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.”

GTM Research Explains “The Complex, Evolving Solar-Utility Nexus”

October 21st, 2014

by Mark Sokolove, Executive Vice President of Tigercomm

As you may have seen, GTM Research has been doing superb work covering the intersection of growing distributed, residential solar on the one hand, and the evolving utility business model on the other (what it calls the “Grid Edge”).  Their work is extremely valuable, as this is a critical, rapidly changing and complex space. Which is why we always look forward to webinars like the one presented by GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann on September 25, covering “The Complex, Evolving Solar-Utility Nexus.”  The entire webinar is well worth listening to, but for now, here are a few key points to highlight.

THE LAY OF THE LAND

  • It makes little sense to “silo” coverage of distributed solar PV on the one hand, and the future of the utility business model (including the smart grid, demand response, energy storage, etc.) on the other, as these two areas increasingly are increasingly converging.
  • The U.S. solar market is growing, but not uniformly across the country or in terms of the specific sub-segment (residential, non-residential, utility) of that market.
  • Growth was down a bit in the first two quarters of 2014 compared to the final quarter of 2013, but Shayle Kann advises that we not draw too much from that, as the U.S. solar market – particularly utility – is “lumpy.” If you take out the variability of the utility projects, trend lines for distributed solar are steadily increasing, with around 6.5 GW expected to be installed in the US in 2014, up about 35% from 2013, and about 17 times what it was 5 years ago.
  • Why are utilities so worried about solar now, even though solar generally doesn’t comprises a huge portion of their energy mix as of now? In short, it has to do with the impact of distributed solar installations on utility demand growth.  With US electric demand growth having slowed sharply, from about 10% per year back in the 1950s to just 1% per year now, large proportions of increased load growth could easily be taken up by distributed, solar PV (GTM estimates 50% or more of load growth could get eaten up by solar installations in the top 5 states).

POLICY BATTLES:  THE SOLAR INDUSTRY SHOULDN’T LET DOWN ITS GUARD

  • The result has been net energy metering (NEM) battles — some legislative, some regulatory, some both — in more than 20 states.  What’s fascinating, and also encouraging, is that so far at least, the solar industry has been faring impressively well in these battles, especially for being a relatively small industry going up powerful, incumbent industry. Part of the reason for this success has been that rooftop solar has strong public appeal. Of course, this could change, as solar penetration increases and has more meaningful ratepayer impacts, so the solar industry should certainly not let its guard down.
  • A likely outcome to utilities’ concerns about the economics of increased distributed solar penetration could very well include imposing a minimum monthly bill on consumers for use of the grid. The impact of this could be substantially less than imposing a fixed charge, which the solar industry has been fighting against, and could be part of a NEM compromise in numerous states.
  • One option for utilities might be to “steer into the skid,” so to speak, by getting into the distributed solar game themselves. The question is whether regulated utilities will ultimately play a significant role in the distributed solar market, or remain outside it as grid operators?

DISTRIBUTED ENERGY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS (DERMS) ARE A MAJOR GROWTH AREA

  • There are also questions about utility interaction with distributed PV from a technical perspective, which is why every utility will need some version of capabilities that Distributed Energy Management Resource Systems (DERMS) provides. That includes reconfiguration of grid equipment, consumer-sited solutions such as smart inverters), network management such as market-based demand response, etc.  This will undoubtedly be a major growth area in coming years, and something we all will be paying a great deal of attention to.

All in all, it’s a fascinating, dynamic time to be a participant in the evolving U.S. solar-utility nexus. With the help of analysts like the ones at GTM (and also smart grid experts like Paul De Martini, who I interviewed last spring), we look forward to continuing to track it, and also to help our clients navigate their way through it effectively, in years to come.

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (10/20/14)

October 20th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (10/20/14). The poll results graphic is from this Environmental and Energy Study Institute fact sheet and is well worth highlighting, even though the poll is from June 2014.

  1. Anastasia Pantsios writes at EcoWatch that the proposed Energy East Pipeline is “TransCanada’s Keyston XL on Steroids.”
  2. The BBC reports, “Cheap African solar energy could power UK homes in 2018.”
  3. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “China is the world’s largest wind market with more than 100GW of wind capacity, equivalent to about 65,000 turbines, and is currently adding more than 30 new turbines per day. Operating and maintaining these turbines costs $500m per year, but this will increase to $3bn per year by 2022…”
  4. DeSmogBlog reports, “Fossil fuel industries spent an estimated $213 million lobbying U.S. and European Union decision makers last year, according to a new report published by Oxfam International on Friday.”
  5. Greentech Media asks, “Is the EPA Too Conservative in Its Clean Energy Projections Under New Carbon Rules?”

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (10/17/14)

October 17th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (10/17/14).

  1. The Guardian reports: “Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests have formed a ‘toxic triangle’ that threatens to push up global temperatures, putting 400 million people at risk of hunger and drought by 2060, Oxfam said on Friday, a week before a European Union summit to finalise a new climate and energy policy framework.”
  2. According to Grist: The Energy East pipeline “will be 2,858-miles long, putting it right up there with some of the longest pipelines in the world. It would pump about a third more crude than Keystone XL was intended to. It’ll be bigger than the Druzhba pipeline, which carries oil 2,500 miles from Southeast Russia to the rest of Europe.”
  3. RenewEconomy reports, “The NSW government will have to write down the value of its electricity networks by nearly half if the soon-to-be privatized poles and wires business is to compete with rooftop solar and other distributed technologies such as battery storage.”
  4. DeSmogBlog “has obtained a copy of a sample hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) lease distributed to Ohio landowners by embattled former CEO and founder of Chesapeake EnergyAubrey McClendon, now CEO of American Energy Partners.”
  5. A resident of the Marshall Islands writes in The Guardian, “We won’t stand by while coal companies destroy our Marshall Islands homes.”

Oil Change International: Single Subsidy to Tar Sands Costs Taxpayers $610 Million per Year

October 16th, 2014

Oil Change International (OCI) has been doing superb work in recent months, detailing the damage done by taxpayer-funded subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. For instance, in Subsidy Spotlight: Paid to Pollute and Poison, OCI reports that “federal and state subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries result in a $21 billion windfall for carbon polluting companies every year,” and that “risky drilling projects like those undertaken by BP would most likely never occur without this type of corporate welfare.”

Another OCI report focuses on subsidized fracking, and how “this experiment of exposing people to toxics released by natural gas development would not occur without billions in subsidies from the federal and state governments.” Also see OCI’s “Cashing In On Carbon: How Taxpayer Dollars Greenwash Dirty Energy,” which argues that “[t]hrough grants, tax breaks, and loan guarantees, the public is paying the financial costs––while shouldering the consequences––of re-shaping the carbon cycle to justify the continued use of dirty fuels and dangerous methods under the auspices of mitigating climate change.” In short, taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are harming the environment and people’s health, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

Now, OCI is out with yet another example of the tremendous cost of fossil fuel subsidies and the damage they do, with the article “Subsidy Spotlight: Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion.” The focus of this piece is the subsidies supporting upgrades to refineries, which allow them to more easily (and profitably) process tar sands, and also the adverse health impact that dirty tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”) have on communities. Here’s a short excerpt, but we most definitely recommend that you read the entire article, as this is a terrific piece of journalism.

In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

It was now a tar sands refinery, capable of refining 350,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil per day. And it was paid for, in large part, by U.S. taxpayers.

A little-known tax break allows companies to write-off half of the cost of new equipment for refining tar sands and shale oil. According to a report by Oil Change International, this subsidy had a potential value to oil companies (and cost to taxpayers) of $610 million in 2013.

Tar sands are petroleum deposits made up of bitumen mixed in with sand, water and clay. Their production is extremely destructive at every stage: from strip mining indigenous lands in Canada, to disastrous accidents along transportation routes, to dangerous emission levels produced by refining the heavy crude, to the hazards imposed on communities saddled with tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”), and finally to the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere when the end product is used for fuel.

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the U.S. on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense––in every sense of the word––of American taxpayers.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in helping “put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and extreme energy extraction,” please click here.