Tag Archives: energy efficiency

Energy-saving Stocking Stuffers?

The winter holidays are just around the corner!

Home Depot and Philips have announced that an LED replacement bulb for the standard 60-watt incandescent will be available in stores starting in December 2010.  Read a review of the product here.

New federal efficiency standards will phase out the homely incandescent during 2012 – 2014.  (The phase-out is going on world-wide.)  The U.S. Department of Energy has been working furiously with lighting manufacturers to develop a high-quality replacement bulb to avoid the consumer disappointment that squirreled-up the introduction of CFL bulbs.

Lower-quality LED’s can be purchased now.  However, consumers are best advised to keep their cash in their pockets until the DOE-approved bulbs hit the shelves.


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Finding the Right Mix for Energy Efficiency in Maryland

In pursuit of the Holy Grail of energy efficiency, regulators, utilities and policy advocates have struggled to assemble the most effective strategy.  Finding the right combination and timing of costs and benefits while respecting societal norms of equity, environmental concern and economic burden-sharing is far from easy.

It’s important to remember that there are many different tools in the energy efficiency toolbox.  These tools can be used together or separately.  Maryland is currently trying them all.

Demand-Side Management (DSM): DSM programs assist homeowners and businesses to acquire more energy efficient equipment and renovations.  These efforts can be funded by utility ratepayers or taxpayers.  Maryland utilities mostly abandoned their DSM programs after deregulation in 1999.  A second wave of DSM — the EmPower Maryland initiative — aims to cut per capita energy use by fifteen percent by 2015.

Education: Governments, utilities and retailers can all provide information to consumers about more efficient equipment and practices.  Education is an important component of EmPower Maryland.

Standards: Government has an important role to play in setting energy efficiency standards for new equipment and buildings.  Suppliers lack the right incentives to improve standards on their own but can collaborate with government to find standards they can all implement together.  Learn more about Maryland’s appliance efficiency standards.

Utility Decoupling: Whether as traditional integrated power companies or restructured distribution providers, utilities have a built-in incentive to sell more power to increase their revenues.  This approach aims to break the rigid connection between distribution revenues and the amount of power sold, freeing distribution utilities to take a more active role in energy efficiency.  The Public Service Commission approved decoupling in 2007, making Maryland the fourth state to do so.

Research, Development and Deployment: The federal government takes the lead in supporting investment in basic research, technology development and market-scale deployment of more energy-efficient products.  The U.S. Department of Energy has a major effort under way to guide development of solid-state lighting.  Maryland has also made grants to support research on SSL.

Electricity Pricing Strategies: Coming with the installation of Smart Meters will be new rate structures designed to encourage consumers to reduce peak usage.  In Maryland and the District of Columbia, regulators continue to raise questions about the design of these new rate plans.

Today, Maryland is a leader in energy efficiency.  Will these efforts pay off for businesses and homeowners?  Only time will tell.

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Will Independent Audit Cool California Smart Meter Controversy?

The caution displayed by the Maryland Public Service Commission over BG&E’s smart meter proposal can be explained, in part, by the debate over Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) installation in California.

Some Californians are even taking to the streets:

Thursday morning, about a dozen people launched a demonstration against the SmartMeters at a Pleasure Point vehicle yard where a contractor for PG&E has been staging for the installations. The demonstrators claimed success in keeping installation trucks from leaving the facility and vowed to return daily until the county’s SmartMeter moratorium becomes official.

Elected officials in Santa Cruz County have taken up the challenge and are confronting the state’s Public Utilities Commission:

“It’s hard to feel like we can wait and let the PUC do its job,” county Supervisor John Leopold told PUC supervisor Marzia Zafar. “We’re going to take any action we can to ensure citizens of this community have protection.”

Health concerns have grabbed the public’s attention.  The smart meters being installed by PG&E send data by emitting the same kind of radiation as cell phones do.

San Francisco petitioned the PUC to halt installations pending an independent review of the accuracy of the meters.  PG&E has installed over six million smart meters (both gas and electric) and is on target to install 10 million by 2012.  The utility is struggling to overcome a major lack of public trust.  The Mercury News continues:

But after months of insisting that there were no problems with the meters and that high bills could be traced to rate increases or air conditioning use during hot summer months, PG&E acknowledged some technical glitches with the program in April, including 23,000 gas meters that were installed improperly, 11,376 electric meters that failed to retain consumer usage information, and 9,000 electric meters that had trouble connecting with the wireless network.

The results of an independent review are now in and support the position of the utilities and the PUC.  The report can be found here.  USA Today reports:

The Structure Consulting Group of Houston, selected by the California Public Utilities Commission to review PG&E’s meters, found the meters more accurate than old ones. It also backed up PG&E’s claims that a 2009 heat wave and rate increases, one up to 23%, combined to radically boost bills.

According to the Mercury News, the reported noted the bad relations between the utility and its customers:

The 400-page report, released Thursday, blasted PG&E’s customer service culture, finding that customers were “consistently treated by PG&E as wrong, until the customer proved to PG&E that they were right.”

The dispute is centered in northern California — the state PUC has received many fewer complaints in the southern half of the state where a different utility operates.  The report did not address the health concerns about EMF radiation that is the latest topic to take off.

Smart meter deployment across the country is fueled by federal funding and involves major corporate players:

The SmartMeters are made by General Electric and the Swiss company Landis+Gyr. Redwood City-based Silver Spring Networks, a venture-backed company that counts several of the nation’s leading utility companies as clients, provides the communications software.

One can only hope that Maryland’s utilities will take advantage of the opportunity to learn from California’s mistakes.

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Economist Howley Challenges National Security Agency’s Environmental Impact Statement

AKA “No Such Agency,” the super-secret NSA cultivates carefully its image as the “smartest guys in the room” — code-breakers, linguists, computer programmers, Internet snoopers and so on.  But the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the NSA expansion at its campus in Fort Meade, Maryland, contradicts this image.

The greatest environmental challenge facing our nation and our global community is human-caused climate change.  This challenge is so profound that it entails significant national security implications as well.  Yet the NSA’s DEIS mostly overlooks it — except for passing references.

The Proposed Action that is the subject of the DEIS is 1.8 million square feet of office space and data center.  As detailed in these comments submitted to the NSA, the DEIS is deficient because it does not (1) consider the Alternative of building the project as Zero-Net-Energy and (2) the DEIS does not estimate either the projected amount of electricity the facilities will purchase from the grid nor the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The DEIS ignores important, government-wide initiatives under way to cut energy use and GHG emissions.  Executive Order 13514 says that, beginning in 2020, all federal buildings should be built as Zero-Net-Energy.  The NSA are the “best and the brightest” — why can’t they do it now?

The DEIS makes no attempt to account for GHG emissions from purchased energy — even though this can be done quite easily — as is illustrated in the comments.

The DEIS ignores the State of Maryland’s statutory energy efficiency goals even though the Draft Guidance prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality on how agencies should deal with GHG emissions in an environmental impact statement says that federal, state and local energy goals should ne included in the analysis.

If the NSA had done a complete analysis of their projected power usage, then it would become obvious that this project will put a significant strain on the local power grid, force up prices for homeowners and businesses and increase pressure to build the “coal-by-wire” PATH transmission project.

Construction of PATH would leave the NSA headquarters more dependent on long-distance transmission of dirty power and vulnerable to natural or man-made disruptions.  There are better ways to do it: IBM has developed a data center that runs “off the grid.”

Building a coal-by-wire transmission line from West Virginia’s John Amos coal plant to a massive new substation in Mt. Airy, Maryland — a short hop from Fort Meade — and connecting it to an energy-inefficient new data center might please a certain powerful member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Coal-addicted John D. Rockefeller IV served as chairman of the committee during 2007-09 (and continues as the senior Democrat behind the new chair) and is a strong supporter of PATH.  John D. Rockefeller is leading the attack on the Environmental Protection Agency from within President Obama’s own party.

Here is an opportunity to reassure taxpayers that our national-security policies cannot be held hostage to parochial, pork-barrel interests.  By constructing “Site M” as a Zero-Net-Energy facility, the NSA can show the world that it understands the strategic ramifications of climate change and is committing to do something about it.

If you would like a copy of the DEIS, then you must request one by email.  (Why can’t they PDF it and put it on the Internet like all the other agencies do?)

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New Research Can Help EmPOWER Maryland

Governor O’Malley’s EmPOWER Maryland initiative aims to cut energy consumption fifteen percent by 2015.  Most of the reductions will come by way of energy efficiency programs implemented by our state’s utilities.  Energy efficiency is quicker, cheaper, cleaner and more secure than other options like new interstate transmission lines or new nuclear power plants.

The Maryland Public Service Commission is keeping a close watch on the utilities’ progress — the early results are disappointing.

New research from the ACEEE can point Maryland in a more promising direction: Advanced Metering Initiatives and Residential Feedback Programs: A Meta-Review for Household Electricity-Saving Opportunities (June 2010).

The report surveys studies from the U.S. and abroad of household efficiency measures that target behavior by providing different types of consumer feedback.

On a national scale, our estimates indicate that feedback programs for the residential sector might generate electricity savings that range from as little as 0.4% to more than 6% of total residential electricity consumption. (See page iii.)

One group of measures are more costly — sometimes called “smart meters” or advanced metering initiatives (AMI) — though they hold great promise for reducing energy use.  (The Maryland Public Service Commission recently rejected an AMI proposal from BGE because of its huge, up-front cost to ratepayers.)

Another category of measures is shown to have a smaller impact but at significantly lower cost.  The authors refer to it as “enhanced billing” — reformatting the monthly utility bill while adding relevant information.

These results suggest that enhanced billing strategies are currently one of the most effective and affordable means of providing residential consumers with meaningful feedback about their energy consumption patterns. (See page iv.)

The most cost-effective approach may be enhanced billing approaches that use the results of the latest research on consumer behavior.  This research suggests that social norms (“People like you do X.”) may be more effective at changing behavior than traditional approaches that rely on economic self-interest alone (“Save money!”)  One company that has based its business strategy on this approach is OPOWER.

ACEEE recommends that utilities and public service commissions:

Act now to provide all households with energy consumption feedback and provide measurable and cost-effective savings to households throughout the United States. The best short-term approach to feedback is to provide households with enhanced billing reports. (Emphasis added; see page viii.)

Maryland’s Public Service Commission would do well to consider this advice carefully.

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Behavior-Change Energy Efficiency Coming to Maryland?

Maryland’s utilities are under pressure from the Public Service Commission to implement more effective energy efficiency programs.  One of our major utilities, BGE, may hire OPower to help out (as discussed at the June 17 EmPower Maryland hearings).

OPower’s approach relies on re-formatting electricity bills so that consumers can compare their monthly usage to others with similar homes. It’s an application of the simple but powerful force of social emulation. OPower’s approach relies on the theoretical work of marketing guru Robert Cialdini.  President Obama recently paid a visit to OPower.

OPower’s track record shows that this simple approach can cut overall power use by 2.5 percent.  For an individual, it’s not much — but across a region, state or nation, it’s quite a lot of power saved.

The really important point here is the cost of achieving this reduction which is relatively small.  Connect the utility database with information about house size and other consumer details, reformat the monthly bill (long overdue) and give people useful suggestions on how to cut usage.

Compare the costs of this to, say, building a new nuclear power plant.

(The Maryland Public Service Commission recently ordered utilities to change the way they present price information on monthly bills.   This change will help in choosing a retail power supplier and is not primarily about energy efficiency.  The Commission is also considering whether to order utilities to display 12 months of usage data on bills which might encourage conservation.)


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The U.S. Military Goes Green

The Department of Defense is placing a new emphasis on improving energy efficiency.

The goals are to improve national energy security, enhance battlefield capability, and control costs.

On that last point, anyone would be excused for being skeptical about DoD’s sincerity when it comes to saving money, but the real concern is price risk. The military’s over-dependence on petroleum makes it vulnerable to sudden price spikes that could constrain military options.

The U.S. Air Force recently conducted its first test of powering an aircraft (an A-10 Thunderbolt) solely with a bio-fuel blend.

What’s most striking about the DoD strategy is its emphasis on behavior change. The military has figured out that big energy efficiencies are possible at low or no cost simply by changing the way people use fuel and power.

Integrating energy efficiency into the military’s potent training system is expected to have two major outcomes. First, the military itself will become more energy efficient. Second, the society at large will become more energy efficient over time as the effect of the military’s culture change spreads across the broader culture.

The strategy is described in a presentation from the 2009 conference on Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC).

DoD also wants to cut its dependence on the civilian power grid.

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