Tomorrow’s agreement (full details yet to be released) between Canada, Mexico and the US shows the type of leadership we need to build on the momentum created by the Paris Agreement. The goal of getting half the continent’s electricity from “clean energy” by 2025 is well within reach—and eminently affordable given the sharply falling costs of solar and wind energy and projections for continued price declines. In addition, smart investments in transmission can help integrate the continent’s electricity markets more closely while helping to bring on line even more clean, reliable and affordable energy.
For the purposes of this announcement, “clean energy” sources include wind, solar, hydro and other types of renewable energy; nuclear power; fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage; and energy efficiency. It is more apt to call nuclear power and coal and natural gas with CCS low-carbon or zero-carbon energy sources. Nuclear power comes with issues related to safety, radioactive waste disposal and uranium mining wastes, and there is pollution associated with production, transportation and use of coal and natural gas with CCS.
The US, Canada and Mexico are well-positioned to meet the 50 percent clean energy goal by 2025, but it will require robust implementation of current policies and some new ones.
According to EIA data, in 2015 renewable energy (including hydropower) accounted for 13 percent of US power generation, and carbon-free sources provided about 33 percent of US electricity generation. As the largest economy and biggest consumer of electricity among the three countries, progress on renewable energy in the US can go a long way toward meeting the continent-wide goals.
A recent UCS analysis shows that, with the Clean Power Plan and the recent extensions of the federal renewable energy tax credits, the US can get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy (hydro plus non-hydro) by 2025. Adding nuclear power would bring the US total for carbon-free electricity to nearly 46 percent by 2025. In our analysis of the Clean Power Plan, we assumed all states adopt the EPA’s mass-based targets with a “new source complement” and achieve compliance via a nationwide carbon trading program. We also assumed that all states, as part of their compliance strategy, invest in energy efficiency at a level that achieves a reduction in electricity sales of at least 1 percent per year from 2022 to 2030.
For comparison, EIA’s examination of the Clean Power Plan and federal tax credits (the AEO 2016 reference case) estimates that the US would reach 41 percent clean energy by 2025. Depending on how energy efficiency is credited under the proposal to be announced tomorrow the “clean energy” share from the UCS and EIA analyses could be even higher.
Meanwhile, Canada already gets about 80 percent of its power from carbon-free sources, including approximately 60 percent from hydropower and 16 percent from nuclear power. The province of Ontario is the first jurisdiction in North America to completely eliminate coal-fired generation.
Mexico currently gets about a quarter of its electricity from clean generation. The 2015 Ley de Transición Energética (or Energy Transition Law) sets a goal of generating 35 percent of Mexico’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2024.
Together, the US, Canada and Mexico currently get approximately 37 percent of their generation from clean energy sources. With current policies in place, the three countries are projected to get 45 to 49 percent clean energy by 2025, depending on whether the UCS or EIA reference case projections are used for the US. Clearly, some additional policy action will be required—for example through new sub-national or national policies—but it is not a big stretch. With the costs of renewable energy falling rapidly, there’s no reason to shortchange the opportunity to go further.
Canada, Mexico and the US are also members of Mission Innovation, an international initiative of countries that have all committed to doubling their public investments in clean energy research and development over five years. Together with business initiatives, such as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the landscape for clean energy R&D is only getting brighter.
Nevertheless, we can’t take this progress for granted. For example, delivering on the US commitments will require that the Clean Power Plan, which is currently under a legal stay, moves ahead in a robust way, prioritizing renewable energy and energy efficiency as compliance options. Low natural gas prices could also thwart progress on renewable energy. Any erosion of state and federal policy incentives could also deal a blow to meeting those targets.
Enacting new or additional federal and state clean energy policies could help us greatly exceed these targets, and do so cost effectively, but we need Congress and state governments to act!
The commitment to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is also critical as these emissions are on the rise globally. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although it is shorter-lived in the atmosphere. In the US, these emissions are increasing as natural gas production reaches all-time highs (mainly due to increased reliance on natural gas for power generation) and extraction of tight oil increases. Mexico and Canada also have significant methane emissions from their oil and gas operations.
Research shows that cost-effective opportunities to cut these emissions exist in all three countries. By taking steps jointly, they can help ensure that standards and best practices are harmonized across the North American continent.
The next US administration and the new Congress will play a critical role in delivering on the clean energy goals announced today, as well as more ambitious commitments in the years to come. The world and our North American neighbors will be counting on our continued climate leadership.
And while we’re thinking big, here’s to hoping that one of the next breakthrough moments for climate action is a North American carbon pricing initiative, building on the success of existing state and provincial programs in the US and Canada and Mexico’s carbon tax.]]>
Sometimes that is a good thing, particularly when we see water utilities meeting and exceeding Governor Brown’s call for 25 percent water conservation. In other cases, pursuing new, “drought-proof” water supplies can have unintended consequences. Drought-proof supplies, while helping respond to climate change, often require more energy than conventional drinking water sources (see Figure 1 from Clean Energy Opportunities in California’s Water Sector).
For example, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest of its kind in the U.S., was recently completed and provides San Diego County Water Authority with additional drought-proof water supplies, but those supplies have a large energy footprint, requiring around 750 MW per day.
The developers of the desalination plant only committed to sourcing 30 percent of the energy powering the plant from renewables and, therefore, the remainder is likely reliant on fossil fuels. Burning more fossil fuels to adapt to a changing climate is an example of “maladaptation” or actions taken to address climate risks that actually create, perpetuate, or exacerbate climate change.
The water sector is at a crossroads: it can be part of the climate problem or part of the climate solution.
A decade ago, the California Energy Commission concluded that nearly 20 percent of California’s electricity was used by California’s water sector. It is likely that during this prolonged drought, the water sector’s electricity consumption has risen due to increased groundwater pumping (more than half of water consumed in 2015 came from underground) and increased water treatment. Depending on where water utilities are getting electricity, they could be contributing to more global warming pollution.
The difficulty for decision-makers is that many water and wastewater utilities do not track or disclose electricity use, generation sources, and related global warming emissions. Water utilities that are also retail electricity providers must disclose this information because they are required by law to source 50 percent of their retail electricity from renewables by 2030. But the water utilities that do not also sell electricity have no such requirement. This missing data makes it difficult to identify clean energy opportunities.
Fortunately, a bill introduced by Senator Fran Pavley this year (SB 1425) addresses this challenge by creating a voluntary emissions tracking system for projects that reduce the carbon intensity of California’s water system. This new registry will allow for water agencies, large water consumers, businesses and others to voluntarily measure and track their heat-trapping emissions from water pumping, transport, delivery, and heating.
There is great potential within the water sector to reduce its electricity use and associated emissions. Because many water and wastewater utilities have significant electricity purchasing power and own assets and infrastructure that could host renewable generation facilities or provide flexibility for the electricity grid, they are in a unique position to help the state meet (and surpass) its clean energy goals.
The Sonoma County Water Agency began delivering “carbon-free” water last year and a number of other water utilities are close behind, finding ways to power their operations using clean, renewable sources of electricity, and hosting generation projects for other clean energy purchasers. This is good for the state as it can help meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals. It is also good for water customers since clean electricity locks in a consistent price, which protects against fossil-fuel price volatility.
As the state moves toward its new goal of sourcing 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, investing in clean energy solutions has never made more sense.
Much of the action over the last couple months has been in the Senate, where there seems to be very little that folks agree on.
But even as Senator Nofs—who as Chair of the Senate Energy Committee is leading the charge—put forth draft after draft for consideration, not one of them would have moved Michigan forward on renewable energy or energy efficiency. In fact, all of them moved the state backwards—repealing the state’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and replacing them with unenforceable goals or a weak integrated resource planning (IRP) process.
When it comes to clean energy, it appears politics and ideology are dominating over the analytics and evidence that clearly show how renewables and efficiency are a critical element of meeting Michigan’s goals of an affordable, sustainable, and reliable electricity system.
If legislators are serious about achieving a cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable electricity supply for Michigan, then they should be serious about establishing strong standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency that will drive cost-effective investments in these important resources. Renewables and efficiency standards are proven policies that ensure utilities are cost-effectively diversifying electricity supplies with these low-cost and low-risk resources.
Unfortunately, many legislators continue to ignore the success of Michigan’s current clean energy standards and the evidence that highlights the importance of Michigan’s continued commitment to these resources. They prefer instead to hide behind a “no mandates” ideology that does nothing to move the ball forward.
It is the legislature’s job to pass policy that benefits and protects the people and businesses of Michigan. If mandates are proven to be an effective way to accomplish Michigan’s goal of clean, reliable, and affordable electricity, then legislators shouldn’t shy away from these policies.
Much of the discussion has focused on how to replace Michigan’s current renewable energy and energy efficiency standards with an IRP process that would require utility planning every three or four years. But this approach is misguided in that it fails to recognize the certainty that standards provide and the full range of benefits that strong standards deliver to Michiganders.
When you have strong standards driving investments in clean energy resources, complemented by a robust IRP process that determines the most cost-effective and low risk pathway towards meeting those standards, then Michigan will have the structure in place to meet its clean energy goals while maximizing the benefits to ratepayers.
Even more troubling is that the IRP process proposed in the Senate fails in several measures including opportunities for stakeholder engagement, adequate reporting requirements for utilities, and a robust set of criteria on which to base approval or denial of utility plans to spend ratepayer dollars. Even as a complement to Michigan’s clean energy standards, the proposed IRP process falls short. As a proposed replacement, it is woefully inadequate.
In essence, what Senator Nofs has put on the table will not drive investments in Michigan’s cost-effective clean energy resources, will not ensure adequate consideration of ratepayer interests, and will not improve the reliability, sustainability, or affordability of Michigan’s electricity supply.
After all the analysis, testimony, and debate around Michigan’s energy future and the demonstrated need to continue investing in renewables and efficiency, it’s hard to believe that the legislature needs to take the summer recess to again go back to the drawing board. But as the session closed out earlier this month, that’s exactly where we are. Given all that’s at stake, let’s hope legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle come together over the break to craft a proposal that will move Michigan towards a truly diverse, affordable and sustainable energy future.]]>
Right now, Diablo Canyon supplies a large, very inflexible amount of generation onto the grid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That consistency used to be a desirable attribute of nuclear power. But integrating significant amounts of renewable energy is made much easier when grids are flexible and can be managed more dynamically. The state will need that flexibility in the future as we prepare to reach 50 percent renewables by 2030.
PG&E supported the bill last year that raised our RPS to 50 percent by 2030 and is now taking another huge step forward as a clean energy leader.]]>
The analysis compares the economic benefits of installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system coupled with battery storage against a stand-alone solar installation on nine affordable housing units in California. Fifteen-minute interval electricity data from the buildings’ common spaces was used to to model the potential bill savings of both options under current rate structures.
The study found that solar+storage installations can result in significant savings to building owners beyond what can be achieved with solar-only installations if the owners have to pay “demand charges.” These charges are different from the charges associated with the kilowatt hours actually consumed, which can be offset by solar installations through net energy metering (NEM).
Demand charges are tied to the highest level of electricity demand over a billing period and are not usually eliminated by adding solar alone. This is because a building may need to draw large amounts of power when the sun is not shining. The analysis showed that the addition of battery storage can reduce or eliminate demand charges, which results in significant bill savings to the building owner.
The study demonstrates that adding battery storage to a solar PV system can help owners of affordable housing units save money. But what about the tenants of these buildings? California residential rates do not have demand charges, so what’s in it for them?
If building owners can save money using storage, a greater percentage of the solar that would be installed to offset common area load can be used to instead offset residents’ electricity bills. Solar+storage installations can help make buildings more safe and resilient during extreme weather events or other emergencies that bring down the power grid. Finally, coupling solar and storage helps preserve the value of solar as we move away from net metering and towards time-of-use rates that will charge more for electricity when solar PV resources are not generating power.
There is much left to do to make sure the benefits of solar PV reach the communities that are most in need of a clean energy transition. Policies must be in place to make sure affordable housing units are in good physical shape to host solar systems and that residents of these buildings see direct bill savings as a result of going solar. Coupling battery storage with solar can reduce or eliminate demand charges which directly benefits building owners, but if done the right way, these benefits can flow to residents as well.]]>
Solar for All is a product of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Partnership for Southern Equity, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, and is supported by more than a dozen other state and regional organizations.
The report addresses the important issue of solar equity and access, the idea that we need to do more to make sure underserved populations have better access to solar PV systems and the direct benefits that come from them.
The new work rightly points to the benefits to everyone of solar anywhere: the availability of clean energy, often at times when it’s most needed, potentially with important cost reductions across the electric system, and the economic development potential of such a local, distributed technology.
But the report also rightly points to the challenges for low- and moderate-income (LMI) households, involving upfront costs, access to credit, challenges for renters, and more.
So how can utilities be part of the solution? Solar for All spells out three areas where best practices can be brought to bear: “diverse financing options, community solar programs, and programs leveraging existing low-income and rural energy assistance funding.”
Diverse financing. What the authors are pushing for is a range of options for financing PV, options that make PV more affordable for more people. In some cases that’s just about making available to lower-income households what’s already available to others in many states, and has been key to solar’s incredible growth: third-party arrangements like solar leases or power purchase agreements.
A handful of states don’t allow those, and you could imagine that in-state utilities could push to change that. On-bill financing—having the utility finance a purchase—is another approach.
Community solar. Many of us can’t do solar on our own roofs, or don’t own our roofs (renters, for example). Buying into a community solar system is a way of still getting a piece of the action. Solar for All suggests options like creating a carve-out for LMI customers, doing away with upfront costs, siting some of the solar arrays themselves in underserved communities, and incorporating job training.
Leveraging of existing programs. Federal, state, and local programs that are already in place to serve LMI customers—for energy efficiency, for example—can be expanded to cover solar, too, the report suggests. In some cases, that might work best when coupled with efficiency upgrades.
Solar for All offers a range of examples involving solar or energy efficiency, cases of utilities demonstrating interventions that expand access and improve their customers’ situations.
The report focuses on southern utilities, where the authors are based, but includes a broader swath of the country in the examples, and a lot of their points would apply to electricity providers nationwide, even given different regulatory environments.
It’s certainly true that this isn’t an issue confined to just one part of the country. Solar equity has even been a focus of the Obama administration, with an initiative launched last year to expand solar access. And the latest approach to the early-action credit under the Clean Power Plan, released last week, actually offers double credit for solar in low-income areas.
“Solar power,” the report says, “presents an opportunity to provide LMI customers with clean, affordable, renewable energy, helping families to control energy costs while expanding investments in local communities.” Utilities need to be active, helpful partners in making that happen.
Lauren Bowen, an SELC attorney, says that the examples in the report “demonstrate the opportunities and benefits solar power can provide for lower income families and communities of color.” And, she says, “It is time for southern utilities to embrace this effort, to bring the power of the sun to all.”
Solar for All sheds important light on how that can happen.]]>
The approximately 90 participants represented state offices, utilities, grid operators, vehicle manufacturers, electric vehicle charging providers and charging station manufacturers, environmental organizations, and research organizations. Here’s a taste of what we heard.
In opening remarks, the Smart Electric Power Association detailed the growing electric vehicle (EV) market and what it means for the smart grid.
A subsequent panel discussed “The Grid of the Future.” This term encompasses changes in system hardware and software, as well as in the business models underlying the system. Speakers from AEE, Vrinda Inc., RMI, and EPRI shared their thoughts.
Intelligent management of distributed energy resources (DER) has the theoretical potential to improve the efficiency of the grid, if these technologies communicate and cooperate. Rate design and business models are key to enabling these benefits.
Experts from UC Davis, GM, ChargePoint, and RAP discussed the steps necessary to engage consumers in smart charging programs without causing them undue concern about their vehicle’s state of charge. Bob Graham of the U.S. Department of Energy’s “EV Everywhere” initiative moderated.
Panelists emphasized the importance of making smart charging straightforward and convenient for the customer. Driver needs are considered paramount, so smart charging pilots typically offer drivers the ability to enact an override if the vehicle needs to be charged as fast as possible. “Time of use pricing” enables a basic level of smart charging, and successful programs can shift substantial energy demand to off-peak periods through very minor price incentives.
Getting customers enrolled in these pricing plans in the first place can be a more significant barrier, but some programs have had success. In Maui, a majority of customers contacted for a time-of-use pilot chose to enroll when advised of the potential for cost savings, but an even greater majority enrolled when told that doing so could help the grid accommodate more wind and solar power.
Several participants raised the idea of giving drivers three options when plugging in to charge. In one pilot, these options were low, medium, or high cost of charging depending on the driver’s willingness to allow the system to automatically slow or stop charging in response to grid needs. Alternatively, a smartphone app could offer the driver the choice of “Urgent,” “Economy,” or “Custom” charging; “Custom” might be, for example, charging when the greenest power is feeding into the grid.
Energy providers offered their perspectives on how EVs and solar power would impact the grid in the near to medium term. Eversource, National Grid, and the New York Power Authority participated in this panel, with the Edison Electric Institute moderating. EVs can have a potentially significant impact on certain local distribution networks, especially if high-powered chargers are installed at homes.
The economic benefit to utilities from smart charging or from EVs generally depends on their structure; a “decoupled” utility does not earn greater profits from selling more power, and so might have less direct financial incentive to encourage EV adoption. There was considerable discussion about utility investment in communication infrastructure, such as with smart meters.
A panel representing grid operators discussed opportunities for DERs such as EVs to participate in their markets, and help balance supply and demand and ensure reliability:
Grid operators find significant value in having good understanding of what resources are on the grid, and what conditions are present. Depending on how they are designed, DERs can help or hinder this understanding.
The ability of using smart charging to reduce distribution capacity investments (relative to a case with unmanaged charging) is an interesting but uncertain value proposition. Panelists from E3, LBNL, and RMI discussed this topic, with NREL moderating.
Participants noted the very minor impact of EVs on the grid to date, even in areas with high penetration of EVs. What impacts there are tend to be localized, so incentives might need to be localized as well. Utilities do not always have actionable information regarding conditions on the distribution system, and could benefit from smart chargers relaying this data to them.
Experts on rate design from Synapse, RAP, NCLC, and Vrinda Inc. discussed how rate structures might be designed to encourage actions that would reduce overall grid costs. This could enable EVs to provide benefits to the grid, receiving payments for managing their charging without disadvantaging ratepayers who do not have EVs.
Time-of-use pricing may have a role to play, although questions remain about the cost-effectiveness of the necessary scale of deployment of smart meters. Demand charges may lack justification on a true cost basis if they are not based on a customer’s contribution to network or system peak load.
A panel of representatives from Ford, GM, Daimler, and BMW discussed their involvement in smart charging. Their experiences include a range of pilot projects and standards development initiatives. The most important message was that smart charging must prioritize the driver; the vehicle has to be charged when it is needed, and the process should be as simple as possible.
Other observations were the importance of open standards, the presence of communication and control capabilities in today’s vehicles, and the importance of environmental factors in motivating adoption of smart charging. The grid conditions right now do not seem to require smart charging as a solution for problems, but it’s a ready solution.
Other great pieces from the workshop:
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all of my speakers, panelists, attendees, and colleagues for helping to make this event a success.
You can view all the documents here. A longer report is forthcoming.
The fossil fuel companies that have supported and promoted fraudulent science for years have been exposed, too, and are now at a crossroads. The Wizard changed his ways and became a hero. Will these companies do the same? It doesn’t look like it.
In addition to selling oil and coal, these companies have been selling climate denial and funding disinformation about science and clean energy to perpetuate a market for their products, which they have long known were causing dangerous levels of warming that is now resulting in sea level rise, extreme precipitation, heat and more intense storms.
As UCS, investigative journalists, history scholars, nongovernmental organizations, and the chief law enforcement officials in several states unearth damning evidence of the massive climate science deception campaign developed by fossil energy companies, a well-coordinated counter-offensive is unfolding before our eyes.
Behind the smoke, mirrors and hot air, ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy have been the wizards of the fossil fuel industry. They have been orchestrating a climate denial machine for decades.
The release of Peabody bankruptcy documents yesterday gives some insight into the vast denial network. Bankruptcy has forced Peabody to disclose its funding of many of the same agents of climate disinformation that ExxonMobil backed over the years. For example, Peabody’s bankruptcy filings list Arthur G. Randol III as a creditor. Randol is a former ExxonMobil operative who, in 1998, contributed to the development of the American Petroleum Institute’s plan to manufacture uncertainty about climate science and make climate change a “non-issue.” In more recent years, Randol has played a role in industry attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency’s science-based endangerment finding for heat-trapping emissions and the Clean Power Plan.
As that machine—and indeed the entire business model of the fossil fuel industry begins to crumble—companies like ExxonMobil are now hiding behind political allies to assert bogus First Amendment claims, help squelch investigations, and attempt to intimidate advocates.
What does tomorrow hold? It’s hard to tell. The targets of Rep. Smith’s investigation declined to respond to his requests citing his lack of jurisdiction and the violation of our First Amendment rights. But Rep. Smith has demonstrated his willingness to use the subpoena power of his office, so it is likely that we have not reached the end of this particular yellow brick road.
We often look to the parallels with the tobacco industry’s tactics to give us some insights into what to expect next from the fossil fuel industry. What we are learning now is that, while there are similarities, the fossil fuel industry is writing a whole new playbook.
And it is not likely to end with the Wizard sending us safely into the future in a low carbon hot-air balloon.]]>
Animals of the wild sort are on my mind because they’ve been in my life more visibly lately. Recently we’ve seen a possum and some fishers (members of the weasel family) in our yard, and a few weeks ago a curious and out-of-place young fox snarled my morning commute. Last month a raccoon moved into our chimney to use it for child-rearing.
But the possum and fishers stayed outside, the fox didn’t make me miss my train, and the raccoons were on the other side of a solid chimney damper (we couldn’t see each other, but my kids gave them names). And, maybe most importantly—given our need for electricity for cooking, cooling, fridging, and more—none of them disrupted our home electricity supply, and the lights stayed on.
Elsewhere, people (and animals) haven’t been so lucky. As it turns out, animals and our electricity interact a lot more than we may realize. Here are a few recent examples that have hit my inbox:
A new website dedicated to tracking such incidents, CyberSquirrel1.com, has so far mapped 1,368 “successful” “Cyber Squirrel Operations” (and climbing…). Squirrels account for more than half of the take-downs they’ve found, followed by birds, raccoons, and snakes. (Even frogs get a piece of the action.)
It’s not just the U.S. homes and businesses under animal attack. In April a weasel took down the Large Hadron Collider, the (otherwise) very impressive particle accelerator, for days. And just last week a monkey knocked out power in all of Kenya for four hours.
As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, the Brookings Institution even uses animal incidents to put cybersecurity in context, with a Brookings expert saying that “squirrels have taken down the power grid more times than the zero times that hackers have.” CyberSquirrel1 quotes a former NSA official saying natural disaster and squirrels probably come ahead of cyberattacks in terms of threat.
None of that is to say that cyberattacks aren’t worth attention, but it’s important to put them in the broader context of threats to our power system as it’s currently configured.
So what’s a person (or household or city or particle accelerator manager) to do about all this? It comes down to realizing (1) that we’ve got problems and (2) that we’ve got solutions.
The idea that our power grid is increasingly not up to the challenges that face it has been the subject of a couple of recent Union of Concerned Scientists reports. Power Failure: How Climate Change Puts Our Electricity at Risk (2014) looked at a range of threats to our electrical grid from global warming impacts, from coastal flooding and drought to extreme heat and wildfires. Lights Out? Storm Surge, Blackouts, and How Clean Energy Can Help (2015) focused on the threats to coastal power infrastructure from flooding and sea level rise.
Fortunately, there are solutions. Lights Out? points to the power of resilient power, systems that are “flexible, can respond to challenges, can quickly recover, and remain available when we need [them] most.” It cites options including solar or wind systems with energy storage, combined heat and power/cogeneration systems, and microgrids. Clean energy options help both avoid climate change and prepare for it.
Those concepts—about the problems, and about the solutions—actually work pretty well for squirrel threats, too. The notion of incorporating onsite generation and energy storage, and a degree of capacity to operate independent of the larger electric grid, can serve people well. Our world is changing, and our power system should be changing, too.
I expect, if they could, the squirrel, weasel, and raccoon communities would vote for upgrades, not just for more resilience, but for prudent hardening—preventing incidents in the first place. Squirrels, the Washington Post has reported, “remain the biggest wildlife nemesis because of their sheer numbers and smarts,” but those “smarts” often get them into situations that end badly for them, not just power customers. (In the case of the weasel and the LHC, the “unfortunate creature did not survive the encounter.” The Kenyan monkey, though, did.)
And as for our little raccoon friends (Rachel, Rocky, Randy, and Ricky), the solution seemed to be encouraging momma to move out, and to take her babies with her. It didn’t end up going that smoothly. But the chimney is now capped, so our own little bit of hardening is in place.
Lots more ounces of prevention in our power choices could save a whole lot more pounds of problems. For us and our furry friends.]]>
ERCOT, the entity that manages the flow of electric power to some 24 million Texas customers, representing about 90 percent of the state’s electric load, has posted its predictions of where the state will be able to find the cheapest electricity over the next 15 years. Insiders knew this was brewing, and a formal discussion in planning circles is scheduled for June 21.
As it usually does, ERCOT looked at a range of scenarios. The group mapped potential bulk power purchases from 2017 to 2031 under six different scenarios, including low gas prices, high economic growth, etc. And here’s the part that marks a momentous tipping point: solar power emerged as a clear economic winner in the state in all seven scenarios. In other words, ERCOT is saying that the price of solar power in Texas is now low enough that it predicts no other power plant types will be built.
It’s hard to overstate what a remarkable change this under-the-radar industry assessment represents. First of all, this happened in Texas, where competition to supply electricity is unfettered, and existing power plants have no guarantees or privileged status. In this environment, ERCOT is showing that solar is priced low enough to beat the cost of other new plants.
ERCOT’s predictions follow several reports that Texas solar projects have sold energy at ground-breaking low prices. Certainly, Texas benefits from the wide expanses of land and ample sun, but it is just a matter of time and good business development before similar economics take hold in other states as well.
So, one effect of the ERCOT predictions will surely be to increase the pressure on policy makers not to shield existing fossil-fuel generation from healthy competition.
It’s worth looking more closely at ERCOT’s specific findings. By 2031, ERCOT predicts that between 14,500 MW and 27,200 MW worth of new solar farms will be built. Under such a scenario, solar’s share of the Texas grid would rise from under 5 percent to 15 percent. Meanwhile, according to this forecast, no new gas or coal plants would be built unless extremely hot weather were to develop in the state.
The implication is clear: the economics of renewable energy has overtaken politics in Texas. Not only has the introduction of competition squeezed out inefficient fossil-fuel burning plants and rewarded renewable energy, but these same economics are driving Texas to cut carbon emissions.
Sure, in the political realm, Texas is leading the court fight against the federal carbon reduction requirements, known as the Clean Power Plan. But this stance is rendered purely symbolic when Texas’ own deregulated market is moving the state rapidly towards the same clean-energy outcome.
So, how did this happen? It is notable that Texas, along with 29 other states, primed the pump for renewable energy—and learned a great deal in the process—by including a renewable energy content requirement in state law. Texas created a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) in 1999 when it deregulated its electricity market, requiring 2,000 MW of new renewable energy by 2009.
That triggered such a boom in wind development that the Texas legislature raised the requirement in 2005 to 10,000 MW by 2025. Remarkably, Texas exceeded that state requirement 15 years ahead of schedule. Wind power currently makes up some 15 percent of ERCOT’s annual energy supply.
Just as Texas helped prime the pump for wind power, other states help encourage demand for solar power with RES policies of their own. Such policies have led solar prices to drop some 70 percent since 2009. Just as predicted by proponents of renewable energy standards, those jump starts have helped both wind power and solar power to succeed in the marketplace.
As more solar farms successfully beat fossil-fueled electricity generation on price—and more health benefits result from reduced pollution—more grid operators and communities will choose solar energy. After all, lots of places across the United States—even surprising ones such as Georgia and North Carolina—are well suited to go solar.
No matter what, count on one thing: With expected rises in natural gas prices and the continued trajectory of declining solar costs, this Texas phenomenon will certainly spread.]]>