One Climate Solution for Utilities

The more efficient use of energy remains one of the central strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Until recent, the subject has not been exciting enough to get the kind of media attention that alternative energy generation technologies, like solar, receive. But because of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we all will ultimately have to become expert on both cleaner energy supply and energy efficiency.

A recent report highlights state regulatory mechanisms that encourage utilities to pursue customer energy efficiency programs by providing the types of financial incentives that make “cents” for the utilities. An American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report provides a lay person’s guide to regulatory reform for energy efficiency in the utility industry. It explains industry jargon such as “lost revenues”, “demand side management programs”, “decoupling” and “shareholder incentives,” as well as detailed information on which states are offering incentives for energy efficiency programs.

The report is worth a look because more than a third of this country’s dioxide emissions (the primary human-generated greenhouse gas) come from the generation of electricity. Therefore, getting the electric utility industry to accelerate energy efficiency programs into their markets is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Providing financial incentives that place energy efficiency programs on an equal revenue stream with traditional generation revenue allowances is a signal that gives senior level utility managers a reason to cut greenhouse gas emissions without harming the overall financial health and viability of the company.

7 Responses to One Climate Solution for Utilities

  1. Ana says:

    Efficiency definitely doesn’t get the media attention it deserves, but today the Washington Post did run a front page story titled In Energy Conservation, Calif. Sees Light.

  2. hippie with a pistol says:

    Thank you for bringing attention to finding solutions for the energy industry to improve efficiency while reducing emissions and encouraging environmental stewardship. I’ve worked in pratically EVERY aspect of providing energy in California for 25+ years, following in my father’s footsteps. California emissions from power generation are some of the lowest in the country even though we have one of the largest economies in the world. Of course, a significant amount of power is hydro with supplements from wind and nuclear.

    Good sources for information, data and analysis:

    EPA GHG Emissions Data – see the section on Energy

    Climate Leaders and latest success stories (i.e. IBM, Johnson & Johnson)

    Emission sources data by operator, see NRDC – Benchmarking Air Emissions
    (Note Tennessee Valley Authority, as an example, for needing serious improvements to their efficiencies and GHG emissions. They are third highest GHG emitter in the country for power generation. Of course, coal is a primary fuel for their plants).

    Also, look up DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project
    for their excellent work in researching energy efficiency, technolgy and sustainable renewable energy,

    Thanks again Joe. More of this and less climate trauma stories! HAHA!

  3. Earl Killian says:

    I’ve been curious how feasible it is to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions, and I think there’s a program that makes sense. In looking at it I found a series of intertwined steps, using existing technology (no new research, only deployment) that looks pretty painless for getting U.S. CO2 from 6 Gt per year (out of 7 Gt of CO2e GHG) to 2 Gt per year over approximately 30 years.

    The steps are:

    1. Impose California’s efficiency standards at the Federal level. California had the political will; perhaps the Federal government can find it someday too? Use the 1,634 TWh per year saved from the U.S. electric grid to selectively close coal power plants. Savings: 1.6 Gt.
    2. The trajectory of the auto market is already clear: ICE ā†’ HEV. Pretty soon another arc in the trajectory will be clear: HEV ā†’ PHEV (plug-in hybrid). Hydrogen will probably never happen, but plug-in hybrids are good enough to solve our problem, and they are coming anyway (when the public discovers that charging in their garage is like buying gasoline at $0.70 per gallon, demand will turn quite strong). It takes 821 TWh per year to replace gasoline in this PHEV fleet (less than saved in step 1), but let’s not turn those coal power plants back on, let’s replace them with the most efficient solar (30% efficient, $1.40/Watt, Stirling Energy Systems). It takes only 3,000 mi2 of the Mojave desert to power this vehicle fleet. Cost is around $400B, or $14B per year over 30 years. Much less than the Iraq war spending (and much easier to defend than the 166,859 mi2 of Iraq). Savings: 1.2 Gt.
    3. If you get rid of gasoline, you have to get rid of the distillate fractions from crude oil refining. The next biggest is diesel fuel. NREL figured out how to get oil from algae at 30 times the yield per acre of oilseed crops. Use this technology to replace diesel for freight transportation. It should also be the backup fuel for the plug-in hybrids (not gasoline or ethanol). Savings 0.6 Gt.
    (Someone, perhaps NASA?, needs to figure out an alternative for the aviation fuel distillate, of crude.)
    4. The PHEV fleet turns out to be the answer to adding still more renewables to the U.S. grid via a technology already studied called Vehicle to Grid (V2G). Add more wind or solar to get rid of the rest of the coal from the grid. Savings: 0.4 Gt.

    Total savings: 3.8 Gt. This estimate does not include indirect savings, which would increase the number, nor the fact that one never gets 100% conversion, which would decrease the number.

  4. Power says:


    Your plan actually makes quite a bit of sense, and surprisingly was very ahead of its time when you wrote it in early 2007. It sounds much like the Pickens Plan that has been circulating lately.

    One impediment, however: transmission. Your fact about the amount of solar that would be needed to power the country is correct (although your cost figure is too low). However if that were feasible, transmitting that power is nearing impossible. Environmental groups in California, Arizona, Nevada and other western states have done all in their power to block transmission lines from the desert to more populated areas.

    Can’t have it both ways, period. Switching to alternative, renewable energy sources will:

    1) Require a cost; technology is expensive and end-users will have to accept higher power bills
    2) Require some give from environmental groups seeking to protect certain lands from transmission lines. The power has to get there somehow.

  5. Earl Killian says:

    Power, thank you for the comment. I would not say that the above was similar to the TBP plan though; I think his call for natural gas as transportation fuel is fundamentally not sound. The efficiency of NG in a car is about 20%. The efficiency of NG electricity generation is 52-60% (using combined cycle technology). Delivery of that electricity to the car wheels is over 70% efficient, so you get over twice the miles from a cubic foot of NG using it to produce electricity as you do burning in a car’s internal combustion engine.

    On the transmission question: I used CSP as an example to calculate the land area required. One would not in fact want to pick a single renewable technology to power all of the nation’s driving. Diversity has lots of advantages in general, and it allows appropriate solutions for each geography. In fact wind is a very good match for fueling cars, because it often produces better at night than during the day, and it is geographically diverse (offshore of both coasts are good, as is the middle of America).

    I think you are wrong that transmission will be blocked. Yes there is opposition, but I see that opposition being overcome.r

    One thing that I would change today in the outline given above is algae biodiesel as the backup fuel for PHEVs. Since then I have learned about Mark Jacobsen’s points about Black Carbon as a greenhouse pollutant, and BC seems to be an issue with diesel engines, even those fueled with biodiesel. It may be that E85 made from agricultural residue (e.g. corn stover) may be a better backup fuel. The numbers sort of work for stover as a backup fuel.

  6. msn nickleri says:

    I think you are wrong that transmission will be blocked. Yes there is opposition, but I see that opposition being overcome.r