By: Beia Spiller and Kristina Mohlin
The price of most goods we purchase is generally based on the costs associated with the goods' production, including the raw materials used to generate them, the labor associated with their manufacturing, and so on. However, when it comes to pricing residential electricity, many regulators choose to use a flat price per unit of electricity (kilowatt-hours, or kWh) that unfortunately fails to adequately reflect the underlying costs of generating and delivering energy to our homes.
This creates incorrect incentives for conservation and investments in distributed energy resources (like rooftop solar, energy storage, and demand response). Getting these incentives right can go a long way in creating more opportunity for efficiency and clean energy resources.
Pricing electricity generation
The cost of generating electricity from large-scale power plants varies significantly over the course of a day. When demand is low, electricity providers call upon the most efficient and inexpensive power plants to produce electricity. As demand increases, they must also utilize more inefficient and expensive power plants. So, for the price of generation to accurately reflect these costs, it too must vary with the time of day. Time-variant pricing charges customers more for using electricity during periods of high demand (such as during hot afternoons) and less when demand is not as great. This pricing system is an accurate reflection of generation costs.
In contrast, flat rates that don’t vary over time incentivize customers to consume more electricity when it’s most valuable to them, even though consuming during times of high demand places a larger cost on the system. Thus, the current, static pricing system creates incorrect incentives for conservation and electricity use. Read More
Each month, the Energy Exchange rounds up a list of top clean energy conferences around the country. Our list includes conferences at which experts from the EDF Clean Energy Program will be speaking, plus additional events that we think our readers may benefit from marking on their calendars.
Top clean energy conferences featuring EDF experts in July:
July 26-28: NY Rev Summit (New York, NY)
Speaker: Rory Christian, Director, New York Clean Energy
- Building on New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative, Infocast’s second REVolution summit will focus on how utilities are planning for the future, and how they will explore both the promise and the practical development of microgrids, renewable energy, and emerging opportunities for third party providers. The summit will also consider various state efforts to finance and encourage clean energy markets sufficiently to ensure a robust, sustainable power delivery system. Read More
Mexican President Peña Nieto today formalized Mexico’s plan to join the U.S. and Canada in making oil and gas methane reductions a national priority, marking yet another country taking leadership to address this extremely potent greenhouse gas. The three leaders agreed that each of their countries would develop rules to cut up to 45 percent of methane escaping from across the continent’s oil and gas industries by 2025. It’s a pledge that once fully realized would have the same 20-year climate effect as taking 85 million cars off the road. Featured among a package of broader energy and climate commitments, the common methane reduction goal is a centerpiece.
This announcement is a milestone for North America energy integration and cooperation. But, it’s also an important moment for Mexico. The commitments Mexico is making both in-country and as part of the continental pact on methane, distinguishes Mexico as a clear world leader on energy and climate issues, along with the U.S. and Canada. By taking advantage of low-cost, oil and gas methane reductions, Mexico can make an immediate down payment on its climate goal – cuts can deliver about 10% of the greenhouse gas reductions Mexico pledged, and all at a cost savings. The key will be implementation and what steps Mexico takes next are critical. Read More
As a former state utility regulator, I know the difficulty of balancing competing interests in making decisions and communicating those decisions to constituents. Solutions deemed “fair” by some parties may have harsh or unintended consequences for others.
This challenge of balancing competing interests is playing out with the current debate on electricity rate design as the system struggles to deal with the impact of new, distributed forms of energy like rooftop solar. From Nevada and Arizona, to Kansas and New Hampshire, we’ve seen these debates leave the hearing rooms of public service commissions and enter the public arena. Increases to fixed charges, changes to net metering, demand charges, time-of-use rates, minimum bills, or a combination of these options, are just some of the policies that states have either implemented in response to this debate, or are currently considering.
But many questions remain about the best path forward: What design will adequately compensate utilities for their investments, support the need to upgrade the electric grid, and encourage new technologies and innovation, while being perceived and accepted as fair? To answer these and related questions, a “good” rate design process needs to be put in place – one built on transparency, fairness, accessibility, and accountability. Read More
California is at the forefront of the clean energy revolution. Innovative policies have helped make the state number one in solar installations and clean tech, and meet the 33 percent renewable energy goal early. This has provided the courage to set a course for half of the Golden state’s electricity to be renewably-sourced by 2030. Three new clues indicate that demand response (DR) will be the key that unlocks our clean energy future.
Traditional demand response signals customers to voluntarily and temporarily reduce their energy use at times when the electric grid is stressed. But there are also other types of demand response that signal customers, their appliances, and their electric vehicles to increase their energy use when electricity is clean, abundant, and cheap. I refer to it as “secret agent DR” because of its stealth quality. Its automated nature allows customers to benefit from demand response without having to think about it on a daily basis. Instead third party companies provide this service through enabling technologies. Read More
Late last month, New York took a major step toward rethinking utility economics when it issued the “Order Adopting a Ratemaking and Utility Revenue Model Policy Framework” (also known as Track 2 Order). This action aims to better align New York’s electricity system with Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), the state’s initiative to transform the electric grid into a cleaner, more efficient, and affordable system.
But buried in this 180-plus page document is another important development for New York’s clean energy future: Nearly 10 pages are dedicated to re-examining the state’s controversial standby tariff.
Frequently cited as a major obstacle to distributed power generation (e.g. combined heat and power (CHP) systems, rooftop solar panels, energy efficiency, and storage), the standby tariff is a special electricity rate charged to large commercial and industrial customers who produce some of their own electricity but remain connected to the grid. While utilities say they need standby tariffs to recover the costs of maintaining a reliable electric grid, many potential and existing large electricity customers producing their own power see standby tariffs as perversely designed to undermine the business case for distributed generation.
Unless the standby tariff is fixed in a manner that clears the way for investment in customer-owned and sited distributed generation, it will be hard to make REV’s revolutionary vision for a decentralized, competitive electricity market a reality. Read More