Carbon Lighthouse Better Building, Better Planet, Better Bottomline Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:21:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Norway Calling Mon, 22 Dec 2014 22:59:49 +0000 Last week Carbon Lighthouse was pleased to welcome the Consul General of Norway to our office. Carbon Lighthouse’s Director of Engineering Matt Ganser and Director of Operations Francisco Isenberg spoke to Norwegian Consul General Hilde Janne Skorpen and Vedis Vik, Environmental Counselor of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington D.C., about how the Carbon Lighthouse process could be applied to reduce emissions from buildings in Norway.

A top priority for Norway’s Consul General for the western United States is supporting Norwegian startups that seek to attract investors and draw inspiration from the innovative spirit of the San Francisco Bay area. The visit to Carbon Lighthouse was in anticipation of the Norwegian Minister of Energy and Climate’s visit to San Francisco in January and part of their outreach to select companies working in energy efficiency and climate change. Norway is a climate change mitigation leader and has recommended that the EU establish a new framework based on a single ambitious target for emissions reductions by 2030. We welcomed the opportunity to share knowledge on how to profitably make buildings around the world carbon neutral.

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Onset Story on Energy Savings at the Historic Flood Building Fri, 22 Aug 2014 23:55:31 +0000 Onset featured a story on one of Carbon Lighthouse’s flagship projects, the Flood Building. A historic commercial downtown landmark that survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. In addition to being one of our most impactful projects, it is also the building that the Carbon Lighthouse team calls home.

As part of our continued commitment to our clients to provide the best possible energy and cost savings, we performed a study on the bathroom lights of the building after recognizing a potential for additional savings. We found that while it was not cost effective to perform any sort of lighting retrofit, we were able to find a few instances where occupancy sensors needed replacing. You can read more (and see some neat graphs) about our study by visiting the Onset website: Occupancy Loggers Drive Cost-Saving Decisions in Historic San Francisco Building

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Onset Webinar: Temperature Data Loggers: Unlocking Comfort Issues and Energy Savings Mon, 02 Jun 2014 20:28:15 +0000 Hosted by Onset and presented by Matthew Ganser of Carbon Lighthouse, this 1-hour webinar explains why temperature, one of the quickest and easiest metrics to gain insight on building comfort and performance, is often overlooked or simplified during audits or analyses.

With basic temperature logging, engineers, contractors, and facility managers can produce the necessary data to find BMS faults, resolve comfort issues, and quantify energy-saving opportunities. Temperature logging can be performed as part of an energy audit, during post-construction verification, or periodically throughout normal operation.

This webinar focuses on how to launch data loggers and analyze data, and examine situations where temperature data was instrumental in decision making.

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683 Lumens per Watt Thu, 13 Feb 2014 22:21:36 +0000 By: Raphael Rosen

Lighting products are improving in quality, price, and most excitingly, in the amount of light output per unit of power and this means more energy savings and less environmental harm per useful unit of light. While this last feature about useful output of light is commonly referred to as ‘efficiency,’ that is a misnomer. The amount of light put out per unit of power is actually a measure of efficacy.

Who cares? Probably not you if you’re asking, but the difference between efficiency and efficacy is important for understanding energy.

Efficacy measures how much light (measured in lumens) a light bulb creates per unit of power put in (measured in Watts). You can think of the difference between efficiency and efficacy as the difference between being efficient (getting a lot of work done in a time-constrained scenario) and being effective (getting a lot of useful work done).

An incandescent bulb is very efficient, 80% efficient in fact. Really? Really. Because an incandescent bulb turns 80% of the input energy (electricity) into radiant energy (electromagnetic radiation or light). But while efficient, an incandescent blub is not very efficacious. Of the energy it radiates, most of it is invisible infrared energy. So it may keep you warm, but it produces very little useful, visible light.

A great LED light for the home today puts out 80 lumens per Watt. Compact fluorescents are also very good at 70 lumens per Watt and usually much cheaper. Both are much better than the 20 lumens per Watt found in an incandescent light bulb.

But it is where lighting is going in the future that is most exciting. Some LEDs for office buildings are now achieving 130 lumens per Watt. Several companies are rolling out light bulbs that are hitting 200 lumens per Watt.

Twenty to 80 to 130 to 200…. The natural question is: how high can it go?

300? 400? 500?


And the reason why comes back to the light given off by an old-fashioned candle.

Let’s look closer. To begin, we need to understand the important difference between radiometric intensity and photometric intensity.

  • Radiometric intensity: the objective measurement of how much energy something is radiating into space
  • Photometric intensity: a human-eye-centric measure of how much light something is perceived to be giving off

A Watt is a unit of power: energy per unit time. Energy measures the work that is required to get anything done, whether launching a space shuttle or lifting a box onto a table. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It is independent of human experience.

When we talk about lumens and candelas and light levels, however, we are talking about a person’s subjective experience of light. Lumens are about the experience of light in our eyes and brains. This is an important point worth repeating: lumens are all about our experience of the light. They do not correlate directly with energy.

Now a lumen is defined as the amount of light put out by one candela (technically it is the amount of light put into one steradian by one candela). A candela is a measure of luminous intensity, how much light is being radiated. And this amount of light was defined to be equal to the amount of light one standard, old-fashioned candle gives off.

The human eye, it turns out, has different levels of sensitivity to different wavelengths of light. We are more sensitive to green light than to red light, for example, so one lumen of green light is more useful to us than one lumen of red light.

Our peak sensitivity in well-lit conditions is for light that is 555 nanometers in wavelength. This happens to be an intense neon green—like those newer pedestrian crossing street signs you may have seen. (Why we are most sensitive to a neon green is an interesting question we don’t have time for here).

So how much power does it take to produce one lumen of light at the 555 nanometer color to which people are most sensitive? 1/683rd of a Watt. For other colors, our eyes are not as well adapted, so one lumen of light requires more than 1/683rd of a Watt. One Watt of 700 nanometer red light, for example, will generate only 3 lumens compared to 683 for the green. Our eye is much less sensitive to that color red.

At last we see the light: a light source that is 555 nanometers in wavelength and that uses one Watt of power and is 100% efficient will produce 683 lumens. Thus the efficacy of such a light would be 683 lumens per Watt.

683 lumens per watt is the maximum. There’s our answer.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t want to use this light given the intense neon green it produces. And there are many issues to be concerned about with lighting: how long will the lights last, will there be color shift over time, what is the color rendering index (CRI) of each light, etc. Most commercially available lights combine many different wavelengths to produce a more pleasant light color. The overall lumens of a light bulb are calculated for each wavelength using a human eye sensitivity function called the “photopic spectral luminous efficiency function” (say that ten times fast), and then added up to determine the overall lumens per Watt.


But in the quest for most usable light per unit of power, the ultimate milestone is 683 lumens per Watt. And anyone who achieves that better really love neon green.

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Electric Transmission: What’s it Got to Do with Energy Efficiency? Tue, 31 Dec 2013 16:00:25 +0000 Parallel lattice steel transmission lines (and wood pole distribution lines) descend the foothills through Plumas National Forest, east of Chico.

By: Charlotte Helvestine

It’s hard not to notice one of mankind’s major contributions to the natural landscape: transmission lines. The lattice steel structures that parallel highways and undulate with rolling hills, with their thousands of tons of aluminum, steel, and copper lines, are carrying the energy that powers our cities. Some lines are over a century old, installed during a time when utilities were the hot place for engineers to work – the startups of their age. Innovations in transmission engineering leveled off by the 1970’s and the industry hasn’t changed much since, but it is starting to become an increasingly important part of the clean energy equation.

In this post, we explore the environmental, space, and safety considerations of transmission projects and how energy efficiency, demand response, and renewables affect our need for new transmission infrastructure.

Environmental Considerations

In many regions (and particularly Northern California), transmission lines convey energy over long distances from remote generation sites to major population centers. PG&E, for example, has the nation’s largest hydroelectric system with over 100 reservoirs, mostly located in the Sierra Nevadas. Remote energy generation often requires that transmission lines pass through protected areas like national forests and wetlands to deliver energy to end users.

Similarly, new sources of large-scale renewables like solar farms, wind farms, and hydroelectric dams are inherently located in remote deserts, ridgelines, and river valleys. With the California Public Utility Commission’s (CPUC) Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring California utilities to provide 33% renewable energy by 2020, there is an increasing quantity of these renewable sources that must be tied into the grid. Modifying existing transmission lines or constructing new ones has the potential for significant environmental impact, and therefore requires extensive environmental review and permitting.

Space Considerations

Transmission lines require 3-dimensional right-of-way (surface area plus vertical clearance) in order to ensure safety, including the following considerations:

● Blowout: Under windy conditions, the suspended conductor will swing out to a degree depending on a number of physical factors (1). The blowout zone must be free from all obstructions, including trees.

● Ground and Radial Clearance: Required clearance distances depend on the nearby ground characteristics and development profiles. For example, towers supporting a highway crossing require more clearance than if they were crossing a grassy field. Transmission lines must meet one set of clearance requirements under normal operating conditions as well as a separate set for extreme conditions (extreme heat, ice, and/or operating current).

● Tower foundation: Different types of transmission towers have different foundation requirements. The footprints of traditional lattice steel structures are at least a few meters across, and the taller the tower the wider the base. Tubular steel poles, in contrast, have smaller footprints but require deeper foundation embedding.

All of these space considerations come into play when an existing line must be modified or a new line built. Modifying an existing line to respond to an increase in energy demand may mean replacing the existing conductor with a higher-capacity conductor and setting off a chain reaction of upgrades:

Safety Considerations

While there are many legal mechanisms for utilities to build and expand transmission lines in order to accommodate new growth, the approval and permitting processes is lengthy, meaning that there can be a several year delay between recognizing a transmission constraint and building new lines. Transmission grids are designed with extra load capacity to account for high demand days (think Central Valley air conditioning in July). Lines also have “extra room” for current in case of emergencies: if one line goes down in a storm or other unexpected event, grid operators can switch the load from the downed line to parallel lines to maintain service.

With increased demand on the lines, the margin for error diminishes and the reliability and safety of the system is reduced. A failure in a set of lines loaded to maximum capacity can cause service interruptions and blackouts. In a more extreme case, if a line is overloaded beyond its capacity, the increased operating temperature of the conductor can increase sag and violate clearance requirements, potentially leading to dangerous arc flashovers.



Transmission towers at the Carquinez Strait in Vallejo are over 80 feet wide at their base and reach over 350 feet tall.


What’s it all got to do with Energy Efficiency?

California policy makers know that efficiency measures are the low-hanging fruit of the energy usage reduction equation. The Energy Action Plan (2), compiled by three primary energy agencies in the state, prioritizes energy efficiency and demand response investments before renewables and clean power technologies, with the ultimate goal of combating climate change. The same logic applies to the transmission grid as a whole: before pursuing capital-intensive line construction or modification, all efforts should made to first reduce demand on the grid.

Transmission line growth is a less-obvious reason for curbing our energy appetite. In the same way that saving energy avoids the construction of new power plants, it also avoids the associated the costs and environmental damage of new transmission line construction. Energy efficiency, distributed renewables, and demand response are the critical first steps in managing the growth of a reliable transmission grid.

(1) Factors include but are not limited to: conductor material and tension, span length between towers, and solar incidence or ice loading on the conductor.
(2) California Energy Commission (CEC), California Power Authority (CPA), and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Energy Action Plan. 2005. Available at: 2008 Update available at:

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Cap-and-Trade & Efficiency: A Match Not Made in Heaven Sun, 24 Nov 2013 22:21:52 +0000 By: Brenden Millstein

There is a lot of talk about carbon cap-and-trade, and energy efficiency. Carbon cap-and-trade is hailed as a market mechanism for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Nine States in the Northeast and California all have statewide cap-and-trade systems operating. Energy efficiency is one of the most profitable investments most companies can make at all, reliably providing returns in excess of 30%. Efficiency is also a great way to reduce energy consumption and hence carbon emissions as well. So what happens when you combined a carbon cap-and-trade with energy efficiency?

Surprisingly, the answer is that while efficiency still provides great economic returns to those who do it, it stops reducing carbon emissions. Here’s why:

In a carbon cap-and-trade, the government requires every power plant to purchase one allowance for every ton of CO2 it emits. There is a set and limited number of allowances (hence the term cap), and power plants need to acquire one allowance for each ton of CO2 they emit and can sell the allowances they do not use (hence the term trade). There are hundreds of potential iterations on this – the government could require utilities instead of power plants to buy the permits, the government could give a certain percent of permits away, certain plants could be exempt because they have effective lobbyists, etc. – but in short power plants buy allowances for each ton of CO2 they emit and the supply is limited.

Under a cap-and-trade system, efficiency creates a bizarre feedback loop:

  1. If you reduce the demand for power through energy efficiency, fewer power plants will run.
  2. If fewer power plants run, there will be less demand for carbon allowances.
  3. When there is less demand for the same amount of supply (the supply is fixed by the cap), the price per allowance will fall. Here’s where the anti-magic happens:
  4. As the price for carbon allowances fall, dirtier power plants are able to buy more allowances.
  5. Now that dirtier power plants have more allowances, they run a little bit more.
  6. How much more? Exactly enough to make up the difference in carbon savings you received from energy efficiency.

So energy efficiency saves money by reducing the amount of energy consumed total, but it also enables dirtier power plants to deliver that power by reducing the cost of carbon allowances. Weird right? Right.

For economists and/or people who like pictures out there, here are a few pictures showing illustrating the problem:


Figure 1: Supply of CO2 as a function of cost per ton.

As shown in Figure 1 above, in a cap-and-trade the supply of CO2 is set by the cap and does not change as a function of price. The demand for allowances, however, is set by the market and hence does change based on price as shown in Figure 2 below:


Figure 2: Demand for allowances varies as a function of price.

Where the supply and demand meet determines the price per ton, as shown in Figure 3:


Figure 3: When demand and supply are equal, the price per allowance is determined.

The number of available allowances, the supply, is fixed in a cap-and-trade. The demand is set by the market, however, and when the demand and supply are in equilibrium then the price per allowance is set. If you do a lot of energy efficiency, however, the overall demand for power falls. This in turn reduces the demand for carbon allowances since power plants are operating less, as shown in Figure 4.



Figure 4. New and lower demand for allowances after energy efficiency reduces the demand for power.


This changes where the system operates and reduces the price per ton, shown in Figure 5.


Figure 5. New operating point after energy efficiency.


As shown in Figure 6 below, the cost for one allowances is lower after energy efficiency reduces the demand for power.


Figure 6. Price per allowance before and after efficiency.

And herein lies the problem: as shown in Figure 7 below, although the cost is lower the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted remains exactly the same.


Figure 7. Lower cost, same emissions.

 This result is a little counter-intuitive: as soon as a cap and trade is set up, energy efficiency in that region stops reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, the only way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to reduce the cap.

This does not mean, however, that energy efficiency is useless. For one, it still saves consumers money, so it’s awesome. Secondly, reducing the cost of compliance with the cap and trade provides a huge economic value: in the nine Northeastern States that have cap and trade, more than 30 million allowances are sold every quarter. Reducing the cost per allowance by just fifty cents through energy efficiency would save more than $50,000,000 per year.

The above is not an entirely fair comparison; States could use the money raised through the cap and trade to reduce income taxes by the same amount, or reinvest the money in education, or simply pay it back to every citizen in that State, so the potential economics get extremely complicated. Using energy efficiency to reduce the cost of compliance, however, is still a good thing.

And if you want a chance to lower the cap, which would reduce emissions, then energy efficiency in fact may be required to make reducing the cap economically feasible.

In short summary, once a carbon cap-and-trade system is launched, energy efficiency no longer directly reduces carbon dioxide emissions. It still saves consumers and businesses money, it still helps strengthen our electric grid, and it is vital for reducing the cost of complying with the cap-and-trade system. In a cap-and-trade system, efficiency is a huge economic boon, even though its environmental benefits are less direct than might be expected.

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CEO to Give Lecture at Stanford University Thu, 10 Oct 2013 02:33:49 +0000 On October 21st, Carbon Lighthouse’s CEO Brenden Millstein will give a guest lecture in an Urban Studies class at Stanford University. The class, Urban Studies 131, is a lecture series on Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship designed to teach students how to harness the powers of markets and business to provide social benefits like education, affordable healthcare, and environmental protection. This year’s class includes 10 guest lectures by social venture executives like Bill Drayton, the Founder and CEO of Ashoka, Sally Osberg, the President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, and Linda Rottenberg, the Co-Founder and CEO of Endeavor. Carbon Lighthouse is honored that Co-Founder and CEO Brenden Millstein, a former Stanford GSB graduate himself, was asked to join this VIP (Very Impactful Person) list. We are excited for this chance to give back to the Stanford community to encourage and inspire some of the world’s brightest students to use business to improve the world.

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E2 Launches New Clean Energy Website with Feature on Carbon Lighthouse Thu, 29 Aug 2013 00:32:40 +0000 Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a partner of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has featured Carbon Lighthouse on their recently launched website: This forward-looking website is an outstanding resource for clean energy job announcements and for demonstrating how it is not only possible, but profitable, to reduce emissions today.

Our featured article, “Calif. company illuminates building efficiency, provides an excellent overview of one of our flagship projects at the historic Flood Building in downtown San Francisco. The accompanying video highlights some hard-to-capture moments of our engineers in action as they deploy and collect data loggers at another downtown San Francisco building. Emma Bassein, Director of Impact, gives an inside look at our project process and provides examples of the types of clients we serve. CEO, Brenden Millstein, discusses Carbon Lighthouse’s mission commitment of stopping climate change and shares our exciting long-term goals for success. Be sure to check-out the new website and watch Carbon Lighthouse in action.

Carbon Lighthouse is excited to be a part of an inspiring new resource that spreads knowledge and enthusiasm about our clean energy future.

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Carbon Lighthouse Joins Onset’s Education Partner Program Fri, 26 Jul 2013 18:43:52 +0000 Carbon Lighthouse is proud to announce that in March 2013 we were selected as one of Onset’s Education Partners. Onset is the world’s largest supplier of data-loggers. These tools are essential to the energy engineer for collecting accurate building data, and with great data as the driving force behind each of our projects we deliver great energy savings to our clients.

Carbon Lighthouse will be working closely with Onset to launch online continuing education courses in energy analysis and building commissioning. Our engineers have extensive experience using Onset data loggers in a variety of applications, and we are excited to share our learnings and best practices with others working towards the common goal of reducing energy use and ultimately, carbon emissions.

You can watch a webinar on the Onset Website hosted by Brenden Millstein, Carbon Lighthouse CEO, titled, “How Property Managers Can Reduce Energy Costs and Look Great to Building Owners” by clicking here.

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SUBA Manufacturing Inc Achieves Carbon Neutral Status Thu, 02 May 2013 17:00:58 +0000 SUBA Manufacturing Inc has demonstrated its environmental leadership by working with Carbon Lighthouse to profitably eliminate the carbon footprint of its laminate counter-top manufacturing space in Benicia, CA.

After electing to take part in Benicia’s Business Resource Incentive Program (BRIP), SUBA enlisted the help of Carbon Lighthouse to conduct a thorough energy and environmental analysis of their operations.  Carbon Lighthouse then implemented a package of lighting retrofits, creating utility savings and emission reductions. The remainder of the building’s carbon footprint will be offset through the retirement of carbon allowances through the Carbon Lighthouse Association.

“This project was a winner,” said Jack Bell, President of SUBA.  “The City of Benicia with the BRIP concept made it possible to achieve a total relighting of our 25,000 sq ft manufacturing area at no cost to SUBA.  Working with the professionals at Carbon Lighthouse made the project move to completion without a hitch.  All the details were taken care of by them so we just waited to turn on the lights and enjoy the savings.”

The City of Benicia awarded SUBA a $9100 grant to cover the costs of the project. “We are excited to be part of a partnership that advocates environmental projects that make financial sense,” said Brenden Millstein, CEO.

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