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Category: hybrid energy

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The Solution: Paris Climate Accords – Why Should I Care About Paris?

If you’ve been following along with our blog this week, you know that: 1) energy usage isn’t just increasing in the U.S. – it’s increasing all over the world; 2) energy production is meeting energy consumption in a few countries, but severely lacking in many other countries outside of the U.S. and China (which will lead to blackouts), and 3) that Carbon Dioxide – a harmful greenhouse gas associated with climate change – is not produced when using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, or hydro-electric energy.

If this is true, what’s the solution? This is where things get really interesting! For many years, climate scientists and activists have been the only ones sounding the alarm on climate change, however thanks in large parts to their efforts (and to the increase in the price of non-renwable resources like oil and gas), world leaders are finally starting to listen. In December 2015, 196 countries signed the Paris Climate Accords! This was monumental because no other agreement of it’s kind had included such a wide array of countries all advocating for the same cause: the reduction in climate change. To learn more about what this agreement entails, check out the following link: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement; or for a more detailed look, check out the full text of the Paris Climate Accord here: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf. With this agreement, each country designated their own goals for CO2 reduction – which means if you’re thinking about increasing the energy efficiency of your home, you’re not alone! Almost every country in the world is doing the same thing, and hopefully if we work together, we can see notable changes before it’s too late.

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Energy Production Around the World

One thing we did not specifically call out in yesterday’s blog, that I’d like to call attention to now is on the CO2 production page, here – https://yearbook.enerdata.net/co2-fuel-combustion/CO2-emissions-data-from-fuel-combustion.html – take a look at the CO2 production contributors by source titled, “Breakdown by energy 2019”. Notice anything interesting? On this chart, you will find that the CO2 production comes directly from Oil, Coal, and Gas – even though there are other energy contributors in these countries, namely Wind, Solar, and Hydro. This is because while there may be some negligible CO2 costs with regard to transportation of goods or the initial installation, these sources do not contribute to the production of CO2 in the air! If this is obvious, then congratulations – you’re ahead of the game – since this is part of why they’re called “renewable sources”. If you read the paragraphs below this chart, you’ll get a better picture as to which countries specifically are increasing/reducing their carbon footprint and how. The short story is that by harnessing sun power, wind power, and water power to create electricity, they are reducing their consumption of CO2-producing energy sources (oil, coal, and gas)which is why renewable energy is so very important to the reduction of CO2 in our atmosphere.

Now that we have this basic understanding of renewable and non-renewable sources of energy, let’s take a look at some of the energy production numbers around the world.

Global energy production: see here – https://yearbook.enerdata.net/total-energy/world-energy-production.html, and for a more detailed look, here – https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-balances-overview.

What do you notice about energy supply and energy demand (or energy consumption, as discussed in yesterday’s blog)? Post your comments about global energy production trends below!

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Energy Usage Around the World

Back to the Basics: let’s take a look at energy usage trends. The way in which we choose to use energy in our homes and in our lives is not fact or fiction, or personal opinion, or necessity – it’s cultural.

I’ve always considered myself an energy advocate, but it wasn’t until I visited Spain that I realized that clothes dryers are not essential to every day life. Are they helpful? Absolutely! However they also use a ton of energy (we’ve looked into this before, but according to Direct Energy it’s about 2-6 kWh, https://www.directenergy.com/learning-center/how-much-energy-dryer-use#:~:text=Electric%20dryers%20span%20a%20wide,cents%2C%20depending%20on%20the%20model), and while I understand that I’m not going to get the same soft, “fresh out of the dryer” effect with a clothing line, it made me wonder how I could reshape my cultural norms of energy usage, and what this might look like on a global scale.

Global Energy Usage: https://yearbook.enerdata.net/total-energy/world-consumption-statistics.html

This data is interesting though probably not surprising. China used the most electricity from 1919-2019, followed by the U.S., and then India – but that correlates *almost* directly with populations, at least for the most populous three countries (https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/), since the top three nations with the highest population are currently: China, India, and the U.S., respectively. After the top three however, this correlation between energy usage and population weakens – the following countries with the highest energy usage, according to the same link – Russia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Canada – are not the countries with the next highest populations – Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, and Bangladesh. Thus, energy per person is not the same in every country.

The picture is even more puzzling when looking at CO2 emissions. You might think that CO2 emissions correlate directly with energy usage – but take a look at the following link, and you’ll find that’s once again, not true: https://yearbook.enerdata.net/co2-fuel-combustion/CO2-emissions-data-from-fuel-combustion.html. This implies that some countries use energy more efficiently than others – they use more energy, but produce less CO2. There is of course more to this story – which we’ll continue onto later in the week – but for now, I hope this gets you thinking about energy efficiency and how you can improve it on an individual level, by changing the culture around energy usage one step at a time.

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Wind Energy – What, Where, and How?

Water Pumping Windmill

What?

While this type of energy has been around for a long time (think windmills, invented thousands of years ago), it’s perfectly reasonable to have questions about how this type of technology works. Looking back at the history of windmills, they’re actually a lot older than I even thought! Since we didn’t really have electricity-powered-homes or steam power until the start of the industrial revolution, lots of cultures around the world relied upon these gentle giants to help pump water out of wells and irrigate crops. Check out this article on the history of windmills to learn more: http://www.historyofwindmills.com/

Historic Windmills in Mykonos, Greece

Where?

Wind farms can be found all over the world – from the Gansu province in China (the world’s largest wind energy producer, https://www.power-technology.com/features/wind-energy-by-country/), to the great plains in the Midwest USA (see wind patterns here: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/wind-resource-assessment-and-characterization) and Canada, to the largest wind farm in Africa in northern Kenya (https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/20/africa/africas-largest-wind-farm-intl/index.html#:~:text=Africa%20has%20fully%20operational%20wind,MW%20to%20the%20national%20grid), to a myriad of countries in Europe (https://windeurope.org/about-wind/daily-wind/), and South America (https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/top-five-wind-power-countries-south-america/). There are even wind turbines in Antarctica (https://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=68353#:~:text=Three%20new%20wind%20turbines%20located,a%20total%20of%20990%20kw.)! Safe to say that no matter which continent you hail from, you can find a windmill or a wind farm somewhere.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Article: How Do Wind Turbines Work?

How?

In the early days of wind energy, windmills were often used to pump water. Here’s a really interesting article and graphic on how this works even today, from US-based windmill producer Aeromotor’s website, here: https://aermotorwindmill.com/pages/how-a-windmill-works. Later on, windmills evolved to produce actual energy by: “Wind turns the propeller-like blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity” according to the DOE website (https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/how-do-wind-turbines-work). Like most things regarding energy, you can be sure to find some good information on the US Department of Energy’s website, and wind energy is certainly no exception. In addition to the previous link which details how wind energy is created, check out the following link and visual graphic on how wind energy is produced and transported through the energy grid: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/animation-how-wind-turbine-works.

 

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Weatherization: Money You Spend Now to Save Long Term

One word I’ve heard more this week than I ever cared to is weatherization. According to several articles, if the Texas energy grid had just been “weatherized” prior to the storm last week, several people in the state would have had power and water during the coldest week in 30 years, and a few more might even still be alive. So what even is weatherization/winterization and why is it so important? You can look this word up on Webster’s dictionary and you will find that it essentially means “preparing for winter”, which I’m sure comes as no surprise, however it also is not very helpful if you really want to understand what the process entails.

Thus, here is a quick link which explains winterization in your home: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-to-winterize-plumbing-pipes-844862; another on winterizing large equipment: https://www.macallister.com/winterizing-equipment/; and here is an easy 234-page read on best practices for weatherization in the Midwest: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/06/f32/Midwest_Wx_Best_Practices_May_2007.pdf. In case you’re not an ERCOT board member, or a politician in charge of regulating the energy industry, here’s a slightly shorter article on weatherization and how to prevent frozen gas pipes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/thebakersinstitute/2021/02/19/winterization-and-the-texas-blackout-fail-to-prepare-prepare-to-fail/?sh=3de8c087c838and please find the graphic within which shows how temperature can affect the flow of gas in a pipeline:

It’s safe to say this process is not simple, it is time consuming, and can be costly – however, as I’ve come to learn this week, it is also essential. Texas does not often have winter storms that bring snow or last for longer than a day at a time – at the end of last year I was joking that Santa usually wore shorts in Texas, and that while I knew all of the words to “White Christmas” I had never actually seen one. I think after last week’s debacle, weatherization may become something we start to familiarize ourselves with in the future. It is certainly something I hope my elected and appointed officials familiarize themselves with now, as climate change could potentially exacerbate this problem.

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Texas Energy Grid: Deep Dive into ERCOT’s Governance Structure

Okay mi gente, this week we’ll explore the Texas electrical grid as-is. There has been a lot of scrutiny over the past week about how and why the Texas electrical grid works the way that it does, and who’s to blame when an outage occurs – so let’s take a deep dive and explore the system responsible for providing heat in the winter and cool in the summer.

You’ve likely heard of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and perhaps you’ve understood their role in the energy equation – here is a link to their home page for more information about how they serve Texas: here.

Their website outlines exactly how they’re set up, saying:ERCOT is a membership-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, governed by a board of directors and subject to oversight by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature. Its members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers and municipally owned electric utilities,” so we know by their own definition, that their Board of Directors, along with the Public Utilities Commission and the Texas Legislature are their “bosses” if you will.

So, who is on the Board, or within PUC, or within the Texas Legislature, and who makes up the members of the oversight committee that protect us from price surges and is in charge of equitably distributing energy to our great state? Again, you need only go to the ERCOT website to see for yourself – http://www.ercot.com/about/governance/directors. Please count the number of people on the board with oil & gas backgrounds, and then count the number of people on that board with renewable energy backgrounds. Find anything interesting? What is the average tenure of each ERCOT board member? How many board members are Latino, or Black, or female – how might this impact their visibility into these Texas communities?

Some of these board members have even worked for specific Retail energy providers in Texas, begging the questions: 1) who do they know, 2) who has their phone number from prior work experience, and 3) who are they most likely to help in a crisis? We often think that experience equates to know-how, but I think we need to ask whether or not there is enough diversity in our current power structure, pun intended, to allow for equal representation or new creative solutions to address an energy grid that will need to tackle climate change.

Now let’s take a look at those next couple of governing bodies: the PUC (Public Utilities Commission), http://www.puc.texas.gov/, and the Texas legislature, including the Texas House of Representatives https://house.texas.gov/members/ and the Texas Senate https://senate.texas.gov/members.php – and ask yourself the same questions as above. Do you know who represents your district? Did you know these are elected officials? If not that’s okay! However it may be time to start paying more attention, because it seems that while some communities kept the lights on or only had intermittent power failures last week, other communities were left without lights or heat in the most dire conditions all week long. These people are your advocates, did they advocate for you?

Without diversity in thought and representation, we will continue to attempt to tackle new climate change problems with existing, outdated solutions. Without green energy advocates or even just Texans within the ERCOT board of directors, or PUC, or even the Texas legislature charged with governing our electrical grid, we will not have a voice prepared to face the challenges our state faces today. It is time for a change to the way we govern the electrical Grid in Texas. Please note that this article does not mean to advocate for federal regulation, however some regulation at all that advocates for you and me, the end customer, would be ideal, and our current governance structure does not seem equipped to handle the problems we face today.

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The Energy Grid: How Does It Work?

You may have a general understanding of the energy grid, though if you do not work in the industry it would be tough to understand the intricacies of the equipment and those in charge of regulating said equipment. At a basic level, energy is generated by a power plant, then transferred to a substation via power lines (for aggregation and distribution), then distributed to local power substations and energy regulators, until finally traveling through local power lines to your home. For a helpful graphic on how this works, check out the following link: https://www.choosetexaspower.org/energy-resources/how-the-power-grid-works/. The more power is generated, the more likely we are to be able to address high demand – like during the summer when temperatures increase to triple digits, or alternatively when – like we saw last week – they dip down to the single digits, and we all turn on our heaters at home. If there is too much energy demand on the grid, and demand surpasses supply, the entire grid could shut down or “fail,” causing systems to crash, which would require weeks or possibly months worth of infrastructure work to bring the power back online. Because of this delicate balance, there are several governance bodies in charge of regulating the grid – and making sure that we can meet demand for the entire state equitably. This is why when you decide to “go solar,” the company you work with will need to communicate your power production with the local utility via an “interconnection agreement” which allows them to plan ahead for your power generation to be connected to the grid.

Energy production in Texas comes from a variety of sources, including: Natural Gas, Coal, Oil/Petroleum, Nuclear energy, Hydro-electric power (dams), and Renewables such as Wind and Solar energy. The breakdown of how much of each material is used to power the state of Texas is as follows (chart found on U.S. Energy Information Administration, here: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX):

The more energy is produced, the more is available for consumption, which is why solar plays such a pivotal role in the summer time when Texans use their air-conditioners to moderate the hot temperatures inside their homes – the more solar energy we harness in the summer time, the more equipped we are to deal with energy demand. As you can see, this type of energy currently makes up the smallest portion of our energy production equation – ergo, there’s nothing but potential for additional energy to enter the market if we all “go solar” – the real issue here is information, and the money to implement it. This is why things like the Federal Tax Credit or local utility incentives for solar energy are so important because they help consumers like you and me afford the ticket price of a new solar energy system, while allowing us to pay no more than our current electric bill.

What about in the winter time, when the days are shorter and there is less sunlight to turn into power? Well, you’re not wrong to be skeptical – solar panels do typically produce less energy in the winter than in the summer – however they are not obsolete. More energy production allows for more energy consumption, so even if your solar panels produce less in the winter, if we all had solar energy on our roofs, can you imagine how much more energy we might have had last week to power the grid when the natural gas and coal plants froze? What’s stopping you from helping power the grid?

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