Monthly Archives: February 2012

EDF Teams Up With Honest Buildings To Accelerate The Development Of High Performance Buildings


We announced today that EDF is working with (Honest Buildings) to accelerate the number of energy upgrades, renovations and sustainable building projects throughout the U.S.  Honest Buildings is a rapidly growing social networking website that offers energy efficiency vendors and service providers an ideal platform to showcase their work, connect with clients and generate new business.  It also helps people find and share information about buildings, their owners, their occupants and the people who service them.

Collectively, we need to do more to tell the story behind what’s driving improvements in the built environment, which consumes 70% of electricity in the U.S. and emits more than a third of greenhouse gases.  By providing transparent information about buildings and their performance, we believe Honest Buildings is a powerful platform to do just that.

As part of EDF’s Energy Innovation Series, every week we will select one project from Honest Buildings to feature on and promote through the series’ social media channels.  By showcasing the most innovative and effective energy efficiency projects, EDF and Honest Buildings are working together to raise awareness and accelerate market adoption of smarter and more energy efficient buildings.

Posted in Energy Efficiency / Comments are closed

Austin Energy’s Electric Rates Are Lower Than The Texas Public Policy Foundation Would Have You Believe

Austin Energy’s Residential Rates: 12% Below the Average Rate in ERCOT’s Competitive Markets – After Accounting for the Proposed 14.4% Rate Increase

Austin Energy has been in the news a lot lately, and most often for some controversy around the ongoing rate review process.  What often gets lost in these heated discussions is that fact that Austin’s heritage of clean energy and innovative approaches to economic development are firmly rooted in our city’s electric utility, and that the utility allows city leaders to keep taxes low.  At the same time, Austin Energy’s leadership often puts it in the crosshairs of groups that are ideologically opposed to clean energy and city owned utilities, and whether supported by facts or not, the opportunity to criticize Austin Energy has proven too difficult to resist.


The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is often one of the ringleaders in the crusade against clean energy as well as city owned utilities, and they’re not going to let facts get in the way of scoring an ideological point.  In knocking Austin Energy and promoting their agenda, TPPF cherry picks data and uses coded language like the idea that customers “can choose” rates lower than Austin Energy’s if they are in the competitive regions of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).  The truth is, for a customer in the competitive areas of ERCOT to maintain lower rates than Austin Energy they would have to change electric providers each month, and they’d have to be pretty lucky on top of it.

The problem is that the rates TPPF reference when they say customers can choose lower rates are usually introductory, variable or otherwise subject to increases not included in the rates that customers do choose.  What this means is that customers actually pay more than TPPF’s selective math would suggest, but TPPF seems more concerned with scoring political points than what customers actually pay for their electricity.

Look at the data from a more logical point of view and you will see that competitive regions in ERCOT average higher residential rates than ERCOT’s average rates.  In fact, ERCOT rates are kept low largely by municipal and co-operative utilities like Austin Energy, the customer owned utility model that TPPF criticizes in their latest missive.  The most recent data available for a real analysis of the rates Texans pay was released by the Energy Information Administration just a few months ago, including data through 2010.  As the chart below shows, Austin Energy’s rates are well below the ERCOT average, and even farther below the average competitive market rate, despite TPPF’s claims to the contrary.  

Source: Energy Information Adminstration (EIA)

Even if you account for Austin’s proposed 14.4% residential rate increase through 2015, the the new rates are 12% below current competitive rates in ERCOT. This calculation doesn’t even take into account the fact that nominal retail energy prices in ERCOT are projected to go up by 11% by 2015 according to the Energy Information Administration.  Taking this projected rate increase into account  it’s clear that Austin Energy’s rates – even after the rate review is completed – will be below the competitive average.

As we talk about rates in our community and across Texas, it’s important to remain focused on factual analysis and avoid misleading assumptions driven more by ideology than a desire for real debate. Unfortunately, arguments like those put forward by TPPF don’t contribute to an honest discourse; they mislead the public, distort reality, and threaten Austinite’s low tax lifestyle.

Posted in Texas, Utility Business Models / Read 6 Responses

A Triple Bottom Line for the Central Valley: Environment, Economy, Equity

city of fresno sealThis week the Air Resources Board (ARB) held a public workshop in Fresno, California, to gather public input on ways to invest proceeds from California’s cap-and-trade auction.  ARB heard from a wide variety of individuals and organizations with bright ideas on how to spend this money on projects that can lower greenhouse gases (GHG) and maximize the benefit to disadvantaged communities who are the most vulnerable to climate change and pollution impacts.

I represented EDF at the workshop, and an extended version of my public comments follows:

Read More »

Posted in California, Cap and Trade, Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, General, Renewable Energy, State / Comments are closed

Energy Innovation Series Feature #1: Energy Storage From Xtreme Power

Throughout 2012, EDF’s Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on our first featured innovation, please view this video on Xtreme Power’s energy storage solutions.

Energy storage helps integrate clean energy into the electric grid

The electric grid today doesn’t look all that different from when Thomas Edison first envisioned it over 100 years ago. Walk into a utility control room today and you might still see the “red phone” that they use for emergencies.

Thankfully, power companies throughout the U.S. see real value in upgrading our grid with modern energy management technologies and energy sources that are fast, more flexible and cleaner. Companies are taking various approaches, innovating across the clean tech spectrum from renewable energy to communications to energy storage.

In energy storage, some are working on battery technology, which – though much more advanced – works essentially the same way as traditional batteries. You charge them when power is plentiful, and use them when it isn’t.

Innovative energy storage solutions in action 

Source: Xtreme Power

Xtreme Power is a developer of digital power management and energy storage solutions and is currently designing the world’s largest battery system (36 MW) for Duke Energy’s 153 MW wind farm in Notrees, Texas, which was jumpstarted by a grant from the Department of Energy.

Xtreme Power’s Dynamic Power Resources™ (DPR®) solution combines their PowerCell™ battery” with sophisticated digital power management systems to instantly adjust for imbalances in the electric grid. Xtreme Power describes its PowerCell technology as a “unique, advanced lead acid battery that can beat lithium ion batteries in terms of energy storage, efficiency, cycle life and cost.”

How energy storage helps

Traditional fossil fuel power plants may be dirty, but they hum along pretty consistently, so the electric grid is able to manage the flow. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind not only vary from day to night, but also might vary from minute to minute, making power management more complicated.

Energy storage systems help ensure that we get the energy we need when we want it, and make it easier to use renewable energy in our homes and on the grid by balancing out a the effects of a cloud moving over a solar panel or of the wind dying down.

One of many opportunities in a complex system

This kind of innovation provides value all along the entire energy system.  It can make renewable energy more valuable by making it more predictable, and stabilizing the grid for far less money than larger infrastructure projects, all while helping us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

When most people think of clean energy, they think of hybrid cars and solar panels. The truth is that there are countless opportunities along the supply chain for innovation, from the gears and ball bearings that improve the efficiency of wind turbines, to technology driven systems like Xtreme Power’s power management products.

Posted in Energy Innovation, General / Read 1 Response

If The Problem Isn’t Hydraulic Fracturing, Then What Is?

Today, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin released a major report titled, “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development.” The report’s conclusions are those of the authors, though Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) helped the University of Texas at Austin define its scope of work and reviewed drafts during the course of the project.

What are the main conclusions? As has been the case in other inquiries, the University of Texas study did not find any confirmed cases of drinking water contamination due to pathways created by hydraulic fracturing. But this does not mean such contamination is impossible or that hydraulic fracturing chemicals can’t get loose in the environment in other ways (such as through spills of produced water). In fact, the study shines a light on the fact that there are a number of aspects of natural gas development that can pose significant environmental risk. And it highlights the fact that there are a number of ways in which current regulatory oversight is inadequate.

The following conclusions are particularly important: 

  • Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g. failure of well-bore casing and cementing) and are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.
  • Surface spills of fracturing fluids appear to pose greater risks to groundwater than hydraulic fracturing itself.
  • Blowouts – uncontrolled fluid releases during construction and operation – are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be under-reported.
  • The lack of baseline studies makes it difficult to evaluate the long-term, cumulative effects and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.
  • Most state oil and gas regulations were written well before shale gas development became widespread.
  • Gaps remain in the regulation of well casing and cementing, water withdrawal and usage, and waste storage and disposal.
  • Enforcement capacity is highly variable among the states, particularly when measured by the ratio of staff to numbers of inspections conducted.

The report deserves widespread attention. But it is by no means the final word on these topics. Chip Groat, who led the study on behalf of the Energy Institute, plans to tackle additional topics in the future. These include air emissions from natural gas operations, induced seismicity and a field and laboratory investigation of whether hydrogeologic connectivity exists between the Barnett Shale and aquifers and other geologic units above and below the formation.

To read the complete report, visit

Posted in Natural Gas / Read 11 Responses

Though The NOAA Study Provides An Important New Set Of Data, It Is Only A Limited Snap Shot

By: Steven Hamburg, EDF’s Chief Scientist

This week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a study that estimates that natural gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are leaking roughly 4% of their gas – or methane – into the atmosphere.  Leaks of that magnitude could undermine natural gas’ role as a lower carbon alternative to coal and oil.  This is yet another contribution to the long running debate about exactly how much methane is vented or leaked during the production and distribution of natural gas.  The questions are: Why does this matter, and why is what NOAA saying an interesting and new contribution to this debate?

A recent paper in Science illustrates that reducing methane emissions and black carbon can have a positive near-term impact on the climate system.  It is becoming clearer that reducing methane emissions is key to reducing net radiative forcing (or the amount of energy reaching the surface of the earth), which – in turn – helps reduce the chances of a climate catastrophe.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution shows that the oil and gas sector is the largest source of man-made methane, and most of those methane emissions are from leaks resulting from the production and transport of natural gas. 

As we’ve mentioned before, it is clear that the actual combustion of natural gas is cleaner than the combustion of gasoline or diesel, but there are other emissions associated with the production, delivery and use of those fuels.  Natural gas is largely methane, even when it comes out of the ground, and as a result is a potent greenhouse gas.  Over the first 2o years after it is emitted, a pound of methane is 72 times more potent than a pound of carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat.  As natural gas is produced and piped across the country, there are plenty of opportunities for it to leak into the atmosphere.  EPA estimates that leak rate to be somewhere between 2-3%, but the exact amount is the subject of much debate.

At a 2-3% leak rate, natural gas-produced energy has a net benefit to the climate system as compared to producing energy using coal.  If we want to reduce the risk of climate surprises and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, reducing leak rates from natural gas production is one of the most effective ways of doing so, at least in the short term.

Given that natural gas produced by un-conventional means already represents more than one third of US production, the key issue moving forward regarding leak rates is not whether they are high or low, but rather how to ensure that they are as low as technically possible.  The NOAA study provides an important new set of data, but only one snap shot of what is happening in natural gas production fields. 

Unfortunately, the news here is not good, in that it finds methane leak rates to be almost twice as high as the EPA estimates – which would mean that, in the short-term and absence of leak reductions, natural gas is unlikely to be better for the climate than is coal.  Though there are a few larger studies that are gearing up which plan to use a diverse array of techniques that add to the NOAA study to better define overall leak rates, scientifically sound and rigorous sampling and monitoring is still much-needed to quantify the average amount of methane emissions that result from natural gas production.  No matter what the data will show about leak rates, though, the next steps are clear – reduce leak rates!

One of the central questions that the forth coming research needs to answer is: Where are the leaks happening and, in turn, what needs to be done to minimize them? It is possible that a relatively small percentage of wells account for a large majority of emissions, meaning that getting practices right at just these high-emitting wells could reduce overall leak rates significantly.  

Getting practices right entails implementing the Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Production Subcommittee’s recommendations, which propose a focused set of steps for strengthening environmental management in the shale gas industry.  The Subcommitte’s report calls for measures to be taken to reduce emissions of air pollutants, ozone precursors, and methane as quickly as practicable and stresses the need for gathering the data necessary to determine whether, and to what degree, natural gas provides greenhouse gas benefits when substituted for coal or oil in energy production or transportation.

As EDF, and others, collect much-needed data the picture will quickly become clearer.  Stay tuned to the Energy Exchange for more information on this topic.

Posted in Natural Gas / Read 1 Response