Study Finds the Storage of Solar Power Increases Consumption and Emissions

Solar panels TexasRecent research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that the greatest environmental and economic benefits from solar power come from sending excess solar power to the utility grid instead of storing it on-site for later use.

The paper examines the costs and benefits of adding energy storage to homes with existing solar panel systems. While the number of American households with rooftop solar panel installations has rapidly reached the level of 1 million, many fewer homes have a means for storing any excess solar power that is produced. However, there is a growing interest in the on-site storage of excess solar energy, and this study sheds some light on the factors involved in this decision.

Solar Power Still Effective Without Storage

The main thrust of the paper’s findings is that there is no need to have a storage system in place to benefit from the installation of solar panels. One of the most common negative myths about solar energy is that it requires the installation of an additional storage system for when the sun is not providing adequate electricity. However, it is actually more efficient to merely switch to grid energy during times when solar is inadequate rather than storing excess solar power.

The researchers found that the storage of solar power for nighttime use will actually increase a household’s energy consumption, compared to the use of solar panels without any form of storage, due to the consumption of additional energy caused by the charging and discharging of the storage unit. While an increase in energy consumption as a result of storage is not surprising, the level, from 8% to 14% over the span of one year, was much higher than anticipated.

Storage of Solar Power Leads to Greater Environmental Impact

The study discovered that the addition of storage indirectly increased overall emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. The increased emissions are due to the increased energy consumption that is required to compensate for the inefficiency of household storage. However, since storage will affect the time of day that a household will draw electricity from the grid, it will also reduce emissions in that way.

The benefit for utility companies is more clear. The storage of solar energy reduced peak grid demand by 8% to 32%, as well as the magnitude of solar power fed into the grid by 5% to 42%, which is beneficial for the utility as it will reduce the amount of required capacity.

Overall the analysis demonstrated that the storage of solar power now offers less environmental benefits than sending it into the grid, since the energy that is lost to inefficient storage will ultimately be covered by electricity from the grid that is produced using a high proportion of fossil-fuels.

See also: Solar In, Coal Out, In Texas Electricity Grid

 

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

 

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.

 

Solar In, Coal Out, In Texas Electricity Grid

Going forward almost all new electricity in Texas will come from renewable energy sources – primarily solar energy.  This is according to a report released by the agency responsible for maintaining the Texas electricity grid.  Once the dominate sources of electricity in Texas, coal has been on its way out for a number of years.  Due to a combination of market forces and federal regulations, coal can no longer compete with other sources or power.

The report looks at a number of possible scenarios to project the makeup of the Texas electricity market over the next 15 years.  The scenarios include High Economic Growth, Recession, and Extended Extreme Weather.

Under every scenario solar energy is the predominate theme. It seems that solar energy is finally having its moment in the Texas sun.  Today the state gets a tiny percentage of its energy from solar power.  According to the latest projections, this amount will soar to around 17% in the next 15 years.  Practically all of the gains in solar will come at the expense of coal.

Solar energy projections Texas

The Texas deregulated electricity market is designed to allow competition to keep electricity rates low.  The largest component of electricity rates is the wholesale price of electricity paid to the producers from retail electricity providers.  The fact is, electricity generated by solar power is now cheap and getting cheaper.

This is not just a Texas phenomenon.  Worldwide, solar energy is expected to be the cheapest source of new energy over the next 15 years.  Between now and 2040, 43% of new capacity worldwide is expected to come in the form of solar.

Pressure on coal is not coming just from competition from clean energy sources.  Tough federal regulations will continue to have their intended effect over the coming years.   Over the next 5 years alone, 5 gigawatts of coal power will be leaving the Texas electricity grid because of the EPA’s “regional haze rule”.  Against this, 14 to 28 gigawatts of solar power are expected to come on line in Texas over the next 15 years.

See Also:  Enough Electricity In Texas For Spring As Renewable Energy Surges

See Also: Wind Energy Provides Cheap Electricity In Texas

 

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.

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

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.