SDG&E study to dig down to circuit-level usage

Ever wonder how much energy a microwave or big-screen TV uses, whether you left your refrigerator door open or how much money can be saved by turning off a home computer while at work? Answers to those questions may not be far off.

A new San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) research study plans to test technology that can measure in-home electricity consumption down to the individual circuit and appliance. The research will be supported by the Pecan Street Research Institute, a consumer energy research organization headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin.

About 30-50 SDG&E customers living in the Civita master-planned development in Mission Valley will be selected to participate in the study. Civita, a Sudberry Properties development, is an SDG&E Smart Community project where smart grid technology is being integrated including solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, fuel cell generation, battery storage and enhanced energy management tools for residents.

“This research will take smart grid technology to a new level by providing among the most detailed energy usage data to customers through technology that is not even on the market yet,” said John Sowers, SDG&E vice president for generation and resource planning. “Through the research study, SDG&E will learn how this in-depth data can help customers to make smarter energy decisions and save money.”

By understanding how customers use electricity at the circuit level, SDG&E hopes to identify ways to help tailor future utility programs related to home-area networks, energy efficiency and demand response. Demand response programs signal customers when to reduce usage to meet resource demand when the grid is reaching capacity. This new knowledge also could allow SDG&E to recommend specific measures customers can take to reduce usage and cost.

Pecan Street will provide volunteer participants with a free website and mobile application that provides real-time information on the customer’s electricity use down to the appliance and circuit level as well as information on appliance, rooftop solar panel and home energy performance. The service is powered by an energy data router installed at each customer’s circuit panel. The router is manufactured in California.

Pecan Street operates this technology in nearly 1,000 homes, apartments, businesses and public schools throughout Texas and Colorado. Its work began in the Mueller neighborhood in Austin, built on the land of a former airport and redeveloped into a groundbreaking, mixed-use, sustainable, urban neighborhood. A decade later, the 711-acre Mueller community is a bustling mini-city and among the world’s largest LEED-ND certified communities.

Pecan Street researchers are particularly excited about the advanced energy technologies that SDG&E and Sudberry have built into the Civita community.

“If there is any place in the United States poised to define the energy system of the future, it’s Civita,” said Brewster McCracken, Pecan Street president and CEO. “By participating in testing this new consumer energy service, San Diegans who live in Civita will have unprecedented real-time access to information on their home and appliance electricity use. They will also be playing a personal role in advancing public interest research on how to integrate cutting-edge consumer energy services into a technologically advanced, highly efficient, low-carbon energy system.”

Valley Electric Association Restores Cooperative’s First Truck, Preserves Piece of Nevada History

Valley Electric Association

A Pahrump, Nev.,-based electric cooperative recently restored its first truck.

The 1943 Chevrolet power pole digger-the first piece of mechanized equipment used by the nearly 50-year-old Valley Electric Association Inc. (VEA)-will roll down city streets for parades, car shows and other events in the cooperative’s service area.

VEA initially formed as the Amargosa Valley Cooperative in 1963.

Amargosa soon consolidated with the White Mountain Electric Cooperative, and the organizations incorporated as VEA in 1965.

VEA used the truck throughout its service area until 1969. More recently, the military-designed truck had been deteriorating for years on display in a field at the Pahrump Valley Museum until VEA CEO Tom Husted arranged for the company to take possession of the vehicle and restore it.

Restoring the truck while retaining 95 percent of its original components took five weeks, including some 2,000 hours of labor by mechanics and machinists at Top Notch LLC. Butch Caple, VEA manager of support services, oversaw the restoration.

Power-hungry devices use $70 billion of energy annually

Analysis of more than 2 billion devices and equipment commonly found in U.S. homes and businesses concludes the products consume more energy annually than many large countries.

Household devices such as TVs, computers and ceiling fans and commercial equipment such as elevators, ice makers and MRI machines use 7.8 quadrillion British thermal units each year-more than the primary energy use of Mexico, Australia, New Zealand or 200 other countries and more than the amount of oil the U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela each year. The findings come from a new report, “Miscellaneous Energy Loads in Buildings,” by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

These devices could use 40 to 50 percent less energy using existing technology, according to report lead author Sameer Kwatra.

“If consumers upgraded to the most efficient products on the market today, we could save as much energy as Argentina uses in an entire year,” Kwatra said.

Together, these devices are referred to as miscellaneous energy loads (MEL) because they do not fit into traditional energy-use categories such as refrigeration, HVAC or lighting. This diversity also has meant that attempts to increase MELs’ energy efficiency have varied, with some products’ having little if any efficiency measures.

Devices such as ceiling fans and ice makers are covered by federal energy efficiency standards. Others such as TVs and computer monitors are covered under voluntary efficiency specifications such as Energy Star. Many more products in the MEL category, however, continue to waste energy.

But interest in improving standards is high. President Barack Obama identified establishing new goals for energy efficiency standards as a top priority to tackle climate change. Equipment such as elevators and escalators and medical devices such as MRIs and CT scanners present huge energy-saving opportunities.

Besides establishing standards, the report recommends encouraging manufacturers to upgrade their products so the best-performing ones become common. Utilities and other program administrators also can include MELs in their energy efficiency portfolios, and behavioral initiatives can be developed to raise awareness and modify consumption habits.

PG&E, EVI to Unveil Utility Industry’s First Electric Hybrid Bucket Trucks

Electric Vehicles International (EVI), joined by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), unveiled the utility industry’s first electric hybrid drivetrain Class 5 trucks.

The Range Extended Electric Vehicle (REEV) utility trucks, developed by EVI with PG&E and the California Energy Commission (CEC), were designed, built and tested at EVI’s manufacturing plant in Stockton, Calif. The REEV features an all-electric range of 45 miles and fuel savings of up to 30 percent when the units are operating in hybrid mode. PG&E accepted delivery of the first two REEV units this summer and purchased two more units after a successful initial demonstration of the vehicles.

EVI CEO Ricky Hanna
EVI CEO Ricky Hanna, at left, talks to PG&E senior director of fleet and aviation services about the EVI PHEV Class 5 truck.

“California’s Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technology program is putting more of the cleanest vehicles into service today,” said Janae Scott, member of the California Energy Commission. “The investments that the Energy Commission is making covers initial costs of these trucks, gets innovative technologies to market sooner, and furthers California’s lead on clean transportation.”

Beyond statewide incentives such as the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) offered by the California Air Resources Board, EVI has partnered with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to reduce the costs of clean vehicles even further based on the district’s pledge to match other government incentives.

EVI CEO Ricky Hanna
EVI CEO Ricky Hanna with the EVI REEV Class 5 PHEV truck in flatbed configuration.

PG&E plans to replace 942 of its conventional fuel Class 5 vehicles, including bucket trucks, flatbeds and other service trucks, with plug-in electric hybrid models, which would save the utility nearly $3.5 million in fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 9,000 metric tons annually. In addition to the fuel savings and environmental benefits that PG&E anticipates as it deploys these trucks in increasing numbers, the trucks also offer up to 75 kW of exportable power that could be used to power the grid during planned or unplanned outages. The utility is working closely with EVI to move that number even higher.

Dave Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services for PG&E, said exportable power capacity is a game changer.

“Imagine having a fleet of these to deploy in response to a natural disaster or unplanned outage,” Meisel said.

Moody’s puts Energy Future Holdings on bankruptcy watch

by Jeff Postelwait, Online Editor

Moody’s Investors Service, one of the Big Three credit rating agencies, has given Energy Futures Holdings Corp. until the end of the year before the energy company declares bankruptcy protection and restructures itself.

In an analysis of its own call, Moody’s says this would be one of the top 10 largest nonfinancial corporate bankruptcies in the U.S. since the 1980s. In terms of debt, it could be one of the biggest of all time, ranking with Enron, WorldCom, General Motors and Chrysler. The holding company reportedly has more than $41 billion in debt.

The electric utility company’s assets include a power generation portfolio that consists mostly of nuclear energy and coal-fired power (through Luminant), a power transmission business (through Oncor Electric Delivery) and a retail power provider (through TXU Energy).

The company was bought out in 2007 in what was at the time one of the largest leveraged buyouts in history when a group of Wall Streeters (including Goldman Sachs, KKR and TPG Capital) paid $45 billion for what was then known as TXU Energy.

The idea was that although the private equity firms that bought up TXU would be taking on significant debt, the unstable price of natural gas surely would peak soon, helping the financiers turn a profit.

As it happened, this hoped-for spike did not occur, and instead there were sustained record-low prices for natural gas.

The gamble also anticipated that coal-fired electricity would remain inexpensive and high-profit.

Energy Future Holdings has been carrying a large debt for some time, leading analysts to speculate about its future. Moody’s downgraded the company’s credit rating from Caa1 to B3 in August.

From an end user’s perspective, should the worst happen for EFH, the power will continue to flow because of a survival blueprint plotted out in April.

One potential bankruptcy restructuring plan would forgive billions in debt owned by Luminant in exchange for a large share of the company.

The investors, in this scenario, would get the short end of the stick-an estimated return of 50 percent or less. Subsidiaries like Oncor and Luminant, however, could be preserved.

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