Microgrids – The Future of Electricity


Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) visited the University of California, San Diego, to document the campus microgrid.

According to the video description:

At UCSD, the microgrid provides the ability to manage 42 megawatts of generating capacity, including a central cogeneration plant, an array of solar photovoltaic installations and a fuel cell that operates on natural gas reclaimed from a landfill site. The central microgrid control allows operators to manage the diverse portfolio of energy generation and storage resources on the campus to minimize costs. In addition, the campus can “island” from the larger grid to maintain power supply in an emergency, as in the case of the power blackout that struck parts of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico in September 2011.

If the video does not appear above, you can watch it online here.


Snippets – Waste Not Want Not

Today, I want to share a few not-quite-so-recent stories related to waste that have been on my mind lately.
Via the New York Times, a food industry alliance is planning a three-year initiative to reduce the tremendous amount of food that Americans still throw in the garbage even as they grow somewhat more conscientious about recycling paper and yard trimmings. … A substantial portion of food is thrown away while still fully edible because of cosmetic blemishes or overstocking. … According to the most recent available statistics, more than 30 million tons of food was dumped in landfills in 2009, making food by far the most abundant material there by weight, the federal Environmental Protection Agency says.
From NPR comes a story about how all that wasted food contributes to climate change. A company called CleanMetrics gathered USDA’s estimates of food loss from retail and consumers for 2009. And when the company’s founder, Kumar Venkat, fed the data into his software he found that food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, or about 1.5 percent of all emissions ,,,  “If you compare beef to tomatoes, beef has a much higher footprint,” says Venkat. “So if you’re going to reduce waste, you need to prioritize.”
Via Bloomberg, a story about Bank of America selecting some its most decrepit, derelict homes in Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago and paying up to $7,500 to local agencies toward demolition costs. “There is way too much supply,” said Gus Frangos, president of the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., which works with lenders, government officials and homeowners to salvage vacant homes. “The best thing we can do to stabilize the market is to get the garbage off.”
From the New York Times –  Across western North Dakota, hundreds of fires burn as companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field treat the gas as waste and simply burn it. … Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day. The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit.
And again from NPR, some insight into why cleaned wastewater stays dirty in our minds. … “It’s a very broad feature of human thinking,” Nemeroff explains. “Everywhere we look, you can see contagion thinking.” … The conclusion? “It is quite difficult to get the cognitive sewage out of the water, even after the real sewage is gone,” Nemeroff says.

More Bad News – EIA Faces a Funding Cut


In addition to the bad news about CBECS 2007, the U.S. Energy Information Administation is facing an immediate 14% funding cut. This means there will be less information and analysis about energy.

The following is from an EIA press release:

“The lower FY 2011 funding level will require significant cuts in EIA’s data, analysis, and forecasting activities,” said EIA Administrator Richard Newell. “EIA had already taken a number of decisive steps in recent years to streamline operations and enhance overall efficiency, and we will continue to do so in order to minimize the impact of these cuts at a time when both policymaker and public interest in energy issues is high,” he said… …

Initial adjustments to EIA’s data, analysis, and forecasting programs include the following:

Oil and Natural Gas Information

  • Do not prepare or publish 2011 edition of the annual data release on U.S. proved oil and natural gas reserves.
  • Curtail efforts to understand linkages between physical energy markets and financial trading.
  • Suspend analysis and reporting on the market impacts of planned refinery outages.
  • Curtail collection and dissemination of monthly state-level data on wholesale petroleum product prices, including gasoline, diesel, heating oil, propane, residual fuel oil, and kerosene. Also, terminate the preparation and publication of the annual petroleum marketing data report and the fuel oil and kerosene sales report.
  • Suspend auditing of data submitted by major oil and natural gas companies and reporting on their 2010 financial performance through EIA’s Financial Reporting System.
  • Reduce collection of data from natural gas marketing companies.
  • Cancel the planned increase in resources to be applied to petroleum data quality issues.
  • Reduce data collection from smaller entities across a range of EIA oil and natural gas surveys.

Electricity, Renewables, and Coal Information

  • Reduce data on electricity exports and imports.
  • Terminate annual data collection and report on geothermal space heating (heat pump) systems.
  • Terminate annual data collection and report on solar thermal systems.
  • Reduce data collection from smaller entities across a range of EIA electricity and coal surveys.

Consumption, Efficiency, and International Energy Information

  • Suspend work on EIA’s 2011 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the Nation’s only source of statistical data for energy consumption and related characteristics of commercial buildings.
  • Terminate updates to EIA’s International Energy Statistics.

Energy Analysis Capacity

  • Halt preparation of the 2012 edition of EIA’s International Energy Outlook.
  • Suspend further upgrades to the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS). NEMS is the country’s preeminent tool for developing projections of U.S. energy production, consumption, prices, and technologies and its results are widely used by policymakers, industry, and others in making energy-related decisions. A multiyear project to replace aging NEMS components will be halted.
  • Eliminate annual published inventory of Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States.
  • Limit responses to requests from policymakers for special analyses.
– – –

California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 1


On Tuesday, January 25, I was in the audience at the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco as Panama Bartholomy, California Energy Commission (CEC), and Emma Wendt, PG&E, gave presentation about California’s clean energy future.

The post below consists of Part 1 of my record of the presentation – the first part of Panama Bartholomy’s presentation. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine. I also added any photos or images.

– – –

The speakers were introduced by Raphael Sperry and Geoff Danker.

– – –

Panama Bartholomy

I’m honored to be here… Obviously, I’m a bureaucrat. All my life I’ve wanted to be a bureaucrat. It’s true… … So I have achieved my dreams – I work for the state of California… I am here to talk about what I hope are some of our shared goals… building a  future that’s healthy for our economy, our environment, and our communities… …

I was supposed to talk about, and will talk about, California’s Clean Energy Future…  big ambitious goals. A massive document describes the process of how we’re all going to reach these goals… and how the agencies are going to work on it. In brief, it outlines very ambitious energy goals. It calls for zero net energy buildings… ways to shave peak demand… want to build carbon capture and storage in California by 2020… also want 1 million electric vehicles in California by 2020. So these are the goals. So I’m going to talk about the programs and activities behind the goals to make them a reality…

… … …

I have to give some background, then talk about efficiency…  then major market barriers around energy efficiency and what’s stopping a strong retrofit market, then renewables. Finally, I’ll talk about what’s coming from the Brown administration… …

So some energy context… I’m only going to talk about electricity and natural gas… One of the jobs of the CEC is to measure energy demand and project demand into the future… [looking at a chart] Here, you can see impacts of downturns in the economy… We’re expecting that the economy will pick up later this year or early next, then we will see about 1.2% growth in demand a year. Much of that is from the building sector… We expect to see continued increases in demand, especially from the commercial and residential sectors.

So we have several options. Do nothing. Then we get demand exceeding supply. Or we can build power plants. Or we can find ways to reduce demand… Efficiency is by far our most cost-effective choice in terms of how to meet demand.

Going back to natural gas… California only produces 13% percent of our own natural gas – the rest comes from other areas. We are at the end of the line when it comes to natural gas delivery. We are starting to compete more and more with Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico… …

Overarching a lot of activity on energy efficiency, I have to talk about California’s new climate policy… … AB 32 calls for us to reduce our economy-wide emissions levels to 1990 levels by 2020. This is about a 25-30% reduction in GHG emissions… The big player is transportation. Also, we have to look at electricity generation. The 1/4 of our electricity that we import is equal in GHG emissions to the 3/4 that we produce in-state. The built environment is the second largest wedge when we add the bits together. The built environment dictates how we need to get around, so it has a big impact… We have some work to do…

(Image credit: CA Climate Change Portal)

– – –

Part 2 and Part 3 will be posted soon.

– – –

The Difference Between the CEC and CPUC


I know what you’re thinking – a really exciting topic. But this question has actually come up in conversation a remarkable number of times in the last couple of weeks. This is not intended to be a definitive guide, but just to start the delineation between the organizations.

– – –

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Basics

The CEC is California’s primary energy policy and planning agency.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies.

This post will focus only on the energy aspects of the CPUC’s role.

– – –

The California Energy Commission (CEC)

The five CEC commissioners are appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are five years. Commissioners must represent the following specific areas of expertise: law, environment, economics, science/engineering, and the public at large.

The CEC’s responsibilities include:

  • Forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data.
  • Licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger.
  • Promoting energy efficiency by setting the state’s appliance and building efficiency standards and working with local government to enforce those standards.
  • Supporting public interest energy research that advances energy science and technology through research, development, and demonstration programs.
  • Supporting renewable energy by providing market support to existing, new, and emerging renewable technologies; providing incentives for small wind and fuel cell electricity systems; and providing incentives for solar electricity systems in new home construction.
  • Developing and implementing the state Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to reduce the state’s petroleum dependency and help attain the state climate change policies.
  • Administering more than $300 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding through the state energy program, the energy efficiency conservation and block grant program; the energy efficiency appliance rebate program and the energy assurance and emergency program.
  • Planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.

The CEC is located in Sacramento, CA.

– – –

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

The five CPUC commissioners are also appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are six years.

The CPUC regulates investor owned utilities (IOUs) that distribute electricity and natural gas, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company.

The CPUC does not regulate municipal utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

The CPUC’s mission is the following:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.  We regulate utility services, stimulate innovation, and promote competitive markets, where possible, in the communications, energy, transportation, and water industries.

The CPUC has a number of different divisions; the Energy Division assists Commission activities in the electricity, natural gas, steam, and petroleum pipeline industries. Energy Division handles the regulation and Commission approval of official rates and terms of service for energy IOUs.

Because the regulated California utilities are so large, and their programs reach so many customers, CPUC energy policy decisions and goals have wide influence in California. The CPUC touches programs in energy efficiency, demand response, low-income assistance, distributed generation, and self-generation, among others. It has a role in California climate policy. It is overseeing the CA utilities’ switch to Smart Grid technologies. The CPUC regulated electric generation and procurement, electric rates and markets, gas policy and rates, and electric transmission and distribution.

CPUC headquarters are in San Francisco, CA.

– – –