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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 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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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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