Group Presents Energy Vision of the Future

In an effort to lead the city of Austin into a true new clean energy economy, in late 2008 Austin Energy, the City Council of Austin, the University of Texas, private corporations and the Environmental Defense Fund teamed up in what is known as the Pecan Street Project. The group set out to perform research and develop a set of recommendations that will help usher in transformative change to the way energy is generated, managed and delivered in the city. The group released those recommendations today.

The collaborators, which included more than 200 volunteers, hope that their recommendations will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

The Pecan Street Project report (downloadable here) includes more than 39 recommendations on how to transform electricity delivery into a customer-focused clean energy system.  It is divided into two sections. The first section offers a detailed explanation of the rationale for the project and the process the group employed during 2009.  The second section lists the 39 recommendations related to Austin Energy, water management, public policy, economic development and job training.

The Pecan Street Project encompasses the smart grid but goes even further into the technology requirements, water management issues, job creation and economic development aspects of transforming the way energy is generated and delivered.

“This is one of the most innovative energy projects in the country,” said Pecan Street Project, Inc. board member Jose Beceiro of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, “and we anticipate it will attract new cleantech talent and companies to Austin’s growing clean energy economy.”

A Vision and a Nightmare

From the utility perspective, Austin Energy was particularly interested in how the organization must change its business model in order to adapt to a new clean energy environment. 

Former general manager at Austin Energy, Roger Duncan is president of the Pecan Street Project Inc. board.  He stated in a conference call that Austin Energy realized it was looking at “vision and a nightmare.”  The utility envisioned one day when all the buildings in the city generated their own power.  The nightmare was that it didn’t have the business model to support that.  Some of the Pecan Street Project recommendations revolve around energy pricing.

From the report:

The Pecan Street Project team recommendations, therefore, include aggressive testing by Austin Energy of the feasibility of truly new pricing structures that accelerate its shift from a volume-driven commodity provider to one that better integrates energy efficiency, smart grid technology and significant amounts of distributed generation.

For example, imagine Austin Energy not as a rate-charging commodity provider but as a fee-based service provider. Customers could sign up for a service plan for a fixed cost per month. For that fee, they get all the power they need, within a tested and predetermined range. In exchange for the predictable flat fee, they would agree to become energy partners– not just customers – with Austin Energy. They’d make their rooftops available to solar equip­ment owned by Austin Energy. They’d agree to reduced-cost appliance upgrades such as solar water heaters. They’d participate in Austin Energy’s demand response program, which might cycle off their air conditioners in 15-minute increments on the city’s hottest days. They’d agree to limit their peak use of non-essential appliances in favor of off-peak use. They would never be denied power when they need it. But they would agree that using energy at certain times – outside their service plan – would be “pay as you go,” just like tossing more garbage than will fit in your City-issued trash can is “pay as you throw.”

Many of the Pecan Street Project recommendations are being implemented in the Mueller smart grid demonstration project, which received DOE funding of US $10.4 million to supplement more than $20 million in pledged matches from participating applicants.  The demonstration project is just getting off the ground now and will run until 2014.

Watch the video below to learn more about many of the team members involved in the project and what it is trying to accomplish.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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