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EE: Beyond the Bulbs

image credit: ID 64079058 © Sorapol Ujjin |

Energy Efficiency is measured by dividing the energy obtained by the initial energy input.  Simply put, it means using less energy to provide the same level of energy.  In any other scenario to use less and gain more is a challenge but if achievable, quite profitable.  Does that notion really apply to everything?  For example, can the budget proposed for 2021 provide less money and expect the the same level of clean, efficient energy?  The current administration has unveiled an 8 percent reduction in the proposed budget for 2021 and again it calls for cuts to clean energy and environmental programs.   Hoping for the opposite, EESI Executive Director Daniel Bresette said this proposed budget slashes investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Instead increased funding will go toward nuclear and clean coal research and development.     

Chasing Coal

The DOE announced a $64 million investment toward Components of Coal FIRST Power Plants.  U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette stated, “Investing in R&D for cleaner coal technologies will allow us to develop the next generation of coal plants for countries to use this valuable natural resource in an environmentally responsible manner.”  Projects like Modular Staged Pressurized Oxy-Combustion Power Plant System promise a near-zero emissions source of coal-fired power with high efficiency and flexibility. It's hard to ignore coal since it accounts for 41 percent of the world’s electricity generation.  But despite their best efforts, coal plants continue to close. At 13,703 MW, 2019 marks the highest level of annual coal capacity retirements in the U.S. since 2015, a new S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of federal data shows. The amount of coal capacity planned for retirement in 2020 is expected to exceed the amount retired in each of 2014, 2016 and 2017.  Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s 247-MW Escalante power plant in New Mexico has just announced it will close by the end of the year.  Vistra Energy Corp. recently noted that the retirement of four coal plants in Illinois improved its 2021 projected earnings.  President and CEO Curtis Morgan said, "I think any business that is a capital-intensive business, whether it's airlines or chemicals or refining or whatever, have to replace their hardware at some point in time. The question is going to be, what kind of hardware are we going to replace it with? I think it's going to be renewables."

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) also announced $74 million for 63 selected projects to research, develop, and test energy-efficient and flexible building technologies, systems, and construction practices to improve the energy performance of the nation’s buildings and electric grid.  “We’re renewing our commitment to develop state-of-the-art building technologies that will empower Americans with more options to enhance buildings performance quickly without disruption to their lives,” said Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel R Simmons.  Renewed commitment to renewables and efficiency programs can be seen on the city and state level.  Multiple cities are launching new programs to improve efficiency for the city and for its residents.  All this, on the heels of several campaigns to municipalize privately owned utilities.  Just this morning, Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot dismissed a push to have the city run its own electric utility, saying it would be too expensive to buy the system from Commonwealth Edison. Last night in Pueblo, CO, city council members voted unanimously to allow Pueblo voters to decide whether to dump Black Hills and authorize Pueblo Water to operate the electric-water utility.  By taking over, many cities are hopeful they can increase savings and efficiency.  If so, this could present a real challenge to privately owned utilities across the country.  A recent study revealed the need for energy efficient measures among these companies.  The study, conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, (Berkeley Lab), found the cost of saving electricity in publicly owned utilities, or POUs, is lower than in those that are privately owned.  According to study co-author Greg Leventis.  “Energy efficiency helps ensure electricity system reliability at the most affordable cost as part of resource adequacy planning and implementation activities.”  Leventis also said the information could be used to predict how much power communities need and the cost of efficiency programs to meet those needs.  The study also found there was variability in costs depending on the sector being examined. For example, low-income sectors cost the most at about $0.133/kWh.  Overall, the study projects spending on energy efficiency to increase by 3% per year until 2025.  In New Mexico and Ohio that increase is going toward low-income sectors.  

Energy Efficiency for All

According to U.S. Department of Energy, there are unique barriers to achieving energy savings in low-income households, which means efficiency programs serving low-income customers must be thoughtfully designed and implemented. New Mexico’s Senate Conservation Committee passed a pair of bills designed to help low-income households become more energy efficient.  SB 114 would create a new $6 million community energy efficiency block grant program, administered by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s (EMNRD) Energy Conservation Division.  “We recognize that the least expensive kilowatt of energy is the one that we don’t have to generate,” Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino told committee members. “This is a bill that’s designed to provide a way for low-income households to be able to take advantage of more efficient appliances, more efficient insulation, to have a whole energy audit done and to take advantage of the savings that are realized from that — savings economically, and savings to our whole society in terms of the reduced energy that would be demanded.”  Santa Fe Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero, who is co-sponsoring the bill, added that the bill would help the state realize its clean energy goals.  “This is about access and promoting clean energy options in our state.”  Some raised concerns that current programs like the Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA) program already address this issue but Ortiz y Pino said, “We’re trying to make sure that the program that MFA runs and this program are in close collaboration, so they’re not duplicating, they’re not going into the same households in the same neighborhoods.” He concluded, “This would be an opportunity to reach communities and native tribes, for example, that haven’t so far been able to participate in the MFA program.”

In Ohio, a new efficiency initiative called WarmUp Cindy will help low-income households.  The city will help 65 families over a 90-day period with a home energy assessment, basic energy-efficiency upgrades, information on reducing energy consumption, a family energy strategy and, if necessary, financial help with getting utilities reconnected.  The program is funded through a rate case settlement with Duke Energy Ohio, Cincinnati’s utility company.  To truly help those in need the program will focus recruitment on tenants whose electricity has historically been shut off.  A 2016 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that Greater Cincinnatians face the eighth-worst energy affordability of the country's 48 largest metro regions.  "Energy costs that may be affordable to a middle-class household may not be affordable to a low-income household," the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA) study explains. "In fact, low-income households spend three times more of their income on energy bills than higher-income households.”  After the 90 day period, the data will be collected and findings assessed.  Then, the second phase of the work will commence and they can focus on whole-building strategies like capital investments.  

100 Percent Carbon Free

Los Angeles’ recent push to become carbon free has put the spotlight on a growing trend.  LA’s announcement follows similar efforts seen in Seattle, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.  But L.A. will become the first California city to require less carbon in construction materials.  In Seattle, a pilot project with Seattle City Light will take on up to 30 commercial buildings using an “Energy Efficiency as a Service” approach.  This will allow customers to implement energy efficiency projects with no upfront capital expenditures.  Most utility-driven energy conservation programs are based on incentives to adopt conservation measures.  This is different in that it uses an advanced metering system that calculates actual energy savings against a baseline established from a building’s historical energy usage without the installed efficiency measures, and adjusts for weather, occupancy, and other factors that affect a building’s energy usage.  Several other cities are auditing city buildings and monitoring new construction projects with energy efficiency in mind.

Beyond the Bulbs

Traditional energy efficiency programs focus on replacing lighting systems and appliances, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced metering infrastructure.  According to a new report from Navigant Research, a new global approach allows the benefits of energy efficiency to move from overall load shaping to targeted relief of transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure at critical points on a utility’s energy grid.  Again, an increase in energy efficiency is projected.  According to the report, global electric energy efficiency spending by governments and utilities is anticipated to increase from nearly $30 billion in 2019 to nearly $60 billion by 2028.  "While factors driving the growth of energy efficiency programs vary due to geography, utility market designs, and regulatory landscapes, there is still significant room for growth globally," says Jessie Mehrhoff, research analyst with Navigant Research. "Programs continue to expand and touch new utility customers in Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa, and although program expansion is less of a focus in North America and Europe, utilities are working to design new programs and drive deeper savings in existing programs.” 

What new programs is your utility designing to provide greater options in energy efficiency for residents, for your city, state or region?   Finally, if the proposed budget is approved, how will lower financial support from government agencies impact utilities, businesses and state regulators interested in energy efficiency?

Nevelyn Black's picture

Thank Nevelyn for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 12, 2020 11:19 pm GMT

Really important to dive more deeply into energy efficiency in this way-- just using efficient bulbs is great, but also risks users receiving moral licensing to not pursue EE in other ways. There's a lot of meat left on the bone!

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