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Selected tag(s): Clean Energy

The U.S. Can Learn from Renewable Energy Integration in Europe

Raya Salter PhotoLast month I travelled to Amsterdam for European Utility Week (EUW), Europe’s largest “smart energy” conference that was attended by more than 7,000 people, hundreds of exhibitors, utilities, regulators and policy experts.  The theme of this year’s conference was “Pulling in One Direction,” with a focus on greater collaboration between the European power transmission and distribution sectors.  I was invited to speak about EDF’s Smart Power Initiative, which aims to change the trajectory of the U.S. electricity system to help avoid dangerous climate change through smart power policies and clean energy investments.

Why would EUW be interested in EDF’s approach?  Because EDF seeks to knit together key state and regional regulatory agendas to “move the needle” toward a clean and modernized power grid, and to fix the “disconnect” between power transmission and distribution.   Increasing the connection between the wholesale sector (typically has more sophisticated markets including real time pricing) and the distribution sector (has less sophisticated pricing) can unlock the value of smart grid. 

This is one reason why our team seeks to enable smart metering and dynamic pricing for customers on the distribution side.  Dynamic pricing incentivizes the shifting electricity use to periods of lower demand and lower prices (often when clean, low-carbon energy is most available).  Enhancing the flow of information and energy between the wholesale and distribution sector will also empower smart grid solutions such as: reducing wasted energy through energy efficiency and demand response (which rewards customers who use less electricity during times of peak, or high, energy demand) and  increasing the use of clean, distributed generation (like wind and solar).  These innovative solutions will ultimately make the system cleaner, less wasteful and eliminate the need to invest in additional polluting fossil fuel power plants. Read More »

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The Electric Utility Of The Future

Progressive Power Providers Show a Path Forward

Traditionally, electric utilities have been in the business of providing reliable power to their customers.  Prices for each class of customer are fixed by state regulators and a customer’s choice is pretty much limited to whether they want to turn on the switch or not.  Much of the EDF Smart Power initiative is focused on helping to create new utility business models that change this paradigm by increasing customer choice, providing market feedback on these choices and incentivizing the use of cleaner sources of power.

Several electric utilities are getting ahead of the curve by embracing these changes.  While both own large fossil fuel assets, NRG Energy and NextEra Energy have also been developing utility-scale and distributed renewable generation projects across the country.  NRG Energy develops solar and other renewable projects for government, commercial and other institutional customers, and NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind and solar power in North America, develops and finances large commercial and small utility solar projects through its subsidiary Smart Energy Capital. Cumulatively, they have provided more than 110 megawatts of distributed solar generation capacity to schools, government and commercial facilities, among others.

Over the past week, two other energy providers, Direct Energy and Viridian, have announced deals with SolarCity to offer no-upfront cost solar installations to their current and prospective customers.  In many cases, these solar installations will provide clean energy at a lower cost than the customer currently pays for dirtier, fossil fuel power.  Direct Energy even took it a step further by agreeing to provide part of the financing for their customers.  Since there are few investors that currently finance solar projects, Direct Energy can expect to earn a very attractive return on their investment.  While solar financing has been around for several years, Direct Energy and Viridian can now offer customer solutions that bundle solar installations with other energy services.

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A Smart Approach To Smart Meters

John FinniganA new documentary about smart meters opens on September 5th called Take Back Your PowerThe film suggests that smart meters cause illness.  According to an August 12 USA Today story, the film’s director was inspired by a friend who became seriously ill after a smart meter was installed at his home.  Naturally, this type of personal experience might shape one’s view on smart meters, but correlation is not causation.

Electric utilities have installed over 38 million smart meters across the country and there “has never been a documented injury or health problem associated with such meters.”  According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), “no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”

Smart meters send information to utilities by using radio frequencies (RFs) such as those currently used by televisions, radios, baby monitors, cell phones and wifi routers.  RF signals have permeated our atmosphere for as long as we’ve had televisions and radios.

We use these devices every day, and many of them create much higher levels of RF exposure than smart meters.  The exposure level depends on the strength of the RF signal emitted by the device, the duration of the RF signal and—importantly— the distance from the source.  Cell phones emit up to several thousand times more RF signals than smart meters.  Smart meters also transmit intermittently and briefly during the day, while we talk on cell phones for long periods.  Finally, smart meters are located outside the home, while cell phones are often used close to one’s head.

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Texas Electric Co-op At Forefront Of Customer Engagement

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

(Source: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op)

Everywhere you turn these days, you hear someone mention the emergence of big data and how our lives will be more and more reliant on numbers.  Well the world of electric cooperatives (co-ops) is no exception.  Originally emerging out of the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration, co-ops enabled rural farmers and ranchers to create customer-owned electric utilities in areas that are not serviced by traditional utilities.

I recently visited the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (Bluebonnet), one of the Texas’ largest co-ops providing energy to 14 counties, spanning the outskirts of Austin to Houston and boasting an impressive 11,000 miles of electric lines, 83,000 electric meters and 63,000 members.  Who would have thought so much big data is coming out of rural Texas?

What makes this co-op particularly unique is its smart grid, which is attracting some serious attention.

Unlike other traditional utilities, Bluebonnet does not generate any of its own electricity.  Instead, it buys electricity from the Lower Colorado River Authority and CPS Energy, both pioneers for clean, renewable energy.  Because of this, Bluebonnet is able to concentrate its energy (pun intended) on using new technologies to provide reliable power and enhance customer satisfaction. Read More »

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America’s Aging Energy Infrastructure Needs An Overhaul

No one likes being told “I told you so.”  But since DOE released its report last week, I’ve been tempted.

The report warns that the existing American energy infrastructure is highly vulnerable to climate change.  That increasing temperatures will stress the U.S. water system and enhance the likelihood of drought. That because conventional power plants require huge volumes of water to operate, lower water availability will mean less reliable power.  And that the changing climate will prompt more extreme and frequent storms, increasing energy demand due to extreme temperature changes and threatening our aging and already stressed electric grid with potential blackouts.

In essence, the affirms the many the calls-to-action that EDF and many other groups have been leading for years and the lessons we learned from Superstorm Sandy made painfully real and salient:  Our existing energy technologies and policies were designed for a 20th century climate.  To weather the extremes of a 21st century climate, we need to a 21st century energy system – one  that promotes energy efficiency, enables widespread adoption of homegrown, renewable sources of power and allows people to control their own energy use and reduce their electricity costs.

I have been very encouraged by President Obama’s recent movement on climate change, and the DOE report provides research backing the urgency of his Climate Action Plan.  Hopefully, this recent movement will translate into real national momentum, as our national approach to energy truly needs an overhaul. Read More »

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