Electricity Usage In Texas Grew In 2015 Led By Renewables

ERCOT, the Texas electricity authority, reported an increase in total system-wide electricity usage for 2015.  This is due in large part to record breaking summer demand for power which saw a peak demand record of almost 70,000 megawatts.  In total, Texans served by ERCOT consumed 347.5 million MWh of electricity which constituted a 2.2% increase in demand over 2014.

2015 saw a streak of new record peaked demand periods.  The top 5 all-time peak demand records all came within a one week period in the summer.

69,877 MW — Aug. 10, 2015
69,775 MW — Aug. 11, 2015
68,979 MW — Aug.   6, 2015
68,731 MW — Aug.   7, 2015
68,683 MW — Aug.   5, 2015

Wind continued its ascendance in the Texas electricity market, surpassing nuclear to become the third largest source of power.   Wind energy accounted for 11.7% of the state’s power usage for the year.  Cheap natural gas meanwhile continued to displace coal generation.  For the year natural gas accounted for almost half of the state’s power while coal fell from 36.0% to 28.1%.

Energy usage in 2015 consistently exceeded 2014 with only the month of December seeing a decrease over the previous year due to moderate weather.

ERCOT Cheap Electricity 2015 Usage

The mild and windy December led to an impressive showing for Texas’ wind portfolio.  On December 20th Texas set a new all-time record for wind energy production with wind turbines contributing over 40% of the system-wide electricity at times.  For many, this came as proof that the state’s infrastructure can, in fact, handle the intermittent nature of wind power without causing problems for the grid.

2015 also saw the first Texas city to commit to becoming become 100% dependent on renewable energy.  What made the announcement of Georgetown all the more remarkable is the fact that the switch is driven by the desire for cheap electricity rather than purely environmental considerations.

See Also:  Texas Electricity Capacity Adequate For Spring And Summer Of 2015
See Also: ERCOT Releases The 2014 Breakdown Of Electricity Generation In Texas

Steps To Take For A Greener, Healthier Home 

lower monthly electric billIf you’re an environmentally conscious consumer, the first place you’ll want to start being green is in your home. After all, you control many different factors in your house, and it will be easiest for you to begin there. If you’re stumped on what you should do first, this handy guide will help you along the way. From environmentally friendly pest control to ways to make your home more energy efficient, here are ways you can make your home greener.

Energy Efficiency

The best parts about making your home more energy efficient? It usually will save you money, too. It’s estimated that the 115 million households in this country use about 22.5 percent of the country’s energy, which is a staggering amount. The average American family usually spends about $2,200 a year on utilities, according to the EPA. By following some of the these tips, you can save about 25 percent on your bill.

There are many different ways to accomplish this. The first starts with your thermostat. If you use a programmable one like Nest, you can set the temperature so it turns off when you’re not there and clicks back on when you’re about to arrive home. If you’re the type that likes your home hot or cold when you arrive, using a programmable thermostat is a great way to ensure that it’s the desired temperature when you walk in the door without you having to shell out for or waste unnecessary energy. Other quick tips include:

  • Air dry clothing and dishes
  • Turn off electronics when they’re not in use
  • Lower to the water heater to 120 degrees
  • Take shorter showers
  • Consider purchasing Energy Star-certified appliances.

Eco-Friendly Pest Prevention

Yes, it’s possible to have green pest prevention. Sure, it might be easier for you to head to the store and buy the can on the shelf, but that can might contain toxins that can be seriously detrimental to your health. A study published in the medical journal Cancer found that “kids with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were seven more times likely than healthy kids to have grown up in a home that was treated regularly by a professional exterminator,” as reported by the Huffington Post.

If you do have a pest problem, there are steps you can take to combat them using eco-friendly methods. One great resource to start with is the site beyondpesticides.org. When you visit, you can search by state to find a green pest control provider. Another great sign to look for is the Green Shield Certified logo. This nonprofit certification program is only handed out to companies that practice “smarter, more effective pest control without unnecessary pesticide use.” Visit greenshieldcertified.org to find providers that meet this criteria and learn more about the program.

You also can learn more about the insects themselves. Sites like insects.org are a great place to start. By brushing up on your knowledge of, let’s say, termites, you’d learn that you can use parasitic nematodes to naturally destroy a termite population. This will not only allow you to use a more biological method of getting rid of those pests, but also can save you the money you would have spent on an exterminator.

Go Green At Home To Save Money: 7 Items To Upgrade

Solar panels with Electric Company WorkerThere are many reasons to go green at your home. Not only are you helping the environment, conserving water and energy, but you’re also saving your own pocketbook. Cut down your water and electricity bill with a few upgrades around the house, saving money in the long run and helping Mother Earth.

Household Appliances

Upgrading and investing in your appliances is a great way to help the environment as well as your wallet. Although new appliances can be a bit expensive at first, finding appliances that are Energy Star-certified will save you money in the long run, and eventually pay for themselves. For example, Energy Star-certified Whirlpool dishwashers have a sensor that determines how dirty your dishes are and adjusts the water amount used based on the dishes, ensuring not to waste more water than needed. It also has space for more dishes, thoughtfully using every crevice, giving you a bigger bang for your buck.

Proper Insulation

A poorly insulated home allows air to leak out around your windows and doors causing your energy bill to skyrocket. Whether your home has no insulation or a thin layer, adding insulation can pay for itself within a few years as your electricity bill drops. Since heating and cooling your home account for 50 percent of the energy consumed, proper insulation ensures efficient heating and cooling of your space.

Solar Panels

Utilizing the natural (and free) power of the sun is a great way to cut down your energy use and your electricity bill. Although a bit pricey up front, solar panels installed on your roof not only save you money and cut down energy consumption but send any excess energy back to your utility company. Look for any incentives and tax breaks from your state government to install solar panels for your home for additional savings.

Energy-Efficient Windows

Thanks in part to better insulation, energy efficient windows keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Windows labeled Energy Star are a great upgrade if you’re looking to go green to save some green. These windows basically pay for themselves from all the money you’ll be saving on your energy bill.

Eco-Conscious Lighting

Although more costly than traditional incandescent light bulbs, LED and CFL bulbs use less energy, last longer and saving you more money in the long run. CFL light bulbs can save you a whopping 66 percent on energy and 400 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to their incandescent counterparts, according to an infographic on Huffington Post.

Programmable Thermostat

Upgrade to a programmable thermostat that regulates your home’s temperature instead of allowing it to continue heating or cooling. When the temperature in your home drops below or rises above a designated temperature, your thermostat will turn on the system for either heating or cooling. In addition, setting your thermostat one degree lower during the winter and one degree higher during the summer can save you money on your energy bill without a big sacrifice of your comfort.

Low-Flow Water Fixtures

Upgrade your home’s water fixtures to low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets. This will cut your water bill costs as well as conserving our precious resource. While you’re at it, make sure you fix all of your leaks which waste a lot more water than you would imagine.

Wind Energy Provides Cheap Electricity In Texas

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, a government run agency responsible for collecting, analyzing and reporting on energy related matters, is predicting that Texas will continue to break records for electricity provided by wind power.

Peak Texas Wind Electricty

This is not a bold prediction considering that the state has recently put together a string of new all-time highs for wind energy output based on peak supplies of electricity being fed to the state’s grid.  Recent record wind days include the following:

  • October 22, 2015 – 12,238 megawatts
  • October 21, 2015 – 11,950 megawatts
  • September 13, 2015 – 11,467 megawatts
  • February, 2015 – 11,154 megawatts

There are a number of factors at play that are contributing to the recent all-time highs.  This autumn in Texas has been unseasonably warm and windy allowing for the perfect conditions to make use of the state’s large and growing portfolio of wind turbines.

Already the largest producer of wind electricity in the U.S., Texas continues to see more capacity brought online month after month.  This is thanks in large part to generous subsidies paid by the federal government to encourage investment in wind turbines.

One could make the case that the continued growth in wind power is due entirely to government subsidies when you consider that during a period in 2013 and 2014 when the subsidies were allowed to lapse, installation of new wind capacity in Texas and the rest of the country virtually ceased.  The eventual renewal of the subsidies in 2014 saw an immediate resumption of investment in new wind energy capacity in Texas.

Texas Wind Capacity

Unlike fossil fuel sources such as coal and natural gas, the production cost of electricity from wind is almost entirely front loaded in the cost of putting up the turbines.  After they are up, the incremental cost of each additional watt of electricity is negligible.   This, coupled with the bonus money paid by the government for each kilowatt of electricity produced from wind can lead to some very cheap energy for Texas consumers.  In many cases, it leads to free electricity.

To compare electricity providers who offer cheap and sometimes free electricity plans visit vaultelectricity.com

How Solar Power Technology Can Reduce Your Energy Costs And Carbon Footprint

solar energy savingsThis month a team of students from the Stevens Institute of Technology won the Department of Energy’s biennial Solar Decathlon for building the best solar-powered home. Inspired by Hurricane Sandy, the SURE HOUSE, which stands for SUstainable + REsilient, is designed to continue to produce electricity during blackouts by using a solar array in combination with a 60s-style beach house design and boat building materials. The house uses 90 percent less energy than its conventional counterparts and can even supply neighbors with emergency power for electronic devices.

The Solar Decathlon illustrates the Department of Energy’s focus on developing solar technology as a solution for America’s energy future. Solar photovoltaic panels now cost half of what they did in 2011, a trend the DOE seeks to advance with a $53 million research initiative, announced last year, to drive solar energy costs down even further and cut carbon pollution. The DOE estimates that there is now enough solar power being generated every year to power 3.2 million average American homes. Here are a few ways you can use solar power to cut your energy costs and reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

Indoors

Heating consumes about half the energy of the average home, but you can cut this cost in half by using passive solar heating and cooling, according to the Department of Energy. This strategy uses a home’s location and materials to economize energy use. Active heating strategies add the pumping of solar-heated air or fluid through a home. Relying entirely on active heating is not usually cost-effective, so it is usually used to supplement passive heating.

For existing homes, start with an energy audit before pursuing any solar installations so that you can identify your most efficient potential improvements. When designing new homes, a passive energy strategy requires that part of the south side of your home has an unobstructed view of the sun. Your building designer will need to factor in considerations such as the orientation and size of the windows, the thermal energy absorbed by other materials in your home, how absorbed energy will be distributed through your house, and how to use features such as roof overhangs to prevent summer overheating. After your home is built, be sure to keep south-facing glass clean and to avoid blocking sunlight from hitting heat-absorbing walls or concrete slab floors.

Water heating, your home’s second-biggest energy cost, can also be done more efficiently by using solar power. Here you can select between passive and active systems. The cheapest type of passive option is an Integral Collector Storage (ICS) system, where a solar-heated water storage area heats cold water flowing through it. In more expensive thermosyphon systems, collected warm water rises through a higher storage tank as cooler water sinks. Active systems add circulating pumps and controls to circulate water either directly or indirectly using a heat-transfer fluid and heat exchanger. Which option is best for you depends on your solar resource, climate, and budget.

Outdoors

Using solar-powered lights to illuminate your yard is one of the easiest ways to use solar energy. Have a pool or a hot tub? Save money on your electricity bill and switch to solar power to cut the cost of heating your outdoor pool or hot tub.

In Your Car

For the first time, this year’s Solar Decathlon entrants were required to design their homes to generate enough energy to power a battery-electric vehicle in addition to the residence itself. Contest rules did not permit contestants to store electricity generated from the home’s roof in the car’s battery, but this could be easily done. Meanwhile, Ford has been working on improving the efficiency of solar panels in the roofs of electric cars, according to Consumer Reports. Soon you may be able to power an electric car from your home and car solar panels and leave no carbon footprint.

Texas PUC Agrees To Electricity Fee Rate Hike

Electricity Demand OutlookThe Texas Public Utility Commission has agreed to a rate hike that will affect almost every electricity user in the state.  The rate increase comes in the form of an increase in the “System Administration Fee” collected by ERCOT.  ERCOT is the entity responsible for maintaining the state’s electricity grid.

The fee isn’t charged directly to consumers.  Rather, it is assessed on every kilowatt of electricity purchased from the wholesale electricity market in the state.  Retail electric companies such as TXU, Reliant and Cirro, purchase power from the wholesale market and resell that electricity to end users in the retail market.  Any increase in the wholesale cost of electricity will ultimately be pass through to consumers.

While the Texas electricity market is the largest deregulated market in the country, parts of it are still subject to public oversite.  The PUC must approve fee increases requested by ERCOT.  The system administration fee will be going up 19.4%; taking it from 46.5 cents per megawatt to 55.5 cents per megawatt.

Although the actual impact on Texas electricity rates will be small, consumer groups are still less than thrilled to see rate increases of any kind.   The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power points out that because the fee is based on usage, an increase in the rate along with an increase in the state’s power consumption will result in a net gain in revenue for ERCOT of more than 50% in less than 10 years.

The justification given for the rate increase was the need to finance new technology, comply will new (federal) regulations, and keep pace with inflation.   ERCOT says it hopes to hold the fee steady at least through 2020.

The 3 member panel in charge of the PUC warned ERCOT against getting too comfortable with large rate increases.

“I don’t want to see double digit increases in the future,” said Commissioner Kenneth Anderson.  “This is a one-time deal.”

The increase will go into effect in 2016.

See Also: Capacity Crisis In Texas Electricity May Be Overblown

 

 

3 Simple Ways To Save Energy And Money

Solar EnergyWhen it comes to energy conservation, you can now save the planet and your hard-earned money. If you’re ready to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle, the following practices will help you feel better about your carbon footprint and let you watch the savings pour in.

Take Shorter Showers

To take short showers, here’s a tip: Listen to music while you shower and never stay under running water for longer than two songs — and, ideally, one. The more time you spend getting doused by hot water, the more energy is being used to heat the flow and the more money is running down the drain.

Another counter-intuitive way to reduce water use is to take more showers. If you shower once per day and find yourself routinely taking more than five minutes to get clean, take two quicker showers instead. This method keeps you fresher all day and means you don’t have to stay in the bathroom so long. It’s the perfect blend of time management, water management and budget management.

Invest in Solar Panels

By this point, you should know that low-flow shower heads, energy-efficient lightbulbs and double-paned windows better maintain your indoor temperature. In addition to these simple solutions, consider buying energy-efficient refrigerators and stoves.

The best move you can make, however, is installing solar panels. The only problem is the initial investment; it may take a few years to save enough on electricity to pay for the panels, depending on how cheap your fossil fuel-powered electricity is and how much sunlight your house gets. Google recently came up with a solution for knowing how much solar energy can help your home. Its Project Sunroof estimates the exact amount of sunlight that hits any roof and enables you to measure how long it would take to reap savings off of an initial investment. Unfortunately, it is only available in parts of California and Boston so far, but it will soon be expanding its scope so that everyone can make the most-informed decision.

Take Charge of Your Mobile Device

How many times per day do you charge your devices? Between a laptop, tablet, mobile phone, e-reader and every other gadget in your arsenal, you are likely plugged into the electric grid more often than you would like to admit.

To lessen your impact, maximize each charge. Use your device’s power-saving mode or switch over to airplane mode when you don’t need to be connected. Better still, purchase a phone that has an Ultra Power Saving Mode, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, that helps your phone last longer and waste less energy.

These moves alone won’t solve global warming, but they help foster a mental shift. The more you look to make the small, no-brainer moves, the more you will find your whole way of thinking change about conservation. And as the baby steps increasingly lead to larger changes, you really will be making a difference and Mother Nature will thank you.

Texas And Oklahoma Ban Fracking Bans

frackingIn Texas, where electricity rates have been on the decline, the natural gas boom has brought about both cheap electricity and bolstered the state’s economy.

The technique of “fracking”, or injecting water in high-pressure jets to fracture shale deposits and release pockets of oil and gas to the surface, has been widely touted by its supporters as a way to achieve energy independence from foreign sources of fuel. We all remember cries of, “Drill, Baby, drill!” echoing throughout the land. In the wake of 2005’s Energy Policy Act, fracking started taking hold, and it has been growing ever since.

Is Fracking Causing Earthquakes?

In the Dallas metro area, which had seen almost no earthquake activity in the 58 years prior to 2008, there have been more than 130 temblors since.  Irving, Texas recently experienced 11 quakes in 24 hours. Oklahoma has been hit particularly hard: Having only had a handful of quakes measuring a magnitude of 3.0 or greater on the Richter scale per year from 1975 to 2008, it has seen a huge increase in seismic activity: In 2009, there were 20 earthquakes measuring 3.0 or greater; in 2011, among almost 60 such quakes, the largest earthquake in Oklahoma’s history, a 5.7 magnitude tremor, occurred. The number of earthquakes has shot up even more since then: 2013 saw 109 such earthquakes, and in 2014 there were 585. Based on numbers so far this year, it’s possible that Oklahoma will have 900 such earthquakes.

In a report issued early in May, researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas concluded that oil and gas activities are “most likely” the cause for the increased seismic activity in the area they studied around the towns of Azle and Reno, near Fort Worth, which sit atop the Barnett Shale, an oil-and-gas-rich geological formation into which 17,500 new wells have been drilled over the past 15 years. The specific activity that could be linked with the quakes is not the fracking itself, but the disposal of wastewater by-product by injecting it, also at high pressure, into deep wells, which apparently causes shifting around existing faults, thereby causing the tremors.

While the SMU report resists drawing a definite conclusion as to cause, the United States Geological Survey doesn’t hedge: A USGS report released in April states that, “Earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States. The increase has been linked to industrial operations that dispose of wastewater by injecting it into deep wells.”

States Prevents Cities from Banning Fracking

In its most recent legislative session, The State of Texas passed a law prohibiting local communities from enacting bans on any fracking or drilling activity–including the use of injection wells. This law is seen as a reaction to a municipal ban enacted by the town of Denton in North Texas, whose citizens were concerned about wells that were being drilled in residential areas. The oil and gas industry felt that this ban impinged upon their property rights, and The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA), along with the state’s General Land office, filed a lawsuit against the City of Denton the day after the ban was passed.

The industry went to the Texas legislature to head off any further municipal uprisings, and House Bill 40, which prohibited any further bans, was born. Passed by the Republican legislature and now signed into law on May 18 by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who characterized the legislation as a move to limit government bureaucracy.

Denton Residents say the wells have polluted the local water, and there has been increased drilling within 200 feet of schools, public parks, and even homes.

For its own part, after years of denying any link between the burgeoning seismic activity and the growth of the fracking industry, specifically the use of wastewater injection wells, Oklahoma has taken a surprisingly strong step in acknowledging it. The Office of the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment has created a website called Earthquakes in Oklahoma ( http://earthquakes.ok.gov/ ), which features an interactive earthquake map that shows how earthquakes have gone from being very few and scattered around the state in the pre-fracking era to being numerous and concentrated in very specific locations.

Although the map itself does not state that these are the areas in which fracking activity is also concentrated, the section of the website labeled “What We Know” does affirm that the recent rise in seismic events can’t be attributed fully to natural causes and goes on to state that “The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.”

However, the state of Oklahoma has followed Texas with similar legislation against fracking bans. A week after Abbott signed off on the Texas law, Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin, signed a bill into law that would prevent municipal regulations of drilling activities, causing Norman, OK Mayor Cindy Rosenthal to voice concern that cities might not be able to regulate the disposal of wastewater into the drainage basins of municipal water supplies.

In Texas, natural gas is the largest source of electricity generation electricity companies and consumers have both benefited from cheap natural gas in the last several years.

 

 

The Beauty Of Energy Efficiency In Your Home

smart home energy efficiencyYou don’t have to only focus on the utilitarian parts of your house when trying to make it more energy efficient. You can focus on more than adequate insulation in the attic, energy-efficient window panes and washers that use very little water. There also are eco-friendly designs that are lovely to look at. When updating your home, consider the following ideas:

Let Landscaping Play Double Duty

There are many landscaping options that look great and help cut down on your home’s energy use. Better Homes and Gardens recommends planting deciduous trees on the west and south sides of your home because the leaf-filled trees shade your home during the hottest part of the year and then, in the winter when the leaves fall off, the branches let sunlight through to warm the house.

Hang Window Coverings

When it comes to being more energy efficient, a great place to start is with your window coverings, especially if your windows are not well insulated. Window treatments can complement any type of room design while also helping to maintain the light and temperature of your room. Depending on which direction your windows face, hang blackout curtains to keep harsh summer light from heating up your room or install solar shades to let in natural light without letting UV rays damage your furniture. Also look for window treatments made from eco-friendly materials. For example, The Shade Store offers shades and blinds made from bamboo and other low-impact materials.

Run Ceiling Fans

To avoid running the A/C non-stop during the summer, add ceiling fans to your most-used rooms. In addition to being budget friendly and easy to find, they use a low amount of energy — about the same as a 100-watt light bulb. Check out the Energy Star website prior to shopping to make sure you purchase an energy-efficient model.

To keep your home as cool as possible, set the fan to turn counterclockwise during the warm months and clockwise during the winter. Many people find that they can turn their thermostat up a few degrees during the summer, which can lead to saving up to 40 percent on energy bills, according to Redbeacon. In the winter, a spinning fan also can help push warm air back down into the room. This allows you to lower your heat and save around 10 percent.

Let in Natural Light With Skylights

Consider installing a few skylights in the rooms you use the most. With skylights you can take advantage of natural light and not turn on the lights inside your home during the day, which can lead to huge savings. The DIY Network offers great advice and tips for homeowners who want to install skylights themselves or you can hire a professional if you’re not up for a big project.

For rooms that get hot, a self-ventilating skylight allows you to vent the room as well as let natural light in. Venting also is great for cooler days and nights when you want to let accumulated heat out.

Simple Ways To Boost Energy Efficiency In Your Home Office

home-officeYou spend a lot of time in your home office, so why not make that time efficient for your home? With a few easy and simple steps you can make your office work for you and help save your hard-earned dough.

Wind Power

If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, make the cool air you do have count by replacing the overhead light with a flush ceiling fan. Adjust the fan to turn counter-clockwise in the summer, that way the cool air will stay lower while the fan pushes hot air up. Even if you do have air conditioning, a fan allows you to run your air less often. Cool the house, then turn off the air and let the fans do the work. Reverse the blade direction for winter to circulate warm air down.

Keep the Sun Out

Direct sunlight can heat up your office quickly, so take measures to minimize the direct light throughout the day. In fact, proper landscaping can help save you up to 40 percent on your energy bill, according to LandscapeforLife.org. Outside, nearby trees and shrubs can provide shade to your windows. Notice where the sun is at its hottest and at what angle the sun shines in. Plant a new tree or shrub in the path between the sun and your window. Inside, install energy-efficient window coverings. Light-filtering cellular blinds are a good option because you can still keep your office cool without sacrificing natural light.

Get Your Green On

Houseplants improve perception of work as well as your attitude. Plants also help reduce molds and bacteria in the air, as well as other toxins. Boston Ferns and Bamboo have been shown to be among the most effective at reducing formaldehyde in the air. Many plants that are suitable for an indoor environment are also low-maintenance. Adding some greenery to your office space will not only help you feel good about your work but will also make you healthier.

Electronics Pitch In

Like many of us, you probably have your fair share of electronics in your home office. Make sure they are pulling their weight by plugging all of them into a power strip. Not only will you be protected in case of a power surge (think: summer thunderstorms) but you can simply flip the switch on the strip when you are done working for the day, turning everything off. Switch from a desktop computer to a laptop and you’ll save money too as laptops use less energy than a traditional desktop. Beware of “sleep” or “hibernate” modes when you shut down. In both modes, your computer is still drawing energy (same is true with light fixtures throughout your house), so better to shut it down completely.

Light Cheaply

Cheap doesn’t mean buy dated 1970s fixtures from the thrift store. Since you spend much of your day in your office, in a variety of lighting conditions, it’s important to optimize light for those conditions as well as the kind of work you do. All lights in your room should have LED, CFL or halogen bulbs, all of which can save you up to 80 percent on your energy bills versus typical incandescent bulbs. For detailed computer work, get a task light. And any lamps with shades should have opaque or light-colored shades Better than light bulbs is the sun. Light from the sun is free, so take advantage of it. Orient your desk to allow bright, but indirect light during your work day. Or look for a desk on wheels that you can turn as the light moves across your office throughout the day.