An abridged version of the below ran as an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman today.
Flooding near Whole Foods in May 2015. Source: Instagram/Caleb Eike Smith
Unfortunately, a good rain washes away more than the drought; it washes away much of man’s interest in providing for the next one, and it washes the supports from under those who know that another dry cycle is coming and who urge their fellows to make ready for it.
— “More Water for Texas” by Walter Prescott Webb (1954)
As a native Austinite, I remember the historic Memorial Day Flood of 1981. I was a little kid and the storm was so intense I asked my Mom if I could sleep in her bed. I remember seeing pictures of grand pianos from Strait Music store and cars from the dealerships floating down Lamar Boulevard, and the original Whole Foods flooding. Austin has changed a lot in the intervening decades, and although many of the store fronts are different, the pictures taken of Lamar this Memorial Day were eerily similar.
In Texas we are used to cycles of drought and flood; we know extreme weather just as we know extreme personalities and politics. But the natural dynamics are changing in Texas, and we can no longer rely on the saving grace of a “rain bomb” to get us out of the next drought. Make no mistake, the next drought is just around the corner. The best way to help Texas conserve water now is to urgently pursue clean energy and better planning between the energy and water sectors. Read More
While growing up in Austin in the 70’s and 80’s, I did not fully appreciate one of the most important movements for the city was underway – the transformation of Austin into a hub of technological innovation. We can thank Dr. George Kozmetsky for that. While Dean of the College of Business at University of Texas in 1977, he founded the IC² Institute (which stands for Innovation, Creativity, and Capital) on the premise technological innovation can catalyze regional economic development by creating and leveraging synergies among the university, government, and private sectors. He understood the importance of collaboration and how communities working together across sectors can strengthen the economy.
More evidence of Dr. Kozmetsky’s leadership showed up last month when the Austin Technology Incubator and CleanTX Foundation, organizations born out of IC², provided the first ever Economic Impact Report for the Cleantech Sector in Central Texas. The report indicates the Austin Metropolitan Surrounding Areas have added $2.5 billion to the regional GDP with 20,000 jobs directly in the cleantech sector, and is expected to grow at 11 percent annually by 2020, almost twice the national growth rate. Furthermore, Clean Edge just named Austin as one of the top 10 metro areas for cleantech leadership in the nation.
These impressive cleantech numbers reflect an ecosystem that has flourished because of the technology foundation put in place three decades ago. Yet many people in the technology world in Central Texas today don’t know the critical and crucial role Dr. Kozmetsky played in its vision and development. Read More
Each year, the nation wastes an estimated two trillion gallons, or about 14 to 18 percent, of its treated water through leaks alone. That’s a lot of water – enough to fill over three million Olympic-size swimming pools.
We know smart water meters are a critical component to better understanding our water use, but smart meters are only one part of the equation. What we really need is a smart water system.
A more intelligent system could not only help water providers and people better understand their use and how to adjust their behavior accordingly, but it could make the entire treatment and delivery of water more efficient. Plus, system-wide data could make daily water use and associated cost accessible – not an end-of-the-month billing surprise – enabling residents to make more informed decisions and utilities to waste less water.
Energy and water are connected, but they may need different solutions
The energy sector has learned a lot about the smart grid, and put a great deal of its research into practice. And, compared to the water sector, the electricity sector is pretty far along with its smart meter roll-out and understanding of all the information points across the system. For instance, in Texas, more than 3.5 million smart water meters have been installed, compared with approximately 17 million electric smart meters. But, while much of the smart electric grid findings are valuable in relation to the water sector, there are clear differences. Read More
The holidays are upon us. As we prepare to gather with our friends and family, eat too much, and lounge around watching football, many people use this time to reflect on what they are grateful for. Being able to pay one’s electricity bill probably doesn’t make most people’s list, but for many Americans, it might.
The average household spends $1,945 annually on electricity, and homes with the lowest 20 percent of income spent nearly six percent of their income on energy bills. For many households, the cost of energy remains unaffordable. To put it in perspective, compared to middle- or upper-class homes, low-income households spend about twice the percentage of their income on energy. Yet, as Greentech Media points out, “many [energy management] solutions are tailored to the biggest homes, those awash in thousands of square feet of central air with a pool pump. Other solutions are tailored for middle-class homes, such as aggressive rebates for more efficient appliances. Many apartment-dwellers, however, do not own their major appliances."
The future of smart home, energy-saving technologies is often more focused on affluent, early-adopters who benefit from innovative ways to save energy because they can afford the newest gadgets. Thankfully, these people are using their buying power to lead the way, as more demand will bring prices down for everyone. While it is important for all of us to conserve and better manage energy use, low-income individuals have the most to gain. Yet the technologies that can enable savings are often out of financial reach. Read More
Last night, EDF, CleanTX, Pecan Street Inc., and Google hosted one of the clean energy events of the season.
We brought everyone in the Austin clean energy community – from legislators to cleantech entrepreneurs to EDF members – together to celebrate the tremendous progress our great city has made as a clean energy leader over the years, serving as an incubator and hub for some of the most exciting and innovative companies in the clean tech sector. After all, it is the collective hard work and dedication of everyone that put Austin on the map as a global leader in the clean energy economy.
We also kicked off the evening with a screening of our new video that highlights what the smart grid is doing for American energy. Set in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood, one of the world’s largest green-built communities and Pecan Street Inc.’s testbed for energy innovation, this short film tells the dynamic story of a clean energy future from within the American home. It gives people who live in a connected community a chance to express what clean energy means to them personally, from independence and innovation to health and reliability. The heroes of the film are ordinary people from the community who are part of this quiet revolution.
Workers install solar panels on a home in Austin's Mueller neighborhood, a project of Pecan Street Inc.
As I stroll through the Mueller neighborhood in Austin, TX, I see parks, fountains, two-door garage homes – absolutely nothing out of the ordinary – just your average suburban neighborhood. But I know better.
Under the surface of this community lives the most “connected” network of energy customers in the country. Mueller is the launching site for Pecan Street Inc.’s living smart-grid research project and, according to a recent issue of Time Magazine, America’s Smartest City.
The Time article features homeowners who generate and make money on their solar panels, while enjoying access to minute-by-minute energy use data. It shows their sense of stewardship and empowerment.
The story does a good job summarizing the mission of Pecan Street, of which Environmental Defense Fund is a founding member and environmental partner. But the author misses one important point when he writes: “The rest of America may never realize Mueller’s vision for the future.”
The truth is, we have cause for a lot more optimism than that. We believe that the Mueller model is scalable and EDF is working hard to make sure the rest of the country can also enjoy the benefits of a smarter, cleaner home. Read More