EDF's Marita Mirzatuny with Secretary Moniz at Pecan Street's Pike Powers Labratory
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of presenting a short summary of EDF’s Smart Power Initiative to Dr. Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy. As a group of over 30 people piled into the Pike Powers Laboratory (including the lab’s namesake), the Secretary made his way in, beelined for some coffee, and sat down to hear all about Austin’s innovative and collaborative energy “ecosystem.”
Present was the Mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, various cleantech entrepreneurs sponsored by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), representatives from the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), and the Governor’s office, among others.
Everyone had the opportunity to speak to the Secretary in a roundtable format about the work their particular company or group is doing to solve energy problems, and as EDF’s representative, I reported on our Smart Power work in Texas. Read More
Right now, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, even though these facilities were responsible for roughly 40 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012.
That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is crafting greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for new fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting a limit on how much CO2 the plants can emit. Later this year, EPA will issue proposed CO2 “emission guidelines” for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants using various Clean Air Act tools to protect human health and to clean up our air.
To achieve significant and cost-effective emission reductions from existing power plants, EPA should look to leading states that are already implementing successful measures to reduce emissions. These measures include investing in renewable energy, harvesting energy efficiency, and utilizing more efficient and lower-emitting fossil fuel-fired units. Read More
Source: WATR News
The Texas Comptroller, Susan Combs, recently released the Texas Water Report: Going Deeper for the Solution, which proposes a sort of revolution to solve Texas’ water woes. As Combs notes, Texas is a global energy leader, but the state should be a global water leader too. And her initiative couldn’t come fast enough. Texas, already prone to cycles of drought, is facing new water pressures, including population growth and a changing economy, which only make it harder to preserve our diminishing water supply. To rouse the state’s water recovery plan, the report prioritizes water-saving technological innovations (while stressing the need for conservation) and lauds various Texas cities for water management practices. But the report misses some key elements that are essential to keeping our water flowing. In the same way that new energy technologies have brought us closer to a cleaner, more reliable electric grid, innovations in the water arena can seamlessly reduce our water use and set the state on a sustainable path.
The report says conservation is not enough, and it’s right. However, efficiency is the most significant first step and conservation achieved through technology is a welcome counter to the infrastructure-heavy plans typically heard at the Capitol and in the State Water Plan. (What good is a new reservoir, if there’s no water to put in it?) Some of the technologies evaluated in the report include aquifer storage and recovery, inter-basin transfers, low-water fracking technologies and desalinization – what some call “game changers.” These technologies could potentially relieve our future water woes, but these projects are expensive and don’t alleviate our immediate or even mid-term water stresses. Read More
I often refer to energy efficiency as being cost effective, and it is. It is always cheaper not to use energy or to get the same result while using less energy. But monetary cost savings are just one of the many benefits associated with implementing energy efficiency measures. Reduced pollution, improved health and reduced strain on our water supply are other notable benefits of energy efficiency, though they are not always taken into consideration when a utility proposes a new energy efficiency project.
At the state regulatory level, Public Utility Commissions or similar entities are required to do a cost-benefit analysis for each energy efficiency project or program that a utility proposes, in order to determine how cost effective it may be. This analysis is called an ‘energy efficiency cost test,’ and although the concept may seem straight forward, its application is based on a varying set of pre-defined criteria that are not always consistent. Furthermore, the subject of cost-effectiveness tests is sensitive in the utility sector, because it’s at the core of how energy efficiency programs are valued.
There are several different types of energy efficiency cost tests that differ slightly and are often customized to reflect a state’s values. Before diving into the options, it’s important to note that a cost-effectiveness test of some sort is a necessary measure as more and more states implement ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs. Customers need to know that the programs they’re paying for are delivering the promised benefits, and regulators need to ensure that the costs paid by the customers are justified. Read More
Over the past several years, a combination of market forces and targeted policies has brought about enormous growth in clean energy technologies around the United States. A clean energy economy has developed around these new technologies, creating tens of thousands of homegrown jobs each year. Despite the industry’s initial surge, recent economic uncertainty has led to a plateau in clean energy job growth in most, but not all, regions in the U.S.
According to a report released by Environmental Entrepreneurs, the U.S. created 10,800 clean jobs in the third quarter of 2013, down from 37,000 in the previous quarter.
Notably, Texas doesn’t follow the national trend. Texas clean energy companies created over 660 jobs in the fall quarter of 2013 alone, up from less than 500 jobs in the previous quarter, cementing Texas in the list of top 10 states for clean energy jobs. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.
Over the past two years, Texas’s changing energy landscape has been a focus of EDF’s work. In our Texas’ Energy Crunch report from March 2013, we highlighted that Texas has a peak capacity constraint – meaning that the power grid becomes strained when, for example, everyone is using their air conditioning units on hot summer afternoons. This challenge, coupled with increased climate change and drought, signal the need to prepare by adopting a smarter grid and cleaner resources.
The Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have been engaged in this conversation and various proposals have been laid on the table to determine what Texas’ energy future will look like. EDF maintains the position that, whatever reforms are made, customer-facing, demand-side resources – defined here as demand response (DR), renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage – must play a key role to ensuring reliability, affordability, customer choice and environmental improvements.
Energy-Only Status Quo or Capacity Market or…?
Texas’ current energy-only market structure pays power plants only for the energy they produce. This is beneficial in that generators are not overcompensated, but the downside is that energy companies aren’t incentivized to build in Texas and energy management providers (DR companies) are not viewed as equal players. Energy prices are low due to an upsurge in cheap, abundant natural gas and wind – and without a guarantee for a high return on investment, companies will not take the risk of constructing costly new power plants. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.
In the past, I’ve written a lot about the inherent connection between energy and water use and the need for co-management of energy-water planning. Most of the energy we use requires copious amounts of water to produce, and most of the water we use requires a considerable amount of energy to treat and transport. Despite this inherent connection, it’s actually uncommon to see energy and water utilities collaborating to identify best practices to save energy and water and even lower costs. Think of it this way: If energy and water utilities worked together, their unique perspectives could uncover joint cost-saving solutions, customers would save more money and utilities could share data to better understand their holistic energy-water footprint.
Identifying why there is a lack of collaboration and how to overcome these barriers was the motivation behind the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE’s) recent report. The report goes beyond citing discrepancies, though, and provides solutions for energy and water utilities to create better, more resource-efficient programs for themselves and their customers.
The report highlights a number of ways U.S. energy and water utilities have collaborated to identify mutually-beneficial energy and water savings. It lists successful energy and water utility programs from a variety of different sectors, including residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and municipal. Read More
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 Energy Exchange blog.
A glossary of energy and water terms
In recent posts I’ve discussed the need for energy and water planners to co-manage resources more comprehensively. But another significant barrier exists: language. Water and energy planners use different terminology and a lack of understanding for these distinctions hampers true coordination. Also, it prevents customers from understanding how to make sense of their own usage patterns and maximize energy and water efficiency.
Getting into the nuts and bolts — or watts and volts — of the issue can get very dry very quickly, so let’s go over some basic units of measurement to set the stage.
Electricity is measured in watts, usually represented as kilowatts (kW), megawatts (MW), but often discussed as megawatt-hours (MWh). One MW is roughly equivalent to ten running cars engines. A MWh is the total amount of electricity produced by a power plant in one hour, roughly the amount of energy used by 330 homes in one hour. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in May 2013, Texas generated 12,261 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from coal-fired power plants (1 GWh = 1,000 MWh) and only 4,116 GWh from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
With Labor Day behind us, Texans can look forward to a welcome respite from the hundred-degree days of August. The pending arrival of fall may signal milder temperatures for now, but the latest report from John Nielson-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist, tells a different story about Texas’ long-term climate trend. The study released last month indicates that peak summer temperatures may increase by up to five degrees by 2060. What we once thought of as a unique heat wave (think back to 2011) are likely to become the new normal, and will eventually – according to Nielson-Gammon – be replaced by even hotter temperatures.
At the same time, increasing temperatures would place further severe stress on the state’s energy and water systems. Texas’ recent extreme summers have already plunged much of the state into drought. The latest data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor predict water emergencies could occur in at least nine U.S. cities—five of which are in Texas. And experts expect the drought will persist for years to come as climate change intensifies.
Texas lawmakers must take these grim projections into account as they plan the state’s energy and water futures. Some Texas decision makers are already calling for more fossil-fuel power plants to cover the need for more power (to run all those air conditioners) in light of 2011’s historic summer highs, which will emit more carbon pollution into the air and add to the warming. These same Texas lawmakers insist we should keep our heads in the sand, ignore the mounting evidence pointing to a new climate normal and do nothing to alleviate or adapt to the problem. Read More