These Are The Technologies That Will Transform The 2020s – From 5G To Vertical Farming

Shared mobility, advanced plastic recycling and protein production are also going to be key to future prosperity.

2020 is set to be the year of 5G, shared mobility and new ways of recycling plastic, says research group Lux, along with new battery technology and artificial meat also set to make a big impact.

The provider of tech-enabled research has produced its “20 for 20” list of “the technologies and trends that will transform the way we live, work, and play over the next decade”.

5G networks will lead the way thanks to their role as an enabling technology for so many other parts of the every-expanding digital landscape. “From robotic surgery to self-driving cars, 5G will be critical to advances in the internet of things,” Lux says. “5G has officially left the realm of research and entered reality, with more than 2,200 patents being filed this year.”

Meanwhile, shared mobility – services such as car-sharing companies, e-bikes and electric scooters – has seen funding of more than $10 billion in each of the last three years and it is starting to reinvent urban transportation.

In the wake of the Blue Planet II documentary and the global furore about plastic pollution, particularly in the ocean, there has been a strong focus on ways to cut plastic waste, with advanced plastic recycling technologies such as pyrolysis and chemical recycling becoming an imperative for companies ranging from chemicals manufacturers to producers of consumer packaged goods. China, the world’s largest market, which has banned imports of plastic waste for recycling, is leading the way on the issue with 55% of all patents coming from that country.

As the electric vehicle revolution really starts to take effect in 2020, Li-ion batteries are starting to reach the limits of their chemistry, leading to a performance plateau in terms of reducing weight and cost while increasing range. The answer may lie in solid-state batteries. More than 500 patents were filed last year and the technology is set to move rapidly from the lab to the marketplace.

The same driver that is leading to the surging growth in electric vehicles is also having a transformative effect on the food and agriculture sector. The production of animal feed and meat, particularly beef, is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and there has been a big increase in the production of artificial protein – lab-grown alternatives to meat and fish, as well as precision livestock farming and new fish feeds. “Next-generation protein are needed to feed a population of almost 10 billion and received five times the investment of the previous year, landing at more than $200 million,” Lux said.

Platform technologies’ impact is in what they enable – they not only provide opportunities in themselves but also for other innovations to piggyback off them.

Lux’s “20 for 2020” identifies and ranks 20 technologies that will reshape the world, based on innovation interest scores from the Lux Intelligence Engine, along with input from Lux’s leading analysts. It is an attempt to answer the question – “What technologies will you be following this year that have the greatest potential to transform the world over the next decade?”

5G networks rose 12 places from last year’s ranking, while solid state batteries were seven places higher, indicating the way these technologies are steadily making their way onto the market. But 11 of the 20 technologies in the list, including artificial protein, advanced plastic recycling and shared mobility were new to the leaderboard, highlighting the way some technologies can make huge leaps forward within a few months.

Other technologies new to the list for 2020 include commercial vehicle automation; point of use sensing; energy trading platforms; hydrogen and fuel cells; quantum computing; Omics – biological sciences such as genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, or metabolomics, which aim to identify, characterize, and quantify all biological molecules involved in the structure, function, and dynamics of a cell, tissue, or organism; flow batteries; and vertical farming.

Innovations that were in last year’s list and have risen include natural language processing; materials informatics; last-mile delivery and blockchain. Areas falling in relative terms were 3D printing; battery fast-charging and 2D materials.

“One of the most exciting trends this list highlights is how rapidly the tech innovation landscape is evolving,” said Michael Holman, vice-president of research at Lux. “The number of newcomers on the list, along with progress in returning technologies, shows how rapidly innovation is progressing, creating compelling new growth opportunities as well as disruptive threats to incumbents.

“The 20 technologies we identified are all compelling individually, particularly for companies in industries that are closely aligned to developing and deploying them, or affected by their impact,” he added. “However, just as important can be the stories they tell as a group. In looking at the 20 for 20, we identified three key common themes among these innovation dynamos.”

The innovations were split into three different types – renaissance technologies, platform technologies and breakthrough technologies.

Renaissance technologies aren’t new , but they are newly relevant, Holman said. “They have been around for a while in some form – some have even gone for a ride or two on the hype cycle in the past; others have just been regarded as stodgy fields not really associated with cutting-edge innovation. But a combination of megatrends, market demand, and new innovations has thrust them into strategic prominence.”

Artificial intelligence is an example of this – it has been an aspiration of computer scientists, and preoccupation of sci-fi writers, for decades. “In the past five years, new approaches like deep learning combined with the growth of data collection and compute power have made AI a business imperative,” he adds.

Likewise, the new focus on protein production has come about in response to food security and climate impact concerns. This is benefiting companies such as Calysta, whose fermentation tech converts methane into single-cell protein feed. Avoiding the land, water, and resource demands of plant protein, it is scaling a viable alternative aquaculture feed.

Platform technologies’ impact is in what they enable – they not only provide opportunities in themselves but also for other innovations to piggyback off them. Smartphones were the most important platform of the past decade-plus. “They’ve been big business for manufacturers like Apple and Samsung, as well as driving growth for mobile network operators,” Lux says. “Their greatest impact, however, has been enabling an all-star list of growth companies, from Uber and Grab to Instagram and Tencent.”

Breakthrough technologies are creations with unclear impact. “It might not be entirely clear what all the applications will be, but the surge of innovation interest and the way they’ve captured the imaginations of entrepreneurs and visionaries around the world makes them impossible to ignore,” Holman asserts. The risk is that they are just “tech push” without market pull, but when they can align to an unmet need or demand, the result is explosive.

Wearable electronics is an example of a breakthrough technology. It came onto the scene as a novelty, but now, valuable practical applications are being established for both consumers, such as  providing critical health alerts, and industrial users, such as worker safety and productivity boosts.

Blockchain is another technology that jumped suddenly into people’s consciousness thanks to the rise of bitcoin, but now large companies and serious tech developers are exploring how the concept of a distributed ledger can enable legitimate new businesses. It’s not certain yet which approaches and applications will work out, but some will likely go on to have great impact. For example, UK utility Centrica has created a “local energy market” (LEM) in Cornwall, allowing solar and other distributed asset owners to engage in peer-to-peer energy trading – including “power hedges” on LO3 Energy’s blockchain platform.  SOURCE

What’s in store for Ontario politics in 2020

As Doug Ford approaches the halfway point of his mandate, he’ll face a new Liberal rival and budget challenges

The challenges facing Ontario Premier Doug Ford in 2020 include labour unrest in the province’s school system, a $9-billion budget deficit, and polling numbers that put his Progressive Conservatives behind the leaderless Ontario Liberal Party. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

For Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government, 2020 will bring the midway point of their four-year mandate, a new opponent leading the Ontario Liberal Party, and fresh challenges to keeping their outstanding campaign promises.

A provincial law sets June 2, 2022, as the date for the next election, which means Ford has two years to reverse his low polling numbers. If a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity, so plenty can and will happen until then.

Here’s what you should look for from the Ford government and the Ontario political scene in 2020.

Teachers’ strikes

The new year will pick up where 2019 left off, with significant labour unrest in the education system. None of the four big teachers unions has come close to securing a contract deal, and the three largest — the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) — will all be in a legal strike position in January.

The most fraught negotiations are with OSSTF, as the government’s push for larger class sizes and mandatory online courses in high school has the biggest impact on that union. The government is sticking to its call for wage increases no higher than one per cent per year, while the unions are looking to keep pace with inflation.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has already held three one-day strikes this school year, and other education unions could join them on the picket lines in 2020. (Michael Cole/CBC)

Expect to see further strikes as 2020 unfolds, keeping in mind that the government can call back Queen’s Park at any time for an emergency session to pass back-to-work legislation if the strikes escalate.

For the government, there are risks to such a move, because the province must either send the dispute to binding arbitration or impose the terms of a contract. Binding arbitration could bring a settlement that is more expensive than the government wants, while imposing a contract could be found to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, forcing the province to pay out compensation. That is what happened after the Liberal government imposed contracts on teachers in 2012.

Budget: Take 2

Finance Minister Rod Phillips will try to learn lessons from his predecessor Vic Fedeli’s first and only budget, which triggered weeks of controversy in 2019 for burying program and service cuts that blindsided a wide range of sectors.

Fedeli and Ford’s chief mistake was attempting to sell an austerity budget as something that it wasn’t. To avoid a repeat of 2019, Phillips will need to be forthright with Ontarians and make it clear on budget day what exactly is being cut.

The broader budget challenge for the Ford government was recently made clear by the province’s financial accountability officer. The growing demands for health care and education will soon outstrip the government’s planned spending in those sectors by $5 billion. Phillips can expect close scrutiny of his numbers as he lays out his path to eliminate the province’s $9-billion deficit by 2023.

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, right, must deliver his 2020 budget by March 31. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Under a new law brought in by the PCs, the budget must be tabled by March 31. Since the legislature does not sit during March break, that means it’s almost certain to be presented between March 23 and 31.

Liberal Party resuscitation

The Ontario Liberal Party is now a shell of what it was for most of the past two decades. With just five sitting MPPs, a mountain of debt and a battered network of riding associations, Liberals are hoping their leadership race will inject new life into the party.

Some 25,000 party members will be eligible to vote in early February to elect delegates to the leadership convention, which takes place March 7 in Mississauga.

Six candidates are vying for the job, three of whom have never held elected office at any level. Membership and fundraising figures suggest sitting MPPs Michael Coteau and Mitzie Hunter trail former cabinet minister Steven Del Duca by a significant margin. But if Del Duca doesn’t win on the first ballot, the capriciousness of a delegated convention means anything can happen.

Horwath’s future on the line

On the very day the Liberals choose their new leader, Andrea Horwath will mark her 11th anniversary at the helm of the NDP. Although the New Democrats’ seat count has improved in each of the three elections since then, party stalwarts say privately that Horwath should give up the job if she fails to deliver a victory in her fourth contest.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at the 2019 International Plowing Match in Verner, Ont. (Vanessa Tignanelli/The Canadian Press)

That means Horwath must use her status as leader of the Official Opposition to stop the new Liberal leader from stealing the spotlight as the chief alternative to Doug Ford. She will need to start showing Ontarians what she would bring as premier and her party will need to strengthen its candidate base so that voters can conceive of the New Democrats as a potential government, instead of perennial opposition.

Carbon tax appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the Ford government’s challenge of the federal carbon pricing system on March 25, one day after the court hears a similar appeal by the Saskatchewan government of Premier Scott Moe. The two provinces are taking the legal lead in questioning the constitutionality of the Trudeau government’s carbon tax, applied to provinces that do not put a price on greenhouse gases.

Ford has budgeted $30 million to fight the carbon tax, including a TV ad campaign that Ontario’s auditor general determined cost $4 million. Meanwhile, Ontarians filling out their income tax returns this spring will see carbon tax rebates from the federal government amounting to $224 for a single adult and $448 for a couple with two kids.

12% hydro promise

It’s the most expensive promise still outstanding from the PC election campaign: a 12 per cent cut in the average hydro bill. The government is showing no signs of making any headway on that pledge. The price of electricity instead went up in 2019, approximately by the rate of inflation. Just as the price increased, the government ordered hydro companies to change the way prices are displayed on electricity bills.

Ford’s Progressive Conservatives promised a 12 per cent reduction in the price of electricity. In 2019, hydro bills went up. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The government is already spending about $4 billion per year to subsidize hydro rates. Industry estimates suggest a further 12 per cent drop for residential users would cost at least $800 million per year. The PCs had hinted they would partially fund this by using the dividend from the government’s shares in Hydro One. That money — roughly $240 million per year so far — has been spent on other things.

The PCs might be counting on the public either to forget about the promised hydro rate cut, or to no longer care so deeply about their electricity bills.

Health reforms

Health Minister Christine Elliott is leading a major overhaul of how Ontario’s health system is organized, and 2020 will be the year when we start to see the effects.

A key test will be the fortunes of the 24 Ontario Health Teams established during the first wave of the reorganization. Each team — a geographical grouping of hospitals, long-term care facilities, home care providers and community health practitioners — will get its single pot of funding to share among its members, in hopes that the system can shift the burden away from overcrowded hospitals.

Empty hospital beds are a rare sight in Ontario, as the province faces growing demands on its health system. (Robert Short/CBC)

Watch for what happens as flu season peaks in January. This is traditionally when Ontario hospitals are most overcrowded and the hallway health-care crisis surges. Don’t expect Ford’s promise to “end hallway medicine” to be fulfilled in 2020.

Work left to do

There remains plenty else on Ford’s to-do list. His wish to spread alcohol sales to corner stores is far from a done deal. The winning bidder to redevelop Ontario Place into what he calls a “world-class destination” is yet to be announced. Despite an agreement with city council, his grand transit plan for Toronto is still merely a colourful map.

A notable test for Ford will be whether he can maintain the less-combative tone he displayed in the final months of 2019. Ford accomplished this in part by taking on Horwath less frequently in question period: he passed on all but one of the questions the NDP leader put to him in the legislature in December. He has also ratcheted back his criticism of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

With more than two years to go until the next election campaign, there’s plenty of time for the scrappy Doug Ford of old to re-emerge.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, shakes hands with Ford during a meeting after the October federal election. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)


Climate solutions: Technologies to slow climate change

Burning fossil fuels to meet rising energy demand has pushed carbon dioxide emissions to a record high. Can innovation save us from global warming?

It’s a question that preys on our readers’ minds: Can we invent our way out of climate breakdown?

For many, dismayed by the pace of political progress but loathe to give up carbon-heavy lifestyles, solving climate change through technology alone is a tantalizing idea.

But experts say there is no silver bullet to protect the climate — and that keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the surest known way to prevent further warming.

Average temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius since countries first industrialized and are projected to rise about 3 degrees Celsius above that baseline by the end of the century without sharp, severe cuts to CO2 emissions.

A report from the Global Carbon Project found in December that while coal-burning has largely plateaued, the rise of oil and natural gas is pushing the planet further away from its climate goals.

How can technology help governments get there? Here are four innovations that energy experts told us hold promise for slowing the march of climate change.

Solar panels and wind turbines

What may be the biggest innovation to combat climate change has been around for decades.

Solar panels and wind turbines turn sun and wind into electricity without releasing greenhouse gases. As the technologies have scaled up and converted energy more efficiently, they have come down in price to become cheaper than fossil fuels globally.

“Solar and wind being cheap and reliable and performing well opens up a lot of possibilities,” said Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has written a book on how solar energy became cheap. “Even as we’ve had 30 years of politicians dithering and not as much progress as most people would have hoped, in the background, technology has been progressing.”

But generating clean energy is one thing — storing and distributing it is another. This is particularly important for renewables that cannot generate electricity without the sun shining or wind blowing.

Three things suggest innovation is overcoming these hurdles, said Nemet. “That’s renewables getting better, batteries allowing you to store electricity and then information in the system allowing you to manage it better.”

A floating solar plant in ChileA floating solar plant near Santiago, Chile

Wind farm in KenyaWind turbines south of Nairobi, Kenya

Batteries for electric vehicles

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded three scientists a Nobel prize in October for their work in developing lithium-ion batteries, which they say have “revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991” — and continue to advance.

Lighter and smaller than earlier rechargeable batteries, lithium batteries can also be charged faster and more often. As their weight and price continue to fall, they are playing an increasingly pivotal role in decarbonizing the transport sector by making electric vehicles cheaper.

“Battery storage will be critical,” said Joao Gouveia, a senior fellow at Project Drawdown, a research organization that analyzes climate solutions. “It will allow the integration of more and more renewable tech. We cannot have 70% [of renewable energy by 2050] coming from wind and solar if we don’t apply battery storage systems.”

Holding batteries back are aging electricity grids and costs that, despite falling each year, remain high.

But electric vehicles could act as a storage system, said Gouveia, with owners buying electricity at night to charge their cars and selling it to the grid when demand is high and cars are parked, idle, during the day. “We are finding new lithium reserves because this is a tech for both markets, so we’re innovating more and more.”

While the global electric vehicle fleet has grown rapidly — passing 5 million cars in 2018, data from the International Energy Agency shows — this progress has been dwarfed by a rise in larger and less efficient SUVs that run on fossil fuels. Four in 10 new cars sold globally in 2018 were SUVs.

A fully electric Mercedes car on display in Stockholm, SwedenA fully electric Mercedes car on display in Stockholm, Sweden

Batterie für Elektro-Auto - Lithium-Ionen-Batterie für Chevrolet Volt (picture-alliance/imageBROKER/J. West)Lithium iron batteries could help decarbonize transport


Another way to store renewable energy is using electrolyzers to extract hydrogen from water. The process, also known as power-to-X, is a way of storing energy in different forms. Engineers run an electric current through water and collect the hydrogen molecules that break off. These can be burned for heat, stored in fuel cells or turned into chemicals such as methane for processes that require fossil fuels.

“It’s a great way to decarbonize the heating, mobility and chemical sector,” said David Wortmann, a board member of Energy Watch Group, a German NGO. “It’s scaleable — the tech is all there. The industry is young, you have manufacturers out there to produce an electrolyzer. But the demand is not there yet, the regulations are not in place.”

Hydrogen could also help decarbonize a high-polluting sector that has mostly been overlooked: heavy industry.

The high heat needed to process industrial materials — such as concrete, iron, steel, and petrochemicals — is responsible for about 10% of global CO2 emissions, according to a report from the Center on Global Energy Policy in October. The cement industry alone is responsible for about 8% of CO2 emissions, mostly in production. This is more than three times the CO2 emissions of the aviation industry.

Burning hydrogen from renewable energy sources could meet industrial heating needs cleanly, said Jeff Rissmann, head of modeling at Energy Innovation, a research firm. “Moving to hydrogen can have a huge impact across many sectors, and would be one of the biggest ways to decarbonize the global economy.”

Coal plant in Boxberg, GermanyCapturing CO2 from power plants is seen as increasingly necessary to reach emissions targets

Carbon capture and storage

Even under optimistic scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say we will not meet targets to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without removing some of the CO2 we have already emitted. The IPCC projects between 100 billion and 1 trillion tons of CO2 would need to be removed this century.

Trees and plants that extract CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into oxygen through photosynthesis are one way of doing this. But they take up large tracts of land — which is needed for other purposes such as growing food — and are not a secure way of storing carbon, because they may be felled for firewood or burned in forest fires.

Some companies are experimenting with capturing CO2 from power plants and storing it deep underground. By doing this with biomass plants — where recently-grown plant matter is burned and not ancient fossils — then power can be produced while reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

But with just 19 facilities running such systems, its deployment is not happening quickly enough to meet emissions reductions targets, according to a report from the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.



Solar Breakthrough in Sweden

Researchers in Sweden create a liquid molecule with potential to release on-demand heat.

A research team at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have identified a way to harness energy from the sun and store it (potentially for decades), releasing the energy as on-demand heat.

The molecular solar thermal liquid is made of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen and has the ability to collect solar energy and hold it until a catalyst triggers its release as heat. The Swedish team is currently focused on the heating benefits, although one of the big, unanswered questions that remains is whether or not the system can additionally produce electricity.

Kasper Moth-Poulsen, lead researcher and a professor in the university’s department of chemistry and chemical engineering also believes the storage unit they’ve created for the technology has the “stability to outlast the 5-to 10-year life span of typical lithium-ion batteries on the market today.”

One of many research groups looking to molecular thermal solar systems to provide solutions for climate change, the technology has the potential to be used in window coatings, heating vehicles and buildings, or even clothing design. The team will be coating an entire building in the material to show what can be achieved and expect it to reduce electricity needs for heating.

If they are able to obtain $5 million of funding they believe the storage unit could be commercialized in six years and the coating in three. Others doing similar research in thermal solar systems believe their work is “crucial if we want to see the energy conversion storage approach commercialized.”

Keep following this technology as it will be interesting to see the advancements. While there are currently no cost estimates, there are no requirements for expensive rare elements and the team recognizes that it needs to be affordable. SOURCE


Swedish study hails solar heat-storage

A project in Sweden claims to have found a way to allow the sun’s rays to be stored cheaply in windows and released as heat.

An Energy Breakthrough Could Store Solar Power for Decades

Researchers in Sweden have created a molecule that offers a way to trap heat from the sun.

Emissions-free energy system saves heat from the summer sun for winter
Sustainable material for carbon dioxide capture

Animal Agriculture Costs More In Health Damage Than It Contributes To The Economy

As with the climate, the chief culprit is animal agriculture—meat and dairy. But when it comes to particulate pollution, the worst offender is the poultry industry. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

U.S. farms cost the economy more in health and environmental damage than they contribute to the economy, according to a recent study in the Publication of the National Academy of the Sciences.

For 20 economic sectors, the study compares the cost of premature deaths from particulate air pollution to the value added to the economy. Farms performed worst, driven down by animal agriculture.

“At the margin, we’re seeing that the damages from air pollution provided by farms are larger than the marginal value that the farms provide in economic terms,” said co-author Inês M.L. Azevedo, an associate professor in Stanford University’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering.

The study, conducted with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, focuses on particulate pollution, including PM 2.5, which the EPA has identified as the cause of 90 percent of the 100,000 annual premature deaths in the U.S. from air pollution.

The study does not include health costs from consuming animal products, nor does it include the economic costs of other forms of pollution, such as greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the climate.

As with the climate, the chief culprit is meat and dairy. But when it comes to particulate pollution, the worst offender is poultry.

For each sector of the economy, the researchers developed ratios of gross economic damages (GED) to value added (VA). A GED/VA ratio less than one means that value exceeds damage. A number greater than one means damage exceeds value:

“Whereas the GED/VA ratio was 0.72 for the group of crop-producing industries in 2014, it was 2.0 for animal production in that year,” the study states. “Preliminary calculations indicate that the GED/VA ratio within this group is highest for the poultry industry, with an estimated range of 3 to 7.”

Poultry litter emits particulate pollution and ammonia. Ammonia combines with other pollutants—sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, Azevedo said, to produce a secondary source of additional deadly PM 2.5.

Azevedo sees these findings as a call to assess the way the sector operates.

“This work is not advocating that we should shut down agriculture in the United States,” she said in a video released this month by Stanford. “It is providing the intuition that, at the margin, the damages are larger than the value provided. So we’ll need to think about the sector more seriously.”

In a commentary that appears in the same issue of PNAS, the economist Juan Moreno-Cruz says, “Agriculture emissions remain stubbornly high and exhibit a flat trend, making agriculture one of the most polluting industries per dollar in the United States right now.”

Utilities were in the same boat in 2008—producing more damage than value at the margin—but utilities have cleaned up their act somewhat thanks largely to the closure of coal burning power plants.

The study attributes some of the drop in pollution from utilities and manufacturing to the Great Recession.

“Right now it’s only animal production and agriculture that has damages much larger than the value added,” Azevedo said.

Transportation emissions have also dropped but remain a concern in less regulated parts of the sector: “The biggest sources of both NOx and primary PM2.5 damages within the transportation sector are from trucks and diesel combustion in marine and rail transportation,” the study says.

Azevedo adds: “Our results suggest that policymakers should consider targeting for their emissions reductions, if that is cost effective, in transportation and in agriculture.” SOURCE


Financing Zero Energy

Some ideas on how to have the money discussion with homebuyers

I’ve seen lots of articles that try to educate homeowners about zero energy construction by diving right into the building science and construction details and leaving the financial payoffs until the end. When I teach EEBA’s Path to Zero course, however, I flip that sequence. I always begin with an in-depth discussion about money issues because I know that’s the gorilla in the room. Once the attendees understand the financial benefits of this way of building, their minds open to learning more.

Of course, the EEBA audience is a professional one, but the approach also works with homeowners, making it a good idea for the builder to consider having this discussion early.

In my conversations with builders, however, I find that many aren’t sure about how best to have the money talk. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult. Most homeowners already have an intuitive grasp of the fact that energy-saving improvements, such as adding insulation and high-efficiency heating systems, will benefit them in the long run. Helping them put numbers to that understanding is a matter of framing the discussion correctly and presenting the right financing options.

It’s About Income

How can we encourage more people to build zero energy homes and pay for them with sound financing? There is a simple market-based approach that encourages people of all income levels. It’s an approach that requires no subsidy, making it sustainable in the long term.

Every home has a monthly utility bill. By reducing the utility bill, occupants not only save money: they gain buying power. Every $10 in savings is really $10 more income, and that extra income can be put towards the monthly loan payment. Phrasing things this way helps people see that energy-saving features begin paying for themselves from the very first month.

Although most EEBA readers build new homes, a home improvement example can help get the point across.

A good one is the purchase and installation of a 50-gallon heat pump water heater. The heat pump unit might cost as much as $1000 more than a standard electric model, but it will save $330 a year on the energy bill for a household of four. The monthly savings come to $28 per month, which will help the family qualify for a loan to install the equipment. For a 5-year, $1500 home improvement loan at 5% interest, the payment will also come to $28 per month, so the extra cash flow from that savings will cover the loan payment. After five years, the loan is paid off but the homeowners continue to reap that extra cash flow.

It works the same way when you add up all the energy-saving upgrades in a new zero energy home. A simple mortgage calculation will tell you that just $10 more income per month will allow a homebuyer to qualify for an additional $2000 in mortgage financing on a 30-year loan at 4% interest. (You can calculate this for yourself on any mortgage calculator. Just enter $2000 as the principal amount, 4% as the interest rate, and 30 years as the duration.) If energy modeling of your energy upgrades shows an extra $100 per month in cash flow, which  is easily achieved, that’s an extra $20,000 in borrowing power.

Builders I’ve heard from who use this approach say that it resonates with buyers. One is T.W. Bailey Sr., president of Bailey Family Builders, Frisco, Texas. He used to communicate the return on an energy improvement by telling homeowners how long the energy upgrade would take to pay for itself. However, he finds that people are more responsive when he presents the savings as extra monthly income. “It’s more effective to show them that the return on investment on what they spend for green building will be realized the first month they’re in the home,” he says.

“Take the example of a 3,000 square-foot home with a $300/month average utility bill,” he continues. “If you spend $10,000 additional on the green aspects of the home, you can reduce that energy cost to $150 per month. At today’s mortgage rates, the $10,000 you spend costs you about $30 per month. You’ve saved $150 in utility costs and you’ve spent $30 to do it. Your positive cash flow that first month is $120, and it will be at least $120 a month after that. Whenever I’ve explained that to a customer, whether they’re buying a $100,000 home or $3 million home, they’ve never failed to embrace it and find great value in it.”

Navigating The Lending Landscape

For people who qualify for the loan based on their existing capital resources, this is a good investment, and one that frequently beats stocks. For lower and middle income consumers however, there is often a missing link which, if fixed, would help more of them qualify for loans that cover the added costs needed for a zero energy home or an energy efficiency upgrade to their current home.

Lenders typically base loan approval in part on the cost of home ownership. They calculate a borrower’s expenses as principal, interest, taxes, and insurance – also called PITI. Energy costs are ignored even though energy bills are due every month and can be greater than some of the other factors that go into the lender’s calculation.

If lenders would simply add energy costs to their calculation (PITI+E), a world of new opportunities would be available. In effect, occupants would be allowed to shift money from monthly utility bills (an expense) to home improvement, or a zero energy home purchase, financing (an investment). The total monthly budget would stay the same. Borrowers get a better home for no additional cost, while the local economy gets a boost and emissions are reduced.

The chart compares the monthly payments for a zero energy home with the monthly payments for a similar code built home using typical numbers for PITI+E. While the payments in this example are equal, the owners end up with a much better home for the same cost per month. The energy savings from a zero energy home are actually added income that allows you to purchase a superior home. In other words, that is a smart investment!

Since current lending practices do not embrace this common-sense idea, legislation or new regulations may be required to compel mortgage lending regulators and the secondary mortgage market to include energy costs as a loan qualification criterion.

If your bank doesn’t yet accept PITI+E as standard practice, there are lending programs that can be used by any lender, including Greenchoice from Freddie Mac and HomeStyle by Fannie Mae.

And as with any loan, documenting the value of home energy features and the modeled energy savings is still important. The ability to do so more easily seems to be coming. In fact, a recent article in this newsletter [Sandra Adomatis’ appraisal article] noted that Fannie Mae and Freddie MAC are in the process of revising the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report (form 1004). That should make it easier for appraisers to value energy efficiency and green features.

These changes have the potential to generate millions of dollars of business for local contractors and suppliers. Lenders will make more low-risk loans. Working people will have more stable finances and more comfortable homes. And as a society we will be further reducing our carbon emissions. This is a win-win-win solution.

Of course, it may take a while for these programs to become mainstream. Meanwhile, you can help the homeowner present the above facts to the relevant decision makers. Whether it’s a small energy savings project or a zero energy home, you can show these savings to the loan officer and/or appraiser as part of your documentation, and explain that these energy savings are really income that allows you to make the payments on the energy upgrades.

Even though they do not officially make energy savings part of their formula, by documenting these earnings, it’s possible to build enough trust and confidence with the loan officer that they are more likely they will approve the loan. SOURCE


Meeting the world’s energy needs entirely with wind, water, and solar power


Emerging smart grid transmission technologies are the key to linking renewable energy sources like solar, wind and water to the power grid and, ultimately, where people live and work. 

The combustion of fossil fuels is largely responsible for the problems of climate change, air pollution, and energy insecurity. A combination of wind, water, and solar power is the best alternative to fossil fuels, the authors write, because renewable energy sources have near-zero emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, no long-term waste disposal problems, and no risks of catastrophic accidents.

Compared with nuclear energy and biomass energy, the authors find that wind, water, and solar power, alone, would not only be advantageous but also feasible to meet 100 percent of the world’s energy needs. They explain how renewable energy systems can be designed and operated to ensure that power generation reliably matches demand; they calculate that these energy sources would cost less than fossil fuels when all costs to society are considered; and they recommend policies for easing the transition to energy systems based entirely on wind, water, and solar power.