Virginia lawmakers pass major renewable energy legislation

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia House and Senate passed sweeping energy legislation Tuesday that would overhaul how Virginia’s utilities generate electricity and, supporters say, move the state from the back of the pack to the forefront of renewable energy policy in the United States.

Critics, though, warned that the legislation, drafted privately by a group that included industry representatives and environmental advocates, strips state regulators of some oversight and leaves ratepayers on the hook for what could be excessive costs.

The measure, called the Clean Economy Act, lays out a plan to get Virginia to 100% renewable generation. The House version would demand that goal be met by 2045 and the Senate’s version sets a deadline of 2050, in line with a goal Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam set in an executive order in September.

Differences between the two versions will have to be worked out before the measure can be sent to Northam, whose administration has been involved in negotiating the bill.

In a floor speech, House sponsor Del. Rip Sullivan called the bill “transformative,” saying it would propel Virginia “into the future and into the top tier of states in terms of climate and energy policy.”

The legislation paves the way for an enormous expansion of solar and offshore wind generation plus battery storage , and sets an energy efficiency standard that utilities must meet. It also includes language that would add Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon cap-and-trade program.

Both the House and Senate versions would effectively block new fossil fuel generation facilities in the short term while state officials study whether a permanent ban should be enacted. The House version contains a provision that says if state officials determine by 2028 that the greenhouse gas reductions are not on target, then there will be a moratorium on the issuance of permits for new fossil fuel-fired generating facilities by 2030.

Bill sponsors said in committee hearings that hundreds of hours of negotiations had gone into crafting the legislation. Participants in those talks included Dominion Energy, influential environmental groups including the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Southern Environmental Law Center, plus solar interests and Advanced Energy Economy, a national association of businesses.

The lawmakers carrying the measure have said it will help address climate change by moving Virginia toward a carbon-free future while creating thousands of good-paying jobs at the same time.

The bill clears the way for the development of up to 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind, which is costlier than other forms of renewable energy, by declaring it in the public interest. Dominion currently has a small pilot project underway and has previously announced plans for a 220-turbine project in federal waters.

Advocates have noted that a race is underway among East Coast states jockeying for a spot in a supply chain expected to develop for the nascent offshore wind industry. They say Virginia could reap thousands of new, high-paying manufacturing and construction jobs, a boost to the state’s port, and billions of dollars in private investment while supporting an industry that will help the environment.

But critics are raising concerns about the price tag.

“In this century, we now have technologies to produce electricity that are clean and cheap,” Tom Hadwin, a former utility executive who does consulting work for Virginia environmental groups and reviewed the legislation, wrote in an email. “This bill encourages the ‘clean’ but loses the ‘cheap.’”

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office has cautioned lawmakers that language in the bill expressly eliminates the State Corporation Commission’s role in determining whether “enormous costs” of implementing its plans are reasonable and prudent and therefore can be passed along to customers.

“In our view the legislation will prevent the regulator from being able to work to accomplish the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals in a manner consistent with ratepayer protections,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Meade Browder told a Senate committee considering the bill.

An SCC analysis of one version of the bill found that the typical residential customer would likely see an increase of $23.30 a month between 2027 and 2030. The legislation currently includes provisions intended to protect low-income people from seeing a rate increase.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, said she disagreed with the SCC’s analysis, in part because it didn’t consider the “staggering” cost of doing nothing.

“We have got to do something to break our dependence on energy that is destroying our planet. Period,” she said Tuesday. SOURCE

Ontario can phase out nuclear and avoid increased carbon emissions

New research shows Ontario doesn’t really need nuclear energy, and its absence would not have an impact on emissions in the province’s energy sector. (Ferdinand Stohr/Unsplash)

As wind and solar energy have become cheaper, they’ve become a more prominent and important way to generate clean electricity in most parts of the world.

The Ontario government, on the other hand, is cancelling renewable energy projects at a reported cost of at least $230 million while reinforcing the province’s reliance on nuclear power via expensive reactor refurbishment plans.

As researchers who have examined the economics of electricity generation in Ontario and elsewhere, we argue that this decision is wasteful and ill-advised, and the unnecessary cost differential will rise further in the future.

One concern about renewables has been the intermittency of these energy sources. But studies have shown it’s feasible to have an all-renewable electric grid.


Read more: How to have an all-renewable electric grid


These feasibility studies, however, are always location specific. In that spirit, we have carried out detailed modelling and found that it’s possible to meet Ontario’s electricity demands throughout the year with just a combination of renewables, including hydropower, and storing electricity in batteries.

We also found that dealing with the intermittency of wind and solar energy by adding batteries would be more economical than refurbishing nuclear plants in the foreseeable future, well before the current refurbishment projects are completed.

That’s because of the expected decline in the cost of batteries used to store the electricity during the hours when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining in order to supply electricity during the periods when they aren’t. The cost of different kinds of battery technologies, such as lithium-ion or flow batteries, have come down rapidly in recent years.

Modelling

To explore the relative economics of nuclear and renewable energy, we constructed a very simple model that optimized the total cost of meeting the electricity demand in Ontario for each hour of the year.

We used what’s known in physics as a toy model. It’s not intended to be sufficiently accurate to reproduce reality in detail, but to capture the basic and important elements of the system being studied. Our model is not meant to actually calculate the cost of supplying electricity, but only to compare the relative costs of different options, with the condition that no fossil fuels be used.

Using a software program called pypsa, we started with an example that modelled a fully renewable electricity system for European countries, and then modified it significantly. Our target was Ontario’s hourly electricity demand in 2017, taken from the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator, known as the IESO.

A hydro tower is shown in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese 

We met this demand in two ways — batteries and refurbished nuclear plants. Both cases incorporated solar energy, wind energy and hydro power from existing dams. The base costs of solar and wind were taken from a November 2018 report by the Wall Street advisory firm Lazard; the prices have since declined.

For simplicity, we assumed that the variable costs of all these technologies were zero. This actually favours the nuclear scenarios because it ignores the cost of uranium fuel and radioactive waste disposal.

The availability factors for every hour of the year for the theoretical solar and wind generators were also based on data from the IESO on actual production of solar and wind energy in Ontario in 2017.

The maximum power available from large hydropower dams during any hour of the year was assumed to be less than 85 per cent of the installed capacity within Ontario of 9,065 megawatts; this is a conservative assumption since the province could easily import more hydropower from neighbouring Québec.

We ran a large number of scenarios with multiple cost and other assumptions and derived fairly robust results.

Essential results

In all scenarios, the bulk of the demand was met by solar and wind power, with a lower fraction met by hydropower. Even in the scenarios with no batteries, less than 20 per cent of the electricity demand was met by nuclear power.

Second, it would be cheaper to reduce this even further. Because of safety and other operational reasons, it’s a bad idea to change the outputs of nuclear plants quickly. Traditionally, reactor outputs have been held steady.

But if, for argument’s sake, we allow the outputs of nuclear reactors to go up and down as fast as needed by the grid, then our model predicts that nuclear power plants would be used even less. If nuclear power plants outputs are held steady, then they would supply more electricity, but the cost to consumers would also be higher.

Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, if the costs of batteries decline from current levels to those projected for 2025, then the cost of supplying electricity using a combination of renewables and battery storage would become cheaper than doing the same using nuclear power.

The cost of meeting the electricity needs for the province could be further reduced if the availability of hydropower is increased.

The Jean-Lesage hydro electric dam generates power along the Manicouagan River north of Baie-Comeau, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot 

Our choice of 2025 for the projection year, incidentally, is guided by the fact that the current use of modern renewables in Ontario is low, and there will be no need for batteries to store electricity until there is a dramatic increase in the wind or solar power projects constructed. The levels of renewables that will require storage are unlikely to be reached before 2025.

In summary, our results show that for reasonable assumptions about future battery costs and the current price tag for solar and wind power, scenarios involving nuclear power are more than 20 per cent higher than the cheapest scenario involving only batteries, solar, wind and the current hydropower capacity.

If an extra 2,000 megawatts of hydropower capacity were to be available, scenarios involving nuclear power would be over 30 per cent more expensive.

That means, simply put, that nuclear power isn’t needed to meet Ontario’s electricity needs. And the absence of nuclear power won’t have any impact on emissions in Ontario’s energy sector. SOURCE

 

We Need a Massive Climate War Effort—Now

Only major spending on clean energy R&D can save us.

Image result for mother jones: We Need a Massive Climate War Effort—Now

I’ll take a wild guess that you don’t need any convincing about the need for action on climate change. You know that since the start of the Industrial Revolution we’ve dumped more than 500 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere and we’re adding about 10 billion more each year. You know that global temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius over the past century and we’re on track for 2 degrees within another few decades.

And you know what this means. It means more extreme weather. More hurricanes. More droughts. More flooding. More wildfires. More heat-related deaths. There will be more infectious disease as insects move ever farther north. The Northwest Passage will be open for much of the year. Sea levels will rise by several feet as the ice shelves of Greenland and the Antarctic melt, producing bigger storm swells and more intense flooding in low-lying areas around the world.

Some of this is already baked into our future, but to avoid the worst of it, climate experts widely agree that we need to get to net-zero carbon emissions entirely by 2050 at the latest. This is the goal of the Paris Agreement, and it’s one that every Democratic candidate for president has committed to. But how to get there?

Let’s start with the good news. About three-quarters of carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels for power, and we already have the technology to make a big dent in that. Solar power is now price-competitive with the most efficient natural gas plants and is likely to get even cheaper in the near future. In 2019, Los Angeles signed a deal to provide 400 megawatts of solar power at a price under 4 cents per kilowatt-hour—including battery storage to keep that power available day and night. That’s just a start—it will provide only about 7 percent of electricity needed in Los Angeles—but for the first time it’s fully competitive with the current wholesale price of fossil fuel electricity in Southern California.

We devoted 30 percent of our economy to fight WWII—1,000 times what we spend on green tech.

Wind power—especially offshore wind—is equally promising. This means that a broad-based effort to build solar and wind infrastructure, along with a commitment to replace much of the world’s fossil fuel use with electricity, would go pretty far toward reducing global carbon emissions.

How far? Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that by 2050, wind and solar can satisfy 80 percent of electricity demand in most advanced countries. But due to inadequate infrastructure in some cases and lack of wind and sun in others, not all countries can meet this goal, which means that even with favorable government policies and big commitments to clean energy, the growth of wind and solar will probably provide only about half of the world’s demand for electricity by midcentury. “Importantly,” the Bloomberg analysts caution, “major progress in de-carbonization will also be required in other segments of the world’s economy to address climate change.” MORE

In Germany, Consumers Embrace a Shift to Home Batteries

A growing number of homeowners in Germany are installing batteries to store solar power. As prices for energy storage systems drop, they are adopting a green vision: a solar panel on every roof, an EV in every garage, and a battery in every basement.

A photovoltaic system on a single-family house in Germany.
A photovoltaic system on a single-family house in Germany. ENERIX

Stefan Paris is a 55-year-old radiologist living in Berlin’s outer suburbs. He, his partner, and their three-year-old daughter share a snug, two-story house with a pool. The Parises, who are expecting a second child, are neither wealthy nor environmental firebrands. Yet the couple opted to spend $36,000 for a home solar system consisting of 26 solar panels, freshly installed on the roof this month, and a smart battery — about the size of a small refrigerator — parked in the cellar.

On sunny days, the photovoltaic panels supply all of the Paris household’s electricity needs and charge their hybrid car’s electric battery, too. Once these basics are covered, the rooftop-generated power feeds into the stationary battery until it’s full — primed for nighttime energy demand and cloudy days. Then, when the battery is topped off, the unit’s digital control system automatically redirects any excess energy into Berlin’s power grid, for which the Parises will be compensated by the local grid operator.

“They convinced me it would pay off in ten years,” explains Paris, referring to Enerix, a Bavaria-based retailer offering solar systems and installation services. “After that, most of our electricity won’t cost us anything.” The investment, he says, is a hedge against rising energy costs. Moreover, the unit’s smart software enables the Parises to monitor the production, consumption, and storage of electricity, as well as track in real time the feed-in of power to the grid. MORE

Forget The Green New Deal, The Future Is Batteries

 

Insufficient battery technology is the greatest impediment to a clean energy present and future. Despite what the Green New Deal says or Tesla claims, we cannot transform our electricity generation until we see a revolution in battery technology.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (L) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) (R) hug each other as other Congressional Democrats look on during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held a news conference to unveil their Green New Deal resolution. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)GETTY

We cannot end carbon emissions from power plants until we find a way to efficiently and safely store large amounts of power. We need to master the ability to quickly charge batteries without destroying their lifespans before electric vehicles take over. To truly make a difference, we need to make the creation and disposal of batteries less harmful to the environment and less reliant on mining in countries with exploitative labor practices. We need to find a way to store massive amounts of solar and wind power to be distributed upon demand to make renewable energies viable as baseload producers on the grid.

The battery revolution that we need will be a major technological breakthrough. There was once a time when such major innovations were wholly the work of private industrious inventors, but maybe that time has passed. The wheel, the printing press and the airplane were all invented by people, not corporations. In the twentieth century, governments and large institutions became more involved in grand advances in technology because of the expense and scale. The government led the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. The space race was a match between the Soviet Union and the U.S. governments and led to dozens of essential new technologies. The government was also instrumental in the development of the internet. Perhaps government funding and support is needed to push the battery revolution. MORE

Tesla’s $218M acquisition of ultracapacitor firm opens doors to energy breakthroughs

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Just a few days after Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) posted its second consecutive profitable quarter, the company has stated that it plans to acquire energy technology firm Maxwell Technologies, a California-based maker of ultracapacitors and batteries.

“We are always looking for potential acquisitions that make sense for the business and support Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

Maxwell Technologies specializes in the development of ultracapacitors. Prior to its acquisition by Tesla, Maxwell had been working on developing dry electrode technologies that could be utilized to create ultracapacitors that can store large amounts of electrical charge without losing energy — a breakthrough for electric cars and energy storage devices. Ultracapacitors are lauded by several industry watchers as a possible alternative to today’s batteries, considering their potential to be safer and more reliable technologies.