Tag Archives: wind

Renewable Energy Growth Pick Ups Speed and Support from States – 2/22/17

Wind turbines across the Great Plains states produced, for the first time, more than half the region’s electricity this year as a boom in wind power production is turning states in the region into renewable energy powerhouses.

The power grid that supplies a corridor stretching from Montana to the Texas Panhandle was getting 52.1% of its power from wind, according to a statement from Southwest Power Pool Inc.

“Ten years ago we thought hitting even a 25% wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” Bruce Row, Southwest Power Pool’s vice president of operations, said in the statement. “Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50%. It’s not even our ceiling.”

The power pool operates 60,000 miles of power grid across 14 states. Texas leads the U.S. wind industry with more than 20GW installed, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

In response to the growth of clean power, governors across the country are urging support for renewable energy as a means of enriching impoverished farmers, creating jobs, and increasing tax revenue..

The Governor’s Wind & Solar Energy Coalition is seeking increased federal funding to modernize local power grids and boost clean energy research, according to a letter submitted to the White House. Since November, Republican governors in Illinois and Michigan signed legislation backing wind and solar.

“The nation’s wind and solar energy resources are transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the passage of the Homestead Act over 150 years ago,” Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo wrote in the letter, on behalf of eight Republican governors and 12 Democrat state leaders.

Clean power has been a boon in many rural regions. Rural property owners earn more than $245 million a year from leasing land to wind farm developers, according to the AWEA’s fourth-quarter report. Solar companies employed more than 200,000 people last year, and most new installations were in rural regions, according to the letter.

Energy Jobs: Automation and Numbers – 2/10/17

If members of Congress and the new President are really dedicated to wringing more jobs out the energy sector, then they should make sure they’re looking for them in the right place.

Since oil prices collapsed in 2014, Bloomberg estimates that 440,000 jobs in the U.S. have been lost as a result of the downturn. As a result, the world’s biggest oil services companies have had to spend billions on severance costs and, now, few seem ready to risk a repeat of that huge expense. Many in the oil industry are increasingly turning to automation to replace many of the lost jobs, a trend unlikely to change as technology costs continue to fall relative to wages. The UBS estimates that the US oil industry will only need about half as many workers per barrel of oil produced post-2017 versus pre-2015.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that states known for oil output are heading for high unemployment rates. For example, Texas may have suffered greatly during the 1980’s oil price downturn, but its economy has since become far less dependent on the commodity thanks to strong growth in other sectors. In fact, Texas has had net creation of new jobs recently despite the severe oil price downturn.

Only about 2.5% of Texas’ employment was related to natural resource extraction before the crisis because oil was and increasingly is not a particularly labor intensive industry. Even now Austin and Dallas are thriving with job growth rates of 4.3% and 4.2% respectively because neither city is dependent on oil prices to drive economic growth. Overall, the biggest oil producing state in the U.S. has held together just fine despite the lower-for-longer oil prices.

Meanwhile, large number of new energy jobs are coming from the wind and solar energy industries. U.S. wind-farm developers and suppliers had more than 100,000 workers at the end of the year, compared to 65,971 coal mining jobs at the start of last year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Perhaps surprisingly, the top 10 congressional districts for wind energy are all in Republican-dominated red states such as Iowa and Texas, according to American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan.

“We’re hiring workers in the rust belt,” Kiernan said in an interview. “We’re helping families keep farms they’ve held for generations. The lifeblood of our industry is in rural America.”

And the extension of two key federal tax credits by the Republican-controlled Congress at the end of 2015 along with the fact that the new Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, saw Texas become the largest producer of wind power during his term as Governor gives some cause for optimism in the renewable energy companies.

Renewable Additions, Distributed Solar, Etc. From the EIA – 1/13/17

The EIA expects that 24 GW of generating capacity was added to the power grid during 2016 and that, for the third consecutive year, more than half of these additions come mostly from renewable energy, especially wind and solar.

Of the 2016 renewable additions, nearly 60% were scheduled to come online during the fourth quarter when additions are usually high because of timing qualifications for federal, state, or local tax incentives.

Monthly U.S. renewable electricity generation peaked in March with high hydroelectric and wind generation.

Most renewable generation comes from the Western U.S., which accounted for the majority of the hydroelectric (63%) and solar (77%) generation in 2016. Wind generation was more evenly spread across the country with 37% occurring in the Midwest, 35% in the South, 24% in the West, and the remaining 4% in the Northeast.


At the end of 2015, EIA also began publishing monthly estimates for distributed small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity and generation. As of October 2016, the United States had a total of 12.6 GW of small-scale solar PV installed. Of this capacity, 56% was in the residential sector, 36% in the commercial sector, and 8% in the industrial sector.

Because wind and solar facilities generate power only to the extent their respective resources are available, their capacity factors (ratio of its actual output over a period of time to its potential output if operated at full capacity continuously over the same period) are typically lower than those of other resources.


Other renewable electricity highlights in 2016:

The production tax credit (PTC) for wind and the solar investment tax credit (ITC) were extended at the end of 2015 with bipartisan support. The tax credits include an eventual decline in value for both technologies with the PTC for wind expiring in 2020 and the ITC for large-scale solar declining from 30% to a permanent 10% and expiring for residential projects in 2022.

New York, Oregon, and the District of Columbia extended and expanded their mandates for renewable electric generation to reach 50% of each state’s total electricity generation by 2030, 2032, and 2040, respectively.

Hydroelectric generation increased as drought conditions that affected hydroelectric generation on the West Coast in 2014 and 2015 diminished.

Energy in the U.S.: 2016 and 2017 – 1/12/17

Ten years ago, coal accounted for about 49% of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. This year, the EIA’s December Short Term Energy Outlook has it close to 30%, compared to 34% for natural gas and 5% for wind which both more than doubled their shares of total generation for the same period.

Almost 50 GW of coal-fired capacity has been retired since 2010 with virtually no new coal-fired capacity added or planned.

On average, the coal power plants retired were more than 50 years old while the average life of such plants is 40 years, according to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. That capacity, and by extension the main point of consumption for coal, is expendable for utilities and being replaced almost entirely by natural gas, wind, and solar power assets.

As Gerard Anderson, chairman and CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy, in an interview with mlive.com said “All of those retirements  are going to happen regardless of what Trump may or may not do with the Clean Power Plan [referring to the company’s plans to close another eight coal power plants in the years ahead]… I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant.”

Or as Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., the largest underground coal mining company in the U.S. has a similar opinion saying in an interview with POWER: “I’ve asked President-elect Trump to temper his comments about bringing coal miners back and bringing coal back. It will not happen. The destruction that has happened is permanent.”

Apparently, even if it played a part in moving utility companies away from coal, there are other forces at work besides government regulation. The most likely suspects are changing economics and customer preference for cleaner fuels.

Natural gas at least appears cleaner than coal when it comes to CO2 emissions, and natural gas prices are so low in some places that coal cannot even compete on a price basis. With the abundant supplies unlocked by fracking and horizontal drilling, that fact doesn’t look likely to change. As a result, energy generation from natural gas has rocketed upwards at coal’s expense.

source: wikipedia

Renewables are also chippng away at coal’s market share. Wind power generated more than 4.4% of the nation’s electricity in 2014 versus 2.3% in 2010 and 0.2% in 2000, and solar’s growth rate and future potential are staggeringly high. From essentially zero installed utility-scale generation capacity in 2008, operating capacity jumped to 14 GW by the end of 2015 and the latest Solar Market Insight report estimates that more than 10 GW of utility-scale generation will come online this year alone. The Solar Energy Industries Association projects that another 20 GW of capacity will come online by 2020.

And as far as jobs in energy, the solar and wind industries reportedly create more jobs than coal each.

At least according to the latest census by an entity affiliated with SEIA, there were more than 200,000 solar industry jobs at the end of 2015, 150,000 of which were in installation and manufacturing. In wind, the American Wind Energy Association credits the industry with some 88,000 jobs at the beginning of 2016, of which 21,000 were wind-related manufacturing jobs and 38,000 were project development and construction jobs.

Meanwhile, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of coal mining jobs at about 68,000.

On top of winning by sheer numbers, many of those wind jobs are located in Republican-led districts. Earlier this year, AWEA released data showing that 86% of all the wind generating capacity in the United States is located in congressional districts represented by Republicans.

China: Fossil Fuels and Renewables – 12/13/16

China uses more energy than any other country. The scale of Chinese consumption of electricity and oil dwarfs any other nation’s besides the U.S. giving trends in China far reaching implications for global energy markets.

Oil

In oil markets, the expected slowdown of Chinese economic growth has contributed to oil prices to half their 2014 levels. Even now, China’s demand for imported oil is seen as major factor in if and how prices recover.

So far, oil output from China has slid this year as the country’s producers shut fields too expensive to operate at current prices. According to Bloomberg News, even China’s largest oil companies have struggled under low prices: PetroChina Co., the country’s biggest oil and gas producer, barely broke even in the the first half of 2016 and Cnooc Ltd., its biggest offshore explorer, posted a first half loss as low crude prices forced it to write down assets. Overall, China’s crude production from January to October fell 6.7% from a year ago, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Electricity

China currently uses about 47% of the world supply of coal, but health and environmental concerns have lead the Chinese government to consider supporting alternative fuels.

Seeking to boost the share of natural gas in its energy mix to 10% by 2020, the Chinese government has pushed favorable policies for the fuel including an adjustment of pipeline fees next year to stimulate use. China National Petroleum Corp., the country’s biggest oil producer, also plans to separate its pipeline and natural gas sales units, as reported by the state-owned China Daily.

In clean energy, China has encouraged a boom in wind turbine production, though it is now struggling to upgrade power grids needed to carry it to users. As a result of construction outpacing infrastructure, roughly one-fifth of wind power currently goes undistributed and the country’s energy authority in November was forced to slashed wind and solar targets through 2020 in response.

In its newly issued five-year plan for power, China’s government targets total installed solar capacity of 110 GW by 2020, down from earlier guidance by officials of 150. On wind, the government now aims for 210 GW of installed capacity, down from 250.

Meanwhile, a slowing economy is reducing the amount of electricity that people will ultimately need. The growth in electricity demand has already dropped from double-digits in recent years to less than 3% in the first half of 2016.

EIA Reports on U.S. Energy Consumption History – 11/16/16

Energy consumption in the United States has changed significantly over the past hundred years, according to data collected by the EIA.

In 1908, the country consumed just 15 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), of which 75% was coal, compared to 1997 when it totaled 94 quadrillion Btu with coal’s share of total consumption reaching only 25% and with significantly higher shares for natural gas and nuclear power.

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The share of nonhydro renewable consumption is actually lower today (10%) than it was in 1908 (15%), largely because wood (technically a renewable biomass fuel) was displaced by coal. Today, solar and wind generation are increasing and make up most of the total nonhydro renewables.

As the primary transportation fuel, petroleum has remained a major component of energy consumption in the U.S. with no other fuel eating into its share as was the case with coal. The effects of affordable self-driving and/or electric vehicles remains to be seen, but will almost certainly become noticeable in the next decade.

The EIA data below shows in better detail the trending of U.S. energy consumption away from coal use and towards the use of natural gas over the last 15 years. The shift accelerated in the last few years as fracking opened up vast natural gas resources throughout the U.S. and environmental regulations favored gas for its less carbon intensive burn.

US total production

IEA Takes New Tact on Renewables – 11/4/16

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that in 2015, for the first time, renewable energy passed coal as the world’s biggest source of new power-generating capacity.

The IEA, established as a watchdog of the industry in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, found that renewable energy generating capacity is increasing faster than it projected. Based on existing policies, the IEA updated its forecasts to show 825GW of new renewable capacity will be added globally from 2015-21, 13% more than it projected just last year.

Although the IEA’s stated goal is to provide impartial advice, it’s been criticized for publishing overly conservative estimates that have failed to predict the growth of wind and solar power. Bloomberg New Energy Finance provides graphs as shown below to illustrate the IEA’s previous underestimations of solar and wind power growth.

iea-solar-forecasts

iea-wind-forescasts

According to a spokesman for the industry, this year’s forecasts seek to reflect the growing number of countries adopting climate change policies, as well as the global deal to curb carbon emissions and global warming agreed in Paris Climate Agreement.

The IEA expects the share of renewables in total power generation to rise to 28% from 21%. The rise would be driven by government policies to curb global warming and reduce air pollution, as well as falling prices of solar panels and wind turbines. The IEA expects the United States to pass the EU and become the second-biggest market for renewables after China in the next few years, thanks to an extension of federal tax credits to wind and solar producers.

Because electricity demand in rich countries is falling, more renewable power are expected to drive other sources of electricity out of the market. As shown below in a chart from Economist.com, electricity-generation growth from renewables is expected to displace that from conventional sources. In the U.S. or the EU, conventional sources would mean fossil fuels while for Japan it would refer primarily to nuclear power.

econ-iea-renew

Who’s Paying for Wind Power? – 10/24/16

Wind power is getting bigger in the U.S.

According to data compiled by the AWEA, installed generation capacity for the renewable energy source nearly doubled in the last five years. In 2015, wind produced 4.67% of all generated electrical energy and it made up 41% of power capacity additions.

awea

The demand for wind power is coming from various parties. Under the Obama administration’s bold environmental policies, federal agencies like the Department of Defense have become a large customer, but the private sector is driving much of the boom.

big-renew-players

Tech companies have been particularly aggressive in buying clean power. Amazon.com Inc. recently agreed to buy 90% of the power generated by a 253MW wind farm being developed in west Texas. Apple Inc. Facebook Inc., and Google have made similar moves to directly purchase clean energy for their facilities. Centralized, power hungry data centers give tech companies an advantage in replacing large shares of their power with cleaner sources.

Still, more conventional companies are buying into wind power too. Johnson & Johnson is buying 100MW of capacity from a wind farm also located in Texas. In a 12-year contract, it will buy half the output from the farm. Other big buyers, according to the AWEA, include Wal-Mart, IKEA, and Dow Chemical.

whos-buying-wind

Rural areas are also benefiting greatly from extra income brought in from leasing land for turbines as commodity prices have collapsed.

“One turbine has changed my life,” Ed Woolsey, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer who now leases his farm to others to cultivate, said to Bloomberg. Woolsey was referring to the lease agreements with wind companies which typically net farmers between $7,000 and $10,000 per turbine each year (the median household income was $51,939 in 2013).

Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy is negotiating with landowners for leases to build a $3.58 billion series of wind farms across Iowa, the largest economic development in state history. Iowa got 31% of its power from wind in 2015.

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How Clean Can An Electric Car Actually Get? – 10/13/16

How much cleaner can an electric car get compared to one running on conventional fuels? The answer is important, especially when controversies like a study finding that a Prius could be dirtier than a Hummer add to the confusion. To answer the question you have to look at the life cycle of the product from manufacturing to usage to disposal.

Starting with disposal, there is no significant difference in emissions between electric and non-electric cars at this stage, which sees minimal emissions relative to making and driving the car. The main environmental problem in disposal comes from the battery. Part of the issue with older electric hybrids like the Prius from the study was their reliance on lead acid batteries rather than the lithium-ion batteries used in newer electric car models like the Tesla Model 3 or 2017 Chevrolet Bolt. In addition to not dealing with the toxicity of lead, the rarity of components in the newer batteries has prompted extensive recycling programs to avoid shortages of cobalt, nickel, and lithium.

Next, usage. An electric car is only ever going to pollute indirectly i.e. charging the battery using electricity from a power plant that burns coal. In the past and in certain areas that still rely heavily on coal, the emissions from those plants were hardly better than those put out by burning gasoline. Nowadays, however, the US grid is being inundated with electricity from natural gas (at about 50% the pollution than traditional coal plants) and renewables.

That switch to cleaner power sources means a lot for electric vehicle (EV) emissions, as the graph from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows.

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  • for context, emissions free nuclear power supplies most of France’s electricity as opposed to heavy coal use in China.

Those cars may run twice as clean when they’re charged in a place that gets a lot of power from green energy, but the same car driving in a coal-burning region may yield a gain of just 20%, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Of course, fuel-efficiency standards are also pushing car makers to make engines that use less fuel.

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What this means for their emissions relative to EVs is depends heavily on the state or country you’re in.

In France, the gap has to narrow in the coming decade because regular engines are getting cleaner and the energy mix can’t get much cleaner.

In Japan, emissions from driving electric vehicles may actually rise as nuclear power plants are replaced with natural gas and coal in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

For the US, the state you live in matters a lot for this discussion as shown in the BNEF map of the carbon intensity of power for each state.

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Note the difference between coal state Wyoming and hydroelectric powerhouse Oregon.

For an idea how that map might change, look at what energy sources each state was installing in 2015.

by state

Finally, manufacturing.

A study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that making an EV results in 15% greater emissions than in manufacturing a similar gasoline vehicle. However, the same study was optimistic even this could be reduced and paled in comparison to the savings gained in the usage stage.

Assuming a grid composed of 80% clean electricity — France currently derives about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and about 14% from hydropower — the analysis would have a EV see at least a 25% reduction in emissions from manufacturing and an 84% reduction in emissions from driving. That combination would result in an overall reduction of more than 60% compared to today’s EVs, which are already about 40-50% cleaner than those running on gasoline or diesel.

So, basically, an electric car can get pretty darn clean, especially when the power grid that fuels it is running on renewable energy.

Clean Power: Slow 2016 Obscures Strong Potential – 10/11/16

Following the surprise extension of tax credits for wind and solar last December, growth in the clean power industry appears to be stalling… until you look past the surface.

In 2015, the number of long-term power-purchase agreements (PPAs) signed by corporations reached a record high for wind and solar.

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Now prices agreed on in such agreements have fallen to all-time lows, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

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But the clean power being slightly cheaper in 2015 than in 2013 doesn’t explain why the number of agreements spikes so violently in 2015. For that explanation we return to the tax credits and way that companies and developers handle such incentives.

First and foremost, the extension of the tax credits was unexpected. Without action by a Congress known for partisan deadlock, the tax credits were set to expire. Yet, a strong lobbying effort and support from red states benefiting from clean power like Texas made it possible. Developers and their clients had no idea that would happen; they treated 2015 as their last chance to get in at the full subsidy level.

“Many companies that signed those deals in 2015 were afraid that there wouldn’t be a tax credit again,” said Jacob Susman, vice president at EDF Renewable Energy. “That’s a big reason why 2015 was so big.”

It is not unusual for people to act at the last minute when it comes to spending money. Sometimes its procrastination, sometimes they want to hold onto their money as long as possible, and sometimes they just want to see if maybe prices will go down further.

Whatever the reason, the tax credit expiration date created a dam where demand could build up at the expense of later years. Without that blockage, the flow of orders would have spread out more evenly over time instead of coming out in force during 2015 and, to a lesser extent, 2014. Now the more sustainable flow looks slow in comparison as developers and customers pace themselves again.

“There was such a flurry that people may be taking a breather,” said Pete Dignan, CEO of Renewable Choice Energy. “But there’s significant activity ahead.”

Mr. Dignan was referring the fact that, even with the slowdown, demand for clean power is still relatively high. That demand is reflected in the scheduled electric generating capacity additions for 2016, illustrated by the EIA graph below that shows new wind and solar capacity will rival or surpass that of natural gas this year.

Screenshot 2016-03-06 at 10.58.06 AM

And, as the chart from BNEF suggests, the trend towards favoring renewables is expected to continue.

solar to dominate

So the clean power industry will continue to grow based on strong fundamentals though likely not at the frenzied rate of 2015. Of course, with the tax credits extended another 5 years, a repeat of the current situation may be not be too far off.

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