Demand Response January 2016

January 31, 2016

electricity towerLast week, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Energy Commission’s (FERC) Order 745, which had been effectively in limbo for the past couple of years. This order had been the legal basis for expanded demand response activity. Demand response is the array of programs whereby an end user (me, a business, a factory) agrees to reduce their electricity usage when the system operator needs it. Often, it is matter of cycling groups of users “off the grid” for a short time. Taking groups of users “off the grid” for a few minutes can have a surprisingly powerful impact in terms of stabilizing the electricity marketplace.

In return for NOT demanding electricity at specific times, these end-users get compensated for the amount of electricity they did NOT use. Actually determining how much electricity someone did not use can get a little tricky, but the concept still applies—conservation of power is compensated just as the generation of power is compensated. In fact, it is not uncommon for the unit price of this compensation to be the same in both instances. This unit price is the Locational Marginal Price per kilowatt hour.

My personal image of demand response is the $20 monthly credit I get from PECO in return for allowing them to cut off my air conditioner for up to 15 minutes at a time during the hottest of summer months. My house can heat up, but it won’t heat up that much in 15 minutes. So, I am OK with this. Residences such as mine were about 15% of the demand response activity in 2014 and 2015. Office buildings and schools were each just shy of 10%. The biggest single sector by far was the industrial manufacturing sector, which accounted for nearly half (50%) of 2015 demand response activity.

utility polesAs it happens, by virtue of my residence near Philadelphia, I am in the PJM Interconnection zone. PJM is one of the more advanced ISOs when it comes to demand response. Depending upon which specific transactions are included, PJM reports in the neighborhood of $8-10 million in demand response activity in 2015, affecting several hundred million megawatt hours. Many methods including HVAC, lighting, manufacturing  operations, and using generators are all acceptable demand response tools.

I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld Order 745. It had led to a vast expansion of demand response activity; PJM has stated that within the first market (demand) year after FERC issued Order 745, demand response volume equalled what had been achieved in the previous 5 years combined. That is a big impact. Now that the rules have been settled for demand response moving forward, hopefully it will expand again. Not only will electricity demand be reduced, but price volatility can be lessened if not largely eliminated on excess demand days, which can potentially occur year round.

That is a true economic and environmental win-win.

A post I wrote in 2011 that mentioned Demand Response


Getting To Zero Landfill

December 14, 2015

yellowstone mded

The National Parks have had a long-standing interest in implementing sustainability initiatives. In previous years, for example, the parks put into the place the “Healthy and Sustainable Food Initiative” by increasing the amount of locally sourced food at its concessionaires. In 2015, the Park Service decided to address a different sustainability challenge–the 100 million pounds of trash generated each year by park visitors. They have done this by cooperating with several organizations to make the National Parks Zero Landfill spaces. These organizations include Subaru, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the National Parks Foundation (I donate to the latter 2). Subaru is a logical partner for this effort due to its experience with its zero landfill factory in Lafayette, Indiana.

The program has begun with pilot projects at 3 iconic parks: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Denali. These three parks alone account for 16.6 million pounds of waste annually. Of this amount, about 6.9 million pounds are diverted from the landfill–the question is how to keep the other 9.7 million pounds out of the landfill as well. The first step is for the National Parks Conservation Association to review the current practices in these parks in terms of recycling, composting, and waste reduction efforts. Subaru’s factory experts on “zero-landfill processes” will also visit these parks. The insight from these assessments will give the park service insights on how to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be landfilled, with the goal of zero waste at all being landfilled.

That is the goal, at least. Whether this effort will truly result in absolutely zero materials being sent to the landfill is an open question; however in all cases, the idea is to have the National Park Service send nothing, or almost nothing, to any landfill–first at these 3 parks, and then hopefully at all of the nearly 300 units in the National Park system.

The NPS Zero Landfill Program

What The Park Visitor Can Do

Subaru’s Zero Landfill Factory

Healthy and Sustainable Food at the National Parks






Pennsylvania’s State Forests–A New Plan

November 23, 2015


Pennsylvania is also known as Penn’s Woods. There are, in fact, about 17 million  acres of forests in Pennsylvania, of which just shy of 15% are actually State Forests, run by the state’s Bureau of Forestry. This year the Bureau has released its 2015 updated State Forest Management Plan (the first update since 2007). This plan is open for public comment until November 30, 2015. The main website (with instruction on whom to email comments and a survey on the plan, is here:

The Plan attempts to deal with many issues currently affecting Pennsylvania State Forests. A sampling of these includes (but is not limited to): the increase in fracking for natural gas, more public attention to sustainable forest management, climate change, recreational uses, new disease threats, the importance of social media, long-term timber production, cultural and historic resources, and a forest inventory.

Before I read through this, I had no idea that almost all of today’s state forests were barren land a century ago, or that the state forests are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (and audited every 5 years). Nor did I know that the state works with Penn State to develop an optimization model to balance near term wood product harvesting demand with long term forest vibrancy. In fact, one of the original purposes of creating state forests was to enable a long term supply of various wood products from Pennsylvania. This certainly implies that long term sustainability of that supply is a top concern.

On the other hand, extraction industries (coal, oil, and natural gas, especially fracking) are not operated with the goal of maintaining environmental health; they often need an environmental mitigation component. Naturally, the less of these in the forests in the first place, the less environmental mitigation required. One of Gov. Wolf’s first actions in office was to put an immediate stop to new leases for Marcellus Shale gas–but many remain active on the books.

As an avid hiker, the main thing I think about in terms of the (state) forest is the network of trails. That is “recreation” in the forest for me. Surprisingly, a major recreational use of the state forests is simply taking a scenic drive. Hunting, camping, canoeing, kayaking are on the list as well. I had no idea how dynamic the state forests truly are.

This dynamism comes out in the plan. It is worth taking some time to become educated on what is going on in the forest(s).

Summary page for the State Forest Management Plan

Abington’s Environmental Rewards

October 29, 2015
My Abington Green Card

My Abington Green Card

The Go Green Rewards Card, a program of the Abington Township Environmental Action Committee, is a twist on customer rewards programs. This rewards card supports both the environmental and economic aspects of sustainability. If you take part on specific environmental activities, you get points that you can use at local businesses. Examples include attending a rain barrel workshop or an energy savings expo, volunteer for the EAC, make your yard an Audubon Bird Habitat. The emphasis on local businesses is a nice way to encourage residents to patronize business in their community.

Abington’s Environmental Action Committee

The Right of the Environment

September 30, 2015

Pope Post Sept Pope Francis’ trip to the United States this month generated enormous interest and attendance at the events, with nearly a million people (including me) at a mass in Philadelphia. There were many millions more who watched the Pope’s events on television. While the interest in the recent Laudato Si encyclical on the environment was significant, the attention paid to the Pope’s words during his U.S. trip exceeded that.

In case you missed the Pope’s comments on the environment:

He spoke of the environment on multiple occasions and venues. In some cases he went even further than he had gone in Laudato Si. This was most notable when he proclaimed at the United Nations that a true “right of the environment” exists (analogous to human rights).

In other appearances, Pope Francis said a lot more about what this means. For example, “We Christians, along with the other mono-theistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental goal.”

He alluded to the creation of jobs and livelihoods as an outgrowth of business activity that contribute to the common good. “This common good also includes the earth.” “The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive, and sustainable.”

He warned us all that “A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.” Francis is well known for his concern for the poor and for those “excluded” by society. “They [the poor] are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment.”

He went further when he said, “The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species”.

At his concluding Mass in Philadelphia, he noted, “The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development.”

“Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity”

I agree.

A Broad Variety

August 31, 2015

paper-towels-roll-thEvery so often, it is fun to take a look at the broad variety of products (especially kitchen and cleaning) that are made from recycled materials, non-chlorinated materials, or are otherwise made with minimizing environmental impact in mind.

Lots of Environmentally Friendly Kitchen and Cleaning Products


Many More Sustainably Produced Kitchen and Cleaning Options

Flying Away

July 31, 2015

boeing PlaneUnited Airlines has a history of trying to incorporate non-tradition fuels into its fleet. This year, they have announced plans to integrate sustainable biofuels (derived from farm waste and animal fats) into a portion of their operations from Los Angeles, mostly flights to San Francisco, a major hub of theirs (LAX-SFO). The first of these was in July. The airline cites a 30%-70% biofuel/petroleum ratio and claims a 50% reduction in carbon emissions (life cycle basis) at a price similar to petroleum-derived jet fuel.

I hope this experiment works. LAX to SFO is a very busy corridor, so United will have plenty of flight data to examine!

United’s Alternative Fuel Information

Praised Be The Earth

June 30, 2015

planet earth Pope Francis had it right. His Papal encyclical, Laudato si (Praise Be to You — On Care for Our Common Home) makes a passionate case for environmental awareness, concern, and action. Most of the media coverage focused on the Pope’s commentary about climate change. The Pope’s strong statements in support of the scientific consensus are indeed notable—but not in my opinion the most important part of the encyclical. Laudato si’s most important aspect is the clear building of a moral case for sustainable development–sustainable in terms of including a far greater share of the world’s population than the current system does and sustainable in terms of treating the Earth like the treasure it is and not simply as a resource to be exploited and left for dead.

Part of the significance of Laudato si is, of course, the fact that its message is now part of the official teachings of the Catholic Church. It is true that environmental consciousness is not the encylical’s sole aspect–however this is surely the first encyclical where the environment plays so prominent a role. An environmental perspective is in fact part and parcel of a moral aspect that must accompany economic development. Simply by dedicating such a large portion of Laudato si to concerns of the environment, Pope Francis has ensured that many, many people will make the environment part of their concerns, also.

But Pope Francis raises issues far beyond environmental awareness. He challenges all of us (not limited to Catholics) to consider “the relationship of human beings to the world”–and by extension, one’s own relationship to the world. This is the foundation of adding a moral dimension to the environmental/economic equation. In the Pope’s view, much of the economic system of the developed world is built on a foundation of ultimate environmental degradation. The introduction of another dimension (in this case, a moral/spiritual one) can only help address the imbalance of economic prosperity (for some) at the cost of environmental desecration (for too many others).

The Pope is especially concerned about how humanity relates to God’s gift of the earth. He considers the earth as a “shared inheritance” for all humanity. Not unique to Catholic teachings, the Pope elevates environmental awareness to a core moral obligation, with a strong spiritual component as well. This moral/spiritual component transforms the economic/environmental discussion from a duopoly into a triangle. As the zone of discussion widens, the ultimate results will probably be different than what we have now in terms of development.

I have read several commentaries to the effect that the Pope’s words will remain that, simply words. They will fail in the realm of realpolitick, I think that is beside the point. The strongest impact of the Pope’s words will be how they are absorbed and repeated, both within the Catholic Church as part of significant Church teaching, and probably even more importantly, by laypeople (not just Catholics) who are inspired by the Pope’s message of adding a moral and spiritual dimension to their consideration of how economic growth and environmental awareness should interact.

Sustainable Communities

May 31, 2015

Star GraphicI recently learned that my township, (Abington), has been selected for the STAR Leadership Community Program. STAR stands for Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating communities. This is a program that enables communities to evaluate themselves on a range of livability/sustainability measures. These measures go across a wide variety of areas. These include areas with obvious environmental implications like “built environment”, “climate and energy”, and “natural systems”. However, it also includes areas like “Economy and Jobs”, “Education, Arts, and Community”, “Equity and Empowerment”, and “Health and Safety”. Some of the more specific items are “Public Spaces”, “Greening the Energy Supply”, “Social and Cultural Diversity”, “Equitable Services and Access”, “Local Economy” and “Food Access and Nutrition”, plus about 40 more.

I really had not thought a lot about a community’s sustainability before; I have been focused on how businesses (and I, in my daily life) have been incorporating sustainability. Thinking about sustainability from a community point of view is a different perspective. Thinking about what makes a community “sustainable”, vs, myself or a business is a very interesting process.

In my thinking, I start with the strictly environmental aspects. There are many good things happening in Abington on this front. Some of these are (as listed in 1 recent newsletter): A workshop for a bicycle plan for the township, an electronic recycling event, a listing of places for free mulch and compost (I picked up mine already), a website to find clean energy electric supplies (at a price cheaper than the wind contract I have), and a notice that Abington is now an official Audubon Bird Town.

From a community-wide perspective, sustainability goes beyond the environmental aspects. For me, it expands into “what makes this a good place to live, that others want to come to?” The natural first answer is economic vibrancy. We have many businesses here; some are unique mom and pop businesses, but we also have some national chains like Target as well as the Willow Grove Mall. All of these provide retail options for customers, some employment, and especially important from my point of view, tax revenues that help keep the Abington schools strong. Good schools are a proven way to keep a community desirable. I want the variety of retail options to stay here–for many reasons.

Beyond the economy, there are other aspects included in the STAR ratings that I should think about in terms of community sustainability. These include, but are not limited too, education/arts, social justice, and health measures. I classify these more under the “liveability” aspects of the STAR rating systems. Ready access to artistic outlets are proven draws for bringing people into communities. I see the social justice type rankings as measuring how broadly spread the benefits of living in a highly rated STAR community are. The health measures are easy to overlook; but if one thinks about it, it is difficult to imagine a viable community if its residents have an above average number of health problems.

The whole STAR process has expanded my thinking on the possibilities of what “sustainability” is. I do think there has to be a strong environmental component, but beyond that it has to do with your perspective. If you are an individual, you would probably tend to focus on the aspects that mean the most to you. In my case, I tend to focus on the environmental and the economic, even though I very much appreciate the fact that Abington Hospital is an easy drive from my house. If I were an artist, I would focus on the cultural outlets. If I felt locked out of the system, I would focus on the social justice aspects. The STAR system is broad enough to include many different perspectives, including mine, but not only mine. I’m glad I’ll have a chance to help in some small way.

The STAR Communities website

The City of Brotherly Love

April 30, 2015


Love Park is an iconic part of Philadelphia, centered on the famous LOVE statue which is practically a symbol for the city. Aesthetically and functionally, it has seen much better days. For several years, the City of Philadelphia and several design firms have been working to re-imagine and renovate Love Park. The final design features a significant expansion of green space as compared to the present Love Park. In addition, the welcome center at the southwest corner (known as the “saucer building”) will be renovated with many “green building” features.

The new Love Park will have not one, but 2 garden zones, a couple of lawns and a tree grove or two. All of this green space will surround a rebuilt main fountain. The main LOVE statue will remain, albeit potentially moved a few feet. The central visual axis of the park, which in effect connects City Hall to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and beyond, will remain.

The saucer building will be outfitted with new energy efficient translucent windows, a green roof, and significantly enhanced HVAC systems. This will reduce the building’s carbon footprint and help reconnect the building to the rest of the park, enhancing the experience of being in both.

If all goes according to plan, a new Love Park will be under construction in 2016, with the rebuilt Love Park opening by 2017.

The Design of the New Love Park


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