Energy Exchange

Transforming an Energy Burden into an Energy Opportunity

Energy opportunityEconomic inequality has become one of the dominant political narratives of the day. It occupies discussions on both sides of the aisle, and is shaping elections from city halls to the White House. There’s a good reason for this: the continuing trends of flattening incomes, concentrated wealth, and deepening poverty are historic.

One place this reality is really hitting home for millions of Americans is on their monthly energy bill. For nearly one in three American families, paying a monthly energy bill is a challenge.

The energy burden, as the Department of Energy defines it, is the ratio of energy costs (which includes heating, cooling, appliances, and lighting from electricity, gas, and fuel sources) to household income. Nearly 40 percent of low-income households use electricity to heat their homes (the majority in the South and West), and are suffering a more severe energy burden because of factors like wage stagnation and the quality of housing at lower economic levels.  In 2014, researchers looking at the “energy affordability gap” for low income households (the difference between actual energy bills and what is considered affordable) tabulated it at almost $45 billion nationally. That is an increase of 16 percent from 2011, with nearly 60 percent of the growth accounted for by states in the mid-South, South, and east of the Mississippi. For any of those families, even a 10 percent growth in electricity costs can be destabilizing. Monthly electric bills become another factor forcing households to choose between groceries, childcare, and medical bills.

To make inroads in closing the energy affordability gap and reducing energy burdens for the most vulnerable, Environmental Defense Fund believes we need a combination of greater and scalable clean energy investment in low- and moderate-income communities, and a focus on empowering the many faces that are energy-burdened. The multi-billion dollar affordability gap certainly poses a variety of financial risks, but it’s also rife with opportunity. Read More »

Also posted in California, Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy Equity, North Carolina, On-bill repayment, Renewable Energy, Solar Energy / Language: / Comments are closed

Rural Electric Cooperatives Improve Energy Efficiency with On-Bill Financing

carolina-houseMost Americans think their electricity comes from large power companies. In North Carolina, my home state, that might mean Duke Energy or Dominion Resources. But did you know that 42 million people in 47 states get their electricity from electric cooperatives? These member-owned electric utilities were first formed back in the 1930s to provide electricity to people living in rural areas and small towns.

Today, there are more than 900 not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Their mission remains the same today as it did back then: deliver safe, reliable, and affordable electricity to rural families and businesses.

In rural areas, housing and commercial buildings tend to be older and less energy efficient, increasing energy bills. Often energy efficiency improvements, such as insulation, are overlooked when residents are faced with hard decisions about where to spend money.

Plus, qualifying for a loan to finance efficiency improvements is more difficult in economically distressed rural areas. Addressing this reality poses a significant challenge for electric cooperatives, which serve 93 percent of the nation’s persistent-poverty counties, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative AssociationRead More »

Also posted in Climate, Energy Efficiency, Energy Equity, North Carolina / Language: / Read 2 Responses

Clean Energy Can Help Tackle Rural Poverty

Growing up in eastern North Carolina was a great experience. Wayne County was my home, and I spent many weekends fishing for bass and hunting quail with my father on the family farm in nearby Bladen County. The time outdoors was great for character building, and visiting with relatives, friends, and elders in the community was equally important for understanding my heritage and the challenges my parents overcame.

You see, Bladen County is classified as a “persistent poverty county” by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, meaning the poverty rate has exceeded 20 percent of the population for the last 30 years. More than 25 percent of Bladen residents live in poverty. My family, friends, and elders were no exceptions. Despite the struggles, the personal connection to the land, water, and wildlife nourished and empowered the farming community.

When I joined Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) eight years ago, I seized the opportunity to find inclusive solutions to environmental problems. I started hunting for two different kinds of game: first, diversifying the traditional definition of environmental leadership and second, increasing access to clean, affordable energy for everyone. The two go hand-in-hand. Let me explain. Read More »

Also posted in EDF Climate Corps, Energy Efficiency, Energy Equity, North Carolina, Solar Energy / Language: / Read 2 Responses

3 Ways to Improve California’s Time-Of-Use Electricity Pilots

Jay Godwin photo - 07/31/2015 Location: The Mueller community in Austin, Texas. Caption: Mueller resident Dennis Nick is a Pecan Street program participant. He has solar collectors on his roof and an electric car in his garage. Information about his energy use can be accessed through mobile apps and on the web.California’s big three utilities – San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE) – serve approximately 80 percent of the state’s residential customers, which is why their recent move to update the state’s antiquated electricity pricing could be a game-changer for helping the state achieve its climate and clean energy goals.

In late December, while most people were on holiday, the utilities submitted plans to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to assess electricity prices that vary with the season and time of day. These plans detail the next two years of piloting time-of-use (TOU) pricing for most residential customers, and will help California reduce pollution and increase renewable energy production. Read More »

Also posted in California, Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Grid Modernization / Language: / Comments are closed

State of the Union Recap: We can Afford Obama’s Clean Energy Legacy

President Obama

In his final State of the Union address last night, President Obama did not spend any time bragging about his signature environmental achievements, such as the Clean Power Plan or the Paris climate accord. Instead, he highlighted the need for a more flexible electric grid in order to accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy, noting that, “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”

But some climate deniers and industry leaders alike are stuck in the past, and do not share Obama’s enthusiasm for a clean energy future. They argue that this path will cost too much and have a devastating impact on our economy. We’ve heard this argument before, and it doesn’t hold true. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Climate, Grid Modernization / Language: / Comments are closed

10 Clean Energy Trends that Prove 2015 was a Transformative Year

Back in September when the New York Times declared 2015 “the year humans got serious about climate change,” we knew they were on to something. But as we near the end of 2015, it’s hard to believe we’ve accomplished as much as we have in just 12 months.

This momentum culminated in representatives of 195 nations agreeing in Paris to act together on world knowledge of climate change. This historic agreement will aim to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, report transparently, and review and strengthen standards every five years. EDF President Fred Krupp stated, “It sends a powerful, immediate signal to global markets that the clean energy future is open for business.”

Though history proves “hindsight is 20/20,” historians just might look back at 2015 as the year everything changed for clean energy. Here’s a look at some of the top trends that fueled climate action by governments, investors, corporations, individuals, cities, utilities, market analysts, real estate professionals, and cleantech leaders in 2015. [Click through the following slideshow to see the trends.] Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Energy Efficiency, Energy Innovation, Energy Storage, Utility Business Models / Language: / Comments are closed