LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) – Researchers in Britain and the United States have found ways to recycle electric vehicle batteries that can drastically cut costs and carbon emissions, shoring up sustainable supplies for an expected surge in demand.
The techniques, which involve retrieving parts of the battery so they can be reused, would help the auto industry tackle criticism that even though EVs reduce emissions over their lifetime, they start out with a heavy carbon footprint of mined materials.
As national governments and regions race to secure supplies for an expected acceleration in EV demand, the breakthroughs could make valuable supplies of materials such as cobalt and nickel go further. They would also reduce dependence on China and difficult mining jurisdictions.
“We can’t recycle complex products like batteries the way we recycle other metals. Shredding, mixing up the components of a battery and pyrometallurgy destroy value,” Gavin Harper, a research fellow at the government-backed Faraday Institution in Britain, said.
Pyrometallurgy refers to the extraction of metals using high heat in blast furnaces, which analysts say is not economic.
Current recycling methods also rely on shredding the batteries into very small pieces, known as black mass, which is then processed into metals such as cobalt and nickel.
A switch to a practice known as direct recycling, which would preserve components such as the cathode and anode, could drastically reduce energy waste and manufacturing costs.
Researchers from the University of Leicester and the University of Birmingham working on the Faraday Institution’s ReLib project have found a way to use ultrasonic waves to recycle the cathode and anode without shredding and have applied for a patent.
The technology recovers the cathode powder made up of cobalt, nickel and manganese from the aluminium sheet, to which it is glued in the battery manufacture. The anode powder, which would typically be graphite, is separated from the copper sheet.
Andy Abbott, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Leicester said separation using ultrasonic waves would result in cost savings of 60% compared with the cost of virgin material.
Compared with more conventional technology, based on hydrometallurgy, which uses liquids, such as sulphuric acid and water to extract materials, he said ultrasonic technology can process 100 times more battery material over the same period.
Abbott’s team has separated battery cells manually to test the process, but ReLib is working on a project to use robots to separate batteries and packs more efficiently.
As supplies and scrap levels take time to accrue, Abbott said he expected the technology to initially use scrap from battery manufacturing facilities as the feedstock and the recycled material would be fed back into battery production.
In the United States, a government-sponsored project at the Department of Energy called ReCell is in the final stages of demonstrating different, but also promising recycling technologies that refurbish battery cathode to make it into new cathode.
ReCell, headed by Jeff Spangenberger, has studied many different methods, including ultrasonics, but focused on thermal and solvent based methods.
“The U.S. doesn’t make much cathode domestically, so if we use hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy we have to send the recycled materials to other countries to be turned into cathode and shipped back to us,” Spangenberger said.
“To make lithium-ion battery recycling profitable, without requiring a disposal fee to consumers, and to encourage growth in the recycling industry, new methods that generate higher profit margins for recyclers need to be developed.”
There are challenges for direct recycling, including continuously evolving chemistries, Spangenberger said. “ReCell is working on separating different cathode chemistries.”
Early electric vehicle battery cells typically used a cathode with equal amounts of nickel, manganese, cobalt or 1-1-1. This has changed in recent years as manufacturers seek to reduce costs and cathode chemistries can be 5-3-2, 6-2-2 or 8-1-1.
The approach at Faraday’s ReLib project is to blend recycled with virgin material to get the required ratios of nickel, manganese and cobalt.
Green hydrogen has been in the news often lately. President-elect Biden has promised to use renewable energy to produce green hydrogen that costs less than natural gas. The Department of Energy is putting up to $100 million into the research and development of hydrogen and fuel cells. The European Union will invest $430 billion in green hydrogen by 2030 to help achieve the goals of its Green Deal. And Chile, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Australia are all making major investments into green hydrogen.
So, what is green hydrogen? Simply put, it is hydrogen fuel that is created using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. It has the potential to provide clean power for manufacturing, transportation, and more — and its only byproduct is water.
Where does green hydrogen come from?
Hydrogen energy is very versatile, as it can be used in gas or liquid form, be converted into electricity or fuel, and there are many ways of producing it. Approximately 70 million metric tons of hydrogen are already produced globally every year for use in oil refining, ammonia production, steel manufacturing, chemical and fertilizer production, food processing, metallurgy, and more.
There is more hydrogen in the universe than any other element—it’s been estimated that approximately 90 percent of all atoms are hydrogen. But hydrogen atoms do not exist in nature by themselves. To produce hydrogen, its atoms need to be decoupled from other elements with which they occur— in water, plants or fossil fuels. How this decoupling is done determines hydrogen energy’s sustainability.
Most of the hydrogen currently in use is produced through a process called steam methane reforming, which uses a catalyst to react methane and high temperature steam, resulting in hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide. In a subsequent process, the carbon monoxide, steam and a catalyst react to produce more hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Finally the carbon dioxide and impurities are removed, leaving pure hydrogen. Other fossil fuels, such as propane, gasoline, and coal can also be used in steam reforming to produce hydrogen. This method of production—powered by fossil fuels—results in gray hydrogen as well as 830 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, equal to the emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.
When the CO2 produced from the steam methane reforming process is captured and stored elsewhere, the hydrogen produced is called blue hydrogen.
Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water, leaving nothing but oxygen as a byproduct. Electrolysis employs an electric current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyzer. If the electricity is produced by renewable power, such as solar or wind, the resulting pollutant-free hydrogen is called green hydrogen. The rapidly declining cost of renewable energy is one reason for the growing interest in green hydrogen.
Why green hydrogen is needed
Most experts agree that green hydrogen will be essential to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, since there are certain portions of the economy whose emissions are difficult to eliminate. In the U.S., the top three sources of climate-warming emissions come from transportation, electricity generation and industry.
Energy efficiency, renewable power, and direct electrification can reduce emissions from electricity production and a portion of transportation; but the last 15 percent or so of the economy, comprising aviation, shipping, long-distance trucking and concrete and steel manufacturing, is difficult to decarbonize because these sectors require high energy density fuel or intense heat. Green hydrogen could meet these needs.
Advantages of green hydrogen
Hydrogen is abundant and its supply is virtually limitless. It can be used where it is produced or transported elsewhere. Unlike batteries that are unable to store large quantities of electricity for extended periods of time, hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored in large amounts for a long time. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as fossil fuels, so less of it is needed to do any work. And a particular advantage of green hydrogen is that it can be produced wherever there is water and electricity to generate more electricity or heat.
Hydrogen has many uses. Green hydrogen can be used in industry and can be stored in existing gas pipelines to power household appliances. It can transport renewable energy when converted into a carrier such as ammonia, a zero-carbon fuel for shipping, for example.
Hydrogen can also be used with fuel cells to power anything that uses electricity, such as electric vehicles and electronic devices. And unlike batteries, hydrogen fuel cells don’t need to be recharged and won’t run down, so long as they have hydrogen fuel.
Fuel cells work like batteries: hydrogen is fed to the anode, oxygen is fed to the cathode; they are separated by a catalyst and an electrolyte membrane that only allows positively charged protons through to the cathode. The catalyst splits off the hydrogen’s negatively charged electrons, allowing the positively charged protons to pass through the electrolyte to the cathode. The electrons, meanwhile, travel via an external circuit—creating electricity that can be put to work—to meet the protons at the cathode, where they react with the oxygen to form water.
Hydrogen is used to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Because of its energy efficiency, a hydrogen fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine fueled by gas. And a fuel cell electric vehicle’s refueling time averages less than four minutes.
Because they can function independently from the grid, fuel cells can be used in the military field or in disaster zones and work as independent generators of electricity or heat. When fixed in place they can be connected to the grid to generate consistent reliable power.
The challenges of green hydrogen
Its flammability and its lightness mean that hydrogen, like other fuels, needs to be properly handled. Many fuels are flammable. Compared to gasoline, natural gas, and propane, hydrogen is more flammable in the air. However, low concentrations of hydrogen have similar flammability potential as other fuels. Since hydrogen is so light—about 57 times lighter than gasoline fumes—it can quickly disperse into the atmosphere, which is a positive safety feature.
Because hydrogen is so much less dense than gasoline, it is difficult to transport. It either needs to be cooled to -253˚C to liquefy it, or it needs to be compressed to 700 times atmospheric pressure so it can be delivered as a compressed gas. Currently, hydrogen is transported through dedicated pipelines, in low-temperature liquid tanker trucks, in tube trailers that carry gaseous hydrogen, or by rail or barge.
Today 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipelines deliver gaseous hydrogen around the U.S., mainly in areas where hydrogen is used in chemical plants and refineries, but that is not enough infrastructure to accommodate widespread use of hydrogen.
Natural gas pipelines are sometimes used to transport only a limited amount of hydrogen because hydrogen can make steel pipes and welds brittle, causing cracks. When less than 5 to 10 percent of it is blended with the natural gas, hydrogen can be safely distributed via the natural gas infrastructure. To distribute pure hydrogen, natural gas pipelines would require major alterations to avoid potential embrittlement of the metal pipes, or completely separate hydrogen pipelines would need to be constructed.
Fuel cell technology has been constrained by the high cost of fuel cells because platinum, which is expensive, is used at the anode and cathode as a catalyst to split hydrogen. Research is ongoing to improve the performance of fuel cells and to find more efficient and less costly materials.
A challenge for fuel cell electric vehicles has been how to store enough hydrogen—five to 13 kilograms of compressed hydrogen gas—in the vehicle to achieve the conventional driving range of 300 miles.
The fuel cell electric vehicle market has also been hampered by the scarcity of refueling stations. As of August, there were only 46 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., 43 of them in California; and hydrogen costs about $8 per pound, compared to $3.18 for a gallon of gas in California.
It all comes down to cost
The various obstacles green hydrogen faces can actually be reduced to just one: cost. Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, believes the only real challenge of green hydrogen is its price. The fact that 70 million tons of hydrogen are produced every year and that it is shipped in pipelines around the U.S. shows that the technical issues of distributing and using hydrogen are “straightforward, and reasonably well understood,” he said.
The problem is that green hydrogen currently costs three times as much as natural gas in the U.S. And producing green hydrogen is much more expensive than producing gray or blue hydrogen because electrolysis is expensive, although prices of electrolyzers are coming down as manufacturing scales up. Currently, gray hydrogen costs about €1.50 euros ($1.84 USD) per kilogram, blue costs €2 to €3 per kilogram, and green costs €3.50 to €6 per kilogram, according to a recent study.
Friedmann detailed three strategies that are key to bringing down the price of green hydrogen so that more people will buy it:
Support for innovation into novel hydrogen production and use. He noted that the stimulus bill Congress just passed providing this support will help cut the cost of fuel cells and green hydrogen production in years to come.
Price supports for hydrogen, such as an investment tax credit or production tax credit similar to those established for wind and solar that helped drive their prices down.
A regulatory standard to limit emissions. For example, half the ammonia used today goes into fertilizer production. “If we said, ‘we have an emission standard for low carbon ammonia,’ then people would start using low carbon hydrogen to make ammonia, which they’re not today, because it costs more,” said Friedmann. “But if you have a regulation that says you have to, then it makes it easier to do.” Another regulatory option is that the government could decide to procure green hydrogen and require all military fuels to be made with a certain percentage of green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen’s future
A McKinsey study estimated that by 2030, the U.S. hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion and support 700,000 jobs.
Friedmann believes there will be substantial use of green hydrogen over the next five to ten years, especially in Europe and Japan. However, he thinks the limits of the existing infrastructure will be reached very quickly—both pipeline infrastructure as well as transmission lines, because making green hydrogen will require about 300 percent more electricity capacity than we now have. “We will hit limits of manufacturing of electrolyzers, of electricity infrastructure, of ports’ ability to make and ship the stuff, of the speed at which we could retrofit industries,” he said. “We don’t have the human capital, and we don’t have the infrastructure. It’ll take a while to do these things.”
Many experts predict it will be 10 years before we see widespread green hydrogen adoption; Friedmann, however, maintains that this 10-year projection is based on a number of assumptions. “It’s premised on mass manufacturing of electrolyzers, which has not happened anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s premised on a bunch of policy changes that have not been made that would support the markets. It’s premised on a set of infrastructure changes that are driven by those markets.”
There are a number of green energy projects in the U.S. and around the world attempting to address these challenges and promote hydrogen adoption. Here are a few examples.
California will invest $230 million on hydrogen projects before 2023; and the world’s largest green hydrogen project is being built in Lancaster, CA by energy company SGH2. This innovative plant will use waste gasification, combusting 42,000 tons of recycled paper waste annually to produce green hydrogen. Because it does not use electrolysis and renewable energy, its hydrogen will be cost-competitive with gray hydrogen.
A new Western States Hydrogen Alliance, made up of leaders in the heavy-duty hydrogen and fuel cell industry, are pushing to develop and deploy fuel cell technology and infrastructure in 13 western states.
Hydrogen Europe Industry, a leading association promoting hydrogen, is developing a process to produce pure hydrogen from the gasification of biomass from crop and forest residue. Because biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, the association maintains that it produces relatively few net carbon emissions.
Breakthrough Energy, co-founded by Bill Gates, is investing in a new green hydrogen research and development venture called the European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Center. It aims to close the price gap between current fossil fuel technologies and green hydrogen. Breakthrough Energy has also invested in ZeroAvia, a company developing hydrogen-fueled aviation.
In December, the U.N. launched the Green Hydrogen Catapult Initiative, bringing together seven of the biggest global green hydrogen project developers with the goal of cutting the cost of green hydrogen to below $2 per kilogram and increasing the production of green hydrogen 50-fold by 2027.
Ultimately, whether or not green hydrogen fulfills its promise and potential depends on how much carmakers, fueling station developers, energy companies, and governments are willing to invest in it over the next number of years.
But because doing nothing about global warming is not an option, green hydrogen has a great deal of potential, and Friedmann is optimistic about its future. “Green hydrogen is exciting,” he said. “It’s exciting because we can use it in every sector. It’s exciting because it tackles the hardest parts of the problem—industry and heavy transportation. It’s interesting, because the costs are coming down. And there’s lots of ways to make zero-carbon hydrogen, blue and green. We can even make negative carbon hydrogen with biohydrogen. Twenty years ago, we didn’t really have the technology or the wherewithal to do it. And now we do.”
Experts say 2021 could be a pivotal year for EV adoption thanks to greater selection of EV offerings, rising consumer interest NEWS PROVIDED BY EDMONDS View the original article here
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Electric vehicle sales are poised to hit their highest level on record in 2021, according to the car shopping experts at Edmunds. Edmunds data shows that EV sales made up 1.9% of retail sales in the United States in 2020; Edmunds analysts expect this number to grow to 2.5% this year.
“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. “We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences. And given that the new presidential administration has pledged its support for electrification, the U.S. is likely to see incentive programs targeted at fostering the growth of this technology further.”
“2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector” – Jessica Caldwell, analyst, Edmunds
Edmunds analysts anticipate that 30 EVs from 21 brands will become available for sale this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020. Notably, this will be the first year that these offerings represent all three major vehicle categories: Consumers will have the choice among 11 cars, 13 SUVs and six trucks in 2021, whereas only 10 cars and seven SUVs were available last year. For the full list of EVs expected to come to market in 2021, please see the table below.
This diverse spread of EV offerings should help encourage stronger loyalty among EV owners, which has dwindled over the years as shoppers have gravitated toward larger vehicles. According to Edmunds data, 71% of EV owners who didn’t buy another EV traded in their vehicle for a truck or SUV in 2020, compared to 60% in 2019 and 34% in 2015.
“Americans have a love affair with trucks and SUVs, to the detriment of EVs, which have until recently been mostly passenger cars,” said Caldwell. “Automakers should have a much better shot of recapturing some of the EV buyers who they’ve lost now that they can offer larger, more utilitarian electric vehicles.”
Edmunds analysts note that this infusion of fresh new products comes at a time where the market is also seeing a positive shift in consumer interest in EVs. According to Google Trends data, consumer searches for electric trucks and SUVs have recently hit a high point after trending upward for years.
“Besides affordability, one of the biggest barriers to increased EV sales has simply been tepid consumer reception — it’s been tough for companies that aren’t Tesla to crack the code of how to get shoppers hyped up for these vehicles,” said Caldwell. “But in the past year we’ve seen automakers throw huge advertising dollars behind their EV launches in an attempt to drum up some buzz, and it’s promising that consumers seem to at least be more aware of the options out there.”
As more consumers look to EVs as a possibility for their next car purchase, Edmunds experts emphasize that shoppers should take extra time to consider their alternatives and do their research.
“Buying an EV is an entirely different beast than a traditional car purchase, so extra research and diligence are key,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of insights. “Range and weather conditions play a huge factor in determining whether certain EVs make sense for your everyday needs, and whether you own a home with a garage or rent an apartment could affect your charging situation. Federal and state tax incentives are at play with these purchases. And with a number of manufacturers following Tesla’s direct sale model, there might not be opportunities to take a test drive, or even to trade in your current vehicle, like you would at a traditional dealership.”
To help consumers, the Edmunds experts have put together a comprehensive analysis of the true cost of powering an EV, and they also maintain an authoritative EV rankings page that highlights the best electric vehicles currently in production.
Electric Vehicles Expected to be Available for Sale in 2021
2020 is in our rearview mirror. The pandemic will end, most likely sometime in late 2021. Businesses are beginning to restart and plan. However, much has changed since the pandemic took hold of our lives and economy. Initially the commercial building industry’s focus has been on the health issues of building occupants by addressing IAQ, employee density, social distancing, occupancy patterns and work schedules. But an important aspect not to be overlooked is to refocus on proactive strategies that manage operating expenses. With increased vacancy in commercial properties, decreased economic and business activity, now is the time to institute energy conservation and cost-saving measures to help contain building operating costs. A commercial energy audit will help building owners become more profitable by reducing wasted energy use whether operating under normal business conditions or COVID-19.
Commercial Energy Audits
What comes to mind when the term “audit” is used? I usually think of a financial audit which requires a close examination of documents and perhaps a negative outcome. The term “energy audit” might initially invoke the same response from building owners and managers. The idea of closely examining a buildings energy needs and operating efficiency might appear to be looking for unwanted change especially if the building seemingly operates fine daily. A commercial energy audit should be viewed as an energy opportunityassessment to reduce energy expenses and increase profit. Compared to a financial audit when the best that could happen is nothing, an energy audit has positive outcomes.
What motivates an energy audit?
With the inherent push back on change what motivates building owners or CFO’s to conduct an energy audit? It is usually financial driven, sustainability driven or a combination of both. An energy audit is often the first step in making a commercial building more efficient. The goal of an energy audit is of course to identify energy-saving opportunities but can also increase asset values, lower ownership costs, and promote environmental stewardship, human comfort, health, and safety.
What is involved in an energy audit?
Buildings, whether long-standing or recently constructed, have potential for energy improvements. Typically, an energy audit is a loose term and follows a general framework of identifying energy usage throughout the building, assessing building systems, and conducting on- site inspections. A final report is produced outlining energy conservation and system improvement measures.
However, an energy audit is a specific term defined by ASHRAE, a global organization focused on advancing technology to improve sustainability. ASHRAE specifies three types of energy audits:
Level 1: A basic, high-level walkthrough. It requires data collection regarding the operation of building systems and a review of facility utility bills with the purpose of identifying major problem areas.
Level 2: Includes a Level 1 audit and additional complex, detailed calculations in connection with proposed energy efficiency measures. Note: The literature suggests an entire workbook of calculations for each identified project, which means people tend not to identify small projects because the write-up is the same. As a result, a Level 2 may less useful because organizations do not consider ways to address the “low-hanging fruit” (such as LED lighting, for example) which tend to have low-cost and high return—avenues for energy efficiency that are certainly worthy of consideration.
Level 3: Sometimes called a “comprehensive audit,” this level includes more detailed data analysis related to the projects identified during the Level 2 audit, as well as extensive cost and savings calculations.
The result of any commercial building energy audit is to analyze and understand a facility’s energy usage. Then to design appropriate strategies for making improvements that will reduce energy input and ultimately save money.
The Energy Audit Process
Emerald Skyline’s team is trained to assist property owners and facility managers understand their buildings and discover the greatest opportunities for energy savings. We specialize in energy management solutions and discover the greatest opportunities for energy savings. The energy audit process allows us to determine what systems are causing you the most money on your utility bills.
Review Historic Utility Bills
To begin our process, we collect facility’s historic utility bills to determine the facility’s annual energy consumption.
Examine Existing Assets
Next, our team collects on-site data by performing the energy audit. During this time, we are determining potential solutions that maximize savings.
Present Economic Solutions
After we complete the audit and compare the utility bills, our team works together to design comprehensive systems custom tailored to each individual facility that maximizes energy savings.
HVAC units, boilers, hot water heaters, chillers, and more to determine current state of equipment, age, life expectancy, and performance.
Interior and Exterior Lighting
Lighting technology has increased significantly over the years. With LEDs not only do you improve lighting quality, but significantly reduce electric usage
The building envelope (windows, insulation, roofs, etc.) seal is essential to keep your conditioned spaces from leaking air. Ensuring proper insulation throughout the facility is key to minimizing heating and cooling costs.
In facilities with tall ceilings, maintaining consistent airflow helps maintain comfort in the facility.
Every facility is custom and operates differently. Our team has audited facilities across many industries from retail, hotels, offices, multi-family, and more. We have an expanded knowledge on systems and are flexible to tackle any project. In this time of uncertainty, it is important to keep operating expenses to a minimum. Unnecessary costs include costs for energy that you do not need to use. An energy audit will help determine the best energy conservation measures for your building.
As we settle into fall, some U.S. employees are being summoned back to the office. Physical occupancy in office properties was at 25 percent as of Sept. 9, according to data collected by Kastle Systems in 10 large U.S. cities. Most people are continuing to work from home, however, many with no return date in mind. In fact, when a viable COVID-19 vaccine is finally rolled out, some might discover they have no office to return to, with companies rethinking whether they need a physical base at all. Facing this turn of events, property owners and managers are prioritizing energy efficiency as they grapple with fluctuating consumption levels.
“Managing occupied, partially occupied and unoccupied spaces with cooling, heating and lighting is essential,” said Barry Wood, LEED accredited professional & director of retail operations at JLL. “Many tenants will not fully reoccupy, and owners and managers must be able to adjust and adapt their energy usages to the needs of the building and tenant.”
According to Wood, improving energy efficiency is a differentiator in most buildings because utilities typically rank in the top five for expenses. “Also, because of COVID-19, many buildings are seeing that rental income and expense recoveries are down, and owners and managers must be creative in managing the balance of the property needs. Maintaining conveniences to the tenants and guests coming to the property is essential to ensure they are comfortable being there.”
Best practices depend on the facility, but Wood said they will certainly include varying the set points on chillers and rooftop equipment; ensuring the operation of chillers, cooling towers, air handlers and roof op equipment is within the highest efficiency zone; and working with tenants to cluster workers—within CDC suggested guidelines—for lighting and cooling efficiencies.
Additionally, properties should stagger schedules to take advantage of natural daylighting. Another item on the list is the revision of settings on occupancy sensors for lighting and cooling in walk-through traffic areas as well as individual offices that may have shorter stay times.
It will be a challenge to obtain the same capital improvement dollars as before. Wood said, “To be approved for this type of project at properties, many owners will focus this capital money on ‘must do’ or ‘re-tenanting’ projects rather than operating efficiencies, therefore the building operations and engineering team will be essential in finding savings through operating efficiencies.”
MONITORING ENERGY USAGE
Technology is bringing big advances in monitoring energy usage, but adoption has been sluggish. However, since COVID-19 has pushed up operating costs, having an efficient building has become sexy in the minds of owners. Energy consultants offering audits, such as Bright Power, have the receipts to prove that energy monitoring does save money and can reduce carbon emissions.
“When stay-at-home orders began, we saw our office and higher education clients’ building staff adjust equipment schedules to reflect the new reduced occupancy schedules,” said Samantha Pearce, director of energy management services at Bright Power. Clients that had action plans—or were able to easily prepare plans based on what equipment was essential for limited occupancy—are saving more.
According to Pearce, the best tip to offer is finding out how your equipment is operating, and how to adjust settings quickly and efficiently. “Remote monitoring and energy management services are an impactful way to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on maintenance and operations plans.”
We had a client who needed to switch from heating to cooling at their building. We were able to walk them through the switch remotely since we had installed a remote monitoring system before the stay-at-home order. And, we were able to verify that the switch happened correctly, rather than have the property staff wait for resident complaints or before receiving increased utility bills,” she said.
Since the pandemic began, virologists have been preaching for bringing in as much outside air as possible. Doing this during mild weather can actually improve efficiency; for example, by utilizing the spring outdoor air to lower the temperature in a crowded auditorium instead of using a cooling tower. However, during extreme weather, increasing outdoor air can bring a drop in efficiency. In both cases, the outcomes depend greatly on the site’s mechanical equipment.
“It becomes extremely important to know how to capture those savings (during mild weather) in order to possibly counter the potential increased costs of increasing outdoor air supply during the extreme weather seasons,” Pearce said.
NEW OPERATIONAL GUIDANCE
Commercial buildings sitting vacant since March are significantly less energy efficient and more expensive to operate. According to Jeff Gerwig, LEED green associate & national engineering manager for Colliers International U.S., the reason is new operational guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) during the pandemic. ASHRAE’s new standards help create healthier indoor environments. However, energy efficiency measures implemented for years are now being reversed to achieve the recommendations.
“The primary impacts on energy efficiency and operating costs have been centered around three items,” explained Gerwig. “First, the increase of HVAC operating hours—ASHRAE recommends increasing building operating hours, if possible, up to 24/7. Also, outdoor air dampers are being opened to maximum percentages allowable to bring more outdoor air inside the property and create higher demand for HVAC operations.”
ASHRAE also recommends that dampers be opened up to 100 percent if possible, and Demand Control Ventilation (DCV) be disabled. “This technology worked in conjunction with outdoor air dampers. It measured indoor pollutant concentrations and used precise amounts of outdoor air to maintain spaces.” Gerwig added, “Given that ASHRAE recommends outdoor air percentages be increased to highest levels possible, these devices are being disabled.”
CREATING SAFE, HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS
Employees are bound to continue reoccupying buildings in coming months, providing an excellent opportunity to consider both air quality and whether buildings are on track with long-term sustainability or efficiency goals.
“The types of air quality requirements we’re seeing put in place are very dependent on both the region/state and the type of building and can have a variety of implications on energy efficiency,” said Lou Maltezos, executive vice president of Ameresco, a company that specializes in renewable energy and energy efficiency consulting.
“As building owners have considered and experienced what ‘back to work’ looks like in communities around the world, we’re seeing a number of customers consider items such as touchless controls, updated HVAC systems and automated entry/exit systems to address both the efficiency needs of the building and the health and safety of the occupants,” Maltezos added.
For example, with the correct process and tenant instruction in place, owners can implement technologies such as ionization to their outside air units in return ducts that may reduce the amount of air needed to condition a space. Maltezos added that efficiency relies on utilizing data not only from the space, but the air handlers and controls system as well, for providing the correct amount of outside air.
In the current climate, it is essential to stay in touch with thought leadership on all matters related to energy. “Unfortunately, in most cases the energy savings reported (since COVID-19) for most buildings are not as significant as expected and not in line with occupancy reductions,” weighed in Thomas Vazakas, Cushman & Wakefield associate director of energy, infrastructure and sustainability for the EMEA region. “This is due to the inability in most buildings to have effective controls and zoning.”
For example, heating and cooling is provided to all open plan areas, whether occupied or not. Similarly, in many cases there are no occupancy sensors for lighting, therefore most, if not all, the lights will be on even though only a small area of the office needs it.
“As a result, we see most buildings using very similar energy to heating, cooling or lighting even though their occupancy is 50-90 percent less than it used to be,” explained Vazakas. “This is a great opportunity to install adequate controls in our buildings to ensure no energy is wasted.”
As the effects of the health crisis unfold, owners and managers continue testing in resilience. “Surely the loss of human lives is devastating, but at the same time COVID-19 presents an opportunity to rethink our priorities and change the way we live—and how we use our buildings. Many property owners are already looking into this and trying to use this crisis to help them develop and implement their sustainability goals and especially their corporate plans to meet Net Zero Carbon,” Vazakas concluded.
When this agenda also results in operational savings, it’s icing on the cake.
Announcements of plans and projects for hydrogen-based energy are appearing with scale and ambition in Europe and Asia. The United States, in contrast, is not seeing the same sort of headline-grabbing initiatives. But the United States is making quiet progress and laying the basis for what soon could emerge as a national strategy for hydrogen energy.
The European Union’s new “Hydrogen Strategy,” closely linked to its “Energy System Integration Strategy,” wants to create a large regional hydrogen market encompassing Eastern Europe and North Africa. Northeast Asia is on par with Europe regarding plans for hydrogen adoption. Japan’s far-reaching planning includes the import of “blue hydrogen” (produced with carbon capture) from major oil and gas exporting countries of the Middle East.
While the U.S. has not announced a major effort of this scale, significant progress is being made in envisioning and initiating a future “hydrogen economy.” The U.S. government is funding a dedicated initiative that focuses on emergent technologies and market development.
Meanwhile, a major industry group has published a realistic “roadmap” that sets out a 10-year timeline for new technology deployment and the opening of markets.
DOE does hydrogen
The US Department of Energy’s H2@Scale program, described as a “multi-year initiative to fully realize hydrogen’s benefits across the economy,” is a 4-year old initiative that is beginning to show results. It sees hydrogen as an integration technology that enhances the performance of diverse energy sources and plays a key role in facilitating a low carbon energy system.
During the past year, DOE channeled more than $100 million in grants to some 50 projects to further the H2@Scale initiative. They are funded through DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office (EERE), through its Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) in cooperation with other EERE offices. Just last month, EERE announced about $64 million for 18 projects in fiscal year 2020.
The selected projects show great breadth and focus where technological development is required to broadly advance the deployment of hydrogen throughout the U.S. energy system. Taken together, they show the key role hydrogen is expected to play in de-carbonizing transport, heavy industry, energy storage and other energy-intensive sectors.
“6 projects are devoted to research and development on fuel cell technology and manufacturing of heavy-duty fuel cell trucks.”
Six projects are devoted to research and development on fuel cell technology and manufacturing of heavy-duty fuel cell trucks. There is support for private sector R&D on electrolyzer manufacturing, and for corporate and academic research on hydrogen storage, specifically high-strength carbon fiber for hydrogen storage tanks. There are two projects to spur demonstrations of large-scale hydrogen use at ports and data centers, and academic research on application of hydrogen for the production of “green steel.” One project is devoted to a training program for a future hydrogen and fuel cell workforce.
“H2@Scale is identifying new and emerging markets, where the integration of hydrogen technologies can add value,” says Sunita Satyapal, EERE HFTO director. “Some examples of these markets are data centers, ports, steel manufacturing, and medium and heavy-duty trucks.”
Satyapal says that projects are designed to bridge gaps in technology innovation, with demonstrations of how to turn hydrogen opportunities into real solutions. All research, development and demonstration under the purview of HFTO is guided by technical, performance and cost targets. The targets have been developed with industry input to ensure that new technologies will be competitive with incumbent technologies.
“Projects will emphasize strengthening the hydrogen supply chain through innovative manufacturing approaches and techniques,” she says.
“Projects will emphasize strengthening the hydrogen supply chain through innovative manufacturing approaches and techniques.”
In addition to the competitively selected and funded projects, over 25 H2@Scale projects are under lab cooperative agreements. The Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) enable national laboratories to work with industry on key technical areas to advance H2@scale. A new call for CRADA projects recently was made with up to $24 million available for collaborative projects at national laboratories in two priority areas: hydrogen fueling technologies for medium- and heavy-duty FCEVs; and hydrogen blending in natural gas pipelines.
“The U.S. Department of Energy’s H2@Scale program is crucial to enabling broader commercialization of transformational hydrogen and fuel cell technologies,” says Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA). “Many of these projects are advancing hydrogen applications in traditionally hard-to-decarbonize markets such as heavy-duty transportation, shipping propulsion and steel production.”
FCHEA, a Washington, D.C.-based industry association that seeks to promote commercialization and markets for fuel cells and hydrogen energy, has produced a comprehensive vision for a “Hydrogen Economy.” Its “Road Map to a U.S. Hydrogen Economy” looks at the full spectrum of potential applications: as a low-carbon (potentially zero-carbon) fuel for residential and commercial buildings; as an important fuel in the transportation sector; as a fuel and feedstock for industry and long-distance transport; as an important player in the power sector for power generation and grid balancing.
“An early opportunity is seen in states that have renewable energy standards, where the appropriate regulatory framework can allow hydrogen to begin to have a role in electric grid stability and storage.”
FCHEA’s road map may well prefigure an official strategy for hydrogen, should the U.S. government get serious about comprehensive planning and goal-setting for a low carbon energy future. It has four phases: 2020-22 (immediate steps); 2023-25 (early scale-up); 2026-30 (diversification); and beyond 2030 when the group would expect a “broad rollout” of hydrogen applications.
The immediate steps start with setting goals at state and national levels. They also focus on the best opportunities to scale mature applications, seeking cost reductions that will open new opportunities. An early opportunity is seen in states that have renewable energy standards, where the appropriate regulatory framework can allow hydrogen to begin to have a role in electric grid stability and storage.
In early scale-up, large-scale hydrogen production and demand starts to bring costs down. The road map sets specific goals for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), both light and heavy-duty, and calls for scaling up the fueling station network. Retrofitting of power generation will allow enhanced grid balancing while blending with natural gas for buildings also begins.
Diversification begins at mid-decade with some 17 million metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen fuel consumed annually and 1.2 million FCEVs sold. By the end of the decade the critical infrastructure is in place with the hard-to-decarbonize sectors of heavy industry and aviation being affected. An economy-wide carbon price will facilitate this expansion.
“This lofty vision for hydrogen will rely on strong government leadership and close cooperation with industry.”
Beyond 2030, the backbone infrastructure of hydrogen begins to appear at large-scale, with low-carbon hydrogen production, a hydrogen distribution pipeline network, and a large fueling station network across the U.S. By 2050, the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells for distributed power is standard, while on-site electrolyzers support local grids, energy storage and load balancing while providing hydrogen for fueling stations. In industry, low-carbon hydrogen is a widely used feedstock, produced either with carbon capture and storage or with dedicated renewables and on-site water electrolysis.
This lofty vision for hydrogen will rely on strong government leadership and close cooperation with industry. The FCHEA’s road map notes that European and Asian countries are investing in the groundwork for a future hydrogen economy. The group calls on the U.S. to not fall behind.
Adaptive reuse is when you go to an art gallery… in a former church, when you attend a community event… in an old barn, when you book a Costa Rican vacation and your hotel is made out of shipping containers! With the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of repurposing the built environment has become even more important. Vacant office space becomes a healthcare facility. Hotels turn into healthcare worker housing. A shopping mall is suddenly a medical center.
As an interior designer, I have always been intrigued by adaptive reuse projects. Projects where a design team has expertly executed a vision for a forgotten run-down building or interior space and brought it back to life. They hold a special place in my heart. When the opportunity arose to purchase, design, and renovate an abandoned auto garage in Boca Raton to use as a live/work space, it was a dream come true. As an adaptive reuse project, the most important initial points of consideration begin with safety, accessibility, and compatibility. These basic points are relevant no matter what is being considered, from energy to building materials to assessing current building code requirements.
Keeping the form or structure of a building intact while changing its function is challenging. However, it can provide significant environmental and economic benefits. Adaptive reuse projects have utilized sustainable design concepts long before LEED and green building became popular. Adaptive reuse is one of the most maximized uses of recycling. The value of reuse, recycle and repurpose is intrinsic to these projects.
Benefits of Adaptive Reuse
Adaptive reuse is sustainable
Greenest building is one that already exists
Reduction in building materials needed to transform a space
Reduces energy consumption associated with demolishing a structure
And building a new one to replace it
Potential cost benefits associated with greenfield development
Design and Construction Costs
Spaces may be useful for fledgling businesses
16% less costly than other forms of construction
Results in lower leasing rate
Faster than new construction
Renovated existing building ready for occupancy sooner
Preservation of local identity
Older buildings add and establish the character of local built environments
Preserves a local sense of place and authentic experience
Utilization of a previously developed site
Avoids development of greenfields
Utilizes existing utility infrastructure
Minimizes impact on watersheds and stormwater systems
Reusing existing building elements
Embodied energy savings
Construction waste savings
Utilize the character of existing spaces and materials
Below is my adaptive reuse project story. I hope you enjoy it!
Auto Body Shop Transformed into Live-Work Gem in Sunny Boca Raton
Boca Raton, Florida is well known for its affluent gated golf communities, manicured landscapes, and pristine beaches. Unlike cities such as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati where industrial is synonymous with the name, Boca’s industrial area is inconspicuous. That is why the unexpected location of this industrial section is the perfect setting for a hidden gem, a distinctive live-work studio. What was once a run-down auto body shop with ground contamination was transformed into an office, studio, and residence. With a commitment and passion for design, the built environment, and sustainability, this industrial property has been repurposed into a warm, inviting, and environmentally friendly enclave.
The base footprint of the building is 1,950 square feet. The front of the building houses the residential space which includes a kitchen, bathroom, open living space and a cozy loft which provides an additional 240 square feet. This portion of the building was designed to be self-contained with a separate entrance and electric meter should future usage needs change. A peek inside the space shows a metal spiral staircase leading to the loft. The spiral stairs were kept intact from the original body shop but painted a soft metallic gold as a nod to the design firm’s name Golden Spiral Design.
The small footprint of 1,950 square feet required creative design solutions to maximize the multi –
functionality of the space. The live work concept had to become truly integrated based on the building size. The residential component made sense to be in the front portion of the building which allows a separate entrance. The main auto garage became the office/studio but is designed as a flex space to accommodate large meetings or entertaining on the weekends. To delineate areas of the open space, furniture placement, lighting and plants were utilized.
The back portion of the building was originally an auto painting stall and allows for privacy once the large, colorful barn door is closed. High gloss cabinetry was added for much needed storage and includes a murphy bed. This space also contains an added ADA bathroom, free standing glass shower, and washer and dryer.
The walls are painted a crisp white which showcase the concrete block walls, their inherent imperfection, and years of use. A modified exposed interior was created with galvanized metal soffits that hide electrical and air conditioning components. The three original overhead garage doors are still intact and used as metal shades for privacy and sun control. The garage concrete floors were polished and sealed still showing the shapes, imperfections, and natural patina of the building. Old Chicago brick was added to both the interior and exterior walls to emulate the character of old industrial buildings.
The grounds were designed to visually create an inviting enclave. Sustainable fencing was installed which offers privacy and security. The front apex, once an eyesore, is a green oasis with bronze trellises, jasmine vines, orchids, and a custom mosaic. Sustainable, resilient and energy efficient principles were applied throughout the design and specifications of this building.
Below are key sustainable concepts that were utilized for this project.
Construction Waste Recycling
Adaptive Reuse of Undesirable Property
Highly Reflective Roof and added Insulation
No additional Building Footprint added
Solar Panels and Battery Storage
Energy Efficient HVAC
Energy Efficient Windows
Energy Efficient LED Lighting
Low Flow Plumbing Fixtures
Energy Efficient Appliances
Recycling and Composting
Low VOC Paint and Finishes
Exterior Drip Irrigation System
Converting this building to a multi-use habitable space was both challenging and rewarding. It was important to design the space using the existing building footprint (bigger is not better), to remediate the undesirable brownfield, to take advantage of the industrial character, and to promote sustainability throughout the entire design process.
With the arrival of the COVID pandemic it has never been more important to have a healthy and safe place to work. For questions about the adaptive reuse of this building – or the potential of a building you own – please contact me, Julie Lundin, at (561) 866-4741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not enough to design super-efficient new buildings. To reach zero-net carbon, architects have to improve performance in existing buildings, and make the most of the embodied carbon we’ve already spent on them.
Given that we’re on target to double the current square footage of building stock globally by 2060, it would be criminal to ignore existing building inventory as an opportunity for reuse. Quinn Evans principal emeritus and 2018 AIA president Carl Elefante, FAIA, and senior associate Richard JP Renaud, AIA, explain why renovation and adaptive reuse—staples for their firm—are critical to achieving the necessary carbon benchmarks.
You have said that “the greenest building is the one that is already built.” Why are the renovation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings so important to achieving zero net? Carl Elefante, FAIA: We have a carbon burden that already exists in the built environment. As designers, we’re thinking about the future, we’re thinking about new buildings. The challenge is to not increase the current carbon burden, which means new buildings have to be much, much more energy-efficient, contributing much less carbon, ultimately contributing zero. But that does nothing to reduce the existing carbon burden. We’re not going to get to zero without drawing down from where we are today. To do that, we have to address the performance of existing buildings.
How should architects and developers approach the existing building stock that they should be considering for renovation? Elefante: “The mountains and the carpet” is Ed Mazria’s description—the “mountain” of modern, tall, dense buildings surrounded by a “carpet” of midcentury and earlier low-density buildings—and it describes an important duality that exists when you start to look at the carbon needs. The types of policies and programs needed to address getting to zero carbon with the large downtown buildings is very different from the challenge of the dispersed buildings in the carpet.
What are some of the challenges? Elefante: The concentration of dense, large buildings downtown has a relative handful of owners. To get at their carbon footprint, you’re dealing with a few stakeholders. The projects are large enough to potentially fund all of the analytical work of energy modeling and life cycle assessment that needs to be done to reach performance goals. In the carpet, you have many thousands more owners, down to the ones with a single property. The scale is so small that it’s very hard to say to an individual homeowner, “Spend money doing modeling, life cycle assessments, and optimizing alternative design scenarios.” It tends to require a more prescriptive approach: “Here are things that you can do to adapt your residence or small-scale commercial building: Insulate your roof and walls, upgrade your mechanical systems to all electric, etc.”
In large-scale renovation or reuse projects, where are the opportunities with embodied carbon? Richard Renaud, AIA: With the mountain buildings, the envelope is a good target. Many of the curtain walls in early modern buildings had very little concern for thermal performance—keeping the view and light was their primary objective. Operationally, how can we improve the curtain wall? And when is it too far gone to be able to be improved? This all comes back to improving performance and minimizing the future use of carbon. The curtain wall was made out of aluminum and glass, two materials that use a lot of carbon to make them. What can we do to save that carbon? Not replacing it becomes very important. The Professional Plaza Building [shown above, in Detroit, which Quinn Evans renovated] was a nice midcentury building that actually had a thermally insulated curtain wall. The owner came to us and said: “From a monetary basis, I want to retain this curtain wall. What can we do to improve its performance?” In his eyes, it’s money; in our eyes, it’s carbon. The owner wanted to save money, he wanted to make the building more efficient. He wanted to reuse as many materials as possible in its redevelopment, which inherently is what we intend to do, too.
Are there ways for architects to get owners thinking more about carbon? Renaud: The mountain is actually a lot easier, because the owners are going to come to architects. The problem, as Carl said, is with the “carpet.” You have thousands of owners, and most are not going to hire an architect.
Do we write off the carpet too quickly as not worth saving? Renaud: Yes. If you come in [to a carpet building] and you have four walls and a roof, even in poor condition, if you can save anything, it’s a plus. We’ve got to stop looking at it only as saving money, and start saying: “How much carbon do we have here, and how is reuse going to save it?”
Elefante: We can’t do this without systemic change. I constantly find myself reminded of the founding of AIA 160 years ago. What was happening then was the adoption of what we now call Building and Life Safety Codes. What we’re faced with today is really similar. Back then, the systemic change was recognizing that it was more important to have all buildings fireproof so that we didn’t have a disaster every time somebody dropped a candle. We need systemic change here as well, and the basis for the change is there. City after city is beginning to develop plans for carbon reduction. There is no way to get to the reductions that are needed without addressing carbon in the building stock—both operational and embodied carbon. Even if you find no value in an existing building other than to keep its basic structure, that saves so much embodied carbon. How do we really start to think about our buildings as carbon sinks, as ways to sequester carbon?
Is sequestering the carbon that is already in the built environment critical to achieving zero? Elefante: Yes. We just can’t throw these buildings out. We’ve got to work with the buildings that we have and continue to make them valuable. If we’re looking for quick reductions in carbon, the place that we have to look first is embodied carbon. If you start with scenarios like renovating existing buildings, then you are instantly saving carbon. This market change is happening very quickly. From my own perspective of being an official old guy and having been around for the rise of sustainability and green building, there’s an awful lot of people around that say, “Architects really missed the boat on the green building switch, so others took it on.” This is going to happen even more quickly, and it’s imperative that architects wake up and make this transition from being carbon polluters to being carbon sequester-ers. It will be either the saving or the demise of our profession.
By Jeremiah Johnson and Joseph F. Decarolis
View the original article here.
This is what a 5-megawatt, lithium-ion energy storage system looks like. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Due to their decreasing costs, lithium-ion batteries now dominate a range of applications including electric vehicles, computers and consumer electronics.
You might only think about energy storagewhen your laptop or cellphone are running out of juice, but utilities can plug bigger versions into the electric grid. And thanks to rapidly declining lithium-ion battery prices, using energy storage to stretch electricity generation capacity.
Based on our research on energy storage costs and performance in North Carolina, and our analysis of the potential role energy storage could play within the coming years, we believe that utilities should prepare for the advent of cheap grid-scale batteries and develop flexible, long-term plans that will save consumers money.
Peak demand is pricey
The amount of electricity consumers use varies according to the time of day and between weekdays and weekends, as well as seasonally and annually as everyone goes about their business.
Those variations can be huge.
For example, the times when consumers use the most electricity in many regions is nearly double the average amount of power they typically consume. Utilities often meet peak demand by building power plants that run on natural gas, due to their lower construction costs and ability to operate when they are needed.
All of the new utility-scale electricity capacity coming online in the U.S. in 2019 will be generated through natural gas, wind and solar power as coal, nuclear and some gas plants close. Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration
However, it’s expensive and inefficient to build these power plants just to meet demand in those peak hours. It’s like purchasing a large van that you will only use for the three days a year when your brother and his three kids visit.
The grid requires power supplied right when it is needed, and usage varies considerably throughout the day. When grid-connected batteries help supply enough electricity to meet demand, utilities don’t have to build as many power plants and transmission lines.
Given how long this infrastructure lasts and how rapidly battery costs are dropping, utilities now face new long-term planning challenges.
About half of the new generation capacity built in the U.S. annually since 2014 has come from solar, wind or other renewable sources. Natural gas plants make up the much of the rest but in the future, that industry may need to compete with energy storage for market share.
In practice, we can see how the pace of natural gas-fired power plant construction might slow down in response to this new alternative.
Grid-scale batteries are being installed coast-to-coast as this snapshot from 2017 indicates. Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Battery Storage Market Trends, 2018.
So far, utilities have only installed the equivalent of one or two traditional power plants in grid-scale lithium-ion battery projects, all since 2015. But across California, Texas, the Midwest and New England, these devices are benefiting the overall grid by improving operations and bridging gaps when consumers need more power than usual.
Based on our own experience tracking lithium-ion battery costs, we see the potential for these batteries to be deployed at a far larger scale and disrupt the energy business.
When we were given approximately one year to conduct a study on the benefits and costs of energy storage in North Carolina, keeping up with the pace of technological advances and increasing affordability was a struggle.
Projected battery costs changed so significantly from the beginning to the end of our project that we found ourselves rushing at the end to update our analysis.
Once utilities can easily take advantage of these huge batteries, they will not need as much new power-generation capacity to meet peak demand.
Credit: The Conversation
Even before batteries could be used for large-scale energy storage, it was hard for utilities to make long-term plans due to uncertainty about what to expect in the future.
For example, most energy experts did not anticipate the dramatic decline in natural gas prices due to the spread of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, starting about a decade ago – or the incentive that it would provide utilities to phase out coal-fired power plants.
In recent years, solar energy and wind power costs have dropped far faster than expected, also displacing coal – and in some cases natural gas – as a source of energy for electricity generation.
Something we learned during our storage study is illustrative.
We found that lithium ion batteries at 2019 prices were a bit too expensive in North Carolina to compete with natural gas peaker plants – the natural gas plants used occasionally when electricity demand spikes. However, when we modeled projected 2030 battery prices, energy storage proved to be the more cost-effective option.
Credit: The Conversation
Federal, state and even some local policies are another wild card. For example, Democratic lawmakers have outlined the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan that could rapidly address climate change and income inequality at the same time.
And no matter what happens in Congress, the increasingly frequent bouts of extreme weather hitting the U.S. are also expensive for utilities. Droughts reduce hydropower output and heatwaves make electricity usage spike.
Several utilities are already investing in energy storage.
California utility Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, got permission from regulators to build a massive 567.5 megawatt energy-storage battery system near San Francisco, although the utility’s bankruptcy could complicate the project.
Hawaiian Electric Company is seeking approval for projects that would establish several hundred megawatts of energy storage across the islands. And Arizona Public Service and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority are looking into storage options as well.
We believe these and other decisions will reverberate for decades to come.If utilities miscalculate and spend billions on power plants it turns out they won’t need instead of investing in energy storage, their customers could pay more than they should to keep the lights through the middle of this century.
JOHN ROGERS, SENIOR ENERGY ANALYST, CLEAN ENERGY | SEPTEMBER 13, 2018, 11:49 AM EST
View the original article here.
The latest annual report on large-scale solar in the U.S. shows that prices continue to drop. Solar keeps becoming more irresistible.
The report, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, is the sixth annual release about the progress of “utility-scale” solar. For these purposes, they generally define “utility-scale” as at least 5 megawatts (three orders of magnitude larger than a typical residential rooftop solar system). And “solar” means mostly photovoltaic (PV), not concentrating solar power (CSP), since PV is where most of the action is these days.
Here’s what the spread of large-scale solar looks like:
In all, 33 states had solar in the 5-MW-and-up range in 2017—four more than had it at the end of 2016. [For a cool look at how that map has changed over time, 2010 to 2017, check out this LBNL graphic on PV additions.]
Watch for falling prices
Fueling—and being fueled by—that growth are the reductions in costs for large-scale projects. Here’s a look at power purchase agreements (PPAs), long-term agreements for selling/buying power from particular projects, over the last dozen years:
And here’s a zoom-in on the last few years, broken out by region:
While those graphs show single, “levelized” prices, PPAs are long-term agreements, and what happens over the terms of the agreements is worth considering. One of the great things about solar and other fuel-free electricity options is that developers can have a really good long-term perspective on future costs: no fuel = no fuel-induced cost variability. That means they can offer steady prices out as far as the customer eye can see.
And, says LBNL, solar developers have indeed done that:
Roughly two-thirds of the contracts in the PPA sample feature pricing that does not escalate in nominal dollars over the life of the contract—which means that pricing actually declines over time in real dollar terms.
Imagine that: cheaper over time. Trying that with a natural gas power plant would be a good way to end up on the losing side of the contract—or to never get the project financed in the first place.
Here’s what that fuel-free solar steadiness can get you over time, in real terms:
What’s behind the PPA prices
So where might those PPA price trends be coming from? Here are some of the factors to consider:
Equipment costs. Solar equipment costs less than it used to—a lot less. PPAs are expressed in cost per unit of electricity (dollars per megawatt-hour, or MWh, say), but solar panels are sold based on cost per unit of capacity ($ per watt). And that particular measure for project prices as a whole also shows impressive progress. Prices dropped 15% just from 2016 to 2017, and were down 60% from 2010 levels.
The federal investment tax credit (30%) is a factor in how cheap solar is, and has helped propel the incredible increases in scale that have helped bring down costs. But since that ITC has been in the picture over that whole period, it’s not directly a factor in the price drop.
Project economies of scale. Bigger projects should be cheaper, right? Surprisingly, LBNL’s analysis suggests that, even if projects are getting larger (which isn’t clear from the data), economies of scale aren’t a big factor, once you get above a certain size. Permitting and other challenges at the larger scale, they suggest, “may outweigh any benefits from economies of scale in terms of the effect on the PPA price.”
Solar resource. Having more of the solar happen in sunnier places would explain the price drop—more sun means more electrons per solar panel—but sunnier climes are not where large-scale solar’s growth has taken it. While a lot of the growth has been in California and the Southwest, LBNL says, “large-scale PV projects have been increasingly deployed in less-sunny areas as well.” In fact:
In 2017, for the first time in the history of the U.S. market, the rest of the country (outside of California and the Southwest) accounted for the lion’s share—70%—of all new utility-scale PV capacity additions.
The Southeast, though late to the solar party, has embraced it in a big way, and accounted for 40% of new large-scale solar in 2017. Texas solar was another 17%.
But Idaho and Oregon were also notable, and Michigan was one of the four new states (along with Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma) in the large-scale solar club. (And, as a former resident of the great state of Michigan, I can attest that the skies aren’t always blue there—even if it actually has more solar power ability than you might think.)
Capacity factors. More sun isn’t the only way to get more electrons. Projects these days are increasingly likely to use solar trackers, which let the solar panels tilt face the sun directly over the course of the day; 80% of the new capacity in 2017 used tracking, says LBNL. Thanks to those trackers, capacity factors themselves have remained steady in recent years even with the growth in less-sunny locales.
What to watch for
This report looks at large-scale solar’s progress through the early part of 2018. But here are a few things to consider as we travel through the rest of 2018, and beyond:
The Trump solar tariffs, which could be expected to raise costs for solar developers, wouldn’t have kicked in in time to show up in this analysis (though anticipation of presidential action did stir things up even before the tariff hammer came down). Whether that signal will clearly show in later data will depend on how much solar product got into the U.S. ahead of the tariffs. Some changes in China’s solar policies are likely to depress panel prices, too.
The wholesale value of large-scale solar declines as more solar comes online in a given region (a lot of solar in the middle of the day means each MWh isn’t worth as much). That’s mostly an issue only in California at this point, but something to watch as other states get up to high levels of solar penetration.
The investment tax credit, because of a 2015 extension and some favorable IRS guidance, will be available to most projects that get installed by 2023 (even with a scheduled phase-down). Even then it’ll drop down to 10% for large-scale projects, not go away completely.
Then there’s energy storage. While the new report doesn’t focus on the solar+storage approach, that second graphic above handily points out the contracts that include batteries. And the authors note that adding batteries doesn’t knock things completely out of whack (“The incremental cost of storage does not seem prohibitive.”).
And, if my math is correct, having 33 states with large-scale solar leaves 17 without. So another thing to watch is who’s next, and where else growth will happen.
Many of the missing states are in the Great Plains, where the wind resource means customers have another fabulous renewable energy option to draw on. But solar makes a great complement to wind. And the wind-related tax credit is phasing out more quickly than the solar ITC, meaning the relative economics will shift in solar’s favor.
Meanwhile, play around with the visualizations connected with the new release (available at the bottom of the report’s landing page), on solar capacity, generation, prices, and more, and revel in solar’s progress.
Large-scale solar is an increasingly important piece of how we’re decarbonizing our economy, and the information in this new report is a solid testament to that piece of the clean energy revolution.