Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fwd: NRG Energy Leads Again, Commits to 90% Lower Emissions by 2050

They will all adopt this strategy once they lose enough of their lobby grip on regulators and legislators. FPL could flip the switch today and dominate the entire renewable market in FL, but won't until forced.

11/21/2014 04:33 PM    print story email story  ShareThis

NRG Energy Leads Again, Commits to 90% Lower Emissions by 2050 News

NRG Energy, one of the largest utilities in the US, announced it will cut carbon emissions 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, charting a course for others in the industry to follow.

"Having already reduced our carbon emissions by 40% since 2005, we see a clear path to further dramatic long-term reduction as we vigorously pursue our multi-faceted, long term sustainable growth strategy," says David Crane, CEO. "As the U.S. transitions to a renewables-driven, increasingly distributed, grid resilient energy system, we expect to be a leader both in clean energy and in converting the carbon emissions of our conventional generation from a liability to a profitable by-product."

That means, NRG will keep running some of its coal plants, but will capture the carbon and either sell it or sequester it, as they are doing for the first time in Texas at the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project - one of the five most polluting power plants in the US:

Coal Plant NRG

While most of its peers are pushing back against the growth of renewable energy, NRG embraces it. From its leadership on solar and wind through its YieldCo, NRG Yield, to electric car charging stations and carbon capture, the company seesdistributed energy as a route to growth. They are even innovating on mobile solargrid-integrated vehicles, and are challenging the biggest players in California's rooftop solar market.

The company also announced it has outgrown its headquarters, giving it an opportunity to design a new cutting-edge building that "characterizes the NRG vision." The three-floor, 130,000 square foot building in Princeton, New Jersey will be a "showcase for one of the most trailblazing resource-efficient, grid-resilient designs achievable by corporate America today," they say. It opens in 2016.

  • Off-grid capabilities through dual-fuel generators and combined heat and power (CHP) systems for heating and cooling;
  • combination of LED lighting and daylighting to keep energy use 30% lower than conventional buildings;
  • 12,000 gallons of rainwater harvesting capacity to reduce water use 80%;
  • 30 electric vehicle charging stations with EV-to-grid (eV2g) back-feed capability;
  • two on-site solar fields totaling 765 kilowatts;
  • if energy from the grid is used, it will be 100% renewable through one of NRG's green retail subsidiaries.

"The power industry is the biggest part of the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, but it has the potential to be an even bigger part of the solution," David Crane told the NY Times.

"We got sick of waiting around to see what was going to happen on the policy end," Leah Seligmann, Chief Sustainability Officer for NRG, told ThinkProgress. "Frankly if the industry doesn't follow us and start moving, people aren't going to have much patience with it. We can either become extinct or we can become involved."

Barclay's recently downgrade of the utility industry due to failing to address long-term challenges from the growth of solar, shows clinging to the past doesn't help. 

Indeed, the industry would be hailed if it proactively moved forward, instead of forcing the EPA to regulate its emissions ... and then fighting it tooth and nail. As the major source of carbon emissions in the US, it could play a major role in preventing global temperature rise beyond 2 degrees C - no small accomplishment.

"Leading corporations recognize it's no longer enough to talk about carbon reductions. Rather companies must take the lead and bring their technologies, capabilities, and human capital to bear on humanity's most pressing problem - climate change," says Mauricio Gutierrez, COO of NRG Energy in a blog.

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Monty Bannerman
ArcStar Energy
+1 646.402.5076

Fwd: US Leads the World on Wind Energy Production

5X solar penetration!

11/14/2014 05:33 PM    print story email story  ShareThis

US Leads the World on Wind Energy Production News

In great news for the US wind industry, the latest data shows it leads the world on wind energy production.

Even though China has a third more wind turbines installed (just in the last few years!), US wind farms are pumping out 20% more electricity, says the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), accounting for over 5% of US electricity this year for the first time.

Electricity from wind now powers 15.5 million US homes. As of September, 46,600 wind turbines generate 62.3 gigawatts (GW) of energy, and there's another 13.6 GW under construction across 105 projects in 21 states, according to the Department of Energy 2013 Wind Technologies Market Report. Among them is the world's biggest - the 3 GW Chokecherry wind farmin Wyoming, which will power a million homes. 

The wind tax credit must be renewed to continue this growth!

Why is the US #1? 

Besides having outstanding wind resources - the Midwest has been called the Saudi Arabia of wind - supportive policies on the state and federal levels have led to impressive growth.

With this growth has come economies of scale, bringing costs and electricity prices down. Turbines have become much more efficient and productive, with a single turbine now powering 650 homes. Siting decisions have evolved to mitigate wildlife impacts, while increasing output. 

Importantly, projects must have access to transmission lines to get financing, making sure their electricity gets to market. Too many wind installations in China are sitting idle waiting for transmission infrastructure. 

"These and other factors have meant that over $120 billion worth of U.S. wind projects installed since the year 2000 are of high overall quality and reliability, ready to operate on average more than 95% of the time the wind is strong enough to generate power, says James Walker in AWEA's blog.

Where the wind farms are:

Wind Turbine National Map

Understanding the Production Tax Credit

It's easy to see how state-based Renewable Portfolio Standards are perhaps the most crucial policy supporting the industry. They require utilities to source a portion of electricity from renewable energy, guaranteeing a market for wind energy.

But it's the federal production tax credit that's been effective at optimizing production of electricity because credits are awarded only for long term performance.

James Walker explains how it works:

"Another key factor in the success of the US wind industry is that government incentives and private sector financing methods reward long term production, not initial capital investment. 

The main government support mechanism, the federal renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), is only earned for kilowatt hours actually produced and delivered during a 10 year period. 

Back in the 1980s, developers could make a profit just by completing projects, even if they never operated up to par.  These incentives ended and were replaced in 1992 by the PTC, sponsored by Senator Grassley (R-IA) and extended on a bipartisan basis for over two decades. This performance-based policy has led to dramatic increases in electricity output from individual turbines - which today have a nameplate capacity 8 times larger than a typical one in 1990, generating 17 times more electricity."

While the PTC should be renewed for 5-10 years to provide the long-term certainty the industry needs, it is in danger again of being dropped altogether, but fossil fuel subsidies remain intact. When the PTC expired at the end of 2012, new projects dropped an astounding 92%, with ripple effects across the supply chain.

Read our article, Conservatives Take Aim at Wind Production Tax Credit, Once Again.

Key findings from the Department of Energy's "2013 Wind Technologies Market Report":

• Wind has grown to an important energy source in the US.Although new projects declined when the PTC expired to just 1.1 GW in 2013, it has comprised 33% of all new electricity capacity since 2007, and supplies over 12% of electricity in 9  states, and over 25% in two states.

• Bigger Turbines boosts wind project performance. Since 1998-99, the average wind turbine output has risen 162% because turbines are 45% taller and blades are 103% wider. This makes it possible for developers to economically build projects in areas with lower wind speeds, and driving greater energy production for projects overall.

• Prices for wind turbines are down 20-40% since 2008, also pushing project costs down. Installed costs were down more than $600 per kilowatt last year.

• Combined, these factors are lowing wind energy prices, falling to $25 per megawatt-hour last year from $70 in 2009. Contracts for wind energy now compete very favorably with coal and natural gas.

• Projections are for solid growth in 2014-2015, with uncertain prospects in 2016 and beyond. Renewal of the PTC for 2013, re-started the US wind market, which will reach into 2014 and 2015. But "Projections for 2016 and beyond are much less certain. Despite the attractive price of wind energy, federal policy uncertainty - in concert with continued low natural gas prices and modest electricity demand growth - may put a damper on medium-term market growth," explains Mark Bolinger, Research Scientist at Berkeley National Lab.

Read the report:


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Monty Bannerman
ArcStar Energy
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Fwd: The Latest in Utilities' Battle Against Solar & Efficiency

More ugly monopoly moves.

12/08/2014 03:46 PM    print story email story  ShareThis

The Latest in Utilities' Battle Against Solar & Efficiency News

Wisconsin and Florida have joined Arizona, Oklahoma, Ohio and Indiana in protecting its utilities from the threat of distributed generation and/or energy efficiency - a sure sign ofALEC's presence.  

At last week's 2015 States and National Policy Summit, ALEC laid out the agenda - "limited government, unlimited pollution," says Aliya Haq at Natural Resource Defense Council. Besides getting rid of renewable energy, halting energy efficiency and expanding oil drilling everywhere, the EPA is squarely in its sight this year - even with a model bill that would completely eliminate the agency!


Regulators voted 3-2 to eliminate all solar rebates at the end of next year and to cut energy efficiency programs required of utilities by 90%.  And they did it just as the Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo began there. 


"The historic rollbacks in conservation goals are bad news for customers - especially those on lower incomes, says the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Earthjustice. During the proceeding, SACE showed that higher levels of energy efficiency cost less than building new, more costly power plants. Instead of siding with customers, regulators sided with monopoly utility shareholders, once again, by setting meager goals that promote construction of new power plants -which earn the companies a hefty profit, while leaving fewer opportunities for customers to lower energy use and save money on bills."  

Amazingly, utilities say solar rebates and efficiency programs aren't cost-effective, claiming it's cheaper for them to produce a kilowatt of electricity than to save it. At the same time, regulators approved Duke Energy's $1.5 billion natural gas plant to be built at customers' expense. Duke and FPL could even charge customers for fracking exploration, reports UtilityDive.

Over the summer, utility Florida Power & Light (FPL) got approval to charge customers $9 per month to fund construction of its solar projects. Pretty amazing, because FPL has long been one of the top wind developers in the US - from its own coffers. And it joined with other state utilities to ask regulators to slash energy efficiency incentives, after donating heavily to keep Republican Rick Scott as Governor. 

Because of these outrageous moves, legislation has been introduced to reform the regulatory agency, Florida Public Service Commission.

Meanwhile, Michigan's energy efficiency measures returned almost $4 in savings for every dollar spent, according to its regulators.


Ohio succumbed earlier this year, freezing its renewable energy and efficiency standards for two years. As part of that bill, utilities would be allowed to opt out of efficiency rebates that encourage people to buy efficient light bulbs and Energy Star appliances.

FirstEnergy has taken them up on it and at the end of this year most efficiency programs will end. But ratepayers will continue to pay for them through previous rate hikes that support those programs and they will pay for "lost distribution revenues" - fees FirstEnergy receives for cooperating with those state mandates!, reports 

The company is also trying to convince the commission to approve a new three-year rate plan that would commit Illuminating Co., Ohio Edison, and Toledo Edison to buy all their  power for 15 years - at whatever the cost - from two of its large, old power plants - one nuclear and one coal,


Regulators approved a 75% hike in fixed charges of about $16 a month, offset by slightly lower prices for energy. 

Commissioner Eric Callisto - the sole person who voted against the rate change, and the only person not appointed by ALEC member Governor Walker - says the idea that a fixed charge promotes fairness is "silly" because it "guarantees the folks who use the least amount of energy will pay more," he toldMilwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Utilities will also pay less to net-metered customers - those who send excess solar back to the grid.   

The charge "effectively demolishes" rooftop solar in Wisconsin, Michael Vickerman at RENEW Wisconsin, told Utility Dive.  

Since there isn't much solar in the state yet, the utility is thinking ahead. It's "tantamount to a 40% reduction in the value of what customers receive from a solar project," Tyler Huebner of Renew Wisconsin, told the Journal Sentinel. "This decision is bad for job creation, bad for energy independence, bad for the environment, and bad for customers. Today our supposedly conservative commissioners approved a new tax, killed jobs and restricted energy choice in Wisconsin."

We Energies also wanted to ban customers from leasing renewable energy systems, like and solar and anaerobic digesters, but the Wisconsin Public Service Commission rejected that. 

Kansas, Utah, Texas? 

Even in Koch Bros country, Kansas refused to repeal its Renewable Portfolio Standard earlier this year, but they did dilute net-metering for solar. When it comes up next year, it has a much better of chance of passing after even more Republicans were elected in the mid-terms.  

Rocky Mountain Power in Utah filed for a $4.25 surcharge for  solar owners and the largest municipal utility in the US, CPS Energy in Texas, wants a $450 connection fee and monthly charges of $1 per kilowatt per month.

Read our articles, Vermont Raises Support for Solar While Slew of States Consider Repeal and Solar Wins Big In Iowa, Next Battle is Wisconsin.

Read more about the politics in Wisconsin:


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Monty Bannerman
ArcStar Energy
+1 646.402.5076

Fwd: Solar Prices Keep Dropping, NREL Achieves 46% Efficiency for Concentrating Solar Cells

What's the difference between declining gas prices and declining solar? 

One never goes back up:)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rebecca Van Nichols <>
Date: Monday, December 29, 2014
Subject: Solar Prices Keep Dropping, NREL Achieves 46% Efficiency for Concentrating Solar Cells

12/17/2014 12:31 PM    print story email story  ShareThis

Solar Prices Keep Dropping, NREL Achieves 46% Efficiency for Concentrating Solar Cells News

Over the past few months, we've seen announcements of solar cells that are reaching new heights for converting the sun's energy into electricity, showing how quickly the technology is advancing. 

The latest is from the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), which has demonstrated 45.7% conversion efficiency for concentrating solar cells - more than double the typical 20% efficiency today. 

It greatly improves on earlier designs by incorporating an additional high quality absorber layer to achieve an ultra-high efficiency, says NREL. 

Multijunction solar cells harvest sunlight by dividing the solar spectrum into portions that are absorbed by a material with a bandgap tuned to a specific wavelength range. Combining materials with optimal bandgaps is critical for high efficiency. The challenge is to maintain the high quality of the materials while integrating them into a complex cell capable of efficient photoconversion.

"The distinction of this multijunction device is the very high quality of the lattice-mismatched subcells," says Ryan France, who designed the solar cell. "Lattice-mismatched materials require the introduction of defects, called dislocations, into the device, which can drastically hinder device performance. NREL has learned to control and confine these dislocations to inactive regions of the device, allowing even highly mismatched material to be used in a multijunction cell." 

This graph shows research achievements for all kinds of solar cells, with NREL's new one reaching the highest level yet:

Solar Efficiency NREL

Prices Keep Dropping

In 2013, system prices for utility-scale solar PV fell below $2 per watt, and have continued declining this year to $1.80 per watt - 59% lower than in 2010, according to NREL and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

Prices for distributed solar PV systems dropped 12-19% in the US during 2013, and will decline another 3-12% this year,  depending on where the system is located and market segment.  Since 2010, installed prices are down 46%, because of lower equipment costs and streamlined installation practices. Residential solar now averages $3.29 per watt and those who lease systems pay $2.22 per watt, according to NREL. 

"There are significant variations in reported pricing both geographically and across market segments due to a variety of factors, including value-based pricing based on local competition within the marketplace and prevailing electric retail rates. Other factors include differences in specific system configurations such as panel efficiency, mounting structure, and geographic location; and the time lags between commitments and commercial operation for utility-scale systems." 

Industry analysts expect this trend to continue over the next couple of years, keeping the US on track to meet DOE's  SunShot target - reducing the cost of solar PV below $1 per watt by 2020.

In another report, The Effect of State Policy Suites on the Development of Solar Markets, NREL finds that falling solar prices are benefiting some states more than others. Those with strong policies for interconnection and net metering benefit the most, and the length of time these policies have been in place are also important indicators of market success.

Read our article, US Solar Rises 41% in 2013, Greatest Year on Record.  

Learn more about NREL's new solar cell:


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Monty Bannerman
ArcStar Energy
+1 646.402.5076

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Jeb Bush e-mails offer a look at the Republican's hands-on style as governor - The Washington Post

I was there during his term. He did a great job. Kind of like the Bloomberg of Florida, fiscally conservative and socially center.

Remains to be seen how he is going to position on renewables, given the oil in his DNA.

X Ray Telescope Image Reveals New Understanding of our Sun

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BBC News: US economy growing at faster pace

US economy growing at faster pace

The US economy grows at an annual rate of 5% in the third quarter, its fastest pace for 11 years, official figures suggest.

Read more:

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Bloomberg: Oil Crash Wipes $11.7 Billion From Buyout Firms’ Holdings

According to the big boys, what went down is certain to go up, underlying the issue that oil and gas will be forever volatile energy sources.

From Bloomberg, Dec 22, 2014, 12:00:01 AM
Shale oil production in North Dakota, U.S. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Oil's plunge makes energy a great investment for the coming years, according to Blackstone Group LP (BX)'s Stephen Schwarzman and Carlyle (CG) Group LP's David Rubenstein. For private equity firms, it's also been painful.

To read the entire article, go to

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Result of Low Bids in Brazil: All Hat, No Cattle

Brazil's PV capacity increased by only 5 kW in the past month

Brazil has added about 13.4 MW of new PV capacity so far this year.

22.12.2014: Brazil had a cumulative installed PV capacity of 18.98 MW as of Dec. 20, 2014, according to the latest statistics from the country’s energy regulator Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica (ANEEL). Of the 289 PV systems installed in Brazil, however, only 14.99 MW of those systems are currently online, while the remaining 4.0 MW is awaiting regulatory authorization to begin operation. Brazil's installed PV capacity as of Nov. 20, 2014 was 18.93 MW. This means that in the past 30 days, only 5 kW of PV systems were installed in Brazil. At the end of 2013, Brazil had a cumulative installed PV capacity of around 6 MW. ANEEL’s statistics also reveal that, despite the high number of large-scale PV projects announced in Brazil over the past 2 years, no PV project is currently under construction and solar projects totaling 847 MW are officially under development, despite the fact that construction on the project has not yet begun. PV power currently accounts for just 0.01% of Brazil’s total generation capacity, which currently stands at 133.3 GW. © PHOTON



Monty Bannerman

ArcStar Energy



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BBC News: Jeb Bush to explore White House bid

Definitely could grab stranded moderates on both sides of the chasm.

Jeb Bush to explore White House bid

Ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush, brother and son of US presidents, takes a step towards a run on the White House in 2016.

Read more:

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

BBC News: Arctic sea ice volume holds up

Arctic sea ice volume holds up

Two cool summers in a row have now allowed the pack ice in the Arctic to increase and then hold on to a good deal of its volume.

Read more:

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Friday, December 12, 2014

BBC News: Top 10 physics breakthroughs listed

Top 10 physics breakthroughs listed

Landing on a comet, laser fusion and a working tractor beam are among the physics breakthroughs of the year, as chosen by a leading magazine.

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BBC News: Oil price falls on energy forecast

Top fossil shills see no near term relief.

Oil price falls on energy forecast

The price of oil falls further after a report from the International Energy Agency forecasts weaker demand in 2015.

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New Mexico utility proposes rooftop solar tax: pv-magazine

The Koch brothers lobby and legislation mill and monopolists line up with the State tea party to undercut solar in yet another state.

Photos of the Day: Navy's laser weapon destroys moving targets at sea

Huawei makes largest year-on-year gains in global PV inverter market, IHS

This Chinese company did more to destroy margins and commoditize advanced telecom equipment than any in history. Western inverter manufactures better be looking over their shoulders and preparing for trouble. Only one way to go on inverter prices now.



12.12.2014: Germany-based SMA, Switzerland-based ABB and Japan-based Omron were the top three global PV inverter suppliers in the first three quarters of 2014 based on market share, but Chinese telecommunications company Huawei made the largest gain in market share during the period, reports market research firm IHS. Despite SMA and ABB maintaining their first and second market-share rankings, both companies’ market share for the first three quarters of the year has declined since last year, with SMA losing 6 percentage points and ABB just over 1 point. At the same time, Huawei’s share of the global market grew by more than 2 percentage points. In its »PV Inverter Market Tracker« report, IHS notes that SMA’s limited market share in China and Japan and a rapid decline in ABB shipments to Germany, Italy and other key European markets led to the two market leaders’ weaker performance. Meanwhile, Huawei’s growth in global market share is largely attributed to gains in the domestic Chinese market, where the company has quickly become one of the leading suppliers. Total inverter shipments in China increased steadily in the third quarter of 2014 to reach 4.8 GW. TBEA Sunoasis, Sungrow and other Chinese inverter suppliers have also benefited from the surge in domestic shipments. In terms of revenue, Japan was the largest PV inverter market. »Global PV inverter supplier rankings have changed substantially over the past 12 months, led by large gains from Japanese, Chinese and module-level power electronic suppliers,« concluded Cormac Gilligan, senior analyst for PV inverter research at IHS. »Suppliers with a major presence in the United States, Japan, China, and other high-growth markets were some «of the biggest year-over-year gainers, while those who were heavily reliant on Germany, Italy, and other countries that previously led the market lost considerable market share.« In the microinverter and power optimizer markets, Enphase and SolarEdge continued to see strong market share growth due to strong demand in the US, Europe and in other international markets. © PHOTON

Die vollständige Pressemitteilung finden Sie auch im PHOTON-Archiv unter folgendem Link:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Inside Costa Rica: Business confidence sinks to lowest level in four years

Monty Bannerman
ArcStar Energy

Spanish Town Develops 250MW Solar Project with No Incentives

11.12.2014: The Spanish municipality of Elche, in the southern region of Valencia, will host a 250 MW PV power plant to be developed by an unnamed company, according to local newspaper ABC. The Luis Mora solar project will require an investment of €250 million ($309.8 million), and it will rely on approximately 250,000 modules provided by an undisclosed manufacturer. The project will be built in five 50MW phase from 2015 to 2020. The project will not be eligible to receive a FIT – it will instead be developed under Spain's ordinary regime, which is usually reserved for conventional energy projects. © PHOTON


Monty Bannerman

ArcStar Energy



EDF Renewable Services added 134 MW of solar to its Canadian O&M portfolio in 2014

11.12.2014: EDF Renewable Services, the O&M unit of EDF Renewable Energy, itself the North American subsidiary of French renewable energy developer EDF Energies Nouvelles, has added 454 MW of wind and 134 MW of solar to its Canadian O&M portfolio in 2014. The new contracts, which cover 27 individual projects in Quebec and Ontario, represent a 52% year-on-year increase in contracted projects in the Canadian market. EDF Renewable Services operates over 8.5 GW of wind, solar and biomass projects throughout the US, Canada and Mexico. © PHOTON


Monty Bannerman

ArcStar Energy



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bloomberg: America Getting Rid of Oil Addiction as Price Plummets Amid Glut

Tectonic market shift throwing off temblors.

From Bloomberg, Dec 10, 2014, 7:00:00 PM
A driver holds a fuel pump as he refuels his automobile with diesel at a gas station. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

The U.S. is producing the most oil in 31 years, economic growth is picking up and crude prices are plunging. So why is Americans' use of petroleum waning?

To read the entire article, go to

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BBC News: Bishops call for end to fossil fuels

Bishops call for end to fossil fuels

Catholic bishops from around the world are calling for an end to fossil fuel use and increased efforts to secure a global climate treaty.

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Nuclear power to change shape in 2015 | Nuclear Energy Insider

Some interesting data here. Small Modular Nuclear Reactors  (SMR) would fit into a distributed energy architecture, but if you have ever seen the NIMBY from a fossil plant, wind farm or fear of radiation from a transmission line, imagine what the neighbors are going to say about a small reactor being nearby.

Infrastructure investment manager | Private Equity | Solar asset management

This is Foresight's core group in UK stepping up to larger projects, but still at construction ready or after.

Monty Bannerman
ArcStar Energy

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fwd: Energy Storage Technology Fills Utilities With Fear and Promise


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Rebecca Van Nichols" <>
Date: Dec 9, 2014 3:06 PM
Subject: Energy Storage Technology Fills Utilities With Fear and Promise
To: <>

Energy Storage Technology Fills Utilities With Fear and Promise

Is solar PV + energy storage an opportunity for utilites? Many analysts believe so, especially in light the grid upgrades that will be required for the EV industry to thrive.

Mark Chediak, Bloomberg 
December 08, 2014  |  8 Comments


New York -- Here's why something as basic as a battery both thrills and terrifies the U.S. utility industry.

At a sagebrush-strewn industrial park outside of Reno, Nevada, bulldozers are clearing dirt for Tesla Motors Inc.'s battery factory, projected to be the world's largest.

Tesla's founder, Elon Musk, sees the $5 billion facility as a key step toward making electric cars more affordable, while ending reliance on oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At first blush, the push toward more electric cars looks to be positive for utilities struggling with stagnant sales from energy conservation and slow economic growth.

Yet Musk's so-called gigafactory may soon become an existential threat to the 100-year-old utility business model. The facility will also churn out stationary battery packs that can be paired with rooftop solar panels to store power. Already, a second company led by Musk, SolarCity Corp., is packaging solar panels and batteries to power California homes and companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

"The mortal threat that ever cheaper on-site renewables pose" comes from systems that include storage, said Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Snowmass, Colorado-based energy consultant. "That is an unregulated product you can buy at Home Depot that leaves the old business model with no place to hide."

J.B. Straubel, chief technology officer for Palo Alto, California-based Tesla, said the company views utilities as partners not adversaries in its effort to build out battery storage. Musk was not available for comment.

The Tesla systems are arriving just as utilities begin to feel increasing pressure worldwide from the disruption posed by renewable energy.

Lima Meeting

In Germany, the rapid rise of tax-subsidized clean energy has undermined wholesale prices and decimated the profitability of coal and natural gas plants. Germany's largest utility EON SE said last week it will spin off its fossil-fuel plant business to focus on renewables in part because of new clean energy competitors coming onto its turf.

Threats to the traditional utility model come as energy and environment take the world stage at the latest round of United Nations climate talks that began Dec. 1 in Lima. Delegates, backed by global environmental groups, want to leave the conference with a draft agreement to tackle climate change by lowering carbon-dioxide emissions — something that has eluded them for years.

The Rocky Mountain Institute's Lovins has installed solar on his house in Snowmass and uses it to power his electric car. His monthly electric bill: $25. He has a lot of company.

100,000 Plug-ins

In California, where 40 percent of the nation's plug-in cars have been sold, about half of electric vehicle owners have solar or want to install it, according to a February survey by the Center for Sustainable Energy, a green-energy advocate. More than 100,000 plug-ins have been sold in California, according to data from and Baum & Associates, though EVs make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. car sales.

Few homes and businesses use solar and back-up-battery storage, proof for some utilities that the systems remain a hard sell outside of states like California or markets like Hawaii where high power costs make solar competitive.

Still, the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing America's investor-owned utilities, recently announced that its members will help to encourage electric vehicle use by spending $50 million annually to buy plug-in service trucks and invest in car-charging technology.

"Advancing plug-in electric vehicles and technologies is an industry priority," said EEI President Thomas Kuhn.

Charging Stations

Analysts think the industry has been slow to react. Tesla, SolarCity and green-energy companies are already moving aggressively into unoccupied space. "Some of the more nimble companies that think and move more quickly, they are beating the utilities to the punch," said Ben Kallo, a San Francisco-based analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co.

Tesla has installed 135 fast-charging stations, some powered by solar, across North America where its Model S drivers can refuel for free. NRG Energy Inc. is building a network of public charging stations in major cities that drivers can access on a per-charge basis or for a flat monthly fee of about $15.

And then there's the home front. In a July report, Morgan Stanley said Tesla's home and business energy-storage product could be "disruptive" in the U.S. and in Europe as customers seek to avoid utility fees by going "off-grid."

'Sufficient Appreciation'

"We believe there is not sufficient appreciation of the magnitude of energy storage cost reduction that Tesla has already achieved, nor of the further cost reduction magnitude that Tesla might be able to achieve once the company has constructed its 'gigafactory,'" Morgan Stanley analysts wrote.

Tesla sees itself taking on a grand mission — not just to lower emissions from cars and trucks, but to have a societal impact. "If we only do it on the transportation side, we ignore the utility side, and we are probably ignoring half of our responsibility," said Mateo Jaramillo, director of powertrain business development at Tesla Motors, at the recent Platts California Power and Gas Conference in San Francisco.

Tesla and Oncor Electric Delivery, owner of the largest power-line network in Texas, have discussed a $2 billion investment in stationary battery storage to solve the problem of fluctuating output from wind and solar. Tesla and SolarCity are separate entities and only share management at the board level.

Tesla fell 2 percent today to $223.71 in New York.

Smart Home

A glimpse of that future can be seen in Davis, California, where Honda Motor Co. has developed a "smart home" that produces more energy than it uses while charging a plug-in car. The home was designed in collaboration with SolarCity, PG&E Corp. and the University of California at Davis to showcase energy-efficient and renewable technologies. It will serve as a home for a member of the UC Davis community and a lab for the study of new businesses and technologies.

SolarCity rival SunPower Corp. is offering its solar and storage systems to buyers of electric cars from Audi AG and rebates for solar-panels to Ford Motor Co. plug-in customers. SunPower also has struck a partnership with homebuilder KB Home to begin installing solar and storage systems in California.

The time when residents can charge their electric cars with excess solar stored in their home batteries is "not decades away, that is years away," said SunPower CEO Tom Werner.

Holy Grail

Both SolarCity and SunPower say their goal isn't to move customers completely off-grid, just to reduce their dependence on it. "Grid storage has been the Holy Grail for renewables because the energy is intermittent," Kallo said. "Finding a way to store that is very powerful."

For the power companies, the stakes are high.

In June, EEI issued a call to action, saying converting people from gasoline cars to electric vehicles is nearly essential for survival. The report concluded: "The bottom line is that the electric utility industry needs the electrification of the transportation sector to remain viable and sustainable in the long run."

To that point, executives at some of the nation's largest utilities from New York to California say they are preparing their grids for more plug-in cars, reaching out to automakers and working with regulators to make sure customers as well as the utilities benefit from the trend.

Natural Partnership

"I read a lot of articles about Elon Musk versus the utility companies," said John Shipman, who heads electric vehicle programs at New York-based Consolidated Edison Co. "I don't see it that way at all. There is a natural partnership that can exist there."

In California, where electric vehicle adoption is the highest in the nation, and Governor Jerry Brown has set a goal of having 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, utilities are already in the game.

"The electric grid will be just as important in the years to come because the grid is becoming the platform that makes it possible for people to plug in solar panels, batteries and charging stations," said Ellen Hayes, a PG&E spokeswoman. "Having a solar panel that isn't connected to the grid is like having a computer that's not connected to the Internet."

Edison International's Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric have proposed investing about $500 million in car charging stations. Along with PG&E, they are backing a proposal that would loosen restrictions on utilities owning charging facilities.

Grid Upgrades

There is yet another side to the argument — can utilities manage the load?

"Electric vehicles can be the best thing to ever happen to our industry or the worst thing to ever happen to our industry," said James Avery, a senior vice president at San Diego Gas & Electric.

Avery doesn't foresee most customers leaving the grid, but does see the risk of an influx of electric cars that overtaxes the network. SDG&E, whose territory has the highest penetration of plug-ins in the U.S., plans to spend as much as $3.2 billion to upgrade its grid. It already offers cheaper rates for EV owners to charge overnight when power demand is lowest.

Southern California Edison is planning to spend about $9.2 billion through 2017 to allow the two-way flow of electricity on its system, said Edison International CEO Ted Craver.

"We are certainly big supporters of electric transportation," Craver said.

He added: "That electric car isn't just going to stay at home. It's going to go other places. It's going to need to get charged in other places. And I think our ability to provide that glue for all those things that are going to plug into that network is really how we see our core business."

Shifting Landscape

Some utilities are more amendable to the shifting landscape than others. Last year, Pinnacle West Capital Corp.'s Arizona Public Service raised the ire of its customers and the solar industry by tacking on a monthly fee of about $5 for residents with solar systems. Adding fixed connection charges or additional fees to such customers may cause more of them to defect, said Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

"Utilities should look at Elon as a brilliant entrepreneur and innovator who is helping create the new electricity industry and betting against him hasn't worked so well," Lovins said. "I would look at ways to benefit from what he is bringing to the market."

Lead image: Smart Home
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