The renewable thermal dilemma

ShutterstockIvan Smuk
An infrared view showing the lack of insulation on a residential building.

This article is drawn from the new Energy Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running every Thursday.

Ah, summer in northeast New Jersey, when my combined natural gas and electricity bill virtually triples depending on just how hazy, hot and humid the weather decides to become. I'm usually an air-conditioning holdout, but my second-floor office in my 91-ish-year-old home can get sort of steamy in July and August.  

Of course, I can likewise count on larger-than-average charges in January and February, when my natural-gas-fired furnace is running virtually around the clock to keep the house at a cool-ish 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Indeed, I often find myself wondering how seniors with fixed incomes or families with limited means budget for these crazy fluctuations.

As has been well-documented, some urban neighborhoods and ethnic groups in the United States (especially African-Americans and Latinos that rent rather than own their domiciles) must pay a disproportionately high percentage of their incomes toward energy costs. On average, low-income households must put 7.2 percent of their money toward that expense. That makes the decision this week by the nation's largest municipal power and water utility in Los Angeles to invest $100 million in energy efficiency measures for lower-income rental housing over the next five years a very powerful statement indeed.

As the NRDC's Maria Stamas writes, these investments could result in savings of up to $130 million for 45,000 households. It could also create hundreds of jobs, in service careers devoted to energy efficiency. The issue, it seems, has been that many of the existing initiatives catered primarily to higher-income Angelenos. It's a reminder that well-intentioned programs sometimes have unintended consequences. 

Welcome to the first edition of Energy Weekly, devoted to coverage of the transition of the clean power transition and how it will reshape the global economy. Thank you for signing up, and be sure to tell your colleagues they should do so, too!

The matter of equity — the role of clean power in building economic prosperity in both rural and urban environments — is a theme I'll return to often. In that spirit, I'm reflagging a great article we published a few weeks back from our friends at Rocky Mountain Institute, "How solar minigrids could brighten economic prospects for unserved millions in Africa." The power of power to raise up entrepreneurs is profound, no matter what citizenship they claim.

Here are a few of the other burning questions that I'll keep trying to answer from week to week through the stories curated in this newsletter:

  • How can more companies (beyond the biggest of the big) get involved in renewable energy procurement without having thousands upon thousands of megawatts to wield in bargaining?
  • Which energy storage technologies present the most practical investment opportunities for commercial and industrial applications? (Does ice storage make sense, especially in light of the $40 million in new funding that Ice Energy snagged this week?)
  • What will it take to start transitioning more industrial energy demand — such as the steam needed to run boilers or clean and sanitize production lines — to low-carbon alternatives? (In fact, it's the theme of this week's featured story below!)
  • For that matter, which building heating and cooling loads will be the quickest to electrify? (See RMI's new report for some of the economics involved, at least for the residential sector.)
  • And, which technologies will be instrumental in moving to a resilient, intelligent, distributed electrical grid? Yes, you can expect copious yet skeptical blockchain coverage. One day, you'll thank me.

Finally, I'll share some of the most thoughtful opinions and stories about energy from around the internet. Here are five at the top of my must-read list (right now, at least!):

May you have an empowering week!