Energy Exchange

Clean energy – not natural gas – drove decarbonization in 2017

Despite attempts by the Trump administration and the coal industry to limit clean energy in favor of fossil fuels – including a tariff on solar energy, a thinly-disguised bailout for coal and nuclear power plants (that was rightly rejected), and a dramatic proposed cut to energy research – we are accelerating the transition to a cleaner electric grid. In fact, last year was the first time the reduction in power sector emissions can be attributed more to energy conservation and renewable energy than switching from coal to natural gas.

The new 2018 Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) Factbook* highlights the electric power sector as the driving force behind the decarbonization of the U.S. economy. In total, power sector emissions declined 4.2 percent in 2017, mostly due to the 18.4 GW of new renewable energy we added to the grid (a 14 percent increase over the previous year’s total U.S. renewable capacity). In 2017, renewable generation represented about 18 percent of total U.S. generation (around10 percent from non-hydro renewables alone).

This explosive growth further cements renewable energy’s role in reducing emissions from the U.S. power sector. Let’s dig into the factors that led to this growth, and how we can extend this trend of emissions reductions from renewables beyond 2017. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Demand Response, Electric Vehicles, Electricity Pricing, Energy Equity, Grid Modernization, Natural Gas / Leave a comment

Trump kills solar jobs, taxes families and businesses, but he can’t kill solar competitiveness

With President Trump’s announcement this week to slap a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and modules, the solar industry once again finds itself in the firing line, targeted by the political whims of elected officials.

This political posturing has created uncertainty in the marketplace. In the last decade, solar has suffered from seven changes to the investment tax credit. And in the last few months, the industry got a double whammy of the BEAT tax – which will negatively affect equity investments in solar development – and the threat from the Department of Energy’s plan to prop up dirty coal while undermining solar. The tariff decision this week – a protectionist attempt by Trump to appeal to his anti-free trade base – is the latest assault on clean energy and a tax on American families, businesses, and utilities who want to go solar. Republicans once considered such actions a “tax on consumers.”

Despite these attacks, solar is still booming. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that in the last five years, the U.S. solar industry has attracted more than $100 billion in investment, realized year-over-year growth rates of 21 percent, and now employs more than 260,000 people. The tariff may slow the growth of solar, but it doesn’t kill its competitiveness. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Energy Financing, Renewable Energy / Read 1 Response

Innovative Illinois initiative seeks to make solar power available for all

We recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the monumental clean energy development package passed by the Illinois state legislature, the Future Energy Jobs Act. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) joined forces with community-based organizations, fellow enviros, and clean energy industry representatives as part of the Clean Jobs Coalition to push for the historic bill, and now continues to work for its effective, efficient, and equitable implementation.

One of the many remarkable results of the legislation is the Illinois Solar for All program, created to increase access to the solar economy for economically disadvantaged communities and areas that meet program standards for designation as environmental justice (EJ) communities. In fact, the legislation allocates at least 25 percent of funds for three of the four subprograms (described below) to projects located in EJ communities.

The Solar for All program works by addressing the additional barriers these communities face when it comes to participating in renewable energy programs. By providing access to solar with no upfront costs, and a cash-positive experience (i.e. customers can positively manage their energy use and bills), the Illinois Solar for All program has the potential to transform how communities create, interact with, and benefit from clean energy. Read More »

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Rooftop solar and EVs save water and cut pollution – and data can help us go further

Thanks to improvements in technology, it’s easier than ever to be green.

Solar panels and electric vehicles (EVs) are two prime examples of technologies that can help people minimize their environmental footprint, without sacrificing comfort or having to radically change their daily behavior. But the question still remains: How much of an environmental benefit do these technologies actually produce? And, are there actions that owners of these technologies can take to minimize their pollution footprint even more?

A new paper by my colleagues and me, recently published in Energy Economics, attempts to answer these two questions for households in Austin, Texas. These homes are part of Pecan Street Inc., a living smart-grid laboratory with the largest customer energy-use database on the planet. Using detailed household-level data from 2013-2015, we were able to track solar panel performance and EV use and charging patterns, and match these actions to two important environmental impacts: water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Our paper confirms that, in Texas, residential solar panels uses less water and pollutes the air less than using the central-grid power (based on its electricity sources during those years), and driving an EV instead of a gasoline vehicle generally reduces the household’s water and emission footprint, even though EVs charge from the grid. Moreover, our analysis demonstrates how carefully examining energy-use data can help us make sure we’re maximizing clean energy’s benefits. Read More »

Also posted in Electric Vehicles, Texas / Comments are closed

A roadmap for a clean, modern grid – The 6 areas that should guide our efforts

Everyone has a role to play in fighting climate change. Farmers can use new methods to rotate their crops that keep more carbon safely in the ground. Consumers can act with their wallets – buying goods and services that produce less carbon than competitors. Our elected officials, of course, have a lot of influence in setting the narrative and enabling support for climate progress.

But around the country, in municipal buildings, state offices, and corporate headquarters, separate groups of people are busy designing and implementing changes that could have the biggest impact of all: a better, smarter, more modern grid.

Improving our electricity system could be the single largest climate fighting opportunity we have. But it’s not as simple as just putting solar panels on rooftops. Our grid was built over a century ago by different companies, cities, and co-ops. Pieces of it are owned and run by a dizzying web of stakeholders. Even if we could snap our fingers and spur all of these pieces to action, each player would manifest different versions of a “modern grid.”

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) thus released a guide titled, “Grid Modernization: The foundation for climate change progress” [PDF], which outlines the six key categories that make up a sustainable grid modernization strategy. All of them are connected, either physically or digitally, or by legislation, regulation, or management. Most importantly, they’re connected by efficiency: If each of them is executed well, the whole grid modernization process will yield the best, most reliable, most affordable, and cleanest electricity system. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Data Access, Electric Vehicles, Energy Innovation, Energy Storage, Grid Modernization, Voltage Optimization, Wind Energy / Comments are closed

One step forward, one step back for Ohio policy to fairly compensate solar customers

Rooftop solar provides many benefits to the electric grid, like having no fuel costs and increasing electric grid resiliency – the ability to quickly recover from problems.

So how can utilities recognize these benefits and reward people who install solar at their homes and businesses? A popular way is through net metering, which allows customers to send the electricity from their solar panels to the power grid and receive a credit on their electricity bill.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recently updated the state’s net metering policy, with some positive and some negative changes. Following the lead of the Ohio Environmental Council, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) helped usher in these updates, and we’ll work to make sure solar customers are compensated fully and fairly. Read More »

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