Electricity Sales Continue Multiyear Decline

Numbers released recently by the Energy Information Administration show that electricity sales in the U.S. continue to slow.  For the 5th time since the 2008 recession retail electricity sales have actually declined.  The biggest declines were seen in the industrial sector. While the residential and commercial building sectors were more or less flat.

Electricity Usage

There is no one simple explanation for the decline in growth of electricity usage in the U.S.  Rather, it’s a result of a number of factors.  In the residential sector, the number of households has increased. Yet energy efficiency regulations and improvements the energy efficiency of newly constructed homes have offset the effect of having more households.  The EIA report also credits more aggressive federal energy efficiency standards for appliances with the slowdown in household electricity usage. For the commercial and industrial sectors the numbers reflect a continued sluggish economy and a shift of the type of manufacturing performed in the US.

While the government numbers provided no regional breakdown, a separate report by ERCOT, the agency responsible for maintaining the Texas electricity grid showed an increase in electricity usage in Texas for 2015.    Since the 2008 recession the U.S. has seen a general population shift to the South and West.  Population growth in Texas has likely offset the effect of more energy efficient building and federal energy efficiently standards and appliances.

Texas has also seen cheap electricity rates for a number of years which takes some of the pressure off of consumers to conserve energy and spend on energy efficiently efforts.  A website operated by the Texas PUC seeks to help Texas homes and businesses conserve energy with energy saving tips such as “save up to 16% by turning you’re A/C 1-2 degrees warmer”.

Energy-Saving Purchases To Slash Your Power Bill

Phone charging with energy bank and using smartphone in handsNobody enjoys paying for utilities, but they are an inevitable burden. Fortunately, there are ways to slash these charges by upgrading parts of your home and lifestyle that may be wasting electricity. By switching to energy-efficient electronics, you can cut your bills in half. Here are some options to start saving energy and money.

Smartphone

While charging your phone does not use a lot of electricity, if you have an older phone that consistently needs to be charged, you are using more than you should be. Older smartphones lose battery power quicker, and you may find that you need to charge it more often than you used to. If this is the case, look into buying a new phone that will keep its charge. Check out a phone with a long-lasting battery life, like the Samsung Galaxy S7, and make the switch. Don’t waste your time and energy constantly having to plug in a cellphone that is past its prime when there are newer and more efficient models available.

Car

Vehicles are a huge expense. Routine maintenance, special repairs and keeping the gas tank full, are just some of the charges that add up. One way to offset these costs is to upgrade to an energy-efficient car, so you do not have to buy as much gas. This may mean trading in your pickup truck for a small sedan or switching to a hybrid or electric vehicle. Figure out how much money you can spend on gas, and then research cars that enable you to spend that amount or less. Buying some gas is inevitable, but reducing the amount can save you a large chunk of change.

Windows

Are your windows doing their job? They are supposed to let in light, protect you from rain and give you a view of the outside world, but they should do even more. They also should be holding in your heating and air conditioning. You may not notice small cracks that allow air to escape, but they may be costing you hundreds in heating and cooling costs.

If you cannot afford new windows, weather-proof them instead. You can use caulk and weatherstrips to reduce air leakage. There are also window treatments and coverings that block out heat during the warmer months, lowering your need for air conditioning. If you want to take the full plunge, talk to a professional about energy-efficient windows and getting them installed in your home.

Smart Thermostat

If used correctly, smart thermostats can save you money and energy. Before investing in one, you have to consider that the thermostat can costs up to $300 and it will take time to recoup your investment. However, many landlords will reimburse you for installing one, so you may want to mention it before purchasing.

Smart thermostats learn your behaviors and react. They know when you get home from work, when you routinely leave your home and other factors that affect your home’s temperature. This allows them to cool down or warm up your space before you get home, while saving energy the rest of the day. You also can control them remotely, so you can make adjustments at any time using a smartphone app. In the long run, they are great tools to streamline your energy usage and save money.

Enough Electricity In Texas For Spring As Renewable Energy Surges

ERCOT, the organization responsible for maintaining the Texas electricity grid, is predicting more than adequate capacity in the spring amidst an expected surge in renewable power for the state in 2016.   In its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, ERCOT is predicting a spring usage peak of 58,279 MW.  This is well within system capacity even with the assumption that there will be 9,482 MW of lost system capacity due to maintenance and forced outages.  This is based on historical outage data going back to 2010.  The demand estimates were made using May 2006, a hotter than normal May, as a model.

Due to the fact that Texas’ operational solar capacity recently passed a threshold of 200 MW, the methodology for determining how much solar power to include in capacity projections has changed.  This resulted in a decreased amount of solar power included in the spring projections.  However, 2016 is expected to be an exceptional year for solar energy in Texas.

ERCOT Solar

By some estimates, the state will see an additional 2 GW of installed solar capacity in 2016.  This would result in a 10-fold increase in solar electricity.  Texas has long been considered a sleeping giant when it comes to solar power. Although it has the geography and climate to be a substantial producer, it has had very little in the way of utility scale solar power.  This is changing in a big way with projects underway for both the Austin and San Antonio municipal utilities among others.  The Austin project, in particular, is notable for its low cost. The purchase agreement for that project calls for a rate of less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour.  This is cheap even when compared to natural gas.  Several years of cheap natural gas have led to low electricity rates in Texas and created a challenging environment for solar and natural gas to compete on price.

Despite this, renewables have continued to gain ground in Texas, led by wind in particular. Wind, along with solar, make up around two-thirds of the state’s additional capacity for 2016.  Of the 12,500 MW in new power expected to come online, wind will account for about 63%. 2016 will likely see wind overtake coal as the second largest source of electricity in the state.

Although coal is rapidly becoming a smaller contributor to the state’s electricity output, coal plants are still critical for keeping the lights on in Texas.  The report downplays any potential impact of compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulations for coal units.   With the final compliance date being April 15, 2016, planners expect generators to be in compliance.

The preliminary summer report predicts record peak electricity usage for the state with demand peaking at over 70,000 MW for the first time.  Against this, it is predicted that the system will have over 79,000 MW of available generation.

6 Of The Greenest Electric Cars of 2016

Electric Car FobVehicle-related air pollutants have decreased by 98 percent since the 1960s in Los Angeles, despite its residents burning three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The study credits greener cars as the catalyst behind improved air quality. This goes to show that going green can absolutely make a positive impact on the environment. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Energy says that, on average, it costs about half as much to drive an electric vehicle as it does its gasoline-fueled counterpart.

Fortunately, there are plenty of green vehicle options on the market, ranging from hybrid to full-electric options. Here’s the scoop on some of the greenest cars of 2016 and their environmentally friendly features.

A3 Sportback e-tron

This sporty plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is part of Audi’s energy program. Its features include a carbon offset program, residential solar panel installation availability and a home charger. After running out of electric power, drivers can use auto mode to recapture energy and help recharge it while relying on its hybrid gas function.

Fiat 500e

With a single-speed transmission and 83-kilowatt electric motor, the Fiat 500e gets an impressive 87-mile range and 4-hour recharge time. The downside is that the vehicle is currently only sold in California. However, green enthusiasts can check out a site like DriveTime to find a used vehicle dealership in their area to find the model they’re looking for.

Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt has made the cut for one of the greenest vehicles since its debut in 2010. It was one of the first modern hybrid vehicles and has helped usher in the mainstream eco-friendly car options. The earliest Volts had a 35-mile electric range with today’s model boasting 50 miles. Consumer Reports tested the latest Volt and found it made a smooth transition from electric to gas mode with an increased battery capacity compared to previous versions.

Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius made an appearance in this year’s Super Bowl lineup of commercials. Like Chevrolet’s Volt, the Toyota Prius was a founder in the modern hybrid vehicle movement. The Prius gets an average of 50 mpg and reports indicate a smooth ride with solid acceleration.

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf debuted its 2016 model with a stronger battery that increased from 24 kWh to 30 kWh of capacity. This year’s model also comes with NissanConnect, which has Bluetooth phone and text messaging capabilities. For drivers who are going to be away from their cars for a while or are eager to check in on its charging status, the Leaf also comes with a remote monitoring capability to check its charging status.

Hyundai Sonata

This hybrid plug-in comes in at 50 mpg and can run 24 miles on its electric battery before needing a charge and switching over to its fuel engine. Its combined hybrid battery and fuel tank get about 40 mpg on the road. The Hyundai Sonata also has a reputation for its quiet ride and improved fuel efficiency.

Cars are becoming greener and more affordable than ever. Drivers should check the U.S. Department of Energy website to learn more about tax credits of up to $7,500 for all-electric and plug-in hybrid car purchases in or after 2010. Credit amounts vary on the battery capacity required to power the vehicle. Green drivers may also qualify for state or local incentives just for driving eco-friendly vehicles that are sporty, fun to drive and less damaging to the environment.

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