all trees in Iowa, making them more susceptible to disease and pest problems. (Dee McIntyre/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | October 4, 2017

Alliant Energy’s Operation ReLeaf tree distribution program will continue this week and into October. During this time, the company provides landscape-quality trees to their customers at a significant discount. Thoughtful placement of trees can cut energy costs for homeowners by providing shade in the warmer months and wind blocks during colder months.

Customers can buys trees that typically retail for $65 to $125 for just $25 each. Residential tree distributions will be held in Buena Vista, Fayette, Lee, Linn, Lucas and Story counties this October.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides several resources for homeowners looking to select the appropriate tree for their yards. In one of the DNR’s publications, “Rethinking Maple: Selecting Trees For Your Yard,” officials point out that maple trees make up more than one-third of all trees in Iowa, which increases their risk for disease and pest problems. The pamphlet encourages homeowners to consider other tree species based on desired qualities such like vibrant fall color, storm resistant, salt tolerant and others.

Trees will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis at the following locations on the following dates:

Buena Vista County – Storm Lake

Partner: City of Storm Lake

Location: Kings Point Park

Date: Oct. 4, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Lee County – Montrose

Partner: Lee County Conservation

Location: Lee County Conservation Center

Date: Oct. 5, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Tree planting and care workshop: 5:45 p.m.

Linn County – Marion

Partner:  Linn County Conservation Board

Location:  Squaw Creek Park

Date: Oct. 7, 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Tree planting and care workshop:  8:15 a.m.

Story County – Ames

Partner: Story County Conservation

Location: East Petersen Park

Date: Oct. 19, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Tree planting and care workshop: 5:15 p.m.

U.S. energy flow chart reveals the good and the bad


lbnl_energy_spaghetti_2017
(Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory)

Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2017

Each year since 2010, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released an energy flow chart that illustrates sources of U.S. energy, what it’s used for and how much of it goes to waste.

The 2016 energy flow chart quantifies energy use in British Thermal Unit “quads,” which is shorthand for quadrillion or one thousand trillion. A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is equal to the amount of energy required to raise one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Americans used 97.3 quads of energy in 2016, which is about 0.1 quadrillion BTU more than last year.

The gray box on the upper right-hand corner of the graphic depicts just how much of that energy was wasted this year: 66.4 quadrillion BTU or 69 percent of all energy produced. It is important to remember that per the second law of thermodynamics, when raw materials are converted into energy, some energy is always lost to heat. In other words, no reaction is 100 percent efficient.

Since the 1970’s, wasted energy has surged in the United States due to a rapid increase in personal electricity consumption and private vehicular transportation, which are both extremely inefficient. Roughly 75 of the energy generated for private transportation and two-thirds of energy required for electricity goes to waste.

This year’s energy flow chart was not all bad news. Coal use fell by nine percent nationwide. That supply was replaced by rapid growth in wind, solar and natural gas energy production. Wind and solar energy did particularly well, with wind energy up 19 percent and solar energy up 38 percent.

Fossil fuel consumption for transportation rose by 2 percent this year, but residential, commercial and industrial energy use all decreased slightly. In all, the U.S. is slowly moving away from fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Total carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.9 percent in 2016. It is uncertain, however, whether this trend will continue under the Trump administration.