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.


100 Turbines in 100 Days – 300 MW of installed offshore wind

Wind power is generally discussed in two main applications – onshore or offshore. In Texas, we have worked to expand our onshore capacity, installing turbines (with a capacity on the order of 2 Megawatts) on land in west Texas and the Texas Panhandle. But, we have largely ignored offshore capabilities, where turbines would be installed on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. There are many advantages to offshore wind power including the wind’s profile (think of those sea breezes that you enjoy in the summer). The power in this offshore wind could provide a more consistent flow of power for use onshore.

Vestas wind power has been installing offshore wind turbines since 1990 and is a leader in the wind power industry. In April, they released a video discussing their new 7 MW wind turbine (the V164) and its offshore applications. This video discusses how Vestas installed 100 turbines in 100 days, for a total of 300 MW installed in offshore wind – an average of 3 MW per turbine. With their new 7 MW turbines, they can more than double the capacity of the same sized wind farm, potentially leading to more economical wind power for the communities living onshore.

Check out this video on Vestas’s new 7 MW wind turbine – and its application in offshore applications. They’re huge – and pretty cool.


CNN: 70% of Americans Favor Increased Offshore Drilling

May 5, 2011 1 comment

Today, the House of Representatives voted 266-149 in favor of H.R. 1230, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act. According to the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R – Ohio), this bill will help to stop policies that drive up the price of gasoline while creating jobs for Americans. According to Boehner’s website, this bill acts on what Americans want – more offshore drilling in U.S. waters, presumably to increase supply. The Speaker’s comments are in direct response to poll results published by CNN, which provides some measure of quantitative support to his statement.

Specifically, in a survey conducted last month, Americans were polled to see measure their response to a single question:

“How do you feel about increased drilling for oil and natural gas offshore in U.S. waters?”

Possible answers included “strongly favor, mildly favor, mildly oppose or strongly oppose [to] increased offshore drilling.”

After surveying 824 people using a CNN-approved process, it was found that 70% of Americans favor increased offshore drilling. It is this result that Speaker Boehner and groups including the American Energy Initiative used to help move this legislation through the house.

After today’s vote, H.R. 1230 moves on the senate where it will wait to find its fate in front of a Democrat majority. If it passes on and receives the President’s signature of approval, it will specifically direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Virginia. It also streamlines the environmental impact statement process required under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for these leases.

For more information on H.R. 1230, you can visit the following websites:

1. H.R. 1230 Congressional Research Service (CRS) bill summary

2. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources

Energy At the Movies at SXSW

April 29, 2011 1 comment

During this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) interactive music and film festival in Austin, TX, an event was held to discuss Energy at the Movies. Hosted by Dr. Michael E. Webber of The University of Texas at Austin, this event focused on energy as it is portrayed in and influenced by the silver screen. After giving a lecture on this topic, Dr. Webber hosted a panel discussion with research scientist and author Sheril Kirshenbaum, film historian and UT film Professor Dr. Charles Ramirez-Berg, screenwriter and director Matthew Chapman, and producer Turk Pipkin. Yesterday, UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering released video of this discussion. If you’d like to check out the lecture that inspired this discussion, you can access the youtube video here.


Democrats Pounce on Subsidies After Boehner’s Comments

April 26, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (Republican – Ohio) said that “we oughta be looking at” ending some federal oil and gas subsidies, stating that oil and gas companies should “pay their fair share in taxes.” The Republican leader’s seemingly casual commentary has caused waves in Washington and online, with former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (Democrat – California) tweeting that is was “nice to see @SpeakerBoehner open to ending billions in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil.”

Today, in response to Speaker Boehner’s comments, President Obama released a letter calling for immediate action to repeal tax breaks and incentives for big oil and gas. Is this letter, the President urged current House and Senate leadership to:

…take immediate action to eliminate unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and to use those dollars to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

The President went on to discuss the burden of rising gas prices on Americans, and his support of Representative Boehner’s comments in support of evaluating the advisability of existing tax breaks. Citing his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future (Released March 30, 2011), President Obama reiterated his belief that the United States must work toward cleaner, domestic sources of energy.

Speaker Boehner has already begun his quick retreat from yesterday’s statements – but, it appears to be too late to call a retreat as Democrats and the administration have already pounced on the controversial issue.

Now is the moment – to move away from foreign oil?

April 25, 2011 4 comments

Yale environment 360

According to the last 8 Presidents of the United States, our nation’s dependence on foreign oil is concerning (at best) and threatens our long-term success (at worst?). Each of these Presidents has supported the reduction or elimination of our dependence on foreign oil sources, but none have succeeded. Today, in an article in Yale Environment 360, Professor Michael Graetz discusses the challenges in breaking a 40-year energy policy losing streak. Before the 1970s, the United States met its oil demand with domestic sources – think Texas Tea and Henry Hub oil spot prices – but, as demand has increased, domestic oil production rates have not been able to keep up. Today, we import approximately 3.5 billion barrels of oil each year. And, while the majority comes from Canada and Mexico, we still import 5 million barrels of oil from OPEC countries EVERY DAY. In the face of these staggering numbers, our current President has declared that we must reduce the amount of fuel that we import. On March 30, I wrote a piece about his 4 part plan to reduce US demand of foreign oil.

  1. Increase domestic oil production
  2. Implement new natural gas industry incentives
  3. Develop biofuel resources
  4. Reduce energy consumption with efficiency
But, according to Professor Graetz, this plan could be doomed for failure in the face of 40+ years of energy policy failures. In his opinion, the key to success does not lie in incentives or encouraging domestic production. Instead, it is found in our ability to establish an energy price that reflects the “true cost” of using these energy resources.
In the thousands of pages of energy legislation and regulations enacted since energy policy came to the fore in the 1970s, Congress has never demanded that Americans pay a price that reflects the true price of the energy they consume. For nearly a decade following the oil embargo of 1973, Congress refused even to allow the price of gas at the pump to reflect the worldwide market price of oil. No one now contemplates requiring gasoline prices to include, for example, the costs of keeping oil moving safely from the Persian Gulf into our gas tanks, or insisting that our electricity prices reflect the costs of coal pollution or of nuclear power safety.

The HIVE: How high-tech solutions stopped the Gulf oil spill

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

bp-oil-spill-macondo-wellFeatured on Scientific American this week is an article discussing how science and technology stopped last summer’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The piece, authored by Scientific American’s David Biello, provides a narrative of how scientific discussion and collaboration resulted in a solution to one of history’s largest environmental disasters.

The article discusses how high-tech solutions were discusses, discarded and improved upon until they could finally be used to stop the stream of oil gushing into the Gulf.

Forty-eight hours into an attempt to muscle a gusher of oil back into the deep-sea well from which it spewed, the flow of petroleum and gas refused to slow. Screen after screen in a special room at BP’s headquarters in Houston showed the oil gushing undiminished, silently witnessed underwater by remotely operated vehicles(ROVs).

The room—called the HIVE, for Highly Immersive Visualization Environment—was hardly the only place at BP buzzing with activity. Earlier, locked in the 10-meter-square “intervention room” on the third floor, scientist fought scientist in the battle over whether to proceed with an established way to plug the leak, the so-called “top kill” operation…