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Smart Meters from the Golden to the Lone Star State

May 31, 2011 2 comments

Smart meters are being installed throughout the United States as a part of the process of modernizing the nation’s electric grid. Two major players in the smart meter installation game are California and Texas. Check out two smart meter commercials from these two (very different?) states:

The Golden State of California

Texas – The Lone Star State

 

Texas Smart Grid Experts Head to the White House

Texas’s smart-grid initiatives are getting some attention in Washington.

On Friday morning, a small group of Texans, including the chairman of the Public Utility Commission, Barry Smitherman, will brief White House representatives on the smart-meter rollout and related issues in the state.

“There is a lot of experimentation and research going on in Texas,” said Brewster McCracken, executive director of the Pecan Street Project, an Austin-based smart-grid project, who will attend the White House meeting. “I think it’s legitimately emerging as a hot spot for potential innovation.”

Smart meters allow some Texans to review their electricity usage in 15-minute intervals on a website. This is useful for pinpointing waste. The meters are also easy to read remotely, which is cheaper than sending someone to individual homes, although the smart meters themselves cost more than $100 apiece. Eventually smart-grid advocates hope that the technology will make it possible for appliances like refrigerators or dishwashers to coordinate their energy usage with the needs of the electrical grid.

McCracken said attendees at the Friday meeting will also include representatives from Oncor and CenterPoint Energy, two utility companies; Reliant Energy, a Houston-based electricity retailer; smart-meter makers Landis+Gyr and Itron; and Zigbee Alliance, a wireless standards company. The group is expected to meet Aneesh Chopra, the United States’ chief technology officer, and other staff from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Smart-grid initiatives have been a priority for President Barack Obama, who has called for a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for the broader use of alternative energy and included smart-grid technology in federal stimulus funds (some of which went to projects in Texas). Chopra will fly to California next week to speak at a smart-grid conference there. California appears to be the only state to have installed more smart meters than Texas, although the technology there has run into significant opposition.

“Smart-grid technologies have great potential to save consumers money as well as provide a more reliable energy delivery system in this country, and we are often holding meetings with key stakeholders to try to move this important agenda forward,” said Adam Abrams, a White House spokesman.

Currently, there are nearly 3.3 million smart meters installed in “competitive,” or deregulated, areas of Texas, which includes about three-quarters of the state’s population, said Terry Hadley, a PUC spokesman. Some municipal utilities (like Austin Energy) and rural cooperatives (like Bastrop-based Bluebonnet), which do not operate under the deregulated system, have also launched smart-meter initiatives.

McCracken said that one of the key points to be covered at the meeting would be uniform standards for the emerging technology. That means making sure that when data on electricity usage is reported by a refrigerator with a chip or an electric car or anything else, it is presented in the same format nationwide, no matter what company is making the device.

“The big question that’s emerging for the smart grid is how does all this stuff interconnect with each other,” McCracken said.

An Oncor spokeswoman, Catherine Cuellar, said that the utility was “excited to share insights” from the deployment of its advanced technologies.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://trib.it/jkUNL0.

ARPA-E: Leaping Ahead in Energy Storage Innovation

April 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) works at the heart of high-risk energy innovations. Modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARPA-E was established in 2007 to promote and fund energy technology research and development. With an annual budget in the neighborhood of $400 million, this agency supports the development of technologies that result in reductions in imported fuels and energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions, while improving energy efficiency across all sectors.

On Thursday, the agency’s director Arun Majumdar announced that a new technology will be tested on the nation’s electric grid. It is believed that the first company to be tested in this grid environment will be an advanced compressed air energy storage (CAES) technology. This technology could efficiently store energy in the form of compressed air, which can be stored and later released – creating a type of air battery that can be used on the gigawatt (power plant) scale.

Reducing oil imports – POTUS speaks at Georgetown

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I wrote a post about President Obama’s speech at Georgetown, which focused on how the U.S. can reduce its dependence on foreign oil resources. For those who would like to see the entire speech (at just under 47 minutes), here is the video:

Obama’s plan to reduce oil imports

March 30, 2011 3 comments

Today, President Obama discussed his strategy to reduce US oil imports, with the goal of a 1/3 reduction in the next 10 years. This announcement complimented his State of the Union commitment to the goal of producing 80% of the country’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035 by focusing on the oil and gas section of the US energy pie.  According to a senior White House official, the President’s strategy will focus on increasing domestic energy production while reducing consumption and can be broken down into the following 4 parts:

Part 1 – Increase domestic oil production.

According to the US Department of the Interior, more than 2/3 of offshore oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 1/2 of onshore leases on federal land are neither actively producing oil or exploring potential development opportunities. This represents a large untapped domestic energy resource that the President will propose we focus on developing. Today, the President discussed the “massive supplies of energy waiting to be tapped” and how we can ensure that these leases do not remain idle.

In response, the oil industry has already made statements regarding the lengthiness of the mapping, testing and infrastructure development process that must occur before oil or gas can be produced. According to the Western Energy Alliance, “…obtaining a lease is just the first step in a lengthy process filled with bureaucratic hurdles…If this Administration was serious about domestic energy production from federal lands, it would ease some of the redundant red tape that is preventing companies from developing leases they currently hold.”

Part 2 – Implement New Natural Gas Industry Incentives

The most unclear part of Obama’s plan focuses on developing domestic natural gas resources by increasing industry incentives for developing resources in a safe and responsible manner.

According to senior White House Official, “we know that in the U.S. we have tremendous reserves of natural gas but we need to develop those resources responsibly in a manner that is not going to impact our groundwater supply.”

Part 3 – Develop biofuel resources

The third part of the President’s 4-part plan focuses on the potential role for biofuels in reducing US oil imports. In his speech today, the President set specific goals for building four new advanced biofuel facilities in the US in the next 2 years.

Part 4 – Reduce energy consumption with efficiency

The final part of the President’s plan focuses on reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency. The President proposed several energy efficiency targets, including vehicle efficiency standards and smart grid standards and goals. This part of the President’s plan will be built upon the research and development dollars that he proposed in his 2012 budget.

AAAS Annual Meeting – Day 1 Favorite Session

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

photo.JPG

Today was the first “full” day of the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This year, the meeting is being held in Washington, DC at the Washington Convention Center. It will run until Monday, hosting panel discussions and plenary speakers on a variety of science topics from sustainability to science and society aimed at giving scientists, engineers and journalists a chance to discuss not only the research topics that they explore, but the ways that they communicate their findings to the world.

Throughout the day, I attended portions of 6 sessions. My runaway favorite – “Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What comes next?” moderated by Bud Ward from Yale University’s Forum on Climate Change in the Media. The conference program provides the following summary for the discussion:

Climate science and “mainstream” journalism interests are undergoing what some call, in the case of journalism, an “epochal transformation.” The communications challenges facing climate science — manifested in part by widespread misunderstanding on the part of many in the public and their policy-makers — will play out against fundamental changes, shaking the very nature of journalism, communications, and science education communities, with blogs, list serves, and “tweets” increasingly complementing (or are they?) conventional journalism. Climate science and climate journalism in the end need each other if we’re to have a more informed and more engaged citizenry. Steps each sector takes during the coming months and years will help shape public and policy-makers’ understanding of the climate changes we all will face. In this session, one of the nation’s most respected students of modern journalism pairs with two journalism practitioners whose reporting frequently puts them in the public spotlight in responsibly informing the public about climate science and policy. The three share critical insights into navigating climate science communications in this “perfect storm” of an economic, geopolitical, scientific, and environmental issue. They serve up a feast for the climate science expert discussant to kick off an exchange with the audience.

Moderator: Bud Ward, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media
Discussant: Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Speakers:
1. Tom Rosensteil, Project for Excellence in Journalism
2. Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
Reporting on Climate Change for a Wire Service
The combination of journalists and scientists in the room for this 90-minute discussion made for an engaging (and insightful) discussion. After the conference ends, I will be posting about this discussion on climate change science vs. climate change science journalism. In the meantime, please check out my twitter feed @mclott, as well as  #aaasmtg. David Wogan also ran a great twitter feed today (@davidwogan).
Tomorrow, there are many presentations that look interesting to me – including the following:

Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Britain gets 90% of its energy from fossil fuels. When we talk about moving Britain into a sustainable energy future – one that is less dependent on fossil fuels – what does that look like? There is a fantastic video on YouTube that stars Cambridge University’s Dr. David MacKay, a physicist and pragmatic converser in energy systems. His 2009 book, Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air has received rave reviews and is the most recent addition to my “to-read” list (you can download this book for free on the book’s website or buy it via amazon).

For now… listen to Professor MacKay’s discussion of our energy use, in lightbulbs.