Posts Tagged ‘Pecan Street Project’

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


Pecan Street Project – Request for Information

November 20, 2010 1 comment

This week, the Pecan Street Project (PSP) released its draft Request for Information (RFI). They are asking for comments from interested parties until December 3rd. Over the following week, the folks at the PSP will review all of the comments they receive and will update the draft RFI to its final state, which will be released on or about December 10th.

Before the comment deadline, PSP will hold a conference call at 3pm on November 29th (see the draft RFI for more details).

Quickly separated – 20 companies in 140 minutes

October 4, 2010 1 comment

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Clean Energy Venture Summit at UT’s AT&T Center. I was unable to sit in on Wednesday’s panels, but made it to Thursday’s sessions including the piece de resistance – presentations by the 20 companies chosen by the Austin Technology Incubator’ s selection committee to pitch their ideas before a panel of judges and perhaps earn a coveted spot on the Pecan Street Project‘s list of technologies to be included in the project’s testing plans.

Having not had the opportunity to read the formal proposals submitted by each of these companies, my background information for each was limited to what I could find on their company websites. The remainder of my opinions were formed in the quick 7 minutes that each company was allotted to present their idea, which was followed by a few minutes of questions from the panel of judges.

Each of the 20 companies undoubtedly had a good idea for their niche in the energy technology market – though I must admit that my mind began to wander and lose focus on the quality of these ideas at times as a majority of presenters were unable to comfortably finish their pitch within their 7-minute window. Some of the technologies were geared toward more industrial and commercial uses (dispatchable load models, optimization schemes, conversion of waste heat to usable electricity) while others could be used in residential applications (green building products, cheaper solar panel materials and designs, electric vehicles). The companies came from throughout the United States (with a notable concentration of folks from New York and New Jersey) and Canada.

In the 140 minutes (give or take with questions), the 20 companies were quickly separated into those that I believe could have an effective place at the table in a project like the PSP and those I cannot envision (at this point) as being ready for practical applications and real-world testing. I will be blogging about some of the companies that still stick out in my mind over the next few days.

Congratulations and thanks to Melissa Rabeaux for another wonderfully orchestrated ATI event.

Longhorns, Long Wires, and Big Ideas in Green Energy

Check out the guest post I wrote for Discover Magazine’s blog, The Intersection.

As the nation moves toward a green energy future, it has found a leader in Texas. While Washington debates federal clean energy policies, the Lone Star State has taken up the reins in the renewable energy sphere. Should we be surprised that this iconic leader in our nation’s energy history is now uniquely positioned to lead us into our energy future?

As a University of Texas at Austin graduate student and a woman with deep hill countryroots I’m well acquainted with the state’s reputation as the home of big oil and gas. This image has been cultivated over the years through scenes with James Dean (Jett Rink) inGiant and Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) inDallas. Truth-be-told, much of the economic development in the past 100 years in Texas can trace its roots back to 1901 whenSpindletop came gushing in and the real-world Jetts and J.R.s found their strides.

Today, Texas is the nation’s leader in total energy consumption, using about 12 percent of the country’s total energy. If Texas was a nation, it would rank seventh in the world for carbon dioxide emissions – just ahead of Canada and a smidgeon behind Germany. Texas boasts some of the largest petroleum refineries in the United States and the Houston area, including its aptly namedEnergy Corridor, is home to many oil and gas giants including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP America, and Exxon Mobil. The Lone Star State is undeniably a principal in the traditional energy industry and at the same time is uniquely positioning itself to be the nation’s leader in the green energy movement, particularly green electricity.

Texas is not only rich in oil and gas reservoirs (good ole Texas Tea), but also has expansive renewable energy resources including solar and wind. Over the past decade, the state has cultivated its wind power industry with a set of progressive policies including a statewide renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that have driven Texas to be the nation’s leader in wind power. To date, almost 10 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity have been installed within the state’s borders – enough to power almost 3 million homes. On February 28, 2010 Texas hit another impressive benchmark when it supplied a jaw-dropping 22% of its total electricity demand using wind energy. In doing so, it demonstrated the state’s ability to be a model for adding renewable electricity to the grid throughout the nation.

Why Texas? What makes Texas unique?

I’d like to offer up what I believe is the main reason – Texas’s electricity grid.

In the continental United States, there are three grids (East, West and Texas) that serve as electricity pipelines to move electricity from power plants to our homes and businesses. The self-contained Texas grid (operated by ERCOT) is unique. It allows for regulation of transmission on a state basis, as intrastate activities are not overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (affectionately called FERC).  This means that, if Texans want to test the limits on how much renewable energy they put on the grid or see how a renewable energy technology performs in a grid system, they can do so without Washington’s approval. In other words, Texas is like a 100+ million acre test lab that the entire nation can benefit from.

A shining example of this is seen in the state’s capital. In Austin’s Mueller Development, the Pecan Street Project has taken on the role of America’s clean energy laboratory.  This laboratory spans over 711 acres and is home to approximately 10,000 residents that live in 4,600 single-family, condo, or apartment homes. Twenty-five percent of these homes are reserved for families that qualify for affordable housing programs. Also on the site are Dell Children’s Hospital, a Home Depot, and a town center full of cafes and shops. Not exactly your traditional Bunsen burner and vent hood, but rather a huge outdoor dynamic laboratory for real time feedback and data collection.

The Pecan Street Project is bringing together scientists (engineers, geologists, and chemists), politicians (from rural Republicans to urban Democrats), and Texas residents from all walks of life to see what we can achieve. This community, inspired by the smart grid concept, will test theories and technologies like advanced energy storage, real-time pricing, and an array of efficiency projects that not only target energy, but will also work to decrease water demand in the community. And the best part of this project is that the lessons we learn from this community will be shared with the rest of the nation.

Texas has a rich energy history and appears to have equally high prospects for its energy future. Because of its unique position – with rich resources and independence in its grid – it is able to pursue exciting opportunities in the energy arena that the nation (and the world) will benefit from in the future.