Energy efficiency upgrades have the potential to cut our energy consumption in half. The other half needs to be met by employing renewable energy technologies.
We need to implement renewable energy generation both at the local, distributed level and at the utility, centralized level. Distributed renewable generation can come in the form of solar panels on rooftops and Community Solar Gardens.
The Rocky Mountain Institute reports that we could generate 25% of our energy through local renewable generation sources by 2030. Centralized renewable generation can come in the form large wind farms and geothermal plants. RMI reports that 45% or our electricity could from wind farms.
Due to high initial capital costs, switching to renewables has a higher financial bill in current terms, however, due to fuel costs, the total cost by 2050 is lower than staying with fossil fuels. Plus, more of the money spent on renewables stays in the community instead going up the smoke stack.
We will be working with PRPA to implement centralized technologies and working with consumers and distribution utilities such as Fort Collins Utilities to implement distributed technologies.
What about natural gas? For now we need natural gas to supplement renewables. We also need to stay focused on developing and implementing technology to replace natural gas as quickly as possible.
Distributed renewables refers to energy generated by renewable resources distributed across the grid. Distributed renewables are important to empower individual customers (pun intended) to be a part of the energy system and increase grid reliability and security. Installing solar panels on roofs creates more local jobs than buying power from distant sources. Distributed renewables typically refers to roof top solar but could apply to biomass burning generators, small community scale wind turbines, micro-hydro, and other small scale projects that are not centrally located to serve the entire grid.
Community Solar Gardens (CSG) False: A CSG is not a neighborhood vegetable garden powered by the sun. True: A CSG is a solar array located in a prime spot within a community. Panels in the array can be bought by any customer of the utility and the utility buys power generated by the customer/owners of the solar panels.
Clean Energy Collective – Best in the Business! Clean Energy Collective is running CSG is several communities across Colorado, and hopefully coming soon to Fort Collins. Update: We got this!
Large buildings and parking lots offer a great potential to generate electricity from the roof or parking shade infrastructure. Solar leasing companies put solar panels on leased space on a large roof or parking lot and sell power to the utility to pay the lease, or the utility customer leases the solar panels from the solar company and sells the power to the utility. We could put solar panels on the parking garages and parking lots that charge electric cars sitting in the shade of the solar panels. Fully charged cars could act as storage for the grid. If a cloud passes over the solar panels, the cars underneath can provide power to the grid. This of course needs to be regulated by smart grid that doesn’t drain the car batteries or shock the grid. Spirea is a Fort Collins company working on this solution.
Biogas – Methane that can be burned in a natural gas power plant. This can come from breweries, animal factories, the city sewage treatment plant, and other sources.
Biofuel – Ethanol from agricultural byproducts, biodiesel from waste restaurant oil, or algae, or animal feed byproduct
Biomass – Wood chips from beetle kill pine, agricultural byproduct, byproducts from brewing can be burned to generate electricity and heat.
Microhydro – Small scale hydropower generation. Might be deployable on the Poudre or irrigation canals.
Wind – Small wind turbines are allowed to be erected in Fort Collins and could go up in neighborhood parks or even backyards.
Co-gen – Industrial processes that create heat could use that heat to generate electricity.
PRPA is the Platte River Power Association. They are the wholesale power provider to, and are managed by, the cities of Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and Estes Park. PRPA owns the Rawhide coal power plant as well as four natural gas plants, 16% of the Craig coal power plant, and a large wind farm in Wyoming.