Energy Alabama Signs On to Comments for Department of Energy’s Grid Reliability Study

Energy Alabama, along with many southeastern groups supportive of sustainable energy, signed on to comments prepared by The Southern Environmental Law Center in regards to the Department of Energy’s Grid Reliability Study. A 60-day inquiry is currently being undertaken by the Department of Energy concerning the reliability of our nation’s electricity grid.

We decided to sign on to these comments because Alabamians are starting to reap the benefits of affordable, reliable renewable energy resources that are diversifying our grid and producing clean, sustainable power. This study has the opportunity to significantly strengthen or weaken sustainable energy in South. We wanted to take any opportunity we could to give our voice in support of sustainable energy.

The full comments are shared below.

Download the PDF file .

Huntsville Business Installs Solar Panels to Reduce Energy Consumption

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A Huntsville business is taking advantage of sunlight to save some serious cash.

Media Fusion, Inc. is a Huntsville business and the latest to join the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge and install solar panels.

“Energy Alabama was the key for us,” said McElyea. “If it weren’t for Energy Alabama, we wouldn’t have flipped the switch.”

To read the full article, please visit: http://whnt.com/2017/06/02/huntsville-business-installs-solar-panels-to-reduce-energy-consumption/

To view the installation under construction (time-lapse), please visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rdwglsBF0g

What Is Blockchain? Is it the Future of Energy?

What is blockchain, and why is it important for the energy sector?

If you know anything about blockchain, you are probably wondering how it is related in any way, shape, or form to energy. Indeed, the concept of blockchain was originally confined to the cybercurrency known as Bitcoin, where the technology chronologically records and links transactions made across the network, securing the Bitcoin environment.

Now, however, the blockchain concept is being applied to situations beyond Bitcoin, and especially in the energy sector. Inquiring energy experts asked if this same technology used to track the flow of cybercurrency could be used for energy transactions. And, as it turns out, it might be able to. Thanks, energy experts!

With blockchain, an energy consumer would be able to securely sell any unused energy to a willing buyer, such as a neighbor. Blockchain would track the flow of electrons on a distributed grid, much like that of currency in a cyberenvironment. At its core, blockchain would be able to create a secure, instantaneous, and independent system for energy transactions.

For all its positives, there are some obstacles that blockchain must overcome before it can meet the high expectations of energy experts, especially on the technical side. For instance, blockchain does not currently provide the sufficient bandwidth and throughput needed to make global energy transactions a reality. But don’t despair! Many are working to create blockchain a usable, everyday part of life. This map shows the areas where blockchain research has made headway:

What would a blockchain future look like?

If blockchain technology gets past the current technological barriers, it would significantly alter the energy sector. For one, it would eliminate the need for an electricity retailer, as transactions would happen directly between an energy producer and an energy consumer. This means that a household would be able to buy the energy it needs from a preferred sustainable energy producer. Furthermore, any unused energy by a household could be sold or gifted to a neighbor. The blockchain future is a bright one, and we look forward to it!

the duck curve of renewable energy

The Duck Curve: What is it and what does it mean?

So let’s talk about the duck curve and what it means in the world of renewable energy. But what is the “duck curve?” Does it involve our adorable little animal friends who quack the day away? Well, kinda, but not really.

Put simply, the duck curve is the graphic representation of higher levels of wind and solar on the grid during the day resulting in a high peak load in mid to late evening. The difference in the Duck Curve and a regular load chart is that the duck curve shows two high points of demand and one very low point of demand, with the ramp up in between being extremely sharp. It looks like a duck! Since renewable energy has become more common over the years, the duck curve is appearing more often and is getting worse.

Let’s look at an example of what the duck curve looks like:

 

The duck curve, explained.

As you can see, this chart shows the electric load of the California Independent System Operator (ISO), just think the California grid, on an average spring day. The lines show the net load—the demand for electricity minus the supply of renewable energy—with each line representing a different year, from 2012 to 2020. The chart also shows that energy demand reaches its peak in the morning (between 6 A.M. and 9 A.M.) and afternoon times (between 6 P.M. and 9 P.M). This demand shows that people need more energy as they get prepared for work or school in the morning and when they come home from work or school in the afternoon.

Let’s look at lines 2012 and 2017, for example. Comparatively, the 2012 line is much more smoother than the 2017 line. This is because the feed of a renewable power supply has not yet been introduced. By slowly integrating solar energy, the demand for electricity from the electrical grid becomes smaller and smaller. However, the renewable energy source is not enough to meet the demand in its entirety, especially in those peaks hours that I referenced earlier. So the electric grid is left to pick up the slack, which can sometimes be problematic.

Why is a duck causing problems?

As you can see by the chart, solar energy works best during the bright hours of the day, which makes energy demand lower greatly. We’ll call this the duck’s belly: the lowest point of demand. The demand begins to rise rapidly as the sun sets and people get home at 6 P.M. There’s no sun to power all of the appliances getting turned on by people returning home from work or school, and the grid is left to answer to that high demand. Therefore, the demand rises very rapidly (the duck’s neck) to a peak in the afternoon hours (the duck’s head).

For many decades, energy demand followed a fairly predictable pattern, with very little change in levels of demand. This allowed electrical workers to become experts with sustaining a stable output of energy. Well the duck curve kinda throws a wrench in that. In order to meet the baseline requirement, or “baseload”, utilities run BIG power plants that run on either nuclear or coal, which run around the clock. The problem with coal and nuclear power plants is that they’re expensive to completely startup and shutdown, and are more effective in ramping up or down. Then there’s the “peak load,” which is satisfied by peaker plants that usually run on natural gas, and more frequently renewables.

In order to maintain top efficiency, regulators will often turn peaker power plants off and ramp down the baseline plants during times of very low demand, such as hours of the “duck’s belly.” However, the sudden and rapid increase in demand means that regulators have to quickly turn back on these power plants, which is not only expensive, but could lead to more pollution and high maintenance costs.

Another problem with the duck curve lies in the belly of the duck. In some places, demand becomes so low that grid operators are forced to turn off the peaker power plants and ramp down the baseline power plants. Then, just a few hours later, they all have to get ramped up again with little to no warning, which can cause problems for grid stability.

So problems with the duck curve lie in those sudden and steep changes in demand. Grid operators and regulators struggle to maintain stability and efficiency by turning power plants on and off, causing instability in the power supply, large expense to taxpayers, and pollution to the environment.

So what can we do about the Duck Curve?

One probable solution for the duck curve can be found in a method called interconnection. This strategy involves connecting multiple energy grids together to make a large energy grid. In theory, this would broaden and disperse the load and availability of solar and wind across a larger area, which in turn would flatten the duck curve.

This strategy could provide a long term solution to the problem. However, although the technology already exists, the politics of a large, interconnected grid is unlikely due to “not in my backyard” concerns and securing the rights of way.

The second method of smoothing out the duck curve is committing to the storage of energy generated by solar and wind, instead of immediately sending that energy directly to the grid. The energy can then be “dispatched” when it’s needed, and would almost definitely flatten the curve. This method could prove very expensive to execute in near term however battery storage continues to fall in price and more utilities are actively seeking it as a viable solution.

Energy Alabama and GASP Comment on Alabama’s Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan

Energy Alabama, along with GASP, provided comments to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) on their effort to draft Alabama’s Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan (BMP). The BMP will be the state of Alabama’s strategy to best use Volkswagen’s settlement monies pursuant to a Clean Air Act violation.

Our comments included what we believe to be the three most important principles for ADEM to consider:

  1. Pursuing actions with the largest emissions reduction per dollar spent;
  2. Pursuing actions that reduce future stranded infrastructure costs;
  3. Pursuing options that lend themselves to clear metrics and demonstrable results.

Furthermore, our overarching recommendations for ADEM included:

  1. Emphasize electrification of all transportation
  2. Work with utilities to share data
  3. Track and report emissions reduction to the public
  4. Invest in projects with large immediate emissions reductions for heavy-duty transportation

Our full comments can be found here: https://alcse.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Volkswagen-Settlement-Beneficiary-Mitigation-Plan_20170511_FINAL.pdf