Variability of Renewable Energy concerns not fact-based

by John Brian Shannon

Originally published on JBSNews.com

Merit Order ranking control room
Most utility companies have Merit Order ranking control rooms similar to this one where decisions are made about which power producer will contribute to the grid in real time. Microprocessors make the instant decisions, while humans are present to oversee operations and plan ahead.

 

On the Variability of Renewable Energy; The ongoing argument about renewable energy additions to national electrical grids.

Solar Variability

Some people argue that solar photovoltaic (solar panels) produce ‘variable’ electricity flows — and they assume that makes solar unsuitable for use in our modern electric grid system.

And it’s true, the Sun doesn’t shine at night. Also, if you are discussing only one solar panel installation in one farmer’s field, then yes, there is the variability of intermittent cloud cover which may temporarily lower the output of that particular solar installation.

But when grid-connected solar arrays are installed over vast areas in a large state like Texas, or throughout the Northeastern U.S.A. for example, it all balances out and no one goes without power as solar panels produce prodigious amounts of electricity during the high-demand daytime hours. If it’s cloudy in one location thereby lowering solar panel outputs, then it is sunny in 100 other solar locations within that large state or region of the country.

So, solar ‘variability’ disappears with many widely scattered installations and interconnection with the grid. So much for that accusation.

NOTE: The marginal ranking for solar is (0) and that ranking never varies. (More on this later)

Wind Variability

The situation with wind power is essentially the same, One major difference though; In many parts of the world the wind tends to blow at its most constant rate at night, which helps to add power to the grid while the Sun is asleep.

In fact, complementary installations of solar and wind help to balance each other through the day/night cycle — and through the changing seasons. There is even an optimum solar panel capacity to wind turbine capacity installation ratio, but I won’t bore you with it.

NOTE: The marginal ranking for wind is (0) and that ranking never varies.

Natural Gas Variability

What? Natural gas is not variable!

Oh really? Over the course of the past 60 years, how has the natural gas price per gigajoule changed? Got you there! The natural gas price has increased by orders of magnitude and wild price fluctuations are quite common.

OK, that’s not ‘output variability’ but it is a variable factor with regard to energy pricing. And that’s a variable that actually matters to consumers.

Natural gas prices have swung wildly over the years forcing utilities to peg their rates to the highest expected natural gas rate. No wonder investors love natural gas!

So there is ‘supply variability’ and ‘rate variability’ with natural gas, which is why it is often the last choice for utility companies trying to meet daily demand. Gas is a good but expensive option and it comes with its own variability baggage.

We won’t even talk about the associated CO2 cost to the environment. (OK, it’s about $40 per tonne of CO2 emitted)

Coal variability

Not to the same degree as natural gas, but coal also faces price swings and potential supply disruptions — again forcing utility companies to set their rates against unforeseeable labour strikes at a mine, a railway, or shipping line — and against coal mine accidents that can shut down a mine for weeks, or against market-generated price spikes.

These things are impossible to foresee, so this ‘averaging up’ of the price results in higher energy bills for consumers and better returns for investors.

Yes, there is variability in coal supply, coal supply lines, coal power plant maintenance cycles which can have a plant offline for weeks, and market pricing. These things can affect total annual output, yet another kind of ‘variability’. (Again, that doesn’t factor-in the other costs to society such as increased healthcare costs from burning coal which releases tonnes of airborne heavy metals, soot, and nasty pollutants besides CO2 — which some estimates put at $40-60 per tonne emitted — in addition to the environmental cost of $40 per tonne of CO2 emitted)

NOTE: Should we talk here about how much water coal plants use every year? More than all the other energy producers put together, and then some!

Hydro power variability

What? Hydro power is not variable!

Oh yes it is. Nowadays, many hydro dams in the U.S. can barely keep water in the reservoir from August through November. They cannot produce their full rated power in a drought, they cannot produce their full rated power in late summer, they often cannot produce power during maintenance, or during earthquake swarms. Just sayin’ hi California!

An impressive body of water behind the dam is meaningless when the water level isn’t high enough to ‘spill over the dam’. If the water level isn’t high enough to spin the turbines then all that water is just for show. Take a picture!

“In 1984, the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River generated enough power on its own to provide electricity for 700,000 homes because the water level of Lake Mead behind the dam was at its highest point on record. But since 1999, water levels have dropped significantly, and Hoover Dam produces electricity for only about 350,000 homes.” — CleanTechnica

 And then there is this problem; Global warming and its resultant drought conditions mean that some dams are essentially ‘finished’ as power producing dams for the foreseeable future.

Again, we have output variability; But this time it is; 1) lower power output due to reduced reservoir levels caused by anthropogenic drought and 2) the time of year that hydro dams cannot produce their full rated power.

Price variability: This is what Merit Order ranking is about

Merit Order ranking is a system used by most electric utilities to allow different types of electrical power plants to add power to the electric grid in real time. Thanks to a computerized grid, this occurs on a minute-by-minute basis every day of the year.

In the German example, electricity rates drop by up to 40% during the hours in which solar or wind are active, and this is what Merit Order ranking is all about; Using the cheapest available electricity source FIRST — and then filling the gaps with more expensive electrical power generation.

Solar and wind electricity are rated at (0) on the Merit Order scale making them the default choice for utility companies when the Sun is shining, or the wind is blowing, or both.

Why? No fuel cost. That’s the difference. And bonus, no environmental or healthcare costs with solar and wind either.

Once all of the available solar and wind Merit Order ranking (0) capacity is brought online by the utility company, then (1) nuclear, (2) coal, and (3) natural gas (in that order) are brought online, as required to match demand, according to the marginal cost of each type of energy. (German Merit Order rankings)

NOTE: In the U.S. the normal Merit Order rankings are; (0) solar and wind, (1) coal, (2) nuclear, and (3) natural gas, although this can change in some parts of the United States. Merit Order is based on cost per kWh and different regions of the country have different fuel costs.

(The one cost that is never factored-in to the kWh price is the cost of disposal for nuclear ‘spent fuel’ and for good reason, but that’s a discussion for a different day)

The Fraunhofer Institute found – as far back as 2007 – that as a result of the Merit Order ranking system – solar power had reduced the price of electricity on the EPEX exchange by 10 percent on the average, with reductions peaking at up to 40 percent in the early afternoon when the most solar power is generated.

Here’s how the Merit Order works.

All available sources of electrical generation are ranked by their marginal costs, from cheapest to most expensive, with the cheapest having the most merit.

The marginal cost is the cost of producing one additional unit of electricity. Electricity sources with a higher fuel cost have a higher marginal cost. If one unit of fuel costs $X, 2 units will cost $X times 2. This ranking is called the order of merit of each source, or the Merit Order.

Using Merit Order to decide means the source with the lowest marginal cost must be used first when there is a need to add more power to the grid – like during sunny afternoon peak hours.

Using the lowest marginal costs first was designed so that cheaper fuels were used first to save consumers money. In the German market, this was nuclear, then coal, then natural gas.

But 2 hours of sunshine cost no more than 1 of sunshine: therefore it has a lower marginal cost than coal – or any source with any fuel cost whatsoever.

So, under the Merit Order ranking of relative marginal costs, devised before there was this much fuel-free energy available on the grid, solar always has the lowest marginal cost during these peaks because two units of solar is no more expensive than one. – Susan Kraemer

It’s as simple as this; With no fuel cost, solar and wind cost less. Although solar and wind are expensive to construct initially (but not as expensive as large hydro-electric dams or large nuclear power plants!) there are no ongoing fuel costs, nor fuel transportation costs, nor fuel supply disruptions, nor lack of rainfalls, to factor into the final retail electricity price.

As solar panel and wind turbine prices continue to drop thereby encouraging more solar and wind installations, we will hear more about Merit Order ranking and less about variability. And that’s as it should be, as all types of grid energy face at least one variability or another.

Only solar, wind, hydro-electric, and nuclear have a predictable kWh price every day of the year. Coal, natural gas, and bunker fuel, do not. And that’s everything in the energy business.

Although utility companies were slower than consumers to embrace renewable energy, many are now seeing potential benefits for their business and henceforth things will begin to change. So we can say goodbye to the chatter about the Variability of Renewable Energy and utility companies can say goodbye fuel-related price spikes.

Buckle up, because big changes are coming to the existing utility model that will benefit consumers and the environment alike.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @JBSNews_com

Modi changes India’s national conversation with Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon.

Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi of India. Image courtesy of: www.narendramodi.in
Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi of India. Image courtesy: www.narendramodi.in

India’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi says 400 million Indian citizens presently living without electrical service in rural areas of the country will have electricity within five years via upcoming, massive investments in solar power.

Not only that, but the country’s various electrical grids (which are not necessarily connected to each other, nor to the main national grid) will benefit significantly from thousands of distributed solar installations by adding to overall capacity and helping to stabilize weaker parts of the infrastructure.

PM-elect Modi sees no reason why each rooftop in the country cannot install a number of solar panels. Indeed, when millions of rooftops are involved with an average of 10 panels per rooftop (for example), and plenty of land that is unsuitable for growing crops and entire canal systems are already covered with solar panels, you know big numbers are coming.

So, what could India do with 1 billion solar panels?

For starters, every home and business in the country could have reliable (daytime) electricity. Many towns and villages in remote areas would have electrical power for the first time in their history, thereby allowing them entry into the world’s knowledge-based economy. With the advent of electricity, education and commerce should flourish and easy access to online government services will offer significant benefit to many millions of India’s citizens.

And for locations with home-battery backup or diesel-backup power, 24-hour-per-day electricity will become the norm. Employment and productivity in these regions could be expected to rise dramatically and online medical advice could be a lifesaver for those who live in remote areas. All of these are good things to have in a rapidly developing nation.

Then there is the possibility of electrical power sales between electrical power producers and energy consumers of all sizes, whether neighbour-to-neighbour or direct-to-utility, along the projected pathways of the constantly evolving grid system. Finally, (daytime) surplus electricity sales to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan might become commonplace and profitable.

Mr. Modi is taking on an unparalleled task, fraught with challenges. Here is a comment on the present state of affairs in India as it relates to the proposed rural electrification of the country.

Four hundred million Indians, more than the population of the United States and Canada combined, lack electricity. An official of India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, recently said that his government wants every home to be able to run at least one light bulb by 2019. Administrations have made similar claims numerous times since India gained independence in 1947, but this time renewable power sources could bring the longstanding promise closer to a realistic vision.

In a sprawling, diverse country of more than 1.2 billion residents this task is tantamount to a second green revolution, the first being agricultural advances that relieved famine across the subcontinent in the middle of the 20th century. — ThinkProgress

India’s utility industry is at a ‘tipping point’

The Indian utility industry is comprised of a mishmash of coal-fired generation, less than reliable nuclear power plants noted for their high maintenance costs, oil-fired power generation, along with some hydro-electric dams and biomass power generation. The ‘pylons and powerlines’ component of the national grid in India is in need of a complete overhaul. On top of all that, the fossil and nuclear power producers have been heavily subsidized for decades and theft of electricity continues to be a multi-billion dollar problem.

Prior to the Indian election, the country’s utility industry was summed up by industry expert, S.L. Rao;

Power retailers were behind on 155 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) of payments to their suppliers as of Jan. 31, reducing their ability to provide electricity to customers. Blackouts may spread as state utilities in Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra slash consumer bills in a populist wave before elections. That’s jeopardizing a $31 billion government bailout of the industry, which requires companies to boost rates.

“The power sector needs tough politics, and the only person in politics today who might be capable of that kind of toughness is Modi,” said S.L. Rao, the head of India’s central electricity regulator from 1998 to 2001, according to his website.

The Indian utility industry “has reached a stage where either we change the whole system quickly or it will collapse.” Rao, who was appointed to the regulatory body by an independent committee, said he maintains no political affiliation. — Bloomberg

On the bright side however, India’s outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begun a process to inform citizens of the benefits of renewable energy and was instrumental in promoting a 4 GigaWatt(GW) solar park being built in four stages. At present it is only partially operational, with 1GW of power flowing now and construction of the three remaining stages continues at a brisk pace. When completed, it will easily be the largest solar park in the world.

Dr. Singh also directed policy towards massive wind power capacity additions, with major offshore wind installations due to come online in 2015. However, even with the efforts of PM Singh, only 4% of total electrical generation came from renewable energy in 2013. Prime Minister Singh’s policy goal of 20GW of solar by 2022 looks likely to be superceded by PM-elect Modi. Perhaps in dramatic fashion.

Tulsi Tanti, Chairman of the Pune India based wind power company The Suzlon Group, told the newswire today that, “the BJP-led government will provide an environment conducive for growth and investments, with major reforms in the infrastructure and renewable energy sector. This is important as India’s economic environment will act as a catalyst in reviving the global economy.” — Forbes

It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work

Hundreds of thousands of direct and related jobs are expected during the 2014-2024 Indian renewable energy boom. And, bonus for consumers, the falling cost of solar and wind power electricity rates will have an overall deflationary effect on the national economy.

Later, as solar and wind power begin to displace fossil and nuclear power, declining healthcare costs, improved crop yields, cleaner air in cities resulting in a better quality of life for citizens — the new and stable energy paradigm will remove many of the historic constraints on the country and its people, allowing India to become all that it can and should be.

At this point, it looks like India’s transition to renewable energy may happen quickly and turn out to be the good-news story of the decade with massive economic, environmental, and human health ramifications — not just for India but for the region and the world. Hats off to India!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @JBSsaid

Vertical Farming gets ready to Grow

by John Brian Shannon.

Brooklyn Grange, a one acre urban farm on top of industrial 6 story industrial building in the Long Island City neighbourhood of Queens.
Brooklyn Grange is a 1-acre farm on top of an industrial 6-story building in New York City. Plans are on to lease some of the top floors which will turn Brooklyn Grange into a true Vertical Farm – as opposed to an outdoor rooftop farm. brooklyngrangefarm.com

Vertical Farming to increase local food production in cities

As the global population tracks toward 10 billion by 2060 and evermore potential farmland is scooped up by developers for residences, commercial buildings and industrial use, vertical farming looks to be a viable way to grow fruits and vegetables within cities — as opposed to hundreds or thousands of miles away.

According to the UN, the combined land area under agricultural land management on the planet is equal in size to the entire South American continent. Before 2060, an additional land area the size of Brazil will be required to grow crops for human consumption and to grow feed for livestock if we continue to employ present agriculture policies. Only the best land can be used for agriculture or the crops simply fail, while livestock underperform in sub-optimal conditions.

Finding more locations with acceptable levels of rainfall and sunshine, nutrient-rich well-drained soil, and the proper topographical profile will become even more of a challenge in the coming years. Of prime importance for food producers is the location of farming and ranching operations as spoilage/shipping costs often soar with increased distance-to-market.

Potential to Save billions of gallons of water

The huge water capacity required for conventional agriculture and ranching is a major issue. Extremely high levels of water usage result in high costs for farmers which are then passed on to consumers. Soil erosion, water shortages, and massive contamination of waterways are also significant and growing problems. Unimaginable quantities of water are required for crops to flourish, while astonishing water loss rates due to evaporation and fertilizer/pesticide runoff polluting our rivers and coastal areas now rank among our most serious marine pollution problems.

In Arizona, it takes an average of 25 gallons of water to grow one head of Romaine lettuce. In California, growing a head of Romaine lettuce requires 20 gallons of water. In the vertical farming scenario, growing one head of Romaine lettuce uses only .33 of a gallon, and with zero pesticide use involved and no losses to wildlife/drought/flooding. 

You might not think it, but agriculture is one of the most studied sectors on the planet. Even NASA is involved. Data is downloaded from high-tech NASA satellites and is made available to farmers and ranchers on a daily basis. Radar, thermal imaging and weather satellites all contribute their datasets to help the people who grow our food, to produce even more. And it works. Almost every year, the U.S., Canada and Europe show a larger ‘bumper crop’ than the year before.

All of these factors however, conspire to add to the final price that consumers pay. This means that we have a system that works, as it produces plenty of food and crop yields seem to increase every year. But it is extraordinarily expensive. Let’s review (conventional production method) costs that affect the final price at the market.

  • Entire satellite systems and government departments devoted to enhancing crop yields.
  • Massive transportation systems to move and warehouse food.
  • Obscene levels of water consumption/wastage.
  • Highly contaminated water runoff into formerly pristine rivers/lakes/coastal ocean areas.
  • High rates of food spoilage during transportation/storage (up to 30% in some countries).
  • Land contamination and degradation, including soil erosion.
  • Loss of natural habitat for wildlife.
  • Loss of land for human uses, such as homes, or sport & recreation.
  • Gigatonnes of fertilizers and pesticides which are derived from highly-refined petroleum.
  • Price spikes due to extreme weather events such as drought, hurricane/typhoon, flooding.
  • Expensive GMO technology to combat natural pests and weather challenges.
  • Huge research budgets (government, industry and academia) to solve crop failure/livestock disease problems.
  • Chemical sprays or radiation treatment (irradiation) to control bacteria prior to transport or storage.

Vertical Farming to lower food costs for consumers

Vertical farming adroitly bypasses all of the above problems and more by producing food (and small livestock) very close to, or within population centres. In the vertical farming scenario, all of the food produced is consumed locally, thereby negating the need for warehousing, trans-ocean shipping, trans-national rail, producer-to-city and city-to-city trucking.

Food spoilage/wastage is dramatically lowered due to the rapid delivery times that are possible when delivering ultra-fresh produce within one city — as compared to shipping/warehousing produce grown hundreds or thousands of miles away.

No multi-billion dollar NASA satellite systems required! No loss of animal or human habitat, no polluted waterways, no GMO’s, no price spikes. Perhaps most profoundly of all, millions of gallons of water per hectare/per season are no longer required, thereby freeing up that water for human consumption, for use by fish and wildlife, and for hydro-electric power production. Some rivers in the United States have stopped flowing their historic route to the sea, as ALL of the water in the watershed gets diverted for farming and ranching use long before it reaches the ocean. Bad for the fish that once lived in those river systems too.

Can you think of a better use for vacant office towers than hydroponic food growing operations?

Lower pollution levels due to dramatically lower transportation mileage (per megatonne of produce) is just one reason why governments may want to assist with startup funding for such operations. Want another reason? Many more local jobs will be produced — permanent jobs that can never be outsourced to another state or country.

Yet another benefit concerns grocery store operators; Fresh, undamaged produce that is only one-day away from their store shelves. “The Bridge is Out” or “Snow Closes Highway” or “Train Derailment Blocks Access to Town” — all of these types of news headlines are non-problems for Vertical Farming operations, grocery stores, and the customers who rely on the stores.

Vertical Farming Quiz: Did you know?

  • In the United States most food travels an average of 1500 miles from producer to consumer
  • Indoor hydroponic farming uses 80% less water than conventional farming techniques
  • Vertical farming operations filter massive amounts of pollutants out of city air
  • Vertical farming continuously recycles the water it requires

Some foresighted organizations have already embarked on such projects. In Milan Italy, they are building purpose-built concrete highrise residential buildings with a forest as part of the architecture. Milan’s attempt to clean that city’s incredibly polluted air now include an outdoor vertical forest — equal to a natural forest 1-hectare in size — that will purge tonnes of pollutants and particulates from city air. Bosco Verticale (see below) is Milan’s first such project.

Bosco Verticale. Milan, Italy.
Bosco Verticale. Milan, Italy. (This two-building complex will be ready for Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy)

 

Vertical farming, offices and residences combined. Urban cactus Rotterdam, Netherlands
Vertical farming, offices and residences combined. Urban Cactus, Rotterdam, Netherlands. (This combined luxury office tower and residential suites complex is already complete and occupied)

Vertical farming image for illustrative purposes only. Vertical farming by Chris Jacobs
Artistic rendering of a Vertical Farming purpose-built building. ‘Vertical farming’ by Chris Jacobs. (Cylindrical building shape allows more natural light to fall on the plants)

Additional Vertical Farming information:

Working Vertical Farming operations:

Vertical forest/office tower/residences/air pollution mitigation system, under construction:

Future Urban Farming Event:

  • International Conference on Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture 2014 (click here to visit website). September 9-10, 2014 at the University Of Nottingham, UK

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter at: @EVcentral

Renewable Energy: The Time for Greater Ambition is Now

by John Brian Shannon.

Just as some in the renewable energy world were beginning to imagine that the battle against fossil fuel was largely won and that it was only a matter of time before we achieved 100% renewable energy globally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning informing us that now more than ever, the push for renewable energy must not lose momentum.

That’s on account of our cumulative CO2 additions to the atmosphere which are in the billions of tonnes annually. It’s one thing to add gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere, but it’s quite another for the Earth’s natural systems to process and absorb those gases out of the atmosphere at the same rate as they are added.

The planet’s natural systems are capable of absorbing up to 40 gigatonnes of CO2 per year which is produced by decaying organic matter and such natural phenomena as forest fires and volcanoes, but it’s not capable of handling an additional 15 gigatonnes of anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide annually.

As the (IPCC) AR5 report has recently said, “the time for greater ambition is now.”

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises. The report identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world. It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of Working Group II. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

Why we have Global Warming

It has also been proven that as many gigatonnes of CO2 as cannot be processed annually by natural Earth systems, will linger in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. That means that the present unabsorbed accumulation is an extremely large amount of carbon dioxide which would take 40 years for the planet’s natural systems to process and absorb, if we permanently stopped every internal combustion engine and every man-made combustion source on the planet. We know that’s not going to happen.

This extra 600 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide is the ‘carbon hangover’ which began during the industrial revolution causing the atmosphere to retain more of the Sun’s heat as compared to the benchmark pre-industrial-era atmosphere. Accumulations of CO2 in the planet’s airmass have already increased the global mean temperature by nearly 2º C since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1760.

There are other greenhouse gases more potent than CO2 which have even more Global Warming Potential (GWP). For instance, sulfur hexafluoride stays in the atmosphere for 3200 years and causes 23,900 times more global warming per tonne, as compared to carbon dioxide.

See a partial list of these gases below:

Global Warming Potentials chart
Global Warming Potentials chart shows different pollutants and their effects

If we had planted an extra 600 million trees forty years ago, we wouldn’t be facing an extra 600 gigatonnes of CO2 now, as a typical large tree can absorb 1 tonne of carbon dioxide per year converting much of it into life-giving oxygen in the process.

As per the IPCC AR5 update of March 31, while a number of things are going right in the energy sector in terms of advancing renewable energy, the lowering of pollution levels in many cities and adding green jobs to the economy, now is not the time to reduce our efforts thereby shirking our responsibilities to future generations.

What happens if we just ignore the problem?

Of course, we could just ignore the entire problem and spend more money on increasing health care costs, non-stop rebuilding of coastal shorelines, and the dual but related costs of severe weather and increasing food prices.

But here is what that looks like.

Climate Action vs. Inaction
The cost of Climate Action vs. Climate Inaction

Scientists have concluded that for each 1º C increase in the global mean temperature, the cost to the world economy is roughly $1 trillion dollars per year.

It’s already a foregone conclusion that we will see a global mean temperature increase of 2º C (minimum) 2001-2100 due to ever-increasing 21st-century accumulations of CO2. That future temperature increase will be in addition to the previous ~2º C increase which took place during the 240 years between 1760-2000.

What the discussion is all about these days, is capping the second global mean temperature increase to 2º C — instead of ‘policy drift’ allowing an even higher level of climate change to occur.

The energy status quo is no longer affordable

The energy status quo is simply no longer an option as we now discover that the cost of climate inaction is higher than the cost of climate action. Switching out of coal via renewable energy and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and electrical grids might cost us $500 billion globally — but could cap our generation’s contribution to global warming at 2º C.

Interestingly, $500 billion is roughly equal to the annual subsidy paid to the global oil and gas industry, which totalled $550 billion last year.

The last anthropogenic ~2º C temperature increase took place over 240 years, from 1760-2000. The best-case scenario for us 2001-2100 is to hold the next anthropogenic temperature increase to no more than ~2º C (for a grand total increase of ~4º C increase over the 340 year period from 1760-2100). If all the stars were to align perfectly this goal is just barely possible.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. As the IPCC has said, “the time for greater ambition is now.”

Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) theme: Act Together, Think Creative

Next-up on the agenda for people who care about our planet, the health of our citizens, and the high costs to consumers — who are, after all, the ones footing the climate bill via higher taxes and higher food and health care costs — is the fifth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) meet-up in South Korea May 12-13, 2014.

CEM5 Seoul, South Korea May 12-13, 2014

Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) group government ministers and representatives will meet May 12-13, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea, under the theme of “Act Together, Think Creative” which suggests increased collaboration and innovation by the 23 participating governments as the preferred way to achieve real climate action, culminating in a new international climate agreement in 2015.

From the CEM5 website:

With four years of work behind the CEM, this year’s gathering presents an opportunity to evaluate how the CEM has performed to date and plan for how this global forum can be more effective and ambitious going forward. As in years past, CEM5 will provide ministers with an opportunity to be briefed on the latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress report from the International Energy Agency, hear the status of global clean energy investment from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, participate in public-private roundtables on key crosscutting clean energy topics, and assess progress made through the 13 CEM initiatives. 

Most importantly, CEM5 will offer ministers an opportunity to discuss ways to increase collaboration and action for greater impact—to generate more rapid progress toward CEM’s overall goal of accelerating the transition to a global clean energy economy. The discussions will focus on identifying smart policies, programs, and innovative strategies to increase energy efficiency, enhance clean energy supply, and expand energy access.

CEM5 will feature six public-private roundtables on the following crosscutting clean energy topics:

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter at: @EVcentral

Vehicle to Grid connection saves money, stabilizes grid

by John Brian Shannon.

Nissan’s LEAF-to-Home programme is a tiny but great example of what a fleet of electric vehicles can do for an electrical grid, and it’s a programme that could theoretically be scaled-up to any size.

Such Vehicle to Grid systems are presently undergoing testing at various facilities around the world, and admirably, Nissan is the main driver of this technology so far.

In a Nissan office tower in Atsugi City, Japan, Nissan has six LEAF electric vehicles connected to the building’s electrical power system via Nissan’s PCS charging system. During the hours of peak electricity demand/peak pricing, the six LEAF batteries provide a substantial amount of power to the building, but are fully recharged and ready for driving by the end of each workday.

So far, Nissan reports no problems and they further report that these six LEAF’s have saved 25.6 KW of electricity (equivalent to $5000/year) at the Atsugi City office building.

Nissan LEAF testing in Atsugi, Japan powers office building during peak electricity demand, saving some 25.6 KW per year -- saving $5000. per year in peak electricity costs.
Nissan LEAF testing in Atsugi City, Japan powers office building during peak electricity demand, saving some $5000. per year in ‘peak electricity rate’ costs. Image courtesy of Nissan.

Time to Scale it Up?

Imagine a large corporation, government department, delivery service, or other fleet that operates (let’s say) 12,000 cars, and each group of six cars saves them $5000. per year on peak electricity charges, as per the Nissan results. We’re talking savings of $10 million dollars per year.

Part of employee remuneration packages

Many organizations provide a ‘company vehicle’ as part of the employee remuneration plan, but why shouldn’t that organization ALSO save $5000. per each six cars on peak electricity charges per year, AND allow their employees to take the cars home at night to help the employee save money on their electricity bill (by plugging the car in and feeding off of the almost fully charged vehicle battery at home) as a further remuneration perk.

Hint to employees; Remember to retain enough battery power in the car to get to work in the morning, and then leave at the end of the workday with a ‘full charge’ courtesy of the company you work for. Yes, every workday of the year.

Not only does this minor perk save the employee from ever paying for ‘fuel’ as all the recharging is done at the office via the employer’s connection, but the corporation receives a very significant benefit when the LEAF is plugged in at the office by lowering annual electricity costs.

Assuming an organization has a ‘company car’ programme, this is the one employee perk that doesn’t cost the company any additional money, it saves the company money. For example, while a gasmobile costs the company $32,000. to purchase, the LEAF with PCS likewise costs the company $32,000. to purchase — but significantly, the LEAF saves the company $833. every year (or more) for the life of the car in electricity costs, and features much lower maintenance costs than a gasmobile. 

Your corporate fleet change-up

If your corporation’s vehicle fleet is comprised of one-thousand cars, you should get a nice promotion for suggesting that your corporation could save $833,000. (per year, every year) on it’s electricity bill, and simultaneously help it to stabilize the office building electricity flows, by switching the fleet to the Nissan LEAF and the Nissan LEAF PCS charging system as it becomes available.

Electric Vehicle batteries store incredible amounts of energy

Not only that, even with most of the fleet on the road during the day, the remaining connected vehicles could easily power the entire complex should a grid power outage occur. Your fellow employees might not realize that a major power failure has occurred unless they hear about it on the news channel.

While your competitors are off looking for flashlights and candles and checking to see if the phones still work, your company will continue to take orders for goods and services, and get the orders that your competitors normally would get, were they not in the dark.

Your boss will love you. Say it with me; “Promotion… plus bonus.” It has such a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

So, how much are those Nissan LEAF’s anyway?

With incentives and rebates included, the LEAF costs about the same as any comparable car (at least in the U.S. and Canada) especially once you factor in the (Nissan figure of $833. per year/per LEAF) peak demand electricity savings and much lower maintenance costsThe decision to choose the LEAF over a comparable gasmobile is a no-brainer, once the LEAF PCS charging station hits the market. 

*Depending what your local utility company charges during periods of peak demand, your corporation’s annual electricity savings could be less, or significantly more as peak rates rise over the coming years.*

The Microgrid Scenario

Where Vehicle to Grid battery storage might really shine is in the microgrid scenario. For this, we need to think about a remote island or town, located far from major electrical grids. So distant, that it would cost multi-millions, or even billions of dollars to run ‘pylons and powerlines’ to that remote location.

A surprising number of towns and small cities in Australia, China, Russia, and many African countries face this very dilemma. Towns or small cities are often remotely located for good reasons such as local resource extraction projects or agricultural production and would require multi-millions of grid connection dollars and lengthy timeframes for such infrastructure to be built.

Alternatively, on-site diesel generators could be employed (and often are) but come complete with a constant supply of diesel fuel tankers to feed the always-thirsty generators.

Both have been employed over recent decades to meet remote energy demand. In both scenarios the electricity is supplied to the remote location — but the economics don’t work and in both cases, the rest of the customer base ends up subsidizing the whole operation whether they realize it or not.

Where a (solar) microgrid is not connected to a larger grid but some of the cars remain plugged in during the day, much more of the electricity collected all day by the solar panels can be stored — thereby becoming available for later use.

It is typical of most solar panel arrays that they collect vastly more energy than most locations can utilize during the day, which then becomes wasted energy if it can’t be stored. Adding a fleet of usually plugged in electric vehicles to the equation changes that factor significantly. In that case, almost all of the power collected by the solar panels is stored for later use.

Scalability of Vehicle to Grid

Getting back to the ‘scalability’ of the Vehicle to Grid equation; Imagine if half of the cars in a large metropolitan area like Beijing, Tokyo, or Sao Paulo, were EV’s connected to the larger grid when they weren’t being driven. Say goodbye to fossil fuel power generation! Solar arrays and wind farms combined with V-to-G technology could power our cities and add plenty of capacity to our grids.

Oh, and parking meters, remember those? Well, those could be the new charge-up/charge-down stations, so that all cars can connect and contribute to the grid whenever they’re not being driven, yet retain ample charge for driving when their owners return.

Talk about transformative change!

If half of Beijing’s cars were electric vehicles instead of gasmobiles, many thousands of tons of airborne pollutants would no longer block the sunlight all day and be filtered through the lungs of Beijing residents 365 days of the year. And this could be done in many of the world’s major cities, not just Beijing. Clearly though, the air quality in some of China’s cities has significant room for improvement as the Chinese economy continues to thrive.

Just the health care savings alone would become monuments to visionary politicians who enact and promote such positive and ultimately, historic change.

Vehicle to Grid is such a transformative idea, it would be unthinkable to not pursue it. I fully expect the wonderful and accomplished C40 Cities Initiative to adopt V-to-G as a solution to the air pollution problem in many of the world’s cities and I have every hope for V-to-G to become one of the C40’s prime directives.

It might just prove to be what the doctor ordered for the health of residents in cities and towns everywhere.

The Promise of Vehicle to Grid technology

  1. Saving corporations thousands, or millions of dollars per year in peak demand electricity costs 
  2. Adding value to employee remuneration packages 
  3. Adding to grid stability and capacity
  4. Precluding the entry of thousands, or millions of tons of airborne pollution, thereby significantly helping to clear the skies in the world’s largest and most polluted cities 
  5. Lowering national health care costs and improved citizen health

That is the promise of Vehicle to Grid technology.

If you want cleaner air, lower electricity costs, a more stable grid with more capacity and lower health care costs for your region, email your politicians and tell them you want those benefits for your city, courtesy of Vehicle to Grid technology.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @EVcentral