Summer of Discontent

Smart-grid planners feel the heat.

State utility regulators begin to question the benefits of smart grid technology, and customers take to the streets in public protests and demonstrations to oppose installation of smart meters.

Efficiency Close-Up

Setting the stage for conservation.

America’s electric utilities understand their central role in taking efficiency and conservation to the next level. Accordingly, the industry has nearly doubled its spending on efficiency measures in the past few years. But encouraging customers to save energy won’t be enough to keep pace with the electricity demands of a growing digital economy. The country’s efficiency efforts will be most effective as part of a clean energy portfolio strategy.

Cap and Innovate

An alternative approach to climate regulation.

Low carbon prices might not produce sufficient incentives for firms to innovate and reduce emissions in the long run. But relatively high carbon prices can be politically unacceptable and invite consumer backlash. Where’s the right balance? A PUC chairman offers an alternative approach to managing GHG emissions.

Reconsidering Resource Adequacy, Part 1

Has the one-day-in-10-years criterion outlived its usefulness?

The one-day-in-10-years criterion might have lost its usefulness in today’s energy markets. The criterion is highly conservative when used in calculating reserve margins for reliability. Can the industry continue justifying the high cost of overbuilding?

Two Hands Clapping

Has demand response hit an evolutionary dead end?

On March 18, the day after this issue went to press, FERC was scheduled at its decisional meeting to open a new formal inquiry on the role of demand response in regions that already have competitive wholesale power markets. In particular, how much money should grid operators pay to electric customers who promise not to buy wholesale power?

Taking Green Private

How merchant funding is remaking the rules for renewables.

Six weeks ago, FERC opened a notice of inquiry to invite industry comments on whether wind, solar, and other intermittent energy sources face unfair obstacles in wholesale power markets. Now assigned their own acronym—VERs, for “variable energy resources”—renewables make up a growing percentage of the nation’s energy supply portfolio. But as FERC notes, they present “unique challenges,” especially in terms of constraints on location and limits on the degree to which system operators can control or dispatch individual VER units. Thus, FERC suggests that certain common rules and practices, such as those for unit commitment, dispatch, and scheduling, might make it overly difficult to integrate VERs into the grid.

Mandating Federal Renewables

The importance of getting the REC markets right.

The feds are ready to replace disjointed state policies with a coordinated national renewable energy credit market. Treating low-carbon energy consistently will promote investment in renewables.

New York Negawatts

Balancing risks and opportunities in efficiency investments.

In June 2008, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) established the electric energy-efficiency portfolio standards for New York’s investor-owned utilities. In its order, the PSC directed utilities to file three-year energy-efficiency plans. Later that year, the PSC issued a supplemental order approving shareholder incentives for utilities successfully implementing their portfolios. If all goes according to plan, the six affected IOUs stand to earn about $27 million annually in performance incentives over three years. The structure of the incentive mechanism approved by the PSC presents risk factors that might affect utilities’ ability to realize the full earning potentials the mechanism offers.

O Pioneers!

A land rush in the burgeoning home energy management market.

The Prius Effect—a term that’s gained currency in sustainability circles—is shorthand for the strong link between information and behavior demonstrated by the popular Toyota hybrid. The car was among the first to provide a real-time fuel consumption gage on the dash; step hard on the gas, watch the MPG gage go down. Coast gently along and see the savings. Drivers with the gage become aware of—even obsessive about—the way their driving habits affect consumption, and by extension, cost.

Capturing Ocean Heat

Ocean thermal energy conversion offers a timely renewable alternative.

23 million square miles of tropical oceans daily absorb solar radiation equal in heat content to about 250 billion barrels of oil. Ocean thermal energy conversion technologies convert this solar radiation into electrical power by exploiting the thermal gradient temperature differences between the surface and the depths. This enormous resource merits a closer look as policy makers consider alternative technologies for serving future energy demands.