Archive for the ‘stimulus package’ Tag

A plumber explains the “Bathtub Model”

Have you heard of the “Bathtub Model” for expaining CO2 accumulation? I hadn’t until last week, when I attended the sustainability symposium at Baldwin-Wallace College. Dr. Susan Solomon, who was the lead author of th 2007 IPCC report on global climate change, was the one who introduced the concept. Here’s a much more succinct description from, appropriately enough, a plumber.

Picture a bathtub with a running faucet and open drain. When we use energy, carbon dioxide (CO2) pours into the atmosphere just like water pours into a bathtub. If water pours into the tub faster than it can drain out, the tub fills with water. The bathtub stays full until more water is draining out than is pouring in. The same concept applies to CO2. At our current rate of energy consumption, CO2 emissions produced by burning fossil fuels are pouring into the atmospheric bathtub twice as fast as they are draining out.

via Raymond Plumbing blog – Air Conditioning Heating and Cooling Lorain.

Everyone can do something about CO2 emissions, and some of those changes are relatively easy to make – as the good folk at Raymond Plumbing go on to explain. For instance, using high-efficiency heating and cooling and Energy Star certified appliances. Even simple steps, like turning down the thermostat on the hot water heater will help – and save money, too.

Is Smart Grid Good News for Consumers?

Big announcement yesterday from the Department of Energy:

President Obama Announces $3.4 Billion Investment to Spur Transition to Smart Energy Grid

Applicants say investments will create tens of thousands of jobs, save energy and empower consumers to cut their electric bills

ARCADIA, FLORIDA – Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The $3.4 billion in grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. Applicants state that the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid. Full listings of the grant awards by category and state are available HERE and HERE. A map of the awards is available HERE.

My first reaction: while the improvements in monitoring capability, transmission efficiency, carrying capacity, and reliability are all welcome, one other aspect of the plan leaves me divided.

Currently, the vast majority of consumers and businesses in the U.S. are monitored with technology that is approaching its centennial. Most people would recognize an electric meter if they saw one. They record total energy usage consumed by one residential or commercial customer – but not the time of day it was used. The meters cannot transmit data and must be read manually. They do not provide price information to the customer, nor do they need to – rates are fixed.

Smart meters, on the other hand, will allow limited two-way communication between the utility and the consumer. In theory, this capability will permit utilities to discourage consumption by charging higher rates during periods of increased demand. The smart meter will notify the consumer in real time of current demand conditions and the rate being charged by the utility. Conceivably, that feedback could be configured into a power profile, allowing consumers to program air conditioners and other appliances to automatically go into power saving mode when rates go up, and activate again when overall usage drops and rates are acceptably low. This would have the effect of shifting some usage to later in the day and distributing consumption more evenly.

Of course, making this cost differential work will require some dramatic changes to the way electricity is currently priced. Most rate commissions have traditionally viewed their mission as consumer advocates, keeping rates as low as possible. That role will have to change, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted at a Smart Grid conference in September.

Electricity costs should move to reflect demand: Chu | Reuters

Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:35pm EDT

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the United States’ power grid becomes more sophisticated, electricity rates will need to rise to reflect periods of intense energy use and to encourage consumers to change their electricity habits, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Monday.

Chu said currently most local electricity rate commissions view themselves as consumer advocates and try to keep electricity prices as low as possible.

“Hopefully that will evolve somewhat, so that they begin to fold in some of the real costs of electricity generation and electricity use,” Chu said at conference focused on creating a “smart grid.”

For instance, on hot summer days when air conditioning use is high, utilities would charge customers more for electricity. Chu said those who set rates should be more lenient with electricity generated from cleaner sources such as wind or nuclear power.

Chu also pointed out that during periods of low energy consumption, electricity prices would be cheaper for consumers.

I must admit to some ambivalence on this development.

  • I wrote earlier about the need for a more robust transmission system, and my opinion hasn’t changed.
  • Naturally, I’m excited about the favored position renewables should have in the new regime. (In theory; if nuclear-generated power and power from renewables are put on the same footing, the utilities will likely favor nuclear – despite not having a long-term storage facility for waste, and the fact that there has never been a nuclear generator built on time and on budget in this country. But I digress.)
  • I’m all for encouraging consumers to make informed choices about their energy consumption.
  • Reducing the use of “peaking plants” –  among the costliest to run, and are only brought online to meet the periods of highest demand – is a good thing for consumers and producers.

However, I worry about the implementation, and the level of sophistication needed ot take advantage of the new system.

  • I am particularly concerned about the elderly. Will some choose to disable their air conditioning, in the interest of avoiding the highest tariffs during peak consumption periods, and put their health at risk?
  • I also wonder what the mechanism will be for deciding how much to charge, and when rates will be allowed to fluctuate.

Perhaps some protection is needed, similar to the Homestead Exemption, which would offset rates for qualifying individuals. Another option would be to give seniors credits that would be applied against their electricity bill, much as the HEAP program does for heating during the winter months.

So is the Smart Grid a good thing? Is it needed? Will it benefit consumers?

Steinway & Sons Installs World’s Largest Industrial Solar Heating & Cooling System

This comes across my electronic desk courtesy of chloregy. I’m excited about this because I’m a fan of both Steinway pianos and renewable energy, and here’s a story that combines both.

ERS, Inc., a progressive energy engineering consulting firm based in Massachusetts, is currently working with Steinway & Sons to install the largest solar-sourced industrial heating/cooling system in the world at the renown piano maker’s 11-acre manufacturing complex in Long Island City, NY.

Solar power – in the form of photovoltaic (electrical) generation – will have to improve quite a bit in its efficiency before it is feasible for this climate (the Northeast US). But using concentrated solar power (CSP) for heating applications is another animal altogether. I remember reading an article some years ago about a demonstration project that successfully used solar-hot water for 100% of its water and living space heating. In Maine. (Memory is a funny thing, and not to be trusted altogether, but I want to say it was conducted by or with the University of Maine.)

Year-round, even on cloudy days, even in the depths of winter. In Maine. I believe they kept a natural gas option open as a backup plan, but it was never needed.

I took another look at solar hot water systems recently, as they are eligible for the new renewable energy home improvement tax credit. The solar water heating systems are fairly simple, really: A solar “collector” transfers heat energy to a heating coil containing water or a water-ethylene glycol mix (antifreeze). Tubing with that heated fluid is coiled inside a water storage tank, allowing the heat to transfer to the water. It’s very similar to a conventional hot water heater and tank setup, except the energy to heat the water is coming from the coil, instead of a natural gas burner or electric heating element. (Here’s a nice writeup from Popular Mechanics a few years ago, subtitled Help your country and your wallet – install a solar hot water heater.)

The environmental system installed at Steinway & Sons takes these principles a step farther, using CSP to heat the transfer fluid to over 300ºF. The system heats not only the hot water at the plant, but also the work space. In the summer months, the solar collector uses a separate mechanism to provide air conditioning. The system is expected to pay for itself in five years. (According the the article on PM, typical savings for home hot-water heating systems is 20-40%.)

Climate control in the Steinway plant is critical. The assembly of these instruments require high degree of precision with regard to temperature and humidity control. The company’s deployment of this system speaks volumes about the capacity and reliability of CSP heating and cooling.

As a Steinway fan, I am thrilled that the company has taken this step. As a renewable energy booster, I am through the roof.

Planning for additional renewable energy generation “not done”

This is one of the problems of not having an effective national energy strategy. From the LA Times comes this story: ‘Green’ energy plan in Obama stimulus may be losing steam:

The stimulus package increasingly appears unlikely to include major investments in “green infrastructure” — the wires and rails that could deliver renewable energy to Americans’ homes and help end the nation’s addiction to oil — according to alternative-energy advocates who are discussing the plans with the Obama transition team.

It’s a timing issue. The blueprints and, in many cases, the authority don’t exist to lay miles of high-speed rail lines or to build a sprawling web of power lines to create a truly national electric grid.

Remember August 2003 blackout? Some of the most heavily populated areas in the Northeast US were affected – including New York City – as well as the most people in Canada. It was caused by a power transmission system that was inadequate for the admittedly high load placed on it that day.
August 2003 blackout

It took several days to restore the network.

The cascade failure actually started near my house. It was set in motion by one of the high-voltage transmission lines sagging into a nearby tree and grounding out.

This should have been a wake-up call for a more robust power distribution system. Instead, the power company reacted by: cutting down trees within 100′ of their lines. Which was understandable: nobody was stepping up to provide any incentive to do so, other than customer outrage, and that’s transient. Still, it’s hard to believe that five years later, there has been no serious planning done to lay the groundwork for an improved power distribution grid.: