Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Wind power prices now lower than the cost of natural gas

August 17th, 2019
Image of wind turbines on a ridge

Enlarge (credit: NREL)

This week, the US Department of Energy released a report that looks back on the state of wind power in the US by running the numbers on 2018. The analysis shows that wind hardware prices are dropping, even as new turbine designs are increasing the typical power generated by each turbine. As a result, recent wind farms have gotten so cheap that you can build and operate them for less than the expected cost of buying fuel for an equivalent natural gas plant.

Wind is even cheaper at the moment because of a tax credit given to renewable energy generation. But that credit is in the process of fading out, leading to long term uncertainty in a power market where demand is generally stable or dropping.

A lot of GigaWatts

2018 saw about 7.6 GigaWatts of new wind capacity added to the grid, accounting for just over 20 percent of the US' capacity additions. This puts it in third place behind natural gas and solar power. That's less impressive than it might sound, however, given that things like coal and nuclear are essentially at a standstill. Because the best winds aren't evenly distributed in the US, there are areas, like parts of the Great Plains, where wind installations were more than half of the new power capacity installed.

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Posted in Energy, renewable energy, science, wind power | Comments (0)

Hypocritical Ohio law links nuke support to coal subsidies, cuts off renewables

July 24th, 2019
Image of a nuclear power plant.

Enlarge / One of Ohio's nuclear power plants. (credit: Ohio State Senate)

The incredibly low prices of new renewable and natural gas generators have made it difficult for some traditional generating plants to stay in business. That's mostly good news for the climate, as the majority of plants that are shuttering burn coal, the most polluting source of energy we use. But they've also hit nuclear power hard, which is bad news from the perspective of carbon emissions.

The risk of having to close nuclear plants has led their owners to ask the federal government for a bailout, a move that initially gained some traction but has since stalled out. With that effort ground to a halt, the state of Ohio has stepped in to pass a law that will see state ratepayers subsidize a nuclear plant operator. But the bill steps into spectacularly misguided territory by also subsidizing coal plants, cutting funding for efficiency programs, and lowering the state's renewable energy standards.

What to subsidize?

The law had been sent back and forth between the House and Senate and was the subject of heavy lobbying, so both its final form and its passage had been uncertain (a Senate draft reveals extensive revisions). In part, it places new charges on the bills of all Ohio ratepayers. One will provide a subsidy to First Energy, the company that had been asking the federal government for a bailout as it faces bankruptcy. The primary beneficiary of this subsidy will be First Energy's two aging nuclear plants, which have been struggling to turn a profit in the changed energy landscape.

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Posted in efficiency, Energy, nuclear power, renewable energy, science, wind power | Comments (0)

Analysis says we need to stop building fossil fuel plants now

July 2nd, 2019
Wind turbines near a coal plant.

Enlarge / Wind turbines spin as steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jäenschwalde coal-fired power plant in the distance. (credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Most of the world's nations have agreed to limit warming to 2°C, with a stretch goal of keeping things below 1.5°C. Since we have a good sense of how carbon dioxide drives that warming, it's possible to estimate how much more CO2 we can add to the atmosphere before those goals are exceeded. People have referred to that limit as a "carbon budget." The budget is useful, because it allows us to evaluate different ways of keeping below it. If cars are electrified by 2030, for example, it might give us more time to figure out how to handle air travel.

Now, a group of researchers has compared that carbon budget to the existing sources of emissions from fossil fuels, including power plants, industrial sources, and more. The analysis finds that we already have enough carbon-emitting power plants to push up against the limits of the carbon budget, and the number of plants in the planning stages might cause us to shoot right past it.

Running the numbers

To figure out how we're doing on the carbon budget, the researchers totaled up all the major sources of emissions, including industrial sources, cars and trucks, and power-generation plants. The annual emissions from each of these was then projected forward, accounting for things like the typical lifespan of each, their annual use (miles for cars, capacity factor for power plants, etc.), and the emissions associated with that use. You can view these as emissions we're committed to, as they'll happen unless we retire hardware before its usable lifetime is up.

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Posted in carbon emissions, climate change, Energy, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Renewable electricity beat out coal for the first time in April

June 28th, 2019
Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif.

Enlarge / Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif. (credit: nate2b / Flickr)

A remarkable thing happened in the US in April. For the first time ever, renewable electricity generation beat out coal-fired electricity generation on a national level, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). While renewable energy—including hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass—constituted 23 percent of the nation's power supply, coal-fired electricity only contributed 20 percent of our power supply.

There are seasonal reasons this happened in April. Wind power generation tends to be higher in spring and fall, hydroelectric generation usually peaks as winter snow melts, and lengthening days mean more solar power can be fed to the grid.

In addition, people use less electricity in spring, as it's not cold enough to need a lot of heating and not warm enough to require lots of air conditioner use. Coal-fired power plant owners, expecting this low demand, often use spring and fall to take their power plants offline for regularly scheduled maintenance.

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Posted in Biz & IT, coal, electricity, Energy, renewables, science, Wind | Comments (0)

Report: Tesla working on battery-cell R&D to loosen ties with Panasonic

June 26th, 2019
A Tesla being charged.

Enlarge / A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S electric automobile sits connected to a charger inside a Tesla store in Munich, Germany, on Monday, March 30, 2015. (credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

According to a report today from CNBC, Tesla is working on research and development of battery cells in a lab near its manufacturing facility in Fremont, Calif. Five anonymous current and former employees said the R&D is focused on "designing and prototyping advanced lithium-ion battery cells," as well as systems that could help the company produce cells at high volume.

Currently, Tesla has a partnership with Panasonic to make the battery cells it uses in its cars and stationary batteries. That relationship extends out to Tesla's Buffalo, NY-based solar panel factory, which Tesla also co-owns with Panasonic. But recently, the fraternity between the two companies seems to be wearing thin.

In September of last year, a Panasonic executive said that the bottleneck for Model 3 production had been the speed at which Panasonic could manufacture battery cells. In October 2018, Panasonic reported that it lost $65 million to the part of its business that makes battery cells for Tesla's vehicles. In April 2019, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Panasonic would not make additional investments into Tesla's Gigafactory beyond what it had already committed to. Tesla's recent purchase of Maxwell Technologies, which makes automotive- and utility-grade battery components, may also have driven a wedge between the companies.

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Posted in battery, battery cells, cars, Energy, Tesla | Comments (0)

A 10-year-old natural gas plant in California gets the coal plant treatment

June 26th, 2019
Two gas turbines at the Inland Empire Energy Center.

Enlarge / Inland Empire Energy Center outside of Riverside, California. (credit: Oohlongjohnson)

Late last week, General Electric told a California regulator that it would close down a 10-year-old Southern California natural gas plant because it's no longer economically competitive in California's energy market.

The news, first reported by Reuters, is surprising because natural gas plants tend to have 30-year lifespans on average, and natural gas is currently the cheapest fossil fuel on the market today. But the two 376 megawatt (MW) turbines at the Inland Empire Energy Center (IEEC) outside of Riverside, California, are not built to play well with the increasing amount of renewable energy on California's grid. On top of that, renewables' low marginal cost and ubiquity throughout the state mean that during certain times of day, they're often the cheapest energy option.

Natural gas needs quick-start options

GE told the California Energy Commission on Thursday that the natural gas plant is “not designed for the needs of the evolving California market, which requires fast-start capabilities to satisfy peak demand periods.”

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Posted in Biz & IT, California, coal, Energy, natural gas, science | Comments (0)

German regulator says it discovered new illegal software on Daimler diesels

June 24th, 2019
(Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)

Enlarge / (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images) (credit: getty images)

Over the weekend, Germany's auto regulator told Daimler that it would have to recall 42,000 Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles after the group discovered illegal software on the cars that would reduce the effectiveness of the emissions-control system.

Daimler said Sunday night that it would take a one-time charge of hundreds of millions of euros against the upcoming quarter's earnings to deal with the new accusations, but it disputed the government regulator's determination that the software in question was illegal. According to the Wall Street Journal, Daimler plans to formally object to the claims.

The accusation against the German automaker is similar to accusations lobbed against Volkswagen Group starting in 2015. The US Environmental Protection Agency accused VW Group of including illegal software on its diesel vehicles to ensure that the diesels would pass emissions limits imposed by the US. Ultimately, VW Group ended up spending tens of billions of dollars on regulatory fines and vehicle buybacks in the US and the EU.

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Posted in cars, daimler, diesel, Energy, Policy, Volkswagen | Comments (0)

At House hearing, witnesses for Trump admin defend fuel-economy rollback

June 20th, 2019
Traffic underneath a smog alert sign.

Enlarge / Cars and trucks drive along Interstate 75/85 June 25, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia. (credit: Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

The Trump administration has been trying to roll back Obama-era fuel-economy standards for passenger vehicles out to model year 2025. But the state of California and its allies have been fighting this rollback in every venue possible.

Today, energy and commerce subcommittees from the House of Representatives held a joint hearing to question the creators of the proposed fuel-economy-standards rollback. William Wehrum, the Assistant Administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Heidi King, the Deputy Administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both responded to questions from representatives on how the two agencies came to propose the new fuel-economy rollback.

Later in the day, a second panel included Mary Nichols, the chairperson of the California Air Resource Board (CARB), which has been the leader of the fight against a fuel economy rollback.

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Posted in cars, Energy, EPA, fuel economy, NHTSA, Policy | Comments (0)

Federal bill would allow clean energy companies to structure like oil companies

June 17th, 2019
Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif.

Enlarge / Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif. (credit: nate2b / Flickr)

Last week, US senators and representatives introduced bills in the Senate and the House to open up a type of corporate structure originally reserved for oil, gas, and coal companies to clean energy companies.

Called a Master Limited Partnership (MLP), the structure currently allows fossil fuel companies to take advantage of lower taxes placed on limited partnerships while also allowing those companies to issue publicly traded stocks and bonds. If the recently re-introduced bills—which have bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate—pass their respective votes, clean energy companies would have the option to structure their companies as MLPs and take advantage of the tax and funding benefits.

According to sponsoring Senator Chris Coons' (D-Del.) website, "Newly eligible energy resources would include solar, wind, marine and hydrokinetic energy, fuel cells, energy storage, combined heat and power, biomass, waste heat to power, renewable fuels, biorefineries, energy efficient buildings, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)."

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Posted in Biz & IT, Energy, Government, Policy, tax | Comments (0)

After June fires, energy group says hydrogen is future’s fuel

June 16th, 2019
Nozzle for pumping hydrogen.

Enlarge / A hydrogen filling station. (credit: Peter Gercke/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Hydrogen fuel facilities experienced two fires this month in Santa Clara, Calif., and in Norway. But despite these setbacks, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report on Friday saying that the fuel is an important potential part of a low-carbon future.

The first fire in Santa Clara happened on Saturday, June 1 at a hydrogen reforming facility run by Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. No one was injured, but according to the Silicon Valley Voice, multiple hydrogen tanker trucks caught fire. The fire was extinguished a little over an hour after the firefighters arrived on the scene.

After the fire was put out, Santa Clara Fire Department Battalion Chief Drew Miller told the press that “a hydrogen tanker truck was being fueled and a leak occurred," adding, "when the shutdown of the tanker truck that was being fueled occurred, an explosion resulted."

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Posted in Energy, hydrogen, hydrogen fuel cell, Policy, science | Comments (0)