Energy Exchange

Boosting power grid resilience with pre-storm community planning and business investments

By Ronny Sandoval, Kate Zerrenner

Eight months after Hurricane Harvey, affected communities are still rebuilding their lives and businesses.

One area that hasn’t required as much attention to rebuild: Texas’ electricity grid. Shortly after the storm, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s main grid operator, said, “The ERCOT grid has remained stable, and competitive electricity markets have continued to operate normally.” That said, nearly 300,000 consumers were without power during the storm’s peak. Therefore, the state’s electricity restoration after Harvey is a story of resilience – and an opportunity to do better the next time around.

Though the impact and $125 billion in damages that Harvey caused were catastrophic, some of the investments and decisions made in Texas well before the storm allowed for faster restoration of power than would have been the case just a few years prior. Plus, renewable energy resources like wind turbines and solar panels can play a role in strengthening grid resilience. Investments in modern technologies – like digital controls, microgrids, and distributed energy – hold the keys to protecting people in towns and cities most susceptible to future powerful storms, and they provide insights for how Texas can prepare for the next power disruption. Read More »

Also posted in Grid Modernization / Comments are closed

How this 300-year-old city is leading on U.S. solar, energy-water, and climate action

By Kate Zerrenner, Jaclyn Rambarran

On May 5, 2018, the city of San Antonio will officially be 300 years old! On that day in 1718, the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (a Spanish fort) was founded. The city’s tricentennial celebration will culminate in a weeklong celebration of history, art, and culture the first week of May.

San Antonio is a unique place that should be honored in Texas and beyond. In addition to its strong Hispanic heritage, the city boasts a large military population, straddles the border between eastern, western, and southern U.S., and claims to be the birthplace of breakfast tacos.

This growing city also has a powerful role to play in the future of Texas and the United States in terms of climate change and air quality, as evidenced by its initiatives around renewable energy, the energy-water nexus, and climate action. With all this in mind, let’s take a moment to celebrate not just San Antonio’s momentous birthday, but also its impressive efforts to ensure the sustainability of the city going forward. Read More »

Also posted in Energy-Water Nexus / Comments are closed

Fighting for the planet, one methane comment at a time

When a kid knocks at your door, you might expect a Girl Scout selling cookies or a Boy Scout selling popcorn. But recently, it was my 13 year-old neighbor, Pete Bates, asking me to sign a letter to fight methane pollution. I thought this was pretty neat, because while my day-to-day job is focused on reducing this pollution, it’s a pretty niche topic. That’s why I was so pleased to see Pete was interested in this topic and thought it was something worth getting engaged about.

These days, with the Trump administration’s constant attacks on our climate and clean air, it can be easy to be pessimistic. Hearing about Pete’s effort to make a difference gives me hope. I’m sure Pete and his generation will make the future bright, because they’ve already started.

Read More »

Also posted in BLM Methane, Methane, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

Texans for Natural Gas uses misleading data on methane in Texas

Recently, Texans for Natural Gas (TXNG) issued a report claiming methane emissions have drastically decreased in several of the largest natural gas producing counties in Texas from 2011 to 2016.

The notion of methane emissions rapidly declining across Texas during the largest U.S. oil and gas boom of the century is described in the report’s blog post as amazing, which in fact it would be if the report were accurate. It isn’t. The TXNG report doesn’t even come close to providing a complete representation of methane emissions across the featured Texas counties. TXNG claims methane emissions declined 51 percent in several of the state’s largest producing natural gas counties, and 39 percent across ten of the largest oil-producing counties.

And here’s what data is missing: methane emissions generated from onshore production and gathering. Simply put, the vast majority of emissions aren’t even included. (What’s even worse, their original report failed to disclose that the emission data referenced in TXNG’s blog post only accounted for methane emissions from large midstream  gas facilities.) The revised report’s claims about 2016 reductions in Midland County only account for emissions from six processing plants and compressor stations while ignoring the over 2,000 oil and gas wells. Drawing broad conclusions from a tiny fraction of facilities is shoddy analysis at best and deliberately misleading at worst.

Read More »

Also posted in Methane, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

Texas cities, businesses, and schools know the economic upside of clean energy

The City of Georgetown, Texas committed to 100% renewables.

Recently, the message on Texas clean energy has been getting clearer – the market is driving the clean energy economy forward. And some of those spreading the message are making it loud and clear.

Case in point, the city of Georgetown, a predominately Republican city, shifted to 100 percent renewable energy in 2015. Jim Briggs, the city’s General Manager-Utilities, clarified, “We didn’t do this to save the world – we did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers.” Additionally, Briggs notes that switching to renewables will hedge against future fuel and regulatory risks.

Even if reducing risk was the primary reason for Georgetown going 100 percent renewable, the move will also slash air pollution and contribute to a healthier Texas. This shift not only has brought about a significant price decline in electricity, but has also brought millions of dollars of new investment to the city – proving to be a great economic development tool.

And Georgetown isn’t the only example. More and more Texas voices – ranging from multimillion dollar corporations to universities and school districts – are speaking up about their investments in clean energy. And the motivating reason is the same: economics. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy / Comments are closed

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, Solar Energy / Comments are closed