Month: March, 2015
Reeling from the icy burn of 2014’s Polar Vortex, everyone wondered how 2015 would compare. Twelve months later, now that it seems like the worst is behind us, we can finally get down to business and determine which winter hit us harder, from an energy perspective of course. To do this, we’ll look at three factors: heating degree days, natural gas prices, and electric prices.
When did we need more heat?
During which winter did New Yorkers crank up the heat more? We can find out by looking at the Heating Degree Days. Heating Degree Days is a measurement of required heating demand based on the daily number of degrees below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, if it’s 60 degrees outside, that equals 5 heating degree days. These add up over the course of the winter months. You can see in the chart below, in November 2013, there were 585 heating degree days. This measurement also makes an excellent guide for gauging the impact of a cold winter, or polar vortex, as we now call it. The table below shows the monthly heating degrees days for NYC for the past two winters.
What do we see? The short story here is that while we started the 2014/2015 winter on the milder side, February 2015 takes the cake for the highest heating demand over the last two winters. In fact, it was the coldest February on record in NYC and about 23% colder than the previous winter. 2014: 0, 2015: 1.
When did we pay the most?
The Polar Vortex isn’t just about cold temperatures. Businesses and consumers also paid a lot for natural gas and electricity in the winter months due to high natural gas demand and limited pipeline capacity. But which winter was worse? The impact on prices can be seen in the spot/cash market (the daily energy market) where energy is bought the day before it is used, where the volatility is most evident and where natural gas prices have a direct impact on electric rates. The two graphs below show the local spot/cash market for last winter and this one:
These local wholesale prices typically stay in the $2.00/DTH to $4.00/DTH (DTH = dekatherm) range, but under pressure from winter demand these price rose close to $120/DTH in January 2014 and only to about $40/DTH this winter. So even though February 2015 was colder in temperature, the winter of 2013/2014 was rocked by all-time high natural gas prices. We’re giving this one to 2014. It’s a tight race. 2014: 1, 2015: 1.
And what if we look at NYC electric prices? Well, what we find is that the electric prices echo the pattern we saw in the natural gas market. The graph below compares the NYC wholesale electric prices over the past two winters.
The chart clearly shows that winter 2013/2014 was much more expensive in terms of wholesale electric (energy only), with prices reaching over $0.20/kWh (kilowatt hours) while this year’s prices peaked at approximately $0.16/kWh. Like natural gas, the cost of electricity hit us hard in 2013/14, and we have a winner. 2014:2, 2015: 1
There you have it. Despite extremely cold temperatures this year, winter 2013/2014 actually cost us more and we’re dubbing it the true polar vortex. However, given the surprise snow storm last week, are we jumping the gun on this call? Did we leave out any factors that might swing the results? Tell us what you think!
A few months ago I moved into a new apartment. When I got my first electric bill, I was shocked. I’m pretty good about turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms and I always make a habit of unplugging any unused appliances to minimize vampire load. I work at Bright Power! There’s no way I could be an energy hog. If you can’t trust the data, there’s no way to tell whether or not your efforts are making a difference, and I couldn’t trust this data.
After some innocuous investigating on my end, I found that the utility could not get access to the meter room in my building and, as a result, was estimating my usage for that month by applying the previous tenant’s consumption history to my account. Time to shut it down. I immediately called the utility company to schedule a second meter reading for the following month.
When the next month rolled around, I received my new electric bill in the mail with a second estimated meter reading. Wait…didn’t I just fix this?! Time to kick it up a notch. I decided to submit my own meter reading to the utility. When it was verified by the utility, I learned that the previous tenant was being significantly over-billed for electricity no one was actually using, and so was I.
Please learn from my mistake! Reliable and accurate data is crucial for measuring energy performance in any type of building. This is just one small example of a larger problem the energy industry faces every day.
As recently as five years ago, the only means of sharing and collecting energy information, such as weather, temperature and meter readings, was to either download large text files, scrape information from websites, or collect and save the data yourself. Prior to 2009, integrating the measurement and analysis work remained a cumbersome, inefficient, and expensive task. The industry simply had not developed an easy way of transporting information from one software application to another. Change came when energy companies and organizations began to construct what the software world refers to as “web services” and “APIs”, a network of programs built to interpret, store, and send large datasets across the internet.
To clarify, web services and APIs are definitive ways in which programs talk with each other. The advent of REST and SOAP web service standardizations at the turn of the 20th century was fundamental in changing how development teams construct software. For the energy industry specifically, it meant facilitating and embracing real-time information across devices, meters, utility companies, and other related businesses and organizations. Specialized analytical software, like EnergyScoreCards, interacts with these service points, forms complex mathematical computations and displays visual models that can be understood by people. Based on those models, analysts and engineers can make nuanced decisions on how you can save money, time, and energy.
To quantify how the landscape of energy APIs has changed over the past 5 years, I searched for lists of service definitions and combined those results. I tagged each entry with two categories, updated the developer links where possible, and scoured the internet for any date to associate with the release of the software. Where a reliable date could not be found, I guessed. The results were interesting:
- 2012 accounted for approximately 50% of the energy API’s released (caveats apply to the release dates found)
- 57% can be categorized under Energy Consumption, Solar Renewables, and Monitoring & Control.
- About 8% of the APIs released in this time period are already no longer available for use.
Why is this list important?
- Gives insight into what sections of the industry have the greatest opportunities to connect with various networks of information.
- Visually represents the rate in which new sources of information and capability are entering the market.
- Communicates which types of services are available.
The hope is that understanding which services are out there can influence the industry’s creative processes to build new and increasingly smarter energy-minded products. Also, by inspecting services across each category, it is possible to compare how different groups conceptualize their information, and to identify common themes.
Based upon the information available, it can be reasonably interpreted that the number of APIs available is growing at an exponential pace. One of the largest issues is that, because these integration points are so new, the shape and standardization of the data will become increasingly important. Another aspect to consider is that at some point, all future devices entering the market will need to be web-enabled to some capacity. Gone are the days where your thermostats and even your lightbulbs can escape the vast clutches of the internet.
Below is the list of API’s used as a reference for this piece:
February 2015 was a big month for news in the renewable energy sector as some of the biggest names in business have made huge investment commitments. It all started with Apple, who early in the month revealed plans to build an $850 million solar farm which will add 130 megawatts of new solar power to California. That’s enough energy to power about 50,000 average homes, or as Apple intends, to cover all of the company’s energy needs across the state. This includes Apple Campus 2, other California corporate offices, the data center in Newark, California, and even the 52 Apple stores in California – that’s a pretty ambitious plan.
Not to be outdone, Google announced via its Google Green Blog that it had agreed to purchase a massive amount of wind energy for its headquarters in North Bayshore as a part of the company’s commitment to being a carbon neutral company. The 24-turbine wind farm will produce 43 megawatts of electricity starting in 2016, which Google believes will offset the entire carbon footprint of their offices.
On the heels of these major announcements, Kaiser Permanente one-upped the competition by signing PPA deals for a total of 153 megawatts of solar and wind energy. Over two decades, Kaiser will purchase 110 megawatts of solar capacity and 43 megawatts in wind, all in an effort to cut half of its electricity consumption in California.
As these corporate titans make major inroads into the renewable energy sector and take on the responsibility of their carbon footprint, they not only boost the domestic renewable energy production and output, but also set the trend for corporate sustainability efforts. Deals such as these three can only be good omens for the future of the renewable energy industry.