Local Renewable Energy or Utility Co. Who’s Your Energy Daddy?

by John Farrell.

Photo Credit: Michael Kappel
Photo by Michael Kappel

For now it remains large, investor-owned utilities, and ostensibly locally-focused rural cooperatives and municipal utilities. But the energy landscape of today gives me uncomfortable reminders of the Athenian tragedy by Sophocles – the Oedipus tale.

John Farrell, ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy, gave this panel presentation at the 23rd annual conference of the Society for Environmental Journalists in Chattanooga, TN, on Oct. 4, 2013.

For those who don’t recall their college or high school English class, that’s the tale of the man who grows up to murder his father the king and marry his mother.  And in this 21st century version, the utilities are the king and Little Oedipus is represented by rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, and other ways that utility customers can produce their own energy. I won’t speculate who is the mother.

Earlier this year, the Edison Electric Institute (the daddy’s club of the investor-owned utilities) released a report suggesting that Oedipus has grown up and his daddy may not be prepared for the climax of this play. It’s summarized in two headlines from the clean energy press this summer. In Grist: “solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities” and in GreenTechMedia, “adapt or die.”

The problem is that customer power generation from local renewable energy reduces utility sales.*

(I asterisk this statement because there’s a robust debate about whether this distributed renewable energy brings other benefits to the grid not reflected on the balance sheet – for more information, read up on Minnesota’s value of solar process.) But if your utility (or state regulatory regime) has built its business model around growing energy sales, this creates what some are calling a utility death spiral. Falling energy sales force utilities to raise rates, which further enhances the attractiveness of generating your own energy from solar.

It explains why the chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, recently said: “solar is going to overtake everything.”

So Oedipus a growing threat, and the utility daddy is trying desperately to stave off the storybook conclusion.

The problem is that the energy daddies grew up in a very different era.  In the early days of the electric system, you needed big capital to build big power plants and big power lines to bring energy to big cities. We gave them monopolies to facilitate that infrastructure development. And for decades, it worked.

But in the next 10 years, electricity from rooftop solar energy will be competitive – without subsidies – with utility energy prices in almost every state. The overlay of renewable energy standards and incentives for distributed renewable energy illustrates how the public interest, the energy model, and the economics have changed.

The way utilities respond will determine whether this Oedipus tale ends like the play. In Arizona, Wisconsin, and many other states, utilities are trying to gut the basic policies allowing people to generate their own energy. In some places, they are successful.  But a recent story from Georgia should give them pause – a “Green Tea Coalition” of environmentalists and tea party activists successfully lobbied the public utility commission to require the state’s biggest utility, Georgia Power, to launch a large distributed solar program.

Utilities that try to maintain the status quo, to remain the energy daddy, are going to have a hard time. Their customers will fight them for the right to self-generate, especially if it costs less than utility power, and these local energy producers will also be energy voters.

What we need is to have the utility become the facilitator rather than the ruler, the kindly elder sibling rather than an energy daddy. Because even as utility customers look to their own options for electricity generation, they will still need the utility network…

1)  to help them use their rooftop solar to power their electric vehicle.
2)  to finance high-efficiency appliances, efficient lighting, insulation and other strategies to cut their energy use and energy bills.
3)  to use existing on-demand energy sources (like natural gas) and future ones (like batteries) to keep power delivery smooth and high quality as the grid transitions to primarily renewable energy.

This won’t be easy. For one, utilities have a lot of money sunk into power plant and transmission infrastructure that may or may not be useful in this new era. For another, the regulatory system doesn’t necessarily reward this facilitation role rather than energy sales. But there’s no real alternative, because people are not likely to accept, nor should they, giving up this opportunity to have more control over their energy future.

Photo Credit: Michael Kappel

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This article, Who’s Your Energy Daddy?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.

Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World. John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

Hitachi Unveils All-in-One Container Energy Storage System

by Zachary Shahan

Hitachi, a large, Tokyo-based global electronics company, has unveiled an energy storage system aimed at complementing solar and wind power developments — “CrystEna” (Crystal+Energy). CrystEna incorporates a wide range of electricity grid technologies from Hitachi.

It isn’t yet ready for the commercial market, however. Plans are to implement a demonstration project in the United States to evaluate its commercial competitiveness.

Hitachi Energy Storage System plugs into the larger grid, local solar or wind farms, or small-scale hydro power and stabilizes and modulates power loads, in addition to storing power in the massive battery.
Hitachi Energy Storage System plugs into the larger grid, local solar or wind farms, or small-scale hydro power and stabilizes and modulates power loads, in addition to storing power in the massive battery.

With several decades of energy storage experience, Hitachi could be a major player in this arena as the industry grows by leaps and bounds. CrystEna incorporates Hitachi Group technologies and expertise from the following fields: electricity generation, transmission and distribution, grid stabilization, batteries, power conditioning systems (PCS), control systems, and more.

The 1 MW lithium-ion battery energy storage system package announced today utilizes Hitachi Chemical’s lithium-ion batteries to raise system performance, such as extended expected battery lifetime, and realize high economic viability.

It was developed with an emphasis on maximizing the benefits to be obtained by customers during long-term use, Hitachi writes.

Initially, Hitachi will conduct field trials in the rapidly growing U.S. ancillary market and plans to accumulate know-how from testing battery capacity optimality and durability as well as the control algorithms written to maximize income from power sales.

This article, All-in-One Container-Type Energy Storage System From Hitachi Unveiled, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

On November 5th, Local Power Is On The Line

by John Farrell

'pick a side' campaign for local renewable power in Boulder, CO
‘pick a side’ campaign for local renewable power in Boulder, CO

In 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, opted to explore alternatives to their monopoly, corporate electric utility that pumps coal-fired energy into town and sucks millions in energy profits out. They won at the ballot box despite being outspent more than 10-to-1.

But tomorrow they have to win again against deep corporate pockets, or lose everything they’ve fought for.

Since November 2011, the diligent citizens of Boulder have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions by half, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords. They’ve studied other city-run utilities (29 others in Colorado alone) to learn how they could take control of their energy future for the better.

Xcel Energy, the incumbent corporate utility, isn’t amused.

xcel service territory.001
Map shows U.S. states which do not support local renewable power

After spending $1 million in a failed attempt to stifle energy freedom in 2011, Xcel Energy has already poured over $500,000 into Boulder to defeat this local and renewable threat to their monopoly business model.  They’ve sponsored a new ballot initiative (issue 310) that would make running a local, municipal utility nearly impossible. Under a rational-sounding name, the ballot measure would prevent the city from issuing enough debt to buy out the corporate monopoly and run its own electric utility.  Nearly all the money supporting the ballot measure comes straight from Xcel’s ratepayers, spread across eight states.

It’s a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy the election result they want, and all that’s standing in their way is a committed group of local citizens.  But unlike 2011, Boulder isn’t standing alone in the fight to be energy deciders for a cleaner energy future.

This video – headlining their crowdfunding campaign – shows what’s at stake.  It inspired over 5,700 individuals across the world to, as their t-shirt aptly suggests, “pick a side.”  (Disclosure: my donation to this campaign gave me the opportunity to offset the money Xcel took from my electric bill to undermine local power).

The campaign isn’t just about one city’s right to make its own energy choices, but about the right of every community to choose its energy future.  And it is ground zero in that fight, as illustrated by the president of the American Public Power Association in a surprisingly impassioned defense of communities to tap “the American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor to meet local needs”:

[Utilities] such as Xcel Energy generally oppose the formation of new public power utilities because, for them, it means the loss of customers and profits. New public power utilities also provide high-profile examples of what communities can do for themselves, and this may encourage other cities to form public power utilities.

“Other cities” includes Xcel’s hometown of Minneapolis, MN, where a grassroots campaign (several years younger than the one in Boulder) is pushing for the same thing: a candid assessment of whether the incumbent utility is providing the best possible energy future.

That makes tomorrow’s vote a crucial one.  Will it be another example of how a corporate monopoly buries its political and economic opponents?  Or will it be Boulder’s shot heard ’round the world of locals taking charge of their energy future?

We’ll see.

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This article, On November 5th, Local Power Is On The Line, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

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7 Ways To Reduce Your Electricity Bill

by Zachary Shahan

7 Ways to Lower Your Electricity Bills
7 Ways to Lower Your Electricity Bills

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

A lot of people are looking to save money these days. No one knows what the future holds, and we all know that the world has been marred with economic troubles in the past decade or so. A major household expenditure for most of us is our electric bill. And our electricity usage is a great place to start when we’re looking at how to lower our bills.

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #1 — Go Solar!

I’m going to go ahead and start with the most obvious — the most effective way to lower your electric bill is very likely by going solar. Sure, you have to pay for those solar panels, but they are cheaper (in the long run) than electricity. The average household that goes solar is likely to save tens of thousands of dollars over the course of their solar panel system’s lifetime.

Furthermore, if you have a solar leasing option in your area, you can consider going solar without purchasing the system at all, allowing you to save money on your electric bill from day one. The average middle-class family that goes solar using a solar leasing model is projected to save $600 a year, according to one recent study.

Luckily, electricity usage, electricity costs, and sunshine are all pretty predictable factors. So, you can estimate how much you’d probably save by going solar, or you can get help with that, and then you can decide if you think it’s worth the investment or not.

Check out the specific projections for your home or business.

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #2 — Switch To LEDs!

Now, beyond the big boy, probably the next best step you can take is ditching your incandescent light bulbs for LEDs. Yes, previously, CFLs were the hot green option for lighting. However, the cost of even more-efficient LEDs has come down tremendously in recent years, and a couple of $5 or $10 LED options are probably your best options for low-cost, high-efficiency, green lighting.

Another positive of LEDs is that they don’t contain any mercury. While cutting electricity use by switching from incandescent light bulbs to CFLs surely reduces mercury pollution from coal power plants, CFLs do contain a tiny amount of mercury, which puts some people off. LEDs, on the other hand, are a completely different technology and don’t require or contain any mercury.

Now that the cost of LEDs has come down so far, I think they will quickly grow in use and replace both incandescent and CFL bulbs. Since 2008, LED costs have fallen 85%, and we’ve gone from about 400,000 LED lights installed in the US in 2008 to approximately 20 million today, 50 times more! Join the LED revolution!

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #3 — Cut Your AC/Heating Needs

Air conditioning and heating are major electricity hogs for a large number of people. However, a big reason for that is simply because we’ve gotten lazy about adjusting to our environment, or even gone in the opposite direction.

How many times have you been somewhere on a hot day in which the air condition was on so high that you had to put on more clothes to warm up? It’s all too common, and maybe you even have the AC set in such a way in your home. Give it some thought. Rather than paying a fortune to freeze yourself, or even to keep it cooler than your body really needs, lower your electric bill by simply raising your thermostat. Our bodies are made to adjust to our surrounding environment. Let your body do its job. And if you want to go even further, turn on a fan to keep cool so that you can turn the temperature on the AC up even further, or can even turn it off altogether. Blowing air on yourself takes a lot less energy than turning hot air into cold air.

On the flip side is of course the use of heating. In reverse from the above, you can lower your electric bill (or your heating bill, if they are separate) by simply letting your body adjust more to a cooler environment, by putting on more clothes (rather than walking around in your underwear in the middle of winter), and by using a blanket from time to time.

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #4 — Don’t Use Electricity When You’re Not Using It

Unfortunately, most of us keep things plugged in for hours or even days between the times we actually use them. This includes TVs, computers, DVD players, DVRs, Xbox and PlayStation consoles, our air conditioning or heating (when we are out), toaster ovens, and much more. These things are then using electricity even when you are not using them. I’ve read that DVRs and gaming consoles are especially electricity needy even when not in use.

Simply unplug these things when you aren’t going to use them for several hours or perhaps even days. (And, in the case of the AC or heating, turn it off when you are going to be out for awhile.) If you’re concerned this is too complicated for you, there are several energy-saving plugs out there that can help you to cut this standby electricity usage without you doing a thing.

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #5 — Have An Old Fridge? Ditch It

Old refrigerators (like the one you might have in your garage) are huge energy hogs. If you’ve got one of these around “just because it would be a waste not to use it,” perhaps it’s time to realize that it is a waste using it. Get rid of it.

In fact, if you have multiple fridges of any age, consider scaling back to just one. Refrigerators are big energy consumers. They eat up electricity like Homer Simpson eats up donuts. Chances are, you need much less space in the refrigerator than you think. Look into it, give it some thought, and scale back.

If you just have one refrigerator but it’s really old, you may still end up saving money by upgrading to a new one. Look into it. Do the math. Or at least have a math-loving friend do it for you.

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #6 — Upgrade

For the most part, new appliances and electronics are much more energy efficient. If you’ve got a really old ______, it may save you money to finally upgrade. This goes for TVs, refrigerators, computers, and much more. Naturally, of course, with an upgrade you also get a newer, better product. Who doesn’t love that?

Again, this option requires doing a bit of math to see if the new product or products is/are worth the investment. But a little math is fun, so give it a shot!

One upgrade you probably haven’t yet done and which is likely to save you a lot of money is getting a learning thermostat. These new thermostats are an excellent way to save a lot of electricity and money without doing anything.

A bunch of other upgrades you can incorporate to lower your electric bill can be found here and here.

How To Lower Electric Bill, Action #7 — Move

Moving isn’t always the best option to solve your household problems, but sometimes it is. Moving into a smaller place or moving to a newer and more energy-efficient place could be a good solution for you. Give it some serious thought. Moving can also provide you with an opportunity to make numerous life changes you’ve been waiting to make. It’s a great opportunity for starting fresh and doing a lot of things you’ve been putting off for too long.
These are my top 7 suggestions for how to lower your electric bill. Give them a shot!

Have more? Please chime in with your suggestions in the comments below!

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This article, 7 Ways To Reduce Your Electricity Bill, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

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Experience Grid Freedom

by Zachary Shahan

.

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

Do you ever feel like you’re an indentured servant at the mercy of your monopolistic utility company? Do you ever wish you could free yourself from this unbalanced relationship? Have you ever dreamt about the grid freedom that would come with becoming your own power producer?

Dream no more! Go out and claim your freedom, your grid freedom! Become a profiting contributor to the electricity grid rather than only a slaving consumer.

Think this is all just an unrealistic dream? Well, aside from an attitude adjustment, you probably just need to see a few eye-opening stats to realize that this is not simply a possibility, but also a really good freakin’ option for millions or hundreds of millions of people, and one of those people could be you!

The 1st set of stats you should see are ones I can’t provide for you in this article. The 1st set of stats you should see is the set of stats tailored to your own home and situation — to be specific, how much electricity a solar power system on your roof could generate and how much money you could save/make from that. To get those stats, simply go through the short solar quote service on our homepage.

On to the more general stats, here are some big ones that I think will help to show you how attractive going solar is today:

Don’t delay any further! Join the solar party! Claim your grid freedom! Help the world by saving/making mucho money!

Repost.Us - Republish This Article

This article, Experience Grid Freedom, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.