Update 1/12/12: I created a new post to reflect the current time-of-use pricing plan for Los Angeles Update 1/10/12: Fixed a missing pie chart and corrected a miscalculation caught by a reader What if electricity cost more when the sun was shining? Many utilities are using new electronic “smart meters” to adjust the price of… Continue reading
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Yesterday New York Times reporter Matt Wald had a piece on the role of energy storage in supporting the expansion of renewable energy. However, his specific focus on solar thermal power generation overlooks the potentially high costs of relying on solar thermal power as well as the potential for distributed “storehousing” of renewable energy. Solar… Continue reading
Where does solar grid parity strike first? How fast does it spread? Click “animate” on the map below to see which major metropolitan areas can beat grid prices with local solar first, and how quickly unsubsidized solar could take over America’s major metropolitan areas.
Germany is the unquestioned world leader in renewable energy. By mid-2011, the European nation generated over 20 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power alone, and had created over 400,000 jobs in the industry. The sweet German success is no accident, however, and the following pie chart illustrates the results of a carefully… Continue reading
In the 20th century electric grid, adding a variable source of power generation like wind or solar upset the paradigm: big coal and nuclear plants run constantly, efficient natural gas plants meet intermediate demand, and fast gas, hydro or diesel peakers fill the peaks.
But the 21st century grid is different and the best strategy for utilties may be to flip their outmoded paradigm on its head.
The Nippon Paper Industries mill in Port Angeles, Wash., which makes paper for telephone books, has an average load of 53 megawatts, which is roughly 1,000 times the peak load of a typical house. But the mill’s load can run up to 73 megawatts.
One of the big electricity consumers at the plant is the pulping operation, which turns wood chips into an intermediate product on its way to becoming paper.
While the mill pulps the paper at the rate at which its machines are the most efficient, it could pulp faster, turning pulp into a kind of battery. “What we’ve looked at is the possibility of more storage capacity,’’ said Harold S. Norlund, the mill manager. “A phone call could come and say, ‘We have a problem for 24 hours — can you use more energy?’“ he said…[the mill] would switch to electricity from wind at certain hours and save the wood pulp for burning as needed later.
The adjacent graphic illustrates the reversed paradigm. By planning on variable sources first (wind, solar, etc) – as in the bottom frame – utilities can think creatively about how to match supply and demand. In some cases, it means finding flexible generation sources to fill the gap. In this case from Wald, it means moving the black demand line.
None of these options is limitless (or always cost-effective), but each is key to making a renewable-first grid work. These example are also instructive in questioning the old grid paradigm’s role in a renewable energy world: should the electricity system limit new wind and solar power just because we’re used to running a lot of big power plants 24-7?
No. And with simple solutions like demand-shifting, we shouldn’t have to.
By a razor-thin margin, Boulder citizens gave the city a victory for energy self-reliance on Tuesday, approving two ballot measures to let the city form a municipal utility. If the city moves ahead, it would capture nearly $100 million currently spent on electricity imports and instead create up to $350 million in local economic development by dramatically increasing local clean energy production.
The stage was set over several years, as the city’s multiple pleas for more clean energy were given short shrift by the incumbent electric utility, Xcel Energy. Instead of meeting local demands for more wind and solar power, Xcel instead financed a new coal power plant and told Boulder that it could have more wind power only if it paid extra, and paid when the wind didn’t blow. In response, the city authorized two measures for the Nov. 1 ballot to allow the city to pursue municipal clean energy production.
The campaign was enormously lopsided. Xcel dumped nearly $1 million into a vote ‘no’ campaign, outspending local clean energy supporters by a 10-to-1 margin and spending nearly $77 for each no vote. On the flip side, nearly every local business or newspaper endorsement (and nearly 1000 individual citizen endorsements) supported a ‘yes’ vote. Despite the financial disadvantage, the local grassroots groups won, though their margin of victory was less than 3%.
The victory margin was small, but the clean energy and economic opportunity is enormous. According to a citizen-led and peer reviewed study, the city could increase renewable energy production by 40 percent from multiple, local sources without increasing rates. In contrast to the $100 million in revenue sent to Xcel under the current arrangement, the economic value of local energy production and ownership could multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
If the city uses its new authority to become a utility, future generations may look back at 11/1/11 as the shot heard round the world – a shot fired for clean, local energy – and ask why more Americans didn’t “go Boulder” sooner.
The low risk and transparency of CLEAN Contract Programs can provide states with more solar at a lower cost than solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) programs, says a new report released last week. Produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), CLEAN v. SREC: Finding the More Cost-Effective Solar Policy finds that an otherwise identical… Continue reading
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
At least 32 states can get 25% or more of their electricity from wind power within their own borders. This map is updated from our 2010 report and namesake, Energy Self-Reliant States. Click here for a larger version.
The only updated figure is Maryland, due to a new report on its offshore wind potential.
A presentation I gave last Friday to the Arizona Corporation Commission.