Tag Archives: electricity

California drought taking toll on energy

drought_bulbCalifornia’s severe drought is also taking a toll on the state’s energy infrastructure.

By the beginning of July, almost the entire state was facing drought conditions, with residents being asked to curb water usage by 20 percent. The lack of rain also is taking a toll on hydroelectric generation, which accounts for about 12 percent of California’s net generation. Without a reliable supply of water, hydroelectric plants can’t function at full capacity. According to the California Independent System Operator, even natural gas generation could be affected if there isn’t enough water available to cool working plants.

The weather can also wreak havoc because high temperatures can cause power lines to fail, which in turn can cause brush fires and outages.

Full story.

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Where does electricity come from?

windturbine_kids_smEver wonder what makes a light bulb burn brightly when you flip on the light switch? OK, probably not, but it is an interesting journey and you are paying for it every month.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, most electricity in the U.S. is produced by steam turbines. The turbines are powered by an assortment of fuels: fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas or petroleum; nuclear power; or renewables such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power. In the case of fossil fuels, they are burned in a furnace, which heats water in a boiler to produce steam, which then turns the turbine blades. The spinning turbine blades power a generator which produces electricity, which is then transmitted via poles and wires to your home and/or business.

According to 2012 EIA figures, fossil fuels generate the largest amount of electricity in the U.S. Of the 4 trillion kWh generated, coal accounted for 37 percent, natural gas 30 percent and petroleum less than 1 percent.

Another fairly large source is nuclear power, which accounts for approximately 19 percent. Electricity is produced using a nuclear reactor in a similar fashion as fossil fuel generators. Steam is still produced to power turbines, but the steam in a nuclear plant is produced via fission (i.e. the splitting of atoms). In this method, a reactor contains a core of nuclear fuel, which is usually uranium. Neutrons are injected into the core, splitting the uranium atoms to produce heat and more neutrons. These neutrons continue the chain reaction, creating more fission heat, and neutrons. The heat produced is used to make the steam used to power turbines, which then creates the electricity.

The cleanest sources of electricity are called renewables. Renewable energy sources vary. Hydropower is created by harnessing flowing water to spin turbines, and accounts for 7 percent of U.S. energy generation. Windpower is the next largest source, with approximately 3 percent of total U.S. output. Biomass, which is natural waste such as lumber mill leftovers, garbage or agricultural leftovers such as corn or wheat, can be burned to create the steam needed to power those ever-present turbines. Biomass accounts for only 1 percent of national output. Geothermal, which is heat energy produced from underground sources such as steam fissures, and solar, which harnesses the sun to produce electricity (most commonly through photovoltaic (PV) panels), each account for less than 1 percent but solar in particular is experiencing rapid growth across the U.S.

Most energy marketers get their electricity supply from a combination of energy sources so that they (and you) aren’t locked in to shifting prices in a single commoditySome states require energy suppliers to disclose the environmental content of the electricity that they supply. That way, you have the option of choosing a supplier with the fuel sources that you are most comfortable with. These environmental content labels provide not only the percentage of fuels used to generate the electricity purchased on your behalf, but also the levels of air pollutants associated with that generation compared to the average for your state. Many suppliers offer a “standard” electricity offer, or the same mix of sources typically found on your local grid, as well as one or more offers utilizing only renewable sources for all or some of the supply.

Depending on where you live, not only can you shop for an energy supplier, but you can also shop for the type of energy source you prefer.

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You have a choice

plug_bills_smYou most likely shop for your phone service and your cable provider. Do you also shop for your energy supplier?

If you don’t, or didn’t know that you can shop around, this blog’s for you.

Thanks to energy deregulation beginning in the 1990s, electricity and natural gas became unbundled in many states. That means that the supply portion of your energy bill can be provided by a licensed third-party marketer, such as ConEdison Solutions. Before deregulation, natural gas and electricity were both supplied and delivered to your home by the utility, which had a monopoly on the process. After deregulation, you can shop for an energy supplier while the utility still delivers your electricity or natural gas. So, no matter whom you choose, your local utility will continue to deliver your energy, read your meter, handle any emergencies, and send your bill each month. Deregulation has created competition, which means companies are vying for your business as a customer. You may benefit from a lower price if you do a little shopping. Click here to find out if you live in a deregulated electricity territory. Click here for natural gas. Since retail energy suppliers want to stay in business, they must offer competitive prices plus great service and innovative solutions. In fact, third-party suppliers can often offer pricing packages that utilities can’t. This gives you the ability to pick the plan that best fits your needs.

Looking for a stable price that won’t change for the duration of your term? Pick a fixed price. Looking for a price that changes with the market price of energy, dropping when supply is abundant? Choose a variable price. Perhaps you prefer to “go green”. Energy created by wind, solar, and other renewable sources is also an option.

And, no, your utility won’t care if you switch. Because of deregulation, state commissions prohibit utilities from profiting from supplying energy to you. Where they can make a profit is on the distribution, or delivery, portion of your bill. Take a look at your latest utility bill. You’ll see the line for your electricity and/or natural gas supplier, which is still your utility if you haven’t chosen an alternative supplier, and a line item for your distribution, which is always your utility. You’ll also see several “pass-through” line items that your utility charges you, varying by amount and where you live. Certain of these charges may not be charged to you with a retail energy provider, depending on state laws.

Once you’ve shopped around, it’s easy to switch. There are no service interruptions. In most areas, you’ll still get one bill from your utility, but the supplier name will be changed to the company you have chosen. You can make your choice online or call your new electricity supplier to begin the process.

The power of choice is that easy.

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