Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Solar Synergy For Northern Virgin-y

We were reading a Washington Post article today on the natural synergy in the Pacific Northwest between hydroelectric power and wind energy and it got us thinking about the local situation in Northern Virginia.

(The synergy in the Pacific NW occurs because wind farms can ideally be placed near existing underutilized high voltage transmission lines used for hydro power and because hydro can efficiently kick in when wind is scarce.)

In Northern Virginia, a different kind of synergy exists, with solar power.

As discussed in this blog on a number of occasions, Dominion Virginia Power plans to build a $300 million high voltage transmission line through parts of Northern Virginia to meet the region's voracious demand for electricity. Absent the new line, Dominion says some parts of NoVa may experience temporary blackouts by 2011 or 2012. While there's vigorous debate about some of Dominion's numbers and motives, there's not much dispute that NoVa's continued rapid development will, sooner or later, tax the region's distribution system IF something isn't done.

One answer is solar energy. We're the first to tell you that as a stand-alone proposition, solar electric is still not economical for the average home or business. However, solar has one quality that fits perfectly with NoVa's needs: it generates maximum output on hot summer afternoons when the distribution system is strained by high air conditioning demand. Solar, therefore, is a great relief valve that can stave off the need for additional high voltage lines. And, when you factor in the high costs of peak power and additional distribution capacity, solar suddenly becomes much more economical.

Alden Hathaway, who built a solar home in Loudon County and wrote a book about it, estimates that each zero energy solar electric home cancels out the need for peak power/additional distribution capacity of four standard homes on a hot summer afternoon. The Curmudgeon's experience with solar panels so far would seem to validate that: during the middle of the day on a sunny day, we're generating a good deal more electricity than we're using, putting it back into the local grid.

Solar electricity stabilizes the grid because it is usually produced right at the source of consumption, rather than miles away in a power plant, such that there is no need to build expensive high voltage lines to transfer it around. (In contrast, wind turbines often are most ideally situated in remote areas, requiring additional transmission lines to get the power to where its needed.)

Here's how Dominion--given the proper incentives--could alternatively invest $300 million in solar power in NoVa instead of building a new, ugly, intrusive, expensive high voltage line. Take the $300 million and offer homes and businesses a 25% subsidy for installing solar cells where they are suitable. The subsidy would make solar sufficiently economical for many homeowners and businesses to want to invest in the other 75%. That way, Dominion could transform its $300 million into $1.2 billion in new solar in NoVa, which would make a huge dent in peak summertime power consumption.

As an additional incentive, Dominion could credit solar power generators with a summer peak premium for the electricity they provide during certain hours on certain summer days, reflecting the true value of such power.

(While conservation is generally less expensive than solar, it is not that helpful on hot summer afternoons. For example, the cheapest conservation measure--installing fluorescent lighting--has little impact during daytime summer hours when lighting needs are minimal. Dominion could, however, encourage greater use of the most efficient air conditioning systems, especially in all new homes.)

Our back of the envelope calculation suggests Dominion could fund 60,000 Curmudgeon-sized solar systems (about 2.5 kws) with our 25% subsidy scheme, and could probably do much better because it could achieve greater economies and efficiencies. It would also stimulate a large investment in solar infrastructure for further development over time.

We'd also rather see Dominion--and other local utilities--head up programs like this because they'd generally be more efficient than government. For example, Dominion presumably would want to get the most bang for its buck and would therefore select solar sites with the most optimum characteristics.

The key, of course, is to give Dominion the proper incentives for structuring such a program, allowing it to recoup a premium on its investment. With a little creativity, we have no doubt that such incentives can be crafted, just as they have in other states. (Dominion could also increase the investment pot by being granted authority to charge a higher peak power rate, with the extra money going to solar and conservation subsidies.)

We note that environmental groups have, of late, had some success in sitting down with utility executives and negotiating agreements to reduce carbon emissions and invest in green power. Perhaps its time to do the same with Dominion?


Anonymous said...

X, solar is nice but as it stands now, the cheapest, the cleanest, and the most readily available source of electricity, all which is quicker to implement AND which has the least amount of impact on the environment and private property, is none other than ENERGY EFFICIENCY & CONSERVATION (EEC) measures. (has large assumptions but you get the point.)

Why is EEC not at the forefront in the media and public view? Because EEC is an old concept and it simply isn't one of those nifty technologies being promoted by Silicon Valley, green venture capitalists and environmental folks. Big energy hasn't pushed it either because, well, EEC ultimately means less consumption which equates to less revenue under current utility regulation.

EEC can reduce peak demand easily by 3% and as much as 10% or higher. This can be done in part by implementing a program which utilities can invite its largest customers to participate in. And you're right, such programs should be given financial incentives and treated the same in financial terms as a power plant or transmission project would have. Participants can be encouraged to volunteer by incentive-based pricing, versus the cost-based pricing which is the current and ineffective norm implemented.

The spikes in peak demand during the summer months, which occurs b/n 10 to 20 times a year, is the primary driver for grid expansion. Targeting peak spikes is what will save investment in expansion to the equivalent of 2-3 years of load growth, for every 3% of peak load reduced.

In 2003 DOE stated 21,000 MW can be removed from the load if all businesses in the U.S. changed from incandescent to CFL.

In 2004 DOE stated 40% of all electricity purchased by industry, is wasted and never used within its process. Loss is due to to idling machinery, power used for wasted hot air, wasted hot water and steam, incandescent lighting, ancient boilers, inefficient and aging manufacturing structural designs, etc.

As of 2005 DOE stated 17.9% of all electricity produced in the U.S. is lost by the electricity industry due to inefficient T&D equipment. (This does not include the amount lost due to the conversion of generation source to electricity).

In the state of Virginia, at this time, I can not see how other alternative forms of energy, outside of EEC and DG (smaller low emmission generators distributed locally in heavy load pockets), are viable. With current technology, Virginia is not geographically situated to take advantage of other alternative sources to make a viable impact at this time.

Speaking of DG, check out this list of the # of generating units and total summer peak MW capacity by county within NOVA (DOE/EIA 2005)

Alexandria 7 units, 511MW
Arlington, 0
Fairfax 14 units, 88.2MW
Fauquier 7 units, 1049.5MW
Loudoun, 0
Prince William 42 units, 1758.38MW

In all fairness to the County of Arlington, they along with the city of Alexandria have a cooperative waste-to-energy plant sited on Eisenhower Ave in Alexandria. Also, take note, Loudoun has ZIPPO despite touting its incredible rate of growth, #1 among all counties greater than 100,000 people, and virtually quadrupling in size since 1993, they have done nothing to help carry their fair share of the burden. Also note Loudoun rejected a proposal for a peaking generator in 1995 and 2002 and rejected a power plant in 2002

This however, does not mean RPS shouldn't be applicable for our state - it just means that other sources can be used to meet RPS criteria, other than what is now typical in other states.

And pathetically, the Re-Reg bill proposes a 5% implementation of DSM by the year 2020! Currently, DVP only implements b/n 1.2% to 1.6% off current peak load w/i its entire distribution region. There is also no required standard for DSM in our state at the moment.

CHECK OUT the main points of EEC's potential by simply reading the executive summaries in the DOE/OE report to Congress in February 2006 and FERC report to DOE in Nov 2006.


DEPUTY DOE SEC SELLS CALLS UPON NARUC to spearhead coordination among states on transmission permitting, planning and consideration of alternatives, such as energy efficiency, conservation programs or generation placed to alleviate a grid bottleneck.




Like the CEO of PNM testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy & Air Quality yesterday (one of six energy CEO's to testify), the electric industry should be made to "pick the lowest hanging fruit from the tree first."

Anonymous said...


In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy Sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy.” We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy." The American way of life is not negotiable.
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects with the use of energy efficient material, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, retrofits etc. The source of energy must be by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, Ocean-Tidal, Hydrogen-Fuel Cell etc. This includes the utilizing of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption. (Sales tax on renewable energy products and energy efficiency should be reduced or eliminated)

The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy. (This can be done by amending building code)

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer at market price), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task. As an inducement to buy hybrid automobiles (sales tax should be reduced or eliminated on American manufactured automobiles).

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors’ commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) (rainwater harvesting, water conservation) (energy and natural resources conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

"To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality."

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA. 91325
Mar. 21, 2007

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.
I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.
"the way we produce and use energy must fundamentally change."
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

The Oil Companies should be required to invest a substantial percentage of their profit in renewable energy R&D and implementation. Those who do not will be panelized by the public at large by boy cutting their products.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs) the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 2

4 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence. (Installation should be paid “performance based”).

Installation of renewable energy and its performance should be paid to the installer and manufacturer based on "performance based" (that means they are held accountable for the performance of the product - that includes the automobile industry). This will gain the trust and confidence of the end-user to proceed with such a project; it will also prove to the public that it is a viable avenue of energy conservation.

Installing a renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage. It also decreases our trade deficit.

Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.
The head of the U.S. government's renewable energy lab said Monday (Feb. 5) that the federal government is doing "embarrassingly few things" to foster renewable energy, leaving leadership to the states at a time of opportunity to change the nation's energy future. "I see little happening at the federal level. Much more needs to happen." What's needed, he said, is a change of our national mind set. Instead of viewing the hurdles that still face renewable sources and setting national energy goals with those hurdles in mind, we should set ambitious national renewable energy goals and set about overcoming the hurdles to meet them. We have an opportunity, an opportunity we can take advantage of or an opportunity we can squander and let go,"
solar energy - the direct conversion of sunlight with solar cells, either into electricity or hydrogen, faces cost hurdles independent of their intrinsic efficiency. Ways must be found to lower production costs and design better conversion and storage systems.
All government buildings, Federal, State, County, City etc. should be mandated to be energy efficient and must use renewable energy on all new structures and structures that are been remodeled/upgraded.
"The goverment should serve as an example to its citizens"

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA 91325

X Curmudgeon said...

As always, Dan is right to harp on conservation and we certainly wouldn't skimp on it. (Our conservation measures reduced our electric bill by about 400 kwh's in Feb., compared to only 80 kwh's from our solar panels; but in July and August that will be largely reversed as we use less lighting and get much more solar).

To be clear, Dominion and other utilities need incentives to push conservation, as successfully done in California.

Our point was simply to show an interesting way you could finance a large increase in solar--which happens to reach peak efficiency at moments of peak power use here--by thinking outside the box on a way to use $300 million earmarked for a high voltage line.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Al Gore, I found this story surprisingly interesting.

Comparing Al Gore's TN home to Pres. Bush's TX ranch.

While some may use this as fodder against Al Gore's message, it illustrates the blessing's certain states have which is dependant on their geographic location. Although Gore does use wind power, there isn't enough of it to go around and certainly given current technology, neither TN nor neighboring states could provide enough of it. If they tried, there might not be many birds in that region, and the mountain countryside would look like crap.

That brings us to VA. DVP isn't a solar generating company, however, the law does allow the market to permit any private entity to propose an idea you suggested. However, since the market hasn't presented such an offer to the SCC, one has to believe no such possiblity exists for our state. I believe this to be the case given what technology currently offers. To make a substantial dent in peak demand, many acres would have to be condemned for a large solar farm. And comparing the economics, solar doesn't look to be favorable for Virginians. And unfortunatel, onshore wind is similar. Hopefully, PV technology will permit and if it does, and very recent new releases as well as recent fed govt investment, point to this, it may take until 2018 to 2025 before smaller PV units are ready for the market, and affordable for mass residential usage.

X, we both agree, but since solar farm would condemn alot of people's private property, the state of Virginia, owes it to all landowners who property could be potentially taken from them, to first implement all measures which would make the existing electrical infrastructure efficient.

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