Author Archives: Lauren Navarro

The cheapest way to cut climate pollution? Energy efficiency

This blog post was co-authored by Kate Zerrenner, an EDF project manager and expert on energy efficiency and climate change.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a historic announcement that will change how we make, move and use electricity for generations to come.

For the first time in history, the government proposed limits on the amount of carbon pollution American fossil-fueled power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere.

There are two clear winners to comply with the plan while maintaining commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

We’re already seeing pushback from some of our nation’s big polluter states, such as West Virginia and Texas. But the truth is that while the proposed limits on carbon are strong, they’re also flexible.

In fact, the EPA has laid out a whole menu of options in its Clean Power Plan – from power plant upgrades, to switching from coal to natural gas and adopting more renewable energy resources. States can choose from these and other strategies as they develop their own plans to meet the new standards. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid| 1 Response, comments now closed

Climate Action is Turning Green to Gold for Californians

By Lauren Navarro and Emily Reyna

What would you do with extra cash? Starting this April, customers of California’s biggest utilities will experience first-hand how the state’s fight against climate change is actually paying off – in the form of real money.

Wait… real money? How does that work?

Source: Flickr/Mike Schmid

Source: Flickr/Mike Schmid

Yes. Millions of household customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and other investor-owned utilities will automatically receive a “Climate Credit” twice a year through 2020 – every April and October – as a line item on their utility bill. This money comes from California’s cap-and-trade program, which holds the state’s largest emitters, including electric utilities, accountable for their climate pollution. With cap and trade, regulated companies must buy “allowances,” or permits, if they plan to emit carbon pollution –equivalent to nearly $1.7 billion to date. Now, part of this money is being returned to these utilities’ customers. For average Californians, the Credit will cover the slightly higher rates that cover California’s green transformation. But if you’re conscientious about your energy use – and are a below average energy user – your Credit will be a bonus for you.

The Climate Credit is one way Californians are benefiting from the state’s action on climate and it will help people participate in building a clean energy economy. This smart policy builds on years of people-focused efforts, like energy efficiency standards and clean energy installations. In fact last year California more than doubled its rooftop solar capacity to 2,000 MW of power.

In California, we spend less overall on energy because we use it wisely and waste less, even though we pay more per unit of electricity.  In fact, while the state is ranked 8th in average cost of electricity (cents/kWh), we rank 47th in total energy expenditures per capita. Read More »

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CPUC Singing the Right Tune on SONGS, But Southern California Still Needs to Harmonize to Achieve a Clean Energy Future

rp_Navarro_Lauren.jpgLast week, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) finalized an important decision for Southern California’s energy supply following the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The plan emphasizes increased reliance on clean energy in this part of the state – an important step towards a fully realized low-carbon future.

The decision authorized San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison to procure at least 550 megawatts (MW) of ‘preferred resources,’ which include renewable energy, demand response (a tool that’s used by utilities to reward people who use less electricity during times of “critical,” peak electricity demand), energy efficiency, at least 50 MW of energy storage, and up to 1,000 MW of these resources altogether.

That’s a major step forward, as utilities across the country traditionally rely on large fossil fuel plants to meet regional demand.

However, the CPUC also authorized the procurement of 1,000 MW of power from natural gas generation, demonstrating that Southern California still has a ways to go to reach its clean energy potential.

Read More »

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At a Key Moment for Energy, California Should Seize Demand Response

Traditionally, if an area’s population grows — or it loses a power plant — it needs more energy. But California and some other states can approach it differently and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Instead of asking, How can we add more energy?” the real question becomes “How can we reduce demand?”

Two words: Demand Response (DR).

DR is an incentive that has been proven to work on the East Coast and elsewhere, encouraging energy users who voluntarily participate to reduce their electricity usage temporarily when demand could outpace supply.

Recently, the California Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) Draft recognized DR as a technology with a high potential to maximize energy efficiency. This report comes at an important time for the state, when greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities have increased in California after decreasing the previous years, in large part due to the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) power plant.

In our recently submitted comments, EDF commended the Commission on thinking big on demand response, a cutting edge load management technology that can lower wholesale energy prices when they are highest, dramatically minimize system costs, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In their report the Commission also acknowledged that while DR is a great tool if used well, there still “has been little progress towards increasing the amount of DR used in the state.”  The Commission included several recommendations to bolster DR going forward, which EDF supports and will advocate for.

We also made suggestions for how the Commission could maximize the use of DR in California, including:

Time of Use (TOU) tariffs allow customers to pay prices for energy that depend on both when and how much they use. By giving customers the option to save money for reducing their energy use at peak times, older, less efficient peaker plants aren’t used as much and the overall system costs go down dramatically. If half of Southern California Edison’s ratepayers adopted its voluntary TOU program, this would replace the need for two thirds of the San Onofre generating capacity.

  • Set clear and ambitious goals for demand response in the state

The Commission should set ambitious benchmarks in regard to demand response capacity.

  • Foster consumer adoption of innovative demand response technology

Modern technology allows for automated thermostats, ‘set it and forget it’, and other options for easy to use systems that allow interested electricity customers to quickly and consistently respond and reduce energy use when demand is high and the grid is stressed. The Commission should plan to increase consumer uptake of these technologies.

  • Support new technologies and quick scaling up of pilot projects

Demand response opportunities exist on a broad scale in California.  Innovative ideas like charging electric cars when solar power is abundant to help maximize the benefits from renewables are still being developed. The Commission should encourage and support these new technologies, and look for successful pilots that are both cost-effective and fully scalable.

  • Establish effective enforcement mechanisms

By putting in place proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, the Commission will help ensure expected environmental benefits.

 The Commission’s IEPR is a great step forward, and comes at a key moment for managing California’s energy system. We urge the Commission to continue its work with other stakeholders to increase this momentum, and to utilize its authority – such as appliance and buildings standards and electricity forecasting – to help implement the state’s vision for demand response.

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Keeping it Clean: California Should Use Clean Resources to Integrate Renewables

As the 8th largest economy in the world, California remains a global leader in clean tech investment, innovation and adoption of landmark climate and energy policies. What defines our success?  Our ability to try things first, set the bar high, and get policies right.

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a perfect example of that bold, pioneering spirit. Passed in 2011, the RPS required that 33% of electricity come from renewables by 2020 – a lofty benchmark, even by California’s standards. Along with self-generation and solar rooftop programs, California is successfully adding solar, wind, and other distributed generation to its resource portfolio.

In fact, renewables are successfully becoming a large part of daytime energy production, the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) – the organization in charge of balancing the statewide grid – is concerned over how to make up for that energy when the sun goes down while evening energy demand spikes.  The question is: How can the CAISO reliably integrate renewables?

The CAISO is currently figuring out how to address this need for “flexible” power and will have a draft decision out on October 2nd.  Just like people prefer to take routes they know well when they drive, the CAISO is most comfortable with what they know: familiar fossil fuels. Using clean resources and demand response instead is new territory for them that will require careful orienteering.

Yet getting comfortable with the new, cleaner terrain means a less polluting, less expensive, more resilient energy future.  California passed the RPS to reduce fossil fuel consumption — and the pollution that comes with it.  If fossil fuels become the main method by which renewables are integrated, they could eliminate the emissions benefits of renewables entirely, while consumers may pay more than necessary to integrate renewable energy.

There are clean options that have been proven to work in grid operations, such as demand response – the voluntary reduction of electricity use by customers who are paid to do so when called upon.  By reducing demand at key times, demand response lowers the need for electricity production and saves money in the process. (This is an area where California can learn from East Coast states that are robustly using demand response in their electricity markets.)

EDF has actively engaged CAISO on the need for “flexible” power, and knows they are working hard to figure out how to use demand response and other clean options to integrate renewables. We have also asked CAISO to utilize existing, clean resources and to revisit this framework every few years to make sure it is as clean as it can be – all to make sure that California has time to get it right.

Leading the way isn’t always easy, but if successful, California and CAISO will show they can utilize proven resources like demand response to keep California’s energy policies clean and cost-effective, while readying the grid for high levels of renewable resources.

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No Surprise Here: Progressive California Utility Wins Climate Leadership Award

In case you missed it, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) just won one of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) coveted Climate Leadership Awards due to the steps that it’s taking to cut climate pollution.

EDF has worked closely with SDG&E over the past year helping develop its smart grid deployment plan. SDG&E is one of California’s three public utilities that will be using a smart grid to cut air pollution, increase our reliance on renewable energy, accommodate zero emission vehicles, and empower customers to manage energy use and lower their bills.

EPA gave the award to SDG&E because it has set aggressive air quality, energy efficiency, and waste reduction goals. SDG&E can place EPA’s award in the trophy case next to ones it has won each of the past three years for being the nation’s most intelligent utility.

SDG&E has estimated that, with the integration of smart grid technologies, it could cut six million metric tons of global warming pollution and cut fuel costs by $615 million.

EDF commends SDG&E’s choice to develop its business by being a leader in environmental stewardship.

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California follows smart meter best practice: proactively address public concerns

Energy powers our economy. But our outdated energy system is wasteful, expensive and a major source of pollution, leading to the deaths of approximately 60,000 Americans per year. Utilities in California and across the country are now investing billions of dollars to modernize that infrastructure, making use of the information technologies that have revolutionized so many other realms of our lives. The smart grid they're building will improve air quality and the health of millions of Americans affected by air so dirty it  is often dangerous to breathe.

Smart meters are a key component of the smart grid. They unlock air quality, climate pollution and public health benefits by enabling two-way, real-time communication that gives households, small businesses, manufacturers and farmers  (and the utilities that serve them) the data they need to cut energy use and electricity costs. These devices help ensure that every day energy users reap the many benefits of the smart grid.

Earlier today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a proposal by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) that allows customers to keep their analog meters and opt out of using the new wireless smart meters. This decision is designed to address concerns of individuals who describe themselves as having electromagnetic hypersensitivity to radio frequencies (RF), and report getting headaches, fatigue, nausea and insomnia from exposure.

The radio frequencies used by smart meters are now pervasive in our lives, emitted by our cell phones, microwaves, baby monitors, and numerous other devices we use daily. To understand the potential health risks associated with use of these devices, EDF has completed a thorough review of the scientific literature on  the potential effects of electromagnetic and radio frequencies (EMF/RF) on human health. We have reviewed reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the California Council of Science and Technology (CCST). We also consulted with outside experts, including Dr. Leeka Kheifets, a Professor in Residence at UCLA who sits on the Standing Committee on Epidemiology for the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. 

The WHO review states that “in the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation, approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.” These studies, it concludes, find that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.” 

The WHO assessment spotlights the importance of conducting rigorous scientific research to evaluate environmental and health problems, a core principle of EDF. Our policies are based on the best available science and are altered as necessary when new evidence comes to light.

This research helped inform EDF’s position that the limited RF exposure levels associated with smart meters should not result in reduced support for the smart grid, especially in light of the significant health benefits it will deliver by enabling far less use of fossil fuels and far greater reliance on clean, renewable energy, including small, community-based generation like rooftop solar PV.  

Today’s ruling strikes the proper balance: sustaining progress toward a smart grid with its multiple public health benefits while addressing individuals’ concerns. It gives consumers the same type of choice about what technologies to use in their everyday life.

We support the PUC's decision and continuing research on the possible health effects of radio frequencies.

For more information on this topic, please see EDF President Fred Krupp’s memo on “Health and the smart grid.”

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San Diego Outage Triggers Green Grid Revolution (in Author)!

I landed at San Diego International Airport last Thursday at 4 p.m.  Since I sat toward the front of the plane, I was one of the first people to walk up the corridor.  Suddenly, the lights went out.  “Perfect timing,” the woman in front of me said.

As I walked through the airport, the lights were off and the lines had grown long.  Cell phones weren’t working, and I was reminded of a zombie movie I'd seen.  Waiting in the late afternoon heat, I tried to remember the exact words in my colleague’s quickly written agreement to pick me up and drive me to the event.

I hoped that it was just the airport, but as we inched our way through the traffic, it was clear that San Diego had ground to a halt.  Gas stations became crowded with people who literally ran out of gas and couldn’t get home.  As the sunlight waned, we rushed to buy provisions (water, protein bars, etc.) at an Albertsons – possible only because it had installed fuel cells or solar panels.  From the freeway we could see that University of California San Diego, which has its own microgrid, was lit up, also a result of distributed generation. 

We learned that a transmission problem in Arizona had caused a possible sequence of events that included the protective functions at a nuclear power plan that turned the plant off and caused extensive power outages throughout San Diego, southern California, and parts of Mexico. 

The funny part?  I was with a colleague from San Diego Gas and Electric traveling to speak about our collaborative smart grid planning effort.  We couldn’t help but think about how the smart grid could have helped here. 

Storage and advanced grid sensing and control technologies could have isolated the problem at its source and kept it from growing.  The smart grid’s ability to incorporate larger amounts of renewable energy could have kept electricity flowing.  Microgrids – with their own local generation and smart technologies — could have switched to an off-grid mode and kept powered through the outage.  Buildings with demand response capabilities and appropriately designed roof top solar or other forms of distributed generation could have reduced their consumption and used smart technologies to share their power with businesses running critical equipment or with people who needed air conditioning or medical equipment to maintain their health.

Smart grids can play an even bigger role after an outage is over: electricity production is a huge source of air and water pollution: emissions from U.S. production make up 30% of domestic climate change pollution and over 6% of global emissions.  A thoughtfully designed smart grid could reduce harmful emissions by up to 30% and mitigate the tragedy of more than 34,000 deaths a year that are due to power plant pollution – more lives than are lost on U.S. highways annually.

A greener grid will also put us at the forefront of the world’s competitive clean energy economy.  A recently released Duke University report commissioned by EDF identified smart grid companies that are flourishing in 37 states at 315 locations—including headquarters, manufacturing plants and hardware and software development facilities.

All of this adds up: the green grid revolution will create as many as 180,000 domestic jobs per year while saving lives.  Now that’s worth standing up for.

 

This post was originally posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

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Smart Meter Best Practice: Proactively Address Public Concerns

A well-designed smart grid will drive the clean energy revolution we need – securing our energy independence, increasing our ability to compete in the global clean energy market and empowering consumers – all while protecting our air, water and the health of our children.

Yet in a few places, there has been a backlash against smart meters, which are key pieces of the infrastructure needed to make our 100-year old electricity grid ‘smart.’  Wireless smart meters are now the subject of considerable media attention in California for their use of radio frequencies (RF) – a type of energy that is used in cell phones, microwaves and other every day products. 

As we invest billions of dollars to upgrade the infrastructure that literally powers our economy, utilities and policymakers need to address the disconnect between the grid’s huge potential public health benefits and some individuals' concerns over the wireless technology that smart meters  use to transmit data between customers and utilities. 

Let’s start with the public health benefits.  America’s outdated energy system is wasteful, expensive and a major source of pollution. Once a smart grid is in place, it will improve air quality and the health of millions of Americans affected by pollution that is often too dangerous to breathe

A smart grid will:

  1. Help consumers save money by enabling them to see and manage their energy use while reducing harmful air pollution. As a result, consumers will be able to shift demand to when energy is cheaper, which will save them money during ‘peak’ times when utilities have to run the dirtiest and most expensive types of power plants.  With greater use of this "demand response" option, California alone could avoid building or running more than 100 of these ‘peaker’ power plants that we pay for with our dollars and health. Nationally, demand response could avoid up to 2,000 peaker plants
  2. Make it possible to adjust demand to follow variable wind and solar supplies and thus enable us to use more clean, renewable, home-grown energy.  This will reduce the environmental damage done by mining and burning coal and natural gas and cut harmful and costly air pollution.
  3. Facilitate the switch to clean electric vehicles by allowing drivers to “smart charge” them at night when energy, including pollution-free wind power, is abundant and cheap – cutting foreign oil imports and the environmental damage done by domestic oil drilling.
  4. Make the grid’s transmission and distribution more efficient.  For example, the ability to optimize voltage on power lines will save three percent of all of power generated in the U.S., worth roughly $10 billion a year.

The lesson from the disconnect in California isn’t to stop smart meters from being installed altogether: it is that the effort should be undertaken with the customer foremost in mind.

Customers need to better understand smart grid benefits and the critical role smart meters play in achieving them. They also need to know what studies have found about the wireless technology they use. 

Utilities can easily provide consumers with key findings from many of the studies done on radio frequencies since they’ve become commonplace.  A recent in-depth review of the scientific literature by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”  The review states that “in the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation, approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.” As is the case with chemicals, EDF supports ongoing research as wireless technology becomes more popular.

Since exposure is determined by signal strength and proximity to the device emitting the signal, there will be unique situations that require special attention.  For example, multi-unit dwellings may have many smart meters grouped in one location. This concentration could expose residents who live close to those meters to higher levels of RF energy.  One way utilities can address concerns raised in those situations and keep the meters working as planned would be to use steel shielding and partner with companies that provide households with RF absorbers or reflectors.

Additionally, some individuals describe themselves as having electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which they believe causes them to have headaches, fatigue, nausea and insomnia.  Utilities can work with these customers to facilitate ways to address their concerns. 

What will utilities get in return for their proactive customer service? At minimum, they stand to gain a customer base that is comfortable with the technology. At best, a loyal community that understands the benefits of the smart grid and takes an active role in transforming the way we use energy, protecting not only the environment but our quality of life.  What will we all gain? At the micro level, more reliable service and lower electric bills. At the macro level, a stronger economy, energy independence, cleaner air and a healthier environment for our children.

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Why PG&E Customers Should Keep Their Meters Smart

Yesterday, responding to customer concerns and a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) request, PG&E proposed a way to let customers opt-out of having  wireless SmartMeters.

EDF has been closely following this issue and is actively working on the development of the smart grid and the installation of smart meters. Modernizing our electricity system with information and networking technologies – such as PG&E’s SmartMeter – will let us diversify energy sources, eliminate enormous waste, save money and improve air quality, among other things.

We support PG&E giving customers a choice to turn off the wireless chips in their SmartMeters, but encourage consumers to keep them turned on. Keeping the wireless chip on will maximize the environmental, public health and economic benefits of the smart grid – cleaner air, lower energy prices, and accelerating our much-needed transition to a clean-energy economy.

While regulatory agencies and utilities must address public health concerns, research (such as that done by the non-profit, non-partisan California Council on Science and Technology) has not found a scientific link between exposure to radio frequencies from smart meters and human health.

What does pose a risk to all human health is burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. It is one of the biggest sources of pollution. It costs California hundreds of millions of dollars a year in hospital admissions and emergency room visits and the United States billions of dollars annually in health care costs and lost productivity. Even fortunate Americans who are not breathing polluted air pay a price for it.

A smarter grid can reduce this pollution by increasing the use of clean, renewable energy and reducing reliance on the most polluting fossil fuel power plants.

Turning the radio off will also prevent customers from seeing and taking full advantage of real-time usage and pricing information, which can bring cost savings and cleaner air.

We don’t know what percentage of ratepayers would choose the ‘radio off’ option and what effect it would have on PG&E’s ability to maximize the promised benefits of a smart grid. What we do know: some key  benefits will be lost.   

PG&E has proposed a flexible, long-term solution. It keeps the smart meters in place and lets individuals change their minds and take advantage of the technology that makes  these benefits possible. While EDF supports PG&E’s choice of alternatives, we strongly encourage customers to keep their smart meters smart.

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