Quantifying the economic and environmental tradeoffs of electricity mixes in Texas, including energy efficiency potential using the Rosenfeld effect as a basis for evaluation
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Electricity is a complex and interesting topic for research and investigation. From a systems level, electricity includes many steps from its generation (power plants) to transmission and distribution to delivery and final use. Within each of these steps are a set of tradeoffs that are region-specific, depending heavily on the types of generation technologies and input fuels used to generate the electricity. These tradeoffs are complex and often not positively correlated to one another, producing a web of information that makes conclusions regarding the net benefit of changes to the electricity generation mix unobvious and difficult to determine using general rules of thumb. As individuals look to change the mix of technologies and fuels used to generate electricity for environmental or economic reasons, this complex web results in a lack of clarity and understanding of the consequences of particular choices. Quantitative tools could provide individuals with clear information and improved understanding of the tradeoffs associated with changes to the electricity mix. Unfortunately, prior to this research, no such tools existed that provided a clear, rigorous, and unbiased quantitative comparison of the region-specific environmental and economic tradeoffs associated with changes to the electricity mix. This research filled this gap by developing a methodology for calculating the environmental and economic impacts of changes to the electricity generation mix for individual regions. This methodology was applied specifically to Texas to develop the Texas Interactive Power Simulator (TIPS), an interactive online tool accessible via the internet. This tool is currently used for direct instruction at The University of Texas at Austin for undergraduate courses. Preliminary data were collected to determine the usefulness of this tool as a classroom aid. These data revealed that a majority of students enjoy using the TIPS tool, felt that they learned about the tradeoffs of electricity generation methods by using TIPS, and wish that there were more learning tools like TIPS available to them. This research also investigated the potential to use energy efficiency to satisfy a portion of the electricity demand that would otherwise be supplied using a generation technology. The methodology and series of decision criteria that were developed with this investigation were used to determine the amount of generation that could reasonably be satisfied with energy efficiency technologies and supportive policies for a particular region of interest, in this case Texas. This methodology was established using the Rosenfeld Effect as a basis for evaluating the energy efficiency potential in a specific region, providing a more realistic maximum energy efficiency value than using theoretical maximum gains based on current best available technology. It was then compared to efficiency potential estimates by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT). In this research, I found that Texas is unlikely to realize more than an annual savings of 11% or about 1.5 megawatt-hours per capita compared to 2007 use levels based on nominal energy efficiency approaches. When this potential savings was applied to offset future demand increases in Texas, it was found that new generation capacity would still be needed over the next few decades to meet increasing total electricity demand. I used the economic and environmental tradeoff analysis and energy efficiency limitations methodologies that I established in my research to calculate the economic and environmental tradeoffs of changes to the electricity mix resulting from several scenarios, including federal energy and climate legislation, nuclear renaissance, high wind power growth, and maximizing energy efficiency. The outputs from these scenarios yielded the following observations: 1. Energy efficiency is unlikely to replace more than 11% of total per capita electricity demand in Texas. This level of energy efficiency might reduce total demand in the state, but population growth and its corresponding impacts on state electricity use might outpace the savings from energy efficiency in the long-term. This population growth could result in an overall increase in total annual state electricity use, despite energy efficiency gains. 2. While nuclear power might be environmentally advantageous from the standpoint of total emission of greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuel-fired power plants, it has very high up-front capital costs and is very water-intensive. 3. A federal combined energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standard might require states to install new renewable power generation capacity. In some states, including Texas, the amount of required new generation capacity may be small because of existing state initiatives encouraging renewable generation capacity to be installed in the state and the potential to offset some generation requirements using energy efficiency.