Tags: energy management*

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  1. Because wind energy comes and goes with the weather, it makes grid operators nervous. But wind forecasting has improved dramatically, giving more confidence to those who need to keep the lights on.

    And, interestingly enough, the requirements for reserve capacity (backup power for when wind power dips) to manage the grid smoothly went down, not up, over the past few years in Texas, despite rapid growth in wind during Governor Perry’s tenure. That is, the costs for managing variability in the grid decreased.

    Why has there been little disruption to the reliability of the Texas grid? Because alongside rapid growth in wind installations was a market transformation in ERCOT. While Secretary Perry was governor, the Texas market went from a coarse, slow market to a fine-tuned, fast market. Innovating the market to one that is dynamic and fully functioning made it easy to include more wind into the system. It’s also a sign of how advanced technologies enable us to reinvent the grid toward one that is cheaper, cleaner and more reliable.
    Figure showing increasing wind in ERCOT and decreasing regulation requirements. The drop in requirements is due to market operational changes. There does not appear to be any correlation with increasing wind and regulation procurements. Juan Andrade, Yingzhang Dong, Ross Baldick

    But there is still more to do – information technology coupled with integrated hardware can help. Consider this: There are 7.7 million smart meters in Texas, most of them residential. We’ve estimated that installing 7 million controllable thermostats for just the households in Texas would cost $2 billion. Residential air conditioning is responsible for about 50 percent of peak demand in Texas in the summer. That means about 30 gigawatts of peak demand in Texas is just from residential air conditioners.

    By dynamically managing our air conditioning loads – that is, adjusting thermostats to lower overall demand without impacting people’s comfort – we could reduce peak demand by 10 to 15 GW. That means we might not need $10 billion to $15 billion worth of power plants. Spending $2 billion to avoid $15 billion is a good deal for consumers. In fact, you could give the thermostat away for free and pay each household $700 for their trouble and it would still be cheaper than any power plant we can build.

    In the end, Secretary Perry has posed good questions. Thankfully, because of lessons learned while he was governor of Texas, we already have answers: despite concerns to the contrary, incorporating wind and solar into the grid along with fast-ramping natural gas, smart market designs and integrated load control systems will lead to a cleaner, cheaper, more reliable grid.
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  2. Although the analysis above has much room for refinement and development in context and household specific ways, it has been demonstrated that what we have called low-tech options have the potential to significantly reduce the energy intensity (and water intensity) of our ways of living. Our personal experience practising all of these low-tech options at times, many of them often, and some of them always, also gives us confidence that the results above are broadly correct. Indeed, when low-tech ‘demand side’ strategies are applied in conjunction with hi-tech ‘supply side’ strategies (e.g. solar PV), our personal experience confirms that people can be net-producers of renewable electricity, provided ordinary consumption of electricity is significantly reduced. Moreover, we know that this can be done without diminishing quality of life, although low-tech practices do often demand a greater time investment than their conventional alternatives, which can call for broader lifestyle changes to accommodate this increased time commitment.
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  3. The visceral nature of the referendum campaign showed just how many voters felt the effects of an economic system that doesn’t work for them. But if the leave campaigners were right about how many felt about life and work in Britain today, they were wrong about the causes, and wrong about the solutions. Blaming the EU was a category error. In truth, the blame lies closer to home.

    Austerity – which has affected the living standards of many working people – was not imposed by the EU, but was a choice by the current government. When public finances are tight, the economic contribution made by migrants ought to be welcomed. But the climate of cuts allowed migrants to be blamed and Britain’s contribution to the EU – at £8bn, just 1.2% of public expenditure and outweighed by our economic gains from membership – to take on disproportionate significance.

    Without investment, productivity is low; jobs are insecure. Where is the leadership for green growth, for example, which can provide new opportunities for the entire economy? And where was the positive story on the benefits the EU has brought, with the UK the fastest-growing economy in the G7 since it became a member?

    These problems will now be harder, not easier, to solve outside the EU. Let me give three examples.

    First, research. Collaboration across the continent has made Europe a powerhouse for science. Britain gained disproportionately from EU research funding. The loss of this funding will creates a real gap, making our low productivity even harder to resolve.

    Second, insecurity and equality. As Frances O’Grady, the head of the TUC, has said, the EU has been good for workers, securing rights to paid holidays, maternity entitlements and equal rights for part-time workers. When it was claimed that Brexit would make us free, we should understand who this freedom is for. We would be free from many of the checks and balances on the power of capital over labour, and on other areas such as environmental damage. To build a healthier, more inclusive capitalism and address the economic insecurity that many feel, a post-Brexit Britain will need to strengthen, not weaken, the rights won by unions.

    The third challenge is green growth. EU legislation has improved the quality of British beaches and the air we breathe. But green policies will also form the next industrial wave that will lead to future prosperity. Today green spending is an option for governments and businesses; soon it will be a necessity. Those who have chosen to invest will be in a strong position. The EU has led on green energy, and Britain could have played a big role. An Imperial College study estimates the benefits of a fully integrated European energy system at around £100bn a year by 2030. This was surely a prize worth working together to achieve, and one that would have rewarded rather than penalised future generations. Outside the EU, Britain must find new ways to build alliances and cooperate across borders to avoid being left behind.
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  4. The 20th century fossil-fueled economic growth spurt happened not because the energy industry created many jobs, but because it created very few jobs.

    For most of human history, providing energy in the form of food calories was the major human occupation. Even in societies that consumed relatively high amounts of energy via firewood, harvesting and transporting that wood kept a lot of people busy.

    But during the 19th and 20th centuries, as the available per capita energy supply in industrialized countries exploded, the proportion of the population employed supplying that energy dropped dramatically.

    The result: instead of farming to provide the carbohydrates that feed humans and oxen, or cutting firewood to heat buildings, nearly the whole population has been free to do other activities. Whether we have made good use of this opportunity is debatable, but we’ve had plenty of energy, and nearly our entire labour force, available to run an elaborate manufacturing, consumption and service economy.

    Seen from this perspective, the claim that renewable energy will create more jobs might set off alarms.

    As Morgan makes clear, energy sprawl is not at all unique to renewable energy transition – it applies equally to non-conventional, bottom-of-the-barrel fossil fuels such as fracked oil and gas, and bitumen extracted from Alberta’s tar sands. There will indeed be more jobs in a renewable resource economy, compared to the glory days of the fossil fuel economy, but there will also be more energy jobs if we cling to fossil fuels.

    As energy sprawl proceeds, more of us will work in energy production and distribution, and fewer of us will be free to work at other pursuits. As Klein and the other authors of the Leap Manifesto argue, the higher number of energy jobs might be a net plus for society, if we use energy more wisely AND we allocate surplus more equitably.

    But unless our energy technologies provide a good Energy Return On Energy Invested, there will be little surplus to distribute. In other words, there will be lots of new jobs, but few good pay-cheques.
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  5. People generally weren’t very good at estimating how much total energy use the different categories consumed. For one, they didn’t realize that the biggest energy users — home heating and driving “private motor vehicles” — were dramatically more energy intensive than many other smaller energy users, such as computers or dishwashers.

    You know what this means: I have been judging my neighbors for all the wrong reasons. This is pure tragedy.

    The lead author of the study, Ohio State University psychology doctoral student Dan Schley, hypothesizes that people tend to focus on switches because they’re always touching the damn things. As he told the Post:

    Because they use the lights a lot, they tend to infer that lights consume a lot of energy. On the other hand, consumers tend not to think about their water heating (other than when they run out of hot water) or interact with their water heater very often.

    As a consequence, we tend to relatively underestimate just how much energy it takes to keep the air and water in our homes at a temperature we like. In general, people estimate that the appliances they interact with the most (computers, light switches, televisions, stoves) use the most energy, and that the ones that they just leave running in the background (like the furnace and the hot water heater) use less. In fact, home heating is one of the biggest energy sucks out there — about 20 percent of home energy use, on average, instead of the 7 percent that the participants in one study estimated, on average.
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  6. se oggi la bolletta annuale costa il 23 per cento in più per via degli apparecchi in stand-by, fino a un paio di anni fa non raggiungeva il 20% di maggiorazione. E questo non dipende solo da Pc, cellulari, televisori e console. Secondo i ricercatori che hanno condotto lo studio, hanno grandi responsabilità quegli apparecchi che un tempo erano esclusivamente meccanici e collegati alla presa elettrica per far andare il loro motore, come il frigorifero e la lavatrice, ma anche le saracinesche dei garage e quelle delle finestre di casa. Questi ultimi infatti oggi si sono trasformati in sofisticati strumenti elettronici, con display, tasti di programmazione con controllo elettronico da remoto, disponibilità di software per la loro gestione e per far parlare tra loro gli apparecchi.

    I pesi delle bollette

    Lo studio ha anche provato a individuare, su base 100, il peso di ogni singola azione o uso casalingo dei vari dispositivi: al primo posto, responsabile del 51% della bolletta, vi sono i dispositivi per il divertimento o lo studio casalingo: televisore, console, personal computer, stampante, caricatori per cellulari e così via. Al secondo posto, con il 34 per cento dei consumi, vi sono oggetti vari per il funzionamento della casa: pompe degli acquari, condizionatori, cancelli elettrici e porte automatiche dei garage, oltre a tutti i dispositivi usati per esempio in bagno e i telefoni cordless. Al terzo posto, con il 15% di peso in bolletta, vi sono invece gli apparecchi usati per cucinare, scaldare, lavare, refrigerare.
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  7. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article called, Glut of Capital and Labor Challenge Policy Makers: Global oversupply extends beyond commodities, elevating deflation risk. To me, this is a very serious issue, quite likely signaling that we are reaching what has been called Limits to Growth, a situation modeled in 1972 in a book by that name.

    What happens is that economic growth eventually runs into limits. Many people have assumed that these limits would be marked by high prices and excessive demand for goods. In my view, the issue is precisely the opposite one: Limits to growth are instead marked by low prices and inadequate demand. Common workers can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that the economy produces, because of inadequate wage growth. The price of all commodities drops, because of lower demand by workers. Furthermore, investors can no longer find investments that provide an adequate return on capital, because prices for finished goods are pulled down by the low demand of workers with inadequate wages.

    The “secret formula” humans have had for winning in our competition against other species has been the use of supplemental energy, adding to the energy we get from food. There is a physics reason why this approach works: total population by all species is limited by available energy supply. Providing our own external energy supply was (and still is) a great work-around for this limitation. Even in the days of hunter-gatherers, humans used three times as much energy as could be obtained through food alone.

    In my view, the formula that has allowed humans to keep winning the battle against other species is the following:

    Use increasing amounts of inexpensive supplemental energy to leverage human energy so that finished goods and services produced per worker rises each year.
    Pay for this system with debt, because (if supplemental energy costs are cheap enough), it is possible to repay the debt, plus the interest on the debt, with the additional goods and services made possible by the cheap additional energy.
    This system gradually becomes more complex to deal with problems that come with rising population and growing use of resources. However, if the output of goods per worker is growing rapidly enough, it should be possible to pay for the costs associated with this increased complexity, in addition to interest costs.
    The whole system “works” as long as the total quantity of finished goods and services rises rapidly enough that it can fund all of the following: (a) a rising standard of living for common workers so that they can afford increasing amounts of debt to buy more goods, (b) debt repayment, and interest on the debt of the system, and (c) and an increasing amount of “overhead” in the form of government services, medical care, educational services, and salaries of high paid officials (in business as well as government). This overhead is needed to deal with the increasing complexity that comes with growth.

    The formula for a growing economy is now failing. The rate of economic growth is falling, partly because energy supply is slowing (Figure 3), and partly because we need more and more every year to do the same things.

    One way of viewing our problem today is as a crisis of affordability. Young people cannot afford to start families or buy new homes because of a combination of the high cost of higher education (leading to debt), the high cost of fuel-efficient new cars (again leading to debt), the high cost of resale homes, and the relatively low wages paid to young workers. Even older workers often have an affordability problem. Many have found their wages stagnating or falling at the same time that the cost of healthcare, cars, electricity, and (until recently) oil rises. A recent Gallop Survey showed an increasing share of workers categorize themselves as “working class” rather than “middle class.”

    It is this affordability crisis that is bringing the system down. Without adequate wages, the amount of debt that can be added to the system lags as well. It becomes impossible to keep prices of commodities up at a high enough level to encourage production of these commodities. Return on investment tends to be low for the same reason. Most researchers have not recognized these problems, because they are narrowly focused and assume that models that worked in the past will continue to work today.
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  8. The UK is further north than the US, and less experienced in installation than Germany, and with lower per unit retail prices. So the revolution in UK may be delayed but not (necessarily) postponed.

    One supermarket is already experimenting with solar plus storage, and it looks a commercial proposition for the many businesses that are being metered on a half-hourly basis to store solar power for use during the more expensive peak periods after dark. This will become economic far earlier for businesses than homes.

    Britain’s energy system is at a crossroads

    Most parts of the UK energy system (generators, suppliers, networks) have business models that require bulk sales of centrally generated power to create revenues; there is potential for changes and challenges. It means that the fallout from this transformation will land in the lap of Government because there are significant political choices still to be made.

    How will the Grid and distribution networks be paid for if they are carrying less power?
    Are the systems we currently have available capable of managing the full range of system changes? (No)
    How much is going to be done to support the existing system of major suppliers?
    Will conventional providers be propped up in the name of security or will a new system emerge which is less ‘managed’ but with more players and probably more innovation?

    These are deeply political questions, and they aren’t being talked about, even in outline, in manifestos or party policy papers.

    And that’s a problem because, as Exeter University academics argue, energy policy arrangements in UK have a legitimacy problem to the extent that UK polling shows people want to see the energy companies nationalised by a ratio of more than 3 to 1. That’s more than want to see the railways renationalised.
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  9. Billionaire Elon Musk will announce next week that Tesla will begin offering battery-based energy storage for residential and commercial customers. The batteries power up overnight when energy companies typically charge less for electricity, then are used during the day to power a home. In a pilot project, Tesla has already begun offering home batteries to SolarCity (SCTY) customers, a solar power company for which Musk serves as chairman. Currently 330 U.S. households are running on Tesla's batteries in California. The batteries start at about $13,000, though California's Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PCG) offers customers a 50% rebate. The batteries are three-feet high by 2.5-feet wide, and need to be installed at least a foot and a half off the ground. They can be controlled with a Web app and a smartphone app.
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  10. “Fossil fuels are our most enduring energy source,” said Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources, in April 2013. “They are the driving force of economic development in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and for much of the developed and developing world and » they have the capacity to sustain us well into the future.”

    But new developments, including a surprising surge in wind and solar installations, suggest that oil’s dominance may not prove as “enduring” as imagined. “Rapidly spreading solar technology could change everything,” energy analyst Nick Butler recently wrote in the Financial Times. “There is growing evidence that some fundamental changes are coming that will over time put a question mark over investments in old energy systems.”

    Normally, transitions from one energy system to another take many decades. According to Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, the shifts from wood to coal and from coal to oil each took 50 years. The same length of time, he has argued, will be needed to complete the transition to renewables, which would leave any green energy era in the distant future. “The slow pace of this energy transition is not surprising,” he wrote in Scientific American. “In fact, it is expected.”

    Smil’s analysis, however, assumes two things: first, that a business-as-usual environment in which decisions about energy investments will largely be made within the same profit-seeking outlook as in the past will continue to prevail; and second, that it will take decades for renewables to best fossil fuels in terms of cost and practicality. Both assumptions, however, appear increasingly flawed.

    most mainstream analysts continue to believe that fossil fuels will be the dominant form of energy for decades to come. The U.S. Department of Energy typically predicts that the share of world energy provided by renewables, nuclear, and hydro combined will climb from 17 percent in 2015 to a mere 22 percent in 2040 — hardly change on a scale that would threaten the predominance of fossil fuels. There are, however, four key trends that could speed the transition to renewables in striking ways: the world’s growing determination to put a brake on the advance of climate change; a sea change in China’s stance on growth and the environment; the increasing embrace of green energy in the developing world; and the growing affordability of renewable energy.
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