May 6, 2009

Energy Efficiency, vol. 3: New FERC Chair Leading the Way?

The new Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC, Jon Wellinghoff, was recently profiled in the New York Times as an energy efficiency evangelist of sorts.

If you visit Jon Wellinghoff in his office, he'll likely direct your gaze to the ceiling.

When he first joined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2006, the lights in his office suite were considered a very efficient system, state of the art when installed a dozen years earlier. But they still were not efficient enough for him. So he had them ripped out and installed "light shelves" that provide indirect lighting, along with a digital sensor that dims the lights as sunlight brightens the room.

"We cut the lighting energy usage in my office suite by 50 percent," Wellinghoff said recently. "We can reduce our energy usage in this country by 50 percent."

Wellinghoff has long lived what he preaches, his associates say. And now that he's chairman of FERC, he wants to move the rest of the nation in his direction. He said in an interview today that his agenda is simply "efficiency in markets and least cost for consumers."
FERC regulates interstate energy markets, with a goal of ensuring an abundant and reliable source of energy for Americans.

Wellinghoff recently made waves by publicly stating that the U.S. may never need another new coal (or nuclear) plant, as reported by Greenwire.

Wellinghoff views improvements in the nation's grid as opening up new opportunities to utilitize a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy and natural gas to meet all of the nation's power needs. The SCsaysNO Coalition has proposed a similar solution to the Pee Dee coal plant debate.

From the Greenwire article:

Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.

"I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism," he said. "Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind's going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you'll dispatch that first."

He added, "People talk about, 'Oh, we need baseload.' It's like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don't need mainframes, we have distributed computing."

The technology for renewable energies has come far enough to allow his vision to move forward, he said. For instance, there are systems now available for concentrated solar plants that can provide 15 hours of storage.

"What you have to do, is you have to be able to shape it," he added. "And if you can shape wind and you can effectively get capacity available for you for all your loads.

"So if you can shape your renewables, you don't need fossil fuel or nuclear plants to run all the time. And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they're very inflexible. You can't ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism."

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