Growing Energy Efficiency and How We Measure It

posted Jan 3, 2017


Since 1978, the Pacific Northwest has successfully saved 6,000 average megawatts of electricity, and energy efficiency is now our second largest resource after hydropower. But, how do we know it’s grown that much? To begin with, to measure growth, you have to start with a fixed point.

For the Council, when we estimate the energy-efficiency potential for the region, we use a “frozen efficiency baseline” as our starting point. And the baseline is based on the efficiency of products available today.

For example, in your house, you may have a refrigerator that you purchased back in 2000 that probably uses about 600 kilowatt hours per year. Since your refrigerator is getting old, it may die soon, and you’ll need to purchase a new one.

But, manufacturers don’t make that refrigerator anymore– it’s too inefficient. If you were to buy a similar refrigerator today, a new unit might use only 450 kilowatts per year, thanks to federal standards requiring a higher level of efficiency.

The frozen efficiency baseline forecast accounts for this natural turnover of equipment stock as units die and consumers purchase new, more efficient models. Using the frozen efficiency baseline forecast, we freeze the energy use of all new refrigerators at 450 kilowatts per year based on today’s products.

However, the baseline forecast is just that–the baseline. There are products available that use less energy than the baseline. When you buy your refrigerator, you have the option to buy an ENERGY STAR unit, which means it’s even more efficient. This refrigerator might use only 425 kilowatts per year, saving an extra 25 kilowatts per year. We include that savings in our energy-efficiency potential calculation.

The Council’s Seventh Power Plan found that the region should acquire 1,400 average megawatts of energy efficiency by 2021. While the baseline forecast will capture any decrease in electricity consumption from the replacement of old (generally inefficient) units breaking down, we’ll also include improvements beyond the baseline to capture all cost-effective potential energy efficiency. This method provides a sound roadmap to achieving efficiency, and its economic and environmental benefits, for the region.

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Northwest Carbon Footprint Is Low and Getting Lower

posted Dec 21, 2016

The electricity sector is the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, followed closely by the transportation sector. Together, they account for close to 70 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Pacific Northwest’s annual carbon dioxide emissions from electricity have been flat over the past fifteen years. In 2015, the annual carbon dioxide emissions were around 51 million metric tons–close to what they were in 2000–yet during that time they’ve ranged from 43 to 60 million metric tons. Nationally, emissions from electricity have declined from around 2,300 million metric tons in 2000 to about 1,900 million metric tons in 2015. 

How can we interpret these trends in emissions? It’s all about changes in the resource mix 

The Pacific Northwest is fortunate to have an abundant hydropower system, providing on average over 50 percent of the region’s annual energy. Energy efficiency is our second largest resource. We’ve saved 6,000 average megawatts since 1978, keeping load growth down and providing an alternative to developing new resources. Coal and natural gas are next, followed by wind, nuclear, biomass, geothermal, and solar. 

In comparison, thermal resources dominate the United States’ resource mix. Coal and natural gas accounted for 66 percent of the nation’s energy in 2015, followed by nuclear, hydro, renewables, and petroleum. The difference in the resource mix between the region and the United States is an important distinction. While hydropower drives the dispatch of other resources here, it plays a much smaller role nationwide. For example, in good hydro years, when runoff is above average, we dispatch thermal resources less often and emissions are lower. In poor hydro years, the system relies more on thermal resources and emissions increase.

With low natural gas prices over the past several years (outside of occasional weather-related price spikes, the price for natural gas is likely to remain relatively low for the foreseeable future), development of new natural gas resources has been on the rise. In addition, existing natural gas plants have seen increased dispatch in order to take advantage of the low price of fuel. The increased use of natural gas, and subsequent decrease of coal, has changed the thermal dispatch. With natural gas emitting, on average, about 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal, overall emissions at the national level have begun to decrease. While we’ve seen this trend in the Pacific Northwest as well, it has less of an effect on the region’s emissions due to the dominance of the hydropower system. 

What can we expect going forward? 

With close to 3,000 megawatts of coal capacity set to retire over the next decade in the region, emissions will likely decrease significantly. However, these resources must be replaced. Efficient and advanced natural gas plants and renewables such as wind and solar are likely replacement resources. Increasing dispatch of existing natural gas plants, along with the region’s continued success in meeting our efficiency goals, will help keep both load growth and emissions down. 

The combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity, and the resulting release of emissions, has garnered attention from lawmakers, environmental groups, utilities, manufacturers and generators. Efforts to curb emissions at the local, national, and international levels as well as the availability of low-cost natural gas will help determine the future of emissions in the long term.

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Flat Loads

posted Dec 20, 2016


In 2015, while the Northwest population, employment, personal income and economic output continued to grow, electric utility loads continued to be flat, largely because above-normal temperatures moderated demand for power and energy efficiency programs did what they are intended to do – help the region do more with less power.

Regional electricity sales declined from 2014 to 2015 by 287 average megawatts, an amount of power roughly equal to the annual usage of 206,000 Northwest homes. Data for 2016 shows a continuing decline – down 3 percent for the first nine months of the year, according to a report on the state of the region’s electric utilities in 2015 by Massoud Jourabchi, manager of economic analysis in the Council’s Power Planning Division.

The warmer-than-normal 2015 last year was the warmest in the Northwest in 88 years contributed significantly to reducing the amount of power sold. The difference between winter and summer peak loads in 2015 was the smallest of the last 20 years, probably reflecting the fact that Northwest winters are becoming warmer.

Meanwhile, income from electricity sales, along with the average rates charged for power, have increased. Since 2005, electric utility revenues have grown at about 3.6 percent per year, largely as the result of inflation. Meanwhile, average rates for electricity grew about 3 percent annually, while the average residential bill grew just 1 percent per year.

The reason for higher rates but lower bills has to do with two key factors. First, improving energy efficiency means that while consumers are paying a little more per kilowatt-hour for electricity (the higher rate), they are using less (lower bills) thanks to energy efficiency improvements. Second, warmer weather drives down total electricity usage in homes that use electricity to heat and cool air and heat water, as do most homes in the Northwest. Warm weather conditions are believed to have reduced Northwest electricity loads by 3 percent in 2015.

Jourabchi said the regional economy continues to do more with less electricity as energy efficiency continues to improve. In 2005, the Northwest produced about $3,000 of output per megawatt-hour of electricity consumed; by 2014 it was about $4,000. The region also is growing – from 12.3 million in 2005 to 13.9 million in 2015, and the number of electricity consumers is growing, too – about 1 percent per year over that time. Meanwhile, the Northwest economy is improving faster than in other areas of the country. Since 2010 regional employment has increased by more than 560,000 jobs and unemployment rates are low. Per-capita annual income is improving, too, now about $50,000 per year on average across the region.

The report also identified two areas of growing interest for electric utilities: 1) advanced metering infrastructure, which is a means of providing information on an hourly basis to consumers about their power use so they can make usage decisions; and 2) demand response, which is the voluntary reduction in customer electricity use in exchange for compensation during periods of high demand and limited power availability. Jourabchi said there now about 555 megawatts of potential peak-load savings under contract in the Northwest, most of it in the industrial and agricultural economic sectors. Most of the agricultural demand response contracts are in Idaho.

Here is a quick look at the key points of the Council's staff report:

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Demand Response Advisory Committee Holds First Meeting

posted Dec 19, 2016


The Council's demand response advisory committee held its first meeting on December 1 in the Council's downtown Portland office. It was well attended, with over 60 attendees representing a wide range of interests, including representatives from utilities, state regulatory offices, consulting firms, and energy organizations.

The Council formed the committee to help the region develop the recommended DR resources identified in its regional power plan. The plan found that by developing at least 600 megawatts, we could meet our peak electricity needs and save billions of dollars.

The committee discussed the importance of developing a common definition of DR to provide a comprehensive understanding of its uses and value, as well as the need to have a central hub to share data.

Key next steps will be for the Council to develop proposals for collecting data and a definition of DR, including what it is and how it's used for the region. The demand response advisory committee's website will serve as a clearinghouse for regional data and reports for now.

The committee is scheduled to meet again sometime in early 2017. All advisory committee meetings are open to the public, and you're invited to attend in person or online.

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Mussel Alert

posted Dec 16, 2016

A mussel-clogged water pipe.

Help from the federal government is on the way in the battle to keep invasive freshwater mussels out of the Columbia River Basin, an effort given a renewed sense of urgency in November with the discovery of mussel larvae in several Montana water bodies in the Missouri river drainage east of the Continental Divide.

Lakes, rivers, and reservoirs in many parts of the United States are infested with zebra and quagga mussels. Mussels and their larvae, which can live out of water for up to 30 days, adhere to watercraft and thus can easily be transferred from an infested lake or river. It has been estimated that the combined economic impact of a Northwest-wide infestation (including British Columbia) could be nearly $600 million per year. The impact could be especially troubling in the Columbia River and its major tributaries, as mussel colonies form rock-hard mats of shells that can clog water intake and delivery pipes, infest hydropower infrastructure, adhere to boats and pilings, foul recreational beaches, compete with native mussels, and disrupt food webs and the biological functioning of aquatic habitats. They pose a significant threat to salmon and steelhead restoration efforts in the West.

Mussels on a trash rack at Hoover Dam on the Nevada/Arizona border.

Watercraft inspection stations, funded and operated by the four Northwest states, and located along roadways leading into the region, have been effective at catching and cleaning infected watercraft, but more money is needed to boost the effort. The Council supported additional federal funding in a November 29 letter to the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division, based in Portland.

The Corps received congressional authorization in 2014 to enter into cost-sharing agreements with the four Northwest states to establish and operate watercraft inspection stations. This authorization was updated in 2016 to include sharing the cost with the states on early-detection and rapid-response efforts. The Corps’ draft report justifying the expenditure of federal dollars for these purposes is currently out for public review and comment. Upon completion of public review on January 12, the document will be forwarded to Corps headquarters in Washington, DC for final approval. Two Corps officials reported to the Council at its December meeting that the approval process appears to be on track and that the cost-sharing agreements with the states should be finalized by April 2017. The new money will essentially double the amount the states spent in 2015.

The states will decide how to spend the money, which could go to new inspection stations or to pay for extended hours at existing stations. The federal funding is critical as the states do not have sufficient resources to ensure that watercraft inspection stations are located in all critical areas. Typically, the temporary stations are set up in March and stay in place into the fall.

The Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program specifically identifies the need to coordinate and share tracking and monitoring data on invasive mussels in the basin and data on rapid response, prevention, monitoring, containment, control, eradication, enforcement, and education and outreach efforts among a variety of organizations.

Until October and November of this year, the regional war on mussels was a matter of concern but not emergency. But then larvae from quagga and zebra mussels were confirmed in water samples from the Tiber Reservoir, located on a Missouri River tributary in eastern Montana. Ongoing sampling found more “suspect” samples in Montana water bodies east of the Continental Divide including the Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Missouri River and Milk River. Consequently, Montana Governor Steve Bullock issued an executive order November 30 giving the several state fish, wildlife and water agencies and the Montana Invasive Species Advisory Council responsibility for “control, containment and prevention” of quagga and zebra mussels, triggering the deployment of an interagency rapid response team to coordinate efforts to detect and respond to an infestation.



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Repeat Spawners

posted Dec 16, 2016

Moving Fish Over High Dams

posted Nov 16, 2016

Megawatt? A Powerful Question.

posted Oct 20, 2016

Fuel Of The Future?

posted Oct 18, 2016

Powering the Internet of Things

posted Oct 17, 2016

Storable Power

posted Oct 17, 2016

The Blob Is Back

posted Oct 11, 2016

Old Door, New Opening

posted Oct 6, 2016

Fun With Sturgeon

posted Sep 20, 2016

Cool Relief

posted Sep 15, 2016

Upper Columbia Salmon Habitat

posted Sep 14, 2016

No Gain

posted Sep 14, 2016

The Invasion Strengthens

posted Sep 13, 2016

Cold Water Refuge

posted Aug 11, 2016

Building on a Legacy Resource

posted Aug 5, 2016

Salmon Smorgasbord

posted Jul 14, 2016

Tapping Into Geothermal Energy

posted Jun 21, 2016

Fish And Warm Water Don't Mix

posted Jun 20, 2016

Going, going, almost gone

posted Jun 7, 2016

Early Warning System

posted May 27, 2016

In the (Efficient) Spotlight

posted Apr 25, 2016

The Mystery of Swan Lake

posted Apr 13, 2016

A boost for northern pike removal

posted Apr 13, 2016

They're back, and they're hungry

posted Mar 23, 2016

Warm ocean, small salmon: Why?

posted Mar 7, 2016

Seventh Power Plan Homestretch

posted Dec 15, 2015

Touring Baker Dam

posted Jul 8, 2015

Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

posted May 19, 2015

This Plan Is Your Plan

posted Apr 30, 2015

Lunch and Learn With the Council

posted Mar 31, 2015

Scenario Analysis Begins

posted Feb 11, 2015

Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

posted Jan 22, 2015

"The Objectives Process" begins

posted Dec 11, 2014

Why We Plan for Uncertainty

posted Nov 19, 2014

Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

posted Mar 12, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013

Northwest Q & A: Robert D. Kahn

posted Oct 29, 2013

Tagging Sturgeon in Astoria

posted Aug 22, 2013

Habitat Tours Focus on Results

posted May 31, 2013

Sustainability Is Success

posted May 29, 2013

A Last Look at Condit Dam

posted Oct 24, 2011

Changing Minds, Changing the Land

posted Jul 26, 2011

Wind Power, Then and Now

posted Apr 18, 2011

The Rebound Effect: Is It Real?

posted Feb 1, 2011

An Update on Didymo

posted Jan 27, 2011

Didymo: A New Kind of Invader

posted Jan 18, 2011

A Good Year for Returning Salmon

posted Sep 30, 2010

Building a Better Battery

posted Aug 11, 2010

Using Batteries to Store Energy

posted Jul 28, 2010

Growing Summer Energy Demand

posted Jul 26, 2010

California's Energy Scene

posted Jul 23, 2010

Ensuring Efficiency

posted Jun 21, 2010

Making Wind Work

posted Jun 7, 2010

Clean Tech Draws VC Funding

posted May 3, 2010

And the Wind Came Up

posted Apr 6, 2010