Category Archives: Distributed Generation

Dominion, SCE
 A Continent Apart
 On Distributed Energy

Dominion’s 2016 integrated resource plan is on the docket at Virginia’s State Corporation Commission this week: The hearings would be a perfect time to explore the utility’s plan for addressing the massive changes sweeping across the electricity industry, but it’s not going to happen. Instead, Dominion will defend a document seemingly developed in a time warp, when there were no options other than central station, utility-generated power and the term distributed energy resources was still a twinkle in Amory Lovins’ eye.

Here’s all you really need to know: In the Richmond, Va.-based company’s 307-page IRP (which can be found here), the term distributed energy resources only shows up once, on page 112, when the company references the federal Department of Energy’s definition of a microgrid: “…a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid…”

Now, to be fair to Dominion, the utility does talk about distributed generation, but generally in terms designed to underscore its potential risks while downplaying any possible benefits. Its discussion of future energy resources, for example, which begins on page 88, includes a number of standard beefs about renewable resources—they aren’t dispatchable, they are intermittent and they add uncertainty to system operations. The topper, though, appears on pages 95-96 when the company talks about distributed photovoltaics: “While the grid may not be adversely impacted by the small degree of variability resulting from a few distributed PV systems, larger levels of penetration across the network or high concentrations of PV in a small geographic area may make it difficult to maintain frequency and voltage within acceptable bands. On a multi-state level, it is possible that the resulting sudden power loss from disconnection of distributed PV generation could be sufficient to destabilize the system frequency of the entire Eastern Interconnection.” [Emphasis added]

Continue reading Dominion, SCE
 A Continent Apart
 On Distributed Energy

EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

So many studies, so little time. Just in the past couple of weeks analyses from DOE’s Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, British Petroleum and the International Renewable Energy Agency have hit my inbox (thank goodness we have moved beyond the old hardcopy stage, just those reports alone would have contributed to the world’s ongoing deforestation problem), and having the time to study them all has been difficult. But muddling through them does provide some fascinating glimpses of where the energy industry is today, and where it might be headed in the years to come.

EIA’s 2016 Annual Energy Outlook, released in abbreviated form last month with its full rollout slated for early July, includes more sobering news for electric utility executives: Sales growth really is gone, and it isn’t coming back. In its analysis, EIA estimates that overall electricity sales will grow at an average rate of 0.7 percent from 2015-2040, essentially unchanged from the 0.6 percent growth rate posted from 2000-2015. But a closer look at the numbers shows even that relatively anemic growth estimate may be optimistic.

For example, EIA estimates that electric sales in the residential sector will rise by an average of just 0.3 percent a year from 2015-2040—well under even the paltry 1.1 percent annual growth recorded from 2000-2015. According to EIA, the slow growth can be attributed to rising energy efficiency, especially in the lighting sector, and the broad adoption of distributed photovoltaics (PV). But what is most intriguing about EIA’s estimate is that virtually all of the growth occurs in the out-years (see chart below): From 2015 through 2030 there is essentially zero growth in residential sales. Specifically, EIA puts 2015 sales in the sector at 1,402 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh)  and projects that sales in 2030 will rise to just 1,416 billion kwh—an increase, if you can call it that, of 0.1 percent annually. Rather than calling this growth it would be more appropriate to write it off as a rounding error. It also represents the continuation of a longer-term trend: Residential electric sales in 2007, just before the onset of the Great Recession, totaled 1,392 billion kwh. Measured from that starting point, sales are expected to climb just 24 billion kwh in 23 years, a miserly 0.07 percent annual increase.

Continue reading EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

1st Quarter LED Sales
 Top 25% Of Market,
 More Growth To Come

I don’t normally write short pieces—it’s bad for the search algorithms and such—but I couldn’t resist with a May 16 press release from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which demonstrates in just two paragraphs and accompanying graphics how completely (and quickly) the lighting market is changing in the United States.

According to NEMA, sales of so-called A-line LED lamps (the screw-in kind that dominate the residential lighting market) soared 375.9 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared to a year earlier—topping 25 percent of sales for the first time. Just five years ago (as is clear in the graphics below), LED A-line lamps essentially had zero market share while incandescent bulbs still accounted for more than 70 percent of all residential lighting sales (a figure that has plummeted to just over 8 percent currently).

LED1stQ2016-NEMA

  Source: NEMA

Commenting on the association’s findings, Kevin Cosgriff, NEMA president and CEO, said, “The speed with which prices for common LED bulbs have declined and the corresponding consumer acceptance of this technology have exceeded manufacturers’ expectations.”  If you ask me, this would have been the perfect time, perhaps the only time, to say that this is change (I have to say it) at the speed of light.

Cosgriff added that based on current trends, NEMA expects LEDs “to replace most general-service CFL and halogen bulbs in the coming years.”

If that holds true, there is a lot of growth on the near-term horizon. In its last report on the market (a 2015 study tracking LED sales through 2014, which can be found here) DOE reported that there were approximately 3.27 billion A-type lamps installed throughout the U.S.; of this total, just 77.7 million were LEDs. DOE pegged savings in 2014 from the installed LEDs at 17.6 trillion British thermal units, and estimated that if all the A-type lamps in the U.S. were converted to LEDs it could save 525 trillion Btus, or 51 terrawatt-hours (twh) of site electricity each year.

LED sales may not continue their torrid recent pace, but there is no doubt that the long-term savings from these and other more efficient lighting options are going to be substantial. In the early version of its 2016 Annual Energy Outlook released this week (more on that in a subsequent post, but the document can be found here), DOE estimates that residential lighting demand will drop from just under 147 billion kwh in 2015 to roughly 88 billion kwh in 20301—a 40 percent decline even though it expects the number of households in the U.S. to climb from 115 million to 131 million during the same period.

Perhaps it is time to invest in a portfolio of LED manufacturers.

–Dennis Wamsted

1DOE estimates consumption in quads (quadrillion Btus), the conversion to kilowatt-hours was done here.

 

New NREL Study:
 Prodigious Potential
 For Rooftop PV In U.S.

It’s pie-in-the-sky by design, but a new report from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the technical potential of rooftop solar in the U.S. is eye-opening nonetheless. All told, NREL said, some 1,118 gigawatts (GW) of capacity could be installed if all the “suitable” rooftops in the U.S. were covered with PV panels, generating upward of 1,432 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity annually—roughly 39 percent of total annual electric sales.

NREL is quick to point out that the study, Rooftop Solar Photovoltaic Potential In The United States (which can be found here), did not look at economics. As such, the study represents “an upper bound on potential deployment rather than a prediction of actual deployment.” But even on this basis, the study found that solar’s potential has expanded significantly in the past decade: A similar study on solar PV’s technical potential that NREL completed in 2008 estimated that 664 GW of rooftop capacity could be installed, generating roughly 880 TWh of electricity annually. The difference between the two estimates, NREL wrote, “can be attributed to increases in module power density, improved estimation of building suitability, higher estimates of the total number of buildings, and improvements in PV performance simulation tools that previously tended to underestimate production.”

Taking that statement at face value, it is almost certain that PV’s technical potential is going to continue rising in the years to come. In particular, NREL noted that its analysis is based on an assumed module efficiency of 16 percent; a figure it used to better represent a mixture of installed systems, not just premium PV panels. If the analysis had assumed a module efficiency of 20 percent, which is where premium systems are today, “each of the technical potential estimates would increase by about 25 percent above the values stated in this report,” NREL wrote.

Continue reading New NREL Study:
 Prodigious Potential
 For Rooftop PV In U.S.

Taking A Step Back
 Brings Energy Revolution
 Clearly Into Focus

It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day minutia of the revolution under way in the energy industry—announcements of technology improvements, installation milestones and price reductions of all kinds hit my inbox almost daily. But two recent reports, one highlighting where we’ve been and the second pointing to where we are going, are a useful grounding tool, pointing out that while I (and probably many others) often get lost looking at individual trees there is a whole forest out there.

The first report, an Energy Department publication dubbed Revolution…Now (which can be found here), walks through the startling changes in five clean energy technologies during the past five-plus years. While much of this information may be familiar, it is worth a quick review.

Continue reading Taking A Step Back
 Brings Energy Revolution
 Clearly Into Focus