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Monday, September 16, 2013

Expanding Energy Efficiency in Texas

Texas' Energy Efficiency

Enhancement and expansion of energy-efficiency measures

HARC's work toward the enhancement and expansion of energy-efficiency measures has potential impact beyond the immediate programs and institutions in focus.

Advocates of energy efficiency policies and technologies say introducing them more broadly can play an important role in addressing society-wide issues by helping to forgo construction of new power plants and to use the energy produced by existing plants more sparingly.

To develop in a sustainable manner, on a planet with finite resources, will require more efficient use of our resources. Identifying and studying the key policies, processes and programs to reduce the consumption of energy in an economically, socially and environmentally beneficial manner is a key focus of HARC. Energy efficiency, when done properly, is a cost-effective and resource-saving practice that positively impacts the current and future inhabitants of this planet.

--Gavin Dillingham

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently summarized the argument for treating energy efficiency as an economic resource in its own right in the electricity market, which is something that pro-conservation forces in Texas have suggested:

Energy efficiency’s importance as a utility resource has never been greater than it is now. The utility industry faces high power plant construction costs and growing cost-recovery risks; high and volatile fuel costs; a new wave of environmental compliance costs; mounting concerns about system reliability; and increasing calls for action to address global warming. Energy efficiency is the least-cost response to each of those challenges. Moreover, improving energy efficiency in our homes, businesses and industries reduces energy costs, creates jobs and improves the environment.

In Texas, such issues are complicated by its particular circumstances and conditions.

Energy efficiency is the fastest, simplest, and least-cost way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lower our carbon footprint. Whereas we tend to associate energy efficiency with demand-side measures like insulation and lighting retrofits, supply-side measures like combined heat and power (CHP) – a form of onsite power generation that repurposes waste heat – have even greater untapped potential. President Obama attested to this in an Executive Order in August 2012, in which he called for the deployment of an additional 40 gigawatts of CHP by 2020.

--Ross Tomlin

The state's rapid population growth has been accompanied by growing use of energy and water. And as 2011's record-setting heat wave and drought dramatically brought home, higher temperatures can sorely tax power plants and water resources.

That drought has dragged on across most of the state. Meanwhile, scientists project hotter, drier conditions for Texas in decades ahead because of manmade climate change, which they attribute in large part to greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from electricity production using fossil fuels. Such power plants use huge amounts of water for cooling.

Brutal conditions like those during the summer of 2011 put added pressures on both power plants and on already drought-diminished water supplies. Especially hot and dry conditions can mean there's too little water for a power plant or that the water is too warm. The cluster of complex issues associated with this conundrum has been termed the "energy-water nexus" and the "energy-water collision."

Energy efficiency is the best alternative to building power plants. There are two ways to meet the growing demand for electricity – building more power plants or reducing consumption and sharing resources evenly. Energy efficiency has the clearest impact on saving money and mitigating climate change. Energy efficiency also helps us in making renewable energy more affordable and moving towards sustainability.

--Satish Ravindran

Proponents of expanding energy efficiency say its potential to achieve significant cuts in power usage can also help deal with two other key electricity-related issues facing Texas.

One is the "grid congestion" that sometimes occurs when power is directed from one part of the state to another where closer generation sources aren't meeting demand at that time. The other involves controversial proposals to create a "capacity market" for electricity in Texas, in which producers could charge customers not just for the electricity they consume but also for adding generation capacity to meet the future projected demand of a growing Texas population and economy.