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Member since: Fri Dec 19, 2003, 02:20 AM
Number of posts: 29,798

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The Battle over Electricity

(Outstanding insight into the behind-the-scenes power struggle prompted by Germany's energy transition.- K)

The Battle over Electricity
Interview with energy and environment expert Claudia Kemfert
Category: Germany
by Paul Hockenos

Kemfert, who is no spokesperson for the Greens or anyone else, argues that the naysayers are not shooting straight but rather have armed themselves with spurious arguments, low-ball populism, and outright lies. In her recent book, she aims to correct the myths that, she argues, are slowly turning Germans against the clean energy switch.


Downloadable publications by Prof. Kemfert: http://www.claudiakemfert.de/en/publications.html

Adapt or Die? Private Utilities and the Distributed Energy Juggernaut

Adapt or Die? Private Utilities and the Distributed Energy Juggernaut
Will disruptive change kill or strengthen private utilities?


Last week I reviewed some of the disruptive challenges that the private, investor-owned utility (IOU) sector is facing in the transition to distributed renewable energy production, and they are serious. Last month, NRG Energy's CEO David Crane called distributed solar "a mortal threat" to the IOU's business.

The question we all must grapple with is how the utility industry will be transformed by these disruptions, and what the effect will be on consumers.

The first issue is price. The IOUs have warned that more distributed power generation will drive up grid power prices for consumers. That may be true, to a limited extent, but the accounting is complex and the result is anything but straightforward. New coal, nuclear, and gas power plants are expensive too. As I explained last week, within a decade -- less than half the expected lifetime of these long-lived capital assets -- they are likely to be more expensive than renewables.

In fact, price isn't much of a leg for the IOUs to stand on. According to EIA data on all 3,186 utilities in the U.S., helpfully compiled by Richard Caperton of the Center for American Progress, IOUs offer the most expensive grid power in the nation, with an average price of $0.1003 per kilowatt-hour. All other types of utilities -- electric co-ops, municipal utilities, federal utilities, and power marketers -- sell power for less. On average, municipal utilities sell power for roughly half a cent ($0.0046 per kilowatt-hour) less than the IOUs.

It's not hard to see why. In January, the Houston Chronicle detailed how the average CEO ...


Is 70 Percent Renewable Power Possible? Portugal Just Did It For 3 Months

Is 70 Percent Renewable Power Possible? Portugal Just Did It For 3 Months
By Ryan Koronowski on Apr 14, 2013 at 9:06 am

Portugal’s electricity network operator announced that renewable energy supplied 70 percent of total consumption in the first quarter of this year. This increase was largely due to favorable weather conditions resulting in increased wind and water flow, as well as lower demand. Portuguese citizens are using less energy and using sources that never run out for the vast majority of what they do use.
- Hydropower supplied most: Hydroelectric power supplied 37 percent of total electricity — a 312 percent increase compared to last year.
- Wind turbines broke a record: Wind energy represented 27 percent of the total share, which is 60 percent higher than last year. This is 37 percent above average and good for the highest amount generated by wind in Portugal, ever.
- 2.3 percent less energy used: Energy consumption has fallen every year since 2010 and is now at 2006 levels. Some of the drop this quarter was due to fewer working days and a warmer winter, but even controlling for those factors, there was still a drop of .4 percent.
- Not so much solar: Solar energy supplies only .7 percent of total energy demand, according to 2012 figures (Q1 2013 figures were not available for solar). This constitutes 225.5 MW in total photovoltaic capacity.
- Dropping the fossil fuel habit: Portugal’s electricity had 29 percent less coal and 44 percent less gas in it from 2012 figures. The country must import the fossil fuels it burns.
- For sale: Portugal exported what would have been 6 percent of total electricity consumption to other countries. It will also be able to sell a chunk of its allotted carbon credits offered by the EU’s carbon trading system.

Actually 70 percent isn’t unheard of for Portugal. For a few hours in 2011, Portugal was entirely run on renewable power. Yet this was the first time so much was sustained for a quarter.

Portugal’s investment in modernizing its electricity grid in 2000 has come in handy. Like in many countries, power companies owned their own transmission lines. What the government did in 2000 was to buy all the lines, creating a publicly owned and traded company to operate them. This was used to create a smart grid that renewable energy producers could connect to (encouraged by government-organized auctions to build new wind and hydro plants). In 2010, the New York Times reported on Portugal’s renewable energy push that started in earnest in 2005:
Five years ago, the leaders of this sun-scorched, wind-swept nation made a bet: To reduce Portugal’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, they embarked on an array of ambitious renewable energy projects — primarily harnessing the country’s wind and hydropower, but also its sunlight and ocean waves…. Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal’s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago.

There was a massive amount of skepticism over the plan at the time...


The State of Nuclear Power in US: Bad and Worse

The State of Nuclear Power in US: Bad and Worse
New report says NRC is ill-prepared for massive meltdown, which former NRC chair says is likely

Published on Thursday, April 11, 2013 by Common Dreams
- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The Byron Generating Station in Byron, IL. (Photo: Michael Kappel/ Flickr)

As operators at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant announce yet another radiation leak, US officials turn to the state of domestic nuclear plants only to find dangerous and widespread safety issues and "antiquated" emergency planning, leaving the US population open to "potentially devastating human consequences."

A report by the Government Accountability Office released Wednesday found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not adequately prepared for a real nuclear emergency and that they fail to account for mass "shadow" evacuations from beyond the NRC's accounted for 10 mile buffer zone, as demonstrated by the recent Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters.

After reviewing the report, nuclear watchdog agency the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, compounded the critical findings by adding that another flaw, overlooked by the GAO, is the NRC's failure to account for the impact of long-term exposure effects on American citizens.

“In a real radiation release, the American people will expect the government to act to protect them against exposures that could cause damaging health effects," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "This is especially important since the NRC’s current antiquated rules are based on exposure effects to an average adult man—yet women and children are far more susceptible to radiation than men.”

Current plans, he adds, are only designed to protect against the immediate health effects of high-level radiation exposure and fail to "prevent large-scale exposure to radiation levels that would cause chronic illness, including cancer."

A large scale nuclear failure in the US may not be so far off. According to the former chairman of the NRC, Gregory B. Jaczko, all of the 104 nuclear power reactors currently in operation in the US "have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology," reports the New York Times. Jaczko made the statement while attending a session Monday about the Fukushima meltdown during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference.

Jaczko said he came to this conclusion after “watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems." He added, "Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

The GAO report follows the announcement last week of new EPA-backed radiation "clean-up" standards which essentially raise the permissible number of people expected to develop cancer from long-term radiation exposure.

"These standards would codify cancer and are completely at odds with civilized society," said Mariotte.

Mary Lampert, director of the Massachusetts-based Pilgrim Watch, called the report "criminal." The “only humane and sane approach," she said, would be for the report authors "to recommend measures to reduce the risk of nuclear disasters in light of the potentially real and potentially devastating economic and human consequences; and then to recommend policies and a framework to deal with short and long-term off-site consequences.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

See also: NRG Doubles Down on Distributed Generation

In reference to the way changing market conditions look set to strand large scale generating assets decades before their owners (and regulators) originally planned. You can see the shortfall that is threatened as the decommissioning funds of the nuclear plants are intended to mature on a schedule coinciding with the plants scheduled life.

From NRG Doubles Down on Distributed Generation

Enter the Utility Death Spiral
To be clear, NRG has flourished under David Crane’s leadership, its stock price nearly doubling in the past year alone. So why would Crane rock the boat, as he just has? The plan that Crane has put forward seemingly contradicts NRG’s current formula for success, and it threatens to alienate others in the industry, to boot. This is a serious challenge to the status quo.

One theory would be that Crane sees the writing on the wall: distributed renewables are forcing centralized fossil-fueled generation to go the way of the dinosaur, opening the door for customers to manage and meet their electricity needs with increased independence. Granted, at today’s pace it’s going to be a while before the electricity industry is no longer dependent on coal and nuclear, but Crane seems to be positioning NRG to get in front of the curve by establishing itself as the go-to provider of islandable micropower. Sun Tzu said: “though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays.” Crane would seem to have taken this to heart.

Should the electric utility industry be worried? At a time when utilities’ business customer satisfaction is already falling, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ If NRG steps in and takes people off the grid, there are suddenly fewer customers remaining to pay for the infrastructure needed to make the system work (the same infrastructure that’s needed to bring renewables like Wyoming’s wind power to major load centers across the country). As a result, a utility would have to distribute these fixed costs over fewer customers, raising prices for individual customers and driving even more people to think about switching over to NRG and other options that may emerge. This phenomenon results in a positive feedback loop termed “the utility death spiral.” Investor-owned utilities are taking notice, as this death spiral could result in a cycle that continues shifting customers away from the utility until there’s nobody left.

NRG’s plan hinges on a belief that if a utility can’t prove that it offers more value to its customers, those customers will leave—kicking off the aforementioned death spiral. It’s for this reason that Crane believes that utilities think “distributed solar is a mortal threat to their business.” But does this have to be the case?



Nuclear Retirement Anxiety

Another case of corporate welfare in the making. If these plants shut down because they are no longer profitable (which is becoming a distinct possibility), the money forecast isn't going to be there for decommissioning costs.

Nuclear Retirement Anxiety
As nuclear power plants age, concerns grow over financing, complexity, and safety of decommissioning

By Jeff Johnson

Over the past few months, nuclear power plants have hit a rough spot.

The owners of the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin and Florida’s Crystal River 3 Nuclear Plant announced they were prematurely shutting the plants down, pointing to economic problems driven by growing maintenance costs and competition with cheap natural-gas-fueled power plants. The announcement marked the first nuclear plant shutdowns in 15 years, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

More retirements are likely. Kewaunee is 39 years old; Crystal River is 36. The designed age for nuclear reactors in the U.S. is 40 years. The average age of the 104 working plants is 32 years, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a part of the Department of Energy. With age is sure to come more maintenance, more outages, and greater safety concerns for communities living near the plants. Other operators are likely to take the path chosen by Kewaunee and Crystal River and begin the lengthy, complex, and expensive process of shutting down, cleaning up, and decommissioning.

Those that keep going will struggle with the difficulty of keeping an aging facility operating. For example, in California, two huge reactor units at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station have been idled since January 2012 because of premature wear and leakage of steam generator tubes that had just been replaced at a cost of $670 million. The units supply 2,200 MW or around 20% of the power for the surrounding Southern California area. According to recent NRC statements, it is unclear when the commission will allow the two to start up again. These two reactors join a third out-of-use California reactor at San Onofre. This one was shuttered in 1992 and is being decommissioned.


GAO investigated 12 reactors’ trust funds, comparing company-prepared site-specific decommissioning cost estimates to NRC’s formula. For nine reactors, NRC’s formula resulted in funds below the companies’ estimates. In one case, a company believed it needed $836 million, which was $362 million more than NRC’s formula figure. GAO also noted NRC’s funding formula was more than 30 years old....


Shared Solar in the US: Do you Pre-Qualify?

Shared Solar in the US: Do you Pre-Qualify?
By Laurel Passera
April 11, 2013

Choose any of the following that may apply:

A) Do you have a shaded roof or one that is not structurally designed to bear load?

B) Do you rent or share your roof with other households or businesses?

C) Is your home or business in an historic district or one with strict aesthetic building codes?

D) Do you have little interest in maintaining an on-site solar energy system?

If you are interested in solar energy and answered yes to any of the above questions - Congratulations! - you are officially pre-qualified to participate in a shared solar program. Shared solar, also known as community solar, allows people to pool their resources into a shared system, without having to host a system on their own property. It provides a fitting solution to the numerous obstacles to renewable energy adoption, some of which were laid out in the above quiz.

Shared solar programs are sprouting up around the country with remarkable speed – we know because we have been tracking their progress. In fact, this Shared Solar Program Comparison Chart includes the basic details of the programs we have compiled in collaboration with the Solar Electric Power Association. We are tracking them, not only to understand how program structure is evolving for shared solar, but also to provide a resource for utilities and others who are contemplating starting a shared renewable energy program of their own.

Of course, this chart should be accompanied by a disclaimer: as these programs are always evolving and new programs are cropping up each month, the data will continue to evolve. To keep it up to date, we will need your help. Do you know of a project that is missing from the chart or see information that is incorrect or outdated? Please let us know so we can update it.

As you can probably tell ...


Report: Solar Scores Big Gains in Electricity Generation

Report: Solar Scores Big Gains in Electricity Generation
For the first time, solar accounted for all the new electricity generation capacity added to the U.S. grid in March.

April 12, 2013

Despite the buzz surrounding natural gas and its increased role in electricity generation, solar seems to be increasingly stealing the spotlight from the newly famous fossil fuel.

Thanks to new projects across the country, solar energy accounted for all new utility electricity generation capacity added to the grid for the first time in March, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) Energy Infrastructure Update. All other energy sources combined added no new generation capacity, the report noted.

Since 2008, the amount of solar energy powering U.S. homes, businesses and military bases has grown by more than 600 percent according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In 2012 alone, the United States brought more new solar capacity online than in the three prior years combined, underscoring projections that solar will be the nation's largest new source of energy over the next four years.

Momentum behind the development of more renewable energy is mounting, too. According to a recent poll conducted by Gallup, three-quarters of Americans support increased solar energy use and 71 percent favor pursuing more wind energy.

"These new numbers from FERC support our forecast that solar will continue a pattern of growth in 2013...

more at http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/04/12/report-solar-scores-big-gains-in-electricity-generation

Will Street Lights Become the Nodes of the Networked City?

Will Street Lights Become the Nodes of the Networked City?
Echelon, Osram and the smart street light network

Networked street lights are a fascinating space where the latest in city-scale, energyefficient lighting and digital networking combine. We’ve seen a ton of new entrants into the field, from smart meter players like Sensus, Silver Spring Networks (SSNI) and ABB’s Tropos Networks adding streetlights to their mix of networked end-points, to LED contenders working with cities and contractors to tap the extra efficiency and functionality inherent in those digital sources of light.

On Wednesday, lighting giant and Siemens subsidiary (and would-be spinoff) Osram announced it was launching its own networked street lighting solution, using technology from San Jose, Calif.-based networked street lighting stalwart Echelon (ELON). The Osram-Echelon combo promises to squeeze up to 40 percent more energy efficiency out of a city or utility street light system, compared to just using high-efficiency lamps alone.

For Echelon, it’s a big new partner for a powerline carrier (PLC) technology that’s been connecting streetlights to central control systems for more than a decade. Echelon’s system connects about 1 million street lights around the world, running city lighting networks in locations from Anchorage, Alaska to Oslo, Norway, and points in between. In China alone, the company is hoping to install 500,000 smart street lights by 2014.

Echelon has been working with Philips on networked street lighting for some time, as well as many other smaller partners in the complicated lighting industry chain, Varun Nagaraj, Echelon’s senior vice president and general manager, told me in a Wednesday interview.

In the case of Osram...


Articles on New Energy Secretary

Amy Goodman (Democracy Now) March 26, 2013
Energy Nominee Ernest Moniz Criticized for Backing Fracking & Nuclear Power; Ties to BP, GE, Saudis

New Era for Energy Department Expected Under a Secretary Moniz
By Coral Davenport April 8, 2013 | 10:36 p.m.

<snip, snip>

“I think it will be a very different agency than it was in the first term,” said Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, who has worked with Moniz on energy policy for many years.

“Ernie knows climate change, but also unconventional oil and gas and coal and nuclear. He will push the president towards a more balanced policy. I think you’ll see a focus on unconventional oil and gas and not as much on renewables.”

Frank Verrastro, director of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “He’ll be a more complete secretary of Energy. He brings different skills. He’s focused on climate and clean energy, but he’s aware of what’s going on in the oil and gas space. It’s an opportunity for the administration to gain back some energy-policy stake.”

The nation’s energy picture has changed profoundly since 2008, when Obama appointed Chu to lead the DOE. Since then, a boom in unconventional oil and gas development, thanks to breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” technology has led to a dramatic increase in domestic oil and gas supply. Obama has been particularly bullish on natural gas as a one-two punch for his climate-change and economic goals: The fuel has half the carbon emissions of coal, and the new glut of it has lowered U.S. manufacturing costs.

The fossil-fuel industry, which regularly railed against Chu, has already indicated its openness to Moniz...


Publications produced by his group the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI)
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