The Benefits and Challenges of a New Energy Future
A renewable renaissance is on the rise in America.
Renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind) accounted for 18.49% of net domestic electrical generation during the first eight months of 2019, according to the EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly.” A year earlier, renewables’ share was 17.95%. Solar, including small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, grew 13.7% in the first eight months of 2019 when compared to the first eight months of 2018. The advent of solar-plus-storage systems — battery systems that are charged through connected solar systems — is sure to propel those numbers even higher.
A report from Lazard’s states that wind and solar energy are essentially cheaper than coal. Prices have become so economical that, in some regions, renewable energy has begun undercutting conventional fossil-fueled generation.
STRESS ON THE GRID
Renewable energy offers benefits for building owners and the electricity sector. Owners can manufacture their own energy and sell surplus electricity back to the utility. Renewables also are emission-free. The energy produced may help a utility reduce peak demand and avoid large capital investment in new generation and transmission.
While there are numerous benefits to this approach, this energy transition will not come without its fair share of growing pains.
A vast increase in renewables places an incredible demand on the grid — particularly during peak demand. The traditional grid was designed for the fairly constant flow of electricity from a high-quantity base load and address relatively predictable but smaller-quantity peak-load generation. It was not designed to accommodate widely distributed, smaller, and intermittent (not constant) generation from sources, such as solar PV and wind.
Also, transmission and distribution assets were designed to move electricity from remote generation to consumers. They were not, for example, designed to enable one building to share excess capacity with another nearby. The current grid is not designed to effectively monitor and manage the large quantities of bidirectional flows of electricity that are easy to envision as demand for and feasibility of renewable electricity grows.
CODES AND STANDARDS
Utilities in more progressive regions, such as California and New York, are utilizing policy to adapt to America’s decarbonized future. California’s Loading Order sets a priority list for electric energy sources and mandates that utilities first employ energy efficiency and conservation to meet customer demand before moving to renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Only after all of those supplies are exhausted may the utilities purchase power from fossil fuel plants.
A 2017 study from California utility PG&E reveals that policy sparks results. While PG&E’s codes and standards program accounted for only 3% of the utility’s annual budget, it accounted for 50% of its portfolio energy savings.
While savings in codes and utility programs are primarily measured in kWh and Btu, new policies in evolving markets are experiencing some changes. New York City’s performance standard, Local Law 97, is measuring building performance in pounds of carbon dioxide per square foot, impacting more than 57,000 buildings across the city with the goal of reducing building-based emissions 40% by 2030 from a 2005 baseline.
In the new energy future, buildings will become active partners in the electricity sector. Buildings will generate electricity that can be mixed into nearby loads or distributed back to the grid. Energy storage will be capable via EV or on-site batteries, further benefiting a facility’s energy equation. Excess energy can be sold, establishing a free-market exchange for electricity and energy services.
We’re on the cusp of a nationwide building and energy transformation. If American cities are going to meet their climate goals, a massive move to electrification must occur.
These ideas are not just mine. In full transparency, I must acknowledge Sheila Hayter, 2018-2019 ASHRAE president, who championed many of these concepts in a publication titled, “Building Our New Energy Future.” I suggest you check that document out as soon as possible.
Microgrids – Optimizing Power Availability
Presented by Julius Neudorfer, chief technology officer for North American Access Technologies Inc., and sponsored by Kohler.