As Americans transition their electricity system to the 21st century, they should ask this question. Does it make sense to pursue strategies such as accelerating the development of new high-voltage power lines that reinforce an outdated paradigm of electricity delivery, or should scarce energy dollars be spent to add new clean, local energy to the… Continue reading
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Term for Energy
In just three weeks, citizens of Boulder, CO, will vote on whether to begin a big, formal process to unplug from Xcel Energy’s system and plug into local energy self-reliance. The vote to form a municipal electric utility could set a precedent for communities across the United States to keep millions of dollars local instead of sending them to remote electric utilities each year.
The vote on ballot measures 2B and 2C is the culmination of a multi-year struggle by the city of Boulder meet the Kyoto greenhouse gas emission targets by getting less coal power and more renewable energy from its investor-owned utility.
At every turn, the utility has stalled local efforts.
When the city first considered municipalization, Xcel offered to finance and build a local smart grid but has since been allowed by the state’s public utility commission to charge Coloradans for significant cost overruns. When the city asked Xcel to bring in more clean energy, the utility offered to build a new wind plant and import its power from across the state only if Boulder citizens agreed to pay more when the wind blew and pay when it didn’t, too. Despite the ill nature of the offer, the city offered to put it on the ballot along with a vote to municipalize, but Xcel refused, demanding that the city also offer citizens a separate “status quo” measure.
In contrast, a Boulder-owned utility offers enormous clean energy and economic opportunity without having to beg a big, private company. The city could increase renewable energy production by 40% from multiple, local sources without increasing rates, according to a citizen-led peer reviewed study. The economic value of local energy ownership would multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
But with $100 million a year in revenues from Boulder ratepayers on the line, Xcel’s fight is getting as dirty as its nearby Cherokee coal plant. Xcel has dumped over $450,000 into a vote no campaign, 10 times the expenditures of the grassroots groups supporting the municipalization ballot measure. The utility’s front group has flogged a web advertisement that falsely asserts that electricity will be unreliable if the city has control, even though 1 in 7 Americans gets their (reliable) electricity from municipal utilities. Xcel has posted job notices on light poles offering residents up to $12 an hour to work as “grassroots” utility flaks. And in a purely spiteful move, Xcel also succeeded in banning Boulder resident Leslie Glustrom from participating at the Public Utilities Commission, where she had asked tough questions about Xcel’s new coal power plants and proposed rate increases.
Locals are fighting back. Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future has organized a crack team of technical and financial experts to model the impact of the municipal utility and is pounding the pavement to counter Xcel’s campaign of misinformation. The coalition has received endorsements from dozens of local elected officials and businesses, two local newspapers, and nearly one thousand residents. Even President Obama’s former green jobs advisor Van Jones starred in a video endorsing Boulder’s effort for local energy self-reliance.
The battle for local control isn’t just in Boulder. Recently a number of Massachusetts towns have pursued municipal electric plants when the private electric company took too long to restore power after Hurricane Irene. And in nearby Longmont, CO, citizens may vote to use their existing fiber optic network to provide better internet broadband services (if citizens can overcome the $250,000 being spent by private providers CenturyLink and Comcast).
The stakes are high. Buying electricity from Xcel sends $100 million out of the Boulder economy each year, and helps perpetuate a centrally-controlled grid reliant on coal-fired power (and often hostile to wind power). Ratepayers across America may not have the chance to weigh in on Boulder’s vote this November, but they should watch intently (and donate if they like), because Boulder citizens may be firing the first “shot heard round the world” for local control of their clean energy future.
The U.S. Northwest could get an additional 12 percent of its electricity from local wind power if 1 in 8 of the region’s cars used batteries.
That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories investigating how electric vehicles can help smooth the introduction of more variable renewable energy into the grid system.
The study examines the Northwest Power Pool, an area encompassing roughly seven states in the Northwest. With around 2.1 million electrified vehicles, the grid could support an additional 10 gigawatts of wind power. With electricity demand from those seven states of about 250 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, the additional 10 gigawatts of wind would provide 12 percent of the annual electricity demand (roughly 30 billion kilowatt-hours per year).
The results are no doubt applicable to other regions of the country. In fact, at least 33 states have enough wind power to meet 10 percent or more of their electricity needs and if the same portion of vehicles (13%) were electrified in those 33 states, it would allow them to add a collective 100 gigawatts of wind power, meeting nearly 14% of their electricity needs.
In the long-run, a fully electrified vehicle fleet would theoretically – just do the math! – provide enough balancing power for a 100% renewable electricity system. And since the large majority of those vehicle trips would be made on batteries alone, it would be a significant dent in American reliance on foreign oil for transportation.
Further reading: learn a bit more about electric vehicles helping wind power in Denmark, too.
Hat tip to Midwest Energy News for the original story.
A presentation I gave last Friday to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Installed costs for solar PV have dropped and economies of scale improved significantly in 2010, opening the door for much more cost-competitive distributed solar power.
The data comes from the 4th edition of the excellent report from the Lawrence Berkeley Labs’, Tracking the Sun (pdf) and shows the installed costs for behind-the-meter solar PV projects in 2010. The following merely copies Figure 11 from that report, showing the average installed cost of “behind-the-meter” solar projects in the U.S. in 2010, by project size.
This is useful and shows the significant economies of scale for solar PV in 2010, but the history is important. For context, the following chart shows the 2010 data along with the 2009 data from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, with the grey shaded area indicating the cost decreases. The 2010 installed cost data from the California Solar Initiative (red) is also shown, helping validate the LBNL data. The last data point from the CSI is an outlier likely due to having too few projects in that dataset.
Two things are clear from the new data. First, installed costs have dropped significantly, by $1 per Watt for residential-scale solar PV and by nearly $2 per Watt for megawatt-scale projects. We can also see more clearly how the economies of scale of solar have improved, as well.
The unit cost savings between the smallest and largest solar projects (1 MW and under) jumped from $2.80 to $4.60 per Watt, a change in relative savings from 30 percent to 47 percent. Economies of scale were also much greater for mid-size solar (30-100 kW), with the percentage savings over the smallest projects rising from 21 to 35 percent. The following chart illustrates the change in economies of scale, showing installed costs as a percentage of the cost of a 2 kW system.
Instead of having relatively little economies of scale for solar PV projects larger than 2 kW, the 2010 data confirms that the unit cost of solar does continue to fall significantly as solar projects grow up to 1 megwatt (MW) in size.
Unfortunately, LBNL did not have sufficient data to provide context for economies of scale for larger distributed solar projects (1 to 20 MW), with only about 20 datapoints. However, their finding was that these larger crystalline solar projects cost between $4 and $5 per Watt, showing small but significant scale economies.
The lesson is that solar economies of scale seem to be improving as the U.S. market matures, good news for distributed solar to compete with peak electricity prices on the grid.
[note: for more context, see the previous post on 2009 solar economies of scale]
A short slide deck providing a “101″ on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, a status update on the legal challenges, and some of the policy design issues we explored in our report on Municipal Financing Lessons Learned.
In August 2011, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell gave this presentation to a group of rural utilities and environmental organizations in Kentucky. The slides illustrate the enormous renewable energy potential in Kentucky and the cost-effectiveness of clean, local power in meeting the state’s electricity and economic needs. Clean Local Power for Kentucky View more presentations… Continue reading
Update October 2012: The 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report shows weak, but consistent economies of scale in wind power projects. It seems obvious: every extra turbine in a wind farm comes at a lower incremental cost, making the biggest wind power projects the most cost effective per kilowatt of capacity. If you bet $20 on… Continue reading