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Smart cities, you’ve got a friend in electric cars: How to unleash the potential of smart charging through public procurement

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The electrification of road transport is happening – and it is already having a profound impact on the energy system and our cities. As more and more people drive electric, smart charging can ease the integration of the newcomers into the grid.

Smart charging enables charging to automatically happen at times when electricity costs are lowest – without compromising the needs of vehicle owners. As a result, smart charging creates a powerful opportunity to use more renewable energy and better utilise existing grids, accelerating the energy transition while reducing costs for all.

Cities are essential actors in making smart charging happen at a large scale. Every time they publish a public procurement procedure and every time they issue permits for EV infrastructure, it is in their hands to make smart charging work better — now and in the years to come.

But how can local authorities deploy a future-proof, robust smart charging network, with technology rapidly evolving?

Important standards supporting smart charging – such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) – are not yet available for charging stations built today. To avoid becoming obsolete before the end of its expected lifetime, infrastructure must be ready for future upgrades.

In this webinar, Luka De Bruyckere from ECOS and Jaap Burger of RAP will present their new guide explaining how to build future-proof infrastructure, and equip cities to make the right choices when procuring new charging infrastructure.

Guest speaker Hugo Niesing from the city of Amsterdam will share his experience in advancing smart charging in a city that leads the transition to e-mobility.

Moderated by Ivo Cabral, Press & Communications Manager, Environmental Coalition on Standards at ECOS.

Taking the burn out of heating for low-income households

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The future of heat in buildings is not fossil fuelled. The urgency of the climate crisis, Europe’s 2030 climate targets, the current war in Ukraine and the resulting skyrocketing energy prices all mean we need to massively accelerate efforts to move away from burning fossil fuels in our homes. This is no small task as fossil fuels currently account for over 75% of heat supply, and the residential sector is Europe’s single biggest fossil gas user, responsible for 40% of gas consumption.

The recent energy price volatility and the cripplingly high gas prices make the economics of switching from fossil fuel heating to heating with a heat pump better in 2022 than before the crisis. Those households that can afford it may well be considering the switch.

For lower-income households, however, the high prices make all forms of heating – and most other household expenses – less affordable. For these people, the switch to clean heating is further away than ever. But the risks of remaining locked into expensive fossil fuel use are more acute due to high and volatile prices, rising costs of redundant infrastructure and, potentially, exorbitant costs for hydrogen.

RAP analysis establishes the upfront investment and running costs to switch to heating with a heat pump, before and after the price crisis. Based on this assessment, Louise Sunderland and Duncan Gibb set out strategies to make the switch to clean heating affordable and safe for lower-income households. Targeted subsidies for upfront investment in clean heating technologies are essential, alongside reforms to electricity pricing to help ensure bills are affordable. The study also explores a range of other strategies to secure affordable clean heat such as bringing together combinations of building-level technologies, services and the benefits of cheap renewable electricity generation. We present five recommendations for:

  • Prioritising lower-income households in heat decarbonisation strategies.
  • Ensuring an ‘energy efficiency first’ approach to reduce heating needs.
  • Providing targeted subsidies for clean technologies.
  • Rebalancing burdens away from electricity bills and directing social support to electricity bills.
  • Focussing Europe’s innovation attention on the needs of lower-income households.

Modernizing Gas Utility Planning: New Approaches for New Challenges

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Significant new uncertainties and options for the gas industry are creating new challenges for regulators who are responsible for ensuring that utility investments are in the public interest.

Many of the unknowns relate to the potential for customers to switch from gas to electricity for heating and other uses and the potential for utilities to replace fossil methane with alternative gases. Gas customers could face higher costs if their numbers decline in favor of electrification or if investments in alternative gases far exceed current resource costs.

Yet current typical tools and processes for regulating gas distribution utilities do not give regulators complete information on which to make decisions about long-term utility investments in this context.

Commissions across the country are recognizing the need to review and update their planning approaches. This paper surveys current efforts to modernize gas utility planning and draws lessons for those considering similar work. At the heart of the paper are five principles for redesigning planning to restore confidence that utility investments will be in the public interest:

  1. Build equity into planning so decisions are made with equitable service and distribution of costs and benefits in mind.
  2. Consider an expanded range of investment and resource options.
  3. Establish integrated gas planning by combining integrated resource planning practices with gas distribution system planning.
  4. Use combined energy planning to take the broadest possible view of emissions reduction opportunities.
  5. Foster collaboration with state agencies that have expertise in emissions reduction.

Utility Regulation in the US: A Brief Introduction

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​In a webinar for the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network, David Farnsworth explored the power industry and how it is regulated in the public interest.

Performance Targets

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​In a presentation to a National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners working group, Jessica Shipley offered guidance on designing performance-based regulation that meets public interest policy goals.

Securing Benefits from Transportation Electrification

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​In a presentation for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission’s Transportation Electrification Summit, David Farnsworth discussed the value of electrification as a flexible grid resource as well as the benefits from data tracking and use of advisory services.

Nevada’s Alternative Regulation Process

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At the Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners, ​Dr. Carl Linvill of RAP and Sam Crano of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission discussed the background, process and regulation that resulted from Nevada’s recent alternative regulation docket.

Surf’s Up: Catching the IIJA Wave

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I’m learning how to surf. For my birthday, my kids got together and bought me a surfboard. One day last summer I spent about three hours in the waves off of Popham Beach in Maine trying to figure things out. After about 60 attempts — no kidding — trying to catch a wave, I finally caught one. But I had help. I got tips from my kids, and from other surfers about things, like when to paddle hard and where to place myself on the board. When I finally caught that wave, all that paddling and the soreness in my neck and shoulders faded away. I was lifted and carried forward at easily three times the speed while the others alongside me and I were effortlessly propelled forward toward the shore by the energy of that wave.

I was recently reminded of my first day surfing as I read an order from the North Carolina Utility Commission (NCUC) in which it recognized that it too could use a little help better understanding the implications of the wave of federal funding — $1.2 trillion over eight years) — that is about to reach the states.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) makes available billions of dollars for investment in utility infrastructure, including support for electric vehicle charging, smart distribution grid improvements, energy storage, and water system resilience and security. Referring to the IIJA, the NCUC opened its order with a “preliminary conclusion”:

It is in the public interest for the public utilities of this State to fully and carefully consider taking advantage of these available federal grants and loans, in order to promote adequate, reliable, and economical utility service to the citizens and residents of the State.

The order poses basic questions like:

  • Which federal programs could assist utilities in meeting their obligations?
  • What actions does the NCUC need to take to facilitate access to the funds?
  • What other organizations will utilities need to coordinate with?
  • What actions are other state agencies taking or considering?

More than a dozen utilities and others provided comments to the NCUC in this docket. The order not only brought together these parties, encouraging their insights and testing their ideas, but it also created a larger public conversation about the best ways to spend federal dollars for utilities in North Carolina.  It is the Commission’s role to ensure that the power sector develops in a manner that promotes the public good, and the NCUC recognizes that responses to the questions posed in the three-page order will enhance its expertise to best promote that public good.

Other states should consider taking a page from the NCUC’s playbook. It will create the opportunity to be more informed and better positioned to make decisions you very likely will need to make. Why wait until you are constrained by limitations associated with having to review a filing in a contested case? After all, who would be better situated to render a decision: a commission that has reviewed diverse comments and participated in discussions regarding the best ways to use federal dollars for the benefit of its state prior to having to review an actual proposal, or a commission that hasn’t?

Riding a wave requires help. Adopting the North Carolina approach will better position your utility commission to ride the oncoming wave of federal funding for the benefit of your utility sector and state economy.

Grid Operations and Why They Matter for Air Quality — Part 1

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In a training for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association (MARAMA), Nancy Seidman discussed regional transmission and opportunities for collaboration among air quality regulators, state energy offices and utility commissions.