The Energy Sector January, 2016
AwN | The energy sector is in a state of flux. Coal production is down, and so is the price of oil, largely due to the glut of natural gas from fracking. While earthquakes, air contamination, and water contamination are side effects of fracking, and natural gas still requires combustion (read: carbon in the atmosphere) for its usage, the cleaner energy sector is also making strides, and in some cases a lot faster than was expected.
There is probably nothing more important to the life of the modern person than the energy sector. It is both interesting and vital that people understand the nature of energy, what it is necessary for, and what the ramifications are. Energy is one of the news topics that I can be swamped by and so I choose to include it in a roundup post. I am putting these posts together to help people get an overview of what is going on in some of the most vital sectors for someone with an eco-mind.
While the price of oil being low could be signalling stress to the oil industry, it also reduces obstruction to the consumption of oil. If energy bills are low, then it stands to reason that people will be inclined to postpone conversion to solar, wind, and geothermal. In fact you could even argue that with the current push towards renewables the oil industry is reasonably tolerant of their competitive pricing seeing as it will help to retain customers.
Clean Energy, Dirty Energy, and The Reduction of the Elements
As always I am dubious about draining the air of wind, the ground of sunshine, the earth of heat, the rivers of flow, the forest of trees, and all other forms of 'green energy,' I am completely on board with a diversification and overall lessening of usage of fossil fuels. I present the following articles to you as an inspiration for thought, never as facts and statements in themselves. In fact that is true for everything I do here, I want to help people to engage the world mindfully, to see what there is and draw their own opinions.
Oil dips below $30 per barrel
TH | World oil markets are seeing a historic supply glut as production has increased in the United States, thanks largely to drilling techniques such as fracking and horizontal drilling. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), meanwhile, has continued to either refuse to pull back production or been unable to agree on production.
Earlier Tuesday, Nigeria's oil minister said some OPEC countries requested a meeting to consider supply cuts, Reuters reported.
Coal production hits three-decade low
TH | Coal production was probably at its lowest point in nearly three decades last year as the electricity sector shifted toward cleaner fuels.
The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) preliminary estimate is that the United States processed 900 million tons of coal in 2015, it said Friday.
That’s about 10 percent below 2014's level, continuing a decline that has held each year since the production peak of 2008. It’s the lowest volume since 1986, the EIA said.
House votes to delay coal mining rule
TH | The bill would delay an Office of Surface Mining (OSM) regulation until it goes through future rounds of scientific review and the Obama administration releases more information about how it was developed, effectively blocking the rule. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation.
The rule in question — a proposal that is six years in the making for OSM — beefs up regulations for buffer zones around streams where coal mining and mining waste is prohibited. Republicans say the rule will hamstring the coal industry and lead to further job losses among miners, something they claim Obama regulations are already exacerbating.
Solar Jobs Continue to Outpace US Economy
REW | The six annual National Solar Jobs Census shows that the U.S. solar industry today employs 208,859 people, having added 35,052 in 2015 alone. This is a 20 percent increase in job growth compared to the overall national employment growth of 1.7 percent.
“Employment in solar has grown an extraordinary 123 percent since 2010, adding approximately 115,000 well-paying jobs. Our Census findings show that one out of every 83 new jobs created in the U.S. over the last 12 months was in the solar industry — 1.2 percent of all new jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of TSF in a statement.
New York City Council Gives a Thumbs Up to Geothermal Heat Pumps
REW | Sponsored by Council Member Costa G. Constantinides, the bill requires New York City to identify and implement geothermal heat pump installations in all new construction and retrofits to city-owned buildings when it is shown that doing so would be cost-effective.
New York Geothermal Energy Organization (NY-GEO) member Bob Wyman, who testified in favor of the bill, wrote “I believe this is the first time that any major city in the U.S. has adopted legislation requiring the use of the Social Cost of Carbon in making spending decisions.” The bill establishes this cost as starting at $128/metric ton (based on the high end of the federal government’s estimates) over a 20-year period.
Digging Deeper, Why Renewables are Beating Coal and Gas in Some Parts of the World
REW | Earlier this month Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) announced findings that the LCOE for wind and solar is now cheaper than coal and gas in Europe. Further the organization said that it is actually the renewables that are pushing up the LCOE of gas and coal. Because the BNEF analysis is so deep and complex — it uses thousands of data points the company says — the press release that it issued was hard to understand. Here we take a deeper look at the process involved in comparing energy generation technologies to determine exactly why renewables will continue to push out fossils for the foreseeable future.
First, what is LCOE? Short for levelized cost of electricity, LCOE takes all of the factors into producing a megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity into play. This includes everything from the cost of equipment, labor, permits, etc. to build the plants; the cost of fuel to run them; the cost of operations and maintenance over the lifetime of the plant; and the cost of capital to pay for everything mentioned above. All of these costs, which BNEF derived based on actual deals and projects around the world, were tallied and then divided by the amount of energy the plants will produce (which depends very much on capacity factor) over their lifetime to arrive at a final cost for each and every MWh of electricity that will be produced by the power plant.
Getting To 100% Renewable Energy In the US
CleanTechnica | Getting to 100% renewable energy in the US by 2050 is a goal that is gaining traction among the US public. Reports from many environmental organizations have been written on how to get to this target, including from Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation. After last year’s COP21 conference, the momentum has gotten stronger in order to keep global temperature within the 1.5°C threshold to avoid dramatic climatic change on the Earth.
Now, another massive report suggests a framework on how the US can get to 100% renewable energy sources by 2050.
Clean energy report: a closer look at renewables in the United States
Inhabitat | The United States is a strong world leader in climate change policy, and climate scientists and environmentalists are hopeful that other nations will enact tougher restrictions on industries that contribute to the effects of global warming. Most of the countries participating in the talks have issued promises for future climate policies—including the United States, which has pledged to cut emissions up to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. What other world leaders might be interested in knowing is how the States are actually doing when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in renewable energy. After all, a politician’s promise and a signature on a bill aren’t very good proof of what has been accomplished to date, but rather is a sign of what is possible. On a global scale, organizations like 100.org seek to illustrate those potentials with tools like this interactive map, which shows the benefits of moving toward a world with 100 percent renewable energy.
Clean Energy Patents Up over First Quarter: Clean Energy Patent Growth Index
REW | The CEPGI tracks the granting of patents in the Clean Energy sector and monitors important technological breakthroughs in this field. Victor Cardona, Co-chair of the firm’s Cleantech Group stated, “Solar patents again led all others and is on a winning streak of over two years despite a drop in the first quarter of 2015. Patents in Hybrid/electric Vehicle technologies led in total number of increased patents and Wind also jumped, while Fuel Cells edged upwardly. Toyota led GM by two patents to again take the quarterly Clean Energy patent Crown. The US led all countries in granted US clean energy patents.”
The Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) provides an indication of the trend of innovative activity in the Clean Energy sector. Results from the second quarter of 2015 reveal the CEPGI to have a value of 899 granted U.S. patents, which is up 48 over the first quarter and down 41 compared to a year prior. The quarterly Clean Energy Patent crown again belonged to Toyota - the winner of the first quarter and annual winner for 2014 - by a mere two patents edging out General Motors. Solar patents led all other technology sectors in the second quarter for the ninth quarter in a row.
Tesla Crushes Electric “Competition” In US
CleanTechnica | Nissan sold 17,269 LEAFs in 2015 (including one to CleanTechnica/EV Obsession). GM sold slightly fewer Volts (15,393), but more electric cars overall (an additional 1,024 ELRs and 2,477 Spark EVs through the end of November — I’m still waiting on the Spark EV’s December numbers, since GM doesn’t bother to break it out from the gasoline Spark in the main press release and table). Ford’s numbers fall somewhere between Nissan’s and GM’s. So, basically, the top 3 electric car automakers other than Tesla each hit between 17,000 and 19,000 electric car sales in 2015.
Tesla doesn’t break out US sales versus foreign sales, but it did indicate last year that it delivered slightly more than half of its cars to the US. With something similar projected for 2015 (in which 50,580 Teslas were delivered), I ended up with an estimate of 26,566 Tesla Model S deliveries and 208 Tesla Model X deliveries (all of them so far). That puts Tesla atnearly 27,000 US electric car deliveries (and many more orders and reservations, it should be noted, especially for the Model X).
Elon Musk’s idea for powering the entire U.S. with solar energy holds a lot of water
Inhabitat | To illustrate Musk’s concept, the Land Art Generator Initiative created a number of maps showing how little real estate would be necessary to generate the electricity needed. Based on a 20 percent conversion rate, which is optimal lab performance for solar panels, an area approximately the size of Spain is all the U.S. would need to source 100 percent of its electricity from a clean, low-cost, renewable source.
Is Elon Musk A Luddite?
Gas2 | It turns out he had the temerity, along with dozens of other prominent people including Dr. Stephen Hawking, to sign a letter warning of the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. They have pledged $1 billion to prevent the spread of “evil robots.” The ITIF calls the signers “alarmists” who “tout an artificial intelligence apocalypse.”
That’s pretty strange, since Tesla automobiles are currently engaged in one of the largest AI experiments in human history? Ever since Tesla rolled out its Autopilot suite of autonomous driving software, every Autopilot enabled Tesla in the world has been sharing its daily driving experiences with every other car via the internet. What one knows, they all know.
A Tale of 3 Battery Packs
CleanTechnica | Still, look for innovation in those areas. Tesla would change quickly if it had a better tech. Tesla’s Straubel made a similar point in his interview with the SAE. “The first question we ask when we meet a new cell company is, show us your cost roadmap. Nobody wants to talk about cost – they always leave that to the end of the discussion. That’s silly. For EVs, there are some key safety and performance metrics that are foundational. They have to be there. Beyond that the most important thing is cost efficiency of energy storage. So if anyone has a more cost-efficient cell architecture, we’d be all ears. Right now nobody has proven they have a more cost-effective cell architecture than ours.”
All three battery packs have strengths and weaknesses. The Leaf pack uses all available area under the seats and floor, but does not have cooling. The Volt pack is well protected from intrusion with its T shape, but reduces interior floor space. The Volt pack is cooled. The Tesla pack provides a large amount of cell volume and provides for maximum interior space, but is more vulnerable to intrusion underneath the car. It also provides cooling. The choice between pouch and cylindrical cells is still a matter in progress, with some experts expecting pouch cells to emerge as the cheapest long term.
Germany Opens First Section Of 100-Kilometer Bicycle Highway
Gas2 | Germany has plans for a 60 mile long dedicated bicycle highway similar to its famous autobahn for motorized vehicles. When complete, the route will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm, and four universities. Martin Toennes of regional development group RVR says almost two million people live within 1.2 miles of the bicycle highway and will be able to use sections of it for their daily commutes. With the rise in popularity of electric bicycles to help with undulating terrain, RVR says the bike way, which utilizes mostly abandoned railroad tracks in the Ruhr Valley, could replace up to 50,000 motor vehicles during daily commuting hours.
Bicycle highways are an idea that began in the Netherlands and Denmark. London has declared it will build one to help fight congestion. It is catching on in other German cities, too. Frankfurt is planning a 18-mile path south to Darmstadt. Munich has proposed a 9 mile long route into its northern suburbs. Nuremberg and Berlin are conducting feasibility studies for bicycle highways of their own.
Nissan LEAF Last In Resale Value
EVO | While the news is perhaps not great for those considering at some point selling their Nissan LEAFs, I suppose that the news isn’t bad for those considering buying a used Nissan LEAF at some point. And it would certainly help to explain the relatively low prices for used LEAFs in recent times.
Of course, part of the Nissan LEAF’s resale value being so low is the fact that the US federal tax credit for EVs cuts $7,500 off a new EV, which basically cuts $7,500 off the value of the car as soon as it rolls off the lot, not to mention normal depreciation. But still… the LEAF is last, worse than any other EV. Don’t go buying one and thinking it’s an investment.
Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year
THUG | Costa Rica has shown the world what is possible this year by achieving 99 percent renewable energy generation. Michael wrote back in April that the country had not used any fossil fuels for electricity so far at that point in the year and, in fact, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute said in a statement that 285 days this year were fossil fuel-free.
Costa Rica is lucky to have a wealth of renewable energy sources to choose from. The bulk of its power generation comes from hydropower thanks to a large river system and heavy tropical rainfalls. The rest is made up of a mix of geothermal energy, which the country is also rich in, wind, biomass and solar power.
Global Pellets Production Surged in 2014, New Report Says
REW | "Wood industries were among the hardest hit by the recent global economic downturn in 2008-2009,” Thais Linhares-Juvenal, head of the FAO's forest economics and statistics team, said in a statement. “We are seeing now the highest growth of the global wood industries in the last five years, which is important to national economies and the well-being and livelihoods of millions of forest-dependent people worldwide."
Nearly all pellet production was concentrated in Europe and North America, according to the report. European production accounted for 61 percent of the global total, and North America accounted for 33 percent. Other producing regions included Asia-Pacific at 5 percent and Latin America, Caribbean and Africa at 1 percent.