Energy generation. Primarily solar, wind and other clean energy

Making a better battery – CBS News

Commercial buildings use more electricity than any other building type in the US.  Roughly 65% according to DOE statistics.  But, the problem is WHEN they use energy – daytime and early evenings.  That creates a problem for the power grid which falls short throughout the day and has too much at night.  Energy storage solves that problem.

So, in the race for better batteries, scientists are re-discovering…  basic science still holds true.  The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Instead of hunting for exotic new materials that are hard to find or unsafe, building experts like 3fficient are relying on one of the most plentiful, sustainable materials on planet Earth.  Good ole’ H2O.  Ice Energy, has been making ice storage for utilities for several years now, but recently, they have partnered with 3fficient to design and install pre-packaged ice storage units that bolt directly to commercial a/c units.  After a little engineering and mechanical connections, these “ice batteries” create ice at night with their super efficient compressors and then the melted, ice cold water runs through the a/c unit coil to blow perfect cool air into the space below.  Since it’s a closed loop, no additional water is needed so the storage medium lasts and lasts and lasts.  The initial water comes straight out of the spigot.  The compressors are commercial grade and have a life at least 200% – 300% longer than Tesla and other Lithium batteries.

Daytime a/c energy use gets cut by 90 – 95% which saves a lot of costs for the customer.  More importantly, it reduces the need for more expensive solar power or (in comparison) short-lived electric batteries.  For utility customers on a time of use rate (most commercial customers and soon everyone in CA), the short term peak demand (kW) charges are a huge portion of the bill.  Most buildings have a daily power spike when everything is on, especially all the a/c units.  That 15 or 30 minute spike can cost dearly. as it sets the bill for the month or even the year. So, when you have a plug n play tool that reliably levelizes your daily power curve, you’ll save a lot of money.  Utilities will love you for it and so will your bottom line!

While exotic “invented by Nasa engineers” tech may seem cool, sometimes “old school” is even cooler!  Check out this Nova Video about it called, Making a better battery, featuring David Pogue – the gadget guy.

Can your bench do this? Here’s how solar furniture attracts visitors and makes your company look amazing.

Ah, the good old bench. It’s the background subject of affection in many movies. A couple holding hands on a park bench. An old man sitting on a bench feeding pigeons. Two strangers sitting on a bench engaging in a conversation on a beautiful spring day. Remember when you last went outside and just sat on a bench?

Some things thankfully never change. People do still sit outside and in fact, we’re outside more than ever.  On sunny days, we like to sit in the shade. Because we are so busy, when we do take time to rest, we’re usually on our smartphone and wishing we could recharge our device batteries while recharging our mental batteries.  We expect more from everything these days and even benches are keeping up with the times.

3fficient heard from cities, business building owners, and universities who all said they’d love to see a bench that charged phones using solar energy. They also said they’d like other options, like providing internet access and lighting while getting local environmental and traffic data nearby. 3fficient answered the call and is proud to present our new initiative that we call Project FreeCharge.

Working with furniture and clean tech engineers has been really rewarding.  The lowly park bench is getting a big makeover with amazing new features:

  • Comfortable resting place with shade and weather protection
  • Smart lighting that knows when it’s time to dance with the music or alert public safety
  • Power adapters and outlets for mobile and portable devices
  • Instant alert and emergency activated monitoring for public safety
  • Solar panels that transform sunlight into energy
  • Smart energy storage that works up to 14 days without sunshine
  • Daily energy and environmental reporting
  • Drop in 1-day installation.
  • Sustainable materials

Why consider new self-powered benches?  Organizations that have installed smart renewable-energy-powered urban furniture tell us they communicate a strong message of sustainability to their customers.  They are simple to install and essentially free to operate because they don’t require connectivity to the electrical grid.  3fficient benches are battery-powered and provide incredible value.

So, next time you are outside, take a look at that old familiar bench and ask yourself, what if that bench could do more?  What if it charged devices for free?  What if it could track the number of visitors to that area?  What if it provided lighting that increased security?  What if it could call emergency services with the push of a button.  That would be amazing, right?

Take a moment to visit FreeCharge and see communities can DO MORE WITH LESS.

Simple Spring Tune-ups

At the start of the new year, many of us set resolutions for things we would like to improve.  For some, trimming our waist is a recurring item on our list.  How do we do that for our buildings?  Experts agree that we start by taking a look at what we are consuming.

Trimming the waste at our business is also a resolution we should consider.  That doesn’t mean laying off people either.  For many businesses, utility expenses are rising and many have no idea why.  Here are a couple easy ways to trim your wasteline and make more profit for your company.

1.) Get a fitness coach

Take a close look at how your company operates. Are the lights always on?  Is the heat always on in the winter and air conditioning always on in the summer?  Are employees constantly changing the temperature?  Are there space heaters running under some desks while the air conditioner is blowing everywhere else?

Making simple changes to turn off lights when not being used or reducing the use of furnaces or air conditioners during peak times will hardly be noticed by your employees and will save big when your utility bill is opened next month.  Keeping your office temperature one degree down in the winter and one degree up during summer can reduce the power it utilizes by 10%.

Beyond the obvious tips, what other equipment or spaces are using the most energy?  A free fitness check from 3fficient can review your utility bills and help you know where additional savings can be found.  A simple and affordable management solution is now available to help you know exactly where your energy is being utilized.  Just like hiring a security company to watch business when you aren’t around, 3fficient’s Fácil service constantly monitors your energy utilization and will warn you when energy is being wasted so that you can make adjustments right away or automate the process.

2.) Stop throwing money out the windows

When you look at your windows are they covered with blinds while the lights are on?  Feel the glass.  Is it cold or hot?  Regular glass allows 70% of heat or cold to pass through.  Tinting or blinds darkens the room and require interior lights to be used.  Wait.  Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of even having windows?  Why close the blinds and turn on the lights?  Regular tinting might block the glaring light but does little to block the heat or cold air.

First, check the framing and insulation around the windows to ensure it is tight and is not allowing air to pass. If the windows are sealed ok, it may still feel drafty near the windows.  That’s often just thermal convection caused by the cold windows.  If your windows are in good shape, but require blinds or heavy tinting, 3fficient has a remarkable new clear window insulation that blocks over 95% of infrared heat transfer while allowing in 96% of the natural visible light and blocking 100% of the harmful UV rays.  So, use the outside light, it’s free!  Your spaces will be more comfortable, a/c and lighting loads will drop considerably and you’ll trim the fat off your utility bills without breaking a sweat.


Fortune telling… Predict failure before it happens

Do things ever break when it’s a good time?  I’ve never had my car break down when I had no where in particular to go.  The projector never stops working until the client is getting ready to arrive for a presentation.  If only we had a crystal ball, we’d all use it to take care of office issues BEFORE they occur.

Crystal balls might be the devices of legends but we now have more data available than ever before that, when analyzed proactively, tell us that doom is on the horizon.  Here’s how you can tell the future by understanding how your company is using electricity.

You can’t understand what you don’t measure.

You don’t need to be an electrician to understand the basics of how your office is powered.  The utility company provides power to your building, it connects to a circuit breaker that then connects the many different locations within your company.  You see a statement each month that shows how much total energy you are using.  Simple enough.  But which devices or locations in your building are using the most, or too much, energy?

Now there’s a simple device you can plug into your circuit breaker that measure how much each circuit is utilizing.  The E2 Submeter provides up to the minute voltage and current measurement enabling highly accurate power and energy monitoring all the way down to the device level.

Ok, so now you know where your energy is being used.  Now what?

The next step is monitoring and analyzing all the information gathered. Fácil by 3fficient, is a cloud based service that receives the data provided from the E2 Submeter.  Baselines and trends are established and alerts are available whenever energy is utilized that exceeds what is normally used.  Equipment that is not operating properly tends to draw more power before it stops completely.   By detecting these subtle shifts in energy usage, you can understand which devices in your location are getting ready to fail.  Fixing equipment before it breaks will often be cheaper than replacing it completely.  Plus, avoiding the hassle of equipment failure will keep your business running smoothly.  And, by avoiding excessive energy usage, your utility bill will remain predictable and low.

This sounds expensive, right?  It isn’t.  In fact, the energy bill savings alone should far exceed the monthly subscription cost.  Then there’s other cost savings from preventing equipment failures, continuous commissioning and ongoing energy savings recommendations.  Still not sure?   Get a free QuickLook energy assessment to see how your building performance compares to others and see what can be done to improve performance.  You may not be a wizard and there may be no such thing as a crystal ball, but with Fácil, you’ll see the future…and right now, it’s looking pretty green.

How to cut $21 Billion a year in healthcare costs

When I was a kid, a lot more people smoked.  But they usually knew that it was bad for you and smelly.  When they asked my parents if they would mind if they smoked, My dad would simply say, “go right ahead – but don’t exhale”.  It seems a lot of city dwellers are getting fed up with cars and trucks that exhale a whole lot more smoke.  Several European Countries are moving towards banning all new sales of internal combustion engines.  Parisians may be among the first to breathe a collective sigh of relief from air and noise pollution as the city is considering an outright ban of all diesel engines.

As a society, our continued failure is the right to clean air.  Something I learned at a young age when I worked in nuclear power, “for every failure, there is a root cause”.  While I don’t think that health care is a “right”, I do agree that the costs are out of control.  In the United States, per capita health care costs are among the highest on the planet.  It turns out, the majority of health care costs are directly related to pollution.  According to the latest report by the American Lung Association (ALA), air pollution directly accounts for: 220,000 days of missed work, 109,000 asthma-related attacks and 2,580 premature deaths per annum.  Putting a price tag on all that adds up to $21 billion a year – in just 10 states.  The primary source is burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants.

While the ALA report promotes a more complex and gradual policy shift, I firmly believe the easier solution is to put that cost directly on the source – right at the gas pumps or the utility meter.  Then, a special health fund would go directly to, and only to, asthma and lung-related costs for consumers in the communities where the energy was purchased.  In some cases, such as near ports, special toll road fees could be deployed.  Consumers would quickly shift from fossil fueled cars and homes to zero emission counterparts.   The fund would decline over time, but so would demand – to the benefit of us all.  While I’m not a “policy wonk”, I can’t think of anything more democratic and straight forward than that.

On a personal note: we replaced our two family vehicles with an all electric for local commuting and a hybrid for the long hauls.  The all electric is by far the vehicle of choice – fast, quiet, comfortable, no smog checks, oil changes or trips to the gas station – ever!

Is cleaning solar panels worth the cost?

Many solar power owners ask, is cleaning panels worth the cost?  Until now – no.

Let’s face it, all panels get dirty. They’re outdoors.  All you have to do is drive around any neighborhood and look at rooftop panels to see the dirt buildup, especially around the bottom third of each panel.  Studies by UC San Diego and Atonometrics have proven annual production to diminish 6% – 11% depending on dust and air borne pollutants like smog and soot.  For residential customers, this may not be a big deal.  But for a business or utility?  A 6% – 11% drop in revenue is (and should be) a big deal!

While most residential owners would like higher production, getting a water hose extension long enough is too unwieldy and climbing up on a ladder or sloped roof trying to reach the high spots is too unsafe.  Commercial owners would also like higher production, but the production savings is usually negated by the cleaning costs or halted by environmental runoff regulations.  Besides, do you really want a lot of foot traffic on your roof, creating potential leaks?  For utility-scale owners who monitor production like a hawk, a truck spraying de-ionized water or a chemical solution does the trick.  But that cost erodes the savings too.

There just hasn’t been a workable solution – until now.

3fficient’s clean-tech incubator has launched a modern nano-technology that keeps panels super clean, thus increasing solar yields 6 – 11%.  It’s a “coat it and forget it” solution.  This nano-coating is applied to solar panels and keeps them clean and spot free for up to ten (10) years.  The nano-coating can be applied to panels at the factory or job site prior to install, or afterwards on the rooftop.  It can be re-applied in the future to add another decade of high productivity.   The clear liquid solution is literally painted onto the clean glass surface and dries in 2 minutes. The anti-static properties repel most dust and dirt.  The super hydrophylic properties repel water drops so any heavy debris like bird droppings are carried off with the morning dew or next rain.  3fficient offers a similar product for skylights, glass windows, windshields and doors.

To request a quote for PermaClean, click here.

High performance windows for the price of tint.

As the sun bears down on our buildings or cars, most people reach for the thermostat instead of stopping the heat BEFORE it gets inside your space.  Luckily, there’s a great new solution that will not only keep you comfortable, but will save your furnishings, your pocketbook and the environment.  If you answer yes to any of the following questions, then you are a good candidate for this low cost “upgrade”.

  • I want to see through my windows or glass and don’t want the view obscured or diminished.
  • I want my windows to allow natural light in to reduce lighting costs and make my space feel healthier.
  • I want my windows to block 100% of UV light to protect my flooring and furnishings from being ruined.
  • I want my windows to block heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter to reduce a/c costs.
  • I want a solution that is really durable, but a lot cheaper than installing triple pane glass with low-e coatings

Read more to see how liquid nano-tint coatings can be “painted” on to almost any glass or plastic surface to give it the same thermal properties as replacing the entire window system.

Blockchain-based microgrid gives power to consumers

A new project in New York City is letting residents buy and sell renewable energy to each other, bypassing the central authority and the associated costs.  Could this be the future of distributed energy?  If so, what are the impediments?

Who will maintain the wires or distribution between buildings?  That should be the job of the utility distribution company and can be competitively bid by cities or counties.  It can also be managed by the municipal utility as is currently done in many cities already.  But, for pricing to be truly transparent, they should not own any generation.  Energy supply should be on the open market and priced competitively with full effects priced into the product.  For example, many states have outlawed smoking in public places.  Power generation should not be exempted.  Any waste or emission should be the responsibility of the generator.  In other words, no smoking allowed…

When will renewable energy be as reliable as we have come to expect from fossil fuels?   In some cases it already is, even at the granular rooftop level.  In very sunny climates, solar is very consistent.  With automatic load management and limited storage, it’s sufficient enough to be off grid altogether.  Perhaps a better question is, “Does solar really need to be as reliable as fossil fuel power plants?”  As more and more devices become unplugged, like project FreeCharge is doing, communities are realizing that the in many ways, distributed solar power is more reliable and resilient than central station fossil-fueled power plants.  Just ask the residents of New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy.

Read more about peer-to-peer energy transactions.


Photo courtesy Jamie Scot Lytle

Behind San Diego Unified’s Solar Power Struggles

San Diego Unified School District was one of the first to deploy large scale solar and has learned some valuable lessons along the way.

Despite its struggles with solar power so far, the district is preparing to ramp up its solar footprint with a major investment of bond funds.

However, some districts like Poway and El Cajon have had near catastrophic issues with their public bonds.  While construction bonds are usually the cheapest form of capital, they have their drawbacks as well.

  1. Bonds take a long time to develop and get approved, at least 1 year and often several.  Meanwhile energy costs keep racking up.  For some districts, that accounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.  Also, with the 30% solar tax credit likely sunsetting in 2016, that means any projects built after that will essentially pay 30% higher than they should.
  2. After all that time and expense developing a bond, voters may not even approve it.  With taxes creeping up every year, many voters are worn out from being saddled with new taxes.

Fortunately, 3fficient’s Project FreeCharge™ has the answer – and the best of both worlds.  With the next lowest cost of capital, FreeCharge™ can fund projects within 30 – 60 days.  That means a hasty end to unnecessary utility costs and fees.  Since the capital comes from private sector grants, foundations and investors, the 30% tax credits can be utilized to reduce capital costs.  Better yet, return expectations are low which means the cost savings (or solar revenues) for schools and other public agencies and qualified non-profits will be much higher than a traditional PPA (Power Purchase Agreement).  Better still, the funding can be allocated in smaller, bite sized increments to keep spending under control and manageable.  When allocated for energy or cost saving measures like efficiency and renewables, the funding won’t affect credit ratings.

We hope that other school districts will learn from other’s challenges and participate with 3fficient’s new capital funding while it lasts.  Will this be the tipping point to end the utility’s death grip on school budgets?  We hope so.

Source: Behind San Diego Unified’s Solar Power Struggles

Spur clean-tech for smart cities – vote here.

Coming soon to smart cities – Next generation clean technologies that will help make fossil fuels irrelevant.

By 2050, 90% of the population will be in cities, 75% of all energy use and 80% of CO2 emissions will start with the cities.  When US Mayors return from their annual conference this weekend, city staffs will be challenged to accelerate smart city clean tech.  That’s us!  We are helping incubate some of the most incredible startups and early stage companies to make sure the best clean tech solutions keep on coming and get better every year…  Supporting innovative small business is the only way to reach your goals.  Won’t you join us?  Do more with less.  Be 3fficient!

Make sure you follow us to see upcoming announcements on new urban infrastructure.  I can’t wait to show you the stuff in development!  But, don’t let that delay you from purchasing our innovative new products available now.

3fficient incubator team

Vote for smart campus sustainability!

If you or your institution care about climate change, lowering energy bills or student safety, we ask you to vote for 3fficient to win a $100k grant, so we can bring you free solar power, improved student safety and education.


3fficient is helping incubate some incredible startups and early stage companies.  Our FreeCharge™ initiative is to further develop and deploy brilliant, solar-powered urban furniture to public and campus spaces.  Our designs cleanly integrate solar power, device charging, brilliant lighting, WiFi, emergency 911, environmental sensing, wayfinding and more into beautiful self-powered smart urban furniture.  Our initial products have already proven to be extremely useful, educational and valuable.

Our only ask is that you vote now and tell others, so we can qualify to compete with traditional and fossil-based businesses for a $100,000 grant.  No strings! Applications are closed and we must now exceed 250 votes to qualify by the 6/19/15 deadline.  This Friday!  Once we get over this first hurdle, we feel very confident in winning. We will use the funds to refine and improve our newest designs for commercialization and deployment.  We just need your Facebook vote now.

Please share this with all your sustainable-minded friends, students and their parents.  Deadline is this Friday.  Thank you!


Doug Poffinbarger, President, 3fficient

PS.  Please remember to “like us” and “follow us” so we can keep you posted on our journey.  Do more with less.  Be 3fficient!

The coming era of unlimited – and free – clean energy.

Boy, what a relief to read such as positive article instead of the usual gloom and doom.  The incredible drop in the price of solar energy will shake up our world.  But will it be fast enough?  Source: The coming era of unlimited — and free — clean energy – The Washington Post

Do you support solar charging?

strawberryOur partner, Strawberry energy is competing to enter the Verge CleanTech Accelerator in Silicon Valley.  This is a great opportunity for a young startup to showcase in front of influential people from famous Silicon Valley.  They are just one step closer to it, but really need your vote! Just click on this linkselect Strawberry energy and click Vote!
No registration, no connection with social media, just one click.  Thank you and please share!

State Stymies Military on Energy

The Union Tribune recently published an article on power supply for military bases in CA. It was followed by a full page ad promoting a two-tiered rate to raise rates for more efficient users and lowering rates for inefficient users.  The current rate design already has regional adjustments built in for hotter climates.  Those that have invested in efficiency upgrades and solar get penalized while those that use more energy get relief.  Sounds “bass-ackwards” to me…

Interesting article, but missing some fact checking and in need of a different conclusion.  Here’s my comments/corrections to the article:

1. If 80-85% of the energy bill is to maintain T&D (wires), that leaves only 15-20% for the commodity. Most utilities across the US are in the 30-45% range for fixed costs. It’s not like San Diego has giant mountains or harsh weather which makes maintenance more expensive than other parts of the country. With the third highest energy rates in the nation (Hawaii and Alaska get those dubious honors), shouldn’t the question be, Where is all that money going?

2. The assertions that solar owners don’t pay for public purpose programs, all the other associated fees, and that public purpose is discounted for low income homeowners are false. Public purpose programs have, for many years, set moneys aside to incentivize efficiency and clean energy – for all customers. Solar bills contain the same line item fees that others do. The only difference is, who is making the big capital investment in infrastructure. Anyone who saves up their hard earned dollars or uses their credit to invest in clean energy should be entitled to at least the same or better returns than utilities get. Especially since homeowners don’t get the same long term rate guarantees that utilities do.

3. The assertion that all utilities in CA are like SMUD and pay retail for NEM solar is incorrect. SMUD is a small municipal (city) utility that has chosen to pay retail or below. All of the investor owned utilities and LA, which comprise roughly 95% of CA energy customers only pay wholesale for solar. IMHO, they SHOULD pay near retail for solar. Electrons do not flow all the way back to the utility, they flow to the path of least resistance, i.e. next door. Perhaps an alternate model would be for utilities to charge a simple tiered flat fee only – just to maintain the wires. Small, medium and large. Then, the PUC opens it up to competition for other companies to maintain the wires we’ve already paid for. Others would provide the energy commodity.

4. Utilities overall have historically been very slow in helping others connect their solar systems. Why should they when they are worried about losing their monopoly position, “departing loads”? Small DG is counter to that business model.  SDGE has improved a lot in their assistance with solar interconnections. Before CCSE was awarded the contract to manage rebates, I’m not sure that would have been the case though. Competition definitely helped.

5. Philosophically, nobody should be capped at how much distributed energy they can add to the grid. However, I do understand technically why the cap exists – to prevent huge voltage and reliability issues. The real question is, should the grid or utility provide battery service? Why not?  Right now, that battery service is procured via net metering, wholesale for what they produce and retail for the rest.  With adequate foresight, re-investment and managed risk, we’d already have a flexible, resilient grid, capable of providing that battery service on demand. Years ago, the 1 MW NEM cap was put in place to allow utilities time to figure out how to integrate distributed loads.  But now, it’s really a crutch to keep from moving faster in modernizing their network.  Competition solves that.  In absence of competition, clear direction is needed.  Remember, adding diversity to the power grid is a good thing.  It increases energy security and lowers carbon.  The worst thing we could do is to penalize or stifle those individual or social investors.

So what is the value of net metering?  Is the net payment of only paying wholesale up to a max of what they consume reasonable? I don’t think so. The value of solar power is much higher than that. First, the power generated goes straight to the nearest demand and does not travel far at all (usually less than a hundred feet). Also, since it does not pollute the air we all breathe, shouldn’t it be worth more than wholesale (fossil-fueled) power? Maybe more than retail even? But what about the grid as a battery? If a customer wants power when demand is high, they should pay a higher cost. What’s wrong with supply and demand model? When you consider the benefits of energy security and the air we all breathe. Those that stifle clean energy are basically saying it’s ok for our children to die while fighting over foreign interests or moving fossil fuels in military convoys. Or, it’s ok to pollute our air and accelerate climate change.

6. Large users, like military bases are like any other small NEM provider. They consume everything on site first. Only the excess power goes back to the grid. Rather than looking for an exception to the cap, they should invest in their own energy storage (for any excess energy) and become completely (or capable of being) off grid. In times of emergency, military bases should not be reliant on outside supply for anything – especially power!

7. The best part of the article was pointing out the irony of the CA senate in shelving AB2649 and then passing the $420M tax credit for defense contractors.

In the end, the death spiral is a real threat to the old utility model, but it’s not a threat to the economy and capitalism. If we are ever going to fight climate change and get energy independence, we should stop stifling competition by protecting an outdated model and allow massive social investments by individual investors (homeowners, businesses and military) in clean energy security.

Read the Article Here.