business energy tips

Atmos: Banking for Sustainable Energy

A New Way to Support Sustainable Energy

Do you know where and how your bank is investing your paycheck? If you bank with one of the big banks, your deposits are almost definitely funding the fossil fuel industry.

To help make it easy to align your money with your values, we’ve partnered with Atmos, a climate-positive banking platform where you can earn a high interest rate on deposits while helping to scale clean energy solutions. Atmos will donate $20 to Energy Alabama for every new account, and you can rest easy knowing that 100% of your FDIC-insured deposits are funding innovative technologies and infrastructure to build a clean energy future. And, when you choose to give regularly to Energy Alabama – or any of the climate non-profits on their platform – Atmos will double your savings rate.

Here at Energy Alabama, we know that true sustainability means improving family conditions, public health, and economic development. We understand the power of markets to scale clean energy solutions that will improve the lives of all Alabamans. That’s why we’re excited to join the Atmos platform. When you bank with Atmos, you’re building the clean energy future as you sleep, swipe or save.

How to Join

Sign up using this link, and Atmos will donate $20 to Energy Alabama. Two minutes is all it takes to put your money to work.

About Atmos

Atmos Financial is a climate-positive banking platform that scales up climate positive solutions. 

Atmos offers FDIC-insured checking and high-yield savings accounts for individuals, and invests 100% of every dollar deposited into clean energy projects. When you bank with Atmos, you’re building the clean energy future as you sleep, swipe or save.

Atmos has no minimum balance, and provides a fee-free platform for donating to non-profits, like Energy Alabama. And, it offers best-in-class rates — and doubles them when you use your account to donate on a regular basis.

Atmos is included in: 

Learn more about Atmos.

Energy vs Power

Understanding What Demand Response Can Do for You

So what is demand response? It is a change in USAGE of energy of an electric utility customer to better match the demand for power with the supply. It can also be thought of as a method of how electric companies compensate for the extra energy used during a “peak time”. When you hear “peak time”, think of a hot Alabama summer day when everyone is running their air conditioners at 2 PM.

What is demand?

Electric energy cannot be easily stored, so utilities have traditionally matched demand and supply by throttling the production rate of their power plants, taking generating units on or off line, or importing power from other utilities. But there are limits to what can be achieved on the supply side, as some generating units can take a long time to come up to full power, some may be very expensive to operate, and demand can be greater than the capacity of all the available power plants put together. Demand response is one of the solutions to these limits and seeks to adjust the demand for power instead of adjusting the supply.

At the consumer level, demand response is a way for certain areas to maintain adequate power during busier peak times and can save them money in the process. One example of this was in 2016, when the New York City grid “shed load” by reducing power at a number of public services, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and utility ConEdison activated a voluntary program to adjust consumers’ air-conditioner thermostats at peak hours. In exchange for participating in these voluntary programs, electricity customers received a rebate varying in amount based on participation.

To help visualize what this looks like, think about the traffic on an interstate. Everyone suffers if the traffic is at a standstill; but once portions of traffic begins taking proper detour routes or delaying their trip, it allows everyone to get to their destination faster. Similarly, if some consumers participate in demand response by lessening their own energy use, or when they use it, then everyone on the grid can maintain their energy usage during peak hours at cheaper prices.

While the main goal of demand response is to maintain energy availability through all times of the year, consumers can earn financial rewards by participating. In many states, regulators create incentives for utilities to use less energy, especially during peak hours of the day. Demand response programs were originally put in place to avoid having to turn on “peaker plants,” or auxiliary power plants that may be used only 10 days a year to meet the traffic of high demand days. You can imagine how expensive these “peaker plants” are to operate by thinking about if we added lanes to our highways just to accommodate Black Friday traffic.

Instead of building new power plants to meet demand, utilities instead can rely on demand response. For example, in New York, 543 megawatts of demand reduction are available just from commercial and industrial customers participating in demand response, which is about the same capacity as a medium size power plant. Keeping these plants idle also helps keep the price of power down, which saves money for the entire customer base. Instead of having to call on very expensive power generators to meet high demand in the late afternoon, grid operators can reduce the load in the system and avoid paying peak-time pricing.

Much like consumers, demand response saves the system money, sometimes on the upper end of millions a week, but the program also creates a better and safer grid in doing so. The grid benefits from not needing to build any extra power plants to supply power during those “peaker times”, which are only about 10 days out of the year, which in turn would require extra power to operate and build. Furthermore, if consumers are using the demand response program, the grid will be less taxed for power output on a daily basis. By conserving energy, grid alterations can be delayed or significantly reduced. In an electricity grid, electricity consumption and production must balance at all times; any significant imbalance could cause grid instability or severe voltage fluctuations, and cause failures within the grid. Don’t forget that demand response can ALSO be used to INCREASE demand during periods of high supply and/or low demand, which, unchecked, could cause an imbalance.

Overall, demand response is beneficial to everyone involved. It saves consumers, businesses, and utilities, money and helps the grid run more efficiently. If given the opportunity, everyone should opt-in to this program for themselves, the grid, and the environmental benefits from using less energy. And if you don’t currently have the opportunity, ask your utility and your Public Service Commission about starting demand response programs to save you money.

Related: Probing Residential Demand Charges

Energy Use Intensity

Here’s What Energy Use Intensity Means, And Why Should You Care

To calculate an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) score, all you really need is a few key pieces of information and some basic math skills. Sure, you’ll have to learn what a kBtu is, but it’s really not as complicated as you might think.

To understand what you EUI means—well, that’s what we’re here to discuss today. But first, let’s practice those basic math skills as we walk through a quick scenario.

So, you have a building and you may or may not want to know its EUI. You’re not really sure what an EUI is, but you’ve heard it can be a valuable metric. (This is true, by the way. More on that later.) Great. First order of business: Find out how much energy your building uses per year.

Got it? Now divide that number by your building’s total area. The resulting number is your EUI. That’s it.

 

So What Does My Energy Use Intensity Mean?

Unlike an ENERGY STAR score, which runs from 1-100, a lower EUI number generally represents better performance. Just like an ENERGY STAR score, however, you’ll be able to compare your building to others that are similar in age and size. It just won’t be in the form of a percentile ranking.

Energy Use Intensity Chart

Some types of buildings will always have a lower EUI than others, as this chart from Energy.gov illustrates.

Some good news: At Energy.gov, Portfolio Manager will do all the math for you. So no matter which units you use to input your energy consumption and building area, you’ll be fine. At the end, Portfolio Manager will spit out a number expressed in kBtu/square feet.

(In plain English, a “kBtu” is one thousand British thermal units. So now you know, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll ever use that information again.)

But here’s the kicker: It’s possible to calculate an EUI for virtually any building. (That’s not the case with an ENERGY STAR score.) So if you’re taking the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge, calculating your building’s EUI could generate some seriously valuable energy-efficiency information for yourself and your company.

Even if your building doesn’t produce enough data for an ENERGY STAR score.

So basically, when you calculate your EUI, you’ll know how exactly how well you’re doing with your efficiency efforts. What’s more, you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement.

And most importantly, you’ll continue to make progress toward your overall goal of improving your building’s energy efficiency.

Understanding Energy Performance Contracting

Understanding Energy Performance Contracting

An investment in sustainability can take many shapes, but one unavoidable fact about today’s high-performance technologies is that they usually cost money to implementand most of the time, it’s all up front. But if you’ve been ruling out a sustainable solution for purely financial reasons, we’d like to introduce you to a concept you really ought to know about: Energy Performance Contracting.

It might just change your mind about sustainability. And it might just save you a whole lot of money, too.

Energy Performance Contracting, to borrow the Energy.gov’s phrasing, is a “budget-neutral” method for reducing energy and water consumption while increasing efficiency in your building. In other words, Energy Performance Contracting helps your building use less energy while creating zero negative effects on your bottom line.Understanding Energy Performance Contracting

“Normally offered by Energy Service Companies (ESCOs), this innovative financing technique allows building users to achieve energy savings without up front capital expenses,” notes HUD.gov. “The costs of the energy improvements are borne by the performance contractor and paid back out of the energy savings.”

You get the benefits, while somebody else shoulders the financial burden. Not bad, huh?

“Energy performance contracting isn’t the best choice for everyone. But it can be a major tool for many budget constricted companies or governments,” says Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama. “At the end of the day, don’t let upfront cost stop a project when you have a tool like energy performance contracting.”

 

So, Where To Start?

The process is surprisingly simple, as outlined here at EnergyStar.gov. First, you competitively select an Energy Service Company (ESCO). This part is completely up to you. Of course, we’re happy to help!

Once you’ve selected your contractor, the ESCO will develop and then execute an all-inclusive energy-saving plan for your facility. The project should include an introductory energy audit as well as some kind of Monitoring and Verification (M&V) process that ensures continued savings. Besides energy efficiency, the ESCO might also focus on water conservation and distributed generation, among other components.

With the plan in place, you’ll work with the ESCO to set up long-term financing through a third party. This could be an operating lease, municipal lease or something else entirely. The idea is that the improvements cost you nothing in capital expenditures up front.

(Lease-purchase agreements are probably the most common method for financing an Energy Performance Contracting project. If you want to know more, that link has plenty more information.)

 

Reaping the Rewards

Finally, the ESCO should offer you a guarantee that your project will pay for itself through the savings generated by that all-inclusive energy-saving plan we mentioned above.

It’s as easy as that. Boost efficiency. Save money. Reap the rewards.

So, what kinds of buildings are ideal for Energy Performance Contracting? Government facilities ara a good choice, since governments generally own their buildings long-term. This makes a 10- to 20-year financing term attractive. But really, any large building could be a good candidate. Hospitals, schools, corporate headquartersthese are just a few of the facilities that could benefit from Energy Performance Contracting.

For more information, or to learn how to get started, contact Energy Alabama CEO Daniel Tait by email at dtait@alcse.org.

Distributed Generation benefits

Distributed Generation: What Are the Benefits?

Distributed Generation: What Are the Benefits?

Increased efficiency. Reduced rates. Improved reliability. Diminished emissions. If all of that sounds good to you, then you ought to know about the benefits of distributed generation.

A few weeks back, we covered microgrids and why they’re important in the context of the larger, main grid. As you might recall, microgrids are defined not by their size, but rather by their function—crucially, their ability to break off from the main grid and operate autonomously. Got it? Well, if that makes sense, think of distributed generation as a network of systems just like that.

That’s oversimplifying it a little, but the overall concept holds true. Distributed generation is when electricity comes from many small energy sources. Generally, these sources are local and renewable. They’re all connected to the larger grid but can also function separately.

If all this sounds unfamiliar, that’s because it’s not the “normal” way of doing things. But it does have its advantages.

The traditional model

In the traditional transmission and distribution (T&D) grid, large sources provide power to huge numbers of residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Some of those customers live close to the centralized power plants. Other live far away—sometimes very, very far.

In contrast, a distributed generation (DG) system has smaller, decentralized sources that generate electricity much closer to the people who use it. There are lots of producers, and even though they produce less individually, they’re all connected to the grid. Together, they can be quite effective.

Several technologies form the backbone of a DG system. Some of the most prominent are solar, wind, and hydro. Another is cogeneration, which is the production of electricity from what is essentially the leftover energy from other forms of generation. Yet another is an energy storage system, which stays connected to the grid and holds energy until it’s needed.

So what are the benefits of distributed generation? In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report outlining some of DG’s advantages. Here’s what they came up with (h/t Energy.gov):

  • Increased electric system reliability
  • An emergency supply of power
  • Reduction of peak power requirements
  • Offsets to investments in generation, transmission, or distribution facilities that would otherwise be recovered through rates
  • Provision of ancillary services, including reactive power
  • Improvements in power quality
  • Reductions in land-use effects and rights-of-way acquisition costs
  • Reduction in vulnerability to terrorism and improvements in infrastructure resilience

Those are all really important concepts, but let’s focus on that first one.

Increased reliability, better performance

One way to think about the benefits of distributed energy is to visualize your cell phone’s network. Imagine for a moment that your carrier had only a few towers in just a few spots around the country. The towers would be massive and powerful, but you wouldn’t have the same reliability and coverage that you have now. The reasons should be obvious. With a network of smaller, more evenly placed towers, cell-phone carriers are able to provide the best service possible to their customers.

Distributed generation is no different. When centralized power plants transmit energy over long distances, some of that energy is lost. With distributed generation, the generators are closer to those who use the energy. Thus there’s less waste. Increased efficiency. In the old model, a loss in service at any point of the grid means everyone suffers. In the new model, that’s less likely to happen.

DG can also serve as a backup to the grid, acting as an emergency source for public services in the case of a natural disaster. Here in North Alabama, that kind of service could be invaluable after a tornado. And by producing energy locally, DG systems can reduce demand at peak times in specific areas and alleviate congestion on the main grid.

Finally, because distributed energy tends to come from renewable sources, it’s good for the environment. Using more renewables means lowering emissions. And lowering emissions makes the world a more enjoyable place for all of us.