Energy Exchange

Creating Energy Champions

This commentary was originally posted on Duke Energy’s Shedding A Light Blog.

In late January, I had the great pleasure of joining a group of Charlotte, N.C. city employees at an “Energy Champions” training hosted by Duke Energy and Charlotte Center City Partners. The city workers were bursting with enthusiasm, inventing creative ideas on the spot about how to motivate people to reduce energy use in the workplace. Many involved “friendly” competitions, around things like turning off monitors and lights: I for one would not want to be the recipient of the “Dim Bulb Award.”

Participants were excited to help Charlotte shine as a leader in innovation and to be part of Envision Charlotte, an initiative to make their city the most sustainable urban core in the country. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is pleased to be part of this innovative public-private partnership, along with Duke Energy, Charlotte Center City Partners, Bank of America and others.

One goal of Envision Charlotte is to reduce energy use in more than 60 large commercial and government buildings in Uptown Charlotte by 20 percent within a five-year timeframe. Why target buildings? Because buildings account for more than 30 percent of total energy use, and 65 percent of electricity consumption. Reducing energy use in buildings, especially the large buildings participating in Envision Charlotte (more than 10,000 square feet each), can have a huge impact and presents an enormous opportunity to cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the ways Envision Charlotte will accomplish this goal is through Duke’s Smart Energy Now program. Duke and its partners Cisco Systems and Verizon Wireless have already installed smart meters and information kiosks in participating buildings. These displays show in real-time how much energy is being used in the city’s center every day, and provide tips on how to reduce that use. Information is also available through a secure portal, accessible to building owners and managers, which shows how much energy each individual building is using. This information will help employees, building owners and facilities managers make smart decisions about how they use energy every day of the week.

As a smart grid expert, I’m particularly interested to see what role smart technologies will play in making these buildings more efficient, and in shifting demand away from times of peak electricity use, when energy is most expensive and most polluting, and (ideally) to times when renewable energy is available on the grid.

Duke and its partners will host more Energy Champions trainings over the next few months, targeted specifically to different segments of building users: executives, workers and facilities managers. There is already palpable excitement in the city with the Democratic National Convention coming in the fall, which will place Charlotte in national, and even international, spotlights. Only these spotlights will be energy efficient. And please turn them off when you’re done.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, North Carolina / Comments are closed

Envision Charlotte is Making the Queen City a Green City

Charlotte is North Carolina’s largest city, nicknamed the “Queen City” after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, queen-consort of King George III (okay, I’ll admit that I had to look that up).  I grew up nearby and over the years, I’ve watched in awe as the city has grown both upward, with high-rises housing the corporate headquarters of Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy, and outward, as the suburbs expand to accommodate the ever-growing population. 

Today, efforts are underway to make the Queen City a green city, as part of a major sustainability initiative announced last year.  Envision Charlotte was launched in September 2010 as part of the Clinton Global Initiative; partners include Duke Energy, Charlotte Center City Partners, the City of Charlotte, and many other corporate citizens.  This unique public-private partnership comprises volunteers from 28 different organizations, including EDF, that have come together to make Charlotte the most sustainable urban core in the nation.  The program focuses on four pillars to achieve this goal:

  1. energy efficiency,
  2. air quality,
  3. water reduction, and
  4. waste reduction. 

Last week, my colleague Michael Regan and I attended a public event in Uptown Charlotte to celebrate the installation of interactive displays, provided by Cisco, in almost 70 buildings.  These displays show how much energy is being consumed at any given moment in the city’s center, and provide tips on how to reduce that load.  The idea is to provide information to building workers and visitors on what they as individuals and collectively can do to use energy more wisely, and at no cost. 

It’s estimated that simple behavior changes, like turning off lights and computer monitors when not in use, can reduce 5% of the energy being used in the participating buildings. 

That’s impressive, but the overall energy goal for Envision Charlotte is more ambitious: to reduce energy by 20% in five years.  And that will require investments in building energy management systems, smart grid technologies and aggressive education efforts.  Making these investments will ultimately allow companies to save money by reducing what they spend on energy. 

And making these energy-saving improvements will save money for taxpayers too, since several local government buildings are participating in Envision Charlotte. 

EDF has contributed to this effort, by providing two Climate Corps fellows to Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte is located) this summer to identify low- and no-cost energy savings in county-owned buildings.  In reviewing three buildings, they found measures that could save the county more than $500,000 in five years. Imagine the impact of identifying and implementing similar energy efficiency measures in all city and county owned buildings! 

EDF will continue working with Envision Charlotte to make the energy savings goal a reality.  I have served for the past year on the Envision Charlotte steering committee, which is now a board of directors for the newly created non-profit entity.  And we will document the actions taken so that they can be replicated in other communities around the country.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Climate, EDF Climate Corps, Energy Efficiency, North Carolina / Tagged | 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.

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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!

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The Smart Grid 2025 Has Arrived. And It’s Addicting.

I spent my lunch break yesterday playing an online game.  No, not World of Warcraft; I played Smart Grid 2025, an innovative, multiplayer online game that lets players submit their original ideas on how to design the smart grid of the (not too distant) future.  Once you register, you can submit “Positive Imagination” ideas on what’s needed or “Dark Imagination” concerns about barriers and potential negative outcomes.  The game also allows you to respond – positively or negatively – to other players’ posts.  The more players that build on your ideas, the more points you earn.  And if the game administrators tag your idea as “Most Super Interesting,” you get a whopping 20 points.  I have only gained enough points for the “Inspired” level ranking, but I’m shooting for “Legend!”  If you have a great idea to share, give it a shot:

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Talking Smart Grid In The Land Of Lincoln

Earlier this week, I participated in a joint hearing of the Illinois Senate and House Public Utilities Committees.  It was a packed house, full of people like me who had made the 3-hour trek from Chicago to Springfield, past vast corn fields and — I was excited to see — a large wind farm. The topic: a bill that would authorize the state’s largest electric utility, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), to spend at least $1.5 billion over the next ten years on “smart grid electric system upgrades.”  Of course, as with most utility investments, it’s the utility’s customers who will ultimately foot the bill.  So the crucial question of the day was, “What will ComEd’s customers get for their money?”

Our friends at the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, or CUB, asked EDF to testify at the hearing on “smart grid done right.”  We’ve done a lot of thinking on the subject, with experience engaging in smart grid policy and projects in California, Texas, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  And we are working closely with CUB and other partners on a variety of smart grid-related projects in Illinois, including a look at the health and environmental impacts of ComEd’s smart meter pilot in the Chicago area.

The potential benefits of a smart grid are significant.  A smart grid will enable the use of a wealth of clean energy resources, including more energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation, and renewable energy.  By doing so, a smart grid will reduce our need for dirty fossil fuel-powered plants, including the expensive peak power plants that run only a few hundred hours a year but are often close to urban centers.  A smart grid will also enable us to make the shift to electric vehicles, reducing our dependence on foreign oil imports and the damage to our economy when oil prices spike, as they have in recent days.  EDF believes that a well-designed smart grid can cut air pollution from the electric power sector by more than 30% and transportation by more than 25% by 2030.

Best of all, a well-designed smart grid will deliver all of these benefits while giving homeowners and businesses the power to manage their energy use and save money.  With easy-to-use tools—such as simple online displays of the information smart meters provide about use and prices, and set-and-forget home energy management tools—consumers will be able to make choices that lower bills and shrink their environmental footprint.

But a smart grid won’t deliver on that promise if the policy behind it doesn’t set the right goals from the get-go.  Smart grid policies must be designed with clear performance targets, metrics, and milestones – and utility compensation should be directly tied to their achievement.   Unfortunately, the draft bill now being debated by the Illinois General Assembly does none of this.  In fact, the only mention of energy efficiency I found in the language was a requirement that a new employee training facility be LEED certified!  ComEd’s President Anne Pramaggiore acknowledged as much in the hearing.  CUB, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, and others raised similar concerns.  EDF will continue working with CUB and other Illinois allies to ensure these critical targets for energy efficiency and other environmental goals are included.

A smart grid requires smart policy.  The deployment of smart grid technologies and infrastructure has met with controversy in places where the policies (or sometimes, the lack thereof) have failed to place utility customers first.  Customers need access to information to make good choices about their energy use; without it, a “smart grid” won’t be so smart.  As Lincoln said, “Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.”  This is why it is critical that Illinois get the policy right from the start.  EDF is joining forces with CUB and the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition to host a smart grid briefing in April for Illinois legislators and others, to help make the smart grid a reality here.

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