Apr 07

University of Houston Works To Keep The Lights On In Texas

The University of Houston has teamed up with Direct Energy and Center Point Energy to ensure that power outages will not happen in the future. When the state was near a total power grid collapse during the latest ice storm, many power companies wanted to find new ways to conserve power and make power production more efficient.

With this new partnership, the companies are working with UH scientists to see how predictions can be made to figure out when the power outages will occur and how they can be prevented. This means that the companies, in tandem with UH, can figure out what a strain can be put on the power grids before they actually collapse. With this information, power companies can prepare for future storms and determine what must be done to prevent power outage issues. With this information, the state’s power grid becomes safer and more secure.

 

 

Feb 26

Denton, Texas Leads In Clean Energy

Denton, Texas, home to the University of North Texas, just outside of Dallas, is a home of clean energy along with all of its other charms. This suburb of Dallas is noted for being so far ahead on clean energy that it puts the rest of the state to shame.

In Denton, there is more wind power per capita than in any other city in the country. This is due in large part to Denton Municipal Electric being community-owned and on the cutting edge of renewable energy in a state where power grid problems are the norm.

The customers that own the company wanted to have more green energy, and a massive investment in wind power began for the company. The wind power in the area covers about 40% of the power needs for the city, and this is an amazing number considering the low figures in other parts of the country.

Denton is a model of green energy that was initiated by the customer and not the bosses. It’s a lesson for all of America.

Jan 07

Texas’ Narrow Escape From Power Blackout

Texas residents narrowly missed a level 3 emergency on Monday January 6, following the trip off of two giant power plants in the northern section of the state. The grid is managed by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) which has in place a three level emergency plan.

The grid experienced a high demand for electricity as a result of the extremely cold weather. This was part of the reason that lead to the power plants tripping off. Level one of the emergency plan was ordered by ERCOT at 6:52 am, with level 2 following only nine minutes later as the power reserves dipped below 1,750 megawatts. If the situation had spiraled to level three, it would have meant that the council would have to rotate power outages to keep the grid functioning.

Changes made by ERCOT and owners of power plants to protect the units from cold weather after the 2011 storm impacted greatly on the outcome of this situation.

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Jul 24

A Propsed Tweak For Texas Electricity Grid Pricing

An energy market consultant testified at a Texas Public Utility Commission that a tweak to the state’s electric grid software could help system stability.  The change would invoke so called scarcity pricing sooner in the day as the available supply in the grid starts to shrink relative to the demand.   This change would allow producers to demand higher prices for the electricity they sell in the open market.

Not surprisingly, the retail electric providers (who would be paying the higher rates) were not crazy about the idea.

According to the Dallas Morning News:

“But there was opposition from the electrical retailers, the public face of the industry.

Raising rates earlier in the day could be disastrous for retailers, testified Sandy Morris, senior manager of government affairs for Direct Energy. Some of that cost would be passed on to consumers, but Morris said that on hot days retailers could face large losses.”

Full Story: “Texas Public Utility Commission ponders stopgap measure for electrical grid

Jun 25

Texas Electricity Usage Peaks for 2013

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state set a high for peak electricity demand for the year on Monday.  Electricity demand exceeded 60,000 megawatts on Monday as the grid inched toward the total system capacity of 64,000 megawatts.

Most of the state is experiencing temperatures from the 90’s to, in some cases, over 100.  This is the season of concern for the state’s grid planners.  As summer sets in A/C’s are running all across the state taxing the states limited supply of electric power.

With summer yet to officially begin, this peak will surely be broken again in the weeks to come.  ERCOT could possible call for emergency conservation measures from the state’s power consumers this summer if demand gets too high.

 

Jan 24

Potential TXU Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Customers Were Over Charged

DALLAS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Watts Guerra Craft believes that TXU and/or its affiliates may have knowingly overcharged certain residential electricity customers at commercial rates. TXU’s rate-overcharging practices may have affected thousands of unsuspecting Texas residential electricity consumers.

TXU was sued in a class action lawsuit brought in Travis County by owners or management companies of multi-family or housing dwellings/complexes located in TXU service areas, who were charged under a residential or “Business Classic” rate and were assessed sales taxes on electricity provided by TXU for any billing period after July 1, 2002. Thomas Crowson v. TXU Energy Retail Company LLC f/k/a TXU Energy Retail Company, LP, No. D-1-GN-07-003901, in the 126th District Court, Travis County, Texas. TXU later entered into a Stipulation and Agreement of Compromise and Settlement that settled that action.

Currently, Watts Guerra Craft believes that TXU may be subject to an additional lawsuit with regard to rate overcharges, as a different group of potential plaintiffs, residential customers, may have been overcharged in a different area of Texas.

 

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Aug 17

Texas Electricity Generation by Primary Energy Source in Megawatthours – 1990 Through 2010

Texas electricity is increasingly being sourced by cleaner energy sources.  The data below is from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

1990 2010 Percentage Share
Total Electric Industry 1990 2010
    Coal 120,921,396 150,172,832 42.9 36.5
    Petroleum 1,827,803 708,481 0.6 0.2
    Natural Gas 136,234,325 186,882,238 48.4 45.4
    Other Gases 2,997,509 3,290,570 1.1 0.8
    Nuclear 15,859,258 41,335,248 5.6 10.0
    Hydroelectric 1,793,625 1,261,832 0.6 0.3
    Wind & Other Renewables 1,436,988 27,704,828 0.5 6.7
    Other 488,731 339,017 0.2 0.1

EIA Data

Aug 16

Prepaid Electricity Catching On in Texas

Pre-paid electric plans are becoming more and more popular in Texas because they work well for both consumers and providers.

Retail electric providers are in the business of managing risk.  Specifically, they must manage rate risk and default risk.  Wholesale electric rates in Texas are not fixed.  They fluctuate substantially hour-by-hour depending on the current demand for electricity and the current supply of available power in the grid.

Retail electricity providers sell fixed rate plans to consumers with terms of anywhere from six months to up to as much as 36 months.   That means if there is a short term jump in electricity rates they are not immediately able to pass the cost increase along to their customers because they are bound by the customer contracts.  They must factor in adequate margins when they price their fixed rate plans to consumers to protect themselves from that risk.  They also use hedging strategies to protect themselves against sudden jumps in electricity rates.

Another major risk is called default risk. Basically, this is the risk of electricity consumers not paying their electric bills.   In this event, not only does the electricity provider not get paid, but they still have to pay the producers of the power regardless of whether the customer pays their bill.  Because of this many electric providers require either high credit scores or a deposit.

The theory is that poor credit scores mean a higher risk of default when it comes time to pay the electric bill.  Prepaid electricity plans are often the best choice for credit challenged consumers because they require no credit check.  They also offer the flexibility of month-to-month no contract electricity.

Jul 12

Texas electricity rates 2012 thru 2002

A recent look at Texas electricity rates 2012 thru 2002 show that rates are essentially the same today as they were a decade ago when inflation is taken into account.

Many consumers are hedging themselves by choosing longer term electricity plans, such as the 24 month plan offered by Champion Energy. The plan is currently the cheapest electricity in Houston for the 24 month time period. The TriEagle Eagle 24 plan is among the best Dallas electricity rates right now for 2 year contracts.

Actual Rates (cents per kWh)1 Inflation Adjusted
Period U.S. Texas U.S. Texas
Q1-2002 6.96 6.81 8.89 8.70
Q2-2002 7.18 6.6 9.17 8.43
Q3-2002 7.55 6.73 9.64 8.59
Q4-2002 7.04 6.33 8.99 8.08
Q1-2003 7.07 7.02 8.83 8.77
Q2-2003 7.5 7.76 9.37 9.69
Q3-2003 7.87 8.06 9.83 10.07
Q4-2003 7.24 6.96 9.04 8.69
Q1-2004 7.26 7.28 8.84 8.86
Q2-2004 7.59 8.02 9.24 9.76
Q3-2004 8.09 8.59 9.85 10.45
Q4-2004 7.46 7.71 9.08 9.38
Q1-2005 7.54 7.92 8.87 9.32
Q2-2005 7.98 8.69 9.39 10.23
Q3-2005 8.66 9.81 10.19 11.55
Q4-2005 8.26 9.88 9.72 11.63
Q1-2006 8.41 9.99 9.59 11.39
Q2-2006 8.88 10.37 10.12 11.82
Q3-2006 9.49 10.86 10.82 12.38
Q4-2006 8.69 9.96 9.91 11.35
Q1-2007 8.75 10 9.70 11.08
Q2-2007 9.1 10.2 10.08 11.30
Q3-2007 9.59 10.31 10.63 11.42
Q4-2007 9.01 9.88 9.98 10.95
Q1-2008 8.96 10.05 9.56 10.72
Q2-2008 9.68 11.04 10.33 11.78
Q3-2008 10.5 11.83 11.20 12.62
Q4-2008 9.74 10.81 10.39 11.53
Q1-2009 9.68 10.23 10.37 10.96
Q2-2009 9.83 9.97 10.53 10.68
Q3-2009 10.23 9.9 10.96 10.60
Q4-2009 9.48 9.35 10.15 10.01
Q1-2010 9.4 9.44 9.91 9.95
Q2-2010 9.84 9.42 10.37 9.93
Q3-2010 10.35 9.5 10.91 10.01
Q4-2010 9.62 8.95 10.14 9.43
Q1-2011 9.61 8.99 9.82 9.19
Q2-2011 9.98 9.11 10.20 9.31
Q3-2011 10.52 9.62 10.75 9.83
Q4-2011 9.74 8.84 9.95 9.03
Q1-2012 9.63 8.72 9.63 8.72
1 – Average across all sectors
May 25

Cost of Electric Vehicles

One of the best reasons for buying an electric vehicle is all those gallons of $3 or $4 gas you won’t be paying for. There is a certain sense of freedom that comes with knowing you won’t have to be tied to the gas pump. And think of all the money you’ll save!

Or maybe not…

Some people may save a lot of money by choosing an electric vehicle over a gas vehicle. Others may save little or none. The question of how much money you will save, if any at all, is actually pretty complicated. Here are the factors you’re going to need to consider.

A fair warning if you are going to try to answer this question; the math can get a little tricky. This online electric vehicle cost calculator will make the number crunching a little bit easier for you.

  • What is the fuel efficiency of the vehicle you are giving up to buy your electric vehicle? Are you passing up a 14 MPG, gas guzzling, 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe or a 28 MPG 2008 Ford Focus that sips gas with its pinky extended?
  • What is the price for gas in your area and what are your expectations for gas prices in the future? $4 a gallon? $5 a gallon? $3? At $3.50 per gallon your fuel cost for that Tahoe is $0.25 per mile. For the focus it’s more like $0.13 per mile.
  • What is your electricity rate? Depending on where you live in the U.S. you may pay anywhere from 7 cents per kilowatt hour to 16 cents per kilowatt hour. The cheapest electricity in Texas is about 8 cents per kwh. Many areas are starting to implement pricing based on time of day. This is good news for EV owners since overnight rates are typically the lowest rates of the day because demand drops dramatically at night.
  • What is the kilowatt hours per mile of your electric vehicle? This concept may be a bit foreign for most people at first. Rather than thinking about how many miles a car can drive on gallon of gas (MPG), EV drivers must be concerned with how many kWh of electricity are required to drive a mile.

If you assume a kWh per mile of .30 (a reasonable assumption for the Nissan Leaf) and a middle-of-the-road cost of $.10 per kWh for electricity you arrive at a cost per mile of $0.03 for electricity compared to a cost of $.13 per mile in gas to drive a 2008 Ford Focus. It seems like a no-brainer to go with the electric vehicle.

Battery Cost

But, as is often the case in life, things aren’t that simple. There is a second component to the fuel cost of driving electric that you must include in the cost. The batteries that power electric vehicles are quite expensive and they don’t last forever. So if you want to be thorough in your cost analysis you will need to make room for two more variables in your equation.

  • What’s the lifespan of your EV battery? There is not yet enough real world data to say anything definitive about the true lifespan of the current generation of lithium ion batteries. However, the Nissan leaf battery has a 100,000 mile warranty.
  • What’s the replacement cost of your battery? When your EV battery does eventually succumb to old age it will no longer hold a sufficient charge to power your vehicle. Then you have to buy a new one. Like most technologies, the cost of these batteries is expected to go down with time. It’s hard to know exactly what it would cost to replace it in 5 or 10 years but a reasonable estimate may be $8,000.

Putting it all together

So what does the final math show us? Well, once again the answer will depend greatly on your assumptions. But middle-of-the-road assumptions give us this answer.

Electricity cost per mile: $.03

Battery cost per mile: $.08

Total electric vehicle cost per mile: $.11

Gas cost per mile: $.19