Energy Trends: Efficiency, Renewables, Distributed Power, says RMI

RMI logoEfficiency is accelerating, renewables are making headway but need more progress and distributed power is the future, according to a recent feature article on energy trends by Amory Lovins, cofounder, chief scientist, and chairman emeritus of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The three trends are highlighted as major energy trends to keep an eye on, according Lovins’ piece, which is published on the RMI website.

Automakers are increasingly using lightweighting techniques in their manufacturing as a means of driving fuel efficiency. Meanwhile drivers are making increasing use of car-sharing and ride-sharing programs that address the inherent inefficiency of cars’ utilization – that is, they sit idle 96 percent of the time, according to Lovis.

Concurrently, the efficient use of electricity is taking off, Lovins says. Producing and delivering electricity is extraordinarily capital intensive, so any reduction in use is a “big deal.”

Windpower added 45 GW of global capacity in 2012. Photovoltaic power added around 32 GW, according to the piece. In total, nonhydro renewables continue to win around $250 billion in private investment per year globally. That’s more than all fossil and nuclear generation receives.

Meanwhile, coal has lost 19 percent of its market share to gas, renewables and efficiency in the past two years. Natural gas saw renewable energy run it a close second for installed capacity in the first half of 2012, while in the second half of 2012 the was more wind power installed than gas.

As well as momentum shifting to renewables, it is also shifting to decentralized generators, says Lovins. Distributed renewables save money, avoid price volatility and fuel insecurities and prevent carbon emissions. Some 86 percent of Denmark’s wind turbines are owned by  by farmers and their communities. Around half of Germany’s renewable capacity is owned by citizens, cooperatives, and communities compared to about 2 percent in the US.

The increasingly rapid adoption of distributed solar photovoltaics is forcing utilities, customers, solar providers and state regulators into a fight over the value that these resources deliver to the electricity system. But framing the conversation as a fight isn’t productive for anyone, says the Rocky Mountain Institute, which released a comprehensive review of the cost and benefits of DPV earlier this month.

The Colorado think tank’s analysis of the existing structural misalignment, which includes net-metering and volumetric rates, offers a framework to help policy makers decide on electricity pricing structures across different states.

Understanding the costs and benefits of distributed energy services is critical to ensure better technical integration and economic optimization. As DPV increases, accurate pricing and market signals can help align stakeholder goals, minimize total system cost and maximize total net value, says the review.

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15 thoughts on “Energy Trends: Efficiency, Renewables, Distributed Power, says RMI

  1. The energy efficiency trend is a welcome one since, as you say, it is far easier to use what we are already producing more efficiently, than change over to a new energy source (although that’s next on the list). Of course, there are plenty of energy efficiency measures that can be taken, for example, retro-fitting window film in public buildings and large offices, which cuts back on energy usage in HVAC a great deal.

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