Author Archives: Lauren Navarro

EDF is Calling for More Demand Response in California and Why You Should Too

Source: North America Power Partners

Source: North America Power Partners

This week the California State Assembly will consider Senate Bill 1414 (Wolk). What’s so exciting about SB 1414? This bill will accelerate the use of demand response (DR), a voluntary and cost-friendly program that relies on people and technology, not power plants, to meet California’s rising electricity needs.

DR programs compensate people and businesses who volunteer to use less electricity when supplies on the power grid are tight and/or to shift energy use when cleaner, renewable resources are available. Every time a customer participates in lowering their energy use through demand response, they are rewarded with a credit on their electricity bill.

The implementation of demand response will help catalyze a much needed upgrade to our outdated grid, whose fundamental design hasn’t been updated since Thomas Edison invented it over a century ago. Demand response can empower participants to lower their electricity bills and carbon footprints, improve air quality, allow for more renewable electricity, and enhance electric grid reliability. In a tree of options for modernizing and cleaning up our energy system, demand response is a low-hanging-fruit. Read More »

Posted in California, Clean Energy, Demand Response, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Comments closed

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.

That said, there are two clear winners on the EPA’s menu that offer low-cost options for states that seek to comply with the plan while maintaining their commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response. Read More »

Posted in California, Clean Energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

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

rp_Navarro_Lauren-228x300.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. Read More »

Posted in California, Clean Energy, Demand Response, Electricity Pricing, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid| 6 Responses, comments now closed

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog. 

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

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.

Read More »

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California Follows Smart Meter Best Practice: Proactively Address Public Concerns

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF California Dream 2.0 Blog.

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.

Yesterday, 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.”

Posted in California, Smart Grid| Tagged | 3 Responses, comments now closed

MacArthur Energy Genius Wins Award For Innovation That Can “Change Our World”

A 29-year old computer scientist, Shwetak Patel, was one of this year’s 22 individuals to receive a ‘genius award’ given out by the MacArthur Fellows Program. (He was also one of the youngest.)

Patel pioneered simple ways for households to monitor and manage how much water and energy they use from specific appliances and fixtures. His approach uses tiny, wireless sensors connected to: a home’s central utility hookups; existing infrastructure — such as gas lines and electrical wiring; and a smart machine that analyzes activity patterns of each appliance. When combined, the sensors help consumers measure how much energy and water they use and identify ways to be more efficient.  

Innovations like these that focus on managing and reducing energy use are desperately needed. A report just released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that global energy use will rise 53% by 2035, boosting energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 43%.

Innovations like Patel's can keep that growth in demand and emissions in check, while saving huge amounts of money for American families and businesses. For example, Since EDF launched our Climate Corps Program in 2008 – which places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to build the business case for energy efficiency – our Climate Corps fellows have unearthed energy savings totaling more than $1 billion over their projects’ lifetimes.

Improving energy efficiency is in fact the easiest, least expensive and fastest way to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, according to Pulitzer-Prize winning author and oil expert Daniel Yergin. The New York Times called his new book about energy, The Quest, “necessary reading for C.E.O.’s, conservationists, lawmakers, generals, spies, tech geeks, thriller writers, ambitious terrorists and many others.” In it, he “focuses on the importance of thinking seriously about one energy source that ‘has the potential to have the biggest impact of all.’ That source is efficiency…More efficient buildings, cars, airplanes, computers and other products have the potential to change our world.”

Advances like Mr. Patel’s are part of a broader move to a "smart grid," which uses information technology to make every part of the electric system more efficient.

So, to Mr. Patel, our Department of Energy, the utilities and clean tech companies that are inventing smart grid and other  technologies and services that let us do more with less electricity, and to the individuals and companies that are adopting those cleaner, cheaper alternatives, EDF congratulates and thanks you for your efforts. 

Your focus on industry-leading innovations is helping us change our world.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid| Comments closed

San Diego Outage Triggers A Green Grid Revolution (in author)!

I landed at San Diego International Airport at 4pm on Thursday.  Since I sat towards 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, the lines had grown long.  Cell phones weren’t working, and I was reminded of a zombie movie I had 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 also lit up thanks to distributed generation. 

We learned that a transmission problem in Arizona had caused a possible sequence of events that included the protective functions at the nuclear power plant turning the plant off and lead to 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 remained 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 need air conditioning or medical equipment to maintain their health.

Source: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

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. electricity 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 fight against the tragedy of more than 34,000 deaths a year from power plant pollution – more lives than are lost on U.S. highways.

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 already flourishing in 37 states at 315 locations—including headquarters, manufacturing plants and hardware/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.

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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 their demand for energy to when it 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, which we pay for with our dollars and our 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 transmission and distribution grid more efficient.  For example, the ability to optimize voltage on power lines will save three percent of all of the power generated in the U.S., worth roughly $10 billion a year.

The lesson from this 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 the benefits of the smart grid and the critical role that smart meters play in achieving them. They also need to know what the studies show 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 continuing research as wireless technology becomes even more popular.

Since exposure is determined by signal strength and proximity to the device emitting the signal, there will likely be unique situations that require special attention.  For example, multi-family dwellings may have many smart meters grouped together 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 meters working as planned would be to use steel shielding and partner with companies that can provide RF absorbers or reflectors to households.

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 by facilitating options that 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 and protecting not only the environment but everyone’s 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.

Posted in California, Smart Grid| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Smart Meters. An Integral Piece To The Smart Grid Pie.

As you may have heard, the roll out of smart grid technology in California has raised some health concerns over the safety of smart meter use.  As a result, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) has ordered Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to develop an alternative to wireless meters.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is following this issue closely.  Our organization offers a unique perspective given our proven track record of enabling markets and innovation to gain environmental benefits.  Our national organization is working across the country to advance smart grid deployment in a way that ensures maximum consumer, economic, and environmental benefits.  To do so, we are working with public utilities and regulatory commissions on smart grid policy and advancing smart grid pilots such as Austin’s world-renowned Pecan Street Project.

Deploying an effective smart grid throughout the country is a national priority supported by multiple stakeholders: from companies like GE, Cisco and Google, who see it as key to the future of their businesses, America's global competitiveness, and job growth, to Chambers of Commerce, who see the huge economic development and security benefits in making more energy at home and keeping energy dollars at home, to consumer groups like the Citizens Utility Board, our partner in Illinois, who see it as the only way to keep electric bills from climbing steeply in the years to come.  Right now, our outdated energy grid wastes approximately 10% of generated electricity just in transmission and distribution, costing the consumer roughly $25 billion a year.  We lose another estimated $100b in black-outs, which a smart grid will help us avoid.

Digital “smart” meters, capable of two-way communication between customers and electric utilities, are key to realizing the multiple benefits of a smart grid.

A properly designed smart grid will help households and businesses reap many economic and environmental benefits. It will allow us to greatly reduce our use of dirty energy, improving air quality and the health of millions of Americans now hurt by dangerous air pollution.  With easy-to-use tools, such as online updates on how much energy they're using and what it's costing, consumers will be able to make choices that lower their bills.  Businesses will be able to pinpoint the most valuable opportunities to make their buildings and operations more energy efficient, saving money. Utilities will be able to provide customers with more reliable service.

Smart meters allow information to flow between meters and utilities by utilizing radio frequencies (RF) such as those currently used by AM/FM radios, baby monitors and cell phones.  Studies (such as research by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) and the Electric Power Research Institute) have found no evidence that these radio frequencies pose risks to human health.  In fact, the CCST report released earlier this year found that even if smart meters were on 100% of the time, an individual’s exposure would be a very low (4 uW/cm3).  To put this number into perspective, the average exposure to RFs from using a cell phone is between 1,000 and 5,000 uW/cm3 or 250 – 1, 250 times that from a smart meter.

A well-designed smart grid will be a boon to public health.  It will improve our quality of life, grow our economy, and drive the clean energy revolution we need.

For more information regarding the benefits of a smart grid, please view EDF’s fact sheet here.

Posted in California, Smart Grid| 2 Responses, comments now closed