When you think of weather and ducks, you generally picture a rainy Washington day. But to energy geeks, the duck has become closely associated with wind and sunshine.
Why? Well, if you look at a graph illustrating electricity you use during the day, it resembles a duck - a high tail in the early morning hours, a big dip in its back during the middle of the day, and a very long neck in the late afternoon and evening when people return home and start cooking dinner, washing dishes and doing laundry. That's what utility operators call the "duck curve."
In 2006, Washington voters approved Initiative 937, mandating an increased use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. The challenge with renewable power, though, is the timing. Solar power peaks in the afternoon, right in the middle of the duck's back. And wind power often peaks at night when most people are asleep.
Juggling these resources poses a real challenge for those who manage Washington's electrical grid. And some critics use the duck curve to support the argument for rolling back our renewable portfolio standards.
I strongly disagree. The Regulatory Assistance Project, a global, non-profit team of energy experts focused on the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the power and natural gas sectors, has produced a report that shows there are readily-available options to flatten the curve while integrating more renewable energy into the grid. Most of these focus on improved energy storage, variable pricing and customer education.
For example, one utility in Texas found itself with a huge surplus of wind power late at night when demand for electricity is at a minimum. To cut use during peak hours, the company offers free electricity between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. - prime time for charging electric appliances and vehicles, or running the dishwasher and clothes dryer on a timer.
Other utilities are offering smart phone apps that not only empower the customer with personalized advice for keeping comfortable and saving energy all year long, but also inform and motivate them on how to manage their energy consumption and save money.
What are we doing here in Washington to more efficiently integrate renewable energy into our power grid in the future?
I have always focused on breaking down barriers for renewable generation; in fact during the great recession, jobs in the solar industry in Washington increased by 13 percent because of policies we have have adopted.
We need to also start focusing technologies that enable renewable energy. The legislature recently updated the criteria for power purchases by utilities in Washington state. The process is called integrated resource planning. For the first time, utilities must consider the value and reliability of technologies that enable renewable energy like solar and wind.
If you care about clean energy and the economic wealth it keeps here in Washington, you need to participate in this planning process. Tell your utility provider to make the duck chart walk, talk and quack like a duck instead of using it as excuse not to move forward on a clean technology future.
I'll keep working in Olympia on breaking down barriers, you can be sure. More than anything else, we need a long-term vision for our energy future - one that can modify the duck chart, maintain our increased use of renewables and meet the changing needs of Washington's families and businesses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
State Rep. Jeff Morris, D., represents Washington's 40th legislative district, which comprises all of San Juan County and significant portions of Whatcom and Skagit counties, including part of Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes and much of Bellingham.and is the chair of the house Technology and Economic Development Committee. There is no challenger to his 2014 re-election.