In 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
Over the past several months, we’ve been providing updates on the ongoing litigation surrounding Order 745 – a vital, federal rule on demand response. As a low-cost, environmentally beneficial resource, demand response relies on people and technology, not power plants, to manage stress on the electric grid during periods of peak energy demand. Simply put, demand response pays people to conserve energy when it matters most – a win-win for people and the environment.
But this critical energy management tool has also been subject to an amazing amount of scrutiny (which we’ve covered here, here, and yes, here, as well). In short, the thorny issue boils down to this: a recent court decision found that the federal agency responsible for regulating demand response didn’t have the authority to do so.
When the decision came down, many were shocked. The general assumption had been that this agency (known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or “FERC”) certainly was within its rights to issue Order 745, a set of rules for how demand response would function in our nation’s energy markets.
And last week, the United States Solicitor General sided with the “general consensus” on Order 745. Read More
By: Beia Spiller, Economist, and Kristina Mohlin, Economist
Smart meters, which provide detailed electricity use data throughout the day, are a critical piece of a smarter, more resilient 21st century energy system. But they are not a cure-all for modernizing our antiquated power grid.
In Matthew Wald’s recent New York Times article, entitled “Power Savings of Smart Meters Prove Slow to Materialize,” he argues that smart meters have failed to produce measurable savings. And we agree – but not because smart meters themselves have failed. Rather, most customers with smart meters don’t have access to people-powered, or time-variant, electricity pricing, which creates opportunities to save money. This is a missed opportunity for customers, utilities, and the environment.
Time-variant pricing better reflects electricity costs
Throughout most of the country, the price paid for residential electricity is the same regardless of the time of day when it’s consumed. This arrangement is a byproduct of an earlier era, one in which electricity information was difficult to convey and the actions of individual customers was impossible to gauge in real time. In practice, electricity is actually dirtier and more expensive to produce and transmit at certain times of the day, particularly when everybody wants it – for example, at 6pm during a heat wave when customers are cooling their homes. Also, during this high-demand time, energy prices spike and electric utilities flip on expensive and dirty fossil fuel “peaker” power plants to meet energy demand. From an economic point of view, it would be more efficient for electricity used at these peak demand times to have a higher price. Read More
By: Jorge Madrid, EDF Coordinator, Partnerships and Alliances, and Marilynn Marsh-Robinson, EDF Project Manager
We’ve spent nearly 15 years collectively working on clean energy solutions for both rural and urban communities, often with under-resourced and underrepresented people at the front of our minds. One question, among many, that is consistently on the minds of elected officials and advocates alike is: How will clean energy policies affect low-income families and communities of color? This is a critical question to answer because low-income families, including a disproportionately large percentage of African Americans and Latinos, spend a greater portion of their income on utility bills. This means spikes in electricity costs can interrupt monthly finances, and even slight increases can take away from other basic needs like housing, education, and food.
Unfortunately, the concern about cost impacts on low-income families and communities of color is also frequently used as an argument against transitioning to a clean energy economy. Sometimes these arguments come from elected officials and advocates with genuine concerns, while other times, they come from industry groups who are trying to protect their own interests by pitting these communities against clean energy. In both cases, incomplete or outright misinformation muddies the water and impedes effective policy dialogue. Read More
Several states have embraced net metering in order to encourage the adoption of solar energy and other distributed generation. Sometimes referred to as “running a meter backwards,” net metering allows people to generate their own electricity, export any excess electricity to the grid, and get paid for providing this excess energy to the utility who may use it to power nearby homes or manage overall electricity demand.
Net metering leads to lower – or in some cases negative – electricity bills without having to invest in expensive batteries to store excess energy, which can be cost-prohibitive. By generating energy on-site where it’s consumed, net metering also reduces the strain on distribution systems and cuts the amount of electricity lost to long-distance transmission and distribution (estimated at seven percent in the U.S.). Net metering, moreover, tends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing people to adopt renewable energy and become more aware of energy-saving opportunities. Read More
Revolutionary paradigm shifts often require cohesive development of many moving parts, some of which advance more quickly than others in practice. Germany’s revolutionary Energiewende (or “energy transition”) is no exception. Set to achieve nearly 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, Germany’s Energiewende is one of the most aggressive clean energy declarations in the world. While growth of Germany’s installed renewables capacity has been explosive in recent years, optimization measures designed for Energiewende have manifested at a relatively slow pace.
Germany already has one of the most reliable electric grids in the world, but as implementation of Energiewende continues, optimization will be key to its future success. This will require better sources of backup generation to accommodate the intermittency of wind and solar, a dynamic energy market that ensures fair compensation for this backup, and a more flexible, resilient grid enabled by smart grid technologies to fully optimize demand side resources and a growing renewable energy portfolio. Read More