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

 

Become More Energy Efficient With These New Tools

electricity efficientThe U.S. Energy Information Agency reports our electricity is generated from the combined consumption of 36 percent petroleum, 27 percent natural gas, 18 percent coal and only 9 percent renewable resources. One way to reduce this heavy reliance on fossil fuels is to save on electricity wherever you can. The following household gadgets will help you reduce your energy use and make your home more energy efficient:

Pick Your Power Provider

Because you live in a state where you can choose from a number of energy providers, you can find one that uses renewable energy to generate your electricity. Vault Electricity makes it easy to select a plan that is 100% green.

Programmable Thermostats

High-tech thermostats have been around for several years. Most allow you to set a particular temperature for a particular time of day. The Nest thermostat does that but also “learns” by recording the adjustments you make throughout the day. Set it to learn for a week as you turn the thermostat up or down, then allow it to do that for you automatically. It also connects to your home network so you can control it from a laptop or mobile device. If you have a variable schedule, turn it down when you leave the house then turn it back up with your smartphone as you’re leaving class.

Controlling the Vampires

Every home has a number of energy vampires. These are devices that continue to consume electricity even after they have been shut off (or roommates who always forget to turns things off). Televisions, stereos and gaming systems are big energy vampires. The solution has been to unplug these devices when not in use. Now the Belkin Conserve Power switch provides another way with a device that goes between the device and the outlet. This switch cuts off power to any device that tries to draw a small current when turned off. Now you can enjoy those video game marathons with peace of mind.

Recharging Control

If you own a smartphone, chances are you can relate to squeezing ever last ounce out of your battery’s life. College campuses have a way of sucking batteries dry, but you can stay green as you charge them up. Mashable recommends the Bracketron Stone GreenZero Charger. When recharging mobile devices, they continue to pull a charge once they have reached 100 percent. The Bracketron device shuts off the electricity completely once a mobile device has fully charged.

Check the Lights

It can be a challenge to make sure that lights are turned off when someone leaves a room. Lutron offers motion sensor switches that replace existing wall-mounted light switches. These are specifically made for smaller spaces such as closets, laundry rooms, bathrooms and utility rooms. The money you save on your electricity bill can fund your late-night trips to the student cafeteria.

Complete Home Control

Home power monitoring and control systems, such as the one by Vantage, allow you to see what is consuming power in your home and at what rate. You can monitor each electrical outlet for how much it is used. Control lights, thermostat and appliances from a console on your computer or an app on your mobile device. Now you can expose the roommate who is responsible for most of the electrical bill.

 

Georgetown To Be First City In Texas To Go To 100% Renewable Energy

green electricityGeorgetown, Texas plans to be the first city in the State to go completely green, with an aim toward getting 100% of its energy from renewable sources, namely solar and wind power. Through a 25-year deal with SunEdison, the city of Georgetown will purchase 150 MW of energy, beginning in 2016. This power will be provided by solar farms that SunEdison, the world’s largest renewable energy company, plan to construct in West Texas. Georgetown also contracted EDF Renewables to provide 144 MW of wind energy from the Spinning Spur 3 wind farm, under construction outside Amarillo. That deal, inked last year, will run through 2039.

Texas has an already-burgeoning wind power industry and has the potential to be a national, if not global, leader in solar power, as well, considering its size and solar exposure. Solar power hasn’t had an easy time getting a foothold without much support and financial incentives in a state more known for oil than practically any other commodity. But now that costs have decreased dramatically for solar power production, the winning factor that made the decision easy for Georgetown turned out to be not so much environmental ideals as price.

Yes, that’s right–the renewable option was also the most economically feasible one. There’s a bit of a “gold rush” on currently to develop the West Texas area for solar and wind power, and municipalities may start to reap the benefits soon, as costs drop lower and lower. Georgetown isn’t waiting, and it plans to join other such forward-thinking cities as Burlington, Vermont, already in the 100% club. Not all Texas cities have their own utilities, as Georgetown does. In most areas, consumers buy power directly from retailers, some of whom do offer power provided by 100% renewable energy. (See “Organic Power Promo” by Bounce Energy and this 100% Wind Energy plan by Green Mountain Energy)  As solar and wind power continue to become more affordable, correspondingly lower utility rates are likely to increase consumers’ preference for renewables, possibly to a tipping point that will make fossil fuels look like a last resort.

Another benefit of investment in renewables for Texas is that solar and wind power do not require the use of water, as the production of power from fossil fuels does. This is a legitimate concern for an area that can suffer from crippling drought. A switch to clean energy can provide a one-two punch in this area, though; not only does it reduce water consumption on an immediate basis, the reduction in greenhouse gases caused by large-scale adoption of renewables could possibly help mitigate the drought-producing effects of climate change, over the long term.

The combination of wind and solar are anticipated to be particularly successful because they are complementary to one another. The blazing afternoon Texas sun traditionally puts peak demand on the grid, but the use of solar power allows that very sun to provide the supply, as well. Wind, on the other hand, tends to occur at times that the sun doesn’t, so energy from wind power can supplement solar energy conveniently. And unlike fossil fuels, whose price and availability can’t be predicted over any kind of long term, the sun and wind are locally produced, so to speak, and as reliable as anything ever gets. The fact that these energy sources are also non-polluting and water-saving, as well as being cheap and reliable, is just icing on the cake.

 

Texas Clean Energy Coalition Report Provides Incentive For Renewable Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Biomass And Biogas Energy Explained

When you think of renewable energy, the wind and sun are probably the first places your mind goes. While solar and wind power are easy to see and understand in the form of panels and turbines, biomass and biogas are two energy forms also powering your everyday life. Clean-tech research and development firm Clean Edge released a 2012 study showing the biofuel industry grew to more than $95 billion in 2012, up more than $12 billion from the previous year. Here’s what to know about this growing industry:

Biomass Renewable Energy

Biomass energy is derived from organic matter that comes from living plants, crops and trees. Most of the energy works by converting the carbohydrates contained in the plant matter into a usable form, as Clean Edge notes. If you’ve ever cooked on a campfire, you’ve used a type of biomass energy. However, there’s a fine line between a renewable energy source and a destructive energy source.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports biomass power, when done correctly, is a good source of renewable energy. Some states, such as Massachusetts, focus on selecting biomass sources that won’t contribute to pollution and other harmful issues. If this type of careful selection is not used, it ends up being harmful to the environment. Fast-growing plants and trees are the best type of material, since they replenish faster than they’re being used. If the energy is produced using resources that cannot renew themselves in a reasonable time frame, it is counterproductive to the renewable energy goal.

Biomass energy is used for nearly five percent of energy in the United States, reports the Institute for Energy Research. This is not as high as other types of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, but it provides a great alternative for locations that don’t receive high wind or lots of sunlight. If you’re looking to get into producing biomass energy, the first step is to determine whether you have a good source of biomass on hand before you dive in head-first. You also want to compare energy suppliers for deals on an electric company that supports you augmenting your energy output.

Biogas Renewable Energy

Biogas energy might make you think companies are trying to extract energy from the methane emissions produced by livestock. However, the gas that it’s actually referring to is the gas that is generated when organic matter breaks down when oxygen is not available, according to The Insititute for Energy Research. Either anaerobic bacteria or a fermentation effect breaks down the organic material.

Common organic matter used for biogas generation includes manure, plants and crops. It can be used in a variety of ways, such as renewable fuels, natural gas, electric production, heating, and transportation. Biogas is a renewable energy source that can be easily used in a residential setting. You use a digester to store your organic material, cover it with water to limit the oxygen, and then seal the container up tight. The average energy usage of a family requires a 200-gallon biogas generator, although you can start smaller if you want to get used to the process.

 

Texas’ Most Energy Efficient Cities

Energy efficiency is not necessarily the first thing people think of when they think of Texas. Cowboys, big hair, rodeos, Tex Mex and acoustic guitars are the prominent stereotypes for the Lone Star state. But Texans care about the environment too. Three of the state’s biggest cities—Dallas, Austin and Houston—are showing the world that the saying “everything is bigger in Texas” applies to sustainability efforts too.

Dallas

According to Dallas’ City Hall website, The Dallas-Fort Worth area is home to 178 Energy Star buildings. The city improves air quality through electrical energy consumption reduction. The city’s Aviation Department replaced its HVAC system to more efficient boiler and chillers that reduce emissions. The Public Works and Transportation department replaced 258 traffic lights with LED modules. The Ecology Parks Building and Jack Evans Police Headquarters opened with LEEDs certification. The Dallas Zoo reduces costs of electricity and battery purchases with irrigation of control clocks. All one million square feet of The Dallas Convention Center is LEED certified silver. According to North Texas Green Council the Convention Center fulfills all of the silver certification qualifications, some include:

  • A building must save 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually by equipment replacement and retrofitting.
  • Water consumption must be reduced by nominally 7 million gallons annually from replacing existing plumbing fixtures.
  • 100 percent of energy must be powered by renewable sources.
  • Hot water must be heated by “54 rooftop solar-thermal panels with a conventional gas-fired water heating system.”

Austin

Austin ranked number 10 on Mother Nature Networks’ list of America’s greenest cities. Austin is known as the counter-culture rich, music city of the Lone Star state and environmental consciousness tends to coincide with that attitude. MNN ranked Austin on their list because of its plan to be carbon neutral by 2020; along with its high number of parks, preserves and outdoor recreation. Although, the city is also a major advocate for plug-in vehicles. In January of this year, drivers of plug-in electric vehicles “surpassed their 10,000th charging session using Austin Energy’s Plug-In EVerywhere network” reported  news station KXAN. Austin Energy’s Plug-In EVerywhere network is a program made to advocate the use of hybrid vehicles and consists of 152 plug-in stations throughout the city. Plug-in vehicles are energy efficient because they “can charge their fuel cells without making use of their internal combustion engine,” and can “produce even lower emissions than many standard hybrids,” Automotive.com explains. The city has been pushing the use of plug-ins since 2005. It’s estimated that their efforts have saved 7,363 gallons of gasoline and $24,000 in gas money, says KXAN.

Houston

Houston makes the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of efficient cities due to the fact that it has 231 Energy Star buildings that reportedly saved an estimated $79.7 million in energy costs in 2011. According to Green Houston the city has made many changes over the past decade that have progressed Houston’s energy efficiency.

  • In 2009, the city sought out performance contractors to rework its wastewater treatment plants to reduce energy use.
  • The city started replacing all traffic lights with LED lights through its Streetlight Pilot Project which reportedly saves the city $10,000 daily and $3.6 million annually.
  • The Department of Energy gave Houston a $23 million grant to weatherize homes in the Houston area. The city created the Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP) to reduce residents’ energy consumption by the instillation of energy efficiency upgrades; caulking, weather-stripping, air conditioners, wall and attic insulation, solar screens, refrigerators and more. REEP provides these upgrades to income-qualified residents at no charge.