Clean energy, a job-creation engine already generating impressive performance, will rev up to even higher levels in coming years. A comprehensive new fact sheet (PDF) from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute strongly documents these trends with capsule summaries of dozens of recent studies on the topic. In the last several years, numerous studies have validated the emergence of renewable energy and energy efficiency as a major new economic and employment driver. EESI -- a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that educates Capitol Hill on energy issues and the general public on energy legislation -- has created this invaluable fact sheet to survey many of the major national, state, and industry studies. Here are a few samples:
To bring on the amounts of variable wind and solar energy and plug-in vehicles needed to meet our vast energy challenges, we will need a smart grid capable of managing much more complex power flows. Outside of some progressive exemplars, however, don't expect leadership to come from the utility sector. Instead, changes will be forced by new policies and players, including some you might not expect, like big box retailers. Those were my key takeaways from the stellar line-up of smart grid speakers at the Discover Brilliant sustainable technology conference in Seattle this week. David has been blogging away from the conference, so I don't want to go over too much of the same turf. Instead I'm going to synthesize what I heard across a number of sessions and offer my interpretations. A few statistics from the conference underscore the sluggishness of the electric utility industry when it comes to advanced technologies:
Just back from visiting the family in Pennsylvania, where temperatures were hitting the high 90s. It was the kind of sticky, muggy, oppressively hot weather that reminds me why I live in the cool corner that is the Pacific Northwest. As air conditioners were blasting away everywhere and lights were flickering, I was thinking that grid operators must be calling on every demand-response resource they could. Back into post-vacation action, I came across an Aug. 10 release [PDF] from PJM Interconnect that confirmed it. The power grid was on emergency status and PJM, in fact, drew a record demand response -- 1,945 megawatts -- equal to a fair-sized city. PJM also reduced voltage in the overall system by 1,000 MW, explaining those flickers. So I actually lived through the scenario with which I opened "Adventures in the smart grid no. 2." Damned glad they kept those air conditioners on.
The day is sweltering, air conditioners are cranked up, and the power grid is straining to meet demand. Today is a "needle peak" day -- on the annual power demand chart, it shows up as a spike. Out of the year's 8,760 hours, needle peaks will occupy 200 hours or less. An extreme day like this is why the grid maintains roughly twice as much power generating and transmission capacity as it uses on an average day. Even though power plants and lines are idle most of the year, this costly overbuilding is needed to cover all contingencies. The grid is built to be there "just in case." But what if another power resource were available that could dramatically reduce that peak demand, one that involved generating and transmitting no power at all? No, this isn't some weird "zero energy" thing. The paradoxical sounding resource I'm talking about is already in use. It's the demand, also known as the load, itself. The basic idea is that the grid can meet overall needs not only by supplying power, but by adjusting power use. The word for this is demand response, and it's a fundamental aspect of the smart grid.
It's the world's largest machine -- the interconnected network of power plants, transmission towers, substations, poles, and wires that make up the power grid. When you flip the switch you expect the juice to flow and don't have much reason to think about it, except during the occasional blackout. Power engineers and energy wonks might get passionate about the grid, but for most people it's just a background fact of life. It's time to bring the grid into the foreground, because it positions at the exact center of the world's most crucial issue, global climate change. The power grid is the source of one-third of U.S. global warming emissions. Unless we clean it up we cannot avert severe climate change. The grid is also the key to electrifying transportation and making more effective use of heat generated for buildings and industry, source of the vast bulk of remaining emissions. The grid can be the ultimate climate saver. But today's power grid cannot do it. A system built on central generating stations, little changed from the first power grids deployed in the late 1800s, lacks flexibility and smarts. We need a new grid capable of networking millions of distributed energy devices such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and smart appliances. We need an internet of energy that employs the latest in digital technologies. We need a Smart Grid.
For the burgeoning clean energy industry, these are heady times. Having spent most of its years in uphill struggle, the industry has now climbed to …