Duke Energy is the largest utility in the United States, so of course it gets a lot of attention in its home state of North Carolina. Yet millions of residents in rural parts of the state rely on electric cooperatives, not Duke Energy, to keep the lights on. In fact, rural cooperatives serve all or part of the customers in 93 of 100 counties in North Carolina.
This is important because rural areas have just as much, if not more, need to increase energy efficiency. Case in point: a seven-county area in eastern North Carolina served by Roanoke Electric Cooperative. The cooperative has made great strides in promoting energy efficiency, yet there are still customers with utility bills that are higher than their mortgage payments some months. Close to half of Roanoke Electric’s customers live in manufactured homes, which typically have less energy-saving insulation than standard homes. And, in an economically-distressed region, few homeowners have extra money to pay for energy efficiency improvements, like caulking around windows or adding insulation.
Now, thanks to a new program offered by Roanoke Electric Cooperative, homeowners can secure low-cost loans from a private lender to make home improvements that will reduce energy use and save money. The loan is paid back on the monthly utility bill, reducing paperwork for homeowners and making repayment easier. In this program, the energy efficiency home loan is made by Generations Community Credit Union, a lending institution focused on assisting underserved rural communities in North Carolina. Homeowners can borrow up to $4,000 for improvements, with interest rates as low as 3.5%.
This commentary originally appeared on Forbes.
Here we go again. In recent weeks, we have seen both Senator David Vitter and American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard attempt to mischaracterize the results of the groundbreaking University of Texas at Austin (UT) methane emissions study, preferring self-serving sound bites over an honest read of the data. And now we are seeing another misinformation campaign coming from Americans for Tax Reform.
In his October 2nd Forbes op-ed, Christopher Prandoni, Federal Affairs Manager for Americans for Tax Reform, uses the UT study to disparage new efforts by the State Department to address methane leakage from the natural gas system. Prandoni wrongfully claims that the UT study “calculated that average emissions were almost 50 times lower than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates,” and that nothing further needs to be done about methane emissions.
Prandoni’s read of the UT study results couldn’t be further from the truth. Total emissions from the production sector were found to be in line with the current EPA estimates, not 50 times lower. Yes, the UT study did report some good news. Methane emissions from the stage of extraction known as well completions were lower than EPA estimates. Unfortunately for Prandoni’s argument, these lower-than-expected results were because of new green completion technologies (an emissions control method that routes excess gas to sales), soon to be required by the EPA for all new hydraulically-fractured natural gas wells. Read More
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on an initiative at an increasing number of companies nationwide: on-site, or distributed, power generation. There are many reasons for this growing trend in corporate sustainability, along with many ramifications for the prevailing utility model in the United States – all of which highlight the importance of employing market-based solutions to create a cleaner, smarter, more resilient electric system.
Why Do Companies Unplug?
For companies such as Walmart, increasing the use of distributed, renewable generation is a vital part of larger sustainability goals, including increased use of clean energy and a call for safer ingredients used in the products the company sells. To be sure, however, even the most altruistic companies would be hard pressed to shift off the power grid without sound economic reasons.
A confluence of market factors, including tax incentives that spur attractive returns on investment, advances in solar and wind technologies and policies that encourage greater use of and investments in clean energy (like net metering and time-of-use pricing), has created an economic environment that makes distributed generation not just a viable option, but often a very attractive one. Further, off-grid power can be an effective way for companies to hedge against outages due to storms or unforeseeable catastrophes, a key idea included in the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy.
This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matter blog.
Source: Architect Magazine
The Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenges colleges across the nation to design and construct efficient, affordable and attractive solar powered-home, is taking place October 3-13 at Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, California. The bi-annual event, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), awards the team that excels in combining cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and energy efficiency into a state of the art home. But like many competitions, the real winners are those that pursue the challenge long after the bout ends, and this decathlon is no exception. Year after year, students graduate and form the next wave of clean energy entrepreneurs, engineers and architects looking to advance energy efficient homes.
This year, the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College have joined forces to create Team Texas. The last time a Texas university participated in the Solar Decathlon was in 2007, when the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University competed as two separate teams.
This year Team Texas has submitted ADAPT, a house that reflects the nature of the two universities’ homestead, El Paso. Its design maximizes the use of solar energy, an abundant resource in the Southwest, and is meant to feel natural on a mountain plateau, high desert or green farmland. ADAPT embraces the belief that “a home is not just a location or state of mind but a place where the heart is”. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Climate Corps blog.
The world’s top scientists reminded us last week that the case for action on climate change has never been more urgent. And turning the corner on carbon emissions and avoiding the worst impacts of a warming world will require nothing less than a full-scale transformation of our energy system. That is a huge political, technological and cultural challenge – one that no individual, organization or country can solve on its own. It will take the leadership and collaboration of people across the world, pulling together toward a common goal.
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has a staff of 400 – small in the global scheme. That is why we are experts at deploying powerful networks to get results. Our success with businesses – whether it’s improving the safety of products sold at Walmart, or saving water at AT&T – all rest on our ability to tap into the knowledge, connections, and influence of our partners.
One of our most successful networks: EDF Climate Corps. Hundreds of organizations ranging from PepsiCo and Office Depot to the Chicago Public Schools and New York City Housing Authority have tapped EDF Climate Corps for energy strategies and solutions that cut costs and emissions. And best of all, our hosts and fellows are now spreading these innovations through their own networks, creating a multiplier effect that expands our impact exponentially.
Source: Scott Dalton for The New York Times
When it comes to healthy air, what you can’t see can hurt you.
Leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and methane, the primary components in natural gas, may be invisible – but that doesn’t mean they are harmless. These leaks – called “fugitive” emissions – can create serious air quality problems when VOC's are involved. Meanwhile, methane leaks mean less product available for sale and a wasted resource.
But, while you can’t always see leaks with the naked eye, you can use modern technology to help you detect and fix them. Cameras that use infrared technology to “see” leaking hydrocarbons and inexpensive hand held sensors that measure leaks are commonly used to help operators find and fix leaking equipment. Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs that require operators to check for leaks frequently using these modern technologies, and expeditiously repair them, can produce huge air quality benefits. Such programs are currently required in permits for a number of operators in Wyoming’s Jonah Pinedale Anticline Development Area. Read More
EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.
Find more information on this featured innovation here.
As this series has demonstrated, energy innovation is happening around the world in a wide range of areas, from energy storage and smart grid technologies to renewables, electric vehicles and energy-saving software and services.
But innovation isn’t just about inventing new technologies. It’s about getting those technologies out into the market. And when it comes to bringing renewable energy options to residential and commercial customers, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy Company was the first to be 100% dedicated to cleaner energy with the electricity market opened to competition in the state in 2002.
Founded in 1997, Green Mountain is the country’s longest-serving retailer dedicated to renewable energy, selling all-renewable energy options directly to residents and businesses in competitive markets in Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, and partnering with utilities in other regulated markets.
This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.
Source: WCN 24/7 Flickr
Given the widespread press coverage of the release of the University of Texas methane emissions study, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spinning a false story about its results. In an email to leaders in Congress, Gerard tells them that there's nothing to worry about. Methane pollution from gas production is low and getting lower. Wrong.
What the study really said is that technology to reduce methane pollution in the transition from drilling a well to full scale production can be very effective at reducing methane emissions when it is deployed – emphasis on when. This is one of the important points Gerard misses, as no national accounting exists to show U.S. producers currently use these methods as a matter of widespread industry practice.
Gerard also conveniently did not tell Congress that the low wellhead emissions detected by the study are the result of EPA regulations adopted last year – rules API lobbied hard to weaken. Gerard further did not explain to Congress that these regulations don't apply to all unconventional gas production today. Meaning the UT study is not an example to of “problem solved, we can all go home.” Read More
Progressive Power Providers Show a Path Forward
Traditionally, electric utilities have been in the business of providing reliable power to their customers. Prices for each class of customer are fixed by state regulators and a customer’s choice is pretty much limited to whether they want to turn on the switch or not. Much of the EDF Smart Power initiative is focused on helping to create new utility business models that change this paradigm by increasing customer choice, providing market feedback on these choices and incentivizing the use of cleaner sources of power.
Several electric utilities are getting ahead of the curve by embracing these changes. While both own large fossil fuel assets, NRG Energy and NextEra Energy have also been developing utility-scale and distributed renewable generation projects across the country. NRG Energy develops solar and other renewable projects for government, commercial and other institutional customers, and NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind and solar power in North America, develops and finances large commercial and small utility solar projects through its subsidiary Smart Energy Capital. Cumulatively, they have provided more than 110 megawatts of distributed solar generation capacity to schools, government and commercial facilities, among others.
Over the past week, two other energy providers, Direct Energy and Viridian, have announced deals with SolarCity to offer no-upfront cost solar installations to their current and prospective customers. In many cases, these solar installations will provide clean energy at a lower cost than the customer currently pays for dirtier, fossil fuel power. Direct Energy even took it a step further by agreeing to provide part of the financing for their customers. Since there are few investors that currently finance solar projects, Direct Energy can expect to earn a very attractive return on their investment. While solar financing has been around for several years, Direct Energy and Viridian can now offer customer solutions that bundle solar installations with other energy services.
My passion for protecting the environment dates back to the 1850s – a farm from the 1850s, that is. I gained an early respect for water and land conservation, learning from my grandfather as he tended to our 4th generation family farm just outside of Neosho in Southwestern Missouri. Our farm is spring fed, so you have to be able to manage your water usage very well. I had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of running a farm, from irrigation to plowing the fields. On top of managing the farm, my grandfather was head of Neosho’s water department and we spent a lot of time hiking and fishing in nature. Water, land and the outdoors were at the center of everything he loved, and through his example it became clear to me at a very young age that managing your impact on the environment was of the utmost importance.
I grew up in Tulsa, just a few hours southwest of the family farm. Once known as the oil capital of the world, Tulsa has a long and proud history of oil production. By some estimates, a quarter of all jobs in Oklahoma are tied to the energy sector. As early as high school, I was involved in environmental advocacy, even in the oil patch. That may sound contradictory – environmental advocacy in the oil capital – but I figured out along the way that the industry and environmental stewardship weren’t mutually exclusive. My family taught me a practical and pragmatic approach to protecting the environment, and reiterated that the lessons of conservation learned on my family’s farm could have relevance to the oil and gas industry that surrounded me.
Being from Oklahoma, there weren’t many career options outside of working in the oil and natural gas industry. I spent nearly ten years working in the industry, starting in the environmental department of a small company and working my way up to the executive team. Read More