The Inevitability of Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon

Renewable Energy costs have fallen to such a level over the past ten years that it now competes, sans subsidies in some locations, against heavily-subsidized fossil fuel power generation, nuclear power generation and hydro-electric dams which receive billions of dollars of subsidies every year.

Many people might be surprised to hear that; It certainly hasn’t been reported by a majority of the mainstream media.

Fuel Subsidies: The Elephant in the Room

Historically, the reason given for subsidies was to allow new industries to move past the typically turbulent first few years of operation, until they reached a sort of ‘steady-state’ when the business model was fully functional and profits alone could sustain the business, yet the conventional energy industries that have been an important and profitable part of the energy sector are still receiving billions in subsidies annually — while the new kid on the block finds that their much-smaller subsidies are tapering.

Since the first oil wells were struck in Pennsylvania in the late 1890’s, subsidies of one form or another have been an important factor in our primary and secondary energy world.

After the coal price crash in 2014 and the oil price crash of 2016, total volumes of coal and oil deliveries dropped significantly, while the actual subsidy regimes in place for those fuels did not change significantly. Therefore, any perceived subsidy drop must be viewed in the context of lower production which affected the total subsidy amounts received by those industries.

At the same time, many countries that have supported the development of renewable energy have lowered or eliminated their renewable energy subsidies. Germany is an telling example of an early-adopter that discontinued their renewable energy Feed-In Tariffs, while the United States has canceled their lucrative Production Tax Credit for wind energy projects.

And nobody seems to notice! Renewable Energy installations are continuing, the rate of new RE installations is at an all-time high and increasing on a month-to-month basis.

Renewable Energy vs. Conventional Energy

Global Energy Subsidy Totals WEO-2016

The value of subsidies to fossil fuels fell sharply in 2015 to $325 billion, down from almost $500 billion in 2014. Lower fossil-fuel prices were the main reason for the drop, but lower prices have also given additional impetus to pricing reforms in many countries, both fossil fuel importers and exporters. Even with the drop in 2015, the amount going to subsidise fossil fuels is still more than double the $150 billion spent on subsidies to renewable energy.

Renewable energy is the growth story of WEO-2016

In our main scenario, nearly 60% of all new power generation capacity to 2040 comes from renewables and, by 2040, the majority of renewables-based generation is competitive without any subsidies. In a scenario compatible with 2°C, significantly faster growth means that, in the four largest power markets (China, the United States, the European Union and India), variable renewables become the largest source of generation. — International Energy Agency | Fact Sheet: World Energy Outlook 2016

Renewable Energy jobs vs. Conventional Energy jobs.
Renewable Energy jobs vs. Conventional Energy jobs in the U.S. Image courtesy of Statista.

“According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined.

Last year, solar power accounted for 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce, while fossil fuels combined employed 22 percent. The statistic will be welcomed with open arms by those trying to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that renewable energy projects are bad news for the U.S. economy.

Around 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to the report while generation through fossil fuels had a workforce of just over 187,000. The solar boom can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity.

The report states that the employment gap is actually growing with net coal generation decreasing 53 percent over the last 10 years.

During the same period of time, electricity generation through gas expanded 33 percent while solar went up by an impressive 5,000 percent.” — Niall McCarthy | Statista

Power to the People!

Conventional energy producers in business for over a century can’t seem to survive without huge subsidy amounts — while Renewable Energy barely topped $150 billion globally, and those RE subsidies are now disappearing.

Energy Darwinism:

It’s one more reason why it’s a great time to be a Renewable Energy blogger!

Energy Darwinism: The Case for a Level Playing Field

Biofuel ‘Roadmap’ Unveiled by Boeing, Japanese Aviation Industry

Boeing and Japanese aviation working towards low-emission biofuel future. Boeing 787 image courtesy of Boeing
Boeing and Japanese aviation working towards low-emission biofuel future. Boeing 787 image courtesy of Boeing

Boeing is leading local and global collaboration for the complex challenges our world faces now, and looking to the future. We support industry-wide approaches to align on ways to improve the environment. And whether it’s through the development of sustainable aviation biofuel or by working with communities globally on important environmental issues, we’re making a difference.

From working to improve the environmental performance of our products and services to working together for the benefit of our homes and communities, Boeing is building a better planet. — Boeing website

Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Japanese aviation industry stakeholders have charted a course to develop sustainable aviation biofuel for flights during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, when millions of people are expected to visit Japan.

The Initiatives for Next Generation Aviation Fuels (INAF) – a consortium of 46 organizations including Boeing, ANA… Continue reading Biofuel ‘Roadmap’ Unveiled by Boeing, Japanese Aviation Industry

In-pipe Hydropower System Produces Clean Energy

PRESS RELEASE – January 20, 2015

The Portland Water Bureau “Put a Turbine In It” and began generating renewable energy for Portland General Electric earlier this month

The in-pipe hydropower system will generate $2 million worth of clean electricity over 20 years, in Portland, Oregon.

The new four-turbine LucidPipe™ Power System project in Portland, Oregon is the first in the U.S. to secure a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement for renewable energy from in-pipe hydropower.
The new four-turbine LucidPipe™ Power System project in Portland, Oregon is the first in the U.S. to secure a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement for renewable energy from their gravity-fed, in-pipe hydropower system. Image courtesy of LucidEnergy.

PORTLAND, Ore.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Portland Water Bureau (PWB) and Lucid Energy, a provider of renewable energy systems for in-pipe hydropower and smart water infrastructure, have flipped the switch, officially turning one of the city’s major water pipelines into a generator of renewable energy.

The LucidPipe™ Power System uses the gravity-fed flow of water inside a PWB pipeline to spin four 42” turbines that are now producing electricity for Portland General Electric (PGE) customers under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the utility, helping promote renewable power development and resource diversity for Oregon.

LucidEnergy three-turbine system. Image for illustrative purposes only. Image courtesy of LucidEnergy.
LucidEnergy in-pipe hydropower system, three-turbine design. Image for illustrative purposes only. Image courtesy of LucidEnergy.

The system, which was installed at no cost to PWB or the City of Portland, is the first project in the U.S. to secure a 20-year PPA for renewable energy produced by in-pipe hydropower in a municipal water pipeline.

The Water Bureau welcomed the opportunity to explore the innovative use of a Portland pipe delivering water to create hydroelectric power as well. — Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff

The system will begin full energy production within the next two months. LucidPipe has been tested and Certified by NSF International to NSF/ANSI Standard 61 for use in potable water systems. It does not disrupt pipeline operations and has no environmental impact.

PGE’s goal is to be our customers’ partner in helping to build a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy future for Oregon.

We’re pleased to integrate new generating technologies and applications like this into our system when they offer cost-effective solutions for our customers and the environment. — Brett Sims, PGE director of origination, structuring and resource strategy

The Portland LucidPipe system was fully financed in October 2014 with capital from Harbourton Alternative Energy, a subsidiary of Harbourton Enterprises.

The Water Bureau welcomed the opportunity to explore the innovative use of a Portland pipe delivering water to create hydroelectric power as well [as delivering water].

Water and energy are closely linked. The Lucid pipe system provides a way for the Water Bureau to contribute to generating electricity for our community in a clean, low-cost and renewable way. — David Shaff, Water Bureau Administrator

The project will generate approximately $2 million worth of renewable energy capacity over the 20-year PPA period, enough electricity for more than 150 homes in Portland. The Portland Water Bureau and Harbourton will share in the revenue.

After 20 years, PWB will have the right to own the system and all the energy it produces.

Water agencies are looking for ways to be more energy efficient, energy utilities are seeking more renewable sources of energy and investors are seeking opportunities in smart water and energy infrastructure.

The industry is looking to Portland as an example of how all of these entities can partner to take advantage of in-pipe hydropower to generate investment returns and reduce the cost of delivering clean, safe drinking water. — Gregg Semler, President and CEO, Lucid Energy, Inc.

The first installation of the LucidPipe Power System is at Riverside Public Utilities in Riverside, California. Lucid Energy is currently exploring opportunities with municipalities, water agencies and renewable energy investors from around the world.

Close-up of the LucidPipe Power System turbine. Renewable energy from municipal water supply systems. Image courtesy of LucidEnergy.
Close-up of the LucidPipe™ Power System turbine. Clean, renewable energy from existing municipal water supply networks, courtesy of an in-pipe hydropower system. Image courtesy of LucidEnergy.

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Lucid Energy has secured private funding from a very active syndicate of investors including Northwest Pipe Company, the Israeli hybrid venture capital/crowdsourcing platform OurCrowd, Star Energy and the Harbourton Fund as well as more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The funding is being used to accelerate commercialization of the LucidPipe Power System worldwide.

About Lucid Energy

Lucid Energy, Inc. is a provider of renewable energy and smart water management solutions that improve the economics of delivering water. Lucid Energy’s patented LucidPipe™ Power System enables industrial, municipal and agricultural facilities to generate clean, reliable, low-cost electricity from their gravity-fed water pipelines and effluent streams.

Lucid Energy co-developed the technology with Northwest Pipe Company (NASDAQ: NWPX), the largest manufacturer of steel water transmission pipe in the United States. www.lucidenergy.com.

Smoothing the Flow of Solar Power in California

by Dr. Imre GyukU.S. Department of Energy.

This EnerVault flow battery stores power from the solar panels and releases it as needed. | Photo courtesy of EnerVault.
This EnerVault flow battery stores solar power from the solar panels and releases it as needed. | Photo courtesy: EnerVault.
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Yesterday, an almond grove in California’s Central Valley hosted the opening of the world’s largest iron-chromium redox flow battery. Originally pioneered by NASA, these flow batteries are emerging as a promising way to store many hours of energy that can be discharged into the power grid when needed.

Traditionally, electric generation follows the demands of the daily load cycle. But as more sources of renewable generation such as solar and wind are integrated into the power grid, balancing demand and generation becomes more complicated. With energy storage, we can create a buffer that allows us to even out rapid fluctuations and provide electricity when needed without having to generate it at that moment.

Unlike other types of batteries, which are packaged in small modules, iron-chromium flow batteries consist of two large tanks that store liquids (called electrolytes) containing the metals. During discharge, the electrolytes are pumped through an electrochemical reaction cell and power becomes available. To store energy, the process is reversed. With Recovery Act funding from the Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, California energy storage company EnerVault has optimized the system to create a more efficient battery.

This pilot project in Turlock, California, can provide 250kW over a four-hour period, helping to ensure the almond trees stay irrigated and the farm is able to save money on its electrical bills.

This is how the system works:

The almond trees are most thirsty between noon and 6 p.m. The farm uses nearly 225 kW of electricity to power the pumps that get the water to the trees. Onsite solar photovoltaic panels can supply 186kW at peak power, not quite enough energy for watering the trees throughout the day. The balance could be taken from the grid, but grid electricity is most expensive from noon to 6 p.m.

This is where storage enters.

At night electricity is inexpensive, so the batteries begin to charge up. In the morning the solar panels help top them up the rest of the way. Then, during expensive peak periods, the needs of the trees are satisfied by solar and flow batteries — renewable energy optimized through storage.

While the Turlock facility is a unique application, flow batteries are not just for thirsty almond trees. For example, they could be an especially good solution for small island grids such as Hawaii, where severe wind ramps or rapid changes in photovoltaic generation can destabilize the local grid, or at military bases that need to maintain mission-critical functions.

Similarly, flow batteries paired with renewables can be used in a resilient microgrid that can continue to operate when disasters strike and power outages ensue.

In the face of changing climate conditions, energy storage and grid resiliency have become more critical than ever. Flow battery technology is expected to play a vital role in supporting the grid both in California and across the U.S.

Additional Information:

Dr. Imre Gyuk
Dr. Imre Gyuk is the Energy Storage Program Manager, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Iron-chromium flow batteries store liquids, called electrolytes, that are pumped   through an electrochemical reaction cell to release power. The process is reversed in order to store energy. This means that the batteries can store energy from the grid, and release it when the load is heaviest.