There is a fair amount of talk lately (in nerd circles) about a graph being circulated by the utilities and the California Independent System Operator ( CALISO, the entity that manages the electric grid in the state). Known as the “Duck graph,” it is being presented as a dire prediction of impending grid instability due to the increasing role of renewable energy sources. But where some see doom and gloom, others see opportunity. Here’s our take. (H/T John Farrell at REWorld.)
Here’s the graph (credit, CALISO):
As recently as 2012, this wasn’t a duck at all as net load had two peaks, one in the morning and one late in the evening.
But look at the center of the graph: as more and more renewable sources come online, the demand during the middle of the day falls dramatically, so much so that the utilities are complaining that there will be a risk of “over generation” - producing more energy than is needed and cutting into the baseline production (from power plants like coal and nuclear that need to operate continuously to be efficient.)
Also predicted is a rather steep increase in evening demand between now and 2020.
The net result is a curve shaped much like a duck, apparently a fowl predictor of grid chaos.
Frankly, we look at that graph and see progress and opportunity. Progress in that renewables, which not so long ago were sneered at as being a, “tiny amount of energy that will never amount to anything serious,” are now completely rewriting the load curve in the nation’s most populous state. Talk about coming a long way, baby!
The opportunity, of course, is right there as well. While adding large amounts of smart storage to the grid is an obvious fix for this “problem", as we noted just the other day (see Can Renewables Power the US?), we can handle this evolving energy future in a relatively simple manner—it just requires changing how we approach the problem. Here’s the video:
We can, and will, teach this Duck to fly.
How did we get from this…
LA Smog circa 1968
On a clear day…
In my lifetime?
As a school child growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, I was all too familiar with the upper scene: ground level ozone and other pollutants that literally made it hurt to breathe. Kids would come into classrooms after lunchtime recess and cough for half an hour. Every day. The very air was killing us and no one seemed to have the ability, or the will, to change it.
The story of how LA drastically improved its air quality has much to teach us as we face the fight to do something about climate change. The tactics of those who profit from the status quo are exactly the same: denial, obfuscation, entrenched resistance. But we overcame their resistance before, and what has been done can be done. The question is: do we have the will?
Which brings me to the wonderful series on addressing these issues that ran this past week on Kai Ryssdal’s always engaging Marketplace on NPR. (Sidenote: we listen to NPR on KPCC, and we have a Solar Member’s Benefit for KPCC members!)
In a week-long series titled, We Used to be China, the Marketplace Sustainability crew looks at how, not so long ago, the US faced pollution issues every bit as daunting as what confronts China today, and more broadly, the globe. In particular, the sections on LA’s Smog and on the Cap and Trade program that cured Acid Rain are particularly illuminating. Check them out.
As renewables become an ever larger share of the energy mix on the grid, we constantly hear the naysayers bleating that renewables make the grid unstable. Indeed, they claim that anything above a tiny fraction of total power demand penetration by solar sources will result in blackouts or worse since such sources are so variable. Besides, they say, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Renewables will never be reliable enough to fully power the grid.
But is that really true? Could it actually be possible to power the US using only renewable sources?
Amory Lovins over at the Rocky Mountain Institute thinks the answer is yes, and the short video that they have created makes a pretty compelling case. Take a look and decide for yourself. (Hat tip, Climate Denial Crock of the Week.)
Remember: “Whatever exists, is possible.”
We have looked at a lot of electric bills.
Pretty much every potential client that we speak to sends us a year’s worth of their electric bills as the first step in the process of getting a proposal for adding solar to their home or business. We use that data to model what your actual savings will be, based on the rate structure that the utility applies to you as their customer. Some of those rate structures are really complicated (like this time-of-use rate for EV charging), but for most residential clients, the rate should be relatively straight forward. After all, you are only paying for total usage (not demand charges) and most folks aren’t yet on a time-of-use rate. How complicated can it be?
But we had a bit of an epiphany the other day as we tried to explain an SCE bill to a couple at their kitchen table. Perhaps you’ve noticed this little chart if you are an SCE customer:
Presumably this is SCE’s attempt in helping you to understand your bill. So what is going on here? SCE residential customers are under a tiered rate structure. The lowest tier, the so-called baseline rate, is relatively cheap at roughly thirteen cents per kilowatt hour for the first few hundred kilowatt hours needed. Of course, no one uses just their baseline allocation and so the second tier is a tiny slice that is 30% of the baseline. If you stay in those first two tiers, congratulations, you are getting some pretty cheap energy.
Tier 3 is where things start to get pricey, with the cost per kilowatt hour doubling from what you paid for baseline. Tier 3’s allocation is 70% of baseline, which mean that if you use more than twice your baseline allocation, you are out of Tier 3 and into the dreaded Tier 4 where you will pay more than 31¢/kWh.
Ok, so far so good. But notice the odd thing that is going on in that graph. The widths of Tiers 1-3 are actually proportionate to reality. The width of the bar for Tier 1 is equal width to the sum of the bars for Tiers 2 & 3— which is exactly how the rate structure works. But what is going on with that bar for Tier 4? At a quick glance, you might think that you are using about the same amount of energy in Tier 4 as you did in Tier 1 (or Tiers 2 & 3). But look at the number: whereas Tier 1 was 399 kWh, the usage in Tier 4 is more than four times that amount at 1,799 kWhs! This client is living in Tier 4!
This is not only not helpful to “understanding your bill,” this is downright deceptive.
So what should this actually look like if drawn to scale? How about this:
Now the true impact of this client’s high energy usage starts to become clearer. Their usage is dominated by Tier 4 but you never would have seen that relying on the chart provided by SCE.
Of course for most clients, they are more interested in what they are paying, and it is here that the real impact of SCE’s tiered rate structure comes home. Check out this chart:
Wow - this client is spending 10x as much on Tier 4 as they are on Tier 1! That is some painful energy costs right there!
To be sure, if you review your bill carefully, you could find this same information, but the bill obscures the facts by parsing out the numbers in a manner that only makes sense to the lawyers who crafted the rate structure (and those of us who have made it our business to decipher them).
We have a suggestion to our friends at SCE—if you really want to help your customers understand their bills, start by ditching the misleading charts and replace them with a clear representation that makes the facts readily understandable.
In the meantime we will continue to do our part, one kitchen table at a time.
It is official, Unirac has decided to discontinue its Solarmount Evolution product, thereby ending the run of what we considered the best solar racking solution in the industry.
This despite our Open Letter to Unirac Management. Who would have guessed that they would ignore our concerns? (Well ok, pretty much everybody would have guessed that…)
In a one-line email, SM-E Product Manager, Keith Hardy broke the bad news:
After much deliberation, Unirac has decided to discontinue sales of the SME product line (effective 30 May 2014). Thank you.
Less it be lost to the sands of time, this is how Unirac used to promote this product:
Silly us, we actually believed that this was a product that “redefined what residential mounting systems can offer distributors and installers.” To say nothing of homeowners, the most important constituency in this whole process. Suffice it to say, we think this is a really bad call.
No word from Unirac on what is replacing SM-E, if anything, and with Intersolar 2014 just around the corner ("are you goin’ to San Francisco?") it looks like we will be in the market for a new racking solution.
Cue the sales people—our business is now up for grabs!
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