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Sustainable Systems for Energy: Supporting the CPUC on Multi-Attribute Energy and Environmental Decision-Making

December 18, 2023
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CIEE has developed, and now manages, a program for supporting the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) goals. The focus of the program is broad, with tasks spanning energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles, financial and behavioral studies, and lifecycle analysis. This program aims to explore pathways for achieving California’s energy and environmental policy goals, leading to the goal of carbon neutrality through collaboration with a broad range of UC campuses.  Current projects under this program have funded efforts at Irvine, Berkeley, Davis, and Los Angeles, as well as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). The project has produced multiple reports that are intended to inform CPUC leadership when making future policy decisions. The following sections feature some research papers produced as part of this project.


EcoBlock Case Study

In 2020, a residential block in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland volunteered and was chosen to host a prototype EcoBlock, a model for the rapid, equitable, and affordable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through urban, block-scale retrofitting. The pilot project is conducting home performance, energy, and water efficiency retrofits; installing electric mobility improvements; and, if funding is available, will implement shared electrical assets for the existing homes and small businesses on the block.

To explore the behavioral variables in the EcoBlock project, researchers at LBNL surveyed participating households on energy efficient technology adoption and usage. These results informed the EcoBlock research team’s approach to better engaging participating homeowners and renters about energy efficiency upgrades. Key findings include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted home occupancy patterns, with 60% of residents staying at home for more than 10 hours during the day between 8 am and 8 pm.
  • Nearly half of the responses were willing to adjust their thermostat settings in response to utility bill incentives for temporary energy use reductions.
  • 69% of residents reported recent upgrades to lighting, compared to 6% of heating equipment.
  • While favorability of efficient home improvements is high, far fewer residents indicated they are likely to install these improvements on their own because of cost or the lack of a need for replacement.
  • Efficient lighting replacements were viewed most favorably and most likely to be installed in the future, while induction ranges and smart thermostats were the least favorable.
  • Although insulation measures are perceived to have high impacts on utility bills and comfort, residents had the least experience with heat pump installations, window replacements, and insulation measures, and considered these as among the most expensive and high-effort improvements.

Behavior-Based Energy Efficiency: A Case Study of the Oakland EcoBlock Final Project Report


Energy Storage

Energy storage plays a critical role in how California will meet its ambitious goals for reducing and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it is critical to understand how energy storage impacts the use of renewable energy and overall electricity costs. Researchers Brian Tarroja and Scott Samuelsen from the Advanced Power and Energy Program at UC Irvine investigated the optimal configuration of energy storage technologies for supporting a decarbonized grid through data, scenario, and model analyses.

Key takeaways include:

    • Adding energy storage capacity in any form (BTM or additional utility-scale) improves zero-carbon electricity penetration and reduces curtailed renewable energy.
    • Co-locating energy storage capacity at wind or solar farms limits its ability to respond to the needs of the broader electricity system relative to installing the same capacity as stand-alone utility energy storage.
    • For yielding the lowest costs of electricity, UC Irvine recommended expanding utility lithium-ion battery energy storage capacity and complementing it with pumped hydropower energy storage. This recommendation has significant uncertainty since many of the benefits of BTM energy storage were not accounted well enough due to uncertainty in their monetary value.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Additional Energy Storage Procurement



Dynamic electricity pricing is emerging as a critical path in satisfying an increasing need for utilities to coordinate the operation of energy storage and  at the utility, communication, and customer levels with the needs of the utility grid.

In the report, “Electricity Price Communication in California and Beyond,” researchers Bruce Nordman, Mary Ann Piette, and Aditya Khandekar from LBNL explored Price-Based Grid Coordination (PBGC), a system that enables dynamic pricing between the utility grid and its customers. PBGC) allows for a wide variety of ways for prices and other signals to pass from the grid to individual loads through an overall system architecture. Implementing a way for dynamic pricing to be communicated could introduce higher levels of renewable energy integration, as well as reduce capital and the operational costs of running the utility grid. After reviewing existing “coordination architectures,” the researchers recommend PBGC as a model for effectively harnessing the widest range of distributed energy resources (DERs), enabling utilities to balance energy supply and demand.Electricity Price Communication in California and Beyond

Another report, “Potential Bill impacts of Dynamic Electricity Pricing on California Utility Customers,” led by former LBNL research scientist Brian Gerke, investigated the potential bill volatility impacts of dynamic pricing on different utility customers in California. The report found that switching to a multi-component dynamic tariff would have considerable impacts on electricity bills for most utility customers. The nature and direction of these impacts depends on demand charges to the customer’s usual, business-as-usual (BAU) bill and solar photovoltaic (PV) generation at the customer’s site.

For example, small customers (with a peak demand of less than 50 kW) with PV tend to have increased bills and reduced volatility, in stark contrast to their counterparts without PV. Customers with substantial demand charges (large commercial customers) tend to experience significant bill increases that can be reduced if they are given a pattern of electricity consumption (load shape) that does not match their historical energy usage. The self-load-shape subscription yields bills and volatility levels that are close to the BAU levels for most customers. Ultimately, dynamic tariffs could incentivize customers to shift their energy consumption and help flatten the , a phenomenon in which power demand shows a significant drop during the day and a steep increase in the evening when people return home from work. This will help avoid challenges like steep generation ramping requirements and the curtailment of renewable resources.Potential Bill Impacts of Dynamic Electricity Pricing on California Utility Customers


Learn more about the project’s publications:The Future of California Consumer Energy Finance Teenagers as Energy Conservation Stewards: The Dial Down Challenge

Visit the project page here.

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