Category Archives: Smart Grid

Energy Management Can Empower Everyone Regardless of Income Level

Source: Verizon

Source: Verizon

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 »

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Time to Salute Our Military as They Save the Kilowatts

U.S. Army Major General Dana J.H. Pittard, Fort Bliss commander, gives a speech during the ribbon cutting for the solar panel project at Fort Bliss, Texas housing communities, Feb. 26, 2013. Source:

U.S. Army Major General Dana J.H. Pittard, Fort Bliss commander, gives a speech during the ribbon cutting for the solar panel project at Fort Bliss, Texas housing communities, Feb. 26, 2013. Source: defenseimagery.mil

In light of yesterday’s commendable day, the Defense Energy Summit (DES) is hosting its second annual forum in Austin, TX, and EDF is a proud sponsor once again. One of the goals for this conference is to build the foundation for a new Defense Energy Center of Excellence (DECE), which would enable Central Texas and military communities to create a test bed of clean energy technologies and policies. The DECE will help the Department of Defense (DoD) with its energy defense policy, organizational structure, education and training, manufacturing, logistics, personnel, and financing.

Texas’ capital is a logical spot to house the DECE, as Texas is home to 22 military installations – including five bases within 90 miles of Austin. Plus, the DECE could tap into the brain power at Texas universities, which are already charging forward with innovative clean energy solutions.

Leading the Charge

Although the DoD is the single largest consumer of fuel in the United States, the military has taken a significant interest in its energy footprint for one primary reason: energy security.

Transporting fuel is one of the riskiest operations when fighting on the front lines. Last year alone, the U.S. military consumed roughly 90 million barrels of oil. By powering military bases and equipment with solar energy, as well as reducing demand through energy efficiency, the military can help protect the brave men and women serving in our armed forces. The DoD can then use those avoided fuel costs for other projects, such as research and development, to meet the needs of its most critical missions. Read More »

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Red River Rivalry: What Oklahoma Gas & Electric can Teach Texas Utilities

800px-Red_River_Shootout_2006Fall is in the air, the State Fair of Texas is in full swing, and the annual meeting of the University of Texas (UT) and the University of Oklahoma (OU) will occur at Dallas' Cotton Bowl this weekend. One of the greatest football rivalries in the Big 12, UT and OU have been battling it out since 1900. Even the governors of both states frequently place bets on the game, like the losing governor having to present a side of beef to the winning governor.

And, while Sooners and Longhorns may not easily take advice from each other, Texas utilities should take a few lessons from Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E). OG&E is Oklahoma's regulated utility serving over 800,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

Here in Texas, we are proud of many things from our "don't fence me in" ethos and wide-open landscapes to our self-reliance and abundant natural resources. Not too many states have the type of pride that Texas possesses (kitschy or otherwise). That pride extends to our innovative energy utilities as well, like Green Mountain Energy, Austin Energy, and CPS Energy in San Antonio, all of which are helping lead the state into the new energy sphere. Read More »

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EDF Debuts Clean Energy Video and Raises a Glass to Austin and Pecan Street Inc.

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.

Read More »

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Sprung a Leak? Smart Water Meters to the Rescue

Source: freshserviceinc.com

Source: freshserviceinc.com

A few months ago I logged into my online utility account and noticed it was more than twice the amount I usually pay, all of the excess going to water. Given the kind of work I do, I scour my bill every month, comparing electric and water usage month-to-month and over the course of the year. We are water and electricity savers in our household, so what on earth could this spike be?

I immediately called the City of Austin, and they sent someone out to check the meter. Nope, nothing on that end. Then we brought in a plumber, who spent many hours and many of our dollars searching and found a leak in the toilet. By the time we went through all of that and got the toilet fixed, we had to pay our enormous bill plus the plumber’s bill. Why should I have to go through that rigmarole just to find a leak?

Wouldn’t it be easier if a smart water meter could send my utility and me a message the moment the toilet starts leaking?

Unfortunately, water infrastructure in this country is sorely in need of a reboot. The American Society for Civil Engineers gave the U.S. drinking water infrastructure a grade of a “D” in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, stating there are 240,000 water main breaks per year. And we’re still using antiquated “technology” in much of the sector. Read More »

Also posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Utilities| 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 »

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