Category Archives: Renewable Energy

Studying Solar in Texas: Big Energy Savings Opportunities on Small Campuses

By: Andy Ferris, student of the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business

Andy Ferris and Dr. Jeff Wilson pictured here in Wilson’s home- as part of the Dumpster Project, a sustainable living experiment, Wilson is living in the dumpster for a full year.

Distributed generation solar has been a growing trend around the country. Home owners, large commercial entities and other facilities all have looked to their rooftops to cash in on a previously underutilized asset. My EDF Climate Corps fellowship at Huston Tillotson University focused on evaluating opportunities for solar power on a 23 acre, private, tax-exempt HBCU (Historically Black College or University) campus in Austin, TX. Huston-Tillotson has a target of 50 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2030 and hopes to become one of the most sustainable HBCUs in the country. My analysis calculated that completing the recommended solar installation would increase the portion of their energy from renewable sources to 14 percent; a level high enough to place them first in the country among private HBCUs.

Challenges Facing Small Organizations

With an abundance of sun and a highly competitive solar industry, making solar photovoltaic (PV) installations work in Texas should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a less-than encouraging regulatory environment can complicate solar installations for commercial scale projects. In Austin, a production based incentive has been rapidly reduced from $0.14/kWh to $0.09/kWh in just the last three months. This trend along with a policy that eliminates net-metering for installations over 20 kW capacity has made it challenging for small organizations looking to add PV panels to their facilities. Read More »

Also posted in Solar, Utilities| Tagged , | Leave a comment

EPA’s State-by-State Carbon Limits Indicate Smart Policy, Not Arbitrary Rulemaking

EDF_FB_renewableEnergy_solar (1)In June, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced – for the first time ever – standards to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Currently power plants emit 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, but under the proposed Clean Power Plan, the U.S. power sector will cut carbon pollution by 30 percent below 2005 levels.

Since this announcement, the usual suspects have attacked the CPP, calling its proposed state-by-state reduction standards arbitrary. Their claims couldn’t be further from reality. When EPA asked states for feedback on how to best craft this standard, states asked for two things: individual standards and flexibility. And that’s what they got. Anyone familiar with the proposed standards will know they are based on a consistent and objective methodology that takes into account each state’s unique energy portfolio and emissions, as well as built with maximum flexibility in mind.

At first glance, the climate-change-denying crowd dismissed the standards as arbitrary, because the limits vary from state to state. For example, Washington needs to reduce its emissions rate by 72 percent by 2030, while Kentucky only needs to cut its emissions rate by 18 percent over the same period. Texas lies somewhere in the middle with a 39 percent reduction required. So what gives? Read More »

Also posted in Climate Change, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Natural gas| Tagged | 2 Responses

To Unlock Wind, Build Transmission Lines Linking the Plains to the Cities

Guest Author: Robert Fares, Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student at the University Texas at Austin

This commentary originally appeared on Scientific America's Plugged In blog. 

A vital factor affecting the economics of any energy source is transportation: where is the fuel extracted, where is it used, and how does it get from point A to point B?

An example is the case of Texas versus North Dakota, both of which have experienced a boom in oil and gas production from shale since the introduction of hydraulic fracturing.

Texas, with its long history of oil and gas development, is riddled with underground oil and gas pipelines connecting remote areas of the state with regional trading hubs. Read More »

Also posted in Natural gas, Wind| Tagged | Comments closed

Enough Drama, Texas has a Roadmap to Cut Pollution and Grow its Economy

Source: Nicholas Henderson Flickr

Paramount Theater in Austin, TX. Source: Nicholas Henderson Flickr

They say everything is bigger in Texas and often that's true, especially when it comes to big hair and the bravado of politicians. This amounts to a lot of drama and theatrics. I mean, as someone who grew up in Dallas, I can tell you that the soap opera by the same name wasn't too far off the mark.

Being a mighty oil and gas (and wind!) state, this drama often translates into fights with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental regulators over pollution reduction. Texas is the number one emitter of carbon emissions and second biggest water-polluter in the nation. Texas doesn't really have solid ground to stand on.

Yet as of 2012, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (current GOP and Koch-brothers backed candidate for Governor) has sued the federal government over environmental regulations sixteen times. And of the 25 total lawsuits pending against the federal government, Texas has only prevailed five times. Exemplified yet again in June when the Supreme Court ruled seven to two that yes, in fact, EPA is allowed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from most large industrial facilities, like power plants and factories, despite Texas’ arguments. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency| Comments closed

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, Pecan Street, Smart Grid| Comments closed

Chairman Nelson Cannot Ignore Texas Wind’s Benefits and Condemn Its Cost

Wind technicians working atop a turbine in Sweetwater, Tex. Source: NY Times

Wind technicians working atop a turbine in Sweetwater, Tex.
Source: NY Times

Earlier this month, Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) chairwoman Donna Nelson called for the federal government to end its renewable energy tax credit for Texas wind and for the end of state policies that have resulted in Texas’ clean energy economy boon. The chairman’s appeal is so devoid of a factual basis it is hard to conclude that this is anything other than part of an orchestrated campaign by fossil fuel interests to stop the growth of renewable energy. Like the other attacks on clean energy, this is more politics than substance.

The federal and state policies that Chairman Nelson wants to eliminate have been great for Texas. Texas ranks first in the nation for wind-related jobs, employing over 8,000—and many of those jobs are keeping agriculture-heavy West Texas and Panhandle communities afloat amid the devastating multi-year drought. Plus, 60% of all wind projects under construction across the country in the first quarter of 2014 were in Texas. And studies (including one produced by the Texas PUC) have shown that electricity prices are lower when more wind energy is installed on the power grid.    Read More »

Also posted in ERCOT, Green Jobs, Wind| Tagged , | 1 Response, comments now closed

The Cheapest Way to Cut Climate Pollution? Energy Efficiency

This blog post was written by Lauren Navarro, Attorney and California Senior Manager, Clean Energy, and co-authored by Kate Zerrenner.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a historic announcement that will change how we make, move and use electricity for generations to come.

For the first time in history, the government proposed limits on the amount of carbon pollution American fossil-fueled power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere.

There are two clear winners to comply with the plan while maintaining commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

We’re already seeing pushback from some of our nation’s big polluter states, such as West Virginia and Texas. But the truth is that while the proposed limits on carbon are strong, they’re also flexible.

In fact, the EPA has laid out a whole menu of options in its Clean Power Plan – from power plant upgrades, to switching from coal to natural gas, and adopting more renewable energy resources. States can choose from these and other strategies as they develop their own plans to meet the new standards.

That said, there are two clear winners on the EPA’s menu that offer low-cost options for states that seek to comply with the plan while maintaining their commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid| 1 Response, comments now 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 Pecan Street, Solar| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Texas Wind Energy Continues to Blow Us Away

Source: katsrcool/Flickr

Source: katsrcool/Flickr

We have a lot to celebrate this Global Wind Day (June 15). Across the nation, wind energy accounted for almost one-third of new power capacity over the past five years and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates that wind energy has the potential to double over the next few years.

Nowhere is the growth in wind energy more evident than in Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state. Texas' wind energy generation grew by 13% in 2013 and more than 60% of all wind projects under construction in the first part of the year were in Texas.

This success has been aided by the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), a modest tax credit for new facilities good for ten years after the wind farm’s start date. Like those received by the oil, gas, and nuclear industries, tax incentives help ignite growth in the market. EDF has strongly advocated for this incentive over the past few years.

Unfortunately, the breaks that oil and gas have received over the last 100 years are often (conveniently) ignored by those wanting to maintain the status quo, making the PTC a point of debate among politicians. Read More »

Also posted in ERCOT, Legislation, Wind| Tagged | Comments closed

Power Plant Rule a Tipping Point for Clean Energy Economy

powerplantrule

By: Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President, Clean Energy

For those of us (and all of you) who’ve been urging the government to implement meaningful climate policy, the release yesterday of a plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants has been a long time coming. But it finally came.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution rule for existing fossil-fueled power plants – also known as the Clean Power Plan – are a huge win for our climate.

We also think it could go down in history as the tipping point in our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy. Here’s why:

Old, dirty power plants will be retired

The nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. Placing carbon regulations on this source of electricity for the first time in history will transform our energy system. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Coal, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Smart Grid| Comments closed
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