Any serious vision of a sustainable energy economy requires major commitments to both efficiency and renewables. Up to now, most policies and programmes for energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RES) have been deployed separately. Significant synergies between both pillars can be realized however by combining these two policy agendas.
Last May, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a report on this topic.
The report discusses the following five synergies:
The ACEEE report demonstrates these synergies with a series of U.S. case studies.
Public Benefit Funds (PBFs) are generated by a small charge on consumers’ electricity bills or through contributions from utilities. They provide money in varying degrees for energy efficiency measures (EE), renewable energy systems (RES), energy research and development, and low-income housing energy assistance.
Several U.S. states adopted PBFs following the restructuring of the electric industry in the mid-1990s. This restructuring had eliminated many, if not most, of the previous incentives to invest in EE and RES.
The most extensive PBF is that of California, where incentives were established and set in place for a specified term from 2000 to 2012. Funds are generated by a surcharge in consumers’ electricity bills that averages 25 cent per kWh, or about two per cent of the electricity price. This generates $525 million per year, of which 43 per cent ($228 million) goes toward EE and 26 per cent ($135 million) toward RES initiatives.
Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) set a target for electric utility companies for the purchase of renewable power, typically as a percentage of total electricity sales. Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) set a target for electric or gas utility companies for end-use energy savings, expressed in terms of energy units, percentage of load growth forecast, or percentage of total energy sales.
Nine U.S. states have adopted combined EERS and RPS policies. The benefits of combining EE and RES are similar to those experienced in the case of PBFs: emission reductions, job creation, improved reliability, and increased pressure on the electricity prices. And like PBFs, it is a flexible system in which each state can choose its optimal mix of EE and RES.
In Nevada, the latest RPS legislation stipulates that RES and EE together must meet 20 per cent of the states electricity production by 2015, of which up to 25 per cent can be met with EE. Hawaii has a similar regulation, but with a cap on EE at 50 per cent of the target. In Connecticut, EE and RES have separate targets within the same regulatory framework.
EERS and RPS combined can have a large impact. Suppose an EERS reduces demand growth by 20 per cent in 2020, and RPS targets are set at 20 per cent of electricity sales, the two policies combined will reduce conventional energy generation by 36 per cent. This will likewise reduce carbon emissions.
Zero-energy houses represent the next generation of dwellings. Their total energy needs are generated on site. Today, residential renewable energy systems are still some years away from being cost effective. Through energy efficiency measures, the overall energy demand of the building can be reduced, thus magnifying the potential of renewable energy to provide a high proportion of the energy demand.
The Building Industry Research Alliance (BIRA), part of the Building America Program, established a Zero Energy House (ZEH) programme. At present, 416 low-energy houses have been built in California alone through this program. Those houses have reduced their grid energy consumption by an average of 51 per cent compared to a standard house. 32 per cent of this savings was realized by energy savings and 19 per cent by a photovoltaic system.
Low-energy houses obviously benefit homeowners through reduced home electricity bills. They benefit the utility companies through significant peak demand savings. Other benefits include:
By 2020, the Building America Program aims to produce 'real' ZEH homes that require zero energy from utilities and pump electricity back into the grid during peak hours. Reaching this goal still requires substantial R&D to reduce the cost of ZEH and facilitate its market penetration.
Staples is the largest office supply chain in the world and has branches throughout the U.S.A. A few years ago, it became an early leader in establishing company-wide energy policies. Their Central Office of Environmental Affairs, established in 2002, developed a long-term strategy combining both energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy systems (RES).
This strategy has brought them many benefits:
Thanks to their long-term, holistic view, Staples was able to raise its share of energy from renewable resources to 10 per cent in 2004 or 53 million kWh, leading the industry at that time. Part of this energy was purchased in the form of renewable energy certificates, and part of it was generated by solar arrays on distribution centres in California and New Jersey.
In the meantime, the market for green power purchases by larger corporations has been burgeoning. Staples will need to continue to step up its goals to stay ahead of the pack. One of the main barriers is the regulatory differences between the various U.S. states. These are hampering Staples’ ability to institutionalize its renewable energy purchasing practices company-wide.
Austin Energy is a utility company owned by the city of Austin, the capital of Texas. It provides electricity for 692,000 people and is one of the leading pioneers in combining energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RES) programmes.
The utility launched a visionary strategic plan in 2003, containing self-imposed RES and EE standards. The goal for 2020 is to achieve:
These targets will be met through a diverse array of programmes. These include:
The current strategic plan is far from being the first for Austin Energy. In 1979, Roger Duncan, at that time an Austin City Council member, ran a campaign against the proposed South Texas Nuclear Project. Though the nuclear plant was eventually built, Mr. Duncan subsequently became an executive at Austin Energy and continued to work on establishing the energy conservation programmes that would have been needed to balance the rejection of the major new power source.
By 1982, these efficiency programmes had reduced Austin’s energy demand so dramatically that the city could remove a projected coal-fired power plant from its long-term generation plan. In the beginning of the 1990s, Austin Energy began a further reduction in its fossil fuel use by ramping up renewable energy investments; at that time primarily wind technology.
These efforts led the utility to become the first to formally analyse the synergies between EE and RES. It determined the following main synergies:
According to the senior management of Austin Energy, the next focus must be on creating net zero energy buildings. But for a utility company to survive in a zero energy building marketplace, a new business model needs to be created. For Austin Energy, always a pioneer, this represents the next great frontier.
A Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit burning a renewable gas is a perfect example of integrating green energy with energy efficiency. In Model City in the state of New York, the Innovative Energy Corporation uses landfill gas to power a CHP unit. By capturing the greenhouse gases and other potentially hazardous landfill emissions, they are prevented from escaping into the atmosphere.
Collecting and burning landfill gas is a widely commercialized, cost-competitive technology. The Model City Energy project is a best practice case because it also makes optimally use of the heat from the CHP unit. Along with the generation plant, a ten-acre tomato-growing company H2Gro was founded and is now producing 5,000 kg of tomatoes each day.
The H2Gro greenhouse is heated entirely by the CHP unit, which supplies 31 million Btus/h of heat (32.77 GJ/h or 9.08 MW). Moreover the CHP unit produces 5.6 MW of electrical power which is mainly sold to the grid.
The key benefits of this project are:
The report 'The Twin Pillars of Sustainable Energy: Synergies between Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology and Policy' by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).Log in to post comments