2016 Another Strong Year for Renewable Energy and Natural Gas

2016 Renewable EnergyContinuing a 3 year trend, 2016 saw renewable energy account for the majority of new electricity generation capacity in the United States.  The lion’s share of these additions came in the form of wind and solar power.

As is often the case, renewable energy generation peaked in the spring on a nationwide basis.  The spring typically sees a peak in hydroelectric power in the western part of the U.S. as rain and snowmelt drives hydro power. The Western United States also contributed the majority of the country’s solar power with 77% of total U.S. solar generation.  In Texas, the state’s massive installed wind base continued to churn out electricity for the Texas electricity grid which is separate from the other major U.S. electricity grids.

While 2016 also saw a large increase in solar power, most new solar capacity comes from small scale solar photovoltaic rather than large scale utility generation.  As of October of 2016 the U.S had a total of 12.6 GW of small-scale solar power installed.

Wholesale Electricity Rates Continue to Fall

Despite the fact that new capacity generation is coming largely from renewable energy sources, it is cheap natural gas that continues to put downward pressure on electricity rates.  Monthly wholesale prices for 2016 were lower than 2015; driven largely by lower natural gas prices.  The cost of natural gas delivered to power generators was 17% lower for the first 10 months of 2016.

Low rates for natural gas also contributed to an increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation.  2016 saw, first the first time, natural gas surpass coal for electricity nationwide.  Although, in Texas this has been the case for a number of years.

 

GM Continues Transition To Renewable Energy With Wind-Powered Arlington, Texas Plant

electric-car-plantGM has recently announced its latest milestone in its drive to increase its use of renewable energy to power its operations. The company last year completed a deal to purchase sufficient wind-generated energy to power its major plant in Arlington, as well as 15 other separate facilities, which includes GM’s financial headquarters located in the downtown area of Fort Worth.

The company stated that it has agreed to buy 50 megawatts of electricity produced at the Cactus Flats wind farm, a massive 150-megawatt farm that is under development near San Angelo by Renewable Energy Systems. The Cactus Flats wind farm is another major investment in wind energy in Texas, which is currently the largest producer of wind energy in the country with over 10,000 turbines currently in operation.

The plant in Arlington builds some of GM’s most iconic models, focusing on the company’s top-selling sport utility vehicles. The plant already receives 50% of its power from renewable sources of energy, and the addition of the Cactus Flats wind farm will result in the plant being powered completely by green energy sources. It is estimated that the shift to wind power will reduce the plant’s total energy costs by up to $3 million a year, as well as reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1 million tons over the entirety of the contract.

GM’s Worldwide Targets for Renewable Energy Part of Climate Change Commitments

Beginning in 2018, GM will be sourcing over 193,000 megawatt hours of power per year from wind alone. At the beginning of the contract over 6% of GM’s worldwide energy use will be from renewable sources. This recent deal is just a small part of GM’s long-term commitment to being powered entirely by renewable sources by 2050. This goal was set alongside other similar climate change commitments, such as the development of vehicles powered by electricity.

See Also: Amazon Comes To Texas For Electricity

See Also: Arlington Electricity Providers

 

Texas Sets Another Record For Wind Power

Texas Wind EnergyTexas has set a new record for electricity generated from wind.  On November 27th 2016, the ERCOT system saw more than 15,000 megawatts of electricity provided to the grid from wind turbines.

The amount represented about 45% of the spot demand for power in the grid in the afternoon.

“We saw high wind output throughout the day, ranging from just over 10,000 MW during the late night hours to this peak output during the noon hour,” said ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin. “Over the years, ERCOT has taken a number of steps, such as improving renewable generation forecasts, to allow us to operate the grid reliably on days like this.”

During the period, total output from wind approach the system capacity of 17,000 MW.

See Also: Wind Energy Provides Cheap Electricity In Texas

 

Electricity-Related Complaints Continue Downward Trend In Post-Deregulation Texas Market

ERCOTOver the last fiscal year Texans filed 4,835 electricity-related inquiries or complaints according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. This represents a significant drop from the previous post-deregulation low set last year, where the Public Utility Commission registered 6,973 inquiries or complaints. Data from the PUC shows a drop across nine different categories of complaints, with only one category seeing an increase. The data from this year confirms the on-going trend of higher responsiveness and customer satisfaction in Texas’s deregulated retail energy market.

A Continuing Trend Based On Increased Customer Satisfaction

The almost 31% drop in electricity-related inquiries and complaints registered between 2015 and 2016 is the second largest drop so far recorded. Two of the main factors influencing this trend are lower energy prices and a growing familiarity with the conditions and providers of the deregulated market. Also, two major sources of complaints, Sharyland Utility and the installation of advanced meters, are no longer the source of as much dissatisfaction among customers.

The PUC registered a fall in almost every category of electricity-related complaints over the 2015 fiscal year. This falling rate of complaints includes a number of major categories of complaints, such as provision of service complaints, meter complaints and complaints related to switch-holds, the blocking of electric service for residences.

The data for 2015 suggests that customer satisfaction continues to see significant improvements across the state of Texas. The last three fiscal years in particular are registering increasing levels of customer satisfaction. While the data still shows a higher number of inquiries and complaints than pre-deregulation levels, the strong and on-going trend suggests that levels may soon approach their pre-deregulation lows.

See Also: Electricity Sales Continue Multiyear Decline

 

Cheap Natural Gas Leads to Falling Consumer Electricity Rates

Plunging oil prices may have hit some energy companies hard and have some oil-producing nations worried about their budget deficits, but it has been a boon to the average American consumer as electricity rates have dropped 1% nationwide to an average of 12.4 cents per kilowatt hour, the first nationwide decline in energy prices in decades.

electricity_rates

As developed nations move away from burning dirty coal for energy as a result of the efforts to meet international greenhouse emission caps, cleaner burning natural gas plants and alternative energy sources (wind, sun, geothermal, etc) are filling in the gaps. Natural gas is now the major source of fuel for energy producing plants, and a 28% drop in the price of natural gas for energy producers over the first half of the year has translated into big gains for consumers nationwide.

However, the replacement of coal burning plants with plants that use natural gas and a plunging price in hydrocarbons is not the entire story. Solar and wind energy in particular continue to become more efficient with advancing technologies, and are taking an increasing share of national, and international, energy production. This year the United Kingdom produced more energy from solar panels than from burning coal, and marked the first day since 1882 that no energy was produced from the burning of coal across the entire nation.

The state of Texas has enjoyed an even greater drop in consumer electricity prices, down 6% to 11 cents per kilowatt hour, thanks to easy access to plentiful supplies of cheap natural gas and a deregulated market. The deregulated market has allowed producers to adjust their prices sooner to reflect the lower cost of natural gas, and then pass these savings on to the consumer.

New England, which has a similar share to Texas of energy produced by natural gas, saw a similar decline in electricity rates over the year. However, the biggest decline of 12% was observed in the state of Hawaii, which uses oil for the vast majority of its energy production. The steep decline in the price of oil helped to bring electricity rates down substantially, albeit from a position that was far above the national average as a result of the state’s remote location and the difficulties that its geography causes for the installation of energy infrastructure.

 

Buy Green, Live Green: Sustainable Manufacturers Worth Your Business

green-electricity-manufacturersRecycling, driving less, turning the lights off when you leave a room; these are all great ways to reduce your footprint and live a greener, more sustainable life. But, when it comes to green living, you might be forgetting about some very important factors. How green is your smartphone? Does your TV cause harm to the environment? Here’s what you should know about green electronics.

Look for the Energy Star Label

Developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Energy Star label helps consumers make smart, sustainable choices when making purchases. There are a variety of products on the market today that have the Energy Star label, like televisions, refrigerators, microwaves, home computers and washers and dryers. The blue Energy Star label is used to show an item’s efficiency. In fact, since 1992, products with the Energy Star label have reduced 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gasses and also saved consumers a hefty amount of money on energy bills, $362 billion since 1992, in fact. Today, this program stands alone as the most successful energy conservation movement in history. Next time that you are shopping for a home appliance, be sure to look for the blue label.

Sustainable Smartphones

Apple is committed to looking out for the environment. That is why they have switched to using greener materials in their manufacturing process and have established a consumer-focused recycling initiative called ReNew. In 2015, 93 percent of the energy used by Apple came from renewable sources. But that’s not enough for the Cupertino-based business; they are striving for 100 percent. But Apple’s manufacturing isn’t the only thing that’s green about their business. Apple is also known for their streamlined packaging. More than 99 percent of the company’s packaging is recycled. They also have significantly less packaging than their competitors, which means less ends up in a landfill. Additionally, nothing for the iPhone or Apple Watch assembly lines ever makes it to a landfill, which makes the new iPhone a sustainable choice for green-minded smartphone users. Steady improvement can also be seen in the fact that the iPhone 7 Plus’ aluminum enclosure has reduced the greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent when compared with the emissions from manufacturing the iPhone 6 Plus.

Eco-Friendly TVs

The television is a standard fixture of the American living room; nearly everyone has one. However, when TVs are discarded into landfills, it can lead to some big problems. Many old TVs are built with toxic substances like lead, mercury and cadmium, which can wreak havoc on the environment if not disposed of properly. There are dozens of recycling programs across the country that dispose and recycle old TVs properly. A quick search on the EPA’s website can guide you in the right direction. Today, manufacturing has come a long way and TVs now, more than ever, are safer. Not only are they safer, they are better for the environment, too. Vizio’s D39h-D0 D-Series 39″ Class Full Array HD LED Smart TV is the most sustainable on the market today and highest-rated in energy-efficiency by Energy Star. Whether you’re in the market for a new TV or looking for a sustainable way to recycle, your choices can impact the Earth.

Green Gamers

Yes, even video game consoles leave a footprint. However, some, like Playstation, lead the way in sustainability. In fact, Playstation has a lower lifetime energy cost than its competitors and the Sony console has an energy-efficient score of 100, the highest mark there is available on the scale. To put that into perspective, Nintendo’s Wii achieved a 67. Playstation is certainly leading the way as an eco-minded example that we can only hope other companies follow.

Amazon Comes To Texas For Electricity

Texas Wind EnergyAmazon.com has become the latest big company to turn to Texas serve their green energy needs.  They recently announced they will be building a huge wind farm in the state – their largest renewable energy project to date.  The 253 megawatt wind farm will be located in the West Texas county of Scurry.  Amazon has committed to buying 90% of the facilities output of electricity.  It will be capable of producing up to 1 million megawatt hours of electricity per year when it goes on line late next year.

Amazon’s Web Service cloud data centers (AWS) are large consumers of electricity.  Amazon has committed to a goal of 100% renewable energy.  The new wind farm in Texas will bring the company’s renewable energy portfolio up to 2.6 million MWh annually.  Amazon estimates that 40% of its AWS infrastructure will be powered by renewable energy by the end of the year.

Amazon is far from the only large company to go big on Texas electricity. Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to purchase half of the output of a 200 megawatt wind project being developed by EON SE in the Texas panhandle.  In 2013 Microsoft signed a 20 year deal to purchase all of the output of a 110 megawatt wind farm near Fort Worth developed by RES America.  Texas is also home to the largest federally owned wind farm which was built in 2014 to power the Pantex nuclear weapons facility.

Texas has paved the way for these large projects by investing billions of dollars in infrastructure to support what is by far the country’s largest installed wind capacity.   Texas has an independent electric grid and is the largest deregulated electricity market in the country.

 

Natural Gas To Surpass Coal As Source Of CO2

Natural gas is expected to soon surpass coal as a source of CO2.  As natural gas continues to replace coal as a fuel for the production of electricity for the nation’s electric grids, the total amount of emissions coming from natural gas activity will pass that of coal in 2016.

coal nat gas and CO2

Energy related CO2 emissions from natural gas are expected to exceed that of coal by 10% in 2016.  The total amount of electricity generated by natural gas reached record highs in the U.S. in July of 2016.  The nearly 5,000 gigawatts per day surpassed the previous record in 2015 by around 9%.  This was due partially to high temperatures as well as the continuing price advantage of natural gas over coal.  For the year, electricity from natural gas is expected to account for around 34% of power output compared to 30% for coal.

As ever tightening federal mandates force coal plants to either modernize or shut down, coal based electricity output has been in a multi-year down trend in the US.  This is expected to continue in the years to come. Much of this lost production has been replaced by renewable sources of power such as solar and wind.  The latter is particularly the case in Texas.

This all comes on top of another trend that has seen overall electricity sales declining thanks in part to greater energy efficiency in residential construction as well as federal energy efficiency mandates.  Lower peaks in electricity demand tend to favor cleaner sources of power. Coal and natural gas are considered more responsive sources of power generation and more likely to be ramped up in times of greater peak demand.

Electricity Rates

The gradual shift of electricity production away from coal and toward natural gas and renewable sources of power has not put upward pressure on electricity rates.  The national average for electricity for July 2016 was 13.0 cents per kwh.  By comparison, a 12 month electricity plan can be found for 6.3 cents per kwh in the Dallas, Texas area as of the time of this writing.

 

Increased Efficiency: 3 Tips To Lower Electric Vehicle Charging Costs

electric vehicle chargingWhen pitted against each other in the arena of powering costs, the battery power of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle demolishes the fuel life of a gas-powered vehicle, hands down. If we compare the cost of a battery charge to the cost of a gallon of gasoline, powering a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle equates to about 75 cents per gallon of petroleum-based gasoline. But as electric vehicle owners know, the name of the electric vehicle game is not price per gallon, but rather kilowatts per hour — and electricity costs vary greater than that of gasoline.

Yes, electricity is cheaper than gas in general. But just like a fuel-powered vehicle, you have to work at maintaining — and even try to lower — costs to get the most out of it. How do you do this with an electric vehicle? Here are three methods of lowering your electric vehicle charging costs even further.

Increase Efficiency

One method to lowering charging costs in an electric vehicle is by increasing its fuel efficiency, which can be done in several ways. The first recommendation is to check your tires. Maintaining proper inflation and alignment reduces the level of drag your engine must combat against, therefore boosting your vehicle’s efficiency. But choosing tires with reduced rolling resistance is a smart place to start. These types of tires cut back on rolling resistance, or the energy lost during engine drag, and reduce this phenomenon by an average of 10 percent.

Understand Utility Rate Options

While utility companies help set the cost of electricity, the costs you see on your monthly utility bill are ultimately determined by your level and time of use. In essence, if you use more, you pay more. In addition, these rates can vary greatly from state to state, while peak-hour use changes based on location and seasons. Since peak-hour energy use can be exponentially more expensive than off-peak hours, electric vehicle owners must be aware of their utility rate plan and anticipate changes. With the national average being about 12 cents per kWh, naive electric car owners may find themselves paying double if they’re not well-informed.

Some utility companies are sensitive to the needs of electric vehicle owners and may offer special plans, like Southern California Edison. The California utility provider offers residential users four different rate tiers based on usage, though rates can range between 9 cents up to 31 cents per kWh. Southern California Edison’s optimal utility plan for owners of electric vehicles allows for the lowest costs between midnight and 6 a.m., at a rate of 9 cents per kWh. But consumers have to request this plan. In this case, knowing really is half the battle.

Get Your Perks

As Americans continually warm to the idea of electric cars and the benefits they bring to society, more and more incentives will become available to electric vehicle owners. For those current owners looking to charge in public rather than at home, there are a few networks that offer access to electric charging stations while you’re on the go. Though each network is designed slightly different, they can be broken down into three subscription categories: monthly, pay-as-you-go and free. Though free is always a bonus, some of the subscription networks are worth checking out.

Electric and gasoline vehicles may be in two different classes, but they share the same road — and all drivers should be able to save a little dough.