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




Getting the Most Out of BYOD From a Green Perspective

BYOD, energy efficiency, greenAccording to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 75 percent of American businesses reported using at least one green technology in August 2011. The most common technologies used either reduced the creation of waste materials or improved energy efficiency, the survey found. Going green cuts business expenses, benefits the environment and generates goodwill. One growing tech trend, BYOD or ‘Bring Your Own Device,’ offers a range of environmental benefits that can green your business.

How BYOD Can Help You Go Green

At first, it may seem that allowing employees to view work content from their iPad instead of their company-provided desktop computer doesn’t have much to do with green technology. However, according to renewableenergyworld.com and empireone.com, BYOD can accomplish the following environmentally friendly goals:

  • Employees will print less when they can easily view work files on the go, at home and in the office.
  • Employees no longer need to maintain one or more personal devices plus one or more workplace devices, leading to less power consumed.
  • Smaller devices such as tablets or smartphones consume less energy than desktop computers.
  • Staff and management can work together to ensure that outmoded office technology is recycled or donated, helping to keep electronic waste out of landfills.
  • From BYOD adoption forward, business can enjoy greatly reduced electronic waste disposal, which benefits the environment.
  • Smaller devices require fewer raw materials, which slows the depletion of natural resources and reduces fossil fuel depletion transporting materials to manufacturing plants.
  • Old employee devices can enjoy second lives when wiped of sensitive data. As staff outgrow devices, they can recycle them to other family members, donate them to charitable organizations or keep one as a backup in case of device loss.
  • When employees have access to their business information from their personal device, they are less likely to forget an important document and require courier service, fax or scan transmission or other energy-consuming last minute solutions.

Getting the Most Out of BYOD

BYOD marks a big transition, and it will go smoother if you adopt a policy that outlines what this change means for employees, what types of devices and applications are directly supported and what level of oversight IT and management will have. An effective policy should also cover device activation upon entering the program, device deactivation if employees leave the company and how employees can report lost or stolen devices. Forty percent of small businesses do not enforce any type of BYOD policy, which creates vulnerabilities, according to windstreambusiness.com.

BYOD poses difficult questions for personal privacy, as employers require some amount of oversight over enterprise data stored on these devices. Blackberry offers solutions to the challenges of maintaining a business and personal balance with enterprise BYOD.

Employee attitude toward software updates and patching can put the business at risk. If an employee downloads illegal applications or clicks open a phishing email, the device could become infected with malware and your business data could be compromised. Enterprise protection measures such as firewalls and anti-virus software can offer some measure of protection, but aren’t comprehensive. A partitioning system that keeps enterprise assets safe and separate from personal assets or regular IT device security screening and updating can help mitigate business risks.

No Welcome For Incandescent Bulbs in the New Year

Traditional 40 watt and 60 watt incandescent bulbs will be a thing of the past, effective January 1, 2014. This is because a bill was passed in 2007 making it illegal to import or manufacture inefficient incandescent bulbs after this date. In a drive to rid their six month stockpile of incandescent bulbs, the Home Depot is urging consumers to stock up on them before they become obsolete.

Under the 2007 law, incandescent bulbs can still be manufactured, but manufacturers will have to make improvements in terms of the wattage that they draw. If manufacturers undertake improvements, 40w bulbs will have to consume 10.5w and 60w bulbs should draw 11w.

Though CFLs and LEDs reduce power consumption and last longer, many people favor incandescent bulbs over them because of the light that they emit as well as the affordable price. Some interior decorators even started hoarding incandescent bulbs from as far back as 2010, in light of their impending discontinuation.



Top Electric Vehicle Friendly Cities In The US

American cities are starting to take electric vehicles seriously. Charging stations and infrastructure are popping up all over the place, sometimes in unexpected locales. Chances are you don’t think about the sprawling metropolises of Dallas or Atlanta, or even the country music capital of the world, Nashville, Tenn. Some of the most unexpected cities top the list of EV (electric vehicle)-friendly places to live.


Photo by Fcb981 via Wikimedia Commons

Offering more than 130 charging stations for its 603,000 residents, Portland tops the list, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Your chances of finding plenty of power in the Portland area are pretty good. According to ClimateCentral.org, Oregon is the most the most friendly state for electric vehicles. This isn’t true of all areas, though; sometimes it’s actually greener to opt for a hybrid, because the coal burning used to produce electricity can produce more carbon than the gasoline itself.


Photo by V8roadster via Wikimedia Commons

You might not expect the heart of Texas to be home to one of the most EV-friendly cities in the States. Dallas ranks second on the list because of the number of charging centers. It comes just behind Portland, with about 200 charging stations serving residents in the DFW metro area. You might need them if you live in the DFW metroplex, because morning commutes are notoriously long in this area, depending on where you live and work.


Photo by Kaldari via Wikimedia Commons

The capital of country music is also a top-ten capital of EV-friendliness. According to the Department of Energy, driving a car in the Tennessee costs the equivalent of about $1.03 per gallon. Much of this is because of the nearby Nissan factory in Smyrna, where the company produces many of its all-electric Leaf vehicles.

San Francisco Bay Area

Photo by jitze via Flickr

The San Francisco Bay area is another EV-friendly city. In September 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed several laws encouraging the use of electric vehicles. The new laws allow all-electric vehicles to use the faster-moving carpool lanes. They also encourage the development of easily-accessible charging stations and require commercial and residential building standards to include EV charging infrastructure in multifamily and commercial units.

An Up-And-Coming Option: Atlanta

Photo by J. Miers via Wikimedia Commons

Other major cities like Atlanta are taking steps toward becoming more EV-friendly. According to CleanCitiesAtlanta.net, hundreds of electric vehicles have already hit metro streets. The state capitol building added EV charging stations in October 2013.

Lieutenant Governor, Casey Cagle, drives an electric Nissan Leaf, and was present at the dedication ceremony for the charging stations. He hopes to see even more growth in city planning and sustainability in the next few years, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Talk to a reputable car dealer to help you figure out which type of vehicle would be best for the environment and for your family; DriveTime in Atlanta could help you make the most environmentally-friendly choice, as could similar dealers across the States.

Texas Gets Its First 100% Solar Energy Electricity Plan

While Texas is a world leader in wind energy, the state has long lagged others in the adoption of solar energy.  With its expansive land and ample sunshine, the state has the largest capacity for solar energy in the nation.  Yet, for various reasons, that capacity goes largely unused with the state ranking 15th in the nation in actual solar installations according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Green Mountain Energy, the state’s first and largest renewable energy provider, hopes to change that with the introduction of Texas’ first 100% solar powered retail electricity plan.  Named the SolarSPARC™ (Smart People Accelerating Renewable Change) plan, it allows Texans in deregulated areas of the state to source 100% of their electricity from solar without actually having to install solar panels on their rooftop.

The plan is designed to go beyond just providing 100% solar power to consumers.  It is designed to help fund future solar installations and promote wider adoption of solar power in the state.  The company will contribute $4 per month towards developing new solar projects in Texas for each customer who chooses the SolarSPARC plan.

Additionally, customers will receive bill credit for the facilities they help fund.  These credits will start at $11 per solar project they help fund and could reach up to $121 per year after 5 years in the program.  Customers will have the option to gift their credits to the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club.  The Sun Club is a Green Mountain initiative that has to-date helped build more than 575 kW of solar power for non-profit organizations.

“For the first time, Texas consumers can choose 100 percent solar electricity for their home– even if they can’t put it on their roof,” says Shay Ohrel, product innovation manager, Green Mountain Energy Company. “The SolarSPARC product enables customers to help us ‘change the way power is made’ by proving demand for solar and leveraging our experience in renewable energy to bring more clean electricity options to Texas.”

The company is building the first solar project to provide electricity for the program; a 10 kW solar array near Big Spring Texas.  Their plan is to break ground on new projects about every 6 months with sizes dependent on customer demand for the plan.

“The more customers that sign up for the product, the more solar we’ll be able to build,” continues Ohrel. “We think Texas can be just as well known for solar as it is for wind, and with this product we’re giving customers a new way to drive local development and tap into Texas’s potential to be a solar power house.”

Solar Pool Heating System: Go Green and Cut Heating Costs

The U.S. Department of Energy states that a solar pool heating system generally costs from $3,000 to $4,000, including installation. Depending on local fuel costs, the system pays for itself within one and a half to seven years. While you do have options when choosing how to heat your pool, a solar energy system is a viable choice because it saves you money and reduces your environmental footprint.

The Three Kinds of Pool Heaters

You can choose to heat your pool with an electric heat pump, a gas heater or a solar pool heating system. According to AMECO, an electric heat pump will cost about $5,000 to install, with seasonal operating costs ranging from $1,200 to $2,400. Your total cost within five years could be as much as $17,000. If you choose a gas heater, expect to spend about $2,400 to purchase and install it. Your seasonal operating costs will be around $1,800 and your total cost after five years will exceed $11,000. Installation costs for solar pool heating systems range from $3,000 to $7,000, but solar systems cost nothing to operate.

Once you decide on a solar pool heating system, investigate the covenants, local codes and regulations in your area.

Choosing the Right Solar Pool Heating System

While several kinds of solar heaters are available for pools, the most inexpensive are the molded plastic panels. The swimming season lasts only three or four months in many parts of the United States. A solar pool heater may extend your season by 50 percent or more.

Before purchasing your system, you need to tackle the following:

  • Ensure that your site is a good solar resource
  • Determine system size
  • Establish the proper direction and tilt of the collector
  • Determine efficiency
  • Compare cost of systems

You can learn more about siting your system at energy.gov.

Determining Efficiency of Solar Heating System

Some systems offer a collector’s thermal performance rating. This rating is sometimes measured using the British thermal unit (Btu) per square foot each day: Btu/(ft2day). Or, it may also be measured by megajoules (MJ) per square meter each day: MJ/(M2day).

Choose a solar heating system with a high number rating. Because of variances, the thermal performance of any two collectors are about the same if the ratings are within 25 Btu/(ft2day) of one another.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I increase the effectiveness of a solar heater? Yes. You can use a solar cover to trap heat in the pool when it is not in use. You can also install a dark pool liner. Dark vinyl pool liners for inground pools absorb more heat from the sun.

2. How long does installation take? On average, it takes from one to three days to install a system.

3. Is a solar heater difficult to operate? No, these systems have easy to understand, automatic controls.

4. Will the solar heater affect my chemicals? No, a correctly installed system should not affect your chemicals. You will swim more often, which means that you will use more chlorine.

Other Benefits

  • Safe for the Environment. Solar power is a clean, renewable energy without the need for fossil fuels.
  • Low Maintenance. No extra maintenance is required. Just keep your pool clean and chemicals balanced. When you shock or add a large amount of chemicals to your pool, it is best to shut off the water supply to your solar collectors and pool sweep.


Microsoft Makes Large Texas Wind Power Purchase

Microsoft has signed a deal to purchase the entire output of a 110 MW wind farm northwest of Fort Worth near the town of Jacksboro.  The company says that the purchase is intended to help deliver on its ongoing commitment to become carbon neutral.  The wind project, called Keechi, will be built and operated by RES America.

The 20 year power deal will be funded in part from an internal carbon tax that Microsoft imposes on its company divisions. The “carbon fee” is intended to reduce the company’s carbon foot print and fund renewable energy purchases.  The company estimates that they have raised $10 million within the first year of the program.

While the purchase is expected to provide 5-10% of the companies electricity needs, it will not be used to power Microsoft’s massive datacenter in San Antonio, Texas.  That facility happens to set within a non-deregulated part of the Texas electricity market that is not open to electric competition.  Consequently, the data center is required to obtain its power from CPS Energy, one of the state’s city owned electricity providers.

Under the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the Washington software giant will purchase the entire output of the wind farm for the next 20 years.  Even though the electricity produced by the wind project will not be used directly to power the company’s datacenter in San Antonio, it will have the effect of bringing addition green power into the Texas grid. Texas is already the largest producer of wind energy in the United States.

For 2013, Microsoft was recognized by the EPA as the second largest purchaser of green power in the U.S.  The company purchases enough green energy to meet 80% of its electricity needs within the U.S. Another tech giant, Intel Corporation, tops the EPA’s list by using over 3 billion kWh of green energy.

Construction will begin on the 55 turbine wind project in 2014.  The facility is expected to begin providing electricity in June of 2015.





Challenges For Nuclear Power

Tough Economic Environment for Nuclear Power

The now multi-year run of cheap natural gas prices has had a significant impact in the energy world, and has been a disrupting factor in electricity in particular.  It’s been hard for other energy sources to compete in the low price environment that has been created by cheap abundant natural gas in the U.S.

Nuclear power is not immune to this.  Citing low wholesale electricity rates among other factors, several nuclear power plants across the country have been scheduled for retirement in the past year.  In total, five reactors representing a total capacity of around 4,200 megawatts have been slated for shutdown.  In each case, for various reasons, the owners of the plants feel that they can no longer make money in the current environment.

Nuclear reactors are expensive undertakings.  They required massive amounts of capital and years to build. It’s not common to see them retired and their owners don’t take such decisions lightly.  The current round of retirements represent the first nuclear power plant shutdowns in the U.S. since 1998.

Low Electricity Rates and High Regulatory Burdens

The largest recent retirement is the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) near San Diego.  Southern California Edison, the owner of the facility recently made the decision to retire two reactors (units 2 and 3) totaling a combined output loss of 2,150 MW.  The two units have been offline since January of 2012 awaiting repairs.

While the company had originally planned to restart the reactors after repairs were made, they have recently changed course and decided that the cost of repairs and length of the regulatory approval process involved in restarting the units make them no longer viable.

While there were a number of complicating factors leading to the shutdown of the SONGS units, the owners of the Vermont Yankee facility in Vermont are laying the blame for their recently announced shut down specifically on low natural gas prices and what they call “wholesale market design flows” that have kept wholesale electricity rates low in the region.  Consequently, they didn’t feel like the facility could continue to be economically viable.  They will start decommissioning in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The other recently announced closing are:

  • The Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin – retired in May 2013
  • Crystal River Nuclear Generating Plant Unit 3 – the plant has been shut down already.

See Also: The Prospects For Nuclear Energy In The US
See Also: Natural Gas Exports Mean Likely Higher Electricity Rates in Texas

Image credit: eia.gov

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.


Complaints In Texas Electricity Market Drop Again

For the fourth consecutive year, Texans are complaining less about their electricity providers.  This is according to findings published by Texas Coalition for Affordable Power.

There are number of factors that could be contributing to this steady decline in complaints.

Texans are becoming more and more familiar with how to compare electricity rates and shop for a better deal.   The also understand the terms of the plans better after years of deregulation in Texas.  This familiarity with how to shop and the process of switching providers leads to better experiences for consumers and, consequently, fewer complaints.

Electricity rates in Texas have been considerably lower over the past few years.  This is due largely to a sustained dip in natural gas prices.  Most electricity in Texas is produced from natural gas.  This leads to a strong price correlation between the two.    Consumers who feel they are paying too much are more likely to complain.

Complaints are now at their lowest level since deregulation began in the Texas electricity market.  The first full year of deregulation saw a total of 17,250 complaints to the PUC.  In fiscal year 2013 that number stood at 7,129.  As the market matures and consumers and market players get more familiar with the process, complaints continue to decline.

This follows another recent report that confirms that Texans are more satisfied than ever with deregulated electricity.   The report by JD Power and Associates showed that Texans in deregulated areas of the state showed a higher level of satisfaction than those who lived in areas of the state that have not yet been opened to retail competition.

To file a complaint with the Texas PUC, follow this link: http://www.puc.texas.gov/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx