White paper compiles data on utility programs for low-income customers

Low-income households spend on average three times more of their income on energy bills You are leaving WAPA.gov. than other households, and easing the pain of higher bills during peak-load times of year is a continuous challenge for utilities.

This group of customers can be hard to reach, leading to a hit-or-miss track record for low-income energy-efficiency programs. But the benefits of successful programs stretch beyond energy and bill savings to include fewer shut-offs, healthier homes, less outdoor pollution and more local jobs. It is well worth the effort to design an effective program, and a new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) can take some of the mystery out of doing it.

The baseline assessment of more than 70 utilities’ electric and natural gas programs chronicles total investments in these programs, energy savings impacts, customer participation and use of best practices. The study looked at the largest electric and natural gas utility serving each of the 51 largest metropolitan statistical areas.

ACEEE researchers found that low-income programs varied in terms of how deeply they address whole-home energy-efficiency needs and how accessible they were to customers. While many utilities design and administer impressive, effective low-income programs, many of those programs could be improved with best practice elements or increased resources.

The report also looks at best practices in implementation, including whether programs target specific households based on energy burden or other vulnerabilities and streamline enrollment for easier access. Partnering with the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) to leverage funds and reach more customers is another factor that impacts the effectiveness of a low-income program.

The study includes maps, data tables and new state-level information on low-income program requirements, cost-effectiveness rules and coordination with the WAP program. Utilities can use the data to see how their programs compare to those of similar utilities and to identify opportunities for adding best practice elements.

Read the entire ACEEE blog post for more information, and share your free copy of the report with state and local policymakers as well as other stakeholders. Also, if your utility has a program to help low-income customers, Energy Services Bulletin would like to know about your experiences.

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 7/11/17

New LBNL study helps utilities compare natural gas, renewables

Low wholesale power prices and an uncertain future for federal power regulations have made it trickier—and riskier—than ever for utilities and independent power producers to plan for and invest in generation.

Using Probability of Exceedance to Compare the Resource Risk of Renewable and Gas-Fired Generation seeks to simplify decision-making with clear, cold numbers. The new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) study offers a new way to compare the resources, showing that renewables are an economic and reliable choice.

Resource risk can be very difficult to mitigate for long-term investments in power plants, and it manifests differently for renewable and natural gas-fired generation. For renewables, the risk is “the quantity of wind and insolation will be less than expected.” For natural gas, the risk is “natural gas will cost more than expected.”

Statisticians label the mid-range case “P50,” but calculate a probability for all possibilities from P1 to P99. Probability of exceedance is commonly used by utility planners “to characterize the uncertainty around annual energy production for wind and solar projects,” the paper reports. It “can also be applied to natural gas price projections.”

The study’s “statistical concept” quantifies the risk at each P-level of expected renewables output levels and natural gas prices and factors them into a levelized cost of energy comparison. “In general, higher-than-expected gas prices appear to be riskier to ratepayers than lower-than-expected wind or solar output,” noted LBNL researcher and study co-author Mark Bolinger.

Utilities contracted for or owned 55 percent of 2016’s installed wind capacity You are leaving WAPA.gov. and are expected to contract for two-thirds of the 13.2 gigawatts of solar You are leaving WAPA.gov. expected to be added this year. Yet, utility planners may be underestimating the hedge value of these renewable resources. A survey of more than 600 sector professionals You are leaving WAPA.gov. by Utility Dive showed only 7 percent see natural gas price volatility as the main reason to invest in renewables.

Views on the LBNL paper differ across the energy industry with Charlie Reidl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas You are leaving WAPA.gov. insisting that global demand would not put significant price pressures on proven U.S. reserves. Other authorities, however, argue U.S. reserves are being depleted too rapidly You are leaving WAPA.gov. to keep up with growing demand.

The disagreement underscores the importance of a method like LBNL’s that quantifies the risk and uncertainty. Renewable industry representatives have called the LBNL paper an important contribution that could be useful for utility integrated resource planning.

Read more about the study and industry reactions in Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. and download the report and webinar presentations from the LBNL website.

Source: Utility Dive, 6/29/17