On this week's episode we tackle Energy and Fuel – and ask how we might move to into the future with our guest Katie Davis of the Sierra Club.
On this episode of Solutions News, we tackle Energy and Fuel – and ask how we might move to into the Future. As PG&E has begun preemptively shutting off power to thousands of its customers in an effort to mitigate liability – we ask, how might local and regional governments work with utility companies to provide efficient and clean energy for the communities they serve? We also explore hydrogen created via electrolysis with renewable energy resources as a green fuel that can replace fossil fuels in transportation, industry and energy generation/storage. Our guest is Katie Davis, who leads the Los Padres chapter of the Sierra Club – and is working hard to prevent additional oil extraction on the central coast of California. Later, we do some great “didyaknows” and finish up with some interesting food parts that have surprisingly healthy uses!
How to Work with the Utilities for a Clean Energy Future
What are utility companies and who are they? Here in California we have what are called “Investor Owned Utilities” or “IOUs” for short. The IOUs are private companies that have private shareholders and private bondholders but who have historically generated all of their profits from selling electricity and gas to the California ratepayers. The two largest and by far most powerful IOUs in California are Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric ( a distant third in size is San Diego Gas & Electric). The two major ones have been around for a century or more, and exercise enormous (some would say egregious) influence over the California Public Utilities Commission who sets the rates all customers pay to these giant, privately owned companies. Together the IOUs keep the California grid full of energy. The problem is that the State of California has very different objectives than the IOUs. California ratepayers who want to have 100% green energy sources at the least possible costs. The IOUs want to keep the fossil fuel game going as long as possible and maintain monopoly control over the ratepayers in their portion of California who are no allowed to buy energy in competition with the IOUs in their respective “territories.”
Ok, so we understand the inherent conflict between a monopolist like PG&E and the public who wants to get the best price for the energy we use, on the most reliable basis possible, and preferably have that energy be “green.” So, how might local and regional governments work with utility companies to provide efficient and clean energy? Any electrical grid of the future will need to incorporate cost-effective alternatives to centralized fossil-fuel generation so that all customers can take advantage of the shift towards local production of renewables rather than just investing in the existing grid infrastructure, or more fossil fuel plants.
Here in California, PG&E and Edison have both been doing everything they can to slow down the movement to green energy, slow down rooftop solar, and slow down use of wind and geothermal as alternatives to fossil fuel. However, across the United States, municipalities are making partnerships with utilities and taking community action to make the transition to green energy.
Over the past decade, regulated utilities have invested $55 billion each year into the grid. Spending is rising faster than electricity demand - raising costs every year - and much of this investment has been to shore up aging “old-school” infrastructure that isn’t reducing carbon emissions anywhere as fast as we need to deal with climate change. Clearly, the first step is to think beyond traditional pole and transmission line infrastructure towards scalable renewable alternatives.
Part of the problem is that the typical energy grid is woefully inefficient; it is built out to meet MAXIMUM demand needed only at the hottest points in summer or the coldest points in winter and rates are set based on the peak use of energy. Moreover, as other industries have evolved to use technology and IT solutions, most utilities still trail far behind with outdated infrastructure and the lack of a “smart grid”.
New York is working to change this process in the state by investing $55 billion to rethink the way that utilities invest capital into grid infrastructure through what they call Non-Wire Solutions. These solutions are portfolios of resources such as rooftop solar, battery storage, energy efficiency and smart load controls. Instead of investing in new poles and electric lines to meet increasing electricity demand - which is the approach utilities usually take - a utility could instead invest in these local methods to manage and produce cheap green energy - which is flexible and quick to build. This keeps the energy and the jobs needed to both create and manage it locally.
Another aspect to building for the future besides getting utilities to consider alternatives to outdated infrastructure is to ensure that upgrades are available to anyone who wants or needs them.
For example, in Portland, the city council created a program to help people of low socio-economic status by heavily subsidizing solar panels for anyone who does not have the money to install them or does not own their home. Since the panels are a twenty-five-year investment, the small amount of money paid by the city ends up being more than paid for, and also helps homeowners to lower their electricity costs.
We also mentioned a similar program in North Carolina during a “didyaknow” on the May 24th show. The Roanoke Electric Cooperative offers federally backed loans and no up-front cost, to ensure that customers can make the important housing changes that will help them save on their electric bills. A simple loan to fix something like insulation could help a homeowner save around 10-12% on their monthly electric bill. In both the Portland and the Roanoke case, when income is not an issue, there can be near universal upgrades that allow both the customer and the utility to save in the long term.
The primary function of a utility is to provide cost-effective, reliable electricity, and to ensure that the generation process is as efficient as it can conceivably be. But to be a true partner with the customers and the communities that Utilities serve, they must be incentivized to focus more on the people, rather than focusing solely on earnings reports the IOUs want for their shareholders. Hopefully, Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration will prove a more effective public steward for rate payers and will compel the cooperation California so badly needs if we are to achieve our “green energy” goals for the future.
The Solutions of Hydrogen Power
To make distributed energy work, that means micro-grids all over the state powered by sun and wind, will require LOTS of “green” hydrogen. That means hydrogen created by electrolyzing wind and solar resources into hydrogen without using any fossil fuel whatsoever.
66% of the cost to produce hydrogen is the energy to create it, which currently is running less than 5¢/kw hour which means we can produce hydrogen for less than $6/kilogram which is the equivalent of $3/gallon of gas! And as production from Wind and Solar increases we will have more and more excess production which we can “capture” and store permanently as hydrogen until we want to use it in our cars, trucks, buses or the electrical grid. Electrolysis is a brilliant method for storing energy, has a tremendous shelf life, can be easily transported, used to fuel vehicles, and emits only water. It’s now economical to literally turn our excess sun power and wind energy into hydrogen: the fuel of the future.
Currently, in addition to cars, buses and trucks, hydrogen is used to power forklifts in warehouses all over the country and in many industrial processes (i.e. production of methanol, ammonia, or biofuel).
We’ve been asked to explain how electrolysis works. So here goes. Electrolysis is the process that runs an electric current (as an example from wind or solar sources) through water molecules to separate the hydrogen gas from the oxygen (in H2O). Hydrogen produced this way is “green” and totally abundant and 100% clean.
Hydrogen can also be made from also use recycled or reclaimed water such as the outflow from the Goleta waste water treatment plant. That’s right, we can make clean hydrogen from treated sewage water and power our grid as well as our transportation infrastructure. Though electrolysis was thought to be expensive in the past, as we said a minute ago, we can product green hydrogen for about the current cost of a gallon of fossil fuel gas!
A renewable future must include hydrogen as the most economical storage option as well as a fuel option. As a fuel, hydrogen is much more cost effective than gasoline and is even more efficient than battery powered electric vehicles. For example, while a Tesla has a range of 237-315 miles, a 2019 model of the Toyota Mirai only needs to refuel every 312 miles. And compared with electric vehicles that can take hours to recharge, refilling a hydrogen powered car only takes 3-5 minutes. This powerful alternative to both electricity and gas is part of why hydrogen vehicles are starting to become more popular worldwide.
Surprising Food we Usually Toss that are Useful, Healthy and Easy to Use.
On Friday June 7th, the Optimist Daily featured a story about why we shouldn’t toss the core of a pineapple, and some other intriguing suggestions for reducing food waste by using parts of common foods we normally throw away. We thought we’d share a few with you here today, but there are so many that we’ll add more in the coming weeks in our Didaknows…
First of all - Did ya know that watermelon seeds are super nutritious, quite delicious and ounce for ounce, have more protein than a whole egg? While it’s not advisable to eat them raw, sprouting them by soaking in water for a few days helps to shed the skin, and turns them into a great snack. Or they can be roasted and eaten like sunflower seeds as well.
Another great food you’d never think to eat: The center of a pineapple. It’s rich with bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down protein, that is a great boon for digestion. The core is totally edible, though It may not have the exact same succulent texture of the rest of the fruit. It is still delicious and better yet, it’s where some of pineapple’s most impressive nutrients are hiding. It’s great to add to smoothies, chop into a salsa, or finely dice as a salad topper.
And of course, there are also many non-food uses that are being developed for food waste - it seems like we hear about a new one every day! From Ghana using cocoa bean husks to Scotland using coffee grounds to make biofuels, it will not be long before we are all like Doc Brown in Back to the Future - tossing banana peels, chocolate and coffee into our fuel tanks to take off into the future.
Utilities will need to change to stay relevant in the Future of Energy
On this week's episode we tackle HOMELESSNESS. We are thrilled to welcome our guest Jeff Shaffer. Jeff is one person whose been working effectively to help get vulnerable people off the street and into housing.
On this episode of Solutions News, we are tackling HOMELESSNESS. We are thrilled to welcome our guest Jeff Shaffer. Jeff is one person whose been working effectively to help get vulnerable people off the street and into housing. In addition, we will share three innovative programs that are being implemented around the country, including in Santa Barbara, that are helping solve aspects of this issue: Tiny house villages, Safe Parking Sanctuaries, and later in the show, after our fan favorite “Didyaknow” segment, Showers of Blessings.
Tiny House Villages
Homelessness has been in the news quite a bit lately with a new report from LA about how its homeless population grew by 16% over the last year, despite the recent measures that were voted in providing additional funding to help solve this issue. Many are blaming the extreme lack of affordable housing for this increase. We promise that we will get into some solutions on that subject next week, but for today, we will focus on how to help the “un-housed” those under-resourced families and individuals who, at a critical point in time, lacked the support necessary to remain housed. It’s easy to dismiss these most vulnerable of our fellows - wrongly assuming that they are all drug-addicts and derelicts. This is not the case. And because this is Solutions News, we will be covering several innovative approaches to solving this challenging problem.
Our first story tonight is about a unique approach to helping the homeless through a “housing first” approach. Housing first has been considered the premier way to fight homelessness since the early 2000s. The goal is to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing - without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. Supportive services are offered to maximize housing stability and prevent returns to homelessness, but this is NOT a requirement for housing.
One newer solution that has come out of the housing first impulse relies on the fact that people don’t need a lot of space to live. In fact, just basic amenities like running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, a kitchen area, a bed, and a lock on the door are the necessities that make a world of difference compared to being homeless. These “tiny homes” provide secure housing for a small cost and multiple units can easily be built on the same lot.
Cass Community Social Services, A tiny house program in Detroit is able to build them for about $1 per square foot, which is remarkably cheap compared to the price of renting an apartment or a house, so each tiny home ends up costing under $1000 to build. A similar program in the state of Washington coordinated by the Low Income Housing Institute has had such success that they recently were awarded a $100,000 grant to expand their tiny house program. The institute has built 2,200 tiny house units in 10 different tiny house villages. Here in the Central Coast, tiny homes are moving from conceptual design to reality. The non-profit Operation WEB (Women Empowered Build Strong) is beginning work to create a tiny home village to support homeless and housing insecure female veterans in Santa Maria.
Safe Parking Sanctuaries
Our second story is about an innovative solution that’s been pioneered here in Santa Barbara. The New Beginnings’ Safe Parking Program has been recognized as an inexpensive and effective way to both support a section of the “un-housed” population and connect them with important services. It’s been so successful that other communities in California and around the country are asking New Beginnings to share its model.
The Safe Parking Program was started in 2004 with the understanding that we have a diverse population here, but not everyone has the money to afford a home or even cover rent in this town. There are many, even some with steady jobs, who for one reason or another lose a permanent roof and end up sleeping in their cars. So, the program provides overnight parking spaces for people who need a quiet, safe place where they can live in their cars. According to the website, the program provides “Daily-monitored parking places for those who are living in their vehicles because they do not have sufficient income to provide for their basic needs of affordable housing”.
The program has been getting some of the credit that it deserves from both national and local media. The program was featured on HBO’s Vice as well as an article in Rolling Stone and a few Los Angeles Times articles written by columnist Steve Lopez. Locally, they have been featured in both the Santa Barbara Independent and Noozhawk.
We hope that acknowledging some of the good the program is doing might lead to these properties being opened up for more parking places. It is a unique solution that takes the abundance of available resources and uses it to help address the issue of homelessness. Similar programs are being discussed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even in European countries like France. Thank you for your work, and we are glad to see these ideas being spread abroad.
Low Income Housing Institute builds tiny houses to help create big futures.
On this week's episode we talk to our guest Art Ludwig and explore some solutions to the housing crisis in California. Namely, we discuss approaches that create more accessible, more affordable housing.
On this episode of Solutions News, we explore some solutions to the housing crisis in California. Namely, we discuss approaches that create more accessible, more affordable housing and how local zoning can either encourage or inhibit the density we need for more resilient, sustainable and vibrant urban cores. Our guest, environmental systems designer Art Ludwig, takes a systems approach to this topic as well, and proposes the use of alternative building materials, along with future thinking to design homes and communities that address the affordable housing crunch at the same time as the new dangers of changing environmental conditions. All of the solutions have one thing in common - the move away from large single family suburban houses - those ever larger McMansions that have been attached to the “American Dream” since 1946. We end the show with some great “didyaknows” and 12 reasons why choosing to live in a smaller home might actually lead to better things.
Story #1: Micro-Real Estate – The secret is out - California has a housing crisis. While the country’s homelessness level as decreased by 13 percent, California’s has increased by 9 percent. The cause? Unaffordable housing. Insufficient wages to keep up with rising rents. California must take creative steps to address this crisis. ADUs, or Accessory Dwelling Units, are one option. They are affordable living spaces with a breakoff room that can be rented out. It is time that people shift their mindsets from looking for new building space to working with the space that we already have. Instead of building fully new structures, we can start to renovate already developed, vacant spaces, and if they are managed properly, everyone will benefit.
Story #2: Affordable Mixed-Use Projects – Mixed-use affordable housing is a green solution that California can use to solve its housing crisis and promote a sustainable future. More people are choosing to live in urban areas, and now people are more likely to favor a location close to their workplace over a personal vehicle. We also need efficient public transit to work alongside this new desired housing trend.
Story #3: Smaller and Less… But in a Good Way – In 1973, the average newly built house was about 1,500 square feet. In 2015, it was 2,500. And the average family size has shrunk. Clearly there is a problem here. More space doesn’t mean more happiness, a recent study shows. People may actually be happier in smaller homes, but people keep buying bigger homes because, well, who’s stopping them? Soon, California will be stopping all of us. There are genuine benefits of smaller homes, including ease of maintenance, financial incentives, less risks, less environmental impacts, more family bonding in closer spaces, and a wider resale market.
On this week's episode with Dr. David Kerr, we focus on solutions in HealthCare, with origins in advances in communications technology, socially responsible business approaches and human centered thinking.
On this episode of Solutions News, we focus on solutions in HealthCare, with origins in advances in communications technology, socially responsible business approaches and human centered thinking. We discuss the growing role of nurse practitioners and telemedicine in improving medical services for rural communities in the US. We also shine a light on a new nonprofit generic drug company that’s pushing back on big pharma, and we’ll discuss new targeted and personalized approaches that are revolutionizing medicine. We are also excited to introduce our audience to our guest, Dr. David Kerr, who leads the world renowned Sansum Diabetes Research Institute located here in Santa Barbara.
Story #1: The Lack of Doctors in Rural America – Citizens of rural America are at greater risk for health challenges due to the lack of doctors in rural areas. One potential solution for this issue is that of modern communication technology. Nurse practitioners complete much of the necessary routine medical work and are trained to diagnose problems and prescribe medicine. There are 243,000 licenses nurse practitioners in the United States, but many doctors worry that these practitioners cannot quite live up to primary care physicians. But at this time, it is necessary to put the patients first when this is the only option. While there is a massive shortage of doctors in rural America, there is an increasing market for medical practitioners that are able to provide adequate care in bustling urban areas and rural America alike.
Story #2: Hospitals to the Rescue – Continuing our theme of shortages, many hospitals are running short on necessities because the Big Pharma restrictions. But, as you know, there has to be a solution, and this time it is a big power move for hospitals. Hospitals are banding together to eliminate shortages and reduce the costs for patients. Not only will this stock up hospitals, but it will actually drive down the costs that patients have to pay for necessary healthcare. Civica Rx, a not-for-profit company, is behind these advances. The band of big and local hospitals is working to protect patients and citizens from Big Pharma gouging.
Story #3: Personalized Medicine – With more and more information on genes, data, and personal microbiomes, medicine has been revolutionized. Germ theory can no longer be the basis of diagnosis and treatment. Our immune systems are incredibly strong and able to attack certain types of cancerous tumors through immunotherapy. It has become easier to target more specific molecules of cancer cells through Precision Medicine. Hopefully, treatments will soon be so personalized to specific cancers that patients will be treated through personalized treatments and medicines. While precision medicine is not yet part of routine care for most patients, it is progressing more and more every day.
Family Nurse Practitioner infographic, courtesy of American Sentinel University
Katie Davis is Chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, covering
Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, and serves on Sierra Club’s
National Marine Team and California Climate and Energy Committee. A
former VP of Web and Ecommerce at tech company, Citrix, she was
involved in corporate sustainability initiatives and served on the
Community Environmental Council’s Partnership Council. In 2012 she
trained with Al Gore's Climate Reality Project, became a climate
change speaker and activist, helped to start the Santa Barbara County
Water Guardians and its effort to qualify an initiative to ban
fracking and other extreme oil extraction in Santa Barbara County for
the ballot in 2014 and served on its campaign steering committee. She
went on to take a leadership role in the Sierra Club where she led
successful campaigns to defeat oil projects and set 100% renewable
Katie Davis, our Guest on June 7, 2019
Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies. He studied at Western Seminary in Los Gatos, California before moving to Santa Barbara with his wife Julia in 1992, to Pastor at Community Covenant Church. Jeff was the interim Senior Pastor there until leaving to join Christian Associates International in 2005. At that point, he began working with marginalized people groups in Santa Barbara County. He began his initial work with Friends without Homes at Pershing Park with a meal sharing program he started in 2005. As Director at the Village Apartments on the Westside, Jeff organized a tutoring program, kids club, and helped create a library for at risk youth. In 2011, Jeff helped initiate the first Vulnerability Index in tandem with our Point in Time count.
Jeff is currently the Director of Community Engagement with Home for Good at the Northern Santa Barbara County United Way chapter, with primary efforts that include helping establish the Funder’s Collaborative and help reduce homelessness on State Street. He is also the Director of Initiatives with Santa Barbara ACT – a local non-profit organization dedicated to working with and for the marginalized in Santa Barbara. Jeff is currently working on helping develop more housing options for local women, survivors of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Santa Barbara County.
Jeff has been married to his wife Julia for 28 years and has three children – Kairos, Kennah, and Kalum.
Jeff Shaffer, our guest on June 14, 2019
Art Ludwig is a top-selling author and international design consultant. Optimal, integrated design has been Art's day job for 37 years. His specialty is complex, deep green, integrated "systems of systems" for water, wastewater, energy, shelter, and transportation. Building these systems involves coordinating multiple specialties as well as original innovations to fill gaps.
As a student at UC Berkeley, his research led to the development of the first laundry detergent biocompatible with plants and soil. He went on to found a successful manufacturing business to distribute it. Decades after publication, Art's books Create an Oasis with Greywater and Water Storage still tops Amazon's list of best-selling plumbing books. His 500-page website, oasisdesign.net, is top-ranked by Google for a wide range of topics, from search engine optimization to integrated design for fire to understanding fecal coliform bacteria counts.
Art has developed numerous original innovations that he has published, unpatented, into the public domain for the common good. These include the Branched Drain and Laundry to Landscape greywater systems. The latter is a best practice that has propagated worldwide. More than 20 agencies in California offer rebates for this system, which also received federal job training stimulus funds. He has worked professionally on building codes in three states. His quantitative analysis of the health risks of greywater cleared the way for more rational regulation of greywater in California, and he played a major role in the crafting of new greywater standards. Art also spearheaded the introduction of a bill legalizing research on sustainable building in California.
In 2012, Art hosted a landmark sustainability policy colloquium that brought leaders in natural building, permaculture, and public interest activism together with heads of building and health departments. He was a keynote speaker at the California Association of Building Officials' annual conference later that year. His quantitative analysis of historical and emerging hazards attributable to the built environment helps regulators and policymakers take the dramatic rise in emerging hazards into account.
Oasis is located by a beautiful creek in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, California. The site exemplifies Art's goal of living better with less use of resources: it utilizes about $5 a month of electricity and gas per person and 14 gallons of water a day per person indoors. Thanks to supplementation with rainwater and reused water, just 20 gallons of metered water a day for irrigation outdoors produces 150 pounds of fresh fruit per year per person—at least four different kinds any day of the year. The quarter-acre property infiltrates more water to the underlying aquifer than it consumes.
Art Ludwig, Our Guest on June 21, 2019
David Kerr MD is a UK trained physician and endocrinologist who is currently Director of Research and Innovation at the world famous Sansum Diabetes Research Institute (SDRI), here in Santa Barbara (www.sansum.org). This is his third time living in the US having been a researcher at Yale in the 1990s, and then an Editor of the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology in 2010 while he lived in the San Francisco Bay area.
David went to school and University in Scotland and subsequently spent most of his professional life being a full-time clinician and researcher focusing on all aspects of diabetes. David is Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Visiting Professor at Bournemouth University and for many years has held a Gold Clinical Excellence Award from the National Health Service in the UK.
David joined SDRI in April 2014 and currently is leading major research initiatives aimed at reducing the disproportionate impact that diabetes has on minority populations in the United States and also how a return to focus on healthy food could have dramatic and important benefits for children and adults wherever they live. You can find out more about his “Eat Your Medicine” program at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter - @godiabetesmd.
Dr. David Kerr, our guest on June 28, 2019