Renewable Energy

A faster energy transition could mean trillions of dollars in savings

Decarbonization may not come with economic costs, but with savings, per a recent paper.

By Grace Donnelly
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If forecasters predicting future costs of renewable energy were contestants on The Price Is Right, no one would be making it onstage.

Projections about the price of technologies like wind and solar have consistently been too high, leading to a perception that moving away from fossil fuels will come at an economic cost, according to a recent paper published in Joule.

“The narrative that clean energy and the energy transition are expensive and will be expensive—this narrative is deeply embedded in society,” Rupert Way, a study coauthor and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford’s Institute for New Economic Thinking and at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, told Emerging Tech Brew. “For the last 20 years, models have been showing that solar will be expensive well into the future, but it’s not right.”

The study found that a rapid transition to renewable energy is likely to result in trillions of dollars in net savings through 2070, and a global energy system that still relies as heavily on fossil fuels as we do today could cost ~$500 billion more to operate each year than a system generating electricity from mostly renewable sources.

Way said the authors were ultimately trying to start a conversation based on empirically grounded pathways, assuming that cost reductions for these technologies will continue at similar rates as they have in the past.

“Then you get this result that a rapid transition is cheapest. Because the faster you do it, the quicker you get all those savings feeding throughout the economy. It kind of feels like there’s this big misunderstanding and we need to change the narrative,” he said.

Expectation versus reality

Out of 2,905 projections from 2010 to 2020 that used various forecasting models, none predicted that solar costs would fall by more than 6% annually, even in the most aggressive scenarios for technological advancement and deployment. During this period, solar costs actually dropped by 15% per year, according to the paper.

The Joule paper took historical price data like this—but across renewable energy tech beyond just solar, including wind, batteries, and electrolyzers—and paired it with Wright’s Law. Also known as the “learning curve,” the law says costs will decline by a certain percentage as effort and investment in a given technology increase. In 2013, an analysis of historical price data for more than 60 technologies by researchers at MIT found that Wright’s Law most closely resembled real-world cost declines.

The researchers used this method to determine the combined cost of the entire energy system under three scenarios over time: A fast transition, in which fossil fuels are largely eliminated around 2050; a slow transition, in which fossil fuels are eliminated by about 2070; and no transition, in which fossil fuels continue to be dominant.

The team found that by quickly replacing fossil fuels with less expensive renewable tech, the projected cost for the total energy system in the fast-transition scenario in 2050 is ~$514 billion less than in the no-transition scenario.

And while the cost of solar, wind, and batteries has dropped exponentially for several decades, the prices of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, when adjusted for inflation, are about the same as they were 140 years ago, the researchers found.

“These clean energy techs are falling rapidly in cost, and fossil fuels are not. Currently, they’re just going up,” Way said.

Renewable energy is not only getting less expensive much faster than expected, but deployments are outpacing forecasts as well. More than 20% of the electricity in the US last year came from renewables, and 87 countries now generate at least 5% of their electricity from wind and solar, according to the paper—a historical tipping point for adoption.

Even in its slowest energy-transition scenario, the International Energy Agency forecasts that global fossil-fuel consumption will begin to fall before 2030, according to a report released last week.

Way and the Oxford team found that a fast transition to renewable energy could amount to net savings of as much as $12 trillion compared with no transition through 2070.

The paper didn’t account for the potential costs of pollution and climate damage from continued fossil-fuel use in its calculations.

“If you were to do that, then you’d find that it’s probably hundreds of trillions of dollars cheaper to do a fast transition,” Way said.

Policy and investment decisions about how quickly to transition away from fossil fuels often weigh the long-term benefits against the present costs. But what this paper shows, Way said, is that a rapid transition is the most affordable regardless.

“It doesn’t matter whether you value the future a lot, or a little, you still should proceed with a fast transition,” he said. “Because clean energy costs are so low now, and they’re likely to be in the future, we can justify doing this transition on economic grounds, either way.”

Why solar ‘tripping’ is a grid threat for renewables

By Miranda Willson
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May 9th of last year was supposed to be a typical day for solar power in west Texas. But around 11:21 a.m., something went wrong.

Large amounts of solar capacity unexpectedly went offline, apparently triggered by a fault on the grid linked to a natural gas plant in Odessa, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The loss of solar output represented more than 13 percent of the total solar capacity at the time in the ERCOT grid region, which spans most of the state.

While all of the solar units came back online within six minutes, the incident highlighted a persistent challenge for the power sector that experts warnneeds to be addressed as clean energy resources continue to displace fossil fuels.

“As in Texas, we’re seeing this huge boom in solar technology fairly quickly,” said Ryan Quint, director of engineering and security integration at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). “And now, we’re seeing very large disturbances out of nowhere.”

Across the U.S., carbon-free resources make up a growing portion of the electricity mix and the vast majority of proposed new generation. This past summer, solar and battery storage systems helped keep the lights on in Texas and California as grid operators grappled with high power demand driven by extreme heat, according to grid experts.

Even so, while the disturbance last year near Odessa was unusual, it was not an isolated incident. If industry and regulators don’t act to prevent future renewable energy “tripping” events, such incidents could trigger a blackout if sufficiently widespread and damage the public’s perception of renewables, experts say.

The tripping event in Texas — which spanned 500 miles — and other, similar incidents have been tied to the inverters that convert electricity generated by solar, wind and battery storage systems to the power used on the grid. Conventional generators — fossil fuel power plants, nuclear plants and hydropower dams — don’t require inverters, since they generate power differently.

“We’re having to rely more and more on inverter technology, so it becomes more and more critical that we don’t have these systemic reliability risk issues, like unexpected tripping and unexpected performance,” Quint said.

Renewable — or “inverter-based” — resources have valuable attributes that conventional generators lack, experts say. They can ramp up and down much more quickly than a conventional power plant, so tripping incidents don’t typically last more than several minutes.

But inverters also have to be programmed to behave in certain ways, and some were designed to go offline in the event of an electrical fault, rather than ride through it, said Debra Lew, associate director of the nonprofit Energy Systems Integration Group.

“[Programming] gives you a lot of room to play,” Lew said. “You can do all kinds of crazy things. You can do great things, and you can do crappy things.”

When solar and wind farms emerged as a significant player in the energy industry in the 2000s and 2010s, it may have made sense to program their inverters to switch offline temporarily in the event of a fault, said Barry Mather, chief engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Faults can be caused by downed power lines, lightning or other, more common disturbances. The response by inverter-based resources was meant to prevent equipment from getting damaged, and it initially had little consequence for the grid as a whole, since renewables at the time made up such a small portion of the grid, Mather noted.

While Quint said progress is being made to improve inverters in Texas and elsewhere, others are less optimistic that the industry and regulators are currently treating the issue with the urgency it deserves.

“The truth is, we’re not really making headway in terms of a solution,” Mather said. “We kind of fix things for one event, and then the next event happens pretty differently.”

‘New paradigm’ for renewables?

NERC has sounded the alarm on the threat of inverter-based resource tripping for over six years. But the organization’s recommendations for transmission owners, inverter manufacturers and others on to how to fix the problem have not been adopted universally.

In August 2016, smoke and heat near an active wildfire in San Bernardino County, Calif., caused a series of electrical faults on nearby power lines.That triggered multiple inverters to disconnect or momentarily stop injecting power into the grid, leading to the loss of nearly 1,200 megawatts of solar power, the first documented widespread tripping incident in the U.S.

More than half of the affected resources in the California event returned to normal output within about five minutes. Still, the tripping phenomenon at the time was considered a “significant concern” for California’s grid operator, NERC said in a 2017 report on the incident.

The perception around some of the early incidents was that the affected solar units were relatively old, with inverters that were less sophisticated than those being installed today, said Ric O’Connell, executive director of the GridLab, a nonprofit research group focused on the power grid. That’s why last year’s disturbance near Odessa caused a stir, he said.

“It’s come to be expected that there are some old legacy plants in California that are 10, 15 years old and maybe aren’t able to keep up with the modern standards,” O’Connell said. “But [those] Texas plants are all pretty brand new.”

Following the May 2021 Odessa disturbance, ERCOT contacted the owners of the affected solar plants — which were not publicly named in reports issued by the grid operator — to try to determine what programming functions or factors had caused them to trip, said Quint of NERC. Earlier this year, ERCOT also established an inverter-based resource task force to “assess, review, and recommend improvements and mitigation activities” to support and improve these resources, said Trudi Webster, a spokesperson for the grid operator.

Still, the issue reemerged in Texas this summer, again centered near Odessa.

On June 4th, nine of the same solar units that had gone offline during the May 2021 event once again stopped generating power or reduced power output. Dubbed the “Odessa Disturbance 2” by ERCOT, the June incident was the largest documented inverter-based tripping event to date in the U.S., involving a total of 14 solar facilities and resulting in a loss of 1,666 megawatts of solar power.

NERC has advocated for several fixes to the problem. On the one hand, transmission owners and service providers need to enhance interconnection requirements for inverter-based resources, said Quint. In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should improve interconnection agreements nationwide to ensure they are “appropriate and applicable for inverter-based technology,” Quint said. Finally, mandatory reliability standards established by NERC need to be improved, a process that’s ongoing, he said.

One challenge with addressing the problem appears to be competing interests for different parties across the industry, said Mather of NREL. Because tripping can essentially be a defense mechanism for solar, wind or battery units that could be damaged by a fault, some power plant owners might be wary of policies that require them to ride through all faults, he said.

“If you’re an [independent system operator], you’d rather have these plants never trip offline, they should ride through anything,” Mather said. “If you’re a plant owner and operator, you’re a bit leery about that, because it’s putting your equipment at risk or at least potentially at risk where you might suffer some damage to your PV inverter systems.”

Also, some renewable energy plant owners might falsely assume that the facilities they own don’t require much maintenance, according to O’Connell. But with solar now constituting an increasingly large portion of the overall electric resource mix, that way of thinking needs to change, he said.

“Now that the industry has grown up and we have 100 megawatt [solar] plants, not 5 kilowatt plants, we’ve got to switch a different paradigm,” he said.

Sean Gallagher, vice president of state and regulatory affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, stressed that tripping incidents cannot be solved by developers alone. It’s also crucial for transmission owners “to ensure that the inverters are correctly configured as more inverter-based resources come online,” Gallagher said.

“With more clean energy projects on the grid, the physics of the grid are rapidly changing, and energy project developers, utilities and transmission owners all need to play a role when it comes to systemwide reliability,” Gallagher said in a statement.

Overall, the industry would support “workable modeling requirements” for solar and storage projects as part of the interconnection process — or, the process by which resources link up to the grid, he added.

‘Not technically possible’

The tripping challenge hasn’t gone unnoticed by federal agencies as they work to prepare the grid for a rapid infusion of clean energy resources — a trend driven by economics and climate policies, but turbocharged by the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Last month, the Department of Energy announced a new $26 million funding opportunity for research projects that could demonstrate a reliable electricity system powered entirely by solar, wind and battery storage resources. A goal of the funding program is to help show that inverter-based resources can do everything that’s needed to keep the lights on, which the agency described as “a key barrier to the clean energy transition.”

“Because new wind and solar generation are interfaced with the grid through power electronic inverters, they have different characteristics and dynamics than traditional sources of generation that currently supply these services,” DOE said in its funding notice.

FERC has also proposed a new rule that draws on the existing NERC recommendations. As part of a sweeping proposal to update the process for new resources to connect to the grid, FERC included two new requirements to reduce tripping by inverter-based resources.

If finalized, the FERC rule would mandate that inverter-based resources provide “accurate and validated models” regarding their behavior and programming as part of the interconnection process. Resources would also generally need to be able to ride through disturbances without tripping offline, the commission said in the proposal, issued in June.

While it’s designed to help prevent widespread tripping, FERC’s current proposal could be improved, said Julia Matevosyan, chief engineer at the Energy Systems Integration Group. Among other changes, the agency should require inverter-based resources to inject so-called “reactive power” during a fault, while reducing actual power output in proportion to the size of the disturbance, Matevosyan said. Reactive power refers to power that helps move energy around the grid and supports voltages on the system.

“It’s a good intent. It’s just the language, the way it’s proposed right now, is not technically possible or desirable behavior,” Matevosyan said of the FERC proposal.

To improve its proposal, FERC could draw on language used by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in a new standard it developed for inverter-based resources earlier this year, she added. Standards issued by IEEE, a professional organization focused on electrical engineering issues, aren’t enforceable or mandatory, but they represent best practices for the industry.

IEEE’s process is stakeholder-driven. Ninety-four percent of the 170 industry experts involved in the process for developing the latest inverter-based resource standard — including inverter manufacturers, energy developers, grid operators and others — approved the final version, Matevosyan said.

The approval of the IEEE standard is one sign that a consensus could be emerging on inverter-based resource tripping, despite the engineering and policy hurdles that remain, observers said. As the industry seeks to improve inverter-based resource performance, there’s also a growing understanding of the advantages that the resources have over conventional resources, such as their ability to rapidly respond to grid conditions, said Tom Key, a senior technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute.

“It’s not the sky is falling or anything like that,” Key said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Why We Need Green Hydrogen

BY:  RENEE CHO
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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.

Photo: Dave Pinter

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.

Photo: parent55

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.

Long haul trucking is difficult to decarbonize.
 Photo: raymondclarkimages

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 Hyundai. Photo: Adam Gautsch

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.

Storing liquid hydrogen. Photo: Jared

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.

Hydrogen gas pump.
Photo: Bob n Renee

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
The California National Guard designed hydrogen fuel cells that use solar energy for electrolysis to make green hydrogen. Photo: US Army Environmental Command

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.”

Researchers on working on hydrogen storage, hydrogen safety, catalyst development, and fuel cells. Photo: Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

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.”

COVID-19: The Wake-Up Call The Energy Sector Needed

By: Jemma Green
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Perhaps Henry David Thoreau was onto something when he set out solo for a cabin in the woods with the aim of becoming completely self-sustainable – for one, he wouldn’t really need to stress about a contagious pandemic. 

Thoreau’s experience would later shape the 19th century literary classic Walden; or, Life in the Woods, detailing how he was able to rely solely on himself, including growing his own food and sourcing firewood for heat and light at night. 

Whether he knew it or not Thoreau was excelling at social distancing and we could all take a leaf out of his book. 

Because, while most of us have got the idea of self-isolation down pat, I bet few are likely to pass the self-sufficiency test.

You only have to look at recent purchasing trends to see some of the panic stemming from a lack of self-sufficiency to see this ‘test’ in action. 

First it was the toilet paper and tinned food, before spreading to plants, with a nursery’s months-worth of vegetables and seedlings stock sold over one weekend. 

Next up: renewable energy infrastructure, as demonstrated by one solar retailer experiencing a 41 percent jump in PV sales and a 400 percent increase in battery enquiries over the past two weeks. 

But where were these eco warriors, cultivating their own veggie patches and living ‘off-grid’ before the apocalyptic hysteria hit? 

If history is any proof, crises are often the perfect kindling for igniting change, especially when standards of living are threatened. 

And the COVID-19 crisis has certainly given the energy world a wake-up call when it comes to sustainability.  

Mother nature gets a well deserved break 

Amid coronavirus-induced lockdowns, shutdowns and working from home, air pollution has significantly dropped worldwide.

In New York, carbon monoxide levels, largely produced from cars, have fallen by nearly 50 percent compared with the same time last year. 

Greenhouse gas emissions in China have also plummeted with NASA releasing images where you can see the country’s reduction in nitrogen dioxide from space. 

Nitrogen dioxide emissions over China – Copyright NASA Earth Observatory by Joshua Stevens, using modified Copernicus Sentinel 5P data processed by the European Space Agency  – NASA

According to one analysis, the slowdown of economic activity in China led to an estimated 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions in just four weeks. 

The restriction on air travel, or any travel at all, has also clearly played a role in reducing pollutants.

And whether you choose to believe the stories of wildlife returning to cities, like dolphins and swans returning to Venice canals, coronavirus has certainly given mother nature a well-deserved moment of respite. 

However, this has been at the expense of economic development, of jobs and livelihoods – and it’s certainly not going to be long-term. 

Air pollutants will likely jump once day-to-day normalities resume. 

However, if we’re smart about it, we can use this period to re-evaluate our energy systems to help flatten the emissions curve and keep our air clean.

Energy systems under pressure 

Aside from the closure of factories and reduction in fuel-consuming transport, we can’t forget that data centers and server-farms are also huge energy-intensive industries. 

Collectively, these spaces represent approximately two percent of the United State’s total electricity use. 

In the UK, there’s been reports of home-working intensifying pressure on the electricity network, instead of being in the office where lighting, heating and cooling are shared. 

Now everyone’s either working from home, or just at home, internet use and streaming is peaking. 

A study by SaveOnEnergy estimated energy generated from the 80 million views on Netflix’s NFLX thriller Birdbox was equal to the equivalent of driving more than 146 million miles and emitting just over 66 million kilograms of CO2 – what it takes to drive from London to Istanbul and back 38,879 times. 

Beyond the environmental impact, coronavirus has brought more attention to the question of whether our current energy systems and frameworks can actually keep up with increasing demand pressures.  

Several country-appointed energy councils have met to discuss electricity demand pressures related to COVID-19, with renewable energy a popular topic. 

In a meeting between Australia’s federal, state and territory energy ministers, the transition towards a genuine two-sided market was emphasized – where consumers become prosumers by contributing excess rooftop solar and battery electricity to the grid.

This would play a large role in forming a ‘day-ahead’ market, to “address concerns that managing challenges like system strength is becoming increasingly difficult with only a real-time market”. 

On top of this, the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus actually includes tax deduction incentives for commercial and industrial solar PV, in a bid to help alleviate financial pressure through reduced electricity bills. 

Digital transformation is underway across the energy sector, with significant advancements in renewable energy technologies and the ways in which energy is distributed. 

For any real change to occur, you need people to switch perspectives.

Powering new mindsets

Tough times spark innovation. Now is as good a time as any to test new energy systems and processes, and it starts with a shift in thinking. 

Energy networks, retailers and operators have delivered services in much the same way for a century – driven by fossil-fuels. 

New technology is making it easier, more effective and affordable to use renewable energy, and the costs associated with installing those technologies, such as solar and batteries are decreasing.

And most industry players recognise the need to change and evolve in order to remain relevant, or are at least are starting to, with a little nudge from COVID-19. 

Self-generating renewable energy infrastructure gives people the power to become self-sufficient for their electricity needs, with some even going ‘off-grid’ altogether. 

National Energy Market retailer Powerclub is one company already trialling new technology to help alleviate demand pressure on the grid via a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in South Australia and is currently calling for more households to join. 

The VPP enables Powerclub households with batteries to sell their stored, excess solar back to the grid during peak demand periods and price hikes, via peer-to-peer energy trading technology. 

There is a huge benefit to the broader community in that the VPP gives those who may not be able to afford solar panels, or those who are renting, the opportunity to access clean energy. 

As great as it is to think of only the environmental benefit that comes with using clean energy, a monetary incentive certainly makes the proposition more appealing. 

Not only does a VPP provide renewable energy infrastructure owners with a passive income, it can also provide an incentive for others to install solar panels – knowing they’ll be able to pay back their investment faster. 

Pair a VPP with home grown vegetables and you’re a little closer to achieving Thoreau’s vision for self-sufficiency. 

Where to from here? 

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t take a pandemic for people to reconsider their impact on the environment – but it has. 

We’re now being given a chance to press reset on many areas of our lives and reconsider what it takes and what choices to make in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Energy regulators are on the right track with numerous initiatives and policy changes currently underway.

But you could make a change right now – how we return to normal life post COVID-19 could lay the foundations for a cleaner and more resilient energy future.

Why does that matter? Well, as Thoreau said; “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?”

Utilities are starting to invest in big batteries instead of building new power plants

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

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

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.

Cheaper batteries

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.

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

Credit: The Conversation

Utility planning

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

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.

The future

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.

The United States is headed for a battery breakthrough

By Tim Sylvia
View the original article here.

A new report by the Energy Information Administration projects U.S. installed battery storage capacity will reach 2.5 GW by 2023. Florida and New York are set to pave the way as massive projects in each state will account for almost half the coming capacity.

Storage is ready to take off in a big way. Image: Tesla

Storage is ready to take off in a big way. Image: Tesla

Symbiosis is one of life’s most beautiful phenomena. Certain things just work perfectly together and the energy revolution is no different, as renewable energy resources and battery storage go together like peas in a pod.

However, the United States has an operating battery storage capacity of only 899 MW to date. And while that figure is expected to reach 1 GW this year that would still only represent 1/67th of the nation’s cumulative solar generation capacity, and an even smaller percentage of the overall renewables capacity.

That could all be about to change dramatically though, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration(EIA) has released a report predicting battery storage capacity will almost treble by 2023, to 2.5 GW.

Past, current and predicted U.S. battery storage capacity levels. Image: EIA

Past, current and predicted U.S. battery storage capacity levels. Image: EIA

 

The projections were made based on proposed utility scale battery storage projects scheduled for initial commercial operation within five years. The EIA tracks data with its Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory survey, which updates the status of projects scheduled to come online within 12 months.

As drastic as a prediction of 2.5 GW appears, there is a precedent. Between late 2014 and March, installed battery storage capacity rose more than four times over, from 214 to 889 MW.

A look at the states that brought the U.S. to its current storage reality offers surprising results. Leading the way was California, unsurprisingly. However, of the six states known to pv magazine to have energy storage mandates, California is the only one in the top 10 for installed capacity. The others: Arizona, Nevada, New York, Massachusetts and Oregon; each have less than 50 MW of installed battery storage capacity.

The top 10 states in terms of current installed battery storage capacity. Image: EIA

The top 10 states in terms of current installed battery storage capacity. Image: EIA

Texas, Illinois and Hawaii are relatively unsurprising storage pioneers as all three states have strong solar industries and Hawaii especially has been pushing battery storage deployment. Right away, however, the names that stand out on the list are West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. None of those is known as a solar pioneer; they have just under 650 MW of generation capacity installed between them. Special recognition goes to West Virginia on that score, with its 8.5 MW.

So what’s with all the storage? Independent of renewables West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio – plus New Jersey, the seventh state on the list – are all members of the PJM Interconnection. PJM was the first large market for battery storage, and uses the technology for frequency regulation.

That list is likely to look different by 2023, however. Of the 1,623 MW expected to come online by 2024, 725 MW will come courtesy of two projects – both in states outside the current top 10.

Two mammoth projects

The first of those is Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) planned battery system for its Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish. The battery is set to clock in at 409 MW, which would make it the largest solar powered battery system in the world.

In that project’s shadow, but nevertheless considerable is the Helix Ravenswood facility, planned in Queens, New York. Almost more impressive than the project’s anticipated 316 MW of capacity is the idea of having a storage project of such magnitude in NYC.

FPL’s Manatee battery is anticipated to begin commercial operation in 2021, as is the first stage of Helix Ravenswood. That initial phase in New York will represent 129 MW of capacity, with the remaining 187 MW following via a 98 MW second phase and 89 MW final stage. The anticipated commercial operation dates of those expansions have not yet been announced.

We have seen the future and there are batteries, lots of them, demonstrating symbiosis extends beyond the natural world.

Israel Completes World‘s Largest Solar & Thermal Electric Facility

By David Lazarus
View the original article here.

The state-of-the-art thermal electric power plant in Israel’s Negev Desert is equipped with more than 50,000 computer-controlled heliostats that produce enough power for 150,000 homes, keeping 110,000 tons of CO2 emissions out of the air per year.

The Ashalim solar and thermal electric power plant in Israel’s Negev Desert is up and running. The state-of-the-art facility is equipped with more than 50,000 computer-controlled heliostats or mirrors, which can track the sun in two dimensions and reflect the sunlight onto a boiler placed on top of a tower measuring 240 m-high (787.4 ft). That’s higher than some of the tallest sky scrapers in the world and by far the tallest solar tower ever built.

How does it work? All those tens of thousands of mirrors are hooked up to a computer operated tracking system so that they all move precisely with the orbit of the earth around the sun throughout the day and direct the heat from the sunlight to a spot on the boiler on top of the tower to within 0.0015499969 of an inch. The super hot water in the boiler produces superheated steam, which is then conveyed through pipes down below with enough pressure to spin a steam turbine-generator at astronomical speeds needed to produce electricity. The solar run generator can put out 300 megawatts of clean electricity every day, or enough to power about 150,000 homes.

Ashalim construction in 2016 – BrightSource Energy website

Ashalim construction in 2016 – BrightSource Energy website

Another feature of the Ashalim project is the use of solar thermal technology that can store energy for use at night in order to provide consistent and reliable output of electricity. This is one of the largest renewable energy projects in the world. The facility covers an area of over 3 sq. km (2 sq. miles).

Israel’s climate is ideal for solar power, particularly in the Negev which enjoys more than 300 sunny days a year. Israel has been home to many solar technology breakthroughs, but the government has been slow in getting away from using fossil fuels for power. But that is definitely starting to change with a goal getting 10 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 with the new solar project. Once the project is proven fully successful, Israel plans to move ahead rapidly towards renewable energy sources.

Together with the recent discovery of huge deposits of natural gas along Israel’s Mediterranean Coast, the Ashalim plant will contribute to Israel’s security by reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports. It will also keep us safe by keeping 110,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year out of the air we breathe.

Solar Energy Isn’t Just for Electricity

It can also provide carbon-free heat for a wide variety of industrial processes

By Steven Moss
View the original article here.

Part of the Miraah soler thermal project in Oman. Credit: GlassPoint Solar

Part of the Miraah soler thermal project in Oman. Credit: GlassPoint Solar

The industrial processes that underpin our global economy—manufacturing, fuel and chemical production, mining—are enormously complex and diverse. But they share one key input: they, as well as many others, require heat, and lots of it, which takes staggering amounts of fuel to produce. Heat and steam generation is critical to the global economy, but it’s also an overlooked and growing source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The good news is that innovative solar technologies can produce steam at industrial scale—reducing emissions and, increasingly, cutting costs. And given the current climate outlook, it’s urgent that industry adopt these new technologies.

Despite enormous progress around the world to ramp up renewables and increase energy efficiency, global GHG emissions reached an all-time highin 2018. In a report released in January, the Rhodium Group found that even though renewable energy installations soared and coal plants shut down, carbon emissions in the U.S. rose sharply last year. Emissions from industry shot up 5.7 percent—more than in any other sector, including transportation and power generation. The authors of the Rhodium Group study concluded that despite increased efforts from policymakers and the business to tackle emissions, “the industrial sector is still almost entirely ignored.”

This must change, at the global level. Worldwide industry is responsible for a quarter of total emissions. And while those from transportation and residential segments are trending down, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that industrial emissions will grow some 24 percent by 2050.

As people around the world continue to transition from living off the land to moving to cities and buying and consuming more things, industrial activity will continue to increase—and the need to reduce corresponding emissions will become all the more urgent.

Credit: GlassPoint Solar

Credit: GlassPoint Solar

This brings us back to heat. Industry is the largest consumer of energy, and a surprising 74 percent of industrial energy is in the form of heat, mostly process steam. Solar steam—making the sun’s heat work for industry—is a largely unexplored but promising avenue for reducing emissions.

While photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert sunlight into electricity are more common, thermal solutions are what’s needed to meet industry’s growing demand for heat. In a solar thermal system, mirrors focus sunlight to intensify its heat and produce steam at the high temperatures needed for industry. Another key advantage is the ability to store the heat using simple, proven thermal energy storage in order to deliver steam 24 hours a day, just like a conventional fossil fuel plant. With the right technology, solar thermal can be a reliable, efficient and low-cost energy source for industrial steam generation.

So-called "enclosed trough technology" uses sunshine to produce zero-carbon steam. Credit: GlassPoint Solar.

So-called “enclosed trough technology” uses sunshine to produce zero-carbon steam. Credit: GlassPoint Solar.

For example, renewable process heat provider Sunvapor is partneringwith Horizon Nut to build a 50-kilowatt solar thermal installation at a pistachio processing facility in the Central Valley of California. The companies are working to expand solar steam production for food industry processes, such as pasteurization, drying and roasting.

In Oman and California, GlassPoint Solar is operating and developing some of the world’s largest solar projects for industry. GlassPoint’s greenhouse-enclosed mirrors track the sun throughout the day, focusing heat on pipes containing water. The concentrated sunlight boils the water to generate steam, which is used by Oman’s largest oil producer to extract oil from the ground. The capacity of GlassPoint’s Miraah plant, which can currently deliver 660 metric tons of steam every day, will top 1 gigawatt of solar thermal energy when completed. This same technology is also being deployed in California to reduce emissions from one of the country’s largest and oldest operating oilfields.

Meanwhile, to meet the needs of extremely high-temperature (800-1,000degreesC) industrial processes, the European Union is developing SOLPART, a research project to develop solar thermal energy that can be used to produce cement, lime and gypsum.

While fossil fuels remain the dominant source of heat for industry across all sectors and regions, industry is beginning to explore cleaner alternatives—and in some cases, industry is leveraging solar steam on a significant scale. As technology advances, more and more companies will find that switching to solar steam can simultaneously reduce costs and emissions, improving business operations while shrinking its carbon footprint.

When it comes to mitigating climate change, most attention has been directed to the things we see, buy, or use on a daily basis—the cars we drive, the food we eat, the power plants that keep our lights on. But behind all these activities is process heat, an emissions source that has been largely ignored.

Now we must turn our attention to industry—the sleeping giant of climate action. Process heat is an overlooked opportunity to slash GHG emissions, and solar technologies operating at the scale needed by industry are currently available. It’s time to embrace them and stop industrial heat from heating up our planet.

The Price of Large-Scale Solar Keeps Dropping

JOHN ROGERS, SENIOR ENERGY ANALYST, CLEAN ENERGY | SEPTEMBER 13, 2018, 11:49 AM EST
View the original article here.

PV modules at the Kerman site near Fresno, California
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:

Solar Drop 2

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:

Solar Drop 3

And here’s a zoom-in on the last few years, broken out by region:

Solar Drop 4

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:

Solar Drop 5

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.

Solar Drop 6

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.

Eggshells May Power The Renewable Energy Revolution

View the original article here.

Ready for some happy news among all the gloom surrounding government shutdowns, border security, and malfeasance in high places? Here’s something that may put a smile on your face. According to researchers in Western Australia, eggshells may be the key to abundant, inexpensive energy storage.
Eggshell_001

Dr Manickam Minakshi and his colleagues began experimenting with eggshells in 2017 using eggs purchased at the local supermarket. “Eggshells have a high level of calcium carbonate, which can act as a form of replenishing energy,” he tells the Canberra Times.

“What’s interesting is that the egg membrane around the yolk allowed us to cook it at a high temperature, crush it into powder and bake it at 500 degrees Celsius with the chemical still present.The final baking process changes the chemical composition from calcium carbonate to calcium oxide and allows it to become a conduit for electricity.

For Dr Minakshi’s team, this represents a first step towards work on an alternative battery to store energy from renewable energies such as solar panels and wind turbines. “Renewable energy resources are intermittent as they depend on the weather,” he says. “When we have an excess, we need a battery to store it. Ground egg shells serve as the electrode to store this.” Before being heated, the eggshell is a positive electrode but when heated it changes to be a negative electrode, he explains.

Dr Minakshi says he hopes his research will attract the attention of renewable energy companies. Assuming further tests prove the validity of his preliminary results, abundant and affordable materials like eggshells have the potential to provide energy storage from items that would otherwise be little more than bio-waste.

“You can buy them at a 12-pack from Coles for $4 or pick them up from the food court,” he says. “What’s even more important is that you can use the eggshells that are thrown into landfills. This brings in the potential to reduce the amount of bio-waste we produce.”

The research in the laboratory will continue to determine how much electricity the eggshell powder can store and for how long. Minakshi even has plans to test free range eggshells to see if they have better conductive properties, although why that would be is not clear. Perhaps free range chickens have higher levels of self esteem which lead to chemical changes in their eggs.

If anyone can peck out the answers, it is Dr. Manakshi, who may or may not have watched the adventures of Henry Cabot Henhouse III — a/k/a Super Chicken — as a boy. (There is a slight possibility I am not treating this topic with the seriousness is deserves.)