The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award $6 million to fund 22 federal-state partnerships that will create innovative initiatives to increase energy savings in residential and commercial buildings. These state partnership grants will help implement training programs and provide technical assistance and education that will ultimately result in the construction energy-efficient buildings. Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner made the announcement to the of more U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 19.

“This $6 million dollars ... will help reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources, increase energy efficiency and help implement alternative methods of changing ways to power our homes and businesses, an integral part of President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative,” Karsner said. “The Energy Department is eager to assist with increasing energy efficiency throughout states as well as contributing to the construction of more state-of-the-art energy-efficient facilities.”

DOE’s Building Technologies Program, within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, will oversee funding for these partnerships. DOE anticipates providing $3.9 million for these projects in fiscal year 2006, with the remainder funded in 2007 and 2008. 

The selection process for state projects to receive awards was based on an evaluation of the merits of their applications, submitted in response to the funding opportunity announcement on March 21, 2006.

The state partnerships selected, subject to negotiation, are:

  • California Energy Commission
  • Connecticut Office of Policy and Management
  • Florida Energy Office
  • Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority
  • Kentucky Office of Energy Policy
  • Louisiana Department of Natural Resources
  • Maryland Energy Administration
  • Maine State Energy Program, ME Public Utilities Commission
  • Mississippi Development Authority, Energy Division
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources
  • New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department
  • New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota Department of Commerce
  • Montana Department of Environmental Quality
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas State Energy Conservation Office
  • Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
  • Vermont Department of Public Service
  • Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development

Leading Distributor Hits Growth Spurt

Graybar, a distributor of electrical and communications products and related supply chain management and logistics services, posted 19.7 percent growth in the first half of 2006, to $2.45 billion compared to the same period last year. The company also reported an operating income increase of 68 percent over the first half of 2005.

“Our revenues are up nearly 20 percent, and we only increased head count 5 percent, mostly in customer-facing roles,” said Robert A. Reynolds Jr., chairman, president and chief executive officer of Graybar. “This is truly smart growth, driven by new systems that give us a deeper view of our business and allow us to increase productivity and react faster to market changes. Our performance demonstrates how Graybar’s leading-edge information technology and logistics capabilities are continuing to raise the bar on performance and value for our customers.”

According to Reynolds, the growth was completely organic. He credits the company’s dedicated employee-owners, a successful ERP implementation, the expansion of the electrical and telecommunications sectors, and an improved corporate-accounts program.

“Graybar employees worked incredibly hard during the recent economic downturn, preparing for the opportunities now in front of us,” Reynolds said. “Our SAP system now links our branch, zone and district facilities nationwide, increasing our ability to react faster and anticipate changes in the market.”

In 2004, Graybar completed its installation of the SAP system. “This investment is now paying off with unprecedented asset and supply chain management,” commented Reynolds. “It allows us to focus our efforts more directly on customer satisfaction and achieving healthy growth.”

With its broad product offering, quality service, advanced technology and dedicated employees, Graybar looks forward to continued expansion within its core market segments.

North Carolina Contributes to Solar Energy

As consumers face increasingly expensive fossil fuels with diminishing reserves, the photovoltaic industry is experiencing rapid worldwide growth. DuPont, a player in the solar energy industry, announced it will expand its Fayetteville, N.C., factory. It’s true the company does not manufacture photovoltaic modules, but it is the leading supplier of eight products that are used to make crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules.

The Fayetteville factory produces Tedlar, a product that is used in the protective backsheets of photovoltaic solar panels to increase stability and efficiency, and DuPont estimates demand for the product has shown a 30 percent increase every year for the last few years, meaning the installation of photovoltaic solar panels has increased.

The expansion comes as a result of a $50 million grant from the One North Carolina Fund. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said, “DuPont’s expansion confirms that we are reaping the benefits from our investments in education and infrastructure.”

This support will allow the company to create 15 skilled manufacturing jobs with pay rates well above the county average for the Fayetteville factory.

The One North Carolina Fund was created in 1993 to help North Carolina achieve its stated goal of economic growth through uniform regional prosperity. The fund currently consists of nonrecurring appropriations made by the General Assembly, intended to be immediately available for companies seeking to undertake new expansion or locate new operations in the state. The immediacy of the fund allows the governor to distribute grants on an “as-needed” basis, which ensures the fund’s flexible application and speedy distribution.

In this case, Easley felt the money was well spent on expanding the factory to create more jobs in support of the solar power technology. State Sen. Tony Rand, said, “North Carolina’s emphasis on education and a business-friendly climate makes companies such as DuPont want to grow and expand here.”

Clearly, the governor is planning for the long-term development of not only clean solar technology but also for the financial welfare of his state.

SBC Communications’ Project Lightspeed Receives Criticism

In 2004, SBC Communications (formerly AT&T) announced it was going to spend $4 billion to $6 billion to add approximately 40,000 miles of fiber optics to its network, reaching more than 18 million homes in 13 states with an advanced form of DSL Internet, voice and video services, which was dubbed Project Lightspeed.

DSL and Internet service have been limited by copper wiring. It is too slow to keep up with the data-transfer speeds that the hardware is producing. This has always been a problem, but a newly feasible option is available.

Fiber optic technology has been around since the mid-20th century. SBC’s plan was to extend their fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) architecture to meet the existing copper wiring 5,000 feet from the home. Due to the recent FCC ruling clarifying broadband rules, and the recent drop in fiber optic prices to below the cost of copper wiring, SBC’s goal seemed possible. Through the newly extended fiber network, SBC Communications expects to deliver 15 to 20 Mbps of downstream to every home.

However, critics claim Project Lightspeed is just hype. Adjunct Northwestern professor James Carlini, who writes a column for MidwestBusiness.com called “Carlini’s Comments,” recently wrote, “Project Lightspeed offers data speeds that are nothing out of the ordinary and are not being well received by those in the know.”

So far, SBC has only been able to deliver 1.5 to 6 Mbps of downstream, running from typical DSL speeds to typical cable Internet speeds.

With the project unfinished, Carlini comments that SBC should not stop with running FTTN. He wrote, “Staying with copper to the door (CTTD) instead of upgrading to fiber to the premise (FTTP, which is also referred to as fiber-to-the-home or FTTH) is like saying you’re going to put in a stagecoach to run a 500-mile NASCAR race. They may slap all the fancy decals on your wagon and even give you a silver buggy whip, but in the long run, you will be far behind the competition if you even finish the race at all.”

The problem with leaving 5,000 feet of copper wiring is that it is 5,000 feet of brakes and traffic jams.

Considering states such as California have set a goal of 1 gigabit of downstream by 2010, Carlini notes that he expected Project Lightspeed to offer 500 Mbps to 2 Gbps. The concern he and the rest of the technical critic community to share is that SBC may be improving DSL speeds, but it may not be enough to compete with other advancing technologies. They are concerned that Project Lightspeed will only catch DSL technology up to the rest of the crowd instead of surpass them, creating a short period of competition for such a great investment before time once again outdates it.