Empowering a Clean-Energy Future with the Energy Innovation Task Force

Energy Innovation Task Force programs

In the year since our last directory reported on the formation and goals of the Energy Innovation Task Force (EITF), this energized group of local leaders has been making progress in developing an understanding of our region’s current energy challenges and crafting strategies for our clean-energy future.

Comprised of leaders from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Duke Energy Progress, UNC Asheville, area businesses and nonprofits like Green Built Alliance, the EITF is charged with creating strategies to transition our region to a clean-energy future and gathers monthly to discuss the path to that goal.

What’s at stake

As Duke Energy Progress plans to retire its coal plant in 2020 and build two new natural gas plants, we are at a crossroads.

Will we rise to the challenges of dramatically cutting our use of fossil fuel energy? Or will we stay a gluttonous group of Americans who use more than three times the amount of energy as the global average?

To rally toward a cleaner energy future, the EITF was formed with two main goals:

  • To avert the need for an 186-megawatt natural gas peaker plant by 2023. This peaker plant would only be scheduled to be used a few times a year on the coldest winter mornings. Peaker plants are like big jet enginespowerful and inefficient.
  • To transition Western North Carolina to a cleaner, smarter and more affordable energy future, rooted in community collaboration.

Now the hard part. How do we rise to this challenge and meet these goals?

What we’ve learned

The research completed in the past year has shed light on the challenge at hand.

Our unique climate and energy-use patterns show a winter peak driven by people’s need to stay warm on the year’s coldest days. Our high energy use and demand on cold days is driven by the fact that many of our area’s residents live in leaky houses with very inefficient heating systems.

Demand is the amount of electricity needed at any given time. The “peak” is the apex of that demand, and the “base load” is what is needed at all times. Electricity use, on the other hand, is how much electricity is consumed over a period of time.

The base load of our region is 550 megawatts, but during those winter mornings where temperatures plummet below 20 degrees, that demand doubles to a peak of over 1125 megawatts. We only reach this peak for a few hours per year.

Those with HVACs will see a dramatic rise in energy use due to the use of “heat strips,” which is like using a giant hairdryer to heat a house. These heat strips come on when it’s super cold and drive up electricity use to keep homes comfortable when it is frigid outside.

In-depth research from Rocky Mountain Institute has shown that by making our homes and buildings more energy-efficient as well as implementing demand reduction strategies, we can avoid the need for the peaker plant and use this opportunity to redirect focus and funds toward the clean-energy future we envision.

What’s emerging

The City of Asheville and Buncombe County are providing leadership by establishing programs to support energy-efficiency upgrades for nonprofits and low income families.

One innovative initiative is Buncombe County’s creation of its Clean Energy Fund to help nonprofits pay for energy-efficiency upgrades, which will lower the organizations’ costs and carbon footprint. Buncombe County is also planning a 4-to-5-megawatt solar farm to sit atop an old landfill and is in installing LED lighting in all the local public schools.

The City of Asheville is providing education for contractors, researching ways to incentivize energy efficiency through the planning process, and supporting efforts to upgrade the homes of low-income households.

In collaboration with the Atlanta-based Southface Energy Institute, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Buncombe County, City of Asheville, and Green Built Alliance are looking to bring the Better Buildings Challenge to town. This program would invite local businesses that own commercial buildings to set energy-reduction goals (typically 20 percent), and then motivate and educate each other on what actions need to be taken to achieve those goals.

Upgrades to the grid are coming to the area in 2018. Advanced metering infrastructure, also known as AMI or smart meters, will be installed throughout Duke Energy Progress’ territory. These meters will allow the utility to manage how much electricity is being delivered at a specific time, assist in restoring power during grid outages, and provide more information on how to more efficiently manage energy use.

Duke is also planning to install 15 megawatts of battery storage throughout Western North Carolina. These batteries will help stabilize the grid during periods of high demand, reduce the need for the peaker plant, and lower the carbon footprint of power generation by charging batteries when there is excess electricity available and draining them when more is needed. The specific sites of the batteries hasn’t yet been disclosed, however the plan is to distribute them in a few strategic locations that could most benefit from this technology.

Green Built Alliance has been participating along the way by leading the EITF’s Programs Work Group, meeting with community leaders, supporting Duke in the evolution of its programs, and implementing projects such as those of Appalachian Offsets to directly mitigate carbon emissions.

As of this writing in the summer of 2017, we are awaiting a community marketing campaign from the Shelton Group, the nation’s leading marketing firm for energy efficiency and sustainability. Based on a sneak preview of their quirky and connective ads, we are excited to have their support in promoting this initiative and engaging the community. We are also awaiting Duke’s response to our recommendations for program improvements.

If you feel inspired to support this effort, start by making your home as energy-efficient as possible. There are many programs and technologies to help you do this, and conservation behaviors will help reduce the need for fossil fuels. Tell all of your friends and family how you are choosing a brighter and healthier future. Only through a community effort can we eliminate the need for this fossil fuel power plant and steer toward a clean-energy future.

Visit our website throughout the coming year for the latest updates on the EITF’s progress and your opportunities to get involved.

How You Can Help

  • Switch all your lights to LEDs.
  • Enroll in the Energy Wise Home program, which depending on your home’s eligibility, could offer $75 off your electric bill each year. The program cycles certain appliances off for short periods of time during peak energy use, and most participants report they don’t notice a difference.
  • Enroll in Duke’s Home Energy House Call, where they will send a professional to your home to install LED light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, and faucet aerators, as well as make recommendations on other energy-saving upgrades.
  • Insulate and air-seal your attic.
  • Have a professional inspect your HVAC duct system to ensure it is working properly.
  • When buying a new heat source, consider mini-splits, cold climate heat pumps, and geothermal systems. If you choose an HVAC, make sure it is one designed for cold-weather climates.
  • When replacing a hot water heater, upgrade to a solar hot water heater or heat pump water heater.
  • Explore the directory listings at the back of this guide to find professionals who can help you with any of the above projects or other energy-efficiency improvements.
  • Seek out Duke’s available rebates when making home improvements. They offer rebates for upgrades related to HVACs, insulation, heat pump water heaters, duct repairs and more.

Sam Ruark-Eastes is the executive director of Green Built Alliance and sits on the Energy Innovation Task Force. He has spent two decades working in the field of sustainability with local governments, small businesses and nonprofits. Get in touch with Sam at Sam@greenbuilt.org.

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 32 of the 2017-18 edition of the directory.