Energy Exchange

Fraying Wires: How Policymakers Can Fix America’s Electricity Infrastructure

electric-pylonsOn any given day, half a million Americans lose power for two or more hours. Those blackouts cost our economy billions of dollars. 70 percent of the U.S. grid that delivers electricity to our homes and businesses is at least 25 years old, and comparatively we endure more outages than other developed nations. We suffer some 360 minutes of outages each year, compared with just 16 minutes for Korea, 15 for Germany, and 11 for Japan.

A new book – The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future – offers these and other insights about the challenges of modernizing America’s electric grid – the set of wires and transformers that transmit and deliver power. According to the author, McGill University professor and cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke, our current system is “worn down, it’s patched up, and every hoped-for improvement is expensive and bureaucratically bemired.”

But change could be on the horizon. With a new president and Congress taking office in January, legislation to address America’s deteriorating infrastructure, like bridges and lead-laden water pipes, will likely be debated. High on their list of priorities should be new policies encouraging private-sector investment and innovation in the electricity sector.

Here are four ideas from Bakke that the new Congress and administration should keep in mind as they consider legislation that will lay the groundwork for America’s energy future. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Data Access, Grid Modernization, Utility Business Models / Read 4 Responses

Aliso Canyon Disaster One Year Later: Some Progress, But More Action Needed

When the gusher of methane pouring out of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field was discovered last October 23, it almost instantly transformed the sleepy Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch into the site of one of the biggest environmental disasters in recent history. It would ultimately take four months to stop the massive leak. According to a new report released today, it pumped nearly 100,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere.

Now, a year later, the question: What’s been done to fix the problem, and to prevent future blowouts – either at Aliso Canyon, or the 400 similar facilities in more than 30 states? The answer is, while there’s been some progress, it’s not nearly enough.

Read More »

Also posted in Aliso Canyon, California, Climate, Methane, Natural Gas / Tagged , | Comments are closed

What would it mean for Los Angeles to go 100% renewable?

10182500174_6070b2f074_kThe Los Angeles City Council recently passed a unanimous resolution requiring Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – the largest municipally-owned utility in the country — to study how the city can achieve a 100% clean energy future. With help from research partners, including academic institutions, the U.S. Department of Energy, and environmental and consumer groups, the study has the potential to become a foundational roadmap for running the utility on only clean and renewable energy.

California currently has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, with half of the state’s energy supply powered by renewable electricity by 2030. To achieve these targets, it is imperative for the state to look seriously at how to get off of fossil fuel dependency for our energy needs. Utilities and cities can be the key to reaching those climate goals. Read More »

Also posted in Air Quality, California, Clean Energy, Climate, Gas to Clean, Natural Gas, Wind Energy / Tagged , | Comments are closed

New York’s Standby Tariff: Standing in the Way of Distributed Energy?

AeonSolarcityviewLate last month, New York took a major step toward rethinking utility economics when it issued the “Order Adopting a Ratemaking and Utility Revenue Model Policy Framework” (also known as Track 2 Order). This action aims to better align New York’s electricity system with Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), the state’s initiative to transform the electric grid into a cleaner, more efficient, and affordable system.

But buried in this 180-plus page document is another important development for New York’s clean energy future: Nearly 10 pages are dedicated to re-examining the state’s controversial standby tariff.

Frequently cited as a major obstacle to distributed power generation (e.g. combined heat and power (CHP) systems, rooftop solar panels, energy efficiency, and storage), the standby tariff is a special electricity rate charged to large commercial and industrial customers who produce some of their own electricity but remain connected to the grid. While utilities say they need standby tariffs to recover the costs of maintaining a reliable electric grid, many potential and existing large electricity customers producing their own power see standby tariffs as perversely designed to undermine the business case for distributed generation.

Unless the standby tariff is fixed in a manner that clears the way for investment in customer-owned and sited distributed generation, it will be hard to make REV’s revolutionary vision for a decentralized, competitive electricity market a reality. Read More »

Also posted in Electricity Pricing, New York, Solar Energy, Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

As SoCal Braces for Aliso Canyon-Related Blackouts, These Energy Programs Can Help


blackout2By Jayant Kairam and Timothy O’Connor

Adding insult to injury, Californians learned this spring that the disastrous four-month methane leak at the sprawling Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility could result in a new problem: outages.

The failure at Southern California Gas Company’s massive storage site exposed a critical weakness in the state’s energy system. Densely populated Southern California is over-dependent on natural gas from a single provider.

As a result, a vast area stretching from San Diego in the south to Los Angeles and San Bernardino County in the east may face power and gas shortages during the hot summer and cold winter months, a recent report by a group of state regulatory agencies warned. Read More »

Also posted in California, Demand Response, Electricity Pricing, Energy Efficiency, Gas to Clean, Grid Modernization, Methane, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

We're wasting solar energy because the grid can't handle it all. Here's a solution.

caligrid_378x235California has a nice problem: It’s producing so much clean solar energy that the state’s electric grid is at capacity, and sometimes beyond.

As Vox’s David Roberts reports in his excellent piece about California’s grid headache, it makes good sense to expand the system by interconnecting state-run energy markets.

But he also notes, at the end of his story, some other and complementary strategies California can use to increase its grid bandwidth – while accommodating rapidly growing, but variable, renewable energy sources.

Connected grids, alone, are not a long-term fix. Read More »

Also posted in California, Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, Renewable Energy, Solar Energy, Time of Use / Read 3 Responses