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.
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.”
Yesterday we attended the public hearing held by Senator Kevin de León (D-SD22) to discuss his proposed SB 39 which is intended to provide the mechanism for allocating Proposition 39 funds. We went into the meeting with significant concerns given the failure of the bill’s initial draft to say anything about clean energy generation. We came away impressed with Senator de León and encouraged for the future path of this legislation. Here is our report.
The hearing - technically a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight and Bonded Indebtedness - was held at Murchison Elementary School in Los Angeles, a school which could certainly benefit from the funds to be raised by Prop 39 and potentially allocated by Senator de León’s SB 39. De León chairs the subcommittee, but neither of his colleagues - Ricardo Lara or Mimi Walters - attended. Instead, Senator de León was joined on the dias by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-AD15) - an old friend from Berkeley City Council days and one of the leading environmentalists in the State legislature. (Sadly, Assemblymember Skinner had to leave before we had our turn to speak. Perhaps she will read about our comments here.)
The format of the scheduled three-hour meeting was to take testimony from a number of invited speakers - representing LAUSD, the LA Chapter of the Green Building Council, the Building & Construction Trades, Global Green USA and the Coalition for Clean Air (my officemates from my time at CBE out in Venice) - and then hear from members of the public. During the course of the hearing it was hard not to be impressed by Senator de León’s concern for the largely working class community that he represents (Murchison school is in his district), his knowledge of the issues and his desire to come up with an appropriate formula that would be equitable and effective. He was articulate, passionate, friendly and humble - a combination rarely found in an elected official.
One topic kept coming up again and again - how best to allocate these funds so as to do the most good. Governor Brown is proposing to allocate the funds on a per capita basis - which seems even-handed, and easy to administer, but may not do such a good of applying the money to the greatest need. Senator de León was clearly focused on finding a different solution and he pressed the witnesses to offer their suggestions.
From our perspective, while many measures could be used - such as the percentage of students entitled to receive a free lunch - it seems to us that a metric more closely tied to existing energy inefficiency - such as kilowatt-hours per student - might be a better allocation measure given that it is possible to have poor students in an efficient school (even if that is not common). Another possibility would be to allocate funds strictly on a cost performance basis - direct the money to those projects that would produce the most bang for the buck - but pool the savings and allocate them to the neediest schools first. Of course, one of the secondary benefits of more efficient schools is that they also improve the learning environment by being cleaner, quieter and healthier places to study. Those benefits are hard to quantify and they make a “bang for the buck” approach less desirable if those benefits cannot be captured in the equation. Clearly the quest for “equity” here is complicated and it is hard to see how any allocation formula will satisfy everyone. (No doubt the reason for the Governor’s administratively easy approach.)
Which brought us to the time for our comments. Sadly, we represented the only solar installer in the room, although, curiously enough, there was a representative from national SEIA there who spoke before us and in favor of including solar in the mix. (Even more curious, there was no representative from CalSEIA there to speak.)
Given that SEIA made the point to include solar - which Senator de León appeared to agree with completely - we decided to shift gears and make the point about how solar could not only save energy and money, but unlike energy efficiency measures it could also enhance a school’s educational mission. We noted that our project at Westridge had done exactly that - with students and administrators alike excited about the addition of solar on campus, and we even mentioned our geek-fest over the analysis of solar eclipse data. Noting that solar was sexier than an LED, Senator de León agreed with us that both had a place in the mix of Prop 39 funds. As an adjunct to our comments yesterday, and since there is a chance that he and/or his staff will see this post, here is our Westridge video for their viewing pleasure:
It remains to be seen, of course, how SB 39 will evolve to accommodate the input provided yesterday and the process calls for continued monitoring. Still, we came away convinced that Senator de León is committed to doing the right thing and we wish him well in his efforts to balance the competing demands for funding and devise a formula that is fair and effective.
A future hearing is likely to be held at a later date in Los Angeles - we will let you know when that hearing is scheduled.
Amidst the multitude of measures on next Tuesday’s ballot, Proposition 39 has garnered little media attention. For proponents of renewable energy, however, it might be the second most important vote you can cast on Election Day. Here’s our take.
Prop 39 seeks to close a loophole in existing state tax law that allows multistate corporations to decide for themselves how to calculate their taxable income. Present law provides either of two methods, the “Three-Factor Method” or the “Singles Sales Factor Method” as explained by the independent Legislative Analyst:
Under Prop 39, the first method would be repealed and every multistate business would pay state income taxes based on the proportion of its actual sales in California. Frankly, this only seems fair - if a company is deriving 75% of its revenue from sales in California, why shouldn’t it pay taxes on that 75%? Moreover, the other method allows a multistate company to reduce its California taxes by moving employees or property out of the state - why would we want to provide a financial incentive for them to do that? Indeed, this is such a common sense modification to the tax code that, according to Prop 39 proponents, it has already been adopted by both red and blue states including New York, Michigan and Texas.
Ok, so this makes sense as a measure of tax policy, but why should renewable energy proponents be backing this measure? Simple — Prop 39 splits the money it raises for the first five years between the General Fund (which will boost school funding thanks to Prop 98 and help close California’s budget gap) and a special fund to support energy efficiency and alternative energy projects in the state. (After five years, all of the money raised goes to the General Fund.)
Specifically, Prop 39 would create the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund to provide financial support for projects at schools (including public schools, colleges and universities) and other public buildings as well as support for innovative public-private partnerships like PACE programs. The ballot measure also creates a Citizens Oversight Board to provide for audits of the program and complete documentation of how every dollar of the Fund is spent. (You can read the full text of Prop 39 here.)
Prop 39 has extremely broad support (see a larger list here) including from the following:
Here’s a one-minute video from the measure’s sponsor:
We hope you will join us in supporting this tremendously important - if largely unheralded - ballot measure.
UPDATE: The final tallies are in and our hometown team placed sixth overall and tied for the lead in two categories: Energy Balance and Hot Water efficiency. Congratulations to all who participated in this competition - you make us proud!
The Solar Decathlon is a tremendously cool event that allows collegiate teams from around the world to show just what innovative, energy-efficient design looks like - and boy can these kids think outside the box!
Here in Pasadena we admit to being a bit partial to our hometown heroes over at Caltech (as in, the California Institute of Technology, in case you didn’t know). Teaming up with architecture students from SCI-Arc (as in the Southern California Institute of Architecture, in case you didn’t know), the combined team’s entry - called CHIP, for Compact, Hyper-Insulated Prototype - features insulation on the outside of the building and some other very clever design features, including - of course - solar panels.
Check out this video “walkthrough":
The Decathlon starts September 23 and runs through October 2 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We can only hope that the folks who work in Washington and have a hand in setting national energy policy will take the time to become educated about the possibilities created by innovative thinking regarding our long-term energy needs.
We will be following the status of the SCI-Arc/Caltech team and will post updates as they become available. Go team, GO!