sustainable energy

Greener State Only Leaves You With Less Green. Here's Why.

Greener State Only Leaves You With Less Green. Here’s Why.

Greener State is a new program from Alabama Power that claims to give utility customers the chance to cover up to 100 percent of their energy usage with renewable sources. Which sounds great in theory because, after all, who doesn’t like renewable energy? In practice, though, Greener State isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

TL;DR – Alabama Power, and really all utilities, should stop charging their customers a premium for the privilege to buy renewable energy. Renewable energy is already the cheapest power to procure. Instead, they should focus on expanding access to renewable energy sources – for everybody. Alabama Power should make it easier for people to use renewable sources, not charge them extra.

The Skinny on RECs

Renewable Energy is great! Let’s expand access to it, instead of charging a premium.

Now, let’s back up. According to Greenerstate.com, the Greener State program allows Alabama Power customers to “greenify” their energy consumption with something called Renewable Energy Certificates. They’re called RECs for short, and the idea is that you can buy enough of them to cover all of your energy usage.

If you do that, you will have (in effect) used 100 percent renewable energy without buying and installing an expensive solar setup at your home. Meanwhile, you’ll be helping Alabama Power invest in wind, solar and biomass sources. The program doesn’t cost a whole lot, and you’re even taking care of the environment at the same time.

What’s not to like? More from Greenerstate.com:

RECs are the strongest driver of renewable energy development, and give you the ability to support renewables without the heavy cost of owning personal systems. You can certify that your electric usage is covered by renewable energy, but not spend tens of thousands on a solar panel system.

Since 2014 Alabamians have covered 3,267,000 kWh of their homes’ usage with renewable energy through our REC program. Now you can be a part of the movement with Greener State. This market force leads to more demand and accelerates the growth of renewable energy. RECs are a win-win-win.

A Win-Win?

First of all, a solar panel system for your home doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. But let’s leave that for another time. Instead, let’s focus on that last part. For Alabama Power, Greener State definitely is a win-win. For customers, it’s really not.

To understand why, let’s take another look at the Greener State website. An article titled “The Future of Renewables in Alabama is Bright… Literally” notes that in December 2017, Alabama Power will begin receiving energy from a 72-megawatt solar plant in Lafayette, Alabama. And that’s not all. Not nearly. The same article mentions 14 hydroelectric facilities, a couple of wind projects and even some biomass energy – all of which Alabama Power supports.

Here’s the thing. If I’m a paying customer of Alabama Power, shouldn’t my money already support renewable energy? I mean, since Alabama Power is so invested in renewables, it just makes sense.

Well, Alabama Power never explains that part. Not at all.

Greener State: Really Just Leaving You with Less Green

Who doesn’t love solar? What we need is MOAR renewables! (Not a premium for the privilege.)

So, what’s the alternative? Here at Energy Alabama, we believe that renewable energy is the best and most cost-effective energy available. So, yes, utility companies should be investing in it. Heavily.

But while Alabama Power’s marketing is slick, Greener State just doesn’t add up. To be clear, investing in renewables is unquestionably a good thing. But in its current form, Greener State merely serves as an example of how Alabama Power values one form of green over another.

Instead of charging a premium to “support” renewable energy that is already in place, why not just continue investing in renewables while expanding access for all? In the long run, that’s the best and most cost-effective solution for Alabama Power and its customers.

And in the long run, that would be the real win-win for everybody.

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 Promotes Sustainable Energy with 2 Federal Grants

A North Alabama nonprofit is the recipient of a $77,680 federal grant to study strategies to develop an advanced energy economy with an emphasis on coal-impacted communities.

Energy Alabama, founded in 2014 by CEO Daniel Tait, will use the technical assistance grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to identify the advanced energy industry of the coal-impacted areas and jobs within that industry. The organization will also seek workforce training resources from local community colleges and career placement to assist unemployed workers in the advanced energy sector.

To continue reading the full article from AL.com, please visit: http://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2017/02/energy_alabama_promotes_sustai.html#incart_river_home

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.