Imagine homeowners and businesses saving millions of dollars – and cutting pollution – without needing to do anything. Magic? No, but it does require electric utilities to take advantage of new technologies that better provide customers with just the right amount of voltage to their electrical outlets.
Many appliances, including incandescent lighting, work just as effectively, yet consume less energy, when the flow of electricity to them is reduced. Put another way, higher voltages generally make individuals and businesses needlessly use more energy, driving up electricity bills and air pollution. Therefore, if voltage was “right-sized,” residents would get enough power to run their appliances efficiently, but not so much that they use more electricity than needed.
What we’ve described above is “voltage optimization,” and a new study by Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) looking at this technology’s potential within Chicago and northern Illinois found it could reduce the need for almost 2,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity (enough to power 180,000 homes) each year at an amazingly low cost of less than two cents per kilowatt-hour – more than is achieved now from the utility’s other efficiency programs. This translates to $240 million per year in savings for ComEd’s customers, of which 90 percent could potentially benefit. The study also suggested full deployment of voltage optimization would only take about five years. Read More »
Clean energy advocates tend to maintain a bi-coastal focus. No doubt my California and New York colleagues often see their states as the bellwethers when it comes to new policy initiatives. But, real innovation is taking place in Illinois, a state that national clean energy advocates tend only to fly over.
For the next couple of months, Illinois’ legislative session will be in full swing, giving lawmakers the chance to craft policies that redefine an electric utility, establish markets that reward clean energy, and set the foundation for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will put in place the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.
The best opportunity to achieve these goals is through legislation called the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. This legislation is backed by a broad coalition of groups that, in the past, have found themselves at odds, but are now pulling in the same direction. Read More »
Energy efficiency may be the Rodney Dangerfield of electricity policy. Compared to bulky power plants, it gets little respect.
Part of the problem is efficiency is hard to visualize. A new refrigerator, even if it uses 50 percent less power, still looks like a refrigerator. And, insulation is buried within walls, whereas it’s hard to miss a nuclear reactor or even a wind turbine.
Another issue is power companies see efficiency as competition and want to limit its development. FirstEnergy, for instance, lobbied to freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency standards, abandoned its own conservation programs, and led efforts to do away with demand response, an innovative energy management program that rewards people and businesses for conservation.
So, the Illinois Power Agency’s (IPA’s) recent decision to put efficiency and generation on the same level provides some much needed respect. Read More »
You don’t have a south-facing roof. You have too many trees in your yard. You may not be committed to staying in your house for the next ten to fifteen years. Or maybe you rent, or don’t have the upfront money to install.
These may be some of the reasons why you can’t go solar. You are not alone.
In fact, only 22 to 27 percent of residential rooftops are suitable for installing a solar PV system, due to structural, shading, or ownership issues, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These effects are even more prominent in densely-populated, urban areas, like Chicago, where viable project siting is limited and renters account for more than half (55 percent) of housing.
But in a new utility world of flowing electricity data and layered intelligence, we shouldn’t limit participation in the rapidly growing solar market to those inconvenienced by circumstance. We need to shift our thinking of distributed solar from the individual to the community. Read More »
Illinois is two-for-two on clean energy wins. Today, Illinois legislators introduced a bill to spur significant new growth in the clean energy industry, creating an estimated 32,000 jobs annually across Illinois once proposed clean energy standards are fully implemented. Already a leader in America’s clean energy economy, Illinois, with this bill, would help boost the 100,000 clean energy jobs that already exist in the state, protect our children and future generations from the impacts of climate change, as well as maintain a reliable and affordable electricity system.
This week I submitted testimony in support of a petition by the Citizens Utility Board and, my shop, EDF, to urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to require Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren, two of Illinois’ biggest utilities, to provide families and individuals with new ways to reduce their energy bills: electricity pricing based on the hour of the day. This “Time-of-Use” (TOU) option provides times of the day when electricity will be much cheaper than the all-day, “flat” electricity pricing currently used today. Such electricity rates would reward energy-efficient customers and those who shift electricity use away from “peak” hours—when demand is high, prices skyrocket, and power plants produce the most pollution.
Our petition to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is in charge of regulating electric utilities in the state, asks for ComEd and Ameren to offer optional rate plans beginning 2016. With voluntary TOU electricity pricing, families with digital meters can enjoy lower electric bills by running certain appliances, like the dishwasher, when electricity is cheapest, such as early in the morning or late in the evenings. However, the benefits go far beyond households that participate. Cutting energy use at high-demand times, like the afternoon, lowers electricity prices for everyone, reduces stress on the power grid, and offsets the need for expensive, polluting power plants. Read More »