Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (10/24/14)

October 24th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (10/24/14).

  1. Climate Progress reports, “The leaders of several Pacific Northwest Native American tribes are asking Canadian regulators not to approve a huge expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline, saying approval would result in a huge increase of oil tankers coming through tribal waters every day, increasing the risk of a devastating spill.”
  2. The Washington Post writes: “Examining the spread of solar photovoltaic residential installations in Connecticut, two researchers at Yale and the University of Connecticut found instead that the single most important factor driving whether a given house installed solar was peer influence — whether other houses nearby had recently done so. In other words, much like with buying a Prius, it looks like installing solar has a lot to do with how you want people around you to think of you.”
  3. The Guardian reports: “European leaders have struck a broad climate change pact obliging the EU as a whole to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030. But key aspects of the deal that will form a bargaining position for global climate talks in Paris next year were left vague or voluntary, raising questions as to how the aims would be realised.”
  4. Stephen Lacey of Greentech Media asks, “How Groundbreaking Is DOE’s New $53M Solar Investment?”
  5. The Wall Street Journal reports, Warren Buffett “Doubles Down on Renewables in Energy Strategy

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (10/23/14)

October 23rd, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (10/23/14).

  1. The New York Times reports: “Under an arrangement announced Wednesday, employees of the companies — Cisco Systems,3MKimberly-Clark and National Geographic — will be able to buy or lease solar systems for their homes at rates substantially lower than the national average, executives said. The program, offered through Geostellar, an online marketer of solar systems, will be available to more than 100,000 employees and will include options for their friends and families in the United States and parts of Canada.”
  2. Greentech Media asks, “What can the U.S. learn from Germany’s remarkable energy transformation?”
  3. Climate Progress reports, “The price of utility-scale solar power is 59 percent below where analysts thought it would be at this point back in 2010.”
  4. According to DeSmogBlog: “Geoff Morrell, the senior vice president of communications at BP, wants the whole country to know that the company’s negligence that led to the Deepwater Horizon oil geyser has not destroyed the Gulf of Mexico. And all of those fears about lost revenue and declining tourism along the Gulf Coast? That never happened, according to Morrell. Politico allowed the BP executive to use its platform to spread some of the most egregious and misleading information about the health of the Gulf of Mexico that we’ve seen to date.”
  5. Reuters reports: “For years, the utilities responsible for providing electricity to the nation have treated residential solar systems as a threat. Now, they want a piece of the action, and they are having to fight for the chance.”

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (10/22/14)

October 22nd, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (10/22/14).

  1. NRDC President Frances Beinecke explains the “path forward” for “America to set a national goal to stamp out our carbon footprint—to become carbon neutral—in our lifetime.”
  2. The Washington Post writes that “scientists and regulators have been developing a clearer understanding of the environmental consequences” of mountaintop removal coal mining, and “They aren’t pretty.”
  3. The Economic Times reports, “Installed wind power capacity could swell by 530 percent to 2,000 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, supplying up to 19 percent of global electricity, a report from a trade association and Greenpeace said on Tuesday. ”
  4. Tam Hunt of Greentech Media has the third in a series on the future of energy.  Hunt writes: “We may as well call the point at which solar power reaches grid parity in a majority of jurisdictions around the world the ’solar singularity.’ When this moment is reached, solar power will take off and become the dominant power source relatively quickly.”
  5. Climate Progress reports, “A team of U.S. and French scientists say they have developed a new tool that can specifically tell when environmental contamination comes from waste produced by hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.”

“Solar PV is mostly a threat to utility investors and shareholders, not ratepayers”

October 22nd, 2014

The headline of this post is quite possibly the energy-related quote of the day, maybe the week or even month. It’s courtesy of David Roberts of Grist, back to providing us with consistently incisive analysis after a year-long sabbatical. Today, Roberts has a must-read post (in his case, maybe we should call it an “even-more-must-read-than-usual-for-David-Roberts” post) entitled, “Rooftop solar is just the beginning; utilities must innovate or go extinct.” It’s really worth your time to read the whole thing, and we strongly recommend you do that if you’re interested in the future evolution of clean energy (which of course you are if you’re reading this blog!). For now, here are the key points, including Roberts’ awesome quote.

  • Distributed solar power poses a serious threat to power utilities, and “utilities are fighting back, attempting to impose additional fees and restrictions on solar customers.”
  • The problem is, the way the utilities are fighting back – “cling[ing] to their familiar business model” while trying to recoup lost revenues through “rate-tweaking” – is not going to save them. Instead, they need to undertake “a wholesale rethinking of the utility business model” — “sooner” rather than later if they’re smart.
  • Two new analyses — “Financial Impacts of Net-Metered PV on Utilities and Ratepayers” by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and “Does Disruptive Competition Mean a Death Spiral for Electric Utilities?” by Elisabeth Graffy and Steven Kihm — zero in on the core problem(s) facing utilities faced with the “disruptive threat” of rapidly growing distributed solar power. For instance, what happens “if solar PV penetration rose to between 2.5 and 10 percent of total retail sales by 2022?” The answer: utilities equity and earnings fall a lot, while rates go up only a little.  Which leads us right to Roberts’ superb quote: “Solar PV is mostly a threat to utility investors and shareholders, not ratepayers.”
  • The problem for utilities is that their whole business model is based on building “more power plants and power lines,” which as Roberts points out is both “insane” (in that it’s not just diametrically opposed to “our social and environmental goals”), but also the polar opposite of where power markets are headed — towards more distributed power and more consumer autonomy.
  • Does all this mean an inevitable “death spiral” for investor-owned utilities?  Not necessarily, according to the Graffy and Kihm analysis, as long as utilities are willing and able to muster “the organizational foresight and habits needed to respond proactively to disruptive threats.” The problem, in Roberts’ view, is that after “a century of enjoying regulated-monopoly status, with returns guaranteed by law and expansion as far as the eye could see, utilities have virtually none of [that].”
  • Another, short-term option for utilities is to try to recover their costs by raising rates, fees, etc. to consumers. The problem with this approach, of course, is that it only leads to “a bunch of dissatisfied customers seeking non-grid alternatives,” and “a growing market that will attract more and more entrepreneurial attention, thus accelerating customer defections.” In short, “The longer utilities try to hold back the wave with legal or regulatory roadblocks, the harder it will hit them when it finally comes.”
  • The bottom line is that utilities need to adapt to the distributed solar power revolution, and fast. If they try to resist this revolution, their demise – the “death spiral” – will only be more assured (and probably more sudden). The alternative: “Instead of viewing ratepayers as passive sources of cost recovery, utilities ought to view them as, y’know, customers. Offer them products and services that satisfy their evolving preferences.” We’ll see if they’re smart enough to do that, but as Roberts points out, “regulated-monopoly” utilities are simply “not prepared for this sh*t.”  In other words, the next few years will be crucial – not to mention fascinating to observe as this process plays out.

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (10/21/14)

October 21st, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (10/21/14).

  1. Bloomberg reports, “Acquisitions in the solar industry will take off as manufacturers and developers prepare for the expiration of a tax credit that’s helping drive a U.S. installation boom.”
  2. Brentin Mock of Grist argues, “Clean energy advocates need to speak up if they want black lawmakers to hear them.”
  3. Bloomberg reports, “TransCanada Corp. (TRP) will have to spend $1 billion more than planned on an oil pipeline to Canada’s Atlantic Coast if natural gas customers get their way, a move it says would threaten the viability of the project.”
  4. According to Gigaom: “The solar industry is no longer dominated by the solar module price crash. Now it’s looking to innovations in energy storage and soft costs, including financing.”
  5. Climate Progress reports, “Pipeline workers discovered a 4,000-barrel crude oil spill in Louisiana last week, and say that mopping up the spill will likely keep cleanup crews and regulatory agencies in the sparsely-populated area for months.”