The U.S. power grid is a modern engineering marvel, but it’s overdue for an overhaul. Participants at the recent Transactive Energy Conference in Portland, Oregon, came together to discuss the changing system and to develop the concept of transactive energy as the future of the grid.

Transactive Energy seeks to engage all devices and resources in the electrical grid in a market-based system. (Source: Edward Cazalet, "Transactive Energy: Public Policy and Market Design." May 2013)

As the first such conference of its kind, the gathering was initiated by defining exactly what transactive energy is. In an interview with Sustainable Business Oregon, Carl Imhoff, manager of the electricity infrastructure sector for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a moderator at the conference, provided a succinct definition: “Transactive energy is a means of using economic signals or incentives to engage all the intelligent devices in the power grid—from the consumer to the transmission system—to get a more optimal allocation of resources and engage demand in ways we haven’t been able to before.”

If consumers need proof of what a smarter grid could do for them, transactive energy is a concept that can provide it. Transactive energy systems integrate both utility-owned and third-party-owned resources—including power generation, ancillary services, and load management services, among others—in order to utilize the lowest-cost electricity in real time. The key driver of transactive energy systems is the market-based approach, which allows every service provided to the grid, even those by consumers, to be valued.

This way, those providing the services, whether they are generating power or providing load reduction services or something else, can be compensated, thus splitting the benefits and savings of the increased efficiency of the electricity system between the customer and the utility. This system is a long way from the traditional unidirectional flow of power (from utility companies to consumers) and supply side-focused mindset of the historical electricity sector.

Employing the increasingly prevalent two-way information and communications technology deployed as part of smart grid development efforts, consumers can begin to interact within the electricity system in ways that were not possible in the past. A transactive energy system utilizes smart grid infrastructure to send signals back and forth between utilities, grid operators, and individual assets in the grid system, communicating the real-time flow and cost of power.

These assets can include everything from large centralized power plants to residential solar photovoltaic arrays to demand-response programs. Signals can even be sent to and from electric vehicles (EV), integrating EVs into the electrical grid.  In a transactive energy system, instead of being passive energy consumers, you and I could become what are being referred to as “prosumers,” not only receiving electricity from the grid, but providing our own services to the grid system and getting paid for it. 

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electricity, energy, energy efficiency, grid, Innovation, renewable energy, transactive energy, United States, utilities

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city (SSTEC), China’s latest and largest eco-city project, saw its first residents earlier this year. The city is built on a blend of non-arable saline and alkaline land that was virtually uninhabitable five years ago. While this is an accomplishment in and of itself, SSTEC is trying to go even greener in terms of the energy efficiency of its buildings.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in 2012 (Source:

SSTEC aims to offer green building certification based on more stringent standards than anywhere else in the country, including the national standards. It has already set up a Green Building Evaluation Committee (GBEC) to supervise building quality.

But in terms of energy efficiency, SSTEC’s GBEC still lacks the clearly defined requirements found in comprehensive international standards like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. According to a World Bank report, the GBEC provides standards only for the building envelope and central heating, unlike LEED, which covers a broad range of energy systems including lighting, air conditioning, water heating, and appliances. While the ambition in this eco-city project is commendable, the oversights in SSTEC’s efficiency standards reflect a lack of comprehensiveness in green building standards across China, as the GBEC is already the country’s most advanced and comprehensive building standard.

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12th Five-Year Plan, China, emissions trading, energy efficiency, energy policy, Green Buildings, greenhouse gas emissions, LEED

Globally, new investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2012. But in Latin America and the Caribbean (not including Brazil), it grew at a remarkable rate of 127 percent, totaling US$4.6 billion. This was the opening context for the 3rd Annual Renewable Energy Finance Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean (REFF-LAC), held this week in Miami, Florida. The yearly event, coordinated by Euromoney Energy Events, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and the Latin America and Caribbean Council on Renewable Energy (LAC-CORE), aims to connect developers and investors who can continue fostering the strong investment climate for renewables that is happening in the region.

LAC-CORE president, Carlos St. James, speaking at the 3rd Annual REFF-LAC conference. (Photo credit: Mark Konold)

Presenters included project developers, financiers, and government officials, all of whom had experiences to share about what’s working in the region. In some places, like Chile and Peru, project tendering is working to advance renewable energy deployment. In the Caribbean, mechanisms such as net metering and feed-in tariffs are still the preferred approach to fostering renewables development. Many presenters stressed that the key to continued success in the region is the political will that creates an environment conducive to successful renewable energy investment. They also highlighted how projects become more attractive the less they have to rely on subsidies or other support mechanisms.

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Caribbean, Central America, developing countries, energy, energy efficiency, energy security, finance, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable development

By Cinthya Alfaro Zúñiga

As a native Costa Rican and Worldwatch Institute/INCAE Research Fellow, I was excited to attend the Energy and Environment Partnership’s (EEP) 21st Regional Forum in my home country earlier this month. EEP’s primary objective is providing finance for renewable energy projects, but it also seeks to build capacity by exploring diverse topics such as different energy technologies, policies needed for successful implementation, and regional obstacles and opportunities through stakeholder dialogues.

Worldwatch and INCAE presented Phase 1 of "The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America" in Costa Rica in March.

Under the title “Biogas and Energy Efficiency in Central America,” the most recent Forum convened a group of 200 experts, project developers, governmental representatives, financiers, and the general public. The speakers addressed topics such as the contribution of energy efficiency policies and renewable energy toward carbon emissions reductions. Other important themes included the status of biogas and energy efficiency in Central America, as well as a run-through of EEP energy efficiency and biogas projects in the region.

The three-day event featured speakers from the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ), the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), and the Worldwatch Institute, among others.

On behalf of Worldwatch, President Emeritus Christopher Flavin presented on the global status of renewable energy and Climate & Energy Director Alexander Ochs summarized the results from the first phase of the Worldwatch/INCAE project, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” which applies the Institute’s sustainable energy roadmap methodology to the region. Dr. Ana María Majano, Associate Director of the INCAE Business School’s Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS), joined Ochs as the lead in-country implementation partner.    

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Central America, development, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, energy efficiency, energy policy, renewable energy, sustainable development

Worldwatch's Shakuntala Makhijani presents early findings of the Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica.

Recently, members of Worldwatch’s Climate & Energy program traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to conduct a Stakeholder Consultation for the ongoing Sustainable Energy Roadmap project. The workshop comprised a morning session where the Roadmap’s early findings were presented to members of the country’s electricity sector followed by an afternoon dialogue addressing some of the key questions at the heart of the team’s ongoing research. The consultation came at a very key time as Jamaica is in the midst of some significant changes in the electricity sector while it faces an ongoing energy crisis.

The Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica is part of a multi-year project sponsored by the International Climate Initiative of the German Ministry of Environment. Worldwatch is examining recently assessed renewable resource potential, current energy policy frameworks, the potential for adding energy efficiency measures, technical challenges to renewable energy integration and underlying economic factors to try and help decision makers understand the choices available for making the country’s electricity sector more sustainable. Not surprisingly, the country has a tremendous solar resource, an average of 5 to 7 kilowatt-hours per meter squared per day (kWh/m2/day), similar to the Southwest of the United States. It also has strong wind potential including some significant locations off the Southeast coast of the island.

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Caribbean Sustainable Energy, electricity, emissions reductions, energy efficiency, Jamaica, low-carbon, Sustainable Energy Roadmaps

LEED Platinum Manitoba Hydro Place had its performance meticulously tracked for two years to determine whether it was living up to its ambitious goals. In fall 2012, Manitoba Hydro is expected to publicly release the full schedule of performance results. (Source: Flickr user stevecoutts)

Data collection is increasingly recognized as a priority in the evaluation and evolution of green buildings. Though the importance of green building design and its impact on climate change have been well documented, the actual performance of many green buildings often fails to meet expectations. There are several factors that contribute to this phenomenon, and the ability to accurately measure the energy efficiency of buildings is crucial to improving performance and standards. Performance data makes it possible to evaluate the effectiveness of different building strategies and technologies. This information is instrumental in the advancement of codes, standards, and best practices. Below, I will highlight a few initiatives that are attempting to gather and process performance data from buildings.

Data Collection Initiatives CBECS

One such effort to gather building energy information is a survey conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Office of Energy Consumption and Efficiency Statistics. Through the use of a national sample survey called the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the EIA provides data that supports the development of energy standards and codes. The latest iteration of the survey is set to include information from approximately 8,500 commercial buildings. The two previous attempts to deliver survey results were derailed by funding issues: in 2007, a less exhaustive data gathering technique was used due to a lack of funding; more recently, poor implementation of the new technique led to faulty data that could not be used. In 2011, the survey was suspended as a result of budgetary cuts by Congress.  Due to these setbacks, the latest available data dates back to 2003. Despite resuming work on a 2012 CBECS, there are still budgetary issues that might sidetrack the program.

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Climate Change, development, energy efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, United States

Worldwatch is happy to announce the launch of the much anticipated 2012 REN21 Renewables Global Status Report (GSR). GSR 2012 details worldwide developments in the renewable energy sector through 2011. The report highlights a number of key developments, including market and industry trends, investment flows, the shifting policy landscape, advancements in rural renewable energy deployment, and the evolving synergy between renewable energy and energy efficiency.

REN21 Renewable 2012 Global Status Report (source: REN21)

The new GSR data highlights many remarkable worldwide trends, demonstrating that the renewable energy sector has emerged from the global finical crisis stronger than ever. In 2011, new investment and added power generation capacity for renewables broke their all-time records yet again. Global investments in renewables were estimated at US $257 billion in 2011, an increase of 17 percent over 2010. Investment in renewable energy power generation was $40 billion greater than investment in fossil fuels in 2011.

Total renewable power capacity grew by 8 percent in 2011, reaching over 1,360 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity by year-end. Renewable energy technologies now account for 16.7 percent of total final energy consumption and over 25 percent of the world’s installed power-generating capacity. China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India, and Japan are leading in new renewable investments and now account for almost 70 percent of the world’s non-hydro renewable power generation capacity.

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electricity, energy efficiency, feed-in tariffs, green economy, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, transportation, wind power

Earlier this month, the Indian state of Maharashtra announced a US$25 million smart grid program covering electricity distribution networks in eight cities including Mumbai, the country’s financial capital. Maharashtra has commissioned the German company Siemens to install smart grid technologies in the state to tackle issues such as outages and electricity theft. Smart grid technologies will also improve the efficiency of the existing and very inefficient Indian transmission and distribution network. Currently, nearly a quarter of electricity in India (and up to half in some states) is lost while being transported through the grid system (compared to 7 percent in the U.S.), causing economic losses to utility companies and contributing to widespread electricity shortages.

Evidence of an inefficient electricity grid in Hyderabad, India. Image source: Flickr user mckaysavage.

Evidence of an inefficient electricity grid in Hyderabad, India. Image source: Flickr user mckaysavage.

This investment is just one aspect of a recent major push for smart grids by state and central government in India. India ranks third in the world for smart grid investment behind the U.S. and China, and its investment is growing rapidly. A meeting of the Central Electricity Authority on March 5 led to a proposal for nearly US$50 million of funding from the Ministry of Power for smart grid projects across India. State governments are also expected to contribute about half of the funding required for smart grid pilot projects.

The Ministry of Power has established the India Smart Grid Forum – a voluntary consortium of power utilities, implementing agencies, smart grid consultants, research agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, among others – which aims to bring different stakeholders together to ensure a rapid and efficient deployment of smart grid technologies in India. The Forum calls for implementation of smart grid systems in all state capitals and large cities between 2014 and 2017.

The Ministry of Power also established the India Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF), which serves as a platform for smart grid activities, but also focuses on coordinating initiatives between different government Ministries.

Recent weeks have seen smart grid projects moving forward in other Indian states as well. Puducherry was selected by ISGTF as one of eight pilot cities for smart grid technologies, and it recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Power Grid Corporation of India to install smart meters on 87,000 homes over four months this year. The new advanced metering infrastructure will allow customers to view their electricity billing in real-time and better manage their consumption. Smart meters will also enable the Puducherry Electricity Board to detect electricity theft, which costs India billions of dollars each year, much more easily. The city of Bangalore also launched a program this month that aims to install one million smart meters over the next year.

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energy efficiency, finance, Green Investment, India, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, smart grid

The Jamaican economy is highly energy inefficient. In 2008, the country’s energy intensity index ranked 47th in the world, at 8,937 btu per year 2005 U.S. dollar. The energy intensity index shows the energy efficiency of a nation’s economy; the higher it is, the more it costs to convert energy into GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Reasons for this high energy intensity include the energy demands of the bauxite and alumina industry, the inefficient public electricity system with its high transmission and distribution losses, inefficient energy use in the public sector, and low public awareness of the importance of energy conservation.

Worldwatch meets with Jamaica government officials to discuss energy issues. From left: Senior Director of Energy at the Ministry of Energy & Mining Fitzroy Vidal, State Minister Laurence Broderick, Worldwatch Caribbean Project Manager Mark Konold, and Sr. Engineer at Ministry of Energy & Mining, Gerald Lindo

Jamaica depends heavily on imported petroleum, which supplies 91 percent of domestic energy use. Transportation accounts for nearly half (47 percent) of the energy consumed, followed by the bauxite and alumina industry (30 percent), and electricity generation (23 percent). Despite the increase in world oil prices, Jamaica’s energy consumption has grown faster than its economy over the past decade. Given these realities, the Jamaican National Energy Policy for 2009-2030 aims to design and implement cost-saving measures to boost energy efficiency and conservation across the public sector.

In 2011, the Jamaican government set a target of reducing public sector energy consumption 5 percent below the 2010 level by 2015, mainly through public sector efficiency improvements. These include energy audits and building retrofits to replace lighting and air conditioning units, and improving building envelopes by implementing cool roof coatings and window films. Because reducing energy consumption also requires efforts of those who use public buildings, staff are expected to fully engage in the process by following the protocols in place. Education and knowledge dissemination about energy efficiency and conservation are a key component of this project.

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energy efficiency, energy intensity, Inter-American Development Bank, Jamaica, oil

On December 29th, the Jamaican government called for a general election which resulted in a changing of the guard from the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) to the People’s National Party (PNP). The PNP, led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, assumes control of the government after having lost it to the JLP in the summer of 2007. With this change, many questions arise regarding current initiatives, especially those concerning energy. Despite many signals that the country is moving toward a more sustainable energy future, including a renegotiated contract to help make Wigton Wind Farm profitable, official legislation for net billing, and the rehabilitation of hydroelectric facilities, energy prices continue to burden most consumers and the country’s energy future still remains unclear.

election map, courtesy of Jamaica Observer

A map of Jamaica showing the election results from December 2011. Source: The Jamaica Observer

While both the PNP and JLP support renewable energy initiatives in their rhetoric, actual energy performance has been mixed. Until 2007, the PNP led the country for 18 years, and in that time the country’s first utility-scale wind farm was installed at Rose Hill. Its initial phase brought 18 megawatts (MW) of installed wind capacity to the island to complement the 21 MW of already-installed hydro power. The PNP also established the Office of Utility Regulation (OUR), which oversees, among other things, the island’s electricity sector.

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Caribbean, electricity, emissions reductions, energy efficiency, Jamaica