Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 smart grids

Improving energy efficiency

When it comes to saving on your electricity bill, improving the energy efficiency of your home is certainly the way to do it. However, there are two ways of achieving this through the various kinds of HVAC systems that are available.

One kind of system is known as the residential demand response (DR) program, and is sometimes a part of today’s smart grid. Although we just use the example of HVAC here, DR can be applied to many home electrical systems and appliances. Residential demand response is where utility companies are given control over the HVAC units that are in people’s homes, and reduce the power settings and temperature of the home during the afternoon and early evening hours, as there is less need for them when people are at home. This is partly because the presence of people within buildings adds to the warmth of the home so that there is less need to use more electricity from the grid in order to turn the HVAC unit on. This can be very useful for those who don’t remember to turn down their thermostats at night, so it can help to save them a lot of money in the long run and increase the energy efficiency of their homes.

Alternatively, there is the behavioral demand response program, which leaves control in the hands of the homeowner. A smart device – a smart meter – is set up in the home, reads and records data from the home, such as the time people get home and wake up in the morning, and the changing temperatures throughout the year. This data is then used in order to tell consumers how much energy was saved and how this amount can be increased in the future by altering the settings of the thermostat and HVAC system. Communication is sent via a smart phone, PC, or tablet on how much energy they saved, what the financial benefit was and what customers can do better in the future. In response, customers can appropriately adjust their devices – “two-way communication”.

This smart meter method makes it much easier for the homeowner to determine how much energy to save, rather than leaving it in the hands of the utility companies. The use of the smart meter allows people access to the device from home, so changes can be made over one’s smartphone or tablet device.

Both methods are quite beneficial and make it easy for homeowners to focus on energy efficiency. With residential demand response program, even when the energy levels are lowered by the utility companies, the thermostat within the home is going to register the change in temperature and turn on at the appropriate time anyway. Depending on the season of the year, this can still lead to the overconsumption of energy that is not needed. With behavioral demand response programs, the smart meter has to be purchased and installed within the home, and only requires some time for it to record all of the data necessary in order to produce the best results that can be used to alter the thermostat. This does not necessarily make one system better than the other, but homeowners should be aware of the differences between the two in order to come to an informed decision.

Government Mandates for Cleaner Energy Production: The USA, Germany, and The EU

Over the last several years, climate change science has witnessed a complete overhaul in acceptance. Scientists were once attempting to explain the impact of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide on the planet to an unwilling public, and now climate change is largely regarded as not only a fact, but the potentially devastating catastrophe that it is. World governments are reacting to public urging with attempts to diminish the long term effects energy production has on the planet, all in an effort to curtail climate change and, hopefully, repair some of the damage already caused.

Many countries, including the US, Germany and the member states of the European Union, have turned to government mandates as first steps to battling climate change. In addition to helping reduce the carbon footprints of the countries adopting these mandates, the programs are also paving the way for other countries to implement renewable energy technology.

USA Climate Action Plan

First established in 2008 by President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet and staff, the USA’s Climate Action Plan is updated every two years to incorporate new ideas and goals as well as integrate new research. Essentially, the program is geared towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions, responsible foresting, increasing the study of and funding for climate change, and encouraging the use of alternative fuel sources.

The plan aims to leave US children a cleaner, healthier planet and diminish the already-apparent effects of climate change, such as increased allergies and extreme weather, including dangerous heat waves, chilling winter temps and severe flooding. Plan directives include empowering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work with new and existing power plants to cut carbon pollution, setting aside $8 billion in loan funds for advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects, and setting benchmarks for renewable energy projects; by 2020, the plan allows for 6 million US homes to receive power from wind and solar energy and improve energy efficiency in all homes by 20-percent. The plan also includes a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons by 2030, essentially cutting the US energy sector’s pollution levels in half.

Germany Renewable Energy Act

The starting point for Germany’s exceptional advances in renewable energy projects, the German Renewable Energy Act was instigated in 2000, and has had a dramatic impact on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by the country’s private and commercial sectors.

The Act was founded by the then German Federal Minister of the Environment Klaus Topfer as well as other high-level German politicians and leaders in private and commercial companies. So far, the plan has increased Germany’s electricity production from only 10% being generated by renewable sources in 2012 to 28% in 2014. The Act has also created 268,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector. As a whole, this government mandate works to protect investment into renewable energy through guaranteed feed-in tariffs and connection requirements, creating a strong incentive for residential and commercial properties to invest in renewable energy sources. In a similar vein, the Act also provides a deterrent to overuse of electricity, creating an EEG rate that goes up with the more electricity consumed.

All in all, the dramatic success of Germany’s program has made the Act a source of inspiration for similar programs around the world.

European Union Renewable Energy Directive

First published in 2009, this directive requires that at least 20-percent of the energy consumed in member states is from renewable sources by 2020. Despite the union-wide 20-percent goal, each member state has a slightly different percentage goal to reach by 2020. For example, Belgium is only expected to hit 13-percent, Greece 18-percent and Poland 15-percent. On the other hand, some member states are setting loftier goals, with France vying for 23-percent, Austria 34-percent and Sweden 49-percent. When combined, the expected average percentage of energy produced by renewable sources is set to meet or exceed the 20-percent benchmark.

Each member state is required to send regular progress reports detailing how they’re implementing new ideas and technologies to meet this directive, including how they’ve increased their use of the EU’s approved renewable energy sources, which include wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal energy, biomass and harnessing tidal power. At its core, the directive is aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions; however, it has the added benefit of encouraging innovation and increasing employment opportunities across Europe.

As of 2014, member states have made impressive progress towards the 2020 goal, with nearly 13-percent of member state energy production being created with wind, solar and other environmentally-friendly technologies.

Although the plans and directives being implemented by the United States, Germany and the European Union are fantastic first steps towards combating climate change, true success will only be had when all countries implement similar plans and vow to lower carbon dioxide emissions further after the initial goals are met.