NewEnergyNews: On The Road Reading - Have Wind, CSP, and PV Turned Against Each Other? Or is it just that the utilities are starting to get picky?

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YESTERDAY

  • THE STUDY: A SUPPRESSED STUDY OF OHIO NEW ENERGY JOBS
  • QUICK NEWS, November 26: WHY PEOPLE DENY CLIMATE CHANGE; THE FORCE OF SOLAR; POWER ELECTRONICS MARKETS TO BOOM
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: THE DOE LOAN PROGRAM PAYS OFF
  • QUICK NEWS, November 25: THE PRESIDENT’S CLIMATE CHANGER; SOLAR AND WIND BEAT COAL, GAS ON PRICE; LED LIGHTING TO DISRUPT, TRANSFORM THE INDUSTRY
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: RUNNING OUT OF GAS
  • QUICK NEWS, November 24: NEW ENERGY DOMINATES THE U.S. NEW BUILDS AGAIN; SIERRA CLUB, UNITED STEELWORKERS WANT WIND JOBS; THE ABUNDANCE OF SOLAR
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • Weekend Video: Much More Inhofe Now
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart Talks Keystone, Politics, And Jobs
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart On How Keystone Opponents May Be Caught In Their Own Trap
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-A NEW WAY TO SEE CLIMATE CHANGE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU OCEAN WIND TO CUT COSTS, KEEP GROWING
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-COST-COMPETIVE NEW ENERGY, GERMANY’S ‘GIFT TO THE WORLD’
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-NEW ENERGY MATCHES COAL ON COST, CAPACITY IN TURKEY
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, November 20:

  • TTTA Thursday-TOP REPUBLICAN DROPS CLIMATE DENIAL
  • TTTA Thursday-FORD ELECTRIC CARS FOR ‘THE MASSES’
  • TTTA Thursday-MIDWEST SOLAR MAKES SENSE AND CENTS
  • TTTA Thursday-NEW ENERGY JOBS BY THE BAY
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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

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  • TODAY AT NewEnergyNews, November 26: THANKSGIVING THURSDAY, November 27:

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  • Friday, September 14, 2012

    On The Road Reading - Have Wind, CSP, and PV Turned Against Each Other? Or is it just that the utilities are starting to get picky?

    On The Road Reading - Have Wind, CSP, and PV Turned Against Each Other? Or is it just that the utilities are starting to get picky?

    Herman K. Trabish, May 21, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    The three major investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in California are well on their way to meeting their obligations to provide a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020. As a result, they and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), their regulators, are no longer thinking only about the quantity of the renewables they want. They are starting to think more carefully about the quality of the renewables and how they will fit into utility portfolios.

    As of May 2012, according to the CPUC, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) had procured renewables capacity equal to 20.09 percent of its 2011 electricity. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) had procured 20.80 percent, and Southern California Edison (SCE) had 21.07 percent. At recent conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix, renewables investors repeated, off-the-record, that the IOUs may have as much as three-quarters of their 2020 obligations under contract.

    To determine the best economic choices to fill out the remainder of the renewables portfolio, the CPUC is considering a new formula. In his April 5 Rulemaking, Commissioner Mark Ferron described a redefinition of the 2004 “least cost, best fit” formula for capturing the full range of costs and benefits of renewables selected to meet the RPS.

    In it, the Net Market Value (R) of a generation source is defined as [Energy Value (E) + Capacity Value (C)] – [Post-Time-of-Delivery Adjusted Power Purchase Agreement Price (P) + Transmission Network Upgrade Costs (T) + Congestion Costs (G) + Integration Costs (I)].

    For an Adjusted Net Market Value (A), the CPUC would sum that Net Market Value (R) and Ancillary Services Value (S).

    There is not yet agreement on what these terms entail. Scientists and researchers at places like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) are still helping to better define and quantify the factors most useful inplanners’ decision-making processes.

    “What the CPUC might be trying to do there,” speculated LBNL’s Andrew Mills, is formalize the “least cost, best fit methodology used for procurement” and to “look at those individual components and make sure they’re using the best approach for quantifying them.” Those components, Mills said, include benefits like capacity value and energy value and costs like transmission upgrades and integration of variable renewables.

    The term 'capacity value,' he explained, is an attempt “to quantify the ability of a resource to avoid the need to build other peaker plants.” A peaker plant, he said, is built to supplement generation at peak demand periods. It is “the resource you would build if you need something that just provides capacity [and] the ability to meet peak loads.”

    Resources that reduce the need to build fossil-fueled peaker plants provide capacity benefit and therefore have capacity value, Mills said.

    In explaining the value of BrightSource Energy’s concentrating solar power (CSP) plants with thermal energy storage (TES) capability, the company's Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications Joe Desmond described a 2006 California “heat storm” during which “the California ISO reached its all-time maximum demand” and had “about 3,000 megawatts of wind available,” but “the amount of wind delivering electricity into the system when it hit its peak demand was 1 percent.”

    Desmond was attempting to characterize CSP with TES as valuable but some in wind thought he made wind’s contribution sound trivial, whereas, Mills pointed out, it was delivering 30 megawatts of capacity value at the time. Because a small peaker plant might be no more than 50 megawatts, that contribution from wind avoided 60 percent of the cost of building one.

    Mills’ calculations would suggest to planners, however, that Desmond might have a point about CSP with TES being more likely to provide a higher capacity value.

    “Energy value,” Mills said, “is thinking more broadly about the entire year.” It asks the value of the fuel saved when renewables generation allows the backing off of power plants.

    Mills’ work has focused not only on quantifying these values but also on understanding how they change with increasing penetrations into a transmission system’s overall portfolio.

    The challenge, Mills said, is in making procurement decisions. That should include the benefit of renewable resources as defined in the least cost, best fit methodology. But it must also consider the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for those resources.

    “There has been a tendency to compare only on an LCOE,” Mills said. “It’s the combination of those two that you can use.”

    At zero percent penetration of PV with a hypothetical value of $90 per megawatt-hour and a cost of $100 per megawatt-hour, Mills said, “the renewable premium, or what the PUC is calling Net Market Value is in the range of $10 per megawatt-hour.”

    A CSP plant might provide the same value of $90 per megawatt-hour, but a hypothetical cost might be more like $200 per megawatt-hour. Then, he said, “the renewable premium is $110 per megawatt-hour.”

    Useful definitions and the relative importance of components in the procurement equation like energy value, capacity value and transmission costs are emerging, Mills noted. But much uncertainty remains.

    “Rather than say that you should change your portfolio and only go with wind or solar, we’re trying to draw attention to these issues,” Mills said. “We’re a couple of levels back from saying you should adjust your procurement, at the level of saying you should adjust where you’re focusing your analysis.”

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