How renewable energy impacts the oil industry

Upon initial investigation, some might say that the oil crisis has negatively impacted the energy market as a whole, making alternative sources of energy such as renewable energy look far less appealing.

The Different Worlds of the Oil Industry and the Renewable Energy Industry

However, advances in energy have rendered different market segments with varying energy sources that no longer compete directly against one another. For example, the primary function of oil is related to transportation — while renewable energy is mainly used for electricity. Therefore, the uptake in renewable energy hasn’t contributed to the dwindling value of oil.

Oil is seemingly unaffected by the market success of other energy sources. To counteract decreasing oil prices, firms are manipulating supply in hopes of raising prices — yet this short term plan will not be enough for the oil industry to bounce back. Despite the decline of crude oil price, firms such as oil and gas services company UnaOil continue to expand operations in oil rich fields, however the company’s strategic base in North Rumaila may not make a difference in the prediction that oil’s next crash will be permanent.

Unrelated to Renewable Energy: The ‘Beginning of the End’ for the Oil Age

Though the impending final collapse of oil are based on educated guesses, the rate of value decrease illustrates the oil industry’s recovery from the next crisis may be difficult. The ultimate proof of oil’s ill fated future according to Seeking Alpha is in the prices; what was once $120 per barrel is now just under $50. A devaluation by more than half, must surely confirm the oil industry’s concerns.

What does this mean for alternative and green energy sources?

Those currently working with renewable energy claim that the oil catastrophe is motivating people to go green. Compared to the volatility of oil value, renewable energy appears to be more stable and with fewer price spikes. But the current situation makes it clear that a switch to greener energies is not a solution for oil depletion, rather, it serves as a reminder about our treatment of the environment.

Robin Mills, author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis suggests the fundamental need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an issue more pressing than ever.

Renewable Energy. Wind turbines.
While oil is related to transportation, renewable energy is related to electrical power generation — therefore, renewable energy isn’t a contributor to the oil price fall.

The problem with renewable energy is its need for greater funding — thus in order for them to draw investors, renewable energy developers need to lower costs and expand into providing heat for homes and industrial processes. Considering that aircraft (for one example) don’t have any alternative to oil, much of our global transportation system is still dependent on oil, which is why renewable energy must do more than merely supply electricity to stay competitive in the new energy paradigm.

Ubitricity streetlamp plug-in charges German EV’s

by John Brian Shannon
Originally published at JohnBrianShannon.com

One major impediment to the adoption of electric vehicles is the high cost of public charging stations for EV’s, as the charging units are very expensive.

Ubitricity.de has come up with a novel solution whereby ordinary streetlamps could be fitted with an electric vehicle charging point for the reasonable cost of 500 to 800 euros per streetlight, which is certainly more doable than the 10,000 euros of your typical EV public charging station in Europe.

Ubitricity.de - Reuters screenshot
Ubitricity.de – Reuters screenshot

>> Click here to see the Reuters Ubitricity video. <<

Streetlamps in selected cities within Germany are now being fitted with a charging point allowing electric vehicle drivers to recharge their car battery.

Drivers prepay the cost of the electricity via Ubitricity to charge at these locations. Ostensibly, every streetlamp post and parking meter in Europe could be fitted with one of these charging points.

Not only do German drivers have the option of charging their EV’s at home, now they can now pick up a charge while they shop, have coffee with friends, or while they spend the day at their workplace.

“We are convinced there is room for this technology to be applied everywhere it’s needed, but we think that in most places there is a pressing need for investment in a charging infrastructure to allow the installation of charging points, not only here on lamp posts, but also in the workplace, at home and in underground carparks.

Governments are keen to cut the number of gas guzzling cars on the roads to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many are offering cash incentives to drivers to buy electric. But take-up has been slow partly due to the lack of charging stations.

There are lots of lamp posts which are already very well connected to the electricity network. Equipping a lamp post costs between 300 and 500 euros, depending on the circumstances at that location. When you consider the production price of our charging sockets, it is a long way from the 10,000 euros which must typically be invested in a charging station.” Founder of Ubitricity, Frank Pawlitsche

All you need is an Electric Vehicle, your prepaid Ubitricity account and Ubitricity connector cable, and you’re set

Ubitricity portable, streetlight-attachable EV charging unit
Ubitricity portable, streetlight-attachable EV charging unit

The great thing about the Ubitricity parking spots with their electric vehicle recharging connector is that they’re normal parking spots with a charging port added. Your mobile phone app displays the Ubitricity locations.

You can park there all day and return to a car that is fully energized and ready to go! No more petrol stations for you.

It’s a wonderful idea. Streetlamps and parking meters are everywhere it seems and combining a parking spot with an EV charging port is a stroke of genius.

Boy those Germans are smart. Gut gemacht! (Well done!)

Driving electric is a cornerstone of Germany’s Energiewende energy policy

Only when driving on renewables will EV users avoid greenhouse gas emissions — not just locally but on a global scale. Renewable energies and EVs are natural partners of a sustainable energy and transportation sector. — From the Ubitricity website

Not only Ubitricity — but also BMW is getting into the act

BMW i3
BMW i3 receiving a charge at a Ubitricity charge point. Image courtesy of ubitricity.de

Drivers of the much-loved BMW i3 electric vehicle will soon have their own BMW charging network and software to guide you to nearby charge points.

Eventually, BMW will build their network across Europe to facilitate EV travel across the continent.

BMW has a vision to offer buyers their choice of petrol powered, or as an option, electric powered, or hybrid/electric powered cars across all model lines.

BMW is also famous for installing wind turbines, solar panels, and biomass power plants at it’s German factories, and going completely off-grid!

It also has plans to get into the consumer electricity business throughout Europe.

You’ll soon be able to buy a BMW car and a BMW motorcycle for your driveway and BMW electricity for your home and office. All produced by renewable energy and only renewable energy.

A note about TESLA Model S drivers and their unique charging situation/opportunities

TESLA Model S at a SuperCharger location.
A TESLA Model S receiving a charge at a typical TESLA SuperCharger location. Image courtesy of edmonds.com

All TESLA vehicles can access the Ubitricity chargers but don’t forget to bring your Ubitricity charging cable — unlike the TESLA SuperCharger stations where the cable is permanently attached to the SuperCharger unit.

A benefit of TESLA SuperCharger top-ups is that they usually take 10-15 minutes. Look, there’s a Starbucks!

Another benefit is that (TESLA Model S drivers only) enjoy free charging at TESLA SuperCharger stations for the life of the car because that’s what you get for 70,000 euros.

But once your TESLA is charged, you must return to move your car in order to let other TESLA drivers access the SuperCharger, much like gas-engined drivers can’t leave their car in front of the gas pump while they go shopping.

Only the Ubitricity solution gives all EV drivers a convenient parking spot — and a charge. The ability to simply ‘Park and Plug’ at one location in today’s crowded cities is a very big plus indeed.

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The Solar / Water nexus

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Separate from discussions about airborne coal power plant emissions,  are the high levels of water usage — proportional to the downstream water loss experienced by farmers, citizens, and other water users such as wildlife — caused by obscenely high coal power plant water requirements.

Water used by power plants
At a time of increasing water scarcity, water use by power plants varies widely. In some regions, that different water usage level is becoming an important part of the decision-making process for planners. climaterealityproject.org

In some regions of the world, there exists acute competition for water resources as coal power station operators vie for water with agricultural, urban, and other users of water, while areas with plentiful water find their power plant choices aren’t constrained by water supply issues at all.

The era of increasing water shortages and frequent drought seem here to stay, and the huge volumes of water required by some power plants is becoming a factor in the decision-making process as to which type of power plant is most suited for any given location.

Therefore, the conversation is now arcing towards the local availability of water and thence, to the most appropriate type of power station to propose for each location.

So let’s take a look at the water usage of five common types of power plants:

  • Coal: 1100 gallons per MWh
  • Nuclear: 800 gallons per MWh
  • Natural gas: 300 gallons per MWh
  • Solar: 0 gallons per MWh
  • Wind: 0 gallons per MWh.

While 1100 gallons per MWh doesn’t sound like much, America’s 680 coal-fired power plants use plenty of water especially when tallied on an annual basis.

The largest American coal-fired power station is in the state of Texas and it produces 1.6 GW of electricity, yet it is located in one of the driest regions on the North American continent. Go figure.

At one time as much as 55% of America’s electricity was produced via coal-fired generation and almost every home had a coal chute where the deliveryman dropped bags of coal directly into the homeowner’s basement every week or two.

But in the world of 2014, the United States sources 39% of its electricity from coal power plants and this percentage continues to decline even as domestic electricity demand is rising.

Texas Utility Going Coal-Free, Stepping Up Solar

In a recent column by Rosana Francescato, she writes;

“El Paso Electric Company doubles its utility-scale solar portfolio with large projects in Texas and New Mexico. As if that weren’t enough, the utility also plans to be coal-free by 2016.” — Rosana Franceescato

She goes on to tell us that EPE serves 400,000 customers in Texas and New Mexico and gives credit to the foresighted management team. El Paso Electric is already on-track to meet the proposed EPA carbon standard. Their nearby 50 MW Macho Springs solar power plant about to come online is on record as having the cheapest (PPA) electricity rate in the United States.

This solar power plant will displace 40,000 metric tonnes of CO2 while it powers 18,000 homes and save 340,000 metric tonnes of water annually, compared with a coal power plant of the same capacity. That’s quite a water savings in a region that has been drought-stricken in 13 of the last 20 years, only receiving 1 inch of rainfall per year.

In February 2014, EPE signed an agreement for the purchase all of the electricity produced by a nearby 10 MW solar installation that will 3800 homes when construction is completed by the end of 2014. And they are selling their 7% interest in a nearby coal power plant.   Now there’s a responsible utility company that makes it look easy!

Solar’s H2O advantage

The manufacture of solar panels uses very little water, although maintenance of solar panels in the field may require small amounts of water that is often recycled for reuse after filtering out the dust and grit, while other types of energy may require huge volumes of water every day of the year.

Wind’s H2O advantage

Wind turbines and their towers also use very little water in their construction and installation, although some amount of water is required for mixing with the concrete base that the tower is mounted on at installation.

In the U.S. which is facing increasing water shortages and evermore drought conditions as global warming truly begins to take hold in North America, switching to a renewable energy grid would have profound ramifications. Estimates of water savings of up to 1 trillion gallons could be possible if utilities switched to 100% renewable wind and solar power with battery backup on tap for night-time loads and during low wind conditions.

Midway through that transition, the present water crisis in the U.S. would effectively be over. Yep, just like that. Over.

China’s Looming Water Crisis

China’s looming water crisis has planners moving to taper their coal and nuclear power generation construction programmes. You can’t operate these plants without the required water, even for a day. Yet, the people who live and grow crops and raise livestock in the surrounding areas need access to undiminished water supplies. What good is a coal power plant if everyone moves away due to a lack of water?

There are very legitimate reasons nowadays to switch to solar and wind generation — and the reduction of airborne emissions used to be the prime consideration and may remain so for some time, however, massive reductions in water consumption might now prove to be the dealmaker in some regions — and the emission reductions may now be viewed as the happy side benefit! Wow, that’s a switch!

Of course, the benefits of solar and wind power will still include no ongoing fuel costs, very low maintenance and the lowest Merit Order ranking (the wholesale kWh price of electricity) of any energy.

Granted, there are locations where renewable energy doesn’t make sense, such as some Arctic or Antarctic regions. In these places solar simply isn’t worthwhile and wind levels may not be sufficient to make the economic case. Biomass may be a partial solution in these areas and there may be the opportunity for geothermal energy — although finding ‘hot rocks’ underground near population centres is much more unlikely than many people may realize.

But in the future, the vast majority of locations will be powered by renewable energy paired with a battery backup or a conventional grid connection — or both. And its a future that’s getting closer every day.

Distributed Energy – The Next Logical Step

by John Brian Shannon

Distributed Energy adds capacity to the electrical grid during the hours that electrical demand is highest, adding to grid stability and lowering costs for consumers

Over the centuries, different kinds of energy and energy delivery systems have been employed by human beings. In the Neolithic Period some 10,000 years ago, our ancestors sat around campfires for the light, warmth and security that a fire can provide. Neolithic people mostly ate their food raw, but are known to have cooked meat and occasionally grains over a fire.

For many centuries that general energy usage pattern continued and the only difference was the kind of fuel (coal later replaced wood and straw) and the size of the fire and the number of people it served.

New ways of using energy

The Industrial Revolution changed all that for people in those suddenly developing nations. New energy technology offered huge economies of scale — whereby the larger the power plant, the more efficiently it could produce affordable power for large numbers of people.

The first electrical grids were then formed to transport electricity from large-scale coal power plants or hydro-electric dams to population centres.

Since then, every decade shows larger and more efficient power plants and ever-larger populations being served by this wonderfully efficient grid system. Huge power plants and sprawling electrical grids delivered electricity to citizens over very long distances and at reasonable rates, while investors, utility companies, and power producers received reasonable rates of return on their investment.

It was (and still is) an excellent model to employ, one which brings electrical current from remote power plants to electricity users at an energy price that works for everyone. Except for the fact that some power plants produce unimaginable amounts of pollution and are necessarily and massively subsidized by taxpayers, this has been a winning energy model for a number of decades. And this very successful and reliable model will continue to provide our electricity for many years to come.

But there are serious drawbacks to grid power

Utility-scale power generation requires huge power plants, each costing tens of billions of dollars in the case of nuclear power plants, billions of dollars each in the case of hydro-electric power plants, and hundreds of millions of dollars in the case of coal power plants.

All coal and nuclear power plants were heavily subsidized by taxpayers, or they couldn’t have been built in the first place

It doesn’t end there, as coal fired power plants use hundreds or even thousands of tons of coal every day of the year at a cost of $50. to $160. per ton, not to mention the huge infrastructure costs required to build the ports and rail lines to transport the coal — paid for by taxpayers. And then add to that, the freight costs paid to the shipping companies and the railway companies to transport that coal to the power generation site. Most of the coal that Asia burns comes from North America and Australia. Even within coal rich North America, thousands of miles of railway tracks were laid down to transport North American coal to North American coal power plants.

Let’s not forget the environmental costs associated with all that toxic smoke either. China and the U.S. each produced 7.2 billion tons of coal fired CO2 in 2010 and that number is rising every year. Not to mention the many toxic oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, along with soot and airborne heavy metals that are produced wherever power plants burn coal.

Nuclear power plants likewise, use expensive to produce nuclear fuel rods or pellets and simply could not survive without massive government subsidies. Then there is the storage problem, as the so-called ‘spent fuel’ is highly radioactive and must be securely stored for up to 20,000 years in temperature-controlled conditions. Again, massive taxpayer funded infrastructure must be provided to store the world’s ever-growing pile of spent fuel.

Other than costing billions of dollars and disrupting river flows and fish habitat, hydro-electric power is a benign and good electrical generation solution. If only there were enough rivers to provide all the electricity that 7.1 billion people require! With almost every possible river already dammed on the planet, hydro-electric power plants provide only 16.2% of the world’s electricity.

An even better energy model has arrived in the form of distributed energy

Simply stated, distributed energy is created when many homes or businesses place solar panels on their rooftops or wind turbines on their properties — and then connect it to the electrical grid. Either solar panels or wind turbines can be used in the distributed energy context.

With progressive policies designed to strengthen and balance existing electricity grids, distributed energy can play a large role in ameliorating our present energy challenges.

Distributed energy is the opposite of utility-scale electrical power generation in three very important ways

  • Distributed energy emits no measurable pollution.
  • Distributed energy assists the grid operator to locate the energy source close to electrical demand centres.
  • Unimaginably large and expensive national utility grids crisscrossing the countryside are not required in the case of distributed energy.

Connecting distributed energy to the grid results in many positives for micro-energy producers, homeowners, businesses, and the grid operator. During the daytime, solar panels may produce more electricity than the homeowner or business can actually use — although during that same time of day, the utility company power plants may be straining to produce all the electricity that the grid demands during those peak hours.

Net-Metering to the Rescue!

Therefore, energy-sharing takes place via the use of a net-metering system allowing the homeowner or business owner to sell their surplus electricity to the utility company. Net-Metering allows homeowners and businesses to sell their excess electricity to the grid at a profit, while retaining all the benefits of grid connection. Installation of a net-meter at each home is the essential part of a distributed energy grid.

New financing options are becoming available to homeowners and businesses to install rooftop arrays — and even renters are able to purchase renewable energy through innovative programmes designed to boost the market share of renewables.

Some auto assembly plants in Germany and in the U.S.A. have installed wind turbines on their properties, or on nearby land purchased specifically for that purpose. Both BMW and Volkswagen are famous for building great cars, and for being distributed wind producers that have installed wind turbines near their factories, to ensure more reliable power and to avoid energy price spikes. Many ‘world citizens’ admire their environmental commitment.

IKEA, WalMart and Walgreens are famous for installing solar power plants on their store rooftops and warehouses, and WalMart, Google and Apple Computer and others, have purchased wind farms in an effort to Go Green and to alleviate the energy price spikes which are so common in the U.S. and Europe. Well done.

Distributed Energy pays off!

In California, homeowners with solar panels on their rooftops are receiving cheques for up to $2000. — or even larger amounts in the case of larger rooftop solar installations — from their utility company every January, to pay for all the surplus electricity they’ve sold to the utility company during the course of the year. California law mandates that distributed energy producers be paid up-to-date by February 1 of each year and other energy policies in the Great Bear state prove their commitment to a

In Australia, many thousands of homes with solar panels on their rooftops have dramatically added to overall grid capacity and stability by curtailing the power outages common there during peak demand hours, and some coal power plants have shut down while other coal plants are now planning for decommissioning.

Understandably so, the heavily subsidized coal and nuclear industries fear the rapidly growing distributed energy model, although coal exports to China from coal giant Australia continue at a frenetic pace.

Turn down the burners — the Sun is up!

Natural gas and hydro-electric power producers cautiously embrace distributed energy as an augmentation of their efforts to provide reliable electricity to the grid — as they can all exist as energy producers at different hours of the 24 hour day — and for very different reasons none of them are able to eclipse the others.

Distributed energy typically produces its power during peak demand hours, and is known for reducing electricity costs across-the-board due to the Merit Order effect, which is a ranking system utility companies use to decide which energy generator to employ (in real-time) throughout the day and night.

In fact, distributed energy is all about adding peak demand power to the grid — resulting in a stronger, more reliable power grid while displacing dirty energy in the process — and monetarily rewarding citizens for their surplus electricity.