Clean energy technologies are booming across the globe. From rooftop solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, to electric vehicles - an increasing number of individuals are adopting cleaner ways to power their lives. But, while these technologies exist in the modern era, there is still a large gap in adoption and implementation.
The technology is expensive, so higher-income individuals and communities are more likely to benefit form the clean energy revolution. Our 2019 laureate, Clean Energy Works, focuses on bringing diverse stakeholders to the table with their utilities to explore mechanisms that can make clean energy accessible and affordable to all. We interviewed Margarita Parra, Clean Energy Works’ Transport Program Director, to learn more about the organization’s proposed solutions and what their team has been up to since winning the Keeling Curve Prize.
Clean Energy Works was founded to pursue answers to the challenges of pace and speed for the adoption of clean energy, specifically its affordability for everyone.
The climate crisis is dire, as stated by the recently released IPCC report, and we need everyone to be a part of the solution to avoid the worst. Clean energy technologies are a worthwhile alternative to divest money from fossil fuels and into renewables, but their high price continues to be a burden.
Many cost-effective, clean energy technologies have a high upfront cost with low operating costs. As a result, higher-income individuals and communities are more likely to be able to afford and benefit from clean energy than those facing the economic pressure of lower incomes.
Parra explains, “Of course, we know how the market works. Eventually, clean energy technologies will decrease in price as volume and competition increase in the market. But in the meantime, there is a need to ensure that there are a variety of ways to afford clean energy.”
So, what is the most promising solution Clean Energy Works is pursuing? Their team’s recommendation is to increase accessibility using inclusive utility investments. In short, utility companies could meet the upfront cost to invest in clean energy technologies, and then subsequently charge their consumers a small fee on their bill to cover the cost of that investment. This charge would be less than the estimated savings enlisted from the clean energy technology.
Parra explains further, “In some states, tariff-on-bill programs have been adopted. If you are a resident and you want to upgrade your electric appliances or upgrade your home and you don’t have the money to cover the upfront payment, the utility would invest in that equipment. The utility would then recover its total cost via a tariff on the electricity bill.”
This approach allows customers at any income level to not only access clean energy technology but to pay in terms that are affordable to them. And, it will inherently be more affordable than their previous electric bill because the utility’s charge is capped at 90% of the estimated savings from the clean energy upgrade. “You’re paying as you save because you don’t have to spend as much money on electricity. At the same time, you’re paying a tariff for the new equipment that will be part of your home.” Parra states.
Electrifying the national fleet of school buses
Parra specifically focuses on accessibility to clean alternatives in the transportation sector. She concentrates on public transportation, school buses in particular. She explains, “The largest public fleet in the United States is actually school buses.” There are about 500,000 across the nation. We’re advocating for ways to electrify this fleet that will affect our most vulnerable populations: children.”
Clean Energy Works’ approach on this front is to advocate for utilities to invest in the batteries and charging equipment for electric school buses. “The upfront cost of an electric school bus costs four times more than a diesel bus. Right now, that difference is so high that even if you save a lot of money, it’s hard to make it up in operation. So, we need to find an additional revenue stream.” That’s where the battery comes in.
With help from funding from the Keeling Curve Prize, the Clean Energy Works team investigated the viability of vehicle to grid technologies (V2G). They proposed that the battery chargers from the electric school buses could support two-way flow to and from the grid. This would help bring value to both the schools and the utilities.
Parra explains, “Those batteries have a lot of time where they are not moving kids; so those buses can plug into the grid. If you think about it, those buses are parked during the day, and they are parked during the summer. So, the potential to use that battery as energy storage is important.”
The Clean Energy Works team set out to demonstrate the viability of this revenue stream by partnering with Roanoke Electric in North Carolina. Roanoke Electric leased a Nissan Leaf and procured a bidirectional charger. Then, they gathered evidence on how a car in their working fleet could help with demand response through V2G and vehicle to building (V2B) integration with the utility.
“The endorsement from the Keeling Curve Prize was absolutely impactful. To get that recognition gave confidence to a leading utility that serves an economically distressed area. In partnership, we are now leveraging our work on the business case for light-duty vehicles to accelerate the deployment of electric buses. The Keeling Curve Prize gave us the strong signal of validation that we needed to pursue ground-breaking work.”
Clean Energy Works’ study with Roanoke Electric was one of the first in the county to use electric charging equipment certified for two-way current. The Keeling Curve Prize helped Clean Energy Works establish credibility and trust with project sponsors and partners. “The endorsement from the Keeling Curve Prize was absolutely impactful. To get that recognition gave confidence to a leading utility that serves an economically distressed area. In partnership, we are now leveraging our work on the business case for light-duty vehicles to accelerate the deployment of electric buses. The Keeling Curve Prize gave us the strong signal of validation that we needed to pursue ground-breaking work.” Parra shared.
Clean Energy Works wants everyone to know that there are ways to afford zero-emissions technology. Parra shared, “We need to diminish that gap, we know we don’t have a lot of time. We are working to make all cost-effective upgrades in both buildings and transportation more affordable and accessible to everyone right now.”