Roundtable on renewable energy recap — The Guardian

Wind farm Logan County

From The Guardian (Martin Wright):

What impact will the climate-sceptic, coal enthusiast President Trump have on the prospects for renewable energy? How will Brexit affect the UK’s renewable sector? And what’s driving the growth of clean energy in Asia? These were key questions for participants at a Guardian roundtable on the future of wind and solar power, supported by Julius Baer.

And the answer to the Trump question? Precious little impact at all. The sheer strength of the renewables sector – driven by plummeting costs and a growing appetite among consumers and business alike – means it will continue to thrive despite the new administration’s doubts. That was the near-unanimous view of the participants. And it might even win over the president himself, as his business brain engages with the potential of clean energy on the one hand, and coal’s lack of it on the other.

Gina V Hall, investment director at The Carbon Trust, predicted that “a lot of the talk about bringing back coal jobs will start to fade. The rhetoric will be put aside in the face of the facts.” And the most persuasive fact of all is market logic. With renewables approaching grid parity (costing the same as electricity bought from the mains supply), their momentum is becoming unstoppable.

Many of America’s most powerful companies, such as Apple and Google, are strongly committed to clean energy, said Hall, “and they’re not going to let the government get in the way of what they want to do.”

Several participants at the roundtable pointed to the fact that clean energy enjoys strong bipartisan support. As Laura Cozzi from the International Energy Agency commented, over half of the renewable capacity installed recently is in Republican-governed states. Such support might even help secure the future of the tax credits that presently help underpin new investments in the sector, said Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath of E.ON Climate and Renewables.

“The word ‘renewable’ doesn’t feature in Trump’s America First plan – but it is full of talk of exploiting the country’s natural resources, delivering low-cost energy and creating jobs. Well, wind and solar can do all that.” And they have the potential to do a lot more, particularly in the rustbelt areas Trump is committed to helping.

The jobs argument is particularly powerful, given that more US citizens are employed in solar power than in generating electricity through coal, oil and natural gas combined. As Clark MacFarlane, CEO of Siemens Wind Power UK, put it: “Trump’s core policy is more jobs. So why do anything to destroy American jobs, especially ones delivering low-cost energy?”

Investors in the US are wary of being caught on the wrong side of history, said Martin Wright, chair of the Renewable Energy Association. “A lot of them are starting to view fossil fuels like tobacco – as a pariah sector.” And they don’t want to be left with stranded assets, stuck in coal as the market moves decisively away from it. By contrast, the falling prices of solar and wind make it increasingly appealing. Environmental economist Paul Ekins, of University College London, summed it up: “The markets will trump Trump.”

[…]

Growth in China and India
The real growth story in wind and solar, of course, is happening not in Europe or the States, but Asia, with both China and India investing heavily. So what’s driving that?

It’s partly the same story of falling costs, with China eyeing huge export markets – in solar in particular. But there’s also growing local demand, driven by two things – energy access and health. “Public health concerns in China are changing energy policy fundamentally. There’s no going back now,” said Helena Molin Valdés of the UN Environment Programme.

Anil Raj, co-founder of Indian solar business OMC Power, pointed out that air quality is front-page news there. “People worry about pollution in European cities, but they are like sanatoriums compared to New Delhi. Politicians spend a lot of time there, and they can’t help but see and feel it too, and that’s why things are happening.”

But, he added, the need for energy access will always be the prime driver. “There are two narratives around energy. A developing-world narrative and a carbon-reduction one.” For the former, energy access is king. “We have 350 million people living off grid in India. If we needed to burn coal [to connect them], we would do that.” So it is fortunate, he continued, that fossil fuels are not the solution: “The cheapest and fastest way of connecting [off-grid people] in India is via renewables.” Sarah Chapman, CEO of Faro Energy, said that’s increasingly true in Latin America too.

Energy storage next big thing
So is everything in the renewables garden rosy? Not for Ekins. “We’re not getting nearly enough investment to meet the Paris target [of keeping the global temperature rise to two degrees above pre-industrial levels].” Other panellists echoed his concerns.

So how can the process be sped up? “We need to design the power markets of the future to favour renewables,” said Cozzi. That will become all the more important as technologies such as smart grids and improved battery storage come into play. Wright argued for simplification, moving away from incentives based around specific technologies to a system in which if you’re producing renewables – or enabling storage of renewable power – you get paid for it, regardless of technology.

And, he added, the government shouldn’t be shy of setting some tough rules to drive progress: “Look at the buildings industry. If you hadn’t had some tough regulation there, you wouldn’t have indoor toilets or double glazing.” Householders need incentives to do the right thing, he argued: “So why not link stamp duty to SAP [energy-efficiency] ratings?”

All panellists agreed that the sheer speed of technological change would continue to disrupt the energy market – and, in the long term at least, renewables should be the clear winner. As battery technologies improve, so wind and solar will become even more appealing, overcoming the intermittent nature of such power sources (the wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine), by storing the electricity they produce for when it’s needed. “Storage will give us the next generation of energy billionaires,” predicted Ekins.

Put all that together, and the logic of renewables becomes irresistible, said Wright. “It’s not a case of doing it to save the planet any more. People are seeing this as a business opportunity. It’s as simple as that.”

I will be speaking about the climate crisis and the great message about renewable energy on March 29th and April 3rd.

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead

zinke-confirmation-photo

By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

View original post 157 more words

Loveland: Solar to replace hydro from damaged Idylwilde dam

Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power
Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power

From TheDenverChannel.com (Kurt Sevits):

The city of Loveland has finished work on a large-scale solar power installation that aims to replace the damaged Idylwilde hydroelectric dam.

The dam, built in 1917, was badly damaged in the Sept. 2013 floods that devastated the Front Range corridor.

Loveland received about $9 million in disaster recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to construct the new Foothills Solar and Substation project, which the city says is capable of producing more power than the dam.

The Idylwilde Dam’s hydroelectric facility was capable of producing 900 kilowatts of electricity before it was removed. The new solar project, on the other hand, has a capacity of 3.5 megawatts, more than tripling the output of the dam.

City officials said the solar project is expected to produce about 6,813 megawatt hours of electricity each year — enough to power about 574 homes.

To produce as much power as possible, the array uses solar tracking technology, which allows the panels to move throughout the day so they’re always facing the sun.

Boulder-based Namaste Solar designed and built the solar array.

The city said the project is the first energy-producing facility to receive approval through FEMA’s “Alternate Project” program, which permits the use of federal money for new construction when restoring a damaged building isn’t considered to be in the public interest.

$5.1 million of the FEMA funds were used to build the solar array. The remainder will be used to construct an electric substation on the site. It’s expected to be completed in the spring.

#Solar watering systems: “You store water instead of electricity” — Vance Fulton

Photo via SolarPumps.com.
Photo via SolarPumps.com.

From The Craig Daily Press (Michael Neary):

Solar-powered water systems let livestock drink more easily and take pressure off ponds and streams

[Vance Fulton], an engineering technician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, described the way solar energy provides an effective way for landowners to transport water to their livestock.

“Especially around here, (landowners) have found that solar is a much more efficient way to pump water than the old windmills,” Fulton said.

And now, with the birth of the Sage Grouse Initiative, the solar-powered systems are receiving increasing amounts of federal support. Fulton said the systems have received funding through the Farm Bill for decades — but for the last several years, SGI has targeted more money for the solar-powered projects in places where the sage grouse is affected, such as Moffat County.

Surprising as it may seem at first glance, the creation of multiple water sources for cattle helps sage grouse too.

The system often works this way: A solar panel powers a pump that drives water through an underground pipeline, and the pipeline delivers the water to troughs at various points in the land so that animals can drink. The pump often fills up a storage tank for a backup water supply, as well.

The system, as Fulton explained it, creates an efficient means of supplying water to animals on the land. By creating several water sources, the system also eases stress on the ponds, puddles and streams where animals may gather to drink. That benefits a host of creatures — including the sage grouse.

Chris Yarbrough, formerly a biologist with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who is now regional habitat biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, explained how a water system such as this can help sage grouse. If there’s only one pond on a ranch, he said, that’s where the cows will congregate.

“That area will probably get overgrazed, and you’ll probably get a lot of weeds — things that aren’t good for wildlife,” he said.

But water troughs scattered throughout the land can attract animals to different spots, easing the pressure on a pond or a stream.

“The grasses and (other plants) then have a chance to grow,” he said — something that’s good for sage grouse and lots of other species, as well.

Yarbrough said much of the funding to install solar pumping systems in Moffat County is generated by the SGI, launched by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2010.

Fulton said the NRCS works with about 20 landowners in Moffat County on solar watering systems, and he noted there may be others using solar power, as well. It’s a number that’s far larger, he said, than it was about a decade ago, before the SGI.

One of the Moffat County landowners who uses solar-powered system is Doug Davis, who has a ranch called Davis Family Farm LLC that lies in the eastern part of the county.

“We discovered a very good water source up high, and because it’s up high you can use gravity flow,” Davis said.

Davis explained that the solar panel on this ranch pumps water from the well into a storage tank — and from that storage tank, gravity allows the water to flow through pipes to troughs throughout the property. Davis said that, on another property, he uses the solar-powered pump to push water directly to the troughs.

windmillgreghobbs

Either way, Davis said he’s glad to be using solar energy. He used to use windmills, which could be tough to maintain and less reliable.

“Windmills are much higher maintenance, and the wind does not blow as consistently as the sun shines,” he said. “Solar, which has turned out to be a low-maintenance, relatively low-cost proposition for us, is a winner.”

As Fulton walked through Davis’s land on that sunny July day, he pointed to some small nuances in the equipment, including strategically placed fencing to protect the plumbing from the animals drinking from the troughs, and a “small animal escape ramp” to let otherwise trapped animals climb to safety.

Fulton said the solar-powered system works without batteries, which means that energy is transferred directly to the pumps. It also means that the amount of energy may vary from day to day, depending on the supply of sunlight at a given time. That’s where the agility of the pumps comes into play.

“These pumps are able to work on variable voltage,” he said. “They’ll even continue to pump on a slightly cloudy day.”

Storing water during the sunny days, Fulton said, creates a water supply to use on the cloudy ones.

“You store water instead of storing electricity,” he said.

Fulton said, too, that advances in technology — in the pumps and the solar panels — have made the system even better than it used to be.

“It got more dependable, more efficient through the years,” he said — a sign that the sun soaking ranches throughout the county will be put to good use for many more years to come.

#ClimateChange: Renewables overtake coal as world’s largest source of power capacity — The Financial Times

From The Financial Times (Pilita Clark):

About 500,000 solar panels were installed every day last year as a record-shattering surge in green electricity saw renewables overtake coal as the world’s largest source of installed power capacity.

Two wind turbines went up every hour in countries such as China, according to International Energy Agency officials who have sharply upgraded their forecasts of how fast renewable energy sources will keep growing.

“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the global energy advisory agency.

Part of the growth was caused by falls in the cost of solar and onshore wind power that Mr Birol said would have been “unthinkable” only five years ago.

Average global generation costs for new onshore wind farms fell by an estimated 30 per cent between 2010 and 2015 while those for big solar panel plants fell by an even steeper two-thirds, an IEA report published on Tuesday showed.

The Paris-based agency thinks costs are likely to fall even further over the next five years, by 15 per cent on average for wind and by a quarter for solar power.

It said an unprecedented 153 gigawatts of green electricity was installed last year, mostly wind and solar projects, which was more than the total power capacity in Canada.

This was also more than the amount of conventional fossil fuel or nuclear power added in 2015, leading renewables to surpass coal’s cumulative share of global power capacity, though not electricity generation.

A power plant’s capacity is the maximum amount of electricity it can potentially produce. The amount of energy a plant actually generates varies according to how long it produces power over a period of time.

Because a wind or solar farm cannot generate constantly like a coal power plant, it will produce less energy over the course of a year even though it may have the same or higher level of capacity.

Coal power plants supplied close to 39 per cent of the world’s power in 2015, while renewables, including older hydropower dams, accounted for 23 per cent, IEA data show.

But the agency expects renewables’ share of power generation to rise to 28 per cent by 2021, when it predicts they will supply the equivalent of all the electricity generated today in the US and EU put together.

It has revised its forecasts to show renewables’ capacity will grow 13 per cent more between 2015 and 2021 than it had thought would be the case just last year, mostly because of stronger policy backing in the US, China, India and Mexico.

Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division, said efforts to address climate change were only part of the reason for this policy drive.

Air pollution worries were also spurring growth in countries such as China, a renewable energy juggernaut that alone accounts for close to 40 per cent of capacity growth.

NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

#ClimateChange: Boulder’s clean energy pledge was driven by a lack of state and national leadership — The Colorado Independent

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

Boulder aims derive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. By the Sierra Club’s measure, that makes Boulder the 17th city nationwide to commit to the ambitious climate goal.

Mayor Suzanne Jones announced the plan last week during a clean energy event in Denver put on by environmental groups. She said the commitment is good news in the fight against climate change, but that Boulder’s motivation stems largely from an unfortunate lack of action at the state and national levels.

“The story here is that cities are having to lead because there isn’t national leadership, and frankly there’s limited state leadership,” she told The Independent.

The need for state and local government action has been a focus of environmentalists since the Paris climate conference. As Jones tells it, Boulder aims in the future “to push for better state policies and programs through the legislature, and (to) work with the administration to try to move the ball forward.”

Boulder’s clean energy goal has been in the works since May, when council members agreed in theory to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity. The goal for 2030 will become official, in the form of a finalized citywide climate commitment, this December. In the meantime, the city’s staff has been directed to develop a roadmap to make the commitment possible.

One such staff member is Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s regional sustainability coordinator. Koehn said the commitment to 100 percent renewables is a sub-strategy for meeting the city’s larger goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The same goal was set statewide in 2008 via an executive order by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, but Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015 climate plan made no mention of it — or any other measurable, quantifiable goals.

Koehn is quick to point out that Boulder’s latest commitment is only to clean electricity, and thus doesn’t mean the city will suddenly stop using oil and gas. Boulderites will still use natural gas to heat their homes, and the city’s public transportation system will still run on fossil fuels. But powering the electric grid with renewables will better prepare Boulder for the inevitable uptick in electricity use that future changes — like a shift to electric cars and buses — will undoubtedly bring.

“If we want to move people off of fossil fuels, we want to do it when the electricity supply is as clean as it can be,” said Koehn.

The plan also doesn’t mean that Boulder will stop using carbon-powered electricity. It will stay connected to the state’s larger grid, which, like the city does now, uses a mix of renewable and fossil fuels to smooth out the supply during peak demand times. But by 2030, Boulder will produce enough renewable energy for its own use, leading to the same net impact as if it used only its own, separate grid.

This commitment to generating enough electricity to cover total use differs from that of Aspen, which is currently known as one of three U.S. cities to already run only on renewables. Aspen actually still gets about half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and simply offsets the difference by purchasing renewable energy credits from out-of-state utilities, like a wind farm in Nebraska. Boulder is committed to actually creating renewable energy, not just paying for it.

Boulder’s energy staff will spend the next several months hammering out the details of its climate commitment plan. Then, according to a memo released from the May 10 meeting, a finalized “comprehensive energy transition strategy” will be expected in 2017, when the city has a better sense of whether it will municipalize its utility or renew a contract with Xcel Energy.

Both Jones and Koehn admit that transitioning to a 100 percent renewable electricity supply won’t be easy, but say it’s both necessary and economically sound. [ed. emphasis mine]

Said Koehn, “People can continue to shake their heads at this, but we know that this is where our society needs to go in terms of stabilizing our climate.”

Jones added, “The wonderful thing about this is that moving to 100 percent renewable energy is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right business choice.”