This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.
As the 8th largest economy in the world, California remains a global leader in clean tech investment, innovation and adoption of landmark climate and energy policies. What defines our success? Our ability to try things first, set the bar high, and get policies right.
California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a perfect example of that bold, pioneering spirit. Passed in 2011, the RPS required that 33% of electricity come from renewables by 2020 – a lofty benchmark, even by California’s standards. Along with self-generation and solar rooftop programs, California is successfully adding solar, wind, and other distributed generation to its resource portfolio.
In fact, renewables are successfully becoming a large part of daytime energy production, the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) – the organization in charge of balancing the statewide grid – is concerned over how to make up for that energy when the sun goes down while evening energy demand spikes. The question is: How can the CAISO reliably integrate renewables?
The CAISO is currently figuring out how to address this need for “flexible” power and will have a draft decision out on October 2nd. Just like people prefer to take routes they know well when they drive, the CAISO is most comfortable with what they know: familiar fossil fuels. Using clean resources and demand response instead is new territory for them that will require careful orienteering.
Earlier this year, the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy unveiled a plan to double nationwide energy productivity by 2030. It’s an ambitious move to greatly increase our nation’s use of energy efficiency, which represents a huge – and largely untapped – opportunity. Reducing wasted energy through efficiency cuts harmful pollution and saves people money on their energy bills. After all, the cheapest, cleanest, most reliable electricity is the electricity we don’t have to use.
Source: Church Times
Similarly, the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative (Initiative) is an incentive for states to make voluntary progress to increase their energy productivity. The U.S. Senate is moving forward to make this idea a reality. Originally introduced as a bill in June, the Initiative has now been filed as a potential amendment, sponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT), to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill. If passed, the Initiative will stimulate energy innovation in both the public and private sectors, and allow states to tailor energy saving policies to their particular needs.
Administered by the Department of Energy (DOE), the Initiative will be broken into two phases. In the first phase, following the submission of state proposals through their energy office, DOE selects 25 states to receive funding (a combined $60 million) to move their energy productivity concepts forward. Although states have complete independence in developing and implementing their own clean energy strategies, the DOE will provide technical assistance upon request. Eighteen months later, in the second phase, the 25 states will be asked to submit progress reports to DOE. Based on their projects’ success, DOE will then select up to six states to receive a share of $122 million to continue their energy saving efforts.
In an effort to gauge where America’s power grid stands, Washington D.C.-based group GridWise Alliance evaluated grid modernization in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Texas and California tied for first place—standing far above the next runner up.
So what makes Texas’ grid so special?
Texas restructured its electricity market in 1999, introducing competition into the retail electric market. The new competitive retail market gave most Texans a choice of electricity providers from dozens of companies, so these energy providers compete to offer the most advanced services. For example, Texans can opt for 100% renewable electricity from Green Mountain Energy.
Additionally, in an effort to update Texas’ electric grid, the Public Utility Commission, Texas’ governing body for electricity, passed a resolution prompting “wires companies”(the firms that deliver energy from power plants to homes and businesses) to invest in millions of smart meters. Smart meters can help eliminate huge waste in the energy system, reduce peak energy demand (rush hour on the electrical wires) and spur the adoption of clean, low-carbon energy resources, such as wind and solar power, by managing energy demand and generation more efficiently.
A new documentary about smart meters opens on September 5th called Take Back Your Power. The film suggests that smart meters cause illness. According to an August 12 USA Today story, the film’s director was inspired by a friend who became seriously ill after a smart meter was installed at his home. Naturally, this type of personal experience might shape one’s view on smart meters, but correlation is not causation.
Electric utilities have installed over 38 million smart meters across the country and there “has never been a documented injury or health problem associated with such meters.” According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), “no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”
Smart meters send information to utilities by using radio frequencies (RFs) such as those currently used by televisions, radios, baby monitors, cell phones and wifi routers. RF signals have permeated our atmosphere for as long as we’ve had televisions and radios.
We use these devices every day, and many of them create much higher levels of RF exposure than smart meters. The exposure level depends on the strength of the RF signal emitted by the device, the duration of the RF signal and—importantly— the distance from the source. Cell phones emit up to several thousand times more RF signals than smart meters. Smart meters also transmit intermittently and briefly during the day, while we talk on cell phones for long periods. Finally, smart meters are located outside the home, while cell phones are often used close to one’s head.
Last week, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released a Rebuilding Strategy, which aims to rebuild communities affected by Hurricane Sandy in ways that are “better able to withstand future storms and other risks posed by climate change.” From an energy perspective, the main goal of these recommendations is to make the electrical grid smarter and more flexible. This effort would minimize power outages and fuel shortages in the event of similar emergency situations in the future.
The Task Force is led by President Obama and chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan. The recommendations put forth in the report were developed with Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and a number of federal agencies and officials from across New York and New Jersey, representing an unusual opportunity to make changes that will help communities weather future crises.
This key idea – smarter, flexible energy – is central to resilience, safety and quick recovery in a storm, as well as reducing the harmful pollution linked to climate change in the first place. This has been a key theme of EDF’s efforts to help the Northeast region respond to Sandy.
When the power grid went down on most of New York City following Hurricane Sandy, a number of buildings were able to keep their lights on thanks to existing microgrids and on-site, renewable energy sources. The Task Force report lays out a path forward for taking these isolated success stories to scale and making these clean technologies available to everyone.
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Voices blog.
Source: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/Flickr
These days, the future is often in the news. It’s not uncommon to come upon articles about cars that drive themselves, vacation trips to space, and automated smart houses a la the Jetsons.
I don’t know much about space tourism or self-driving cars,
but I do know that smart homes and the associated technologies are already allowing for the possibility of environmental benefits and economic savings that are nothing short of futuristic.
Our utility grid is the largest machine in world. Unfortunately, however, this machine exacts human and environmental costs all the way down the line — from extraction to combustion. But we’re at the beginning of an energy revolution in home energy management systems that may make consumers key players in solving these problems.
If Ben Franklin lived today, he might say that nothing is certain but death, taxes and cyber-attacks. Cyber-attacks occur when individuals or groups hack into another group’s computer information systems to steal, alter or damage key infrastructure. Our nation’s electric grid is under constant attack according to a survey of electric utilities by U.S. House Representatives Henry Waxman and (now) Senator Edward Markey. The grid was the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th Century, but cybersecurity was equally unknown to those grid engineers as it was to Ben Franklin. We need to do more to protect our energy infrastructure.
The U.S. has finally called out China for repeated and pervasive cyber-attacks. Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm, released an alarming report in February 2013 regarding the ongoing cyber-attacks by the Chinese army. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, described cyber-attacks as a soft war already underway and a dire global threat in his April 2013 World Threat Assessment to the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In May of this year, for the first time, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military openly accused China’s military of repeated cyber-attacks on the U.S. government and defense contractors.
Cyber-attacks are underway not only by China, but also by Iran, Russia, Al-Queda, organized crime, industrial spies, ex-utility employees and rogue hackers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigated over 200 serious cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure during the first half of 2013. The electric grid was targeted in over half of these attacks. At the recent Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Cyrill Brunschwiler of Compass Security explained how the smart grid’s wireless network can be easily exploited to steal electricity and to cause massive blackouts. Though innovation and new clean energy technologies are key to modernizing our antiquated energy system, the electric grid is more vulnerable to cyber-attacks with increased use of smartphones, tablets, mobile apps and electric vehicles to connect with our home electronic devices. A July 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines the various threats to the electric grid.
We’ve discussed the potentially grave impacts of the Texas Energy Crunch in a number of our previous blog posts. Time and time again, we repeat that the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable energy resource is the energy we save through energy efficiency. But our energy efficiency programs in Texas are still modest compared to other states. Beyond politics, there is another key issue limiting our state’s energy savings: Texas does not treat energy efficiency as a ‘resource.’
Traditionally, energy efficiency is left ‘invisible’ to utilities and grid planners—so they lose count of its many benefits. Treating energy efficiency as a resource, instead, puts it on a level playing field with other energy resources, such as power plants. This allows utilities to realize the unique benefits energy efficiency has over other energy sources.
Energy efficiency can reduce harmful greenhouse gases, save people money and create jobs – and it is extremely competitive with other energy resources. When the energy saved through efficiency is weighed against new energy resources, efficiency upgrades to buildings and homes generally weigh in at just one-third of the cost of building a new fossil-fuel power plant. On top of that, energy efficiency upgrades can eliminate the need to install or replace other expensive electric grid equipment. This cost-savings is one of the many benefits generally overlooked by utilities and electric grid planners.
Part of what prevents electric grid planners from counting efficiency as a resource in Texas is the way that the energy market is structured. When Texas deregulated its energy market in 1999, the aim was to increase options for customers and lower prices. Efficiency programs were not included in the new market structure. Instead, they were left for transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs), the “wires” companies that deliver electricity from power plants to customers, to manage. With efficiency left out of the restructured energy market, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) and other state leaders tend to view efficiency programs as subsidies that exist outside of the market. Read More
Also posted in clean energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Texas, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities
Tagged Capabilities Market, Capacity Market, Energy Efficiency, ERCOT, Resource, Resource Adequacy, Texas Energy Crunch
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters blog.
(Source: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op)
Everywhere you turn these days, you hear someone mention the emergence of big data and how our lives will be more and more reliant on numbers. Well the world of electric cooperatives (co-ops) is no exception. Originally emerging out of the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration, co-ops enabled rural farmers and ranchers to create customer-owned electric utilities in areas that are not serviced by traditional utilities.
I recently visited the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (Bluebonnet), one of the Texas’ largest co-ops providing energy to 14 counties, spanning the outskirts of Austin to Houston and boasting an impressive 11,000 miles of electric lines, 83,000 electric meters and 63,000 members. Who would have thought so much big data is coming out of rural Texas?
What makes this co-op particularly unique is its smart grid, which is attracting some serious attention.
Unlike other traditional utilities, Bluebonnet does not generate any of its own electricity. Instead, it buys electricity from the Lower Colorado River Authority and CPS Energy, both pioneers for clean, renewable energy. Because of this, Bluebonnet is able to concentrate its energy (pun intended) on using new technologies to provide reliable power and enhance customer satisfaction. Read More
No one likes being told “I told you so.” But since DOE released its report last week, I’ve been tempted.
The report warns that the existing American energy infrastructure is highly vulnerable to climate change. That increasing temperatures will stress the U.S. water system and enhance the likelihood of drought. That because conventional power plants require huge volumes of water to operate, lower water availability will mean less reliable power. And that the changing climate will prompt more extreme and frequent storms, increasing energy demand due to extreme temperature changes and threatening our aging and already stressed electric grid with potential blackouts.
In essence, the affirms the many the calls-to-action that EDF and many other groups have been leading for years and the lessons we learned from Superstorm Sandy made painfully real and salient: Our existing energy technologies and policies were designed for a 20th century climate. To weather the extremes of a 21st century climate, we need to a 21st century energy system – one that promotes energy efficiency, enables widespread adoption of homegrown, renewable sources of power and allows people to control their own energy use and reduce their electricity costs.
I have been very encouraged by President Obama’s recent movement on climate change, and the DOE report provides research backing the urgency of his Climate Action Plan. Hopefully, this recent movement will translate into real national momentum, as our national approach to energy truly needs an overhaul. Read More