Oct 08

Alternative energy: Powering a brighter future

Alternative energy: Powering a brighter future

https://www.merrilledge.com/article/alternative-energy-global-trends

Panels at a solar energy farm

 

Renewable sources like solar and wind could be critical to meeting the planet’s soaring demand for energy — and addressing the growing threats from climate change and pollution.

 

 Key points

  • As the world’s energy needs grow, alternative — or renewable — sources will increase in importance
  • Solar and wind power show the most promise, as costs fall and concerns over climate change increase
  • Coal, oil and natural gas should remain dominant, but make up a shrinking portion of the global energy mix
  • The long-term potential for alternates looks strong, but policy uncertainties present a near-term risk
Global energy demand is growing and is expected to rise by nearly one-third between 2013 and 2040. To meet this increasing demand, the world is continuing to transition to alternative energy sources — also known as renewables — and improve energy efficiency. In 2015, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), agreeing to reach the goal of limiting to 2℃ the increase in the global average temperature over pre-industrial levels. Private and public investors have also boosted their activities in the renewable sector.
While we expect conventional sources of energy — coal, oil and natural gas — to remain dominant, we believe alternatives will continue to grow in importance. We see the transition to a low-carbon environment and a balanced energy mix as irreversible.

Call to action for renewables

Governments, corporations and investors have become more committed to climate change as environmental pollution is a critical public health issue for many countries. In 2015, companies unveiled more than 8,000 initiatives to reduce GHG emissions globally. Some conventional energy companies, such as BP and Shell, have pledged to play a bigger role in alternative energy production and to help control rising temperatures.
 
Until recently, economic expansion and levels of energy-related carbon dioxide had always been positively correlated. In 2014, however, energy-related CO2 emissions stalled despite global economic expansion of 3%, demonstrating the commitment to deep cuts in GHG emissions and proving that a growing global economy does not need to rely on greater consumption of conventional energy.
 
Exhibit 1: BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research expects alternative sources to account for about 60% of total energy generation capacity by 2030

chart1 chart2 chart3

Source: International Energy Agency data; BofA ML Global Research approximations, “A Call to Action: Climate Change Solutions Primer”, November 2015

Solar is a big part of the future

The solar power industry experienced record growth in 2015, adding 50 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, bringing the global total to about 230 GW. Another $3.7 trillion is expected to be put into solar investments between 2015 and 2040. With costs for equipment, installation and services falling, we believe solar will continue to transition from a policy-driven to a business-driven industry. Solar energy can be converted into electricity via technologies like photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power. PV is less expensive and more widely used than concentrated solar power (CSP), gaining competitiveness due to declining costs versus conventional energy, and life-time CO2 emissions are about 10% of those of coal-fired power.7 It is also cheap for consumers.
 
The International Energy Agency has projected that solar power could provide 20% of the world’s energy needs by 2030, with China and the United States driving much of the increased demand. Here in the U.S., growth in solar installations should get a boost from a federal income tax credit for residential and commercial properties.

Wind should get a lift from falling costs

The Global Wind Energy Council has predicted that the number of wind power installations will double in the next five years, driven by China, the U.S. and Europe. Increases in capacity should allow onshore wind generators to achieve economies of scale and attract additional financing. Technology improvements in turbines, better sites and cheap financing make wind the least expensive renewable source of electricity besides hydro power. While offshore wind power remains more expensive, we expect the cost of onshore wind power to fall even further, assuming greater efficiency in manufacturing of wind turbines, which would support the long-term demand for wind power.
 
Wind, like solar, is at the mercy of nature and its reliability varies by location. Developing a means of enabling excess power to be returned to the grid is key. Additionally, wind turbines require regular maintenance through their 20-to-25-year life, so high-quality service could facilitate further adoption. Also needed are solutions to protect wildlife from a wind turbine’s rotating blades, as well as the effect of electromagnetic fields.
 
Overall, solar PV and onshore wind are the most competitive forms of alternative energy given their lower costs and more mature technologies. They are likely to dominate additions to global generating capacity over the next 30 years. However, storage for back-up power is one challenge both sources face. In addition, as solar and wind generators are connected to the electric grid, system operators must manage output to prevent unanticipated fluctuations in voltage and blackouts.

Hydro has advantages and drawbacks

Concerns with climate change and declining variable costs are driving further adoption of hydropower, which is valued for its low emissions. The benefits of hydro include ease of adjusting output to reflect changes in demand, and reservoirs that can offer energy storage as well as flood control and drought protection. However, hydropower has important drawbacks, including the high cost of building new plants and concerns with flooding and other negative impacts on local ecosystems. In the long term, we predict solar PV and wind power will surpass hydro due to these constraints.
 
While we expect positive strides to continue to be made in the alternative energy sector in the long term, policy uncertainties present a near-term risk. Domestically, President Trump intends to reduce federal spending on climate change by up to $100 billion over the next eight years and he has suggested cutting the Clean Power Plan. Internationally, the President’s proposal for potentially withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement also remains a near-term uncertainty.
 
Conclusion: Conventional sources are expected to continue to dominate the energy mix as the world moves toward a low-carbon economy. Given concerns with climate change, we believe the world has reached a tipping point for renewable energy.
We believe that solar PV and onshore wind will likely become the predominant low-carbon energy sources given improving technologies and declining costs.
 
Alternative energy investments tend to be volatile and call for a relatively long holding period. Investors can target energy efficiency technologies like storage, lighting and smart grid and look to blue-chip companies with a significant presence in these technologies, reducing downside risks. A diversified approach through managers specializing in impact investing is preferred.

 

Oct 05

Tidal turbine test site at Cape Cod Canal gets green light

 

Tidal turbine test site at Cape Cod Canal gets green light

By Ethan Genter
Oct 4, 2017

 http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20171004/tidal-turbine-test-site-at-cape-cod-canal-gets-green-light

An example of the type of turbine that might be tested at a tidal test site that will be installed by the Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative on the Cape Cod Canal. The project received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today.

 

BUZZARDS BAY — The Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative has received approval to install a first-of-its-kind tidal turbine test site on the Cape Cod Canal.

“It really has potential to drive developers to the region,” said John Miller, the nonprofit’s executive director.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the collaborative a yearlong renewable license to run the test site near the railroad bridge, Miller said. The site will have a platform that can be raised and lowered from the canal, allowing hydrokinetic turbine developers to test out their equipment before going into full production.

An authorization letter from the Army Corps’ regulatory division was signed and emailed to the collaborative Wednesday afternoon, and the project is now completely authorized, according to agency spokesman Timothy Dugan.

The project was approved under the state’s general permits, after a finding by the Army Corps that it “will have only minimal individual or cumulative environmental impacts,” according to the letter.

The canal is seen as an ideal test site because it is already used for industrial purposes and has currents that reach about four knots in either direction.

Although different types of hydrokinetic turbines are being built around the world, the most used model is a circular blade, similar to wind turbines, Miller said. The test site at the canal would be able to handle models that are up to three meters in diameter, a prized middle ground for turbine developers, according to Miller.

Full commercial-sized hydrokinetic turbines can get up to 10 meters across, but companies often want to test smaller versions before devoting the money on a larger scale, he said.

The site would be able to test one turbine at a time and two companies contacted the collaborative within a day of its approval, Miller said. Over the four years since the proposal was first publicized, the organization has been contacted by companies from around the world, he said.

There are conditions with the Army Corps approval. If North Atlantic right whales, a critically endangered species, are spotted in the canal, the collaborative must cease any pile driving, which would typically occur during installation, until the whales leave the canal. Pile driving must be ramped up over a 20- to 40-minute period each day it is occurring, to provide time for fish and marine mammals to leave the area, according to the authorization letter. In addition, the site can’t be found to have any negative effects on the railroad bridge.

It must be removed by Sept. 29, 2018, unless the collaborative contacts the Army Corp at least four months before that date asking that it be kept in place, according to the letter.

While there are test sites in Canada and Europe, there has been no similar installation in the U.S. Turbines have been tested on barges, like the recent tests on the canal by Brown University, but those trials can only last so long and can’t handle models as big as the canal test site, Miller said.

Barge testing can last a week, while the collaborative site could last for complete tide cycles and even longer, giving turbine makers a better idea of how their machines perform, Miller said.

Officials hope the installment is a boon for development in the area.

One of the goals of the Bourne Board of Selectmen is to remove all blighted property in town within five years and lure “blue” companies to the area. The test site could help with both and make the area a “hub” for marine technology, Selectman Michael Blanton said.

The project was funded by a $300,000 state Seaport Economic Council grant, said state Rep. David Vieira, R-East Falmouth, and was one of the first grants awarded by the council.

The idea is marine companies will want to be near the testing sites, he said.

“This will be the place to be: the Cape Cod Canal,” Vieira said.

Oct 04

How the EV Tax Credit Works

 

 

 

 

How the EV Tax Credit Works

June 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm by

To take advantage of tax credits currently being offered on the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles, first—obviously—you must buy or lease an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid for your own personal use.

If it’s an EV, the potential tax credit can be factored into a lease, so you can benefit without outright purchase. Some lease deals let you sign over the amount of the tax credit at the time of signing in exchange for a reduced down payment and lower monthly lease payments; check with your dealer to see if that is the case for the vehicle you want to lease.

You must place the vehicle in service during the tax year for which you’re claiming the credit. If you’re buying, you need to be prepared to finance the full, pre-credit amount of the vehicle. You may want to see your tax advisor to time the purchase. There is no income cap to claim the credit, but you’ll need sufficient tax liability for the year—in other words, the credit is an amount lopped off the income tax you owe; if the amount you owe is less than the credit amount, you won’t get the full value of the credit.

How Much Will the Credit Be?
A base $2500 credit accrues to electrified vehicles, which are EVs or plug-in hybrids, not regular hybrids. Vehicles that are “propelled to a significant extent by an electric motor”—defined as having battery-pack capacities of at least 5 kilowatt-hours—qualify for an additional $417, plus $417 for each 1-kWh increase in battery capacity, up to a maximum of $7500 per vehicle. So, for example, a car with a 6-kWh battery pack would earn $2500 as a base amount, an additional $417 for meeting the 5-kWh threshold, and another $417 for surpassing that threshold by 1 kWh; total credit: $3334. But don’t worry, you’re not required to do the math. The IRS does it for you, with a breakdown of the credit for each make and model here.

The Phase-Out
The government’s offer of a tax credit is intended to expire eventually. That will happen at a different time for each automaker, with a phase-out period beginning once each manufacturer hits 200,000 plug-in vehicles sold. By some estimates, including a recent projection, Tesla and General Motors will get there first, in 2018, with Nissan likely to hit that number in 2019.

Figuring your own potential tax credit will require further research, because additional incentives may be available in your state. By doing your homework and being mindful of the timing of your purchase, you could see a big payoff.

Oct 04

2017 Chevrolet Volt in Depth: The Plug-In We Want

 

 

 

In-depth Review

2017 Chevrolet Volt in Depth: The Plug-In We Want

It’s electrifying!

October 2017 By ANNIE WHITE

https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2017-chevrolet-volt-in-depth-model-review

Click above image to view 35 photos

 

Overall Rating:

The Volt was the first of its kind when it hit the market in 2010, and it has been at the top of the pack ever since. With a class-demolishing 53 miles of electric-only range, it’s a plug-in hybrid that can be driven like an EV much of the time. Boy racers may scoff, but for the planet-aware driver who has an occasional long trip on the docket, the Volt is a perfect fit. That doesn’t mean that it’s without compromises—the interior is plastic-tastic, and we suspect the rear seat was adapted from a medieval torture device—but the Volt is not just a good hybrid, it’s a good car.

 

Highs
Best-in-class all-electric range, spacious cargo hold, peppy off-the-line acceleration.
Lows
Anonymous exterior styling, efficiency suffers once the battery is empty, rear seat not fit for adults.
Verdict
Not just a good hybrid but a good car.

What’s New for 2017?

The Volt is largely unchanged for 2017, with just three additions to the available equipment list: A teen-driving safety feature, standard on all models, is designed to encourage safer driving behaviors in young drivers. It allows parents to set a speed warning, keep the radio muted until the front seatbelts are buckled, and prevent teens from disabling traction and stability control. Adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking are options in the top Premier trim level. A new, limited-availability exterior color—Citron Green Metallic—joins Siren Red Tintcoat and Kinetic Blue Metallic on the list of extra-cost paint colors.

Trims and Options We’d Choose

The base Volt, at $34,095, is already comprehensively equipped and comes with this car’s most important standard feature: 53 miles of guilt-free driving. The Premier trim adds a better audio system, wireless charging for phones and other devices, and leather seats, among other features, but also adds more than $4000 to the bottom line, so we’d skip it. Standard features in the base LT include:

• MyLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports, and built-in 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity
• Remote keyless entry with push-button start
• Single-zone automatic climate control

For options, we’d go with the leather seats ($900), which requires that you also purchase the Comfort package ($460) with its heated front seats, steering wheel, and side-view mirrors. Those packages bring the total cost of our Volt to $35,455. The Volt can qualify buyers for up to $7500 in tax credits (not included in our calculations above), a salve for the sting of an otherwise high price.

Read MORE

 

 

Sep 30

Bay State named No. 1 in energy efficiency

Bay State named No. 1 in energy efficiency

 

September 29, 2017

http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20170929/bay-state-named-no-1-in-energy-efficiency

Massachusetts has been named the most energy efficient state in the country by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy for the seventh straight year.

“As Massachusetts continues to make historic investments and progress in clean energy development, energy efficiency remains the most cost-effective method of reducing ratepayer costs and lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.

The council’s scorecard measures states in six categories of energy efficiency policy and programs, including utility programs, transportation, building energy codes, combined heat and power, state government policies, and appliance standards, the statement says.

Baker announced $10 million in funding for six new programs intended to increase affordable access to clean energy and energy efficiency programs, according to the statement. The state Department of Energy Resources also announced more than $4.6 million in grants to nine innovative peak demand reduction projects, the statement says.

 

Sep 25

Can the New Nissan Leaf Transform Electric-Vehicle Market?

Can the New Nissan Leaf Transform Electric-Vehicle Market?

 

By Justin Worland

September 22, 2017

http://time.com/4951179/can-nissan-leaf-transform-electric-vehicle-market/

Nissan hopes the new Leaf, above, will find a customer base interested in the value that the car offers in a crowded electric-vehicle market

 

Driving the new Nissan Leaf will take an uninitiated electric-car operator–like me–by surprise. During a two-day test drive on Washington, D.C.–area streets and highways, the Leaf accelerated fast, ran silently and allowed me to use a feature letting the driver never touch the brake pedal. Add to that a sleek redesigned exterior and you have a vehicle that will impress even a hardened electric-vehicle skeptic.

But those elements are just part of what Nissan says will make this car a success when it hits the market early next year. Indeed, the Leaf’s impressive set of features still faces stiff competition from Tesla’s most affordable model, which offers greater range and a hotter brand name.

Nissan is betting that the Leaf’s value–including its ample features and moderate price tag–will persuade potential buyers to leave traditional cars behind. The Leaf starts at just below $30,000, and the price can drop by a quarter with tax incentives. “We only set out to design, produce and sell a mass-market electric vehicle,” says Brian Maragno, Nissan’s director of electric-vehicle marketing and sales. That “means affordability, with the right balance of content and capabilities.”

The move to distinguish the Leaf–the world’s most popular electric car–in an increasingly crowded field of around 30 models comes at a pivotal time. Analysts expect demand for the cars to grow globally in the coming years. In part, those gains will come from simple awareness and word of mouth. More significantly, they will come from the fact that governments around the world keen on eliminating air pollution and tackling climate change have instituted policies to make electric vehicles more affordable, if not mandatory.

The U.K. and France have said their countries will ban fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2040. Even China has said it will push automakers to end sales of nonelectric cars, though the date remains uncertain. The U.S. is taking a different tack. In recent years, fuel-economy standards tightened by former President Barack Obama pushed automakers to offer electric vehicles. But automakers also complained, and the Trump Administration has promised to review the policy.

Still, some incentives remain, including a generous federal tax credit of up to $7,500. But tepid U.S. policy support for electric vehicles means automakers will need to change consumer perceptions to attract customers, at least in the short term, says Josh Linn, an energy and environment researcher at the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future.

“The greater demand over time will stimulate automakers to invest in technologies, and eventually that will have an effect on the U.S. market,” says Linn. But “the bigger challenge right now is how consumers perceive the vehicles.”

That’s been the trouble in the electric-vehicle game for years, and automakers have confronted it with different approaches. Tesla began by offering cars with all the bells and whistles but at a price that can exceed $80,000. On the opposite end, the cost of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV can dip below $20,000 with tax incentives, but the car might be confused for a glorified golf cart.

The market has grown quickly, with more than 140,000 electric vehicles sold last year in the U.S., up from less than 20,000 in 2011. And automakers keep betting that number will increase. Daimler AG said Thursday it will invest $1 billion to produce Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles in Alabama. But there is still a long way to go for electric vehicles to break through into the mainstream. Just a fraction of the 17.5 million total vehicles sold last year in the U.S.

The makers of the Leaf think their product offers something different that consumers will want, but they’re not ignorant of the challenges. “Our parents, our parents’ parents, our parents’ parents’ parents never drove a car like this,” says Maragno. “We’re talking about generations of internal-combustion vehicles, and now we’re making a switch.”

Behind the wheel, I feel confident that previous generations would have gotten used to it. The Leaf may or may not reinvigorate the electric-vehicle market, but at the very least, no one who sets eyes on this car or gets behind the wheel can say electric cars have nothing to offer.

 

Sep 22

Solar industry roiled by trade ruling that some fear could lead to tariffs

 

 

 

Solar industry roiled by trade ruling that some fear could lead to tariffs

By Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson

September 2, 2017

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/09/22/solar-industry-roiled-by-trade-ruling-that-some-fear-could-lead-to-tariffs/

 

The U.S. solar industry was roiled on Friday by a unanimous ruling in a much watched international trade case — one that some industry leaders fear could lead to steep new tariffs on imported crystalline silicon solar cells.

The bankrupt Georgia-based solar company Suniva joined forces with Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas to petition the U.S. International Trade Commission for relief earlier this year, saying that the U.S. solar industry “simply cannot survive” at a time when foreign imports of solar cells “have unexpectedly exploded and prices have collapsed.”

Solar World Americas is owned by a German firm and a majority of Suniva is owned by Shunfeng International Clean Energy, a Chinese company which has opposed the petition filed by Suniva’s restructuring officer.

The ITC, after considering the petition, ruled 4-0 Friday in favor of the two companies, finding that solar cells “are being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry.” The commission will now weigh what remedy to suggest.

After the commission proposes a remedy, it falls to President Trump and his administration to determine whether and how to implement it, or what other action to take.

“We brought this action because the U.S. solar manufacturing industry finds itself at the precipice of extinction at the hands of foreign market overcapacity,” said Suniva in a statement. “The ITC has agreed, and now it will be in President Trump’s hands to decide whether America will continue to have the capability to manufacture this energy source.”

But Trump’s expected role is exactly where the fear lies for others in the solar industry. Trump, an ally of the coal industry and a frequent critic of China (a dominant force in the manufacture of cheap solar panels), might indeed be inclined to support some kind of trade remedy.

“The President will examine the facts and make a determination that reflects the best interests of the United States,” said White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom in a statement released after the ruling. “The U.S. solar manufacturing sector contributes to our energy security and economic prosperity.”

The U.S. solar industry’s main trade group has been vociferous in charging that the remedy requested by Suniva and SolarWorld would be damaging to most U.S. solar companies, saying that the two panel makers do not represent the interest of the industry as a whole. Much of the boom in solar jobs has been in installation.

“This is a case about two companies who are bringing a petition about which almost the entire rest of the solar industry is in agreement in opposition,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a press call to react to the ruling. The association has charged that if the two companies get what they are asking for, prices for solar power will rise, demand will fall, and the industry will lose some 88,000 jobs.

That charge was at least partly supported by a statement from market analyst Moody’s Friday.

“The US International Trade Commission’s ruling that an influx of low-cost foreign solar panels caused injury to the domestic panel manufacturing industry will have negative consequences on the US solar industry as a whole,” said Lesley Ritter, an assistant vice president at the firm, in a statement. “Tariffs or import quotas would have a negative impact on the economics of solar generation, and could dampen the pace of decarbonization.”

But SolarWorld, like Suniva, hailed the ruling in its favor.

“We welcome this important step toward securing relief from a surge of imports that has idled and shuttered dozens of factories, leaving thousands of workers without jobs,” Juergen Stein, chief executive of SolarWorld Americas, said in a statement.  “In the remedy phase of the process, we will strive to help fashion a remedy that will put the U.S. industry as a whole back on a growth path.” He invited the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and others “to work on good solutions for the entire industry.”

Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute, said in an email that electrical installers of solar energy earned about $76,000 a year, according to Labor Department figures for 2015. Solar mechanics earned about $73,000 and solar engineers well over $100,000 a year.

“These wages are more than competitive with the coal industry, where the typical coal excavating machine operators about $54,000,” he said. He said even the lowest paid solar installers get about $40,000.

The U.S. solar industry has boomed in the last decade, spurred on by Obama administration policies and ever lower panel prices. The development of rooftop solar, in particular, has led many homeowners to generate their own energy, lowering their electricity bills and, in some cases, being able to sell excess power back to the grid. Meanwhile, solar has grown increasingly influential as an industry, touting its power to create skilled, high paying jobs.

At the same time, though, charges have arisen that as electric grids become suffused with solar — particularly in California, where the industry has boomed and received major policy support — it is changing the nature of getting electricity, since solar energy is generated only during daylight hours, and large scale energy storage is still not widely available.

A recent report on the state of the electric grid by the Energy Department did say that renewable energy installations had played a secondary role in the retirement of some coal and nuclear plants, though it did not say they were the primary cause.

The ITC now has until Nov. 13 to determine how it thinks the injury to Suniva and SolarWorld should be remedied, after which President Trump will have 60 days to take action based on the recommendation.

Suniva’s petition asked for a 40-cent-a-watt tariff on solar cells and a 78-cent-a-watt floor on module prices. Moody’s said that would “virtually double the cost of panels.”

Height Securities, an investment research firm, said that “the likely remedies ITC recommends will be significantly softer than the proposed” penalties.

A similar take was offered by Mark Widmar, the CEO of the large U.S. solar firm First Solar, on the company’s July earnings call.

“If there is a determination of injury, a modest type of remedy, will not be harmful at all to the industry and I think we’ll continue to thrive and more jobs will be created,” Widmar said.

SolarWorld has argued that the industry has been badly hurt over recent years. In a statement, the company said that nearly 30 U.S. producers have shut down manufacturing operations since 2012. Between 2012 and 2016, imports into the United States from all countries increased nearly five-fold, it said, led by China.

Suniva’s petition could not continue without SQN Capital Management, a New York-based investment firm which lent Suniva money to purchase equipment and which is Suniva’s largest creditor. In a May letter to the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Machinery & Electronic Products, SQN said the trade petition would be dropped if SQN were paid about $52 million to cover its debts to Suniva.

In the meantime, other parts of the solar industry are expected to rally their opposition.

The Solar Energy Industries Association’s Hopper said the group would file a new brief with the ITC next week leading into a hearing on October 3 that will consider what remedy could be recommended.

“The ITC is statutorily required to consider the impact on the larger solar ecosystem as it’s considering what an appropriate remedy will be,” said Hopper. “So you’ll see a very strong case from us about the entirety of the solar industry and what impact tariffs would have on depressing demand and creating job loss.”

Aug 15

Competing Interests Fight for Solar Energy Profits

Aug 06

Dirty energy’s quiet war on solar panels

Dirty energy’s quiet war on solar panels

By Basav Sen
August 5, 2017

Let’s say you’re thinking about switching to solar at home, but you’re concerned about the start-up costs.

What if you received generous federal and state tax credits? That could help!

Better still, what if you discover that during those hot, sunny afternoons — when you’re at work and hardly using any energy at home — you can sell the excess energy your solar panels generate back to the grid at the full residential retail rate?

This practice, called “net metering,” helps cut utility bills and shortens the payback period for solar installation costs. That sweetens the deal even more.

But what if you don’t own a home, or can’t afford solar panels?

In some states, you still have options, such as shared solar programs. These allow renters and low-income people to get power from collectively owned solar panels — located, say, on the roof of a public school or other neighborhood building — as I documented in a recent Institute for Policy Studies report. With shared solar, you’d even still benefit from net metering.

And when you contract with a company to install solar panels, you do your part to create jobs. Lots of them.

According to Department of Energy data, solar jobs already outnumber coal-related jobs by a factor of more than 2 to 1, despite solar making up a much smaller share of the overall grid.

All in all, I’d say these incentives make a strong pitch for solar: You can help address climate change, grow the renewable energy economy, create jobs, and save money. Win-win-win, right?

Well, not if you’re in the fossil fuel industry — or one of the politicians who owe them favors. And that’s where things get messy.

In statehouses all over the country, there’s a growing movement by industry front groups to undermine net metering and other renewable energy incentives. These front groups include the Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry’s trade association, and outfits such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are funded by the Koch brothers.

These groups scored recent victories against net metering in Indiana and Maine, and have turned the renewable energy mandate for utilities in wind-rich Kansas — known in the industry as a Renewable Portfolio Standard — into a toothless voluntary goal.

Industry groups and the politicians they effectively buy claim that distributed solar energy imposes costs on customers who don’t install solar panels, because solar users don’t pay their fair share of the costs of maintaining the grid.

Most cynically, they feign concern for poor people. Typical of this is Maine Governor Paul LePage’s claim, in his letter vetoing a bill that would’ve preserved net metering in his state, that the practice “subsidizes the cost of solar panels at the expense of the elderly and poor who can least afford it.”

However, independent energy experts — even those who don’t support net metering in all circumstances — argue that the practice can be a “reasonable proxy for the value of solar.” The case against the utility and Koch-led attack on renewables is strong on logic, but evidently weak on campaign cash, which is why the onslaught of anti-net metering and anti-renewables bills continues.

This state-level push parallels another front at the federal level, where the Trump administration is unabashedly waging war on renewables. The president’s budget proposal eviscerates federal support for clean energy research, and the president has been an unapologetic supporter of the fossil fuel industry.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry joined the fray recently by ordering a study seemingly designed to show that renewables are undermining grid security. Evidently, he also wants to do Edison Electric Institute and ALEC’s dirty work by using the study to attack Renewable Portfolio Standards and wind and solar incentives in the states.

Amusingly, a leaked draft of the study apparently shows that the electric grid is becoming more reliable as wind and solar penetration increase. Apparently career energy experts at the Department of Energy aren’t concerned with the ideological preferences of their political appointee overlords.

The truth is the best antidote to this flood of anti-renewables policies based on fossil fuel-funded misinformation. When people learn the benefits of renewables, they push back against these policies, defying partisan political stereotypes.

In Florida last year, voters rejected a ballot initiative to ban third-party sales and leases of solar panels, even after utilities spent $21 million to promote it — and even as Trump carried the state. Another purple state, Nevada, got rid of net metering — but then reversed course and reinstated it under pressure.

And it’s not just defensive fights either. Strong movements are pushing good energy policy in states all over, such as Hawaii’s mandate for 100 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2045, and Oregon’s requirement that 10 percent of shared solar capacity be set aside for low-income people.

By telling the truth — and by organizing like crazy — we can win policies that grow the green economy for everyone, in red states and blue.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank dedicated to building a more equitable, ecologically sustainable, and peaceful society.

Jul 31

Utility Helps Wean Vermonters From the Electric Grid

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Utility Helps Wean Vermonters From the Electric Grid

Green Mountain Power is trying to turn homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, driven by economics as well as environmental goals.

By Diane Cardwell

July 29, 2017

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/29/business/energy-environment/vermont-green-mountain-power-grid.html

Ryan Brown working in the control room of Green Mountain Power in Colchester, Vt. Green Mountain can draw on stored power from batteries installed through its programs, reducing the electricity it must pull from the regional transmission system.

 

In a new low-income development that replaced a trailer park here, rooftop solar panels sparkle in the sun while backup batteries quietly hum away in utility closets.

About an hour away, in Rutland, homes and businesses along a once-distressed corridor are installing the latest in energy-saving equipment, including special insulation and heat pumps.

And throughout Vermont, customers are signing up for a new program that will allow them to power their homes while entirely disconnected from the grid.

The projects are part of a bold experiment aimed at turning homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, able to reduce the amount of energy they draw from the central electric system. But behind them are not green energy advocates or proponents of living off the land. Instead, it’s the local electric company, Green Mountain Power.

Each unit of the McKnight Lane development in Waltham, Vt., has solar panels installed on the roof.

 

Even as the Trump administration has broken with almost all the world’s nations by renouncing the Paris climate accord, the Vermont program offers just one example of the continuing efforts at the local level to rethink a largely carbon-based power system. The initiatives are driven by financial advantages as well as environmental ones.

Green Mountain’s chief executive, Mary Powell, sees the program here as the best way to please customers while making the system more environmentally and physically sustainable.

“Customers, especially in Vermont with the energy-independence values that people have, want to move more toward self-generation,” she said, seated in a bright orange modernist chair in a meeting area in the company’s open-plan headquarters near Burlington.

“The opportunity for us,” she added, is to lead the transformation of an electric system that depends on power sent along big transmission lines “to a community-, home- and business-based energy system.”

 

Mary Powell, center, president and chief executive of Green Mountain Power, with two other executives at the utility, Robert Dostis and Kristin Carlson.

 

As a practical matter, the less electricity the utility pulls from the regional transmission system, especially at times of peak demand, the less it has to pay in fees, producing savings it can pass on to customers. One way it does this is by remotely controlling the batteries installed through its programs, drawing upon the stored energy as needed.

Recently, Ms. Powell said, Green Mountain used this method to take the low-income development here off the grid’s electricity supply for two hours, saving an estimated $275 in transmission costs while the homes were powered by solar panels or battery storage. The amount saved was small, but such savings could add up over a year if they were realized in enough locations.

The utility, owned by Gaz Métro, a leading natural gas distributor in Quebec, is also working to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions as part of the effort to slow global warming. In 2014, it became a B Corporation. That is a voluntary designation, requiring executives to take into account not just how decisions will affect profit and shareholders, but also how they will affect the public, generally defined as society or the environment.

As part of that mission, Green Mountain became the first utility to offer customers access to Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system when it was released in 2015. Now it is starting a new program, announced in May, that will offer the battery to as many as 2,000 customers for $15 a month over 10 years, or a one-time payment of $1,500. The package will include software and a Nest thermostat, which conserves electricity by adjusting temperatures to comings and goings as well as established routines.

Batteries store power from solar panels at the Stafford Hill Solar Farm in Rutland, Vt.

The idea is that customers, especially when they have solar panels, heat pumps and electric vehicles, will be better able to monitor and manage their energy use. The utility, using Tesla’s software, will be able to call upon the stored energy in the combined batteries to help meet surges in demand, or to sell it on the wholesale market to help balance or smooth out fluctuations within the region.

The efforts have won plaudits from national green-energy advocates who see the utility as a leader in helping redesign the electric system, which is undergoing enormous changes as renewable sources of energy become more popular and other technologies give customers more control. Many utilities see such moves as an existential threat because their profits come mainly from getting a set rate of return that is factored into customer rates.

But Green Mountain Power has “figured out a way to do well and do good in the utility business and keep its regulators, investors and customers all happy at the same time,” said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford and a customer of the utility through a family home in Vermont. “That’s a big deal these days when the rest of the industry is talking about a death spiral.”

Ms. Powell, 56, grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and attended a public high school focused on the arts. She came to the company in 1998 after turning down the job three times. She just couldn’t see herself working for a utility, she said, especially one whose traditional corporate culture was visible in the imposing stone lobby and slate steps that led to the chief executive’s office, hidden behind two private secretaries and outfitted with its own bathroom and shower.

The family on her father’s side — he was an actor and a model for the fisherman on Gorton’s seafood packages — had roots in the state, so she had grown up spending summers there. (Her brother, Michael Powell, is a sports columnist at The New York Times.) After college, she became a technical writer for a money-market fund in New York, working her way up to associate director of operations over the next seven years.

The Stafford Hill Solar Farm was built at a landfill site in Rutland.

<p”>She grew disenchanted with working in finance, so when a house-sitting opportunity in Vermont came up, she and her fiancé quit their jobs and headed north. She figured she would work as a waitress, she said, but ended up taking jobs at a couple of banks and starting a few businesses — including one selling reflective gear for dogs that her husband now runs — that ultimately led to her joining the utility.

First, she tackled the company culture, moving executives from the boxy glass headquarters to the 1980s brick service center, where she works at a stand-up desk in a cluster including other executives as well as the linemen. The office, decorated with reclaimed wood, bright colors and relics of past electric systems, looks more suited to a Silicon Valley start-up than to a typical corporate utility, complete with a treadmill and table-tennis setup in one section and a cluster of fledgling entrepreneurs, winners of an incubator competition, in another.

Then she began trying to make the generating system greener, which led to the move toward a more decentralized system, something few other utilities have tried with such enthusiasm. But in an industry known for caution, Green Mountain can be nimble, in part because it is so small — just 265,000 customers — and has a relatively receptive customer base.

A program that helps provide energy-efficiency upgrades in Rutland, for instance, got its start with a single call. At a weekly leadership team meeting, Ms. Powell asked executives to find a way to bring several technologies together in one dwelling.

Alexis LaBerge, a resident at the McKnight Lane development, can monitor and control the energy efficiency of her home using a control panel.

 

One executive asked Rutland’s mayor if he knew of a family that would be willing to serve as a guinea pig. He suggested Mark and Sara Borkowski, whose century-old house became the first of 161 homes and businesses to take part. Under the program, the utility provides financing for energy upgrades, which participants can pay back over time through their monthly bills.

Green Mountain has still invested in large-scale renewable-power plants, like the Stafford Hill Solar Farm — 11 acres of solar panels and battery banks spread over a landfill behind a town dump — and two wind farms. Those developments have come in for criticism from some residents and officials who object to living near noisy industrial machines and worry about marring the natural beauty that draws residents and visitors to the state. The critics include Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who opposes putting wind turbines along mountain ridges.

But many customers say they are happy to be part of greening the area’s energy supply, whether for the financial savings, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming, or just to make sure the lights stay on in a power failure.

“It’s not really any different than being anywhere else,” said Alexis LaBerge, 27, who was one of the first to move into the low-income development in Waltham from an old house that guzzled fuel to keep the house and hot water heated.

Now, when the power from the grid goes out, as it did one night this spring, she does not have to worry about food spoiling in the refrigerator. “It’s definitely nice being brand-new and having the backup,” she said.

 

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