Author Archives: Dick Munson

How blockchain could upend power markets

Talk about a disruptive technology. The “world's leading software platform for digital assets,” blockchain may be little known, but it could revolutionize electricity markets.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain, in short, is a secure, decentralized, and highly efficient way to manage and keep track of infinite transactions. Rather than being stored on a central server, peer-to-peer transactions are replicated across a number of computers, creating a data store that records exchanges in almost real time. To ensure the transactions are secure, authenticity and identity are maintained through cryptography and digital signatures.

Bitcoin – perhaps the most-recognized blockchain application – already is challenging conventional money exchangers. According to Cambridge University researchers, almost 6 million people use this cryptocurrency in order to make electronic peer-to-peer transactions without an intermediary such as a bank. And because blockchain technology is decentralized and accessible from multiple locations, Bitcoin funds can’t be frozen, withheld, seized, or taken.

New electricity opportunities

When it comes to electricity, blockchain could offer a reliable, rapid, and low-cost means to record and validate financial and operational transactions. These transactions could include selling and buying electricity – again without an intermediary, in this case the incumbent utility monopoly. In light of the rapid rise of distributed (decentralized) energy resources like batteries and solar panels, some analysts even believe the market for blockchain applications is significantly larger in the energy sector than for financial services. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy| Read 1 Response

Proving the negative: The challenge of calculating energy efficiency

Andrew Barbeau, senior clean energy consultant for EDF, contributed to this post.

“Efficiency is good.” That’s the mantra, a known truth, shared by both business executives and environmentalists, who eliminate waste to increase profits and reduce pollution.

When it comes to electricity, efficiency also has proven effective. Whereas power consumption a few decades ago was rising annually at more than 7 percent, the introduction of inexpensive and efficient lightbulbs, refrigerators, and smart heating and cooling has recently led to slight declines in energy consumption, even as the economy boomed and population increased.

Efficiency may be good and effective, but it is inherently hard to calculate. How do you prove the negative? Virtually every state has wrestled with the same questions of how and why electricity use didn’t happen. States with energy efficiency standards – requirements for local utilities to incentivize customers to reduce their energy use year after year – want to know if the investments are cost-effective. With new approaches to calculating energy efficiency, Illinois is tackling that question head on. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Illinois| Read 6 Responses

How Electricity Data Can Clean Up the Economy

The U.S. electric grid is old and frayed, yet innovative technologies – modern sensors, smart meters, and advanced telecommunications – offer hope to update it to become more modern, efficient, and clean. What all these smart-grid tools have in common is data. How we utilize the enormous quantities of information about how we move and use electricity will have major impacts on markets, customers, the environment, and our future electricity system.

The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) recognized this when, in mid-February, they approved an energy data-sharing program for Illinois’ largest electric utility, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd). The program, developed and advanced by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Citizens Utility Board (CUB), allows companies and researchers access to anonymous energy-use data from ComEd’s nearly 4 million smart meters.

This will encourage the development of energy-saving products and services designed to help Illinoisans save money. The data also will allow rooftop solar companies, energy efficiency providers, non-profits, researchers, cities, and other clean energy innovators to see which neighborhoods and blocks have the greatest potential for money-saving clean energy projects ─ ensuring no community is left behind. Moreover, this information will spur new offerings from smart home and appliance manufacturers, energy management specialists, HVAC and lighting companies, as well as market researchers. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Data Access, Illinois| Read 1 Response

3 Republican Governors Embrace Clean Energy’s Economic Promise

solar-panels-workers pixabayLast week, the U.S. inaugurated a new president who has vowed to abandon the landmark Paris climate agreement and roll back bedrock American environmental protections.

But turn to the states and you’ll find a different story, even in the red states that elected President Trump. In fact, Republican governors in the Midwest are prioritizing economic growth and job creation by accelerating investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. In the few weeks after the election, leaders in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan have adopted new policies that help tackle climate change and grow the clean energy economy. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Illinois, Ohio, Solar Energy, Wind Energy| Comments are closed

New President, New Electric Grid?

wire-164966_1280A new set of leaders today entered the White House. As they consider measures to enhance roads and bridges, they also should focus on America’s electricity infrastructure. By focusing on investment, efficiency, and markets as their policy foundation, the U.S. will have a world-class electricity system that will advance our economy into the 21st century.

Electricity is a marvel, something even physicists don’t fully understand, yet it is the foundation for our entire economy. Think for a moment about how many interactions you’ve had just this morning with electric power – from your alarm clock, to your radio or television, to your hair dryer or shaver, to your computer or smart phone, and on and on.

Moreover, electricity generation and delivery constitute our nation’s largest industry in terms of capital investment. Less flattering, electric generators are the biggest source of harmful pollution.

U.S. electricity infrastructure is old and frayed. More than 70 percent of our grid – the lines and transformers that deliver electricity to our homes and businesses – is at least 25 years old. The average power plant in this country is 34 years old. Luckily, modern technologies are transforming the grid. And what’s more, new players are entering – and bringing innovation into – the once-monopolized and risk-adverse electricity industry. Unfortunately, its regulation is still stuck in the past. Let’s change that, starting at the federal level. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Grid Modernization| Read 2 Responses

Recent AEP Decision in Ohio a Mixed Bag for Clean Energy

free_electric_power_lines_and_blue_sky_creative_commons_attribution_9368799968Market forces and technology are increasingly making old, dirty power plants uneconomic, which creates an opportunity for clean energy progress and cleaner air. However, outdated rules and entrenched interests can complicate the path to a healthier energy economy, as evidenced by a new settlement in Ohio.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recently approved an American Electric Power (AEP) settlement that contains both promising and discouraging components.

The PUCO decision forces AEP to reconsider its ownership of power-generating plants. Realizing old coal-fired units can no longer compete against newer natural-gas and renewable facilities in deregulated markets, AEP suggests it faces two options, one being to ask Ohio legislators to overturn the state’s deregulation law, allowing AEP to return to the less-risky days of guaranteed profits on any of its power plants.

However, a recent study by Ohio State University and Cleveland State University found that the competition enabled by deregulation allowed Ohio customers, businesses, and industries to save $15 billion on electricity over the past four years and is expected to save the same amount by 2020. If the state were to return to a regulated system, Ohioans could miss out on those billions of savings. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Ohio, Utility Business Models| Comments are closed
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