Texas Clean Air Matters

Tesla: Inventor of the Modern

On September 12, 2018, Environmental Defense Fund will host Dick Munson for a Q&A and book signing for his new book Tesla, Inventor of the Modern. Please join us in Austin at 301 Congress Ave., Suite 1300, from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm.

Nikola Tesla gave us the electric motor, long-distance electricity transmission, radio, robots, and remote control — the very foundations of our modern economy. Perhaps less well known is that he also was a clean-energy pioneer, and he remains an inspiration to today’s solar and battery entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk, who views him as a hero and contributed $1 million to help restore Tesla’s laboratory on Long Island.

Tesla marked his clean-energy leadership with a 1900 article in The Century — then the nation’s largest-circulation periodical. Published 118 years ago, “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, with Special References to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy” was one of the earliest, detailed looks at capturing power from the sun and wind.

At his core, Tesla appreciated efficiency and hated energy waste, complaining that we “do not utilize more than 2 percent of coal’s energy” to make electricity. “The man who should stop this senseless waste would be a great benefactor of humanity,” he declared. Read More »

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Closing the information gap on Texans’ energy burdens

As summer approaches in Texas, it may be hard to recall that just this January, temperatures hovered at or below freezing for as long as 64 straight hours. Texans used the most electricity ever over the course of one hour, setting a record in energy use as people reached for their thermostats and cranked the heat. For some in the state, however, this was simply not an option.

People in the lowest income brackets regularly have to choose between keeping their homes at a comfortable temperature and other everyday necessities, like putting food on the table – especially in a state like Texas with extreme temperatures. Low-income households that heat with electricity spend four times more on utility bills, as a percent of their income, compared to the average American. This “energy burden” (the percent of a person’s income spent on energy) highlights the devastating reality that many people face, as well as presents an opportunity for cleaner, smarter energy to help lower electricity bills.

Enter the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute, or TEPRI, a nonprofit organization seeking to first understand the burden that energy costs place on low-income households, and then propose practical, equitable solutions. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is proudly partnering with TEPRI to advance this mission, starting with conducting a sociodemographic study to provide a detailed understanding of Texans with low incomes and their relationship to energy. Read More »

Also posted in Energy Efficiency / Tagged | Comments are closed

Investing in a strong foundation for energy resilience in Texas

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 Renewable Energy / Tagged | 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 Renewable Energy / Comments are closed

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

By Beia Spiller, Senior Economist

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 »

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3 things my climate-skeptic dad taught me about clean energy advocacy

Kate Zerrenner and her dad.

As an advocate for the air, water, and economic benefits that clean energy provides, I find some of my most challenging – and maybe most rewarding – work is trying to engage climate-skeptic lawmakers at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

To facilitate that work, I use lessons I’ve learned from my dad, who lives in San Antonio and with whom I don’t often agree when it comes to our approach on the environment. In the spirit of the holidays, I want to thank him for all those conversations in which we didn’t see eye to eye. Little did I know then, he was teaching me the tools of my trade.

Here are three lessons my dad taught me that I use daily in my work as a clean energy advocate. Read More »

Also posted in Energy-Water Nexus, Legislation / Tagged | Comments are closed