Category Archives: Pecan Street

This Smart Energy Experiment in Texas will Benefit You, Too

Workers install solar panels on a home in Austin's Mueller neighborhood, a project of Pecan Street Inc.

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 »

Also posted in Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid | Comments closed

Is Residential Solar on the Rise in Texas?

iStock_Solar_InstallerLast week, I wrote about the continued success of Texas’ wind energy industry, but the growth in solar is also impressive. Nationally, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all new electric generation in the first quarter of 2014. Plus, residential solar installations surpassed commercial projects for the first time in history earlier this year. This is significant, proving that more homeowners are making the switch and investing in a cleaner energy supply.

According to the Center for American Progress, “more than 60 percent of solar installations are occurring in zip codes with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000." This is an important revelation as the price of solar comes down quickly, projected to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels by 2020, more homes can and will add solar panels. In fact, experts expect more than half of all American homebuilders to offer rooftop solar as an option in new single-family homes by 2016. That’s a significant uptick from just 12 percent in 2013.

These findings make clear that people are taking their energy use into their own hands, highlighting the power of people in the new energy landscape, where customer-centric demand-side resources – rooftop solar, energy efficiency, demand response (which compensates electricity customers for conserving energy), electric vehicles, and energy storage- will play a key role. I discussed this trend in a radio interview with Voice of Russia a few weeks ago in a segment entitled Whole Home Automation: Promising for Consumers and Climate. Read More »

Also posted in Renewable Energy, Solar | Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

New Database from Pecan Street, WikiEnergy, Promises to Reveal Important Energy Insights

Source: Trace3

Source: Trace3

As our society moves deeper into the realms of big data, at times it can seem overwhelming that our actions can generate millions of data points. Therefore, what we do with that data becomes crucial in the new energy landscape, as big data promises to improve our lives by unlocking innovation.

By 2015, 340 million smart meters will be supplying data to utilities worldwide, reading and reporting energy from 15-minute to 1-second intervals. For a medium-sized utility, with a half-million meters, that adds up to 52 billion data point a year. Utilities are not necessarily equipped to interpret this information, and insights can be lost.

Enter the newest arm of Pecan Street, Inc: WikiEnergy.

Pecan Street Research Consortium houses the largest residential energy-use database in the world. From solar energy to electric vehicles and everything in between, they are figuring the dynamics of a smart grid, in real-time, with real residents in multiple cities across the US. Now the data that they have been collecting since 2010 can be utilized by academics and researchers from all over the world on this new website platform. Read More »

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Secretary Moniz Deems Austin’s Pecan Street ‘Very Impressive’

Marita with Moniz

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 »

Also posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Solar, Wind | Tagged | Comments closed

Pecan Street’s Study Shows Electric Vehicles Won’t Overload the Electric Grid

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some of the world’s largest automakers release their first mass-market electric vehicles. Models like the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are popular with consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint and spend less at the pump. But the vehicles’ rising popularity has raised concerns about the effect they might have on the electric grid, particularly during the hot summer months in Texas.

Electric vehicles are the largest new home electric load in decades. Some suspected that drivers, upon returning home from work, would charge their vehicles during the evening hours (a ‘rush-hour’ time for the wires that carry our energy, which strains the electric grid). They thought that the increased need for energy would overwhelm the electric system, possibly force utilities to fire up more dirty fossil fuel power plants and offset any potential environmental benefits of the gasoline-free car. Thankfully, this line of thinking is now an idea of the past.

A recent report from Pecan Street proves that electric vehicles have less of an impact on the electric grid than anticipated. Read More »

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Austin’s Own Pecan Street Inc. Launches The Pike Powers Lab

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Last month, while I was speaking at the 7th Annual Platts Texas Energy Markets Conference in Houston, I missed out on celebrating a very important milestone here in Austin: The grand opening of the Pike Powers Laboratory & Center for Commercialization! The ribbon cutting on June 11th brought over 150 people, including “leaders from major technology firms, like Dell, Intel Corporation, Schneider Electric and National Instruments, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy.” Named after the godfather of Austin’s technology scene, Pike Powers is located in the Mueller community in the shadow of the former air traffic control tower. As the research arm of Pecan Street Inc., the lab will be the “nation’s first non-profit smart grid research laboratory, serving as an elite industry-caliber facility for members of the Pecan Street Research Consortium.”

Priorities

Pecan Street is inviting startup firms to take their questions and challenges and incorporate them into the mission of the lab, which is driven by three priorities: commercialization, research and education.

Commercialization: Pecan Street provides a pathway for companies and utilities to test and demonstrate innovative technologies in a controlled environment and bring advanced products to market, such as new electric vehicle chargers. The lab will also conduct field-testing on technologies, such as set-and-forget home energy management tools, to ensure that products are properly evaluated before hitting the shelves. Read More »

Also posted in Renewable Energy, Smart Grid | Comments closed

Demand Response: Power For The Grid Starts With The People

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel entitled, Resource Adequacy & Demand Response: Ensuring Texas’ Future Reliability at the 7th Annual Platts Texas Energy Markets Conference in Houston, TX.  Following fellow panelists, “Trip” Doggett, CEO of ERCOT; Milton L. Holloway, President and COO of the Center for the Commercialization of Electric Technologies; and John W. Fainter, Jr. President and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, I spoke about EDF’s work with the Pecan Street Research Institute  (Pecan Street) to test and deploy various smart grid consumer products.

One of the many cutting-edge research projects being conducted by Pecan Street is an examination of consumer behavior with regards to energy usage.  Trends in the data show that giving people the ability to control their energy use, and their energy generation, generally results in cost-effective, environmentally-conscious decisions. These shrewd decisions are becoming increasingly important as Texas faces a lack of energy resources to meet the state’s increasing need for more electricity.

With July just around the corner, the summer heat is ramping up in Texas, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is preparing for extreme temperatures to push the electric grid to its limits.  State regulators and ERCOT stakeholders are urgently seeking a solution to the looming Texas Energy Crunch.  The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has already raised the maximum price in the electricity market a number of times, but this is a band-aid for the problem, not a long-term solution. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, ERCOT, Smart Grid, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities | Comments closed

Pecan Street Inc. Researchers’ Report Receives Outstanding Paper Award

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

With 1.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar power installed in 2011 and an expected 2.8 GW in 2012, it is safe to say that solar energy has solidified its role as an important part of our nation’s energy portfolio. Affordability, competitive financing and reduced greenhouse gases are just a few of the reasons why the number of solar installations has skyrocketed in the past several years.

Now, new research from Dr. Alexis Kwasinski, Dr. Fabian Uriarte, and Amir Toliyat, engineers from the University of Texas at Austin, sheds some light on how rapidly growing solar installations can work with the current electric grid. For their groundbreaking findings in "Effects of high penetration levels of residential photovoltaic generation," they were recently awarded an Outstanding Paper Award at the International Conference on Renewable Energy Research and Applications (ICRERA) in November for their in-depth research and innovative solutions.

Jump started by a $10.4 million grant from the Department of Energy, Pecan Street Inc. is a “community-wide collaboration to fully reinvent the energy delivery system”  based in Austin, Texas.  This living ‘smart grid laboratory’ provided a perfect data collection site for the researchers. Pecan Street’s leadership focuses on developing new technologies that reinvent the way we create and use energy, so that residents drive electric vehicles, invest in cutting-edge technology and, of course, use solar panels.

The massive amount of data gathered from Pecan Street’s efforts provided researchers the opportunity to analyze solar energy’s effect on the three key characteristics of “power quality” (voltage level, voltage unbalance and power factor).  The researchers found that energy inflections (voltage levels and voltage unbalance) did not create any major concerns with the power grid, despite unfounded claims to the contrary by some solar critics.

Digging further into the data, the researchers unexpectedly found that power factor could become a real issue if solar installers don’t use modern equipment that provides for power factor support.  While the issue could become very real at higher levels of solar penetration, the solution is simple, cheap and currently available; it simply means installers should begin using newer models of solar panel “inverters,” which convert solar power into electricity that can be fed into your grid and home.

Inverters simply convert raw DC power to AC power (i.e. the type of electricity we need to use everyday household items). Maximizing the amount of electricity that is converted into usable power makes solar energy more competitive, ensuring that it will remain an important and growing part of our nation’s energy mix.

It’s exciting to see that these researchers are receiving accolades for their groundbreaking work, and international acclaim is always an excellent motivator for this kind of work, but it’s nice to be appreciated where you hang your hat too.  Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be a problem, since earlier this year Austinites voted in the Best of Austin 2012 award by the Austin Chronicle for Best Way to Turn Some Green Even Greener.  Their choice: Pecan Street Inc.

Also posted in Smart Grid | Comments closed
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