Category Archives: Solar

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 Renewable Energy, Utilities| Tagged , | 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 Pecan Street, Renewable Energy| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Central Texas Poised To Become Regional Clean Energy Leader

Source: http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/hill-country

Source: http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/hill-country

With the recent release of the National Climate Assessment, the threat of climate change has never been clearer. Addressing this will require a fundamental transition away from fossil-fuel sources of energy in favor of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power. Electric utilities vary in their progress towards delivering a future powered by clean energy. Notably, Central Texas, with its combination of energy know-how, creative thinking, and technology entrepreneurship, is home to many utilities leading the way in clean energy resources and smart grid technology.

Austin & San Antonio are leading the pack

Although Texas has a deregulated, competitive electricity market where most energy companies compete for customers, the San Antonio-Austin-Hill Country corridor is mainly comprised of public electric utilities, like municipals and cooperatives that are community-owned. For years, Austin and San Antonio’s municipal utilities have benefited from an engaged customer base that cares about the transition to a clean energy economy. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, Green Jobs, Renewable Energy, San Antonio, Smart Grid| Tagged , | Comments closed

Desalination can Help Solve our Water Woes, but not without Clean Energy

Source: Prodes Project

Source: Prodes Project

As drought continues to grip Texas and many other Western states, one of the solutions often discussed (and pursued) to overcome water scarcity is desalination. Simply put, desalination, or desal as it is most commonly called, is a process that removes salt and other minerals from salty (brackish) or seawater to produce freshwater for drinking and agriculture. This technology seems like a no-brainer option for addressing the state’s water woes, but the problem is that desalination uses a lot of electricity and the majority of Texas’ electricity comes from coal and gas power plants, which require copious amounts of water to generate that electricity. It doesn’t make much sense to use water to make water, especially when there’s an alternative in Texas’ abundant renewable energy resources.

Texas is the national leader in wind energy and has the greatest solar energy potential in the U.S., yet neither of these resources are being widely deployed for desal plants despite recent studies pointing to vast opportunities. Not only do these energy resources produce negligible carbon emissions, but they also consume little to no water, unlike fossil-fueled power plants. Furthermore, if we look at where brackish water sources are located compared to where the wind and solar energy potential is in this state, the overlap is pretty clear. This synergy should not be ignored.  Read More »

Also posted in Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy, Wind| Tagged , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Can Texas Keep the Lights On? Clean Energy Holds the Answer.

rp_Final-Images-EDF-6524-200x300.jpgOn Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel hosted by the Texas Tribune that centered on the future of Texas’ power grid and electric reliability. Joining me was John Fainter, president and CEO of Association of Electric Companies of Texas, Inc; Trip Doggett, president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas; and Doyle Beneby, president and CEO of CPS Energy, San Antonio's municipal utility. The panel, entitled Keeping the Lights on in Texas, took place at and was broadcasted from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. It's a worthwhile watch and I'm encouraged that Texas Tribune is dedicated to investigating Texas' energy issues.

For about an hour, we discussed a variety of aspects in the current and future energy landscape of the Lone Star State. In particular, I focused on the exciting shift to give people power over their electricity use, save money, and help the environment with every flip of the switch.

Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, Electric Vehicles, Energy Efficiency, ERCOT, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities, Wind| Tagged | Comments closed

Demand Response: People, not New Power Plants, are Driving the Clean Energy Future

By: Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President, Clean Energy

Clean energy resources, like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, have certain key advantages over traditional, fossil fuel-based resources: they don’t require expensive, polluting fuels or large capital investment, consume little to no water, generate negligible carbon emissions, and are easily scalable. To take full advantage of low-carbon, renewable energy sources, we need a power grid with enough flexibility to harness clean energy when it is available and abundant. That’s where demand response, a people-driven solution, comes in.

On a hot summer day, for example, electricity use rapidly increases as people turn on air conditioners to avoid the heat of the late afternoon. A decade ago, the grid operator’s only option is to turn on another fossil fuel power plant to meet the increased need for electricity. But, at any given time, there are thousands of light switches left on, idle water heaters, cycling swimming pool pumps, and forgotten thermostats that people could temporarily turn off or down, if only they were offered the right incentive. If asked, people can adjust their power usage in exchange for a financial reward. We call this “demand response,” and it is increasingly helping to balance the flow of electricity with our energy needs at a given moment.

Demand response diverts money that would generally go to a fossil fuel power plant to homeowners and businesses instead. In this scenario, a utility or demand response provider sends a message for participants to reduce electricity use at key times in exchange for a credit or rebate on their utility bill, in addition to the cost savings they will earn through conservation. Of course, participants always have the option to opt-out with the tap of a button on their smart phone or thermostat. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, Extreme Weather, Smart Grid, Wind| Tagged | Comments closed

Fossil Fuel Industry's Tired Battle Against Clean Energy is Also a Losing One

Source: Alternative Energies

Source: Alternative Energies

The assault on successful renewable energy legislation continues, long after the facts have proven that state renewable policies deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy solutions that the majority of Americans support. Apparently, the fossil fuel industry and its so-called “free market” allies didn’t get the memo.

There’s a great line in the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 2000 blockbuster Gladiator where a soldier says to his general, as they are about to slaughter an overmatched foe, “People should know when they’re conquered.” The general replies, “Would you? Would I?”

So I can’t really blame the fossil fuel industry for fighting old battles in an effort to undo approaches that have increased investment in renewable energy in states around the country, created thousands of jobs, and continue to lower energy costs with each passing day. Read More »

Also posted in Environment, Legislation, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Wind| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Austin Unveils Texas-Sized Rooftop Solar Array to Power Downtown Church

Source: Mary Parmer, www.facebook.com/episcopalaustin

Source: Mary Parmer, www.facebook.com/episcopalaustin

On Monday in the heart of downtown Austin, St. David’s Episcopal Church unveiled its new 146-kilowatt solar array. Covering the rooftop of an adjacent parking garage and earning the title of largest rooftop solar installation downtown.

The project’s unprecedented scale was made possible through a partnership with Meridian Solar and a new Austin Energy (AE) pilot program, testing how they can best integrate large rooftop solar with the utility’s grid. Church members had the idea to put solar panels on the parking garage ten years ago, but weren’t able to move forward until last year when low interest rates, improved technology, and government rebates all came together. Through their combined efforts, St. David’s, AE, and Meridian have taken a vital, first step towards a city powered by clean, local, rooftop power, also known as distributed generation (DG). 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, Pecan Street, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Wind| Tagged | Comments closed

We Can't Expect a Reliable Energy Future Without Talking Water

Kate Zerrenner

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

It’s no secret that electricity generation requires substantial amounts of water, and different energy sources require varying amounts of water. Nor is it a surprise that Texas and other areas in the West and Southwest are in the midst of a persistent drought. Given these realities, it is surprising that water scarcity is largely absent from the debate over which energy sources are going to be the most reliable in our energy future.

Recent media coverage has been quick to pin the challenge of reliability as one that only applies to renewables. The logic goes something like this: if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we won’t have electricity, making these energy sources unreliable. But if we don’t have reliable access to abundant water resources to produce, move and manage energy that comes from water-intensive energy resources like fossil fuels, this argument against the intermittency of renewables becomes moot.

Moving forward into an uncertain energy future, the water intensity of a particular electricity source should be taken into consideration as a matter of course.  Read More »

Also posted in Coal, Drought, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Wind| Tagged , | Comments closed
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