Energy Exchange

Rooftop solar and EVs save water and cut pollution – and data can help us go further

Thanks to improvements in technology, it’s easier than ever to be green.

Solar panels and electric vehicles (EVs) are two prime examples of technologies that can help people minimize their environmental footprint, without sacrificing comfort or having to radically change their daily behavior. But the question still remains: How much of an environmental benefit do these technologies actually produce? And, are there actions that owners of these technologies can take to minimize their pollution footprint even more?

A new paper by my colleagues and me, recently published in Energy Economics, attempts to answer these two questions for households in Austin, Texas. These homes are part of Pecan Street Inc., a living smart-grid laboratory with the largest customer energy-use database on the planet. Using detailed household-level data from 2013-2015, we were able to track solar panel performance and EV use and charging patterns, and match these actions to two important environmental impacts: water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Our paper confirms that, in Texas, residential solar panels uses less water and pollutes the air less than using the central-grid power (based on its electricity sources during those years), and driving an EV instead of a gasoline vehicle generally reduces the household’s water and emission footprint, even though EVs charge from the grid. Moreover, our analysis demonstrates how carefully examining energy-use data can help us make sure we’re maximizing clean energy’s benefits. Read More »

Posted in Electric Vehicles, Solar Energy, Texas / Comments are closed

New York Moves to Properly Value Clean, Distributed Energy

New York Lights-2New York is on the path to transforming its electric industry. Since the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceedings kicked off with the goal of creating a more robust and efficient electric grid, the State is now a step closer in the quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels. And, thanks to the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), the road is looking a lot smoother.

Last month, the PSC rolled out the Benefit Cost Analysis Order, a methodology for how electric utilities should weigh the costs and benefits of proposed investments that affect the grid. With this new order, utilities will be required to calculate the net benefits associated with portfolios of distributed energy investments, such as rooftop solar and energy storage, and compare them with traditional utility investments, like substations, power lines, and poles.

This decision is crucial for New York’s clean energy future because utilities must now value the environmental benefits of distributed energy sources, and quantify how these different alternatives can work together to create a cost-effective, resilient grid. For example, in the face of severe congestion on the grid, utilities could expand the electric system to meet growing demand. Alternatively, they could incentivize a number of different distributed resources to help bring demand down by, for instance, encouraging customers to install solar panels, participate in demand response programs, or invest in energy efficiency to avoid a grid expansion. Read More »

Posted in Electricity Pricing, Energy Efficiency, New York / Read 8 Responses

Smart Energy Policy Deserves Advanced Meters

With time-variant pricing, people can choose to run their dishwashers at times of day when electricity is less expensive.

With time-variant pricing, people can choose to run their dishwashers at times of day when electricity is less expensive.

New York cemented its reputation as a national leader in energy policy last year when it announced plans to revamp the way utilities are regulated in order to establish a 21st-century energy system. But the state is still trailing in one crucial area: More than 99% of its homes have antiquated meters that tell utilities nothing more than how much electricity customers use each month. To achieve its ambitious goal of an energy revolution, the state should embrace a technology—advanced meters—that empowers New Yorkers to cut their energy use during times of the day when it matters most.

A key component of the smart grid, advanced meters provide detailed electricity-use data throughout the day. This information reduces inefficiencies in the energy system and leads to quicker detection of power outages. Such improvements reduce the costs of operating the power grid, resulting in lower electricity prices.

Advanced meters, also known as two-way-communicating Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), or "smart meters" (which can both send and receive information such as electricity prices and energy usage), enable pricing that incentivizes customers to use electricity when it is cheaper and cut back when it is expensive. This time-variant pricing reduces congestion on the power grid, ultimately lowering costs for everybody. But, without advanced meters measuring electricity use in short time intervals, it's impossible for utilities to bill on a time-variant basis. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing / Comments are closed

Stakeholders Gather to Discuss How Time-Variant Electricity Pricing Can Work in New York

new-york-540807_640Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) co-hosted a successful forum on residential time-variant electricity pricing – which allows customers to pay different prices for electricity depending on when it is used – within the context of New York’s ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ (REV) proceeding.’

Co-hosted with the New York Department of Public Service and New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity, the full-day forum, “On the REV Agenda: The Role of Time-Variant Pricing,” brought together more than 150 regulators, utility executives, academics, and other stakeholders to explore how residential time-variant pricing works, what it can accomplish, and how best to implement it. Below is a recap of some of the high-level takeaways from the forum.

How time-variant pricing (TVP) works

One of EDF’s objectives has been to improve the efficiency of the electricity industry by pursuing a market-based approach to electricity pricing. In most well-functioning markets, the cost of making a product and its relative scarcity is reflected in the price. For example, a door is more expensive than the wood with which it is made in order to reflect the labor costs involved. Similarly, strawberries are more expensive during the winter because they are less abundant during that time. Customers understand that prices vary with production costs and over time, yet neither of these elements gets reflected in how residential customers currently pay for electricity.

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Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, New York, Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

All Electricity is Not Priced Equally: Time-Variant Pricing 101

clock-95330_640In the U.S., the electricity sector accounts for over a third of the country’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions, contributing more to climate change than any other sector, including transportation.

Furthermore, electricity costs have increased dramatically over the years, and are projected to continue their upward trend. Utilities and regulators have made great strides in promoting renewable energy, increasing the efficiency of the power grid, and reducing harmful pollution. However, customers, too, can be part of the solution by better managing their use of electricity – especially during those times when it is most expensive and dirty to produce.

Electricity is more expensive during ‘critical peaks’

The cost of producing electricity – and the carbon emissions associated with it – varies significantly throughout the day, depending on electricity demand at any point in time. For example, when a heat wave occurs and many customers begin cooling their homes after work, demand skyrockets and creates what is known as a ‘critical peak.’ Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Grid Modernization / Read 4 Responses

Utility 2.0: NY’s New Business Model Should Properly Value the Costs and Benefits of Distributed Energy Resources

Source: AtisSun

Source: AtisSun

As we’ve mentioned before, New York is changing how it evaluates and compensates electric utilities. One goal of this change is increased consumer engagement, which makes customers allies in the development of a more reliable, resilient, and ‘smart’ electric grid.

Many customers have begun taking advantage of new energy technologies and their falling prices by turning to community microgrids, installing on-site distributed generation, like rooftop solar, or investing in more efficient appliances, among other actions. Advances in telecommunications and information systems have also created new opportunities for energy services we could not have imagined just a few years ago. For example, innovative tools like demand response allow third parties or utilities to turn off pre-approved appliances – like swimming pool pumps and air conditioners – remotely when the power grid is stressed and needs a quick reduction in energy demand. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, New York, Renewable Energy, Utility Business Models / Tagged | Comments are closed