U.S. / Texas Oil Reserves At Highest Levels In Decades

According to data recently released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, crude oil reserves in the U.S are at their highest level since 1976.  In 2012 alone the U.S. added 4.5 billion barrels.  This represents the highest one-year increase since 1970 when Alaskan crude oil was added to U.S. reserves.

Texas alone added nearly 3 billion barrels, thanks to a number of factors including advances in technology for developing so-called tight oil plays, and continued high prices for crude oil which encourages exploration.   The expansion in Texas oil reserves largely reflect development of the Western Gulf and Permian basins.

While most of the country saw increases in reserves, Alaska saw a decline of 500 million barrels and California saw a decline of 33 million barrels.



4 Ways To Reduce Your Home Energy Use & Save Money This Summer

Keeping your home cool and your energy consumption low during the torrid months of summer is a challenge. The average household electricity bill for the June-through-August time period last year was a staggering $395, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The temps are climbing, and if you’re looking for ways to reduce your home energy use and save money, we’ve got some eco-friendly changes and upgrades you can make.

Seal and Insulate

If you have cracks and gaps in your foundation, windows or walls, you are letting cool, air-conditioned air escape and hot summer air in. Subsequently, your HVAC system is working harder to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. Protect your home and wallet by ensuring these areas are properly sealed and your home is adequately insulated. Caulking around windows usually suffices, but if you have very old, rickety windows or window frames, replace them with energy-efficient ones. It’s one of the best things you can do to save energy.

Photo by Nieuw via Wikimedia Commons

Rethink Your Roofing

You won’t reduce your energy consumption by much if you don’t have a well-maintained, efficient roof. Depending on the climate, certain styles of roofing do better than others. In extremely hot climates, light-colored roofs help reflect the sun’s rays and keep your home cooler. Proper attic ventilation is a must—it removes warm air and moisture that cause your air conditioner to work harder and mold to grow.

Photo by Liadmaster via Wikimedia Commons

Upgrade Your HVAC System

Maintaining and regulating your home’s temperature accounts for more than half of your annual energy consumption costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If you’re willing to replace your current heating and cooling system, these green HVAC technologies will significantly reduce your monthly costs.

Request your unit be placed in a sheltered, shaded area of your home to promote longevity and efficiency. If a replacement unit isn’t within your planned budget, you can still make the most of your current system by scheduling regular maintenance appointments and replacing your filters each month.

Employ the help of ceiling or freestanding fans during the summer months. Keep all doors and windows shut. When it starts cooling off outside, open those windows back up to allow for a nice cross-breeze—it’ll help keep your home at a comfortable level.

Photo by Achim Hering via Wikimedia Commons

Turn It off and Unplug

One of the easiest ways to reduce your home energy consumption: Always shut off and unplug your chargers, electronics and small appliances while you’re out during the day. There is no reason to keep everything plugged in, especially in light of the fact that these items continue to consume energy just by being plugged in. Make a habit of putting things away or storing items that are not receiving regular daily use.

Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons

New Transmission Lines To Bring West Texas Wind To Dallas And Austin

Texas is the largest producer of wind energy in the United States by a wide margin.  In fact, Texas is one of the largest producers of wind energy in the world; producing more than all but a hand full of countries.   The development of the state’s wind portfolio has not come without its challenges and setbacks.  For a while it seemed that development of new wind capacity had gone too far; outpacing the ability of the state’s electricity infrastructure to make use of the electricity being generated by the wind turbines sprouting like dandelion weeds in West Texas.

This spurred a multiyear, multi-billion dollar, project to build giant new transmission lines to carry the abundance of West Texas wind energy to the electricity hungry population centers in the eastern part of the state; including the Dallas/Fort Worth and San Antonio metro areas.   The huge project has recently been completed and is expected to boost the state’s electricity infrastructure and further bolster the already impressive wind energy market in Texas.

The transmission lines were first conceptualized in 2005 when lawmakers ordered the PUC to create regions in the state targeted for renewable energy development.  The PUC designated 5 such zones known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ).

In total the project consisted of around 180 transmission projects with an estimated price tag of around $7 billion.  In the early days of the project the price was estimated at closer to $5 billion with 109 transmission projects.

The completed project is capable of transmitting 18,500 megawatts of electricity across thousands of miles of transmission lines. This increases the states capacity by some 50% and even further widens the gap between Texas and California, the nearest state in terms of wind energy capacity.

Wind is already a large and growing contributor to the electricity mix in Texas.  For example, on January 29th, 2013 wind accounted for fully one-third of the electricity needed across the state.   That displaces a significant amount of more carbon-intensive electricity generation such as natural gas and coal.  Natural gas is still the largest source of Texas electricity.

The integration between wind production assets and the state’s electricity grid is seen as a model for other electricity grids struggling to integrate renewable energy into existing infrastructures.   Texas has the benefit of having a more-or-less completely self-contained electric grid that is separate from most of the North American electricity infrastructure.  This allows Texas a level of control that other states don’t have. Not having to deal with a tangled knot of overlapping state and federal regulations and approvals has allowed the state to be successful in such a massive undertaking as the CREZ transmission project as well as other grid modernization initiatives.

The phenomenal growth in Texas wind capacity can be at least partially credited to the foresight of Texas planners who put these transmission plans into motion years ago.  Producers would have been quite reluctant to build new turbines without being assured of the infrastructure to sell their product to the more populous eastern half of the state.

Texans should expect to see new fees on their electric bills as the cost of the project is recouped.

See Also: Largest Federal Wind Farm To Be Built In Texas


Go Green With An Energy-Efficient Car In 2014

The average miles per gallon (mpg) for all new cars purchased from October 2007 to February 2014 in the U.S. was 25.2, according to the University of Michigan’s Transport Research Institute. That number represents a near 5 mpg increase from February 2008.

Average mpg will need to increase substantially more in the next 10 years to reach the Obama Administrations goal of 54.5 mpg for all new 2025 models. But fuel efficient automobiles are still fast becoming the rule, as opposed to the exception. Here are reviews of three of the most energy efficient cars for 2014.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

The i-MiEV is one of the least expensive electric vehicles on the market, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. The electric and gas combination gets the i-MiEV an astounding 111 MPGe, a measure that indicates how far the car can travel electrically on the energy produced from one gallon of gas with a full battery. The battery has a range between 56 and 62 miles before the engine kicks in.

Photo by David Villarreal Fernandez via Wikimedia Commons

San Antonio residents will enjoy free metered parking downtown with this and other hybrids, while those in Austin can receive a rebate up to $1,500 on the purchase and install of a charging station at their home. But the i-MiEV battery takes nearly 24 hours to charge completely with a 110-volt apparatus, seats fewer people than most other electric hybrids and is not known for its speed. Still, its $22,995 MSRP makes it an attractive option.

Toyota Prius C Models

There are four Prius C models for 2014, with the C One being the least expensive. Prius Cs have more interior space and cargo room than the i-MiEV due primarily to the fold-down rear seats. Though the Toyota website boasts a 53 city mpg, Consumer Reports put the number at 43.

Photo by Mariordo via Wikimedia Commons

The Prius became the first mass produced hybrid in 2000, which means there are plenty of used models out there to help you save even more. Those with less-than-perfect credit, however, should beware of unsavory dealerships trying to take advantage of your situation. DRIVETIME recently pointed out how several Dallas-area dealerships not only force buyers to bring cash payments to them as often as once per week, but are also known to repossess if a payment is 24 hours late.

The $19,080 MSRP for the 2014 Prius C One makes it the least expensive on the market, but higher processes and handling fees in Texas will boost this number a bit.

Nissan Leaf

The Leaf is the best-selling electric hybrid worldwide due to its speed, quiet engine and of course fuel efficiency. Its “Eco” driving mode extends the battery range and mpg. The 2014 model also features a visualization program that assists you when parallel parking or backing into a parking space.

Photo by Tennen-Gas via Wikimedia Commons

The Car Connection gave the 2014 Leaf a 7.6 (out of 10) overall rating, but a perfect 10 for fuel efficiency. The Leaf gets 115 MPGe and comfortably seats five. The 4-door hatchback model starts at $28,980 MSRP.



New Forecasts Could Change Texas Electricity Debate

The long running, often contentious debate over the future of the Texas electricity market is about to enter a new phase as both sides of the argument await a key report expected to be released by ERCOT this week.   The debate, now several years old, concerns the potential restructuring of the Texas electricity market to address capacity concerns.

As the state’s economy and population continue to grow, more and more demands are being put on the state’s electric grid.  As the populous demands more electricity, producers are struggling to build out new capacity to meet that demand.  This has resulted in a reserve margin that is too close for comfort for many.  The reserve margin is essentially the amount of extra capacity that can be held in reserve to meet unexpected spikes in demand or the unexpected loss of power plants due to weather or mechanical failure.

Past reports by ERCOT have showed increasingly bleak forecasts with anticipated new capacity not being enough to keep up the anticipated growth in demand.  This has led to a proposal for a so-called “capacity market” for electricity in Texas.  Under a capacity market, producers are paid extra money to have extra capacity available even if that electricity isn’t ultimately used by the grid.  Many people see this as corporate welfare paid by the Texas electricity consumer to power producers.  Not, surprisingly, most of the state’s largest power consumers are opposed to the idea of a capacity market.

Flawed Forecasts

The debate has be further complicated by the unreliability of the forecast models used by the state’s electricity planners in the past.  Forecasts in recent years have greatly overestimated the increase in electricity demand that has accompanied the economic and population growth of Texas.  The new report about to be released by ERCOT uses a revised methodology for forecasting future demand growth.  The new methodology loosens the correlation between economic growth and the growth in electricity demand.  The result should show a better picture with regard to the state’s reserve margin in the coming years.

These new numbers have the potential to turn the debate, leaving proponents of a capacity market in Texas with less ominous data to back their arguments.  This could, in turn, be good news for electricity rates in Texas.  Cheap electricity rates have been blamed for creating the condition where power producers are unable or unwilling to build new power plants to handle future demand.   A capacity market would be specifically designed to inflate electricity rates in order to make it more attractive for energy companies to build power plants in Texas.

See Also: Microsoft Makes Large Texas Wind Power Purchase
See Also: Complaints In Texas Electricity Market Drop Again



Capacity Crisis In Texas Electricity May Be Overblown

The debate about the possibility of a capacity market for electricity in Texas may have just changed.  An updated model for forecasting future electricity demand in the state has been put forth by ERCOT.  The new numbers substantially reduce the growth projections for electricity demand in Texas over the coming years.

In recent years there has been a great deal of hand wringing concerning the ability of the Texas electricity grid to keep up with future demand growth.  This has led to the “capacity market” proposal that would see an overhaul of the state’s deregulated electricity market.  It would lead to higher electricity rates and guaranteed capacity payments to producers of electricity in the state.

The impetus behind the proposed changes is the prediction that the state’s reserve margin for electricity would fall below acceptable limits.  The state targets a reserve margin of 13.75%; meaning that the state’s actual electricity capacity would exceed the expected peak demand by that amount. This is intended to insure against unexpected events that could lead to potential power outages such as unusual weather events or power plant failures.

The state’s most recent projection from May of last year showed the reserve margin falling below target by next year and continuing a downward trend to the single digits over the next few years.  When the new growth projections are plugged in to the May 2013 projection, a different story emerges.  The reserve margin sits at 16.69% in 2015, and grows to 17.88% in 2017 before trending lower again.

Year   Reserve Margin
2014      16.75%
2015      16.69%
2016      17.23%
2017      17.88%
2018      16.35%
2019      13.61%
2020      12.27%

Revised reserve margins based on new methodology.
Source: Energy Choice Matters

ERCOT’s new forecast methodology loosens the correlation between economic growth and increased electricity demand.  This is in response to the fact that recent projections have missed the mark by overestimating the amount of growth in electricity demand in relation to the economic growth the state has experienced.

According to ERCOT, “While peak demand growth has slowed to about 1 percent annually, the economic forecasts and non-farm employment statistics used in recent load forecasts have resulted in growth forecast estimates of 2 to 3 percent in the two- to three-year outlook.”

Although the old model projects a total demand growth of just over 8% in the next 3 years, the new method results in a demand growth projection of just over 4%.  This is a significant difference in a grid the size of the one in Texas.

The proposed new methodology is still subject to a final approval but it’s already been enough to shake up the debate on a capacity market in Texas.  As it stands, the state’s 3 member PUC committee seems to be leaning toward the adoption of a capacity market in some form while Commissioner Ken Anderson stands alone on the committee as a staunch critic of a capacity market.

See Also: Lack Of Water Still A Concern For Texas Electricity Grid
See Also:  Complaints In Texas Electricity Market Drop Again



Far From A Burdon, Electric Vehicles Will Assist The Grid

As electric vehicles have slowly began to transition to the mainstream, some have worried about their impact on the electric grid.  As more real world use data becomes available, it’s looking more and more like those concerns were over blown.  This leads to the next question, since EV’s are not quite the power grid burden we expected, can we somehow create a system that allows electric cars to benefit the larger power structure? This has become the next big endeavor for EV proponents, and up to this point, we are seeing a great deal of promise from emerging technologies.

The most promising of these is certainly vehicle to grid technology. Otherwise known as V2G, vehicle to grid presents a mechanism to meet key requirements of the electric power system by designating the EV’s to act as a form of demand response. When communicating with the power grid as an ancillary service, EV’s can provide frequency regulation by selling electricity through either delivering this power into the grid or throttling their charging rate. This can be looked at as a version of battery to grid power, but applied to vehicles.

In essence, when the grid requires more power to withstand a surge, that power will be tapped from EV’s, rather than traditional power plants. Considering that a car is parked, on average, 95% of the time, the flow of electricity to power lines could bring considerable value per car to utilities over the course of a year.

The key to realizing economic value from V2G is creating a symbiotic relationship with the larger power structure. Once the future smart grids are sophisticated enough to do this on a large scale basis, electric vehicles could help make the system even more reliable. Beyond ancillary services, the future of V2G also includes using the vehicles as a dispersed energy storage for intermittent, but renewable resources, such as wind and solar.

For this to happen though, EV batteries must improve, along with our centralized grid structure. V2G presents complications for the individual batteries, including degradation due to constant cycling, costs related to implementing bidirectional power flow capability (energy storage that can both feed and take power from the grid), metering issues, and complication related to energy guarantees The service life and reliability of batteries could be reduced under such strain, so drivers need an incentive to provide supplementary power to the grid.

Because of the cost premiums related to electric vehicle ownership and power systems interaction, lower EV operational expenses will be a major market driver for innovation and growth. Fortunately, with the gains we are making in energy storage tech, this will likely become less of an issue when V2G reaches the point where it becomes a viable, widescale option.

Electric vehicles are expected to make up close to 7% of all global automobile sales by 2020 (an estimated 6.6 million units sold in that year alone), so the future of EV is bright. Vehicle-to-grid is not only an important supplement to this growth, it is essential.

Along with the ability for technology to provide very fast regulation, it also contributes to environmental protection, system reliability, and oil independence. EV, combined with V2G technology, can provide a more seamless transition to the emerging sustainable energy economy, and by doing so, greatly increasing energy security benefits for the entire population.

See Also: Texas Clean Energy Coalition Report Provides Incentive For Renewable Energy
See Also: Texas Tops States in Grid Modernization

Eco-Friendly Water Solutions for Your Home

energy efficient and eco friendlyWe take showers, and cook and relax by the pool without a second thought, but water remains a scarce resource in some places at home and many countries abroad. The world’s population grows by about 80 million people per year, according to UNwater.com, so water conservation efforts become more important as time goes on. Luckily, revolutionary innovations in water conservation and more broadly, energy efficiency, are changing the way we use the resources at our disposal. These products will help you use less water and lower your carbon footprint:

In The Bathroom

Toto Eco Drake: Most serious conservation efforts are the result of subtle changes that add up to big results. With its E-Max technology, the Toto Eco Drake toilet uses just 1.28 gallons of water per flush. Older toilets use more than 3.5 gallons per flush. Over the course of a year, owners can save hundreds of dollars on their water bills and conserve water in their regions. The Toto Eco Drake is ADA compliant, and received a CalGreen rating on its ecoScorecard.

Uji Shower Head: Many manufacturers have adopted low-flow technology that reduces the amount of water streaming out of a shower head, but a young startup is taking shower conservation to the next level. The Uji Shower Head starts out as a bright green color but turns red once it hits around seven minutes in. According to developers, this friendly visual reminder cuts shower time by 12 percent on average. The Uji Shower head is already saving colleges money by reducing water in the dorms, and it may be just the water saving cue your family needs.

In The Kitchen

LG TrueSteam: Dishwashers demand more water than any appliance in the house, so an energy-efficient machine can save you hundreds of gallons per year. The LG TrueSteam is 30 percent more efficient than standard Energy Star machines, according to LG’s website. TrueSteam’s Direct Drive motor offers high-efficiency performance to get your dishes cleaner with less water. Customize water pressure for each rack with LG’s dual-stream spray option. This highly rated machine will save you time, money and most importantly, water.

Grohe K7 Faucet: Anyone who cooks will appreciate the flexibility and performance of the Grohe K7 faucet. Eco-friendly owners will appreciate Grohe’s water conservation efforts. The K7 is an eco-friendly, Watersense-certified faucet with a locking dual spray control that switches back and forth between regular flow, and spray mode. With a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute, the K7 is one of the most efficient high-end faucets on the market.

Around The House

Energy-efficient light bulbs remain one of the most popular ways to stay green around the house. The GE 13-Watt SmartTM bulb is one of the most popular, well-rated, and affordable bulbs on the market. If you’re looking for a more substantial eco-friendly investment, energy saving windows keep conditioned air from seeping out of the house and prevents the sun from warming up your home. Find more information on eco-friendly products at www.energysavings.com, which features products and prices that will help you further reduce your carbon footprint.

Lack Of Water Still A Concern For Texas Electricity Grid

Water scarcity continues to be a concern for the Texas electricity grid.  In the United States, energy production is responsible for about half of the water use across the country. Plants that produce energy through the use of fossil fuels and nuclear fusion need to be continually cooled with a constant water supply. If the water is not available, then the plant cannot be online. When this happens, plants have to be shut down and power production is lost. If enough power plants go offline, the entire Texas power grid could topple.

In Texas, the hot weather in the summer can stretch the state’s limited fresh water supplies. That drought cannot simply be stemmed by importing water from other parts of the country. Water is required to produce electricity, and lack of water could easily result in power outages for the state’s strained electrical grid.

Texas can have especially dry hot summers, which lower water supplies just as electricity demand peaks. There are concerns coming from ERCOT, the Texas regulatory commission responsible for the state’s electricity grid, that the water supply could be depleted or energy production might not reach the levels of demand because of a lack of water.

Studies have shown that greater efficiency in energy production can reduce the need for water to be used as a coolant. The U.S. Department of Energy does not have a policy regarding water use for energy production, but some forms of energy production are more efficient than others.

For example, a plant that uses natural gas to produce energy converts two-thirds of the gas it uses into energy. This results in less waste than from a plant that is fired by coal.  Renewable energies tend to have even less water demand.  However, despite leading the country in wind energy production.  Texas still gets a relatively small percentage of its power from renewable energy sources.

Cheap natural gas has not only brought down electricity rates in Texas, but has managed to displace coal as a source of power generation.  This tends to have a positive impact on the state’s water issues but serious challenges remain with regard to the state’s water and energy needs.

See Also: Texas Gets Its First 100% Solar Energy Electricity Plan
See Also: Microsoft Makes Large Texas Wind Power Purchase
See Also: Water And Energy: A Double Dilemma In Texas



Texas Clean Energy Coalition Report Provides Incentive For Renewable Energy

The clean energy advocacy group Texas Clean Energy Coalition (TCEC), in a new report entitled Exploring Natural Gas and Renewables in ERCOT II, Future Generation Scenarios for Texas, provides an in-depth analysis of the future energy supply prospects of the State of Texas, based on existing technology, with a realistic and somewhat conservative analysis. It is the first report of its kind, overshadowing previous somewhat simplistic modeling, and utilizing high-end modeling techniques and highly developed statistical analysis.

The study examines the current Texas electricity grid, based on the current power supply supplied through the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) —power grid. ERCOT manages electricity provided to 23 million Texas residents, supplying 85% of the state’s electric load. Varied energy sources are considered in the present grid, from coal-fired electric plants, electricity supplied by natural gas, as well as renewable energy’s current contribution to Texas power in the form of wind-powered electricity and solar energy.

Texas is already the state producing the most wind-powered electricity in the country, with more than 12,000 megawatts of current capacity, more than double that of any other state in the U.S.  40% of Texas’ electricity is currently produced from natural gas plants, while the state itself is the leading producer of natural gas in the United States. Additionally, the state of Texas has an abundance of natural sunlight all year round, which makes increased reliance on electricity through solar power both a reliable and economically advantageous proposition. Texas currently gets 10% of its energy from renewable sources, and the study suggests an increase in reliance on renewable resources prospectively reaching between 25% to 43% over the 20 year scope of the report.

Using various scenarios and models with major factors considered such as possible public environmental policy, the likelihood of a slight decrease in the cost of producing electricity through renewable sources, relative stability in the cost of natural gas vs. significantly higher prices for natural gas, and the required power reserve margin, the topic is examined not in the context of a “tree huggers” utopia, but realistically, and more importantly, in terms of costs and profits for power companies—how planning for the future, based on numerous likely scenarios and variables, may make investing in facilities for renewable resources along with an increase in reliance on natural gas powered plants, a strategy with long-term economic benefit for the state. The report, then, takes a pragmatic approach rather than taking on the tone of an environmental crusade.

A by-product of the report, is that it can provide incentive for policy makers who are interested in reducing reliance on “dirty” energy, such as supplied by coal powered plants, to pursue a stricter policy in reduction of carbon emissions, with a resultant increase in reliance on wind, solar and natural gas. Such an incentive for policy makers is not directly insisted on by the report, but it could be a beneficial by-product, in that a stricter policies on carbon emissions, one of the scenarios explored here, while perhaps making coal-fired plants less profitable, or in the strictest scenario, making them unprofitable and essentially forcing coal-operated plants closed, would not necessarily result in higher energy prices or loss of profit as a whole to the industry. With planning, low-cost energy could be maintained with clean energy supplies, alongside a stable profit margin for power producers, by investing more heavily in renewable energy resources, alongside an increase in reliance on the clean energy produced by natural gas fired power plants.

Through the study all involved can take a realistic look at the next 20 years of increasing energy needs in Texas, and while the study does not focus on environmental benefits, the thrust of the report is that there are both economic benefits to a greater investment in renewable energy and gas, with the implied side benefit of less impact on the environment (less pollution). If power companies can maintain profits while saving the environment, why not? It is a win-win situation for everyone involved. This is especially poignant in view of the fact that Texas’ energy requirements are expected to double over this same 20 year time period, placing a tremendous demand on existing resources. The topic of how to meet future energy demands is something that needs to be addressed regardless of the one’s environmental position, so the question becomes, simply, which direction to point the arrow. The report implies that pointing in the direction of clean energy makes economic sense for everyone involved by adequately covering a wide range of possible scenarios including future technological developments.


See Also: Microsoft Makes Large Texas Wind Power Purchase
See Also: Texas State Senator Pressures ERCOT to Leave Reserve Margins Unchanged