Customer feedback, a renewable military and storage
Readers challenge our coverage, and each other
Letters? We get letters. On our forum, in my backchannel email, over the transom, you name it. Of course, there are the compliments (keep 'em coming) and the nasty-grams (not so much), but then there are the thought-provoking insights that deserve a wider audience. Thus, this column.
Let's look at the past week or so to see what issues prompted readers to write and what wisdom they shared. (Quotations below typically are mere excerpts and occasionally edited for length and clarity. Please turn to the columns and forums themselves for fuller context.)
In my column, "Energy Use Feedback: Worth Pursuing on Mass Scale?" I discussed a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Environment ("Results from Recent Real-Time Feedback Studies"), which mulled over variables in demand side management and concluded, among other things, that not all customer engagement is worth the cost.
"Consumers will want to know, 'What's in it for me?'" Wally Binder wrote. "Feedback is okay, but they really need incentives. Make it worthwhile, not just a sacrifice."
"One of the problems with energy efficiency/demand side management is that . the goal seems to be simply to use less," wrote Rich Mignogna. "Why? The assumption is made that if my household uses more electricity, it must be wasteful. There seems to be no accommodation for productive consumption. Perhaps energy use needs to be normalized the same way we use weather normalization for heating but using some figure of merit based on productive use."
"The average energy savings resulting from real-time feedback and in-home displays is only 3.8 percent," wrote Greg Tinfow. "That's not a strong case for smart meters. Utilities or third parties have to do better at extracting value out of high-resolution energy data for their customers."
Tinfow suggested that speaking in terms of kilowatt hours is confusing, that real-time feedback in kWh is overrated and suggested actions to manage use should have payback data and rate structures should encourage desired behavior.
Retired Navy Admiral Dennis McGinn is president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and he has been a supporter of RE for national security reasons, both in the military and civilian sectors. McGinn is no Al Gore, he is a warrior who wants to reduce our vulnerabilities, increase our security, save lives and money and regain global leadership by pursuing cleaner energy. I made much of his mission in "Navy Admiral on 'Energy Insecurity.'" (See a one-page ACORE graphic that explains the drivers.)
"Politicians can get away with 'drill baby, drill' because most members of the public have neither the time nor the inclination nor the critical thinking skills to peek underneath the sound bites," wrote Jack Ellis. "Whether its oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear power or renewables, politicians and the public are ignorant of the details, and the details do matter.
"It's not just the fossil fuel advocates who exaggerate the points they make, downplaying inconvenient facts. Renewable energy proponents are just as guilty. [Al] Gore's famous clarion call to eliminate fossil fuels in ten years was equally short-sighted and totally impractical. The cost of that conversion in such a short time would have bankrupted us all."
"No question that mission critical applications of emerging science and technology by the Department of Defense or NASA have always justified the additional expense associated with such deployments," Rich Mignogna wrote. "These early stage deployments of nascent technologies have traditionally led the way for future cost reductions that eventually enable commercial deployment.
"[But] many would seek to deploy the same not-ready-for-prime-time technology in the marketplace before allowing the additional research necessary to ensure that they are economically competitive," Mignogna concluded. "Far better to spend that money on the additional research to bring them up to speed and deploy them as the nature of the application and economics warrant."
In "California Mulls Energy Storage Mandates" I provided a number of points from the California Public Utilities Commission's staff proposal for how to proceed on the topic, took a stab at summarizing the various players' positions, noted a very public pro-con discussion and linked to a plethora of resources on the topic.
"As a independent consultant for a pumped hydro development company, I'm aware of the profound resistance applied by utilities who host a fleet of single-cycle 'peakers' for the integration of renewables," an anonymous correspondent wrote. "However, since the project is getting closer to receiving its FERC license and will become a reality, the utilities are asking for a piece. They recognize that it might be better to join forces rather than compete against a better, cheaper integration resource. There are a lot of market issues to work out but I suspect that will happen when storage resources become reality."
I asked for more information, though the nature of the post seemed to preclude my request.
Faithful correspondent Jack Ellis followed with this: "I'm also curious. If the project's target market is California, I'd be interested in hearing how you plan to deal with the ISO (Independent System Operator) auction structure, which is probably the biggest obstacle to successfully operate a grid-scale storage project once its built."
My thanks to all who take time to share their perspective, as it opens my eyes and brings more value to our readership. Enjoy the weekend and, when you leave the room, be sure to turn out the lights!
Intelligent Utility Daily