If you took a Geography course over 20 years ago, you might recall the subject involving little more than memorizing the locations of continents, countries, cities, as well as climate and cultural facts. In that time, many universities have expanded their geography programs by entering the world of Geographic Information Systems, or GIS for short.
HARC's work toward the enhancement and expansion of energy-efficiency measures has potential impact beyond the immediate programs and institutions in focus.
Advocates of energy efficiency policies and technologies say introducing them more broadly can play an important role in addressing society-wide issues by helping to forgo construction of new power plants and to use the energy produced by existing plants more sparingly.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently summarized the argument for treating energy efficiency as an economic resource in its own right in the electricity market, which is something that pro-conservation forces in Texas have suggested:
Energy efficiency’s importance as a utility resource has never been greater than it is now. The utility industry faces high power plant construction costs and growing cost-recovery risks; high and volatile fuel costs; a new wave of environmental compliance costs; mounting concerns about system reliability; and increasing calls for action to address global warming. Energy efficiency is the least-cost response to each of those challenges. Moreover, improving energy efficiency in our homes, businesses and industries reduces energy costs, creates jobs and improves the environment.
In Texas, such issues are complicated by its particular circumstances and conditions.
The state's rapid population growth has been accompanied by growing use of energy and water. And as 2011's record-setting heat wave and drought dramatically brought home, higher temperatures can sorely tax power plants and water resources.
That drought has dragged on across most of the state. Meanwhile, scientists project hotter, drier conditions for Texas in decades ahead because of manmade climate change, which they attribute in large part to greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from electricity production using fossil fuels. Such power plants use huge amounts of water for cooling.
Brutal conditions like those during the summer of 2011 put added pressures on both power plants and on already drought-diminished water supplies. Especially hot and dry conditions can mean there's too little water for a power plant or that the water is too warm. The cluster of complex issues associated with this conundrum has been termed the "energy-water nexus" and the "energy-water collision."
Proponents of expanding energy efficiency say its potential to achieve significant cuts in power usage can also help deal with two other key electricity-related issues facing Texas.
One is the "grid congestion" that sometimes occurs when power is directed from one part of the state to another where closer generation sources aren't meeting demand at that time. The other involves controversial proposals to create a "capacity market" for electricity in Texas, in which producers could charge customers not just for the electricity they consume but also for adding generation capacity to meet the future projected demand of a growing Texas population and economy.