NewEnergyNews: 12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • TODAY’S STUDY: NEW ENERGY TO BE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST AND BEST ENERGY BY 2030
  • QUICK NEWS, Sept. 22: BIG NEW WHITE HOUSE BACKING FOR SUN, EE; DOE BOOSTS RESEARCH ON BIGGER WIND; TEXAS CONSIDERS SPREADING GRID COSTS
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • Weekend Video: Bill Nye, The Science Guy, Explains New Energy And Climate Change
  • Weekend Video: This Changes Everything
  • Weekend Video: The People’s Climate March Is Sunday
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-CHINA, INDIA, RUSSIA LEADERS TO SKIP UN CLIMATE SUMMIT
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-WORLD’S OFFSHORE WIND TO HIT 40 GW BY 2020
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-SOLAR IS THE SOLUTION FOR SOUTH ASIA
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-PARIS DIGS GEOTHERMAL
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Sept. 18:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE WORLD HAS 15 YEARS TO DO THE RIGHT THINGS
  • TTTA Thursday-WIND MAKES THE GRID MORE RELIABLE
  • TTTA Thursday-SOLAR OIL DRILLING
  • TTTA Thursday-A SPORTS CAR THAT RUNS ON SALT-WATER
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: THE GREEN TRANSITION – MONEY KEEPS COMING TO NEW ENERGY
  • QUICK NEWS, Sept. 17: THE NEWEST NUMBERS ON BIRDS AND WIND; BIG SOLAR COMES TO THE SOUTHEAST; WHERE THE EV CUTS EMISSIONS MOST
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: THE BENEFITS OF PUMPED HYDRO STORAGE CALCULATED
  • QUICK NEWS, Sept. 16: THE ENERGY TRANSITION TAKES SHAPE; A LABOR-ENVIRO CALL FOR NEW ENERGY, NEW WIRES; ADVANCES IN WATER POWER
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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  • Friday, December 31, 2010

    Year-End Reading

    For year-end reading, NewEnergyNews is this week posting some of its best original reporting (not previously posted here) from 2010. Today, some stories about New Energy politics, prospects and imperatives.

    Year-End Reading - Wind’s 2010 Top Ten: Bust and Building, Coming and Going; Uncertainty is the word for 2010 but wind has many ways forward

    Note: This piece has already stirred the oil and gas industry. Consultants gloated in an industry publication about wind's off year and described themselves as amused at this list's touting of U.S. offshore wind's incipient turnaround. It will be interesting to see who is amused in 2020 when natural gas prices are burdened by worldwide competition for dwindling resources and the burden of a charge for greenhouse gas emissions and to see who is gloating when offshore wind's 15 megawatt turbines and sea-to-shore transmission infrastructure is in place.

    Wind’s 2010 Top Ten: Bust and Building, Coming and Going; Uncertainty is the word for 2010 but wind has many ways forward.
    Herman K. Trabish, December 29, 2010

    click to enlarge

    The biggest headlines for the U.S. wind industry in 2010 held promise and foreboding for 2011.

    1. Triumphant 2009 U.S. growth turns dismal.

    The wind industry’s 10 gigawatts of new installed capacity in 2009 fell off in 2010 as a year of policy uncertainty created by the failure of Congressional action prompted angry words from Jeff Immelt, the CEO of leading U.S. wind turbine manufacturer GE. "The rest of the world is moving 10 times faster than we are,” he said. “We have to have an energy policy. This is just stupid what we have today."

    By the end of 2010’s first half, slow U.S. development caused Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Industry Association (AWEA), to describe the situation as “dismal.”
    Third quarter 2010 projections suggested the industry would finish the year with perhaps 5,000 megawatts of new capacity, about half its 2009 performance, half Europe’s performance and a third of what China will build in 2010.

    2. Offshore wind starts turning around.

    Cape Wind, the utility-scale installation proposed for Massachusetts’ Nantuckett Sound, won the backing of the Department of Interior after fighting and overcoming every kind of siting and environmental impact objection by opponents ranging from the Hyannis Port Kennedys to Cape Cod Native Americans.

    The advancement of Cape Wind was a banner triumph in a series of offshore policy clarifications, announced development plans, exploration lease permits, PPA signings and studies showing the enormous economic opportunities of Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes wind. With Europe at nearly 2,500 megawatts of offshore capacity and China’s handful of operational megawatts expanding, it looks like the U.S. may finally have an operating installation by 2015.

    click to enlarge

    3. Advances in transmission, the other good news.

    In California, Southern California Edison completed and inaugurated a new, 1,500 megawatt capacity line that will deliver wind-generated power to Los Angeles. In doing so, it kicked off a new building boom in the Tehachapi Mountains, one of the state’s windiest regions.

    With an estimated 300 gigawatts of potential wind capacity across the U.S. awaiting wires to carry it, the California achievement led a series of advances in transmission building, planning, and policy clarification that will drive development of all renewables.

    Google joined a consortium committed to building the Atlantic Offshore Connection, an offshore backbone line to carry 6,000 megawatts to load centers on the Eastern Seaboard.

    Wind-rich states in the Midwest and West adopted the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) concept established in Texas to identify where wind and other renewable assets are and make certain there is adequate transmission for them.

    At year’s end, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a cost allocation plan for new multi-state transmission that is expected to speed new development.

    4. China.

    Secreted in 2009’s triumphant U.S. growth was the fact that China, for the first time, took over world leadership in new capacity installation. China now has at least two manufacturing companies among the world’s top ten (Sinovel and Goldwind). It is installing both new domestic transmission and new domestic wind capacity at mind-boggling rates.

    Both Sinovel and Goldwind are, controversially, also making deals in the U.S. and around the world as world installed capacity moves quickly toward 200 gigawatts, led by emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and India.

    International competition is becoming fierce but U.S. companies like GE remain in the game, suggesting how effective they could be if, like Chinese and European companies, there was real policy support.

    5. Manufacturing takes root.

    2010 saw new wind turbine tower, blade and nacelle manufacturing facilities go into service in states like Colorado, Arkansas, Iowa, and Kansas and announced plans for new facilities in many other states went ahead despite uncertainty. It was a hint of the rebirth in U.S. manufacturing the wind industry could lead in a favorable policy climate because of its preference for sourcing its huge components near where they will be used rather than transporting them.

    Wind power’s potential to provide blue-collar work was the basis for a new alliance between the wind industry and the United Steelworkers union. The first thing the new alliance called for was a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) because that would give manufacturers and developers the long-term policy certainty they need to build.

    click to enlarge

    6. Integration.

    Early in 2010, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released studies of the U.S. transmission system’s capability to integrate increasing portions of variable renewable energy. The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study (WWSIS) and Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWSIS) strongly verified that wind can supply 20-to-30 percent of the country’s electricity without any risk to reliability if system operators’ access to available balancing mechanisms is maximized.

    7. Bigger turbines.

    In 2010, the 2.5 megawatt turbine, with a nameplate capacity adequate for nearly 500 U.S. homes, became the industry standard. The 845-megawatt Caithness Shepherd’s Flat project, to be the world’s biggest onshore wind farm when it goes online in 2012, will use GE 2.5 megawatt machines.

    China’s Goldwind, like GE, is still selling “last year’s model” 1.5 megawatt turbines widely but more and more developers are opting for Goldwind’s 2.5 megawatt nameplate capacity, especially in China.

    In Europe, where getting more production out of a single erected turbine is increasingly urgent and manufacturers are turning their attention to the stronger winds offshore, turbines in the 3-megawatt class from companies like ENERCON and Siemens are selling. GE, Goldwind and others are pioneering 4-megawatt machines.
    American Superconductor and Clipper Windpower are working on 10-megawatt machines and, this month, Spain’s Gamesa announced it would lead a consortium in the development of a 15-megawatt turbine it says will be tested by around 2015.

    click to enlarge

    8. Coming attractions appear.

    The direct drive transmission got more attention in 2010. Start-up Boulder Wind Power, helmed by former NREL head wind engineer Sandy Butterfield, opened for business in Colorado and China’s Goldwind, which has been developing direct drive for some years, entered the world market. Many say direct drive transmissions, with their fewer moving parts and lower maintenance profile, will soon find a solid niche and some speculate about a complete transition away from standard gearboxes.

    LIDAR (laser-based) technology from Natural Power and SODAR (sonar-based) technology from Second Wind both became more common in 2010, sometimes replacing and sometimes complimenting traditional anemometer towers, as the accurate measurement of a site’s wind became vital in financing decisions and system operators’ integration practices.

    Floating deepwater turbines became a reality in 2010 as Norway’s Statoil put its experience with offshore oil platforms to work and the newly DOE-funded DeepCwind Consortium National Research Program at the University of Maine began methodically developing scale models.

    The year also saw important research from Canada further discounting the substantiality of so-called wind turbine syndrome as well as new protections for birds, bats and radar.

    9. Natural gas V. wind, natural gas & wind.

    Newly-tapped natural gas shale reserves kept supplies high, prices low and interest in building gas power plants stirred up. During wind’s 2005-to-2009 boom years, its primary competition for new generation was natural gas. In 2010, as new wind capacity dropped, natural gas took prominence and both consultant Black & Veatch and DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted big growth in natgas.

    Some speculated about wind’s demise but Worldwatch Institute, among others, pointed out the crucial partnership between wind and natural gas for integrating higher levels of low-emissions energy into wider U.S. use.

    10. Goodbye Renewable Electricity Standard, thank goodness for 1603.

    Multiple studies and passionate speeches about the economic and other benefits of wind (and other renewables) did not convince Senate recalcitrants to institute an RES and suddenly, on November 3, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the manufacturing tax credit (48C) and the 1603 Treasury Grant program all looked like potential targets for the newly elected spending-wary Congress.

    It was therefore a celebrated, end-of-the-year triumph for the renewable community when the Obama administration was able to convince the Senate to give 1603, which makes tax credits viable in a recessionary economy, one more year of life.

    Year-End Reading – From Renewable Energy to Clean Energy in the New Washington

    Note: Hope remains for a national energy policy that will lead the U.S. out of the dark shadow of Old Energy. Maybe the subtle change in priorities outlined below will result in a deal that will support New Energy. Right now, however, everything hinges on the fight between the Obama administration and the new Congress over whether greenhouse gas regulations will be imposed by the Supreme Court or by congressional legislation.

    From Renewable Energy to Clean Energy in the New Washington; An energy bill may only be possible if renewables advocates follow the money
    Herman K. Trabish, November 16, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    The struggle on the part of renewable energy advocates for a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) hit the wall in the 2010 election.

    Such a standard would create needed long-term demand certainty for renewables by requiring regulated U.S. utilities to obtain a specified portion of their power from renewable sources over the coming decade. But the economy and the rise of fossil fuel-funded conservatives now make that renewables standard a low priority in Washington.

    Pessimists foresee little hope for renewable energy. Optimists insist its logic remains undeniable. Realists follow the money. Following the money will lead, D.C. insiders say, to a Clean Energy Standard (CES).

    “The election was a mixed message,” Jonathan Weisgall, Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for MidAmerican Energy Holdings, said, though the only mandate on energy was to not do cap-and-trade. “If you’re John Boehner, you’re going to ask, ‘Is this going to create jobs? Is this going to get the economy going?’”

    Weisgall asked himself, “What will get Republican support?” and saw strong backing for nuclear power and for so-called 'clean' coal. “And new nuclear is at least a decade away,” he said that he realized, not to mention the fact that carbon capture and sequestration “is AT LEAST a decade away.” AT this point, it occurred to Weisgall that Democrats “might be able to get some votes without compromising,” he said, adding, “If you’re an environmentalist, I don’t think you give up all that much.”

    Applying this strategy, Weisgall cautioned, necessitates raising the percentage of clean energy required by the standard. “If you raise it to 25 or 30 or 35 -- because given the fact that nuclear is twenty percent of our electricity base you would have to kick up that standard quite a bit -- that might get some Republican votes. ‘All of the above’ is a Republican mantra.”

    click to enlarge

    Pushing for a standard instead of new incentives has one important advantage, Weisgall pointed out. “The beauty of a Renewable Energy Standard or a Clean Energy Standard is that it doesn’t score. Money does not come out of the federal budget.”

    The devil is certainly, Weisgall insisted repeatedly, in the details. But, he believes, “if you’re the Republicans, your main goal is stopping the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act,” he said. “And you’ve got a president who has as good as said, ‘This isn’t my first choice, either.’ That could smack of a deal. I give you a two-year timeout. You claim victory there. You guys have two years to come up with something that makes sense and really gets some incentives in there for renewables.”

    Weisgall was unequivocal about not permanently dealing away the EPA’s emissions-enforcement powers. While he sees the possibility of Democrats and environmentalists making a deal on a two-year moratorium, EPA’s ultimate power -- as defined by the Supreme Court -- is too important to forego. “I see a timeout. I don’t see more than a timeout.”

    Earlier this year, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) worked with Democrats to shape a CES similar to what Weisgall outlined instead of the Bingaman (D-NM)/ Brownback (R-KS) RES that Graham said in an email statement “short-changes nuclear power, a safe reliable form of clean energy” and “also does not have an expansive view of biomass opportunities.” Graham added, “I have an ‘all of the above’ approach” and said his CES “will reinvigorate our nation’s nuclear energy sector, create jobs, make us more energy independent, and produce a cleaner environment than other standards.”

    Graham worked last summer to shape an ultimately unsuccessful proposal that required utilities to obtain thirteen percent of their power from 'clean' sources by 2013, twenty percent by 2020 and five more percent every five years through 2050.

    If there is no CES, the action will be at the state level where the RES has already proved itself. (click to enlarge)

    Whether the Republican shift to the right will allow Senator Graham to continue working for a CES is not clear. Political ambiguity now permeates the CES discussion from every political angle.

    GE, which has major financial interests both in renewables and traditional energy generation, advocated earlier this year for a CES. Yet it was unwilling to call for anything more specific than “a federal standard” when contacted for comment during the writing of this piece.

    The American Wind Energy Association, usually the leading voice in the renewables sector, has shown no inclination to give up its long campaign for an RES. After the election, it held an event to reiterate its commitment to the RES and insist the potential for bipartisan support remains.

    In the same week, Richard Glick, the Vice President for Government Affairs with Iberdrola Renewable Energies, USA -- a leading renewables developer -- made a completely different observation.

    “The change in the House leadership has pretty much signaled the death knell for the renewables standard,” Glick told a Chadbourne and Parke webinar audience. “We need to start thinking more broadly in the renewable electricity industry about working with some other technologies such as nuclear and clean coal on a Clean Energy Standard that might be beneficial to all of these technologies. There seems to be enough support for that among Republicans in the Senate and the House that if there is some sort of legislation on energy that’s moving forward in the next Congress,” Glick said, “we have a decent shot at getting a Clean Energy Standard.”

    “If you add these other technologies, I think you’re going to have to increase the numbers that we’ve been taking about under the RES,” Glick added, referring to Senator Graham’s proposal. “I think you need something in the 25-to-30-percent range.”

    Year-End Reading – A ‘Sputnik moment’ for renewable energy; Secretary of Energy Chu calls for long term policies and R&D support for clean tech

    It is hard to imagine a Secretary of Energy doing more than Steven Chu has done to communicate to the vested powers of Old Energy that the arc of history is bending away from them.

    A ‘Sputnik moment’ for renewable energy; Secretary of Energy Chu calls for long term policies and R&D support to win the clean tech race
    Herman K. Trabish, November 30, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    Sputnik, the first human-made earth-orbiting satellite, was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, while the shortsighted U.S., indifferent to space exploration, obsessed over military weaponry.

    But, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu said in a talk at the National Press Club Monday, “the United States woke up,” thanks to an inspiring speech by President Eisenhower. In the same way, Secretary Chu sought to wake up the U.S. commitment to a New Energy economy.

    Despite the failure to get a comprehensive energy bill from the outgoing Congress and the miniscule likelihood of getting one from the incoming Congress, there is a sense of urgency around restarting the drive for a New Energy economy, Chu explained. “Innovation adds to the wealth of society,” he said, and “leadership, which we still own in innovation, cannot be taken for granted.”

    Secretary Chu offered the examples of the U.S. past and China’s rise. “While it did not invent the automobile,” Chu said, the U.S. “took the invention and processed it into something that was not seen in the world before,” attaining in the process “the leadership of automobile manufacturing for three-quarters of a century.” The airplane, the transistor, integrated circuits, optical and satellite communications, GPS, and the internet, Chu said, “all came from the United States, [and] all did wonderful things in terms of wealth creation.”

    click to enlarge

    But today, the Secretary said, U.S. leadership is at risk. “Global high tech exports in our country hit a peak in 1998, capturing about 25 percent of the market, and since that time has been declining steadily and now is about twelve percent to thirteen percent,” he noted. Meanwhile China, from 1995 to 2008, “went from about six percent to twenty percent of the world market of high tech manufactured goods.”

    China continues, Chu said, to use government investment to drive its private sector. “They launched a long-term plan to do this,” he added. The result is that “in 2009, for the first time, 51 percent of U.S. patents were awarded to non-U.S. companies.” And China went “from fifteenth place to fifth place in international patents,” Chu said.

    While the U.S. ranks 48th worldwide in the quality of its mathematics and science education, Chu went on, two Chinese universities lead all other institutions in terms of students that go on to earn Ph.Ds from American institutions. China leads in advanced transmission systems, high-speed rail, and is on track to lead the U.S. by 2020 in percentage of energy from renewables.

    After highlighting the solar photovoltaics achievements of China’s Suntech Power Holdings, Chu paused. “America still has the opportunity to lead in a world that will need a new industrial revolution to give us the energy we want, inexpensively and carbon-free.

    And it’s a way to secure our future prosperity,” he said, “but I think time is running out.”

    click to enlarge

    Critical for economic competitiveness, Chu said, is federal support for research and development. Referencing A Business Plan for America’s Energy Future, which was compiled by CEOs such as Lockheed-Martin’s Norm Augustine, Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and GE’s Jeff Imelt (among others), the Secretary talked about the amount of money different industries put into R&D. “It’s startling. In the pharmaceuticals space, it’s close to nineteen percent. Aerospace, eleven and one-half percent. Computers and electronics, eight percent. What about energy? 0.03 percent.”

    The Secretary discussed ways that the DOE, under President Obama, has worked to drive “very exciting technologies” such as artificial photosynthesis for solar energy, metal oxide batteries to quintuple the capacity of plug-in cars, next generation biofuels, and efficiency improvements in building design.

    Using loan guarantees, ARPA-E, innovation hubs and the use of supercomputer design simulations to drive breakthroughs, Chu said, the DOE’s goal is to make such technologies affordable without subsidies. “It’s high risk, high reward. We are not interested in funding incremental work. We’re interested in game-changing work.”

    One question, however, looms. “Although the stimulus funding provided a huge down payment of additional R&D, the question is, post-stimulus, are we going to return to this downward trend or are we going to do something about it?”

    click to enlarge

    In this new Sputnik moment, Chu said, “let’s seize this opportunity. And we really can’t afford not to.”

    Controversially, Secretary Chu also talked -- like the research scientist that he was before he came to government -- about advanced nuclear technology and 'clean' coal. It called to mind an observation made recently to Greentech Media by environmentalist Jonathan Weisgall. Noting Republican support for nuclear power and “clean” coal, Weisgall realized “new nuclear is at least a decade away” and carbon capture and sequestration “is AT LEAST a decade away,” so it seemed to Weisgall that advocating for research funding for both technologies might win bipartisan support for renewables while at the same time, “if you’re an environmentalist, I don’t think you give up all that much.”

    In his concluding remarks, Secretary Chu pointed out a difference between “this Sputnik event and the Sputnik event of 1957.” Though there is competition between the U.S. and emerging economies like China and India, “there is also the opportunity to collaborate.”

    And the opportunity is immense. “In the next two decades,” Secretary Chu said, “China is going to be building a new infrastructure of buildings, cities, roads, transmission lines equivalent to the entire infrastructure of the United States. And 80 percent of what India will have in 2030, doesn’t exist today.” Therefore, he said, “if we collaborate with China and India, we both come out better for it.”

    Thursday, December 30, 2010

    Year-End Reading

    For year-end reading, NewEnergyNews is this week posting some of its best original reporting (not previously posted here) from 2010. Today, some stories about what one expert recently called the “glass ceiling” for New Energy, transmission.

    Year-End Reading – Wind’s Future Ally: Better Transmission; Grid interconnections will let turbines compete with coal plants

    Wind’s Future Ally: Better Transmission; Grid interconnections will let turbines compete with coal plants.
    Herman K. Trabish, September 16, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    The recent fossil fuel-funded attacks on wind power in the media make a lot of sense, given what wind energy has begun doing to the fossil fuels.

    To understand the impact of wind power on the U.S. electricity supply, it is necessary first to understand transmission and electricity markets.

    "That's because of the interconnected nature of the markets and the way transmission enables generation in one region to replace generation in another region," said J. Charles Smith, the Executive Director of the Utility Wind Integration Group (UWIG) and a national authority on transmission and power systems.

    Largely divided by geographical regions and run by the Independent System Operators (ISOs), the power markets are defined by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rules.

    "Each one of those ISOs has a series of markets," Smith said. "They're locational marginal price (LMP) markets. Each has a website that shows what energy is traded for in the day-ahead, hour-ahead and real time markets."

    The more transmission there is, the more wind power becomes available in the various markets. Because wind requires no fuel, its marginal price is nearly negligible. When there is wind on the markets, it displaces the most expensive energy source that would otherwise be consumed.

    "Let's say your wind plant is putting out a megawatt of capacity," Smith explained. "So you back off a megawatt of your coal plant."

    Where there is transmission to deliver wind, the power producer can hold the coal-fired power in reserve, increasing the capacity factor of wind and decreasing the capacity factor of the coal plant. (The capacity factor is the annual average percent of the plant's nameplate capacity actually generated.)

    click to enlarge

    Looking at a graph of annual capacity factors in the Midwest for the (typical) 2005-06 period, Smith explained that "the wind fleet that year had a capacity factor of 30 percent." In the same year, nuclear plants produced 75 percent of their nameplate capacity and large coal plants ran at a 60 percent to 70 percent capacity factor.

    "But then you look on the other side," Smith pointed out. "You've got all this gas- and oil-fired, steam turbines, combustion turbine and combined cycle capacity running at around ten percent capacity factor. And that's fairly typical," he said. "In a power system, you'll find that you've got base load capacity that's running around 70 percent or 80 percent, you've got some intermediate-duty cycling capacity that's probably in the 20-to-40-percent neighborhood, and you've got peakers that are running between one percent and ten percent."

    The fact that wind's variability keeps it at 30 percent is no more a problem than the less-than-100-percent capacity factors of the other sources.

    "You're not relying on any single plant for your electricity," Smith said. "You're relying on a system and you need all the pieces of the system working together for it to work right. Wind is one piece of the system. It's not like you're tied to a particular wind plant or nuclear plant or gas turbine plant to get your electricity. You're tied to a system that has a mix of plants."

    This is what makes wind so potentially disruptive to markets -- when transmission is available.

    click to enlarge

    "The way the markets work," Smith explained, "is you look at what the marginal price is of energy across your market and your neighbor's markets. If your marginal cost of production is higher than your neighbor's, then typically what you'll do is back down your capacity and buy from your neighbor to minimize the total cost."

    In a market situation, wind is what market-watchers call a "price taker."

    "The marginal cost of wind, once you've got the plant built and running," Smith said, "is basically zero. There is a penny or so per kilowatt-hour for maintenance."

    Wind power producers can, therefore, take whatever price is offered. "If the marginal price is at $40, and the wind plant is operating, it will get $40 per megawatt hour for wind. If the market's at $30, you'll get $30," Smith said. "It's a price taker."

    This has a remarkable impact. "When wind comes in," Smith said, "it basically depresses the locational marginal price because it bumps off the highest-priced energy in the market."

    This is surely why the fossil fuel industries have revived attacks on wind, such as a spate of recent essays containing misleading half-truths based on inaccurate and/or insubstantial documentation by energy writer Robert Bryce. According to Michael Goggins of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Bryce's funding comes from the Manhattan Institute, a foundation underwritten by oil and gas industry billionaires the Koch brothers.

    There is a lot to get excited about in transmission today. The clogging of interconnection queues is beginning to clear as regulators, pushed by FERC, revise and streamline interconnection procedures. New technology is upping the carrying capacities of the systems.

    Smith was especially excited about the potential of new High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) technology. These systems "offer some very interesting control capabilities for the future," Smith said. "There are three big vendors in the world," he added. "Alstom Grid, ABB, and Siemens. It's a very expensive, very complicated technology. It requires a company with deep pockets and staying power, and those three companies each have it."

    The importance of building new transmission has not diminished. "The transmission system today is probably the limiting constraint on interconnecting new generation," Smith said. "You've got to move that energy to load and you've got to do that over transmission."

    Year-End Reading – Will Solar, Wind and New Tech Pave the Way for a DC Renaissance? High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) lines offer a big opportunity

    Will Solar, Wind and New Tech Pave the Way for a DC Renaissance? High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) lines offer a big opportunity for developers.
    Herman K. Trabish (w/Michael Kanellos), December 6, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    The permitting, siting and financing obstacles to the building of new transmission lines in the face of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) activists are familiar. But Aftab Khan, Vice President and General Manager of U.S. Grid Systems for multinational engineering giant ABB, sees a new game afoot.

    Khan has watched the old game since starting at ABB 18 years ago. “A lot of what we would do for utility customers or transmission companies was to evaluate what the best solutions were for them,” Khan said, “both AC and DC.”

    The late nineteenth-century War of Currents pitted George Westinghouse and alternating current (AC) against Thomas Edison and direct current (DC). Because electricity was then primarily delivered over short distances to consumers from nearby power plants, Westinghouse and AC won.

    But DC is the key to the new game. “Power on a DC line is completely controlled. If you say, ‘I want to bring power from point A to point B and I want exactly this many megawatts on that line,” Khan said, “the power goes.” Theoretically, he added, AC lines can do the same. But in an AC system, “you don’t have the ability to manage the power flow from point A to point B directly.”

    The new game is possible because transmission systems around the world are adding renewables. Vast renewable resources -- be they North Sea and Texas winds or Saharan and Mohave solar -- are being developed far from population centers and transmission systems. “You have a lot of wind capacity in the Midwest and into Texas, and you have a lot of load going out to the West and to the East,” Khan noted. “DC makes perfect sense. Point A to point B, send X number of megawatts that way. It achieves exactly what you need to do.”

    Semiconductors and advances in electronics have also paved the way for high-voltage DC transmission.

    click to enlarge

    ABB built the first 200-mile, 100-kilovolt, 20-megawatt DC line in Sweden in the 1950s.

    There are now, Khan said, more than 145 working or pending HVDC projects worldwide (and HVDC line manufacturer ABB is involved in more than 70 of those projects). Few are located in the U.S. -- so far.

    Meanwhile, others such as Valdius DC Power Systems and Nextek Power Systems are devising equipment that convert AC power to DC for use in data centers or buildings.
    How popular is the concept? Nextek recently hosted delegations from China, Singapore and Japan, said Lian Downey, director of digital applications for the company. With DC coming straight from HDVC lines, efficiency would be increased even more.

    "We are living in a DC world. Everything that uses electricity internally users DC power," she said.

    China built a 1,200-megawatt capacity DC project in the late 1980s to deliver remote hydroelectric power to burgeoning urban populations. Earlier this year, ABB and Chinese partners “completed and commissioned” an 800-kilovolt, 6,400-megawatt capacity line in China. The country has really pushed the technology, Khan said. “They’re building more and more of these HVDC lines to access more and more of their remote generation resources.” As a result, Chinese transmission developers have joined ABB, Siemens and Alstom Grid as the most important handlers of HVDC transmission.

    The cumbersome U.S. transmission development process allows for more stakeholder input, Khan noted, and the thrashing out of issues such as whether new transmission might be a vehicle for more fossil fuel generation (Khan believes it will not). But delays leave remote renewable resources stranded. The new game, Khan thinks, can resolve the conundrum.

    “What Texas is doing, they’re investing 5 billion dollars or so in transmission infrastructure that goes out to where the wind potential is,” Khan said. “The logic is that if the wires are there, then a wind developer will say ‘OK, now I can build a wind farm and get it connected and sell the power.’”

    click to enlarge

    But the Texas solution of pre-identifying Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZs) into which new transmission can be built may not work elsewhere. Texas’ own big population centers consume its wind-generated electricity. Midwestern winds need to be delivered across many state and regional regulatory borders. That’s where the new game comes in.

    Two-line HVDC transmission systems are less expensive than three-line AC systems and incur fewer instances of line loss to resistance. There is, however, an added expense due to the need for power converter equipment. Over longer distances, however, the benefits outweigh the costs. “It’s such a complex calculation,” Khan said, but “if you’re going over a couple of hundred miles, you should consider DC.”

    Another advantage of HVDC lines, significantly simplifying the siting process, is they can be built underground or underwater over distances with little line loss, whereas “with AC lines, you don’t get much out of the other end” if you use these kind of non-traditional sites.

    HVDC systems are now being proposed and initiated by entrepreneurial transmission developers such as Clean Light Energy Partners, Transmission Developers, TransWest Express, and a Google-led consortium, Khan said. “They’re wanting to develop long-haul transmission lines,” despite the necessity of “crossing multiple state lines and multiple jurisdictions,” whereas “there isn’t any existing transmission company that would ever want to do that.”

    With the market advantages of HVDC, developers “can actually build a business case around it. Because they have complete control of power on that line, they can sign up wind developers on one end” and “they can sign up a utility on the other end to buy the power.”

    Players in the new game have -- for now -- won a major blessing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). “Traditional transmission is cost-based,” Khan explained. FERC is giving the new transmission entrepreneurs “the right to negotiate rates on their line.”

    Khan sees the new game as “really exciting, and something they don’t do in China.” Though controversial and not without hurdles, he said, “DC has opened up an opportunity that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.”

    Year-End Reading – What the Big Atlantic Backbone Transmission Buy-In from Google and Partners Means for U.S. Offshore Wind

    What the Big Atlantic Backbone Transmission Buy-In Means for U.S. Offshore Wind; Google and partners’ wires are a short-term shot-in-the-arm—and could help the U.S. catch up on Europe’s 20-year lead.
    Herman K. Trabish, October 25, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    The U.S. wind industry is finally getting into the offshore game, and a new consortium of investors led by the Google Foundation just gave it a boost.

    “We’re close to the take-off point,” said Jim Lanard, the Offshore Wind Development Coalition President, and “there will be a need for efficiencies in interconnection and transmission.”

    Lanard was describing what the new multi-billion dollar investment in an Atlantic coast transmission backbone means for a U.S. offshore wind industry just being born, decades behind Europe’s and years behind China’s.

    “In the offshore wind industry, the individual developers do not consider themselves one-off project teams,” said Lanard, who was an offshore wind developer before work with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) led him to the role of chief advocate for the offshore wind industry.

    “They’re not thinking they’re going to build one project and retire,” Lanard said.
    They see each project as “the first of many. As the technology evolves, the turbines get larger, installing them gets cheaper, perhaps they go further offshore and eventually they become floating foundations,” he explained, “a transmission backbone is going to be essential.”

    Lanard came back to the recent headlines. “What Google has done is jump-start that part of the future for offshore wind here in the United States.”

    click to enlarge

    A recent Oceana study found that wind off the Atlantic Coast could supply nearly half the Eastern seaboard’s electricity needs. Other studies say there is even more potential.

    “Unlike Europe, where offshore wind has been operating since 1991,” Lanard said, “the United States offshore industry has yet to put its first steel in the ground.” But, he said, “The day for the first offshore wind farms is quickly approaching. There is still a lot of work to do but we’re going to see a robust industry.”

    Google, renewable energy investor Good Energies and Japanese industrial power Marubeni Corporation are partners in the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) high voltage direct current (HVDC) offshore wind transmission backbone plan to be constructed by transmission specialist Trans-Elect Development Company. The project will have a 6,000-megawatt carrying capacity. Development of Atlantic Coast offshore wind, according to the AWC website, could create 215,000 new jobs by 2030.

    Though offshore developers welcome the investment, it is only a small part of what the industry will eventually represent. And the AWC project, Lanard said, is also unlikely to be pivotal in offshore wind’s early growth. That will begin with small-scale projects in state-controlled waters less than three miles offshore “that could see construction begin in the 2012-2013 time frame.”

    Cape Wind, the controversial Nantucket Sound project, was just awarded the first lease for offshore wind development in federal waters. “It will take a number of years to be developed, but they’re making great progress,” Lanard said. Cape Wind hopes to be generating electricity by 2016.

    None of those projects or the ones that immediately follow need the AWC.

    click to enlarge

    “The first generation of utility-scale projects in federal waters,” Lanard went on, “are planning to develop their own transmission interconnects,” he said. “When a developer is investing $1.5 billion to $2 billion for a utility-scale project, it must have an absolute guarantee that there is a system to get that power to market.” With that kind of investment at stake, developers will not leave interconnection to an untested consortium.

    “We are very excited that Google and Good Energies and Marubeni have invested in Trans-Elect” and are “entering the offshore wind industry,” Lanard said. “If the Google investment in the Atlantic Wind Connection could somehow get far enough ahead of the developers’ projects that it could demonstrate a cost-effective result, then the wind developers might be willing to consider that interconnect. But the risk would have to be completely managed.”

    On the other hand, “If during this process, permitting takes longer, raising the financing -- which is $1.8 billion to $5 billion -- takes longer, or if it takes longer to build because of engineering challenges that haven’t been identified yet,” Lanard explained, and it turns out AWC is not available, “developers’ assets would be stranded and that would make for a terrible outcome.”

    Lanard said offshore wind developers see AWC “as a shot in the arm to this industry that has been working for years” to begin what Europe began two decades ago. Developers expect the AWC investment to motivate the federal government to streamline the problematic permitting process that remains one of three challenges presently facing offshore wind.

    The second is “we need to create economic development opportunities and we need to create jobs that will create environmental benefits,” Lanard said, “so that if ratepayers are asked to pay somewhat more for their power in these early projects,” they will see “offsetting benefits.”

    The third challenge is that “there need to be signals from the federal government and the state governments to give comfort to the manufacturers and the supply chain industry so that they are ready to set up shop” because, Lanard said, “this is not only a race to get the steel in the ground, it’s a race to get manufacturing up and running.”

    The announcement of the AWC has buoyed Lanard’s optimism. “I know the people that are proposing and developing the Trans-Elect pipeline. Our group has met with them twice since the announcement and we’re going to continue to talk with them and work with them. Together we’ll be more effective than if we work separately.”

    Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Year-End Reading – World’s Biggest Wind Farm Gets Recovery Act Backing

    World’s Biggest Wind Farm Gets Backing; Recovery Act loan guarantee puts bank money to work generating power from wind
    Herman K. Trabish, December 17, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    With the announcement Friday of a $1.3 billion U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee, Caithness Energy’s planned Shepherd’s Flat wind farm in eastern Oregon now has the four elements in place that make for a successful wind project in this difficult economy: good wind assets, adequate transmission, a community that wants the project. and solid financial backing.

    At 845 megawatts, it will be the biggest on-land wind installation in the world, taking leadership away from Texas’ 781.5-megawatt Roscoe Wind Farm (owned and operated by E.ON Climate & Renewables).

    Caithness Shepherds Flats will be comprised of 338 GE 2.5xl wind turbines, each with a nameplate generating capacity of 2.5 megawatts. The turbines measure the wind industry’s technical advancement in that Horse Hollow, built in 2005-2006, uses GE’s older 1.5-megawatt machines.

    The project’s financial backing was already strong before the DOE loan approval because a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Southern California Edison (SCE), a subsidiary of Edison International, guarantees the sale of all the power the turbines generate for the next twenty years. The twenty-year fixed power price the PPA gives SCE is especially important, first, because of currently volatile natural gas-generated electricity price fluctuations and, second, because of the likely higher price of coal-generated electricity in California that will come from the imposition of a price on greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the affirmation by California voters on November 2 of AB 32, the state’s landmark anti-climate change legislation.

    click to enlarge

    SCE will also have the renewable energy credits that come with buying the emissions-free wind-generated electricity, which it can apply toward meeting the state-mandated requirement to obtain twenty percent of its power from renewable sources by December 31 of this year and a third of its power from such sources by the end of 2020.

    SCE’s role in the project’s financing was made possible by existing transmission that will readily handle delivery of the project’s output to the Los Angeles region.

    The final part of the strong financial backing that has helped bring the Caithness Shepherds Flat project to fruition is the $1.3 billion DOE loan guarantee. It is the sixth approved Recovery Act-supported project and the biggest the Department has approved so far under the Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP).

    The loan guarantee promises to reimburse 80 percent of the project’s funding to 26 banks and institutional investors, led by Citicorp and including Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, UFJ, Ltd., RBS Securities and WestLB Securities, Inc., should it default. According to the DOE, the transaction demonstrates the loan guarantee model under FIPP, involving multiple creditors, will appeal to the marketplace.

    Eastern Oregon’s wind assets, especially in northeastern locations, are analogous to the wind-rich Midwestern plains that many have called the Saudi Arabia of wind.

    This will take Oregon near 3,000 megawatts of capacity. (click to enlarge)

    Though some Oregonians expressed concerns about the impacts of wind farms on their state’s bucolic forest and mountain vistas and environment in a recent non-binding local referendum, Oregon’s Governor Ted Kulongoski, as well as Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, released a statement praising the loan guarantee approval. Merkley called it “a great holiday gift for Eastern Oregon.” Kulongoski emphasized the importance of state policies in supporting the project.

    All three mentioned the jobs and economic opportunities the project represents.
    According to Caithness, construction will directly employ 400 people and ongoing operation and maintenance will provide 35 permanent jobs. Caithness also reported that the wind farm’s emissions-free electricity will avoid 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide yearly, the equivalent of taking 200,000 passenger vehicles off the roads.

    The project must commence construction by September 30, 2011, in order to qualify for the loan guarantee. Earlier announcements from Caithness have indicated that the company planned to have the project on-line by the end of 2011.

    DOE’s Loan Programs Office has approved or conditionally committed to $16.5 billion in loan guarantees for 16 renewable energy projects that are expected to eventually have 37 million megawatt-hours of capacity, which is enough emissions-free energy for over 3.3 million homes. The 16 projects include two of the biggest solar power plants in the world and the first U.S. nuclear power plant to go forward since the 1980s.

    Year-End Reading

    For year-end reading, NewEnergyNews is this week posting some of its best original reporting (not previously posted here) from 2010. Today, some stories about cutting edge New Energy technologies.

    Year-End Reading – Leading Scientists Predict Which PV Material Will Win the Market; Lengthy technical discussion concludes that nobody knows

    Leading Scientists Predict Which PV Material Will Win the Market; Lengthy technical discussion concludes that nobody knows
    Herman K. Trabish, October 13, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    “I’m going to quote Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny,” said Ryne Raffaelle, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s prestigious National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “'It’s a bullshit question.'”

    Raffaelle was responding to two questions posed by the moderator of the “Which Technology Will Emerge Dominant in the Market?” panel at Solar Power International 2010, the U.S.’s biggest yearly gathering of solar businesses.

    Following a detailed presentation of the competing technologies and the scientific strengths and challenges of each, the panelists were asked to say which was most likely to be first to achieve unsubsidized grid parity and which would be dominant when solar is producing twenty percent of U.S. power.

    click to enlarge

    Johanna P. Schmidtke of Lux Research was first to field the questions. She said it would only be possible to answer the grid parity question by first knowing where the solar was installed and what kind of installation it was. “Crystalline silicon,” she pointed out, “is relatively close to grid parity in some areas like parts of California” where the sun is abundant and retail electricity rates are high. “For large-scale applications, in the long term,” Schmidtke said, concentrating PV, though it has challenges like complexity of materials and overall system performance and has not been conclusively demonstrated, “does have some significant value, just not quite yet.”

    Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

    “The technology not only needs to reach grid parity but also needs to be produced at scale,” said Simone M.P. Arizzi of DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions. “I see no reason why, certainly, crystalline silicon and also the thin film technologies and amorphous silicon should not be able to reach, in a reasonable amount of time, certainly less than a decade, grid parity at a large scale.”

    It takes a scientist to predict that?

    As to which will be dominant, Arizzi said, “The question of who’s going to be the number-one horse almost implies that all the other horses are going to somehow fall off.”

    A strength of the solar industry, he said, is the fact that contrary to what happens in many other industries, “whenever there is a technology barrier, the other can be the supply” and the barrier can be overcome because there are “so many technology options when one thinks about third-generation technologies” like multijunction cells, organic photovoltaics and quantum dots.

    “It’s going to be really, really difficult to displace silicon,” Chris Constantine of Oerlikon Solar said. “It’s tough to not bet on silicon.” As for grid parity, Constantine pointed out, “it’s clearly regional, it’s clearly policy-driven, it’s clearly something that’s a lot more complex than an easy answer.” But, he said, “80 percent of everything being put up facing the sky is silicon.”

    As to the future, Constantine said, “we’ve got two different PV systems. There’s the crystalline silicon,” he went on, “and clearly, that system has come a long way. There’s also the thin film approach. Put in there what you want, whether it’s CdTe, whether it’s CIGS, whether it’s amorphous silicon or microcrystalline silicon.” But, he said, these materials may well come together. “And you know what? They really do, based on the science, at least, go together rather nicely.”

    click to enlarge

    In other words, like Arizzi, Constantine says the answer is 'all of the above.'

    That’s when Raffaelle chimed in with the Marisa Tomei answer. There are many places, he said, “where PV is already below grid parity. And there are places where it’s CPV and there are places where it’s silicon and there are places where it’s thin film. And some places, all three of them can do it. [The question] also assumes that 'grid parity' means something. You’re assuming that the coal industry isn’t subsidized. That the nuclear industry isn’t subsidized.”

    Raffaelle then turned to the question of which technology will emerge. “To sit here today and say what will the technology be when we hit twenty percent of penetration -- it’s not going to be what we’re looking at right now, it’s going to evolve.”
    He obviously doesn’t know, either.

    Jim Armour of Spectrolab brought the discussion to a close by going back to the panel’s most consistent theme. “The sun is a diffuse resource and it’s not a uniform resource,” he said. “To think that one size is going to fit all, from a PV standpoint, is just ridiculous.”

    He went on: “CPV works in certain areas very well. It’s more than cost-competitive, it’s cost efficient. And in other areas, it absolutely does not work at all. And there are thin films that work very well in those areas. In fact, there are places where the best way to use the solar resource is to put up a windmill.”

    Didn’t see that one coming.

    Year-End Reading – A Nervous System for Renewable Energy Projects

    A Nervous System for Renewable Energy Projects; How do you know if your wind turbine is running? Sensors and networking.
    Herman K. Trabish, September 7, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    When you look at the towering turbines and churning blades of a wind farm, you're missing a critical detail: the electronics inside.

    National Instruments (NI) calls its real-time sensor networks, wireless sensor networks, and reconfigurable hardware "engineering tools." NI's guiding principle is the engineering maxim that if it can be measured, it can be made more efficient. The company's tools are just beginning to find acceptance as renewable energy developers seek to enhance efficiency and drive down costs by measuring and mastering everything from how straight a turbine is standing to where the best sun exposure in a solar power plant may be.

    "NI tools help lower R&D costs for renewable energy systems and get their products on to the market faster," Brian MacCleery, NI's Senior Product Manager for Clean Energy Technology, said. In the wind industry, he said, these tools are being used to measure things as diverse as the shifting of turbine foundations, stresses on turbine blades and wear on gearbox bearings. The result is wind farms with more stability, more reliability and more output.

    The crucial nature of such technology to the wind business is growing as the demand for a more competitive price comes from ever-cheaper and more abundant natural gas resources.

    A modern wind turbine is a marvel of mechanical and electrical engineering connected to the world at multiple points. (click to enlarge)

    Marian Justiss, Xtreme Power's Director of Engineering, explained why her company is incorporating the NI technology into its energy storage systems. "[National Instrument's] cutting-edge hardware and software offer proven reliability and high data rate capabilities," Justiss wrote. "Our engineering staff is also looking forward to fully tapping into the robust functionality."

    Increasingly, engineers want to work with the NI tools because of their diverse applications. MacCleery explained that technologies such as "wireless sensor networks, real-time distributed sensor networks, and FPGA-based reconfigurable I/O hardware ... are relatively new to the wind industry." But the reconfigurable hardware, MacCleery notes, is central to many network applications. It allows, he said, on-site engineers to adjust systems to unique needs. The applications, therefore, may be as unlimited as the purposes that on-site engineers require.

    "I'd say the adoption today is a small fraction of what we anticipate for the years ahead," MacCleery observed. "These are powerful new technologies that enable the industry to solve tough problems. They are not 'well-established' technologies."

    The potential applications of electronic networks on wind farms are so varied and diverse that it is hard to ennumerate. "Most of the major established wind turbine OEMs are National Instruments customers," MacCleery said.

    Today's wind farms must be connected to take their place in the New Energy economy. (click to enlarge)

    The networks, both wireless and hardwired, are being put to work on wind (and solar) projects around the world. By gathering and analyzing real-time data, operators can test and validate high-performance components like gears and generators. With multiple sensors in the network, conditions can be monitored.

    With embedded sensors and networks, blade performance can be checked and adjusted. Severe weather or seismic events that alter the relationship between foundations and towers can be recognized. When operators have the ability to respond immediately to such conditions, they have the opportunity to increase their projects' performance.

    In concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, networks can be used to track and identify the ideal sun exposure and to monitor environmental impacts. For photovoltaic solar, the sensor system is even more potentially valuable. The sensors can be used to measure and guide the panel manufacturing process and can then be used to test and monitor details of panel performance.

    Spanish wind developer Iberdrola Renewables has developed a predictive maintenance program for the turbines in its wind projects. Siliken Renewable Energy has increased their solar panels' output with an automated production line test system. Test data on Wavebob Ltd.'s wave energy device has become more detailed by the inclusion of NI reconfigurable hardware.

    "This technology is going to be the big tool for advancing the state of the art," Brian MacCleery said. "A lot of business pressures are going to drive the advance of networked sensor technology," he added. For renewable energies, "There are lots of different emerging technologies that are moving out to the field to solve business problems."

    Year-End Reading – Here Comes the Revenge of the Electric Car; The E-transition is about to happen

    Here Comes the Revenge of the Electric Car; The E-transition is about to happen, and the Plug-In America folks who kept the EV alive are watching the marketplace
    Herman K. Trabish, October 27, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    Who Killed The Electric Car?, director Chris Paine's renowned documentary about the effort to save GM’s EV1 and Toyota’s RAV-4 EV, left the identity of the culprit an open question, and for good reason: the electric car wasn’t killed; it was wounded. And now, with Nissan’s all-electric Leaf and Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid electric Volt coming to U.S. showrooms in November, it’s back, healthier than ever.

    Plug-In America (PIA), which was born out of the protest to save the 1990s EVs, met at Paine's sprawling hilltop home overlooking Los Angeles Saturday night to celebrate the organization’s fifth anniversary and the triumphant re-emergence of the car with a plug.

    There was a profound question lurking behind the crowd’s jubilation as it partied and examined a Leaf and a Volt that were made available by each vehicle's manufacturer. Hanging heavy in the L.A. air was the mystery of whether the enthusiasm and commitment of these visionary early adopters could be transformed into a market-driving majority. To do that, both Paines and PIA have media strategies.

    To the crowd’s enthusiastic endorsement, Paine debuted the trailer for The Revenge of the Electric Car, a sequel that documents the passionate people and stormy processes behind the pending introductions of Nissan’s EV and GM’s PHEV.

    From RevengeElectric via YouTube

    PIA also debuted a series of public service announcements that will begin airing in November. Utilizing the media savvy and contacts of L.A.-based PIA members like Paine and former Baywatch star Alexandra Paul, the 60-second spots are intended to smooth the E-transition by familiarizing the public with electric transport.

    Longtime EV advocate Mark Swain is one of a fifteen-member Customer Advisory Board GM has formed to help win public acceptance. He believes the key to success is to make buying a Volt “as easy as buying a car today. Right now,” he said, “there are a lot of hurdles that people don’t want to jump.” Swain added, however, that the Volt is “one of the most technologically amazing cars I’ve ever seen” and “once it gets out in the world,” he said, “people will like this car.”

    As a template for the transition, PIA Legislative Director Jay Friedland referred to the track record of Toyota’s Prius. “When someone bought a Prius,” he said, “you would then see an entire neighborhood go out and buy Priuses.” He foresees a million plug-in cars on U.S. roadways before 2020 and added that any spike in gas prices will accelerate uptake.

    Friedland said the options of a pure EV and a PHEV will make the transition easier by giving buyers the opportunity to select the car that suits them best. And, he pointed out, “these are just the first two of 25 cars that will be introduced over the next two years.” Whether the EV or PHEV will prevail, he said, “is all crystal ball right now.”

    PIA President Dan David ticked off the advantages of a plug-in vehicle. “It’s cleaner, it’s less expensive to operate, it’s running on domestic energy sources, it’s quiet and it’s powerful,” he smiled. “Once more people in the public experience that, well, Katie, bar the door.” He predicted that demand will outstrip supply for the foreseeable future. He expects EVs to account for at least ten percent of new car sales by 2020.

    From pluginamerica via YouTube

    A.P. van Deventer, a Dutch government researcher, has studied the challenges and opportunities of electric transportation in order to advise his country’s political leaders. The Netherlands, he said, aspires to have a million EVs on its roads by 2025. Recently, van Deventer examined why EVs failed to reach U.S. markets in the 1990s.

    He found that the reasons were essentially those reported in Paine's film, although one was overlooked. “What really needs to be done is to make sure all stakeholders are involved,” he cautioned. “Otherwise, you create resistance,” as happened in the '90s. “GM didn’t want it, oil didn’t want it,” he said. “And by the time the mandate was decided,” he added, “it was let go too easily. You have to have long-term vision.” The coming E-transition, he said, “is going to take 20 to 30 years.”

    Paine explained why he believes electric transport will succeed this time around. “This is the first time,” Paine said of the buying public, “they’ve ever had a chance to make this decision. Even the California cars that were available when we all found out about them were very difficult to get. This is the first time in a hundred years that 99.9 percent of drivers have the option to drive something that isn’t an oil-based car.”

    Having spent the last few years interviewing the people who will lead the transition, Paine foresees short-run action. “I think the Volt and the Leaf, in the limited production numbers that they are doing, are going to sell right out.” When the marketplace opens up in 2012, however, it “is going to be a whole new ball game.” Early adopters in 2011 will “prove the cars work in their lives just like they did for this nucleus group here” and “that will propel what happens in 2012.”

    As to the speed of the transition in the long run, Paine sees two possibilities. “Nobody knows how fast it is going to happen, but when gas prices spike, it will happen really fast. If gas prices stay artificially low for a while, it will happen more slowly.” But, he said, “this will roll out.

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010

    Year-End Reading

    For year-end reading, NewEnergyNews is this week posting some of its best original reporting (not previously posted here) from 2010. Today, some stories about how wrong the opponents of New Energy can be.

    Year-End Reading – Mr. Bush and the Truth about Oil

    (Note: This personal observation needs no preface. In the case of the former President, what the voting public saw was never what it got, and that does not seem to have changed.)

    Mr. Bush and the Truth about Oil
    Herman K. Trabish, June 7, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    When people are given accurate information about the costs of oil dependence, according to the latest survey from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), they make better decisions, like choosing higher vehicle fuel standards that will lead to less oil consumption.

    Which is what makes the keynote address by former oil man and former President George W. Bush at the WindPower 2010 conference so troubling. The crowd enjoyed and applauded the folksy, funny anecdotal presentation. But beneath that surface, Bush slipped in comments that argued for doing less, not more, in renewables.

    Mr. Bush did deliver some entirely accurate and sound messages in his talk. He emphasized that wind energy is one of the ideas that will deliver the nation from its oil addiction. He is certainly to be applauded for having the integrity, as a self-proclaimed son of Texas, to have declared the U.S. an oil addict during his presidency and having done what he did for the Texas wind industry in the 1990s.

    Yet even in recounting how he, as governor of Texas, helped make the state into the nation's wind energy leader, he disappointed in failing to outline how to build on that. In listing the policies he instituted as governor in support of wind, there was a glaring omission. He listed first and foremost "good sound law" that allows entrepreneurs to get a "reasonable return" for investment risks. He also called for low taxes, streamlined permitting and expanded access to transmission.

    click to enlarge

    What President Bush omitted was the one thing for which the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and every other speaker at the convention, including North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Iowa Governor Chet Culver, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, CEOs from major wind companies across the country and around the world, and the AWEA CEO Denise Bode, were all clamoring: A national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).

    An RES is a mandate requiring regulated utilities to obtain a specific portion of their power from New Energy sources by a certain date. The wind industry wants an RES requiring 20% New Energy by 2020 or 2025. Under then-Governor Bush, the Texas legislature instituted a 2,000-megawatt mandate. An endorsement of a national RES from the former President would surely carry weight with enough Senate Republicans to push it through, but no such endorsement was rendered.

    He told a charming story about what it is like to be out of the White House and free to take Barney, the former First Dog, for a walk in his Dallas neighborhood. When Barney chose to do his business on a neighbor's lawn, Mr. Bush realized he wasn't in D.C. anymore.

    "So there I was, the former President of the United States, with a plastic baggie," Mr. Bush joked to the crowd's amusement, "picking up that which I had been dodging for eight solid years." In one subversive slash, he jokingly dismissed all the many illegitimate and legitimate criticisms of him as dog poop.

    Almost 90% of the public wants to get off oil. (click to enlarge)

    Undoubtedly the most disturbing point in Mr. Bush's talk came near the end of his prepared remarks. We are in a transitional period, he said. A comprehensive energy policy is necessary. But his grandchildren, he envisioned, "will be driving electric cars powered primarily by renewable sources of energy, be it natural gas -- which now as the result of a technological breakthrough we have 200 years of supply -- whether it be nuclear power or whether it be solar and wind energy."

    Natural gas is cleaner than coal, but it is a fossil fuel. Some theories suggest that the 200-year supply to which Mr. Bush referred, which will be obtained only through the energy-intensive and environmentally questionable 'technological breakthrough' process of hydrofracking the shale holding the reserves, could produce more greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal.

    It has been a difficult spring for fossil fuels. Within the last few months, 29 coal miners were crushed, 11 oil platform workers were incinerated, and the U.S. is facing the worst human-induced environmental disaster in history.

    The nation is at a crucial crossroads in its energy life. It can move ahead into a new energy future or it can remain mired in the deadly and disastrous old energies. It can level its mountains for coal and live with black tarry beaches and oil-slick oceans or it can build the infrastructure to draw on the clean, free power of sun and wind, flowing waters, deep-earth heat and its own waste.

    The more people know about oil dependence, the more they want off. (click to enlarge)

    The people of this nation will choose the leaders who will control the decision-making process that takes place at the crossroads. At the very least, they deserve to have accurate information when they make the call.

    Some facts: The U.S. imports more than 60% of its oil. Gulf oil is about 15% of U.S. production, but U.S. oil provides only about 3% of what is consumed, and Gulf oil is therefore only 0.3% of world oil reserves.

    Generally, the people of the U.S. believe the nation has as much as 45% or more of the world's oil reserves. When they are given accurate information about how little is held domestically, support for policies that reduce oil dependency in general goes from 54% to 68%, and support for a strong auto fuel efficiency standard goes from 66% to 72%.

    They say the truth hurts. It most hurts those who profit from untruth.

    Year-End Reading – Senator Byrd and the Coal Industry; The longest-serving senator shows how minds can be changed.

    (Note: Senator Robert Byrd's life was a testament not only to how wrong a political leader can be about coal but also how right he can be by having the courage to change.)

    Senator Byrd and the Coal Industry; The longest-serving senator shows how minds can be changed.
    Herman K. Trabish, July 1, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    In the last year of his life, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) taught, not for the first time, the most important lesson of his long and storied stint in public service.

    Senator Byrd's career demonstrates it is possible -- with integrity -- to change a publicly held position. In Byrd's case, there was in fact even more integrity than is typical in such cases, because he found the courage decades ago to reverse his racist position on segregation, denounce his prior affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, and become one of the stalwart defenders of civil rights.

    In December 2009, Senator Byrd made an equally profound shift. After fighting his entire life on behalf of West Virginia's coal industry, he concluded in December 2009 that he and his state must prepare to move on. In an impassioned broadside on the subject titled "Coal Must Embrace the Future," Byrd wrote: "Change is no stranger to the coal industry. Think of the huge changes which came with the onset of the Machine Age in the late 1800s. Mechanization has increased coal production and revenues, but also has eliminated jobs, hurting the economies of coal communities. In 1979, there were 62,500 coal miners in the Mountain State. Today there are about 22,000... [C]hange is undeniably upon the coal industry again."

    At the end, Senator Byrd was physically handicapped but intellectually wise. (click to enlarge)

    Senator Byrd called for "an open and honest dialogue about coal's future in West Virginia." After assuring his coal industry constituency that no "effort to do away with the coal industry could ever succeed in Washington because there is no available alternative energy supply that could immediately supplant the use of coal for base load power generation in America[,]" he went on to warn that to "be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say 'deal me out.' West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table."

    Though Senator Byrd did not have The Impact of Coal on the West Virginia State Budget, from Downstream Strategies, to base his remarks on, he certainly could see what was then already quite evident and what the report makes abundantly clear. West Virginia's economically accessible coal supply is dwindling and the costs of being a coal supplier are going up. The report calculates that when all the costs are compared with the benefits, coal costs West Virginia more -- $97.5 million more in 2009 -- than it benefits the state.

    He saw that coal was putting West Virginia in the red. (click to enlarge)

    The benefits are obvious: direct and indirect jobs in the tens of thousands and tax revenues in the hundreds of millions. The costs are less obvious and often go uncalculated. For instance, the total tax revenues related to the coal industry's direct jobs in 2009 was ~$125.5 million, but the state expenditures in support of those jobs was ~$125.9 million.

    On the whole, it is true that the coal industry still generates a lot of money for West Virginia. But when things like the compromised health and work injuries that come from working in the industry and things like the wear and tear on the state's roads and infrastructure are paid off, the state comes out a loser from hosting its coal industry.

    It won't be "almost heaven West Virginia" much longer if they keep doing mountaintop removal mining. (click to enlarge)

    In this season of graduations, it is worth noting that while so-called smart people continue to sneer that the New Energies can never be big enough to replace the Old and Dirty Energies, Senator Byrd showed that it is never too late to learn. Now that he has gone to his final graduation, perhaps it is time for his beloved state to pay close attention to his last strong advice about coal:

    "The future of coal and indeed of our total energy picture," Byrd, one of West Virginia's greatest champions, wrote, "lies in change and innovation. In fact, the future of American industrial power and our economic ability to compete globally depends on our ability to advance energy technology....West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose."

    Year-End Reading – Undermining the Critics of Wind Power; Controversial energy commenter Robert Bryce gets fact-checked

    (Note: Robert Bryce is an unapologetic opponent of New Energy who cloaks his opposition in the reasonable-sounding arguments that have always been used to keep the nation addicted to the Old Energies. With reasonable friends like Bryce, New Energy will always be kept in a box by the Big Money interests vested in Big Oil, Big Coal and Nuclear. Real friends of New Energy see the needs of the future and propose ways to meet them and do not see ways to meet the needs of the future and describe ways they are unachievable.)

    Undermining the Critics of Wind Power; Controversial energy commenter Robert Bryce gets fact-checked
    Herman K. Trabish, September 1, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    "A slew of recent studies," energy writer Robert Bryce wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal essay, "show that wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions -- or that they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless."

    Bryce acknowledged in an interview that this claim is "counterintuitive." It is also, on closer examination, dubious.

    For his "slew" of studies, Bryce offered three, all from the United States Association for Energy Economics. Bryce identified Wind and Energy Markets, by Ross Baldick of the University of Texas, as the most recent and most significant. The study does not, however, argue that wind cannot reduce climate change-inducing carbon dioxide emissions. It argues there is a significant cost to building up the wind infrastructure that will be required to do so.

    Asked directly if the studies show wind won't reduce emissions, Bryce quoted Baldick's conclusion that "even assuming wind does displace fossil emissions, it is not worthwhile to reduce greenhouse emissions."

    Bryce obviously did not want to say his references actually question the economics of wind, not its effectiveness at reducing emissions. Whether building wind is "worthwhile" therefore depends on a "slew" of economic factors.

    Bryce said he believes nuclear energy and natural gas, not renewables, are the energies of the future because they are scalable and available 24/7. Economic studies and recent investment patterns demonstrate that new nuclear is much more costly than wind. The volatility of natural gas prices makes its value uncertain against wind's pre-contracted long-term price.

    click to enlarge

    In the WSJ piece and in the interview, Bryce relied heavily on "How Less Became More; Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market," a study carried out by Bentek Energy LLC that was funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States (IPAMS). But Xcel Energy, a major utility in Colorado that has launched 1,300 megawatts of wind and is planning 700 megawatts more in the next five years, completely dismissed the IPAMS study.

    "Wind is not perfect," Frank Prager, Xcel's Environmental Policy Vice President, wrote in the Denver Post. "Wind turbines generate electricity only when wind blows," he went on, explaining how utilities manage wind's variability. "Generally, we prefer to ramp gas-fired plants. If we ramp coal-fired units, the plant's efficiency may decline, causing its emission rate to increase for short periods."

    But, Prager wrote, the Bentek study "implies that small, short-term emission increases associated with ramping result in significant increases in the total emissions. This is simply wrong. Since 2007, we have added hundreds of megawatts of wind generation, and our overall emissions have declined."

    Asked about Prager's statement, Bryce pointed out that recent studies show U.S. energy consumption and emissions decreasing and ignored the fact that Prager specifically cited declining emissions as far back as 2007, when energy consumption was rising.

    "There are about a thousand ways to interpret emissions data," Bryce asserted. "That may be true that overall emissions for Xcel or for any utility may have fallen," Bryce went on contentiously. "The Xcel guy has his opinion, the Bentek study arrives at a different conclusion. I honestly don't know who's right. The purpose of writing the Journal piece ... [was to point out] that you have to be careful with the assumption."

    The Department of Energy, typically careful with assumptions, concluded that "achieving 20% wind would cut electric sector carbon dioxide emissions by 25%," pointed out American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Denise Bode. "As Bryce's own book shows on page 111," Bode went on, "Denmark has cut their CO2 emissions nearly in half since 1991 in large part because 20% of their electricity now comes from wind. Any claim that adding wind energy to the electricity grid would not reduce carbon dioxide emissions violates the laws of physics."

    The only substantial reference in Bryce's Journal piece was the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). It modeled the impact of building 20 percent to 30 percent wind power capacity by 2030.

    click to enlarge

    "If you look at the EWITS study, under their scenarios, this massive investment in transmission and massive investment in wind in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. will result in a reduction of CO2 of about 200 million tons," Bryce said. "I stand behind the Journal piece; that's the bottom line." Bryce then quoted his thesis statement from the piece's opening paragraph. "Wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions -- or they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless."

    The 200-million-ton emissions reduction, he said, "in the grand scheme of things is almost meaningless."

    The NREL study actually projected five different scenarios. A chart from the study specifically referenced by Bryce shows the least aggressive developments of wind would, by 2020, see eastern U.S. emissions reduced four percent to five percent.

    Other EWITS scenarios found that more aggressive development of wind and new transmission would reduce emissions by 18 percent to 33 percent. And it is, of course, what a nation would logically do if climate change was a threat, nuclear power was prohibitively expensive, reliance on ecologically devastating fossil fuels was a threat to national security, its antiquated grid was unreliable and renewable energy development held the key to economic rejuvenation and international competitiveness.

    Bryce repeatedly referenced the high cost of building wind capacity, yet made no mention of the even higher costs of building other new sources of electricity generation.

    He also made no reference to the returns on such investment. Other studies -- a "slew" of studies, in fact -- have shown that renewable energies provide more jobs and more economic returns than the natural gas and nuclear sources Bryce touts.

    But Bryce's attack on wind has to do with the subject of emissions and the only really credible reference he offered was the NREL study. Dave Corbus is an NREL senior engineer and the project manager/technical monitor for that study's ten-author team. "The electrical grid is one of the most complex systems there is," Corbus explained. "Complex systems take a lot of study and a lot of education" to understand.

    Asked if he knew of anybody who fully understands transmission and would argue that wind doesn't reduce emissions, he simply said: " No." After a pause, he went on. "I think there's room for people to say it reduces emissions 60% versus 80%. There's certainly room for disagreement and uncertainty because it's such a complex system. But nobody that I know that understands the grid is going to say that it doesn't reduce emissions."

    Monday, December 27, 2010

    Year-End Reading

    For year-end reading, NewEnergyNews is this week posting some of its best original reporting (not previously posted here) from 2010. First up, some stories from around the U.S.

    Year-End Reading – Valero and L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa are trying to influence California. Both are losing.

    (Note: This was among the earliest of the stories about what eventually became a huge victory for New Energy in the November election.)

    The Fight For Renewables in California; Valero and L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa are trying to influence the state. Both are losing.
    Herman K. Trabish, April 9, 2010 (Greentech Media)

    In California, both advocates and critics of renewable energy are under attack.

    In Los Angeles, the environmental community and the Mayor have created a furor over utility bills and renewable energy. Meanwhile, an effort to overturn the state's carbon legislation funded by a Texas oil company is not gaining traction.

    Charismatic LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa saw an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of renewables in California and solve a fiscal problem at the same time. His carefully crafted strategy began with a poll showing Angelenos are willing, in theory, to pay more on their Department of Water and Power (DWP) bills if they are paying for renewable energy.

    The mayor then proposed a DWP rate hike of 2.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kw-h) to rectify a budgetary deficit at the utility that is largely the result of dubious management decisions and volatile natural gas prices over recent years. Two cents of the rate hike would go to the deficit and 0.7 cents would go, the mayor promised, to fund an efficiency and renewables program for the city.

    click to enlarge

    Some members of LA's City Council considered the proposal for about an instant and then screamed something like, "Raise rates in a recession while the state has nearly 12% unemployment!?!"

    So the proposal faded and now Villaraigosa wants more stringent emergency measures. But local environmental advocates fear the effort left many citizens with the impression that renewables are somehow responsible for the city's budget problems.

    Rhonda Mills, the Southern California Director of Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies makes it unarguably clear that they are not. "[The] City Council didn't reject renewables or energy efficiency in their action last week," Mills said by email. "They rejected mismanagement at the LADWP, the lack of fiscal transparency at the utility, and the absence of a sound investment plan that gets LA out of polluting coal and into clean electricity sources, like geothermal, wind and solar."

    The problem is that, as Steven Maviglio, spokesman for Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, says the misunderstanding is now being used by advocates of the effort to roll back AB 32, California's landmark climate change bill.

    click to enlarge

    A measure proposed for California's November ballot would postpone enactment of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's legacy-making law to fight climate change with a cap on state emissions, an auction of emissions allowances, a marketplace for the trading of allowances and a structure for funneling revenues from the auction to build renewable energy and energy efficiency infrastructure.

    The governor believes the law's provisions would grow the state's economy. The oil companies fighting it correctly assume it would not grow their businesses.

    The effort to put the measure on the ballot has raised approximately a million dollars, Maviglio says; 89% of that is oil company money and 72% is out-of-state oil money. Its supporters have tried "to link what's happening in LA with AB 32 and that's another misrepresentation...It's comparing apples and grapefruits. One thing has nothing to do with the other."

    The anti-AB 32 forces are expected to get the 433,000 validated signatures needed to put the measure on the November ballot by the April 13 deadline, thanks to the oil company funding. "This could be a national bellwether on climate change," Maviglio says.

    But the measure's proponents have not gotten much traction with voters. "Polling that we have shows them losing 37 to 46," Maviglio says. "A PPIC poll shows 66% approval [for AB 32] -- and I don't think Californians are going to be controlled by Texas oil money."

    Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has said she will postpone AB32 if elected, a position that has been criticized by Silicon Valley execs, including fellow eBay alum Steve Westly:

    *