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
On the heels of a recent Forbes blog post where I call out Texas' Comptroller for playing favorites in her biased scrutiny of Texas' wind industry, comes another Forbes piece by James Taylor from the Heartland Institute. Confusing correlation with causation, Taylor claims wind energy causes higher energy prices. However, an increase in electricity prices cannot automatically be accounted for by pointing the finger at wind energy. That’s simply playing fast and loose with the facts.
This is the same tired slant we have heard from Heartland Institute time and time again. Not surprising – when pundits want to cherry pick data to make their argument strong, it doesn’t always work.
First there are many, many factors that determine energy rates, not just one type of resource. In an analysis of utility rates, economists Ernst Berndt, Roy Epstein, and Michael Doane identified 13 reasons why an electric utility’s rates may be higher or lower than the average. They include things like the average use per customer, age of the electricity distribution system, generation resource mix, local taxes, and rate of increases prior to any implemented renewable portfolio standard (RPS). So faulting renewables for high energy prices is a bogus claim. Furthermore, there is no data showing a nationwide pattern of renewable energy standards leading to rate increases for consumers. The report states: “American consumers in the top wind energy-producing states have seen their electricity prices actually decrease by 0.37 percent over the last 5 years, while all other states have seen their electricity prices increase by 7.79 percent over that time period." Further, 15 studies from various grid operators, state governments, and academic experts have examined the impact of wind energy on wholesale electricity prices and confirmed that wind energy reduces electricity prices. Read More
New York’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV) proceeding aims to reform the state’s long-standing electricity system to lay the groundwork for a cleaner and more efficient grid that allows for more customer choice and competition from third-party energy services companies. Forming the centerpiece of this 21st-century vision is a platform that would smoothly integrate innovative energy services and solutions into the existing grid, allowing them to compete on equal footing with electricity from centralized power plants.
Currently, the electric industry comprises three functions: generation, transmission, and distribution. Generation refers to making electricity, traditionally from large, centralized power plants. Transmission refers to sending that electricity along high-voltage wires to substations closer to electricity customers. Distribution refers to delivering the power from the substations to homes and businesses. In its recent straw proposal, the Department of Public Service Staff (Staff) recommends splitting the distribution function into two parts, one performing the traditional delivery service and the other serving as the Distribution System Platform Provider (DSP), to grant equal priority to energy solutions that are not centralized, such as on-site, distributed generation and energy efficiency. Read More