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Energy Rant

This is a satirical and at times humorous but critical commentary on energy efficiency issues of the day.

“Keep up the good work! I like the variety of topics; never boring. It's like a Box of Energy Chocolates.... you never know what you're gonna get!”

Mike MernickSenior Vice President, ICF

Mining the Energy Transition

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A few weeks ago, we had a little snafu. A promotional email said the energy transition is failing. That hit a nerve with one state government official. This week, I’ll present some facts, and you can decide. Cobalt First, we have the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the energy transition. The following video from France’s AFP News describes the toil in Congo for cobalt, a key ingredient of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and grid-scale storage. The video states the scene shows “almost biblical toil.” No. It’s biblical. Seventy-two percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic…
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Innovations in Grid Flex

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Last week, I was fortunate to see this article posted on EnergyCentral.com: Demand Flexibility Is No Longer Nice To Have. “ is increasingly becoming a “must have” as networks around the world are moving towards high levels of variable renewable generation resources. The increased variability of renewables, notably wind and solar, results in frequent episodes of feast and famine when supply exceeds demand and vice versa. The result is wide swings in wholesale prices, from near zero and negative to very high levels reflecting the imbalance in supply and demand. Storage and exporting/importing the surplus/deficit are invoked to the extent…
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Electric Ratemaking Basics and Load Flex

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In the last two Rant posts, we explored dated benefit-cost tests for energy efficiency and demand response programs and introduced flaws with dated ratemaking schemes. Both constructs are based on a century-old “cost of service” business model for monopolistic utilities. In a nutshell, the cost of service includes the debt and equity financing of generation, transmission, distribution, and operations and maintenance, which includes employees, fuel, storm damage repair, and arboriculture. Add up all those costs, including competitive investor returns on equity and debt, and then smear those costs as equitably as possible across the customer base. The sum of those…
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Modern Electric Rates from the Slide Rule Era

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Last week, we looked at Total Resource Cost (TRC) tests that were developed decades ago to put a high value on avoided source energy costs. That was right for the time, but not today. I demonstrated that energy costs, mostly dominated by natural gas, are near historic lows, while zero-energy-cost renewables supply more electricity than coal-fired generation. Of course, renewable sources have zero source-energy consumption. Yet, utility commissioners are laser-focused on keeping electricity prices in check and maintaining the reliability of the electric grid. Electric Rate Basics Like the TRC, most utility rates (tariffs) are stuck in the 1970s. I…
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The TRC Is Calling – Has Anyone Seen 1979?

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Last week Michaels Energy delivered a webinar, Achieving Grid Resiliency with Thermal Energy Storage. There are about 70 gigawatts of refrigeration load in the United States frozen storage and chilled-water HVAC systems alone. That 70 GW does not include distributors like Sysco or U.S. Foods, grocery distribution centers like Walmart or Kroger, food manufacturers like Tyson or Nestle, grocery stores, convenience stores, or restaurants. Add it all up, and well over 10% of the total peak load in the U.S. is sitting there in bags, boxes, and buckets of food, waiting to be used as a flexible load-shifting and management…
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Unheard of – Two Factors Exacerbated Elliot Power Shortages

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The Energy Rant features content you will not find anywhere else, and this week we have blazing examples featuring two unpublished (go ahead and look) contributions to the grid crisis of Christmas weekend 2022 and winter storm Elliot. A few weeks ago, Utility Dive reported that gas-fired generation represented 70% of the PJM unplanned outages during Elliot. That represented about a quarter of PJM’s capacity. The days of interest include Friday, December 23, and December 24. Here were the generation mixes for those days. Hmmm. What didn’t fail? Coal and Nuclear. Why? Because they each come with months of fuel…
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Willingness to Move on Climate Change

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One of my obsessions is understanding how people make choices and what they truly value. Regarding climate change mitigation and everything else, the quest for more dollars or dollar efficiency, i.e., bang for the buck, rules. Migration to Danger A recent article from Bloomberg, Americans are Moving Toward Climate Danger in Search of Cheaper Homes, lays it out for us. That is Bloomberg’s headline, but do people believe climate change is a threat? Don’t bother asking. Watch what people do. Actions don’t lie. “Americans are actually choosing to move to Zip codes with a high risk of experiencing wildfire, heat,…
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Image shows wind turnine.

What’s on the Minds of Utility Consumer Advocates

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This week I’m focusing on the concerns expressed by members of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, NASUCA, which met in parallel with NARUC in Austin, TX, a week before last. The topics of concern include outage risk, high prices, and related energy poverty. Outage Risk In the short term, this year or next year, I can only repeat what the experts are saying. Jim Robb, President of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), said the bulk power system has seen steady improvement . At the same time, the risk is “terrifying” due to peak load growth…
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What’s On the Minds of Utility Commissioners

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Last week I attended the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Summer Policy Summit in chilly Austin, TX, where running shoes never dry. I also learned that the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) holds a conference in parallel in the same venue. This post begins to provide an overview of issues and concerns discussed at the conference, summarized in four words: rising rates declining reliability. Let’s get into it. Rapid Thermal Power Plant Retirement Results: Grid Stress This section may be summarized using the title of the Tuesday panel discussion, “On the Brink: Reliability Challenges and…
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