Monthly Archives: October 2011

Smart Grid Jobs Booming In Bay Area

Source: Silicon Valley Smart Grid Task Force

This commentary was originally posted on the California Dream 2.0 Blog.

There’s something happening here. What it is, is perfectly clear: the smart grid is creating jobs in Silicon Valley and across the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a report just released by the Silicon Valley Smart Grid Task Force, which EDF oversaw as an advisory council member.

A well-respected research firm, Collaborative Economics, asked local businesses about their jobs in the smart grid sector. The results are early since the smart grid is still mostly in the planning stage but indications suggest it’s a job-engine that California can rely on.

The report divides the industry into four sectors:

  1. power management and energy efficiency,
  2. energy storage,
  3. local clean energy (distributed generation such as rooftop solar, small wind turbines, plus equipment manufacturing and installation), and the
  4. delivery of electricity (transmission and distribution).

During the depths of the recession from 2008 to 2009 when national unemployment doubled from 5% to nearly 10%, smart grid employment in Silicon Valley actually grew.

Manufacturing jobs in the industry are shining brightly against the dark cloud of declining blue-collar employment in the state. Today, more than half of the 12,500 smart grid jobs in the Silicon Valley are in manufacturing.

Investment activity across the diverse smart grid sectors has been robust since 2005 and with strong venture capital (VC) investments. California accounted for 69 percent of total US VC investment in 2010 and total amounts increased 66 percent from 2009 to $2.8 billion.

Investor interest in smart grid is no surprise, since the potential benefits of smart grid are significant and potentially very lucrative:

  • cleaner air,
  • reliable electricity supply,
  • low-cost electric vehicle charging, and
  • energy independence by way of local clean energy.

At the press conference where the report was released, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed captured the importance of the smart grid when he said that many of the city’s Green Vision Goals for jobs, electric vehicles and renewable energy will only be reachable with a smart grid.

Another reason the Bay Area is creating smart grid jobs is that many of the companies at the heart of the region’s economy – information technology giants such as Oracle, Cisco, and Google, energy companies such as PG&E and Calpine, and technology leaders such as GE and Honeywell – are all at the smart grid frontier.

Consumers have rightly asked, ‘what can smart grid do for me?’ In addition to the many environmental benefits, smart grid means empowerment, both in the traditional electrical sense and now in terms of controlling one’s energy use and costs. Now we have another answer: your next job might be helping to build the smart grid.

Posted in California, Grid Modernization, Jobs / Read 3 Responses

It Makes Dollars & “Sense” To Capture Air Emissions

Oil and gas exploration and production is rapidly expanding across the U.S. due to technological developments that have made extraction of previously untapped unconventional resources such as shale gas feasible.

In fact, shale gas production “has gone from a negligible amount just a few years ago to being almost 30% of total U.S. natural gas production.” 

But national clean air standards covering these activities have not been updated since 1985 in one case and 1999 in another. They are limited, inadequate, and out of date, particularly given recent technological advances in this area. 

This poses a serious problem, since exploration and production activities emit numerous hazardous air pollutants and other airborne contaminants that threaten human health and the environment. Communities across the country are paying the price, suffering from air pollution in the absence of protective, comprehensive standards. 

In July, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new nationwide safeguards to reduce air pollution from upstream oil and gas production activities.  Recently, the public was given a chance to express their opinions on the issue at three hearings held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Denver, Colorado, and Arlington, Texas. EDF testified at all three. (Public written comments will be accepted through November 30th and EPA is required to issue a final rule by February 2012. You can submit comments online, via fax or through the mail. In your correspondence, please be sure to reference Docket Number EPA–HQ–OAR–2010–0505; FRL–9456–2.)

I testified at the EPA hearing in Pittsburgh where compelling concerns were raised by many in the communities hard hit by air pollution impacts.  People in communities across Pennsylvania expressed concern that adequate protection from dangerous pollution in their home state is simply not in place. Some pleaded with the EPA to finalize new standards, others expressed anger that EPA has not done so already, and many fear that the new standards won’t be tough enough to keep their families safe.   

The individual who testified before me declared that when it comes to our health and that of our children, the costs of cleaning up harmful pollution should not factor into EPA’s decision-making. He got a standing ovation.

Of course, the hearing also featured industry representatives, some of whom echoed the position of the American Petroleum Institute (API) calling for more time to comment on the proposed standards and to delay their implementation.

Yet, the truth is that the proposed EPA rules will standardize many practices and technologies already being used in states such as Colorado and Wyoming, and elsewhere by natural gas companies. Further, these practices and technologies reduce gas losses, which results in greater recovery and sale of natural gas, and thus increased economic gains. The return on the initial investment for many of these practices is sometimes as short as a few months and almost always less than two years.  In these tough economic times, it would seem wise to eliminate waste, save money, and reduce environmental impact.

Based on EPA estimates of natural gas losses, industry lost more than $1 billion in profits in 2009 due to venting, flaring and fugitive emissions.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), with supporting data from EPA, estimates that around 40% of natural gas estimated to be vented and flared on onshore federal leases could be economically captured with currently available control technologies. Recouping these losses could increase federal royalty payments by $23 million annually, at a time when revenue is desperately needed.

The industry can demonstrate their commitment to bringing natural gas to market in an environmentally sound way by using best practices, acknowledging the benefits of these safeguards, and being proactive in helping them get adopted.

And, while EPA’s proposed rules are a great start, there is room for improvement (for more details, see EDF’s preliminary analysis of the regulations). Bottom line: it is critical that stronger clean air standards move forward.  They are vitally important to protect human health and the environment.

At the EPA hearing in Pittsburgh, the public demanded that EPA require industry to be more vigilant about health and safety, and reduce their environmental impact.  Considering the potential increased revenue of capturing more gas, advocating for strong clean air rules makes both dollars and “sense.”

Posted in Natural Gas, Washington, DC / Comments are closed

The Great Lakes Symposium: Bringing The Smart Grid To The Nation’s Center

Source: Medill Reports

View Miriam Horn, director of EDF’s smart grid initiative, speaking with Medill Reports about exciting highlights from the event here.

The first annual Great Lakes Symposium for Smart Grid and the New Energy Economy kicked off last Tuesday, as leaders gathered from across the Midwest and the country to share information on what benefits and challenges a smart grid can deliver to the region.  The event was kicked off by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, promoting energy conservation as the “fifth fuel” (I’d put it first myself).  The opening included a moving tribute to Bob Galvin, the pioneer and innovator who created the Galvin Electricity Initiative, one of EDF’s symposium partners. 

While the weather didn’t cooperate – it was cold, rainy and, true to Chicago’s nickname, very windy – the panels and events were excellent and informative.  The opening keynote, moderated by Joyce Foundation president Ellen Alberding, included representatives from GE and Silver Springs Network discussing how to place the Midwest in a leadership position in the new energy economy.  This question is fundamental to why EDF and our partners chose the Midwest for this conference: the region has just the right mix of manufacturing and high tech industries and a strong agricultural base.  Perhaps even more importantly, the Midwest needs a smarter, greener grid to transition from its heavy reliance on coal for electricity, to cleaner resources, such as energy efficiency and renewables – and to accommodate the emerging electric vehicle market.  And while electricity prices are relatively cheap in this part of the country, they are steadily rising.  In his answer to the question, GE’s Luke Clemente noted that a smart grid will enable more renewable energy to be generated in the Midwest, keeping more money in the communities in which the power is generated and contributing to their economic development. 

After the keynote, the symposium split into three separate tracks: a Midwest Policy Summit, a Consumer track and an Innovation and Economic Opportunity track.  While this allowed attendees to choose the panels that best addressed their particulars interests, it created a bit of a Sophie’s Choice for me, having to decide which panels to attend and which I would have to miss.  Fortunately, four of my EDF colleagues were also in attendance, so we were able to cover all the bases.  In fact, three of my colleagues, Miriam Horn, Mark Brownstein and Lauren Navarro, each participated on panels, making it clear that EDF is the leading environmental organization working on these important issues to ensure that the smart grid’s promised environmental benefits are in fact delivered.

I opted for a panel on “Leading Practices for Ensuring Consumer Empowerment,” moderated by Pecan Street’s executive director Brewster McCracken.  Pecan treet is an innovative smart grid test bed in Austin, Texas, and there’s a lot to be learned from what they’ve done and continue to do there.  Brewster shared some fascinating information on “disruptive innovation” as the necessary catalyst for advancing technology.  Silver Springs Networks’ Eric Dresselhuys built on this theory by discussing the smart grid movement as one born from disruptive forces and opportunities: first out of the need for reliability, more recently as a reaction to environmental policies and consumer interest and finally to enable emerging resources, such as distributed renewable energy. 

I won’t detail every panel I attended, but I’m grateful that staff at the Illinois Institute of Technology were on hand to video all of the events for future reference, which will be housed on the Symposium’s website.  Immediately after the symposium, I attended the first ever Perfect Power Seal of ApprovalTM Academy, a program created by the Galvin Electric Initiative to evaluate power system performance.  The program is based on a series of well-defined metrics, including reliability, cost, consumer empowerment and efficiency and environmental performance.  EDF helped develop the environmental metrics, which assess a broad range of issues, from emissions to land impacts to waste.  Roughly thirty grid operators attended the academy, and will receive a certificate for their participation.  The Seal of Approval is based on similar principles of perfection as the Six Sigma certification, which was developed by Bob Galvin.  It’s a tool that will no doubt prove invaluable.

As a native North Carolinian, I’ve been thrilled to spend some time in Chicago and the Midwest over the past year, working with great partners to bring a smarter, greener grid to the region.  The Great Lakes Symposium was an excellent coming out party for EDF, and is only the start of bigger things to come.  My heartfelt gratitude goes out to our partners at the Joyce Foundation, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Citizens Utility Board, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, and everyone else who made this event a great success.

Posted in Grid Modernization / Read 2 Responses

Cooling From The Outside In: AT&T And EDF Climate Corps Uncover Energy Savings Of Up To 50 Percent

By Mike McCarthy, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at AT&T, MBA Candidate at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and John Schinter, Executive Director of Energy at AT&T.  This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Business Blog

I’ve always been interested in how energy efficiency projects can reduce operational costs and environmental impact. Not only are they a win-win for sustainability but I’d also like to focus my career on them when I graduate from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business next year. I was excited to learn that my EDF Climate Corps fellowship would be working with AT&T’s Corporate Real Estate (CRE) division this summer. I knew that AT&T was working aggressively to increase energy efficiency and had a goal for 2011 to reduce company electricity consumption relative to network data growth by 17 percent over 2010. I also knew that AT&T’s 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow helped the company identify opportunities to cut lighting energy use by 80% at its 250 largest central offices, a project that is currently underway in many of these locations. I looked forward to contributing to AT&T’s progress on energy efficiency. My project to evaluate the energy savings from optimizing the use of free-air cooling—as opposed to mechanical cooling systems—uncovered real and scalable results. Recently I sat down with my boss for the summer, John Schinter, AT&T executive director of energy, to chat about our key findings.

John: Mike, with your help, we accomplished a lot in the past three months of your EDF Climate Corps fellowship. The hard work certainly has paid off. What energy efficiency opportunities did you discover this summer?

Mike: It turns out that about a quarter of AT&T’s largest heat producing buildings are located in cool climates. Furthermore, their utility bills show a historic pattern that suggests that they can use more outside air for cooling instead of using air cooled by energy-consuming chiller units. It was an important first step to identify 250 buildings that could benefit from optimizing economizer mode, or free-air cooling.

John: Participant buy-in is fundamental to any successful program. Talk a little about how you helped ensure that the property managers were involved.

Mike: You’re right. Buy-in is critical here. Early in the process, we sent a quick email survey out to the property managers of all the buildings to determine how well they thought they were using free-air cooling. It was important to show that we were working with the property managers to secure funding for their buildings. These managers execute the day-to-day components of energy management so it was important to hear their voices from the outset of the project. It was amazing to watch as the responses came in. The property managers and building engineers have a lot of great ideas for energy savings projects. We just needed to help them build the business case for these investments.

John: The surveys made me confident that our data analysis technique was on to something big. Describe what you found.

Mike: Based on the responses to the surveys, AT&T could reduce its carbon footprint by over 50,000 metric tons of CO2/year by using this technology. That is equivalent to almost 9,000 cars removed from the road each year, according to the EPA greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator.

John: That’s great that the project uncovered a tangible way to help minimize environmental impact. But you also thought about the financial implications to AT&T. What were the highlights?

Mike: Yes. Looking at our database of existing energy audits to estimate costs at a high level, we found that on average, the free-air cooling building retrofit projects pay back in around two years. We’ve identified real potential savings in reducing the electricity used for cooling our buildings.

John: Your plan to identify energy savings projects in AT&T’s buildings using trends in utility bills and weather data really worked. In ten weeks, you helped us accomplish what would have taken years using site visits and third party energy audits. From an outside perspective, what do you think were the keys to success?

Mike: Sometimes making a breakthrough in energy efficiency requires a creative approach that combines thinking from several disciplines. We couldn’t have gotten to these results without using Six Sigma data analysis, statistics, geography, and engineering.

John: So the project found economic and environmental benefits of optimizing AT&T’s use of free-air cooling. What’s your recommendation on the future of free-air cooling at AT&T?

Mike: I designed the project with an ongoing monitoring mechanism that will be extremely useful to AT&T down the road. We can use the method of analyzing utility bill trends in the future to “flag” buildings in the system that could benefit from an upgrade. Because this project is scalable, the business case is that much stronger.

See a video case study on this free air-cooling project here and check out the video case study on AT&T’s lighting project mentioned above here.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Posted in EDF Climate Corps / Read 1 Response

Great Lakes Symposium On Smart Grid And The New Energy Economy

With its rich tradition of manufacturing, agriculture and innovation, the Midwest provides a fertile landscape for the development of the smart grid.  And in return, the smart grid can bring new jobs, economic development opportunities and environmental benefits to the region.  That’s why EDF, along with the Citizens Utility Board, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition and the Illinois Institute of Technology, is pleased to be part of a smart grid symposium in Chicago next week.

The first annual “Great Lakes Symposium on Smart Grid and the New Energy Economy” will bring together key players involved in advancing and implementing smart grid technology and innovative energy practices throughout the Great Lakes region.

The two-day symposium will showcase smart grid best practices from around the country, along with inventive technologies and ideas that are spurring innovation, growing state economies, reducing harmful emissions and empowering consumers to conserve and save.  Attendees will have the opportunity to engage thought leaders on key policy questions, identify investment and job creation opportunities, explore the potential for environmental and economic impact and learn about projects already underway.

Highlights of the symposium will include a Midwest Policy Summit, which will focus on identifying the necessary policy and economic drivers to ensure strong smart grid deployment that will maximize consumer and environmental benefits.  The summit speakers include Philip Moeller, commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Paul Centolella, commissioner with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission; and EDF’s own Mark Brownstein, chief counsel of the national energy program.

The agenda also includes The Path to Perfect Power, a demonstration of microgrid and other consumer-centric approaches that are improving reliability and environmental performance, featuring Mark Curran, director of public utilities with the City of Naperville, Illinois; Terence Donnelly, executive vice president of operations for Commonwealth Edison; and moderator Mike Edmonds, vice president of strategic solutions for S&C Electric Company.

Two other EDF smart grid and energy experts are also on the agenda: Miriam Horn, director of EDF’s smart grid initiative, will focus on developing great Midwest smart grid strategies, and Lauren Navarro, an attorney in our Sacramento office, will share her experience developing smart grid legislation, regulatory frameworks and a scorecard to assess utility smart grid deployment plans in California.

I’m also looking forward to participating in the first-ever Perfect Power Seal of ApprovalTM Academy, hosted by UL, the Galvin Electricity Initiative and S&C Electric Company.  This two-day interactive workshop will demonstrate how to ensure that electricity systems are more consumer responsive, cost-effective, reliable, environmentally sustainable and energy efficient.

The symposium will take place at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago on October 18 and 19, and is sponsored by ComEd, Eaton, GE, Silver Spring Networks and The Joyce Foundation.  For a full agenda of the symposium and other information, please visit  Stay tuned for my next post on highlights from the event!

Posted in Grid Modernization / Comments are closed