"The house becomes a battery"

A gigantic tip of the hat to the man who’s just coined the best new phrase I’ve heard in a long while to sum up the value of distribution system modernization, negawatts, DR, DER, DLC, and the rest of the alphabet soup of the smart grid:

"The house becomes a battery"

This simply brilliant, and brilliantly simple, five-word sentence was spoken by Tyson Brown, a utility demand response program manager. It wraps up both the breadth and the power of automated home direct load control into a neat little idea that tells a story. You can picture a house with an electric cord sticking out of it, read to provide power. Many thanks to Utility Dive for the story.

My reaction to this gem of a sentence would be the same no matter who said it or where. But knowing its source makes it all the more amazing.

First, the where: “The house becomes a battery” crystalizes an idea being touted all the time in New York, California, Massachusetts and other blue-state costal intellectual hubs. But it didn’t come from the enlightened coasts. Brown works at Kansas City Power and Light, a 130 year old utility serving Missouri and Eastern Kansas. Perhaps they don’t call it the “Show me” state for nothin’, as “the house becomes a battery” shows you what demand response actually means.

And the who: Tyson Brown is, according to LinkedIn, a program manager. Too often utilities and other organizations only allow top management to talk to the media or the public about what they’re doing. This means that there’s a gap between the folks who are on the ground doing the work and the folks trying to explain the work. There are usually other gaps too, like a generation gap, a technical gap, or a . By trusting Brown to talk freely about his and his team’s work, KCP&L has given us a fresh perspective on a tool that’s usually dismissed as too technical to explain or too unreliable to really make a dent in our electricity needs. 

Brown also says, “"The end game is to have a connected home that has energy efficiency and demand response measures built into it across the board. From your dishwasher running during the day because there's solar on the roof, to your hot water heater taking wind, to the utility managing peak demand and locational benefits of the home.”

This isn’t a environmental activist talking or a State energy official. It’s a mid-western utility program manager. And it’s the best thing I’ve heard all year.

Source: http://www.utilitydive.com/news/the-house-...

Thank you cards at a knife fight

I’ve read about dozen articles or posts about how clean energy is going to be just fine under the Trump administration. Several smack of a thinly veiled desperation, like they’ve run out of gas at 2am after getting lost on a pitch-dark spooky country road in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, telling themselves, “This is going to be fine, just fine. No problem.”

But, there are many good points being made about why we may be fine, just fine. Two are especially clear:

First is what I learned the hard way when I went to work early in the Obama administration to advance clean energy: in the USA, the States have the real control over electricity and natural gas. This is, I believe, why we still have such an outdated system. No one is looking at the big picture, because there is no big picture. The Independent Systems Operators (ISOs, the non-profit organizations that balance the grid in their region) aren’t looking much beyond their own footprint; state utility commissions know they can only control their own state. And, even though federal tax credits make a huge difference in how much the market wants to invest in renewables, at the end of the day, clean energy is built one project at a time, by one developer at a time, almost always for a specific customer who really wants it (yes, even if it’s to fulfill a state mandate, that still counts as wanting it). 

Second, the economics are with us. When you’re talking about new market entrants, wind and solar win. When you look at projections on natural gas prices, fuel-free renewables win. When you look at distributed energy resources’ ability to supply not only power but also deferral of transmission and distribution investments, DER wins. I think often renewables are lazy about making this point, because for the last eight years, we didn’t always have to. From now on, we have to be disciplined and exact in our cost arguments.  We can’t rely on nuanced, feel-good talk about how we’re going to save the earth. We have to show that anyone who rejects us is making a bad financial decision.

Which brings me to the best thing I read this week. A brief column a friend sent from the Globe and Mail (no, I haven’t switched to reading only the Canadian papers yet). It says that when we take the high road when arguing with people who aren’t listening, “it’s like bringing thank you cards to a knife fight.” That stings, because I know I’ve been guilty of that. And it’s an epidemic among clean energy folks. We’re nice. We want to save the earth. How about planning a terrific Earth Day?

While I am the last person you’ll ever meet to disavow thank you notes, I’m done bringing them to knife fights.

Here’s our new reality: we must stick to simple, bold claims. That’s how President-Elect Donald Trump thinks, how he speaks, and I argue, what he capable of listening to. It makes intellectuals’ skin crawl.

We hear someone say, “I’m the best!”

And we’re all like, “Where’s the data showing you’re the best? Who has written a report? What bodies have convened to study if you are the best? What awards have you won? I read in the New York Times that you are not actually the best! I am therefore certain that no one would possibly believe you are the best.”

If Tuesday’s election didn’t convince you that half of America is in no mood for this, I don’t know what will. And that half? They’re in charge.

Are we going to take four years off from building clean energy and the smart grid? No way. But to make it happen in Trumpworld, we need to take a page from his playbook.

“Clean Energy is the best.”

And finally, also as per the President-Elect, we have to stop apologizing for the support we get. No matter how you feel personally about Trump’s legal ability to write off an $18 million loss, we need to understand the thinking in Trumpworld.

“Yes, clean energy gets tax breaks. We get the best tax breaks. Are you jealous of our tax breaks? We’re just following the law. You’re in favor of raising taxes? I’ll be sure to let everybody know you’re in favor of raising taxes.”

I’ll always take the high road with people who are capable of listening. But sometimes you need to meet people where they are. And leave the thank you cards at home. 

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/tha...

Stuck in the Queue, what’s a customer to do?

Many thanks to Utility Drive for documenting the wasteful and unfair crisis may of us have seen festering for years: getting customers’ rooftop solar hooked up to the grid.

You can check it out here.

The report shows that the length of time customers spend waiting to get their systems hooked up is growing, by a lot. Think that’s not a big deal? How about this example:

“A hypothetical customer in Connecticut who installs a 7 kW system would be deprived of more than $150 in electricity generation for every month that interconnection is delayed,” the paper reports. “Multiplied over many individual systems, the cumulative costs are considerable.”

And it’s not just money. The customer is losing $150 a month, but the that’s also more carbon going into the atmosphere, creating global warming pollution that would not exist had the system been hooked up. It also undermines investment in solar. How can you take out a loan that you need to pay back right away with the savings from your solar system if your system is going to sit there inactive for who knows how long?

The report blames three culprits for the growing delays: 1. There are a lot more residential applications, 2. Utilities can’t handle the increased number of applications, and 3. There are more applications for specific parts of distribution systems that already have a lot of distributed solar on them.

Is it me, or are these three reasons just really parts of one reason?

In my experience, there are other much more fundamental challenges to consider than workflow and project management.

First, the utility business model. If you were selling widgets, and then your customers started making their own widgets, and then you had to buy their excess widgets, how would you feel about your long-term economic prospects? Yes, I know we have decoupling and supply and delivery are separate, but delivery charges are based on the volume a customer buys, so less volume, less money spent on delivery. Most anyone reading this knows all about this so-called “utility death spiral,” but let’s focus just on the lack motivation to quickly approve and interconnect residential solar.  Utilities’ earnings are, for now, not improved by interconnecting the projects in their queues in a timely manner. Other than to avoid a massive lapse in customer satisfaction, why would they do it at all?

Second, the utility risk profile. Utilities were born and bread to be risk adverse. Low risk, low reward. Except when interest rates are miniscule, and suddenly utilities look like low risk, high reward. But in any case, utility employees in charge of keeping their circuits and substations humming were trained not to do anything whatsoever that might mess that up. Now, they’re boomers close to retirement, and we’re telling them it’s time to give the green light to hook up a bunch of variable resources? But they’re still on the hook if everything doesn’t function perfectly? Yes, we know there are a lot of cool new tools to manage this, which brings me to…

Third, even though there are amazing technologies available, like using reactive power, energy storage, big data, demand response, there’s little motivation for a utility try new technology to allow significant penetration, because of reasons 1 and 2.

As many States, especially New York, know, it’s time to reinvent the utility business model, so utilities are rewarded for doing what they need to do to facilitate the clean energy revolution and doing it really well. 

Otherwise, how can we really expect them to change?

Source: http://www.utilitydive.com/news/interconne...

A Tale of Two States (with apologies to Charles Dickens)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of net metering, it was the age of trying to get rid of net metering, it was the epoch of belief in the value of distributed resources, it was the epoch of incredulity that rooftop solar was really worth the retail rate, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness... 

How can one help but to be struck by the headlines generated by New York and Arizona in the last week? Here you have a Northeastern state that will, next week, get about 2 hours of real sunlight a day, but that understands generating a kwh of electricity at someone's house not only means that they get a kwh of electricity, it also means that their utility doesn't have to pay to bring that kwh to their house. And then you have a Southwestern state, which has a sunburst on its state flag and a sunset on its license plate, which is trying to pay so little for rooftop solar that folks won't bother with it, which is exactly the goal.  

To summarize the action in Arizona and New York  this week, I will leave the facts to the excellent people at Greentech media (click on the State names for the links).

The oversimplified summary is this: New York is grinding incredibly hard to come up with the true answer to how to value distributed solar, and this very, very hard work has presumably resulted in their finding 1. determining a fair value of distributed solar based on its exact location is extremely hard work, 2. determining the fair value of solar based on the exact location is going to take more time, 3. we have to start somewhere. So the NYS DPS, who I can testify are among the smartest assemblage of people you'll ever meet anywhere, propose that the little systems on your house or small business should just keep on with the net metering for now, while the big systems, like on your university or factory, should start the transition to a pricing system that actually calculates what the power they're making is worth where it's made at the time it's made. So, if wholesale power near you is selling for 10 cents at noon on Tuesday (LMP), and getting that wholesale power to you at noon on Tuesday would cost another 10 cents (D), then your LMP+D is 20 cents.

Meanwhile, out in Arizona, State regulatory folks seem to be missing the D concept. The oversimplified summary is: the process has already taken two years, and it's supposed to be wrapped up by a Commission vote in December, but the latest comments deadline has been extended again. Apparently staff seems to be circling around the proposal that electrons produced on your roof at noon on Tuesday should earn you the same amount as the average price electrons produced at a grid-scale, transmission-connected solar power plant in your state and solar under a pre-negotiated long-term contract. So the fact that your power is already out on the grid and doesn't need expensive transmission or distribution is not taken into consideration. And the fact that commercial solar developers negotiate power-purchase agreements for very large (like, Arizona large) solar farms with lots of sunshine and economy of scale is exactly the same as you putting panels on your roof. 

Certainly, deciding what comes after residential net metering is mind-numbingly difficult, and hats off to both NY and AZ for not rushing into anything. What I hope Arizona will realize is that, like the New York folks seem to have found, the only thing worse than residential net metering is a rushed, imperfect, assumption-driven replacement for net metering.