Tag Archives: wind power

Taking Control of Your Household Energy Mix: Renewable Energy with Clean Choice Energy

Taking up the cause of supporting renewable energy in lieu of traditional carbon-emitting fossil fuels has become increasingly popular in recent years, as people strive to do what they can to fight climate change, reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, and support localized energy resources that minimize harm to the environment. However finding something that everyday citizens can do to help the development and use of renewable energy is sometimes difficult:

But that may be changing as companies like Clean Choice Energy entering the market and providing everyday people the option to get their power from regional renewable energy sources. Clean Choice Energy allows eligible utility customers to agree to pay a little more and ensure that the electricity they are receiving is certified is renewable and does so without any extra equipment, new installations, or separate billing processes. For the energy-conscious consumer, Clean Choice Energy allows a small-scale participation in the energy transition in a very real and attainable way.

Source

But how does it work? Read on to learn more and read about my personal experiences with the process.



What is Clean Choice Energy?

Clean Choice Energy was founded in 2010 after Tom Matzzie (founder and CEO) wanted to install renewable energy into his home but found the process much more difficult than he thought it would be, which is a predicament Americans everywhere have encountered. The frustration of that process is what led to the birth of Clean Choice Energy. The basic concept centers around the idea that supporting new renewable energy development and continued generation costs more in the short term due to higher capital costs (while natural gas plants have installation costs of $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity, solar ranges from $2,000 to $3,700 per kilowatt and wind ranges from $1,200 to $1,700). So while in the long term, the ‘free’ nature of solar and wind to fuel the renewable energy brings the actual costs per energy generated of these projects below those of most non-renewable projects (see chart below), there exists a high upfront cost barrier to entry in the market.

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To overcome this cost barrier of renewable energy projects, Clean Choice Energy allows regular consumers to pay a little more every month to ensure that the power going into your home comes from 100% renewable sources. Giving the customer this flexibility is crucial, as power companies strive to keep their customers happy and prevent the prices from going up without cause. This goal to not raise prices, both prices for the customer and the price for the utility to generate energy, reduces the incentive for the utility to investment more in renewable power sources. While 29 states have mandatory requirements concerning the minimum amount of a utility’s portfolio that must come from renewable sources, many customers would still prefer to have more renewable energy in their personal energy mix and would even be willing to pay for that privilege. That preference is where Clean Choice Energy comes in, offering customers with the ability and desire to pay more for 100% renewable energy the option to do so. Not only do individuals who sign their household up get the satisfaction of knowing their lights and appliances are powered with solar and wind energy, but they can also be proud that their money is helping the feedback loop where more people buying renewable energy leads to more capital to invest and improve the renewable technologies which leads to more affordable renewable energy which causes more people to buy in, etc.

How does it work?

If the broad concept of buying into renewable energy sources for your household sounds appealing, then the general question of how exactly it works is the next logical step. Pretty much all possible questions are answered on Clean Choice Energy’s website, but the process is surprisingly simple and straight forward.

Getting your renewable power

When signing up with Clean Choice Energy, most locations have available both month-to-month contracts or full 12 month plans, though both can be cancelled at any point without delay or cancellation fee.

Once signed up, your household will begin to get its renewable power typically within one billing cycle, by the next meter read date. Your overall electricity and connection to the grid will not see any service interruption at all, and in fact everything on the customer’s end (wiring, equipment, billing process, utility company to contact with any issues) stays exactly the same. All that changes is that the utility will begin to get the electricity for your household from regional solar and wind resources as set up by Clean Choice Energy.

Clean Choice Energy’s standard clean plan is Green-e Energy certified, ensuring compliance with the standards put forth in Clean Choice Energy’s mission. When you get your power traditionally from the grid, it includes electricity from all the sources that utility uses– coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable sources. However once your household is a part of Clean Choice Energy, all your power will be accounted for from 100% regionally-based, clean, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar and not any blended products that contribute to fossil fuels or nuclear power. This end is achieved by making sure that all the energy from your meter reading is matched by Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which is what the customer is paying a premium to obtain.

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Billing

A crucial question for anybody considering a switch to Clean Choice Energy is how much their rates and monthly bill will be affected. Unfortunately, there is not a single or simple answer. The rates charged by Clean Choice Energy change from month to month because the renewable energy (i.e., the RECs) is bought on an open market where prices and availability fluctuate. As such, your bill is not going to increase by a fixed amount or fixed percentage, rather you agree to pay for the most affordable regional clean energy source that Clean Choice Energy finds in that particular month. However if this uncertainty is not ideal, Clean Choice Energy does, in certain locations, offer a fixed-rate price plan that you can discuss with them.

Once the next meter read date passes and you are officially getting renewable power via Clean Choice Energy, you will still continue to receive your only electric bill from the same utility. The only difference will be that ‘CleanChoice Energy’ will show up on that bill as your electricity supplier.

Availability

Because Clean Choice Energy is only available where it has specific agreements set up with the area’s utility, it is not an option everywhere in the United States. Currently, Clean Choice Energy serves both residential and commercial customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. However they are also continuing their expansion efforts and expect to enter into Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas in the future. Being in these states, though, is not all that is required, as you also must be a customer of the specific utilities in those states with which Clean Choice Energy has agreements. These applicable utilities can be found here.

My experience and review

Process of joining

One of Clean Choice Energy’s most significant and important claims is just how simple it is to sign up and start getting your renewable energy– no installation, no equipment, no headaches. To this claim, I can attest to its truth. I got a letter in the mail advertising that my apartment was eligible to switch, I went to the link I was provided, and within minutes I had completed my process of switching to 100% renewable energy. It actually was that easy!

Shortly after that, I received a welcome envelope in the mail, laid out and shown below, which came with a welcome letter, a sticker, a list of customer rights & responsibilities, and a detailed explanation about the type of power I was to receive.

After that, though, the required correspondence  with Clean Choice Energy was complete. At that point, everything was done through my existing power company, just as advertised. The next full bill I received from my utility (relevant excerpt shown below) replaced the utility’s supply charges with ‘CleanChoice supply charges.’ Again, the price change is variable and depends on your region– but for the below consecutive months from right before and right after I joined Clean Choice Energy, the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (with 383 kWh used in the last month before Clean Choice Energy and 617 kWh used in the first month with Clean Choice Energy and the first month all year I had used my heater) went up by 33%, while the distribution charges remain unaffected:

While that price hike is certainly enough to prevent some people from making the switch, I personally view it as a small token towards ‘walking the walk’ with respect towards supporting renewable energy, especially given the impact that doing so has.

Impact

In terms of what the impact of your switching to 100% renewable energy is, that entirely depends on your utility’s existing energy mix and your power usage. However Clean Choice Energy does provide a tool to look at the impact of your personal switch. Here’s the tally from my November electricity usage through Clean Choice Energy:

After using 241 kWh with Clean Choice Energy’s 100% renewable sources, my switch for that month accounted for 370 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions averted (the equivalent of planting 4.3 trees) and 178 pounds of coal not burned. Not only that, but Clean Choice Energy also keeps a running tracker of the impact of all Clean Choice Energy customers– with this screenshot taken as of December 29th, 2017:

In addition to the direct and measurable impact of switching to renewable energy, customers can also be confident that they are helping to invest in renewable energy sources in their local regions, which will hopefully help them become more affordable, profitable, and expansive. On a micro-level, I have also found that the decision to switch to Clean Choice Energy, and the higher electricity prices that come with it, has helped encourage me to reduce my own energy use. Whether that means turning off the lights more often or waiting until I have a full load in the washing machine before running it, the higher cost per kWh is incentive to reduce personal energy usage.

Conclusion

I’ve been a customer with Clean Choice Energy for over a year now, even making sure to transfer it to a new building when I moved apartments. If that’s not endorsement, then I don’t know what is! But again, more than being simple to do, using Clean Choice Energy serves as a token towards a better and greener energy future. While wind and solar power have grown a great deal recently (up to a combined 115 gigawatts of capacity in 2017 from just 17 gigawatts in 2007), renewable energy still accounts for less than 17% of total U.S. Power generation according to the Energy Information Administration. Investment and buy-in from customers that were unreachable before a program like Clean Choice Energy will be one of the driving forces to make renewable energy an even stronger force in the utility market than it already is.

How do you get started?

If reading all this is enough to get you interested, there are a couple of ways you can get started. First, make sure the specific utility in your state is included in Clean Choice Energy’s available partners. If it looks available to you, you can use this link to sign up (full disclosure: that is my personal referral link, and if you sign up using it then both you and I receive a $25 Visa gift card; if you prefer a non-referral link, then click here to sign up). You can also call them directly at 1-800-460-4900 to start the sign up process. If it turns out Clean Choice Energy is not option for you, call up your utility. There’s always a chance they have an internal program with similar goals, and if not then use your voice to let them know you want greener and cleaner energy!

Sources and additional reading

Barriers to Renewable Energy Technologies: Union of Concerned Scientists

Clean Choice Energy

Google, Apple, Facebook Race Towards 100% Renewable Energy Target: The Guardian

How Corporations ‘Bypassed the Politics’ to Lead on Clean Energy in 2017: Green Tech Media

Power plants’ costs and value to the grid are not easily reflected using simple metrics: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Renewable Energy Certificates: Environmental Protection Agency

Short-Term Energy Outlook: Energy Information Administration

State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals: National Conference of State Legislatures

Sunshine State lags on solar power, doubles down on natural gas: USA Today

The Bottom Line on Electric Cars: They are Cheaper to Own: Forbes

What Good is the Electric Car if Nobody Can Afford It? Cheap Electric Cars on the Horizon: Steemit

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Brewed with Renewable Energy- Best Beers for the Green Consumer

As microbreweries and craft beers have really blown up in recent years, it’s easy to forget that the beer brewing process goes back millennia.  Archaeologists have noted that nomads may have made beer before making bread, ancient Babylonian’s kept beer recipes on clay tablets, and European monasteries in the Middle Ages took beer brewing out of the home and into centralized production.

All of this ancient brewing was fairly unstandardized, relying on fermentation and chemical reactions and, when needed, cooking by fire.  It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the production of beer scaled up massively, inventions came along to ensure the consistency of brewing, and the energy required to brew beer became substantial, powered by the revolutionary steam engine. Since that time, the energy intensity of brewing beer became substantial– today’s breweries typically use 50-66 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per barrel of beer. With a barrel of beer containing 2 kegs of beer and an average U.S. home using 10,812 kWh  per year in 2015, that means that it takes  less than 400 kegs of beer production to account for an entire household’s annual energy use– while places like Boardy Barn in Hamptons Bay, Long Island can sell up to 600 kegs in a single day!



All this lead up is to get to the question– why do you care? Well at the time that craft brewing has come out of the niche to become mainstream, so has personal responsibility to be energy and environmentally conscious. So at the intersection of these two pushes is the trend of breweries to utilize renewable energy in their production process. This post is meant to not only call out and give props to all the breweries that are incorporating green practices into their fuel mix, but to show you the best tasting beers you can buy that are ALSO incorporating the most renewable energy production.

In short– green beer appears to be a brewery cultural movement (and not just with food coloring you put in one day a year)!

Methodology

As stated in the introduction, the goal of this fun exercise is to cross-list breweries who have publicly available their power generation from renewable energy or their total renewable energy generation capacity with a rating of the most popular beer brewed at that brewery. As such, the methodology can be broken out by energy and by beer:

Energy

Many breweries today are installing renewable energy generation, and luckily for this exercise they also love to talk about it. And why shouldn’t they? Making publicly available your renewable energy generation is not only great PR for a brand, but it can also lead to other breweries making the energy conscious decisions as they follow the leaders in the industry. As such, you can usually count on breweries to advertise their use of renewable energy:

Source

With this in mind, the data collected all came from publicly available sources– a section on a brewery’s website about sustainability, a news article announcing a new solar system install, etc. Based on what data was and was not available, it made the most sense to collect and rate based on total capacity of renewable energy used at the brewery. As a result, the following factors were not considered:

  • The percentage of energy use at a brewery that is accounted for by renewable energy (apologies to the smaller breweries that have a large percentage, or even all, of their energy use come from renewable energy– obviously the larger breweries have more energy use overall and thus have a higher ceiling for total installed capacity, but this analysis is only counting the raw total capacity);
  • Commitments to switch to renewable energy in the future (though there will be a list of ‘honorable mention’ breweries with such initiatives at the end);
  • The installation of renewable energy sources without the listing of capacity or energy generated (sorry to these breweries, you’ll be in the honorable mentions as well); and
  • Energy savings, energy efficiency initiates, and sustainable practices that don’t include installation of renewable energy (these will also be included in ‘honorable mentions’ to give credit where credit is due).

Beer

After assembling the list of breweries with renewable energy capacity, it sounded fun to cross-list those capacities with the rating of the most popular beer at that brewery to find the ultimate beer to reach for at the bar or grocery story that tastes great and contributes to the world’s renewable energy supply. BeerAdvocate.com was used as the repository for information on beer ratings, as it had the most extensive and widely available information for this process.

For each brewery identified on the below list, the beer with the most ratings on BeerAdvocate.com was identified as the most popular beer. The most popular beer was chosen to ensure a high sample size of ratings and to best represent the beer made at that brewery. So while there may be beers more highly regarded at the breweries identified, the chosen most popular beer is more likely to be that brewery’s flagship beer and accounts for the highest portion of the brewery’s production energy compared with any other beer.

Results

Below is a table of the 57 breweries found with advertised renewable energy capacity, with the greatest capacity at the top.  After a quick glance at this table, a few tidbits jump out:

  • Renewable capacities found on this list starts at 10 kilowatts (kW) and goes all the way up to 3,733 kW (or 3.7 megawatts). This wide range shows how varied the efforts are to incorporate renewable energy, from a small solar system that only has minor contributions to overall operations to a massive renewable energy installation that contributes most (if not all) of a brewery’s power needs.
  • Solar power is by far the most prevalent form of renewable energy found at breweries. This may seem striking, but it actually makes sense because solar systems are the easiest and most feasible system to install on a building basis. Other forms of renewable energy (wind power, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass) are not as well suited for individual building complexes to harness.
  • Heineken, as a parent company, appears several times towards the top of the list. Many of these breweries existed for many years before Heineken bought them, but it does appear to be a trend that breweries have become more likely to install renewable energy capacity after being brought under the Heineken umbrella.
  • There is also a clear spread of locations where these renewable energy breweries are located, on both coasts of the United States as well as three other continents. We’ll look into this more in a later graphic.

The next step is to plot these renewable capacities against the rating of the most popular beer. See the below graphs for this visual. When shown this way, a couple more conclusions can be made:

  • It turns out that the beer from the brewery with the highest renewable energy capacity (The Abyss from Deschutes Brewery) is actually the one with the highest rating on this list, making the decision at the bar that much easier!
  • However, dedication to renewable energy does not necessarily correlate with a well-received beer, as Birra Moretti (Heineken) and MillerCoors have discovered.
  • While a smattering of breweries have made the commitment to exceed a megawatt of renewable energy capacity, the majority of breweries have started smaller in the 500 kW range.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The last graphic put together is a map to represent where these breweries are spread across the country and the world. These maps show the top 20 breweries by capacity, with the size of the beer mug icon representing the relative size of that capacity (though note that between the U.S. map and the world map, scale of the maps are accounted for. For example, the Anheuser-Busch brewery has about half the capacity as the Namibia Breweries Limited. However because the U.S. map is about twice as big, both of these beer mug icons appear the same size).

The conclusions to be drawn from these maps include the following:

  • Within the United States, the most breweries with the most renewable energy capacity are mostly focused on the coastal regions. Specifically, the largest capacities are found on the West Coast in California and Oregon. These are two states that are known to have among the most progressive energy policies, so it’s no surprise that breweries in these states have jumped in feet first to the renewable energy revolution.
  • The United States does not have a monopoly at all when it comes to beer brewed with renewable energy. Not only are there a number of prominent breweries with renewable energy in Europe, but both the African and Asian continents are represented as well.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Honorable Mentions

As mentioned in the methodology section, there were a number of breweries that have initiatives in energy efficiency, sustainability, or other ‘green’ practices that were unable to be captured in this exercise that purely focused on renewable energy capacity. However, it only seems appropriate to still give these breweries a shout out for the positive efforts being put forth as well.

(Updated Honorable Mentions after originally posted– please keep these suggestions coming!)

  • Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia became Pennsylvania’s first 100% wind-powered brewery in 2011 (though figures on the total capacity were not available, which is the only reason they’re in the honorable mentions and not the main results).
  • Sawdust City Brewing in Ontario, Canada treats their wastewater on site.
  • Cowbell Brewing Co. is North America’s first 100% carbon neutral brewery.
  • Beau’s Brewery was the first Canadian brewery to be powered by 100% ‘green electricity.’
  • Sleeping Giant Brewing Company uses a host of sustainable practices, including the increasing use of renewable energy.
  • Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto sources its energy from 100% renewable sources (also no mention of total use/capacity, so can’t add to the main results).
  • Rock Art Brewery became Vermont’s first 100% solar powered brewery in 2017.
  • The Alchemist in Vermont also sources nearly 100% of its energy from a local solar farm.
  • Moonraker Brewing Company boasts 1,100 solar panels on site.
If you know any other breweries that should be included in either the main results or these honorable mentions, please reach out to me by commenting here or heading to the contact page to let me know. Hopefully all breweries who deserve their pat on the back can get them!

Sources and Additional Reading

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev commits to 100 percent renewable energy: CNBC

Beer History Timeline: BeerHistory.com

BeerAdvocate.com

Carlsberg aims to produce beer with renewable energy: Justmeans

Deschutes Brewery 2015 Sustainability Story: Deschutes Brewery

Early History of Brewing: Michigan State University

Green Beer Not Just for St. Patrick’s Day: Power Finance & Risk

Prost! 5 Breweries Embracing Renewable Energy: Renewable Energy World

Renewable Heating and Cooling for Breweries: Environmental Protection Agency

Renewables roadshow: how the people of Newtown got behind solar-powered beer

Top 50 Solar Beer Breweries: Solar Plaza (and all sources cited therein)

What is the Combined Heat and Power System (CHP)?: Yuengling Brewery

Wind Powered Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co. 

 

Updated on 10/6/17 to fix units

Updated on 10/8 to include additional breweries (Yard Brewing Co., Sawdust City Brewing, Cowbell Brewing Co., Beau’s Brewery, Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, Steam Whistle Brewing, Rock Art Brewery, The Alchemist, and Moonraker Brewing Company). 

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.