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Energy Management Can Empower Everyone Regardless of Income Level

Source: Verizon

Source: Verizon

The holidays are upon us. As we prepare to gather with our friends and family, eat too much, and lounge around watching football, many people use this time to reflect on what they are grateful for. Being able to pay one’s electricity bill probably doesn’t make most people’s list, but for many Americans, it might.

The average household spends $1,945 annually on electricity, and homes with the lowest 20 percent of income spent nearly six percent of their income on energy bills. For many households, the cost of energy remains unaffordable. To put it in perspective, compared to middle- or upper-class homes, low-income households spend about twice the percentage of their income on energy. Yet, as Greentech Media points out, “many [energy management] solutions are tailored to the biggest homes, those awash in thousands of square feet of central air with a pool pump. Other solutions are tailored for middle-class homes, such as aggressive rebates for more efficient appliances. Many apartment-dwellers, however, do not own their major appliances.”

The future of smart home, energy-saving technologies is often more focused on affluent, early-adopters who benefit from innovative ways to save energy because they can afford the newest gadgets. Thankfully, these people are using their buying power to lead the way, as more demand will bring prices down for everyone. While it is important for all of us to conserve and better manage energy use, low-income individuals have the most to gain. Yet the technologies that can enable savings are often out of financial reach. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, Texas / Tagged | Comments are closed

New Database from Pecan Street, WikiEnergy, Promises to Reveal Important Energy Insights

Source: Trace3

Source: Trace3

As our society moves deeper into the realms of big data, at times it can seem overwhelming that our actions can generate millions of data points. Therefore, what we do with that data becomes crucial in the new energy landscape, as big data promises to improve our lives by unlocking innovation.

By 2015, 340 million smart meters will be supplying data to utilities worldwide, reading and reporting energy from 15-minute to 1-second intervals. For a medium-sized utility, with a half-million meters, that adds up to 52 billion data points a year. Utilities are not necessarily equipped to interpret this information, and insights can be lost.

Enter the newest arm of Pecan Street, Inc: WikiEnergy. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Grid Modernization / Tagged | Comments are closed

Secretary Moniz Deems Austin’s Pecan Street ‘Very Impressive’

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

EDF's Marita Mirzatuny with Secretary Moniz at Pecan Street's Pike Powers Labratory

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 »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, Renewable Energy / Tagged | Comments are closed

Pecan Street’s Study Shows Electric Vehicles Won’t Overload the Electric Grid

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some of the world’s largest automakers release their first mass-market electric vehicles.  Models like the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are popular with consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint and spend less at the pump.  But the vehicles’ rising popularity has raised concerns about the effect they might have on the electric grid, particularly during the hot summer months in Texas.

Electric vehicles are the largest new home electric load in decades.  Some suspected that drivers, upon returning home from work, would charge their vehicles during the evening hours (a ‘rush-hour’ time for the wires that carry our energy, which strains the electric grid).  They thought that the increased need for energy would overwhelm the electric system, possibly force utilities to fire up more dirty fossil fuel power plants and offset any potential environmental benefits of the gasoline-free car.  Thankfully, this line of thinking is now an idea of the past.

A recent report from Pecan Street proves that electric vehicles have less of an impact on the electric grid than anticipated. Read More »

Posted in Electric Vehicles, Grid Modernization, Texas / Tagged | Read 3 Responses

This Green Building Sets A High Bar For The Rest Of America

Source: Miller Hull Partnership

On Earth Day this year, The Bullitt Center opened its doors in Seattle, Washington.  The six-story building is being hailed as the greenest commercial building in the world.  Its specs are very impressive indeed, including:

  • 56,000-gallon cistern for rainwater collection;
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof that are estimated to generate 230,000 kilowatt-hours per year;
  • Glass panels to showcase the engineering, including quick response codes to allow visitors to use their smartphones to find out more;
  • Real-time measurements of the building’s indoor air quality, energy conservation, PV production and water levels;
  • A mini-weather station that sends data to the building so that it can make adjustments to maximize tenant comfort and energy conservation; and
  • Measurement of energy use down to the individual socket.

The Bullitt Center aims to be certified through the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous set of standards that requires the building to meet complete water and energy self-sufficiency.  The Living Building Challenge has registered nearly 150 projects in 10 countries, but only three buildings have been certified in the US (in Missouri, New York and Hawaii).  It has been endorsed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), originator of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard, and is not meant to be a competition, rather a challenge to architects and engineers to aim even higher in their sustainable design efforts.

The Bullitt Center is a project of the Bullitt Foundation, and its leaders state that if the building is still the highest-performing office building in ten years, then they have failed.  They want to demonstrate that a building can be both self-sustaining and commercially viable and to serve as an example for others to learn and innovate beyond what they’ve done. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency / Also tagged | Comments are closed

Pecan Street Inc. Researchers’ Report Receives Outstanding Paper Award

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

With 1.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar power installed in 2011 and an expected 2.8 GW in 2012, it is safe to say that solar energy has solidified its role as an important part of our nation’s energy portfolio. Affordability, competitive financing and reduced greenhouse gases are just a few of the reasons why the number of solar installations has skyrocketed in the past several years.

Now, new research from Dr. Alexis Kwasinski, Dr. Fabian Uriarte, and Amir Toliyat, engineers from the University of Texas at Austin, sheds some light on how rapidly growing solar installations can work with the current electric grid. For their groundbreaking findings in “Effects of high penetration levels of residential photovoltaic generation,” they were recently awarded an Outstanding Paper Award at the International Conference on Renewable Energy Research and Applications (ICRERA) in November for their in-depth research and innovative solutions.

Jump started by a $10.4 million grant from the Department of Energy, Pecan Street Inc. is a “community-wide collaboration to fully reinvent the energy delivery system”  based in Austin, Texas.  This living ‘smart grid laboratory’ provided a perfect data collection site for the researchers. Pecan Street’s leadership focuses on developing new technologies that reinvent the way we create and use energy, so that residents drive electric vehicles, invest in cutting-edge technology and, of course, use solar panels.

The massive amount of data gathered from Pecan Street’s efforts provided researchers the opportunity to analyze solar energy’s effect on the three key characteristics of “power quality” (voltage level, voltage unbalance and power factor).  The researchers found that energy inflections (voltage levels and voltage unbalance) did not create any major concerns with the power grid, despite unfounded claims to the contrary by some solar critics.

Digging further into the data, the researchers unexpectedly found that power factor could become a real issue if solar installers don’t use modern equipment that provides for power factor support.  While the issue could become very real at higher levels of solar penetration, the solution is simple, cheap and currently available; it simply means installers should begin using newer models of solar panel “inverters,” which convert solar power into electricity that can be fed into your grid and home.

Inverters simply convert raw DC power to AC power (i.e. the type of electricity we need to use everyday household items). Maximizing the amount of electricity that is converted into usable power makes solar energy more competitive, ensuring that it will remain an important and growing part of our nation’s energy mix.

It’s exciting to see that these researchers are receiving accolades for their groundbreaking work, and international acclaim is always an excellent motivator for this kind of work, but it’s nice to be appreciated where you hang your hat too.  Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be a problem, since earlier this year Austinites voted in the Best of Austin 2012 award by the Austin Chronicle for Best Way to Turn Some Green Even Greener.  Their choice: Pecan Street Inc.

Posted in Grid Modernization, Texas / Tagged | Read 1 Response