- Deja Vu All Over Again: Congressional Republicans Intent on Nixing Wind, Renewable Energy Growth
- New “Flow” Battery Does that Cheap Energy Storage Thing
- On One-Year Anniversary of Solyndra, Nothing to Report
- EV in a Frightening Chinese Haze
- How Much Solar Costs & How Much You Could Save on Electricity in Your State (Infographic)
- Payroll Tax Bill’s Missed Opportunity (SEIA’s Comments)
- Solar Training Courses, More of Them
Posted: 18 Feb 2012 08:53 AM PST
Congressional Republicans this past week scuttled an effort to extend the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy as part of a bill that renews Pres. Obama’s payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extension.
Both Democrats and Republicans want economic growth and development–just ask any one or the other any time. It’s abundantly clear that they have irreconcilable differences as to just what kind of growth is good growth, as well as how best to go about fostering it in the current economic and social environment, however.
The wind energy PTC has been a boon to US market and industry going though youthful growing pains. It’s helped attract billions of dollars of investment, helped create many thousands of good jobs in an emerging industry that’s going to prove vital in the decades ahead, reduced our dependence on oil imports, yielded substantial avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, air, water and land pollution, and improved health conditions.
Clearly, Republicans won’t stand for any such things. ‘Socialism!,’ they cry. ‘Unfair subsidies!’ ‘It’s the government deficit and huge debt that matters!’ Such hyperbole and rhetoric falls flat on its can when you consider that the same “public” representatives refuse to vote similarly and eliminate subsidies many times the size and scope of the wind and renewable energy PTC.
Adding insult to injury, those longstanding federal subsidies continue to benefit one of the largest, most profitable industries of the industrial, or any other, age–oil and gas. Why such outrageous hypocrisy? Why do voters buy it?
In politics as in movie-land murder mysteries: Cherchez la money–superPAC and lobbying money in this case, as well as all the other perqs enjoyed by our many bought-and-paid-for Congressional representatives–junkets, “business” trips, discrete, paid-for conference vacations, timely deposits to bank accounts in offshore tax havens…Who knows? The sky’s the limit, ya know, in our circus merry-go-round of a political system because corporate donors are going to get paid back many times over.
A Brief History of the Energy Production Tax Credit
The PTC for wind and renewable energy, or power, production is actually a relatively recent creation. Established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992, it’s intended “to stimulate use of renewable technologies for power production by providing a production-based credit for the first ten years of project operations beginning at 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh),” adjusted upwards for inflation in future years, explains Ryan Wiser, Mark Bolinger and Galen Barbose of the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in a 2007 paper entitled, “Using the Federal Production Tax Credit to Build a Durable Market for Wind Power in the United States.”
Only wind and “closed-loop” biomass were originally eligible for the PTC. Companies in the emerging solar and geothermal industries were eligible to receive an investment tax credit (ITC).
By 2007, the inflation-adjusted value of the PTC was 2 cents per kWh ($0.20 cents per megawatt-hour (MWh)), and it had been expanded to include geothermal. Hydro power, landfill gas and municipal solid waste to energy systems were made eligible for a PTC at half that rate, while non-renewable energy sources, including refined coal, Indian coal and nuclear power are also eligible for PTCs. Solar energy was eligible for the PTC briefly, from 2004 through 2005.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) summarizes the two principal federal subsidies supporting the US wind energy industry. “Under present law, the PTC provides an income tax credit of 2.2 cents/kilowatt-hour for the production of electricity from utility-scale wind turbines. The PTC is set to expire on December 31, 2012.
“Additionally, through Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, wind project developers can choose to receive a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) in place of the PTC. For projects placed in service before 2013, at which construction begins before the end of 2011, developers can elect to receive an equivalent cash payment from the Department of Treasury for the value of the 30% ITC.”
The Dramatic Economic Impact of Wind Energy PTC Extensions and Lapses
At the time the Berkeley Lab paper was written, wind power met less than 1% of US electricity needs, but the stimulative effect of the PTC was clear and positive. The effect on other renewable energy industries was not yet substantial for other renewable energy sources, in part because they had been eligible for the PTC for only a short period of time, the authors noted.
Creating Boom-Bust Cycles
Even at that time, it was clear that alternating lapses and renewals of the wind energy PTC, typically over 1-2 year periods, has created cycles of boom and bust in the US wind energy industry, however.
According to the authors, “Partly as a result of the PTC, the U.S. has led the world in newly installed wind power capacity for the last two years. Nearly $4 billion was invested in new U.S. wind projects in 2006 alone and, since the PTC began in 1994, U.S. wind plant additions represent an aggregate investment of roughly $13 billion.”
Peering out into the future, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab in 2007 used a model specifically designed to forecast wind deployment, the authors noted. The results: Extending the PTC through 2020 “could stimulate enough wind power to serve as much as 17% of the nation's electricity supply by 2030.”
Ongoing Congressional battles over renewal of the wind energy PTC have continued since 2007, and so have the boom-bust cycles, as is clearly illustrated in the following chart produced by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
Repercussions and Future Course of Action
The instability of the federal wind energy PTC had severe, negative repercussions for the US wind energy market and industry back in 2007, repercussions that hold true today as Congressional Republicans continue to thwart efforts to renew the wind energy PTC. Among them, the Berkeley Lab paper’s authors listed:
The AWEA recently released a Navigant Consulting research report examining the wide-ranging, potential impacts renewing the wind energy PTC or allowing it to expire would have.
According to numerous studies and for energy policy experts, it’s clear that the wind energy PTC has had large and wide-ranging benefits for the US economy. Increased wind energy investment and project development since 2007 has been a sorely needed bright spot for the US in terms of investment, economic growth and green job creation, while at the same time reducing our dependence on imported petroleum and significantly the amount of clean, renewable energy produced and consumed domestically. It’s also yielded substantial tax revenues to local, state and the federal government.
Passing a long-term extension of the wind and renewable energy PTC would enable the US to build on that trend. Allowing it to expire threatens all of the above. This begs the question,” Why are Congressional representatives voting against it?”
Posted: 18 Feb 2012 06:02 AM PST
Scientists on the lookout for utility-scale, high efficiency batteries are developing new “flow”systems that that store energy more effectively than lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries, but there’s a catch. The flow batteries in operation now are about the size of a house and they cost more than the equivalent in lithium-ion batteries. The race is on to find smaller, cheaper alternatives and researchers at Sandia National Laboratories believe that they are on to the solution, which is, in fact, a solution of liquid salts called MetILs.
The limits of lithium-ion for wind and solar
Lithium-ion batteries have been the gold standard of energy storage solutions for a long time, but they fall short when it comes to the utility-scale systems needed to keep up with new high efficiency wind turbines and advanced solar technology. The cost of lithium-ion batteries is one factor. Another is their relatively short lifespan, compared to flow batteries. According to Sandia chemist Travis Anderson, a flow battery can withstand about 14,000 cycles, which adds up to about 20 years of energy storage.
Flow battery basics
Flow batteries work by converting chemical energy into electricity. Stephanie Hobby of Sandia explains it thusly:
“A flow battery pumps a solution of free-floating charged metal ions, dissolved in an electrolyte — substance with free-floating ions that conducts electricity — from an external tank through an electrochemical cell to convert chemical energy into electricity.”
Flow batteries charge and discharge rapidly, and they have a long lifespan, but all is not perfect in flow battery land. The most promising systems so far use zinc bromine and vanadium, both of which are “moderately toxic” according to Hobby. In addition, the price of vanadium can spike wildly on the open market.
The Sandia “American-made energy” solution
In keeping with President Obama’s theme of developing American-made energy, the Sandia team focused on low cost, non-toxic substances that can be dug up out of American soil, including iron, copper and manganese. Working from this foundation the team designed a new family of liquids, the aforementioned MetILs, which stands for Metal-based Ionic Liquids.
By using metal based liquids, the team was able to eliminate the use of water-based solutions that are the foundation of conventional flow batteries (water limits the energy density of the battery, and makes it more susceptible to fluctuations in outside temperatures).
With a few additional tweaks, the result is a flow battery that could be far smaller, cheaper, and more efficient than anything else in development market today.
About those tweaks…
As Hobby points out, so far the research has focused primarily on materials for the cathode. There is still the anode to deal with, so the new battery won’t be ready for the market any time soon. In the mean time, the Sandia crew better act fast – researchers at MIT are also working on a new high tech, low cost battery of their own.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 07:00 PM PST
by Richard W. Caperton
Today, the fruitless investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee turns one year old. Sadly, fruit is the traditional gift on the fourth anniversary. So what do you give on a first-anniversary to someone who already demanded all the paper they could ever need for the rest of their lives?
On February 17, 2011, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu requesting all DOE communication about the decision to issue a loan guarantee to Solyndra. Thus began the most over-hyped, over-covered, and over-examined stories in recent memory — including Tim Tebow.
Since Upton and Stearns sent their letter, the House has received 185,000 pages of documents, held ten hearings, heard from 26 witnesses, and issued two subpoenas. Despite this, they have yet to find any evidence of improper behavior.
The key figure in the House investigation has been Stearns. Not since Ponce de Leon went searching for the Fountain of Youth has a Floridian led a less successful hunt for an illusive prize. To be fair to de Leon, at least he knew what he was looking for and had he found it, his youth would have been restored. Stearns didn't even know what a loan guarantee was as recently as October, and this investigation is definitely getting old.
It's not as if the House Republicans are the only people pursuing this story. The mainstream press has devoted countless column inches and hours of coverage to the Solyndra non-story, while virtually ignoring real scandals that are a full order of magnitude bigger in dollar terms.
While House Republicans have wasted day after day in hearings, independent analyses continue to find that the DOE loan guarantee program is actually exceeding expectations. Most recently, Herb Allison — John McCain's former national finance chair — led a team of accountants and auditors who found that the Program will cost a full $2 billion less than DOE initially expected. This follows analyses by Bloomberg Government, who found "The focus on Solyndra is not proportional to its impact," and the Congressional Research Service, who found that the great majority of guarantees were extremely low risk.
Instead of wasting more staff time and taxpayer dollars on a fishing expedition for political scandal, it's time for the House to do things that can actually move clean energy forward and put Americans back to work, like extending the Production Tax Credit, passing a clean energy standard, and creating a Clean Energy Deployment Administration. That would be a gift all Americans would welcome.
Richard W. Caperton is director of clean energy finance at the Center for American Progress.
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 01:59 PM PST
About 8 years ago, I was fortunate to spend a month in Northern China. It wasn’t all doom and gloom and it left me with a profound respect for the country, its people, and its thriving economy. Yesterday, I responded to a study which concluded that use of electric vehicles in China would contribute to Chinese air pollution. Technical problems prevent me from responding there to the many issues raised in the comments section. Some will be addressed here.
Why Refute an Article About EV Use in China?
The short answer is “Rhetoric,” which is essentially the study of arguments and a basis for most advertising. But adverts are not limited to what we expect to buy and sell. Sadly, there are also negative ad campaigns for products, just like those we see during elections. Electric vehicle adoption is a hotly contested issue. It is contested by existing, well-funded oil interests, and understandably so. Oil has a near monopoly as our transportation fuel. Along with that economic power comes some political power. I would expect oil executives to fight to maintain their market share. Our corporate structure essentially demands it. But every act of protection is also an act of fear. And so I agree with brotherkenny’s comment that the fossil fuel industry is fearful.
Battles involve tactics. One is to confuse definitions. The study mentioned the pollutant “particulates,” but references to the study only referred to “pollution.” The study mentioned China and high coal usage, but these facts are easily dropped as later writers use a questionable study as ammunition against electric transportation, another tactic. Comments like Ggagnon76′s “…Are you, as a consumer…” assure me the target for this rhetoric is the buying public and not a Chinese EV, as does Steve K, who wants us to “Look at societal costs….”
An EV Advocate
We sit today as if we were Odysseus between Scylla and Charybdis, two irresistible forces waiting to destroy us. On one side, we are destroying and polluting our environment. On the other side, we are at a critical stage with the very energy supplies we used to build our present civilization. We are not running out of oil. That might be easier to deal with. Perhaps we could agree on the obvious. Instead, a demand for oil exceeding our supply, potential interruptions, and increasing costs for energy, threaten our economic health, security, and even indirectly our environment.
Ggagnon76 and Steve K seem to feel as if oil is an endless spigot. They say our grid is fragile. They want to reframe the issue to focus on where are we going to get our electricity BECAUSE of the electric vehicle demand. Bob_Wallace explains that the grid is close to capacity only during times of great stress and that this is associated with very hot summer days (and the resulting air conditioning loads), and that EVs would in most cases be charged at night when there is already electricity being created but not used. If we are going to discuss society and transportation, the question has to be inclusive. Our oil supplies are mostly an imported product. This is also a fragile situation.
The military announced 2 years ago that, by 2015, the world could be expecting critical shortages of fuel. They don’t want to be caught immobile. But oil does not have to run out for there to be critical shortages, and we are one war, one embargo, one disaster from that possibility. At issue is not that our electric grid is fragile but that all our transportation possibilities are precarious. If military predictions become fact, then we will be very glad that we have an electric option for at least part of our fleet. A limited range and costly batteries that need to be recycled is a better option to not transitioning at all.
Electric Vehicles: a Package
Electricity is a domestic resource, mostly because, although it can be transmitted, it doesn’t package well. Component parts may be made overseas, but the electricity is going to mostly be home-grown. What patriot would not consider that a plus? Electric vehicles come in many flavors: solar cars, serial hybrids, vehicles that have power transmitted to them, and there is also an entire class of vehicles powered by electric motors but moved by cables. And then there are battery electric vehicles which is what we most commonly mean when thinking of an EV.
An EV provides what electricity needs. A package. The very battery some complain about charging, provides the potential for stability within our electric grid. We don’t even have to begin discussions of a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) program – it is enough to say that vehicles can be powered using a technique called “time shifting” (what Bob_Wallace was discussing and I will get into more in the section below). And at the end of its useful life as an EV battery, when reduced to a 70% to 80% capacity, it will be transferred to power companies to continue supporting the electric grid.
“A Time Shifting Paradox”
Time shifting (aka “time shaving” or off-peak charging) is charging an EV at night. Going beyond simply charging an EV at night, we know that a coal-fired power plant cannot be simply turned off like a gas-fired peaking plant. It would take too long to bring the boiler up to full capacity for daytime peak load and it puts stress on the boiler, increasing damage.
Coal plants (and nuclear plants) are used for baseload power. For reasonable economic reasons, operators of the plants will not turn them off even when the demand for electricity is low. Turbines might be turned off (unless the plant is being used for spinning reserve), but the boiler of baseload power plants must stay mostly active. The plants, therefore, remain working (and producing pollution) when there is no need for the off-peak power.
Especially in areas where coal is a very high percentage of the mix, like China, Australia, South Africa, and some Midwestern states, it is therefore possible that an EV could use that power, charging at night essentially “pollution-free” from a coal-fired power plant (“pollution-free” since the power plant would have been polluting anyway). If this seems to defy logic to you, then we can rephrase this to “no additional pollution (and no additional demand on the grid) due to the EV charging at night.”
This would only be true for whatever electrical energy potential exists between what is needed to keep the boilers hot and a (lower) electrical power demand. Presently, cheapness of wind energy causes some coal plants to sell this power at a loss during off-peak hours simply to pay some costs. We may not like to use coal power, but we certainly won’t need to add more because of electric vehicles, and electric vehicles can improve the economics of the coal plants we presently have.
How Many EVs Can We Charge?
Bob_Wallace tells us:
Batteries tend to be a worrisome issue:
It is simply a tactic to say that we will have to dispose of many electric vehicle batteries.
China does have electric bicycles, and it makes efficient use of power, reducing overall pollution, but we are not going to see 300 million US vehicles replaced with electric bicycles. (Though I would like to see electric velomobiles have a shot.) In the US, air conditioners represent about 15% of the electrical usage, while we only hope to get electric vehicle usage up to 1/3 of 1% by 2015. If every car in the US were electric-powered, it would need power about equal to about 30% of our present grid capacity. As mentioned earlier, up to 85% of these could be charged at night with existing power supply.
But we have to be realistic. We will have petrol vehicles operating in the months and years ahead. Electrification of our transportation is not without problems and these can be worrying. Things will change, but the world is going to change with or without our decisions. Doing nothing is not an option. In a world where some adopt a philosophy of “he who can destroy a thing, controls a thing,” attempting to maintain a one-fuel transportation solution is risky, dangerous, short-sighted (and hardly patriotic). Electric vehicles present a diversity that grants added security. The military knows this. The government knows this. It is time we should be so wise. Fear can easily blind us, but lets not let it tie our hands as well.
Please read the full comments on the original post for more.
Photo Credit: pedronet
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 01:03 PM PST
Regarding this infographic, Dave Llorens, 1BOG’s CEO, wrote to me: “I think this is the infographic I’m most proud of so far.” (They make quite a few.) I think I’d agree with him. And, in general, it’s one of my favorite infographics on any topic. Check her out (click the link above for a larger version):
*Full disclosure: 1BOG used to own CleanTechnica and, while it no longer does, we still feature an ad for the company on the right side of our site.
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 11:54 AM PST
Below is the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) statement on Congress’ decision to leave the an extension of the 1603 Treasury program out of the payroll tax bill, a decision I think every poll on solar energy shows most Americans would oppose. Truthfully, I’m too sad to comment much more on this, so will leave it to SEIA. But, I hope we can find a way to get the program extended in some other way soon….
Congress Failure to Extend 1603 Program a Blow to Small Business
WASHINGTON – Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, released the following statement today in reaction to a congressional compromise bill that extends the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits through the end of the year, but does not address tax extenders such as the 1603 Treasury program:
"It is disappointing that Congress has failed to extend the 1603 Treasury program as part of the payroll tax bill. Small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy, will bear the brunt of this inaction.
"The 1603 program enabled solar installers to develop 22,000 projects across the United States, with an average of $153,000 in private sector investment generated by each project. These projects were developed primarily by small businesses that created jobs and new economic opportunity in the U.S. The expiration of the program is putting many of these companies at risk.
"While larger energy developers have the scale and resources to receive tax equity from Wall Street, small businesses don't and are hurt most by Congress' inaction. Small businesses are the engine of economic growth in America, and the result of a continued lapse of the 1603 program will be job losses and undue economic hardship for the entrepreneurs we are relying on to create jobs and get our economy back in order.
"There remains a compelling need for the 1603 program. Accordingly, SEIA will continue working with a broad coalition of energy technologies to pursue every opportunity to extend this important and highly successful incentive."
Photo of solar installer via shutterstock
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 11:00 AM PST
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on some new online solar training courses being offered by Infinite Solar Online. Since then, a couple of folks have informed me of a couple more sites where you can take online solar training course (or live courses). So, here’s another quick post on these options:
Everblue, which is reportedly “the nation's largest clean energy educator,” offers solar training courses for various solar positions and levels, with a mixture of online or live training:
“Both the Solar PV Installer and Solar Sales Professional training courses include the prerequisite Solar PV Associate curriculum,” the company notes on its solar training courses page (it offers training in LEED, energy auditing, and other fields as well).
The company also offers their courses in more complete packages:
Check out Everblue’s solar training page if you want more info.
ImagineSolar is yet another solar training company. As someone from the company, Summer Morris, stated in the comments of my post a couple weeks ago, it offers “online courses in solar PV installation & design (with live lab), solar sales/marketing, smart grid, and others.”
“We also have live workshops all over Texas and throughout the U.S., from OR to NY to NC,” Summer noted. Such workshops include off-grid, grid-tied, and utility-scale PV workshops.
With the solar energy industry still growing fast in the U.S., and passing 100,000 jobs in 2011, this is definitely a hot industry. Makes it hard to cover all the big news every day, but I guess that’s better than not having anything to write about!
If you’re looking for a green job, and especially if you’re interested in diving into the solar industry, hopefully one of the programs above looks good to you. If any of you have any experience taking any of these courses, I’d love to hear it! (I imagine others would, as well.)
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