Brattle Group

Energy Efficiency: 15 percent by 2020?

A new survey of energy industry experts reveals a surprising consensus on the size of the energy efficiency resource. Overall, energy efficiency is expected to lower electricity consumption by 5 to 15 percent, and natural gas consumption by 5 to 10 percent. These results debunk the notion that conservation is a fad. On the contrary, they herald a new beginning for energy efficiency.

Efficiency pessimists contend that energy efficiency (inclusive of demand response) is unlikely to make much of a dent on energy consumption and peak demand in the year 2020 since all the low-hanging fruit has been harvested. Ergo, the solution to meeting the nation’s future energy needs in a carbon-constrained future is to build more power plants (preferably those that don’t burn coal), transmission lines and distribution systems.

Gas Demand Response

As more natural gas is used for power generation, more volatility can be expected in gas markets. Demand response might provide a tool for managing that volatility, but is it technically feasible? And will gas customers accept it?

In general, demand response refers to the ability of consumers to respond to a supply shortage by curtailing demand, thereby improving economic efficiency. Since the California energy crisis, demand response has been widely used in electricity markets throughout the United States and Canada.1 Recent developments in the natural gas sector suggest that the time may have come to also introduce demand response in that sector.

Letters to the Editor

(August 2011) Economic consultant Michael Rosenzweig challenges Constantine Gonatas’s proposal for ensuring FERC’s demand response rulemaking achieves its objectives. Also, Juliet Shavit takes issue with Contributing Editor Steven Andersen’s characterization of utility customers as “crazy.”

Pricing the Public Good

Weighing green energy’s costs and benefits.

Policies aimed at promoting one good thing can diminish a better thing, for a net loss to the overall public welfare. Raising prices to promote renewables, for example, makes electricity less affordable and hurts the economy. But artificially low prices can themselves create social ills — by preserving an unsustainable status quo.

Treading Water

With no guidance yet from FERC, Atlantic Wind is forced to wait.

Touted as the nation’s first-ever “offshore transmission highway,” the proposed Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) high-voltage power line in theory could foster dozens of wind farms in shallow offshore costal waters up and down the mid-Atlantic seaboard — but only if federal regulators can get buy-in for new transmission planning rules that give precedence to large, macro projects aimed at boosting renewable energy. Otherwise, the grid project might never pass muster with the engineers charged with OK’ing new power lines, since the AWC is probably not needed to maintain reliability, and likely would not make electricity rates any cheaper for East Coast ratepayers. Should wind energy developers start with massive grid projects to attract clusters of wind turbines, or should the wind farms come first?

A Buyer's Market

Getting the most from demand response—despite a flawed FERC rule.

FERC’s new rule on compensation for demand resources tips the market balance toward negawatts. Arguably the commission’s economic analysis is flawed, and the rule represents a covert policy decision that stretches federal authority. Nevertheless, economic benefits will result if DR programs are well implemented to avoid gaming the system and distorting the market.

The Art of the Plausible

Prospects for clean energy legislation in 2011.

With budget battles heating up in Washington, Congress and the Obama administration are squaring off to debate energy policy legislation. While Democratic leadership favors a clean energy standard, Republican lawmakers are focused on blocking administration initiatives to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A compromise approach might bring substantial changes to America’s national energy strategy.

Low-Income Reality Check

Evaluating the impact of dynamic pricing.

Are residential time-of-use prices only effective for middle class households, or do low-income customers benefit too—as authors Lisa Wood and Ahmad Faruqui asserted in their October 2010 article? Data from pilot programs show that low-income customers exhibit a reduced ability to benefit from dynamic pricing. Demand response programs should accommodate the realities of low-income customers’ consumption patterns.

Chicken-Egg Solution

Solar and wind developers learn to shift project risk to the grid.

As Google says, “the wind cries for transmission.” But the opposite is true as well: without new wind and solar energy projects, we would not need to build so many new transmission lines. Each side needs the other, yet neither dares declare too soon, and risk weakening its bargaining position. That is, until one utility in California found a way to break the impasse, with each side scratching the other’s back — thus putting to rest the age-old question, “Which came first, the . . . ?”

DR Distortion

Are subsidies the best way to achieve smart grid goals?

FERC has proposed that wholesale energy markets should subsidize load reductions with full LMP (locational marginal price), without deducting the customers’ retail savings. Such a policy could distort the market, and other solutions might achieve the same objectives more efficiently.