Energy Efficiency Markets BlogEnergy Efficiency Markets Blog, by Elisa Wood, tracks the energy efficiency industry and analyzes a range of topics, such as demand response, building efficiency, smart grid, alternative vehicles, new technology, energy legislation and much more.
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By Kat Friedrich, Clean Energy Finance Center
Guest Blogger, Energy Efficiency Markets
May 20, 2013
The Texas House and Senate passed Senate Bill 385 in May. If Governor Rick Perry approves the bill, the state will break new ground by developing plans for commercial and industrial property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs. This bill will redesign Texas’s approach to PACE, focusing on the commercial and industrial sectors rather than on residential programs. The legislation covers both energy efficiency and water efficiency.
To facilitate local decision making, cities and local areas will partner with businesses and nonprofits to set up their own PACE programs. These programs will allow businesses to borrow money from private lenders and repay it yearly via an assessment on their property taxes.
The bill has a solid foundation of support from a wide range of stakeholders including industry leaders and senior legislators. Charlene Heydinger, executive director of the nonprofit Keeping PACE in Texas, has built an effective coalition which includes large businesses and banks.
“PACE is the only solution out there that is totally market-driven, totally voluntary and local, and there are no mandates,” Heydinger said. “Our business community loves PACE because it is a real option for a solution without the drawbacks that have given people pause.”
Momentum of PACE Programs
PACE has been gaining traction nationwide since the first pilot PACE program in 2008, said David Gabrielson, executive director of PACENow. “It’s an idea that caught on very quickly and resonated all over the country.” However, some of the first generation of PACE bills were not designed for easy implementation. States are currently developing updated approaches to PACE.
In 2009, Texas passed a PACE bill which focused on residential energy-related programs. But because the bill was difficult to implement and the Federal Housing Finance Agency opposes residential PACE, PACE stalled in Texas. This year, Republican Senator John Carona introduced a new bill to improve Texas’s prospects for creating successful PACE programs. “I think Texas, in taking up this effort to get their legislation amended, is really on the cutting edge of states around the country,” Gabrielson said.
By Elisa Wood
May 13, 2013
We fret about turning off the lights to save pennies on energy. Meanwhile, electricity worth billions of dollars gets lost or stolen on the world’s power grids every year.
In industry jargon, the problem is known as ‘line loss.’ A certain amount of electricity generated by a power plant never makes it to the consumer – or at least the paying consumer. Instead it is lost or diverted somewhere over the wires. Some of it dissipates in transit for technical reasons. In other cases, it’s pilfered by marijuana growers, households, or in some countries even manufacturers.
Awesense, a Canadian company that has built its business model around solving this problem, pegs the cost of worldwide electricity loss at $202 billion annually.
Losses vary dramatically by country, with percentages running in the double digits in Brazil, China and India. In the US, about seven percent of the power generated goes missing. How much of that is theft? No hard figures exist, but a rule of thumb for sophisticated grids puts US power theft at two to three percent. That may not sound like a lot, but the US is one of the world’s biggest power producers. So even a small percentage of electricity lost means a large amount of fossil fuel wasted.
So, in a time when we strive for greater energy efficiency, why don’t we hear more about this problem?
By Elisa Wood
May 6, 2013
You know that experience, when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the model everywhere? Since Superstorm Sandy I’ve had the equivalent experience with the term ‘microgrid.’
Policymakers and thought leaders in the US Northeast started talking microgrid in earnest shortly after the October 2012 storm leveled swaths of their region. Lately, the term seems to arise in almost every interview I do about transmission and reliability – whether about the US, Japan, Sweden, India or other areas of the world.
These small, electricity islands have been around for a long time, but mostly confined to colleges and military bases. Are we about to see more widespread development?
Microgrids are smaller versions of the larger grid, but the power plants are closer to the customer. Hence, they have fewer miles of wire that is vulnerable to falling trees. They are typically connected to the larger grid. But when the grid goes down, the microgrid can disengage and keep operating. So microgrids are used as a way to maintain electric reliability in carved-out areas.
I recently asked three respected smart grid experts for their views on a potential microgrid boom, and they gave me three different slants.
“Truthfully, I think microgrid is a very good concept – it has certain applications – but not in general,” said GE’s John McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development for GE Energy Management’s Digital Energy.
He sees microgrid as successful in rural areas on military bases and at universities. “But you wouldn’t want to have, in the Continental US, the grid be composed of thousands of little microgrids. It would be very difficult to manage that,” McDonald said.
Bradley Williams, vice president for industry strategy at Oracle Utilities, has a different view. Information technology can solve problems that inhibit more widespread use of microgrid, he says.
“The military bases and campuses are piloting this, but that is just the beginning,” Williams said.
By Elisa Wood
April 29, 2013
A pretty big wad of money – $40 billion – is hiding somewhere inside the lights, AC, thermostats, furnaces and fans of our offices, stores, hospitals and schools.
That’s the amount of money the federal government estimates we can save annually by reducing energy use in commercial buildings 20 percent by 2020. To achieve the goal, the Obama administration in 2011 initiated the Better Buildings Challenge, a way to encourage investment, share information and create demonstration projects that save energy.
It’s no small effort. Finding energy savings in buildings can be a Where’s Waldo-style mission. Hidden from view are faulty valves and switches, lighting controls that don’t jive with human activity, and malfunctioning appliances that suck up energy.
But the federal program – along with other state, city and corporate efforts – are leading to intriguing technologies and demonstration projects.
Seattle’s Bullitt Center
In Seattle, a building that describes itself as the world’s greenest, opened April 22. The 50,000 square-foot Bullitt Center is designed to be 83 percent more efficient than is typical. But it isn’t stopping there. Its owners want to achieve complete energy and water self-sufficiency over a year.
The Bullitt Center is engaging in a certification process called the Living Building Challenge, one of the toughest badges of honor for a building to achieve. The standard goes beyond just saving energy and water, and requires that the building helps restore the natural environment.
Of course the Bullitt Center has solar panels, occupancy sensors and data displays that show energy use and emissions – all that you would expect of a contemporary green building. But it also has other interesting design elements. The building’s mechanical workings are in plain view so everyone inside can better see what’s going on. Ninety percent of the lighting is natural. Tenants must adhere to electricity budgets as a term of the lease, and they share in any net metering profits the building accrues. The structure is heavy timber, not the usual steel or concrete of most office buildings. Water will come only from rain treated onsite.
By Elisa Wood
April 22, 2013
New York officials are scrutinizing the cost of energy efficiency – especially when it’s needed fast – as they prepare for the possible shutdown of a nuclear plant.
Energy efficiency insiders will want to keep an eye on this public service commission proceeding for two reasons. First, it offers a potential 100 MW in business opportunity. Second, wide disagreement exists about what the resource will cost.
The 100 MW of energy efficiency would help make up for the potential loss of Indian Point. The nuclear plant’s federal licenses expire over the next couple of years, and it’s not clear whether or not it will win relicensing. State officials say they must prepare now. New York City relies on Indian Point’s power.
Consolidated Edison wants to provide 100 MW of permanent peak reduction as part of larger mix of generation and transmission to replace the plant.
At issue is the price tag.
Con Edison estimated it will cost as much as $300 million to achieve 100 MW of peak energy reduction. The New York State Energy & Research Development Authority pegs the cost at $155.5 million. And Consumer Power Advocates, an alliance of hospitals, colleges and other large non-profit energy users, estimates $200/kW, compared with Con Edison’s $3,000/kW.