Author Archives: Marita Mirzatuny

Austin Unveils Texas-Sized Rooftop Solar Array to Power Downtown Church

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

Source: Mary Parmer, www.facebook.com/episcopalaustin

Source: Mary Parmer, www.facebook.com/episcopalaustin

On Monday in the heart of downtown Austin, St. David’s Episcopal Church unveiled its new 146-kilowatt solar array. Covering the rooftop of an adjacent parking garage and earning the title of largest rooftop solar installation downtown.

The project’s unprecedented scale was made possible through a partnership with Meridian Solar and a new Austin Energy (AE) pilot program, testing how they can best integrate large rooftop solar with the utility’s grid. Church members had the idea to put solar panels on the parking garage ten years ago, but weren’t able to move forward until last year when low interest rates, improved technology, and government rebates all came together. Through their combined efforts, St. David’s, AE, and Meridian have taken a vital, first step towards a city powered by clean, local, rooftop power, also known as distributed generation (DG). Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Renewable Energy| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Secretary Moniz Deems Austin’s Pecan Street ‘Very Impressive’

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

EDF's Marita Mirzatuny with Secretary Moniz at Pecan Street's Pike Powers Labratory

EDF's Marita Mirzatuny with Secretary Moniz at Pecan Street's Pike Powers Labratory

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of presenting a short summary of EDF’s Smart Power Initiative to Dr. Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy. As a group of over 30 people piled into the Pike Powers Laboratory (including the lab’s namesake), the Secretary made his way in, beelined for some coffee, and sat down to hear all about Austin’s innovative and collaborative energy “ecosystem.”

Present was the Mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, various cleantech entrepreneurs sponsored by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), representatives from the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), and the Governor’s office, among others.

Everyone had the opportunity to speak to the Secretary in a roundtable format about the work their particular company or group is doing to solve energy problems, and as EDF’s representative, I reported on our Smart Power work in Texas. Read More »

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

How Electric Vehicles are Strengthening the Texas Power Grid and Improving Air Quality

Marita Mirzatuny

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) brings Texas the latest example of an intelligent, demand-side resource that can play an active role in the power grid and offset the use of fossil-fuel power plants. Late last month, SwRI announced that its innovative vehicle-to-grid system got the green light from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator, to participate in the state’s electricity market. This system is able to control the charging and discharging for a fleet of electric delivery trucks, meaning that when the supply of electricity struggles to meet demand, the intelligent vehicle charging system can simply stop charging (thus lowering demand). This technology will significantly increase grid reliability, thanks to its quick response time, and effectively deter the need for firing up another dirty power plant.

In order to avoid a blackout, the supply of electricity to the power grid must equal the electric demand from customers. Conventionally, this balance is maintained by power plants that remain on stand-by, ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Every hour of the day, ERCOT precisely controls these power plants to keep the grid balanced. In the process, a power plant has to rapidly increase or decrease its power output, which decreases its efficiency and increases its carbon and pollution footprint, much like an a car revving its engine. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Electric Vehicles, Energy Storage, Smart Grid| Comments closed

Freezing, Scorching, or Not, Texas Needs More Demand Response

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.Final Images EDF-6524

As we thaw out this week from our most recent arctic blast, Texas’ inexperience with ice and snow has been met with Internet memes and jokes. But dealing with extreme temperatures causes serious strain on our current energy system and exacerbates our “energy crunch,” signifying that the available supply of electricity barely meets the demand for that power.

However, as is typical of Texas, last week our weather was quite pleasant – in the 70s – and strains on the system due to weather events weren’t too much of a concern. Yet the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state agency charged with managing the flow of electricity for most of Texas, alerted an emergency situation despite mild temperatures. To avert disaster, ERCOT initiated demand response, “ask[ing] customers to raise thermostat settings to 78 degrees, typically a summer response intended to reduce demand from air conditioners.” A single malfunctioning power plant caused the problem. ERCOT declined to identify the plant involved.

Much of this uncertainty and drama can be alleviated with demand response (DR), a novel approach to managing the grid system. Using smart power technology like smart thermostats, utilities can moderately adjust their customers’ energy use in real-time for a brief amount of time to meet the energy needs of all Texans. When energy demand is high, electric utilities can ask customers to voluntarily conserve energy in exchange for cost-savings and even payments. During the polar vortex earlier this month, CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility, saved about 77 megawatts (MW) of power through demand response programs – enough to power 32,725 homes.  Texas isn’t the only place where demand response is taking hold. Read More »

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Google Partners with Nest in Race to be Your Smart Home Provider

Marita MirzatunyOn Monday, Google announced it is spending $3.2 billion to buy Nest Labs, the trailblazing company funded through its Google Ventures program and responsible for transforming “unloved” home products into beautiful, smart appliances. That’s a lot of money for a business with only two products: a thermostat and a smoke detector. Nest is not exactly reinventing the wheel, right? Well, actually they are.

Welcome to the Smart Home

Google’s move is a starting shot in the race to become the go-to smart home provider, putting in place stepping stones to realizing a future in which our homes will become one ecosystem – integrated and functioning as a whole. Customers are looking for smart appliances that can notify you when they are wasting energy or not performing properly. Plus, these innovative technologies provide customers with more opportunities to engage with and benefit from other cost- and energy-saving solutions, like demand response, rooftop solar power and electric vehicles. This puts customers in the driver seat, giving them insight and control over their daily lives in ways never before imagined (even if just to use automated, “set-it-and-forget-it” functionality).

The Nest thermostat learns household behaviors and habits and sets temperatures at the optimal comfort and energy-saving level accordingly. Nest also enables residents to control their electricity remotely and provides the interface needed to participate in demand response, an energy management program that rewards participants for conserving energy during peak, or "rush hour," times on the electric grid. Read More »

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Demand Response Helps Texas Avoid Rolling Blackouts in the Face of Polar Vortex

MaritaHeadshot

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog

As we begin a new year, the outlook for 2014 looks bright.  But as the Polar Vortex has descended upon the U.S. over the last few days, we have been reminded of the past, specifically the winter of 2011 when Texas’ electricity grid stuttered under the extreme cold.

Monday, as a record-breaking cold snap whisked over the U.S., the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, warned of possible blackouts, just as they did in 2011.  We were lucky this time, but in February of 2011 we were not, and blackouts occurred throughout the state.

ERCOT’s warning meant that the grid's power reserves “dropped below a comfortable threshold,” and the "system was just one step away from rolling blackouts” as the need for energy outpaced supply.  As these blackout threats loomed, two power plants succumbed to the cold and went down.  The loss in capacity amounted to about 3700 megawatts (MW), with 1800 MW lost due to the cold.  According to Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s Director of System Operations, “if we had lost another unit it would have put us into an Energy Emergency Alert Three” – the stage that prompts rolling blackouts.  This is unnecessary and unacceptable. Read More »

Posted in Demand Response, Renewable Energy, Texas| Tagged , , , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Renewable Energy to Thrive in 2014, Despite ALEC’s Aggressive Tactics

Marita MirzatunyNow that 2013 is behind us, it’s important to reflect on the progress of renewable energy last year and identify obstacles that may arise in 2014.

Over the last year, we kept a close eye on multiple clean energy attacks around the country, specifically on the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in the various states.  As we have highlighted before, the “man behind the curtain” in these attacks is none other than the infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a front group and model bill factory for many corporate interests including oil, gas and coal.

The good news is that from Ohio to Kansas, EDF and other organizations have been successful in preventing ALEC’s aggressive tactics to hamper clean energy.  To date, ALEC has failed to repeal clean energy standards in any state, despite its “Electricity Freedom Act” propaganda and promise that 2013 would be "the most active year ever" for efforts to repeal renewable energy mandates.  Active?  Yes.  Effective?  No.   Read More »

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Google, Microsoft and BBVA Compass Commit to Texas Wind Because It Makes Good Business Sense

Source: Earth Techling

Source: Earth Techling

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.  

As we highlighted a few weeks back, Texas is on a new path to accelerating its clean, renewable energy economy.  The opening of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) now enables more West and Panhandle wind turbines to fuel the state’s major metropolises, and the completion of the project couldn’t come soon enough.

A number of companies are looking to grow and invest in Texas, thanks to its plentiful, clean wind power.  Google, Microsoft and BBVA Compass are leading the charge and signing long-term agreements to purchase Texas wind energy.  These contracts lock in considerable revenue for the state and guarantee Texas’ ranking as the number one wind-producing state in the nation.  In fact, West Texas wind has outpaced the growth of coal, natural gas and all other fuel sources that supply the grid, according to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In September, Google added to its growing stock of renewable energy by purchasing the entire output of a 240-megawatt wind farm (enough energy to power 84,000 homes) outside Amarillo to power its Oklahoma data center.  Late in November, Microsoft signed a 20-year contract to purchase all of the energy from a 110-megawatt wind farm outside Fort Worth to power its San Antonio data center.  And BBVA Compass recently signed a 10-year agreement with Choice! Energy Services, a Houston-based retail energy broker, to power its Texas branches exclusively with wind and solar energy. Read More »

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Debate Over a Changing Texas Energy Market Heats Up at Senate Natural Resources Committee Hearing

Marita MirzatunyOver the past two years, Texas’s changing energy landscape has been a focus of EDF’s work.  In our Texas’ Energy Crunch report from March 2013, we highlighted that Texas has a peak capacity constraint – meaning that the power grid becomes strained when, for example, everyone is using their air conditioning units on hot summer afternoons.  This challenge, coupled with increased climate change and drought, signal the need to prepare by adopting a smarter grid and cleaner resources.

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have been engaged in this conversation and various proposals have been laid on the table to determine what Texas’ energy future will look like.  EDF maintains the position that, whatever reforms are made, customer-facing, demand-side resources – defined here as demand response (DR), renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage – must play a key role to ensuring reliability, affordability, customer choice and environmental improvements.

Energy-Only Status Quo or Capacity Market or…?

Texas’ current energy-only market structure pays power plants only for the energy they produce.  This is beneficial in that generators are not overcompensated, but the downside is that energy companies aren’t incentivized to build in Texas and energy management providers (DR companies) are not viewed as equal players.  Energy prices are low due to an upsurge in cheap, abundant natural gas and wind – and without a guarantee for a high return on investment, companies will not take the risk of constructing costly new power plants. Read More »

Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, General, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Texas| Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Fueling Cities with West Texas Wind as CREZ Comes Online

Marita MirzatunyAs we approach the end of 2013, Texas’ power grid is soon to embark on a new clean energy path.  While most people don’t get too excited about electrical transmission and distribution lines, the much awaited Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission project– set to come online in a few weeks and roll out through 2014 – could be the exception.

Approved by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) in 2008, CREZ is a 3,600 mile transmission line that will connect remote West Texas wind energy to the eastern cities that need its power – 18,500 megawatts of power to be exact.  This is enough power to energize 3.7 million to 7.4 million homes and increase available wind power supply by a whopping 50 percent.

Much like some other wind-rich regions in the country, wind in the West and Panhandle regions of Texas was partially unused, or curtailed, because local communities could not use all of the available supply  and the state’s current, outmoded electric grid could not efficiently deliver the abundant energy to high-demand eastern cities.  This "congestion" bottleneck forced wind farms to lower prices and at times pay the utilities to take their electricity. Read More »

Posted in Renewable Energy, Texas, Utility Business Models| Tagged , | 2 Responses, comments now closed