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.
Over the past several weeks, I've written a lot about the intimate and inextricable connection between energy and water. The energy-water nexus involves a number of technologies, environmental factors and stakeholders. Thus, it’s no surprise that water and energy’s fundamental connection has eluded policymakers for so long. With this post, I review the lessons discussed so far, so that policymakers can understand the key issues surrounding the energy-water nexus and what’s at stake if we fail to act now.
The Bottom Line
Conventional electricity sources, like coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, require an abundance of water — about 190 billion gallons per day. Because the majority of our electricity comes from these sources, high energy use strains the water system and contributes to Texas’ prolonged drought. Coincidentally, extreme drought could force power plants to shut down.
Climate change is having a profound effect on our weather patterns, making extreme heat and drought more common in Texas and throughout the Southwest. If we don’t set the energy-water system on a sustainable course, we risk a compounded problem.
If you have been following our Texas Energy Crunch campaign over the last year, you know that demand response (DR) can play a pivotal role in meeting Texas’ energy needs without relying on dirty, inefficient fossil fuels that pollute our air and consume much-needed water. Simply put, demand response rewards those who reduce electricity use during peak (high energy demand) times, resulting in more money in peoples’ pockets, a more stable and reliable electric grid and less harmful pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants.
That said, fully harnessing DR in Texas homes has been a bit of a challenge, despite the high electricity prices that result from the scorching summer temperatures. To understand the issue, it’s important to look at the obstacles emerging technologies often face. I highlight some of these obstacles in a recent EDF Voices blog and will be diving deeper in future posts. Namely, the infrastructure to fully enable residential DR adoption isn’t in place, yet.
As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, water and energy regulators often make decisions in silos, despite the inherent connection between these two sectors. Texas is no exception.
Two very important and intertwined events are happening in Texas right now.
First, the state is in the midst of an energy crunch brought on by a dysfunctional electricity market, drought, population growth and extreme summer temperatures. An energy crunch signifies that the available supply of power barely exceeds the projected need (or demand) for electricity. Texas’ insufficient power supply makes the whole electricity system vulnerable to extreme weather events. An especially hot day (with thousands of air conditioning units running at full blast) could push the state over the edge and force the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the institution charged with ensuring grid reliability, to issue rolling blackouts.
Second, Texas is still in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought, forcing state agencies to impose strict water restrictions throughout the state. The drought has already had a devastating impact on surface water and many communities are facing critical water shortages.
Although Texas has always had to deal with extreme weather events, we can anticipate even more intense weather as climate change advances. The new climate ‘normal’ makes extreme heat waves, like the historic 2011 Texas summer, 20 times more likely to occur. These extreme weather events heighten the urgency of the energy-water nexus. Read More
Also posted in clean energy, Climate, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities, Water
Tagged Demand Response, energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Texas Energy Crunch, Water
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, Smart Grid, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities
Tagged Capabilities Market, Capacity Market, Energy Efficiency, ERCOT, Resource, Resource Adequacy, Texas Energy Crunch
This week the Texas Legislature convened for its third Special Session in a row, yet the state’s electricity market still sits at a crossroads. The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), Texas’ governing body for electricity, has been at a stalemate since Commissioner Rolando Pablos stepped down in February. The two remaining commissioners, Chairman Donna Nelson and Ken Anderson, seem to be waiting on a third deciding member to step up and address the looming Texas Energy Crunch. With the PUC divided and the legislature nearly adjourned, the state looks to Governor Perry to appoint a third commissioner to the PUC—breaking the longstanding stalemate on Texas’ power supply.
When appointed, the new commissioner will be in unique position to champion innovative, common-sense solutions to solve the Texas Energy Crunch. One of the most expedient and cost-effective ways to bolster the state’s electricity supply is to reduce the amount of energy needed to fuel our commercial buildings and homes through energy efficiency upgrades. In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss innovative ways to weigh the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades versus new fossil-fueled power plants. For now, though, let’s review where energy efficiency stands in Texas today.
Source: ENR New York
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that electricity prices in West Texas skyrocketed over 20% this year. West Texas is home to the Permian basin, one of the world’s largest oilfields, and energy producers use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” here to unlock vast new oil and gas supplies. The increased drilling, oil refining and natural gas processing uses large amounts of electricity.
Cheaper electricity supplies are available, but cannot be delivered to West Texas due to transmission bottlenecks, or “congestion.” The only power that can be delivered is from older coal plants. This leads to transmission “congestion” charges (i.e., higher energy supply costs caused by the transmission bottlenecks), which commercial and industrial consumers must pay as a surcharge on their monthly electricity bills. Using these older coal plants leads to more pollution as well because these plants burn fuel less efficiently and have higher levels of toxic air emissions.
The typical solution is to build new transmission lines to access cheaper electricity supplies. But a better and cheaper approach is to pay consumers for voluntarily reducing their electricity usage when energy supplies are tight. Known as “demand response,” this solution:
If you’re like so many conscientious consumers, you’ve experienced the disappointment that comes when you realize the lean turkey breast you bought has 300% of your daily value of sodium, negating the benefits of its high-protein and low-fat content. Instantly, food choices feel more complex; you’ve learned the hard way that the pursuit of a low-fat diet is not the same as a healthy diet.
The Energy-Water Nexus shows us that our energy choices are much like our food choices: The environmental benefits of an energy diet low in carbon emissions might be diminished by increased water consumption (or waste), and the unforeseen tradeoffs between the two resources (i.e. more sodium in lieu of less fat, can hurt us in the long run).
As we have mentioned before, roughly 90% of the energy we use today comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which require 190 billion gallons of water per day, or 39% of all U.S. freshwater withdrawals (water “withdrawal” indicates the water withdrawn from ground level water sources; not to be confused with “consumption,” which indicates the amount of water lost to evaporation.)
Also posted in clean energy, Energy Efficiency, Natural Gas, Solar, Water
Tagged energy, Energy Policy, Energy-Water Nexus, environment, Resource Efficiency, Solar, texas, Water, Water Policy
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