Bipartisan U.S. Senators Push for Distributed Wind

Bipartisan U.S. Senators Push for Distributed Wind | December 29th, 2014
by Nick Blitterswyk, CEO, UGE International

A group of Senators recently urged the US Department of Energy to continue funding programs for the domestic distributed wind energy industry. The bipartisan group, led by Sen. Al Franken, wrote a letter highlighting the clear potential for distributed wind power to “contribute many gigawatts of electricity similar to other renewable technologies.”

Reactions have been mixed, and that’s understandable. The distributed wind industry has faced a good deal of critique (some of which is warranted).

Nevertheless, the Senators are correct: Distributed wind is a useful technology, with useful applications, and stands to benefit from the increasingly attractive economic conditions for distributed generation.

Choppy beginnings

When distributed energy took off over the last five years, small wind got caught flat-footed. The reason was primarily because it hadn’t reached a level of maturity where it could take advantage of the changing tide. As a result, there were several cases of companies manipulating incentives and hawking shoddy products on unsuspecting customers (and lest this become an anti-China argument, virtually all such products came from US and European companies).

One of the better known examples was DyoCore, which made lofty claims about the power of its SolAir turbine in order to game California’s Emerging Renewables Program. California actually received so many complaints about the company that it cancelled the entire program.

Early failures like these were possible because standards and certifications hadn’t yet been established in the distributed wind industry. And though the DyoCores of the world eventually failed, these early companies and their stories damaged the reputation of even the best small wind products on the market, greatly holding back the industry.

2011 was when the wind started to come out of the industry’s sails (and yes, pun intended). The economy had tanked, and solar prices were gaining economies of scale, making small wind expensive by comparison in a market where customers were holding their wallets more tightly.

But just like with solar, distributed wind has continued to evolve and innovate

The technology and business models have continued to advance, the industry has consolidated, and as the senators noted in their letter, the distributed wind power industry is at the threshold of rapid commercialization.

The future of small wind: Worth investing in

Vertical axis wind turbines on a Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Hilton 11_0
Vertical axis wind turbines on a Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. | A note about Florida; Some $50 billion dollars leave the state every year to pay for electricity produced by coal-fired or natural gas-fired generation in other states and for transportation fuels. For states like Florida, the transition to renewable energy can’t happen soon enough.

Economic conditions are increasingly attractive for all distributed generation. In just a few short years, distributed wind has changed dramatically. There are fewer players, and the standards are much tougher as the SWCC, in the US, and comparable certification programs around the world, have reached maturation.

The technology has advanced — and has a wide variety of applications. You’re not going to find distributed wind atop 20% of rooftops, like you will already with solar in Australia, but you will find that the modern technologies from the companies that remain in the industry — the strongest, best run ones with the best technology, and with better economies of scale — will start gaining a resurgence.

Distributed wind has particularly great potential in applications such as:

  • Farms: A 10kW or larger turbine can be installed in windy locations and produce energy at a rate less than that available from the grid, or in farms in remote regions with difficulty accessing the grid.
  • Northern and Southern regions, from Scandinavia to Patagonia: There are limitations to solar resources during the winter months at the poles, but wind is a great resource in most of these areas.
  • Hybrid installations: Particularly in off-grid situations, a mix of energy sources adds resiliency and lowers the cost of energy.

This list also doesn’t include the many forward-thinking businesses and consumers who want to support and benefit from the technological advancements in the industry, and who have also been a key customer base for distributed wind turbines.

Many of these projects, from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to Whole Foods in Brooklyn, inspire greater interest in sustainability and emerging technologies that shouldn’t be overlooked.

SunEdison solar installation with vertical axis wind turbines on a commercial rooftop in Walpole, MI.
SunEdison solar installation with vertical axis wind turbines on a commercial building rooftop in Walpole, MA.

The importance of investment

The small wind industry began its life far too dependent on incentives and government funding. But limiting or eliminating development of the industry would be a huge mistake. R&D has developed the technology significantly in the past several years, and with certifications and standards in place, as well as new business models that remove financial barriers and mitigate performance risks, there’s additional efficiencies to explore.

The US has a strong advantage in the field, and the DOE’s support will be essential for distributed wind to “cross the chasm” and find its footing amidst Cleantech 2.0 — an era with much promise for new business models and advanced distributed generation. A group of senators understands this — I hope the rest of the industry will follow suit.

About the Author: Nick Blitterswyk is the CEO and founder of UGE International, a leading developer of distributed renewable energy solutions for business and government, with projects in over 90 countries, including several for Fortune 1,000 companies.

This article first appeared on CleanTechnica.com

The Home Battery System. Are we ready for this?

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Ever since lower priced solar panels have hit the market, it has become obvious that home battery systems are the next logical step for our modern, but still evolving, energy grid.

Installing solar panels on your rooftop has never been easier, as panel prices have fallen in price by 80% over the past two years and installation rebate programs are generous in many jurisdictions. But getting all that free daytime energy from the Sun won’t do you much good unless you can store it for later use.

Having a home battery system allows you to store the energy that your solar panels collect every day.

Without a home battery system, solar power can make economic sense in many locations — but solar with a battery system will rock your world! OK, maybe not rock your world, but it makes a lot of sense if the battery system can be had for a reasonable price.

Without a home battery, you can still sell your excess solar generated electricity to the grid if your utility has a net-metering programme. But much of your profit is eaten up when you buy back some of that electricity after the Sun sets, at a higher price. Yes, every day of the year.

For homeowners, having battery storage means you could save a lot of money over ten or twenty years if a battery system is cost-effective to begin with — and a battery system IS a wonderful thing to have during utility company power outages.

Home Battery Systems can make sense, even without solar panels

If you live in a jurisdiction where you can buy electricity from your utility company at a very low rate during certain hours of the day or night and store that energy with your home battery system for later use, that can work for you — regardless if you have solar panels or not. Peak rates can be $0.38 per kWh in some parts of North America (or higher), while off-peak rates can be $0.08 per kWh (or lower) making the peak rate about five times more expensive in this example, than the off-peak rate.

Prognosticating ten or twenty years out, who’s to say what electricity rates may be? There always seems to be a reason to hike the rates.

JBS News Renewable Energy. Ontario, Canada rates presently run between $0.07 Off-peak, $0.11 Mid-peak and $0.13 On-peak per kWh. All rates are approximate and subject to change. This chart for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Ontario hydro one.
JBS News Renewable Energy. Current electricity rates in Ontario, Canada, run between $0.07 Off-peak, $0.11 Mid-peak and $0.13 On-peak, per kWh. All rates are approximate and subject to change. This chart for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Ontario hydro one.

Your home or business can run on the power from your home battery system during high electricity rate periods, and past midnight, your battery system can be scheduled to automatically connect to the grid and recharge itself at the lowest rate.

At present, we are about 10 years away from economically priced home battery systems for the majority of consumers. That’s not to say that you can’t go out and buy one of these systems today, because you can. It’s just that they cost more than the average consumer is willing to spend at this point.

Apart from collecting solar energy for you all day or saving money due to rate fluctuations (or both), home battery systems can protect you from utility company power interruptions, especially for those in rural areas or other areas where power outages are common.

However, for homeowners in rural areas and subject to frequent power service interruptions, having a battery backup can make sense.

Take the case of a dairy farmer who suddenly has no electricity at 7:00am on a cold winter morning; How is he going to milk 2500 cows in one hour, and in the dark, without backup power? Of course, the old standby has always been an expensive-to-fuel diesel generator and the noxious fumes that go along with it.

Or we can look at a veterinary clinic, or other examples where uninterrupted electrical power is important.

With battery backup, electrical power returns within one minute and the vet can proceed with the days operations on her four-footed patients and the farmer can milk his cows without missing a beat.

Emergency service providers, schools, and other important government buildings and businesses could also benefit from such in-situ battery systems.

It’s interesting to note that Tesla is working with Solar City to offer home batteries, using their Electric Vehicle (EV) battery technology. A fascinating development and one that holds tremendous promise.

Recycled Electric Vehicle batteries still have 70% life, after removal

GM wants to use old Chevy Volt batteries and give them a second life as an home battery. GM says that even after ten years of powering your daily commute, an EV battery still has at least 70% of the power it had when it was assembled.

In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used.

This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications like powering a structure before the battery is recycled. — Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management

Innovations like new and recycled EV batteries will pave the way forward to a viable and affordable distributed energy future and can be a way to get very efficient second use from recycled EV batteries.

EV batteries store a huge amount of power, enough to power a home for two or three days in the case of a service interruption — and in the case of storing energy for everyday use during peak rate periods, would be well within EV battery capabilities.

Stay tuned, because this story is just beginning.

Game-changing Solar Finance Model for Mid-size Projects

by Guest Contributor Camilo Patrignani, CEO of Greenwood Energy

Mid-size solar farms hit the ‘sweet spot’ with investor groups willing to invest in renewable energy. 2.9MW ground-mounted Soltage-Greenwood Walpole, MA solar array image via Greenwood Energy
Mid-size solar farms hit the ‘sweet spot’ with investor groups willing to invest in renewable energy. 2.9MW ground-mounted Soltage-Greenwood Walpole, MA solar array. Image via Greenwood Energy

These days, a $40 million dollar equity financing deal might not seem groundbreaking in America’s power markets. But for the keen analyst of distributed solar energy, that same investment may just herald a shift toward the future of project financing.

Count our team at Soltage-Greenwood among the latter, with an outlook brightened by the recent announcement John Hancock Life Insurance would lead a $40 million initial round of equity funding destined to finance multiple project pools across America, starting with 13 megawatts (MW) at six locations across four northeastern state.

Just another solar investment, right? Not really. While the boom in distributed solar energy generation is one of the hottest topics in today’s energy economy, most large institutional investors haven’t traditionally been interested in medium-sized solar installations, and as such, are just now getting into the game.

This trend is especially important considering clean energy investment fell for the second year in a row in 2013, down 11 percent after a similar 10 percent decline in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. While investor appetites in solar are growing, good investment opportunities can often be hard to find, meaning dollars are scarcer and thus more important for solar developers.

Big investors typically want to invest in big projects and standardized contracts, creating difficulty financing distributed solar. That problem hasn’t played out in the rooftop residential market, where developers like SolarCity have installed record amounts of solar panels because all contracts are standard and investors only need to review a diversified pool of credit scores. The same pattern is true for the large utility-scale market where companies like SunEdison have been able to construct massive solar farms and investors only need to review one set of contracts.

But that problem has vexed mid-sized developers who can often fund project-planning phases on their own but rely on securing long-term investors after projects are fully permitted and construction can begin. Individual arrays aren’t large enough to attract large investors, but project pools can involve many different contracts. Without investment to cover the long period of exposure between when the first rack goes in to when the system switches on, potential projects pile up but result in far too few interconnections to fulfill America’s solar energy promise.

Our approach to this problem may seem simple, but it’s been a success: Package together multiple solar projects in states with favorable renewable polices to create the scale and standardization required for big investors to take notice.

Think back to that 13MW project pool I mentioned earlier – it was sizable enough to attract a major institutional investor and secure sufficient equity financing that not only funds our initial project pool, but empowers Soltage-Greenwood to look ahead to an aggressive series of additional (and larger) project pools in 2014.

Now combine that equity financing with our business model of partnering with leading solar developers through the Soltage-Greenwood joint venture, and solar engineering, procurement, and construction contractors through the Greenwood Biosar joint venture to handle every aspect of projects from engineering to procurement and construction through maintenance, and the reason for our optimism comes into focus.

By vertically integrating the solar development business, mid-sized developers like Soltage-Greenwood can reach the scale needed to attract institutional investors, ensuring project financing through construction and interconnection, allowing power-purchase agreements to be put in place, and providing a positive return on investment that encourages additional investment.

Add it all up, and we believe we are well positioned to quickly and efficiently capitalize on the growing demand for distributed clean energy well into the future.

Greenwood Energy is the North American clean energy division of the Libra Group, a privately owned international business group comprising 30 subsidiaries operating across five continents.

Greenwood creates clean energy options by building and investing in new solar energy projects, manufacturing sustainable fuel to replace coal, and developing combined heat and power fuel cell systems.

This article, Just Another Solar Deal, Or The Future Of Mid-Size Project Financing?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Former Duke Energy CEO calls Rooftop Solar the Next Big Thing

by Giles Parkinson.

Renewable energy in the form of distributed solar. Image by KCET.org
Renewable energy in the form of distributed solar power. Image by KCET.org

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

Former head of US largest utility says regulations and business models will not change quick enough to save traditional utilities in face of solar.

Jim Rogers, the recently retired head of Duke Energy, the biggest utility in the US, has had some interesting things to say about the fate of the traditional utility, particularly with the proliferation of rooftop solar.

In an interview with Energy Biz Magazine, Rogers says there is no doubt that utilities are under fire from new technologies such as rooftop solar, and are in danger of losing customers to new players.

Indeed, if he were entering the industry now, that’s where he would want to be – in rooftop solar, attacking the market rather than defending it.

“The utility industry has been like the proverbial frog that’s been put in a pot of cold water, and the heat’s been turned up,” he said in the interview.

“And it’s been turned up slowly. The many challenges ahead are going to fundamentally change this industry.”

“Leaders in this industry in the future are going to have to run to the problems that they see on the horizon, embrace the problems, and then try to convert the problems and challenges they see into opportunities to create value for their customers as well as their investors.”

This is not the first time he has said such a thing, though not quite as dramatically. Last year, Rogers warned that “the progress in solar and storage means that customers may simply use the grid as a back-up some time in the future.”

Asked later in the interview what approach he would take if he were entering the industry now, Rogers initially replied that he would like to come back as David Crane, the CEO of NRG – the largest privately owned generator in the US – who has been extolling the virtue of solar and the transition that would likely create, and warning that customers were likely to disconnect from the grid if utilities did not evolve quickly enough

“Maybe I should take that back,” Rogers added. “I would come into the industry as someone who is an attacker, not a defender. I’d want the solar on the rooftop. I’d want to run that.”

“I’d want the ability to deploy new technologies that lead to productivity gains to the use of electricity in homes and businesses. I would go after the monopoly that I see weakened over the last 25 years.”

“My goal would be to take customers away from utilities as fast as I could, because I think they’re vulnerable. Regulations will not be changed fast enough to protect them. The business model will not be changed fast enough.”

Rogers said all utilities should be making decisions based on the assumption that there will – some day – be a price on carbon.

“Our industry needs to lead on environmental issues. We need to lead on productivity gains in the use of electricity. That’s a critical way for us to continue to reinvent ourselves as an industry.”

Nuclear supporters may be cheered by his outlook for nuclear, which he said would be centred almost entirely around China, and the development of Chinese technology, including modular reactors.

“They will lead the world in the building and operating of new nuclear plants over the next 30 years.”

“They will develop the supply chain and build nuclear plants in a modular fashion. We will have to change our rules and regulations and how we think about the Chinese. They’re going to bring us the nuclear technology to replace our existing plants at a lower cost and build new ones faster than we can.”

Repost.Us - Republish This Article

This article, Why Traditional Utility Companies’ Days Are Numbered, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy by Giles Parkinson.Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

WWF says India could reach 100% Renewables by 2050

by Guest Contributor Emma Fitzpatrick

Originally published on RenewEconomy

When the world thinks of countries that could go 100 percent renewable, the immediate thoughts go to islands with solar and storage, hydro and geothermal rich countries such as Iceland, or even wind and wave-rich countries like Scotland.

One of the last economies imagined going fully renewable would be India, the rising economic giant that is still yet to connect several hundred million people to its mostly coal-fired grid, and is expected to have the highest growth of electricity consumption. But according to environmental group WWF, India could reach a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2050.

The study examines the possibility of a near 100% Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India by the middle of the century against a reference scenario (REF) in which the economy is likely to be dependent primarily on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.

WWF says that to get there India must make some large-scale changes to get on the right track as soon as possible. According to the report, aggressive energy efficiency improvements alone can bring in savings of up to 59 percent (by both the supply and demand sides) by mid-century.

Biofuels are set to play a large role, especially in the transport sector accounting for nearly 90 percent of the industry’s requirements.  According to WWF the third-generation biofuels in question are currently still in R&D phase and for the plan to go accordingly they must become commercially viable within the next two decades.

Overall, biofuels account for 23 percent of the total commercial energy supply,  most of the transportation needs. Solar thermal accounts for much of industry’s heating needs, and the electricity supply increases nearly 8 fold, with wind contributing the largest component.

Electricity generation by resource - Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India
Electricity generation by resource – Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India

The report says the reference scenario depicts an unsustainable, polluting and relatively inefficient energy future in 2051. The renewable scenario, on the other hand, presents a modern, cleaner and highly efficient India and shows that it is, in principle, theoretically feasible to achieve close to 90 percent penetration of renewable energy sources in the energy mix by 2051.

“However, there are still many unresolved questions in the REN scenario related to resource potentials, availability, commercial viability of alternative options, policy and finance mobilization, barriers of cultural and technological lock-ins, etc,” it says.

“Several feasibility studies are, therefore, needed to lay the basis for moving toward the REN scenario; these have not yet been carried out. There are many interventions that would be necessary to remove various barriers and to achieve higher levels of renewable energy deployment in India.”

Concentrated solar thermal technologies, many of which are currently still in the research and development phase, will take on a large chunk of the nations electricity needs as well as meeting thermal demand in industries that require temperatures below 700°C.

Wind is also set to push India towards its 100 percent goal. Currently India has no estimates of its offshore wind potential but the WWF predicts that it could have up to 170 GW installed by 2051.

Rural households will be forced to change their cooking habits, meeting their needs through improved cook stoves while urban households switch to electrical based cooking.

In 2010, fossil fuels accounted for 74 percent of India’s total energy consumed as well as being the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide. India’s greenhouse gas emissions have also steadily risen by 2.9 percent each year between 1994 and 2007.

Much of the rural population still relies on biomass (such as firewood and agro-residue) for much of its basic cooking needs (around 24.6 percent of the primary energy supply) as well as using kerosene for lighting purposes.

Coal currently accounts for 42.4 percent of India’s total primary energy demand in 2010, with the national rail network being the largest coal consumer before 1975 – now overtaken by the power sector (87.7 per cent of total consumption).

Electricity alone plays a crucial role in improving levels of human development and the quality of modern life – with a strong positive link between human development, economic growth and growth in energy and infrastructure.

To sustain India’s own growth it requires large amounts of energy, with little oil reserves and much of its large coal reserves being inaccessible due to technological, social or geological factors, the country has many push factors to get its renewable base up and running. Due to the low oil reserves India has a high import dependence making it more economically vulnerable and well as supply issues.

India started its National Solar Mission in 2010 and is aiming to get 20 GW of grid connected solar power by 2020. As well as this, the Mission is promoting 2,000 MW of off-grid applications; including 20 million solar lighting systems and 20 million square metres of solar thermal collector area by 2022.

In general, India has a vast potential for solar power generation, with about 58 percent of the country’s total land area receiving an annual global insolation about 5 kWh/m2/day. These areas with 5 kWh/m2/day or above can generate at least 77 W/m2 at 16 per cent efficiency.

Rooftop PV is likely to play a major role in both rural and urban areas with residential, agricultural and industrial priorities reducing the amount of available land for solar programs.

It was estimated that almost 30 percent of industrial processes in India require heat below 250°C which can be supplied with heat from solar thermal concentrators. Temperatures below 80°C can be met through solar air heaters and solar water heaters. Industries – with the exception of iron, steel, cement and fertilizer – could in theory shift to CSP based heating.

Wind energy in India currently ranks second to hydro in renewable energy’s generating electricity. With 17,700 MW of installed capacity India’s rank in harnessing wind energy is fifth in the world after USA, China, Germany and Spain. Over the period of 1992-2010 the wind energy installed capacity in India witnesses an annual growth rate of 37 percent.

According to the Centre for Wind Energy Technology, most of India’s wind energy is concentrated in five states – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The WWF estimates that India’s total wind potential in megawatts stands at 49,130 at 50 metres, when taken up to 80 metres the reading more than doubles at 102,788 MW.

Hydropower is also being considered, with estimates around 148GW of energy potential. Two rivers, Brahmaputra and Indus, have the highest potential, with only 11 and 50 per cent respectively being utilized thus far.

India’s first tidal power project, with a 3.75 MW capacity, is being set up as well as the Kapasar project which involves building a 30 km-long dam. A recent study cited in the report suggested that also tidal power generation is feasible in certain areas it may not be commercially viable due to diesel costs. Currently, The Government plans to build 7 MW of grid-connected ocean tidal power plans in its 12thfive-year plan.

India’s geothermal potential is around 10,600 MW, distributed across various states and in 2009 the country’s geothermal power capacity stood at 10.7 GW. Although geothermal power development is restricted to tectonically active regions, and seeing as India lacks volcanic activity on its mainland, it also faces issues such as costs of drilling and transmission of energy.

Comparing the REF’s and REN’s final energy demands in 2050 highlights not only a stark mix of energy uses but also efficiency levels. In 2051 the REF is approximated to have increased the countries’ energy demand up to 2,545 Mtoe when compared to the REN sitting at 1,461 Mtoe – highlighting an overall energy savings of 43 percent.

Modeling done by the WWF has estimated that the total undiscounted technology investment cost for the renewables scenario is 42 per cent more than the reference (fossil-fuel) scenario, requiring 544 trillion Indian Rupees from 2011 to 2051. Although the figure sounds quite high it is only around 10 percent higher than if India was to stick to its reference scenario.

In the renewables scenario, India will have almost a quarter more electrical generation capacity (in GW) than if it continues along the reference scenario path. Furthermore, in 2051 the renewables scenario will yield less than one billion tonnes of carbon emissions, compared to the reference scenario with almost 12 billion tonnes.

WWF highlights that although the renewables scenario is preferred it will not be easy for government to get there, recommending various policy options available including; tax holidays for renewable energy uptake, creating incentives for new projects, enhancing R&D, increasing the budgetary allocation, pricing energy and technology for efficiency and strengthening policy and regulatory set-ups.

Repost.Us - Republish This Article

This article, India Could Reach 100% Renewables By Mid-Century, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.