Transitional Technologies: Renewables seeing greater potential from integration in fuel and energy sources

Renewable energy and fuels are seeing broader support globally for decarbonization, much of it through integration of sources that were not typical years ago. A clear example this year is “green hydrogen,” where emissions can be eliminated by using renewable energy to power the electrolysis of water.

Here’s a look at what aspects of renewables are gaining the most traction………….

Green hydrogen:  Support for hydrogen has been taking a wider base recently with concern over the cost of extracting hydrogen — and where it comes from — improving substantially. Most of it had been coming from natural gas, but that’s starting to change. For natural gas, much of the hydrogen has come from steam methane reforming (SMR), which causes the methane found in natural gas to react with steam, which then produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide. One method to clean it up has been called blue hydrogen, where the emissions are curtailed using carbon capture and storage.

Green hydrogen is even cleaner as it can almost completely eliminate emissions by using renewable energy for powering electrolysis of water that’s needed in producing hydrogen. It’s still costly, with electrolyzers still in short supply, and tapping into plentiful sources of renewable energy still coming in at a high price. Hydrogen supporters see this cost coming down as demand for the fuel grows in generating electricity, power, and heat.

A proposed plant in Lancaster, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, could produce the greenest hydrogen on the market. It will use plastics and recycled paper as a feedstock — waste that would otherwise go to a landfill. It will be gasified at temperature high enough to be transformed into hydrogen. If adopted, it would be run by SGH2 Energy Global, which is part of the Solena Group. The company says that its technology reduces carbon emissions two-to-three times more than green-hydrogen produced using electrolysis and renewable energy — and its technology is five-to-seven times cheaper, the company said.

Another major development came up on July 8 when the European Commission launched its EU Hydrogen Strategy and its Energy Systems Integration Strategy. That same day, a Clean Hydrogen Alliance between industry, hydrogen companies, and governments was also launched and tied to the strategies. It defines clean hydrogen as renewable hydrogen coming from hydrogen production through water electrolysis. The power will come primarily through wind and solar energy. For short term goals, the alliance will support the installation of at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tons of renewable hydrogen. That will go up to 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers, and the production of up to ten million tons of renewable hydrogen in the EU.

Renewable energy:  Hydropower doesn’t get nearly as much attention as wind and solar in the reporting of renewable energy sources generating electricity — even though its clearly the largest source of renewable energy in the world. It’s making up about 18 percent of the world’s total installed power generation capacity and more than 54 percent of the global renewable power generation capacity. Most of it comes from construction of dams on rivers and releasing water from reservoirs to power turbines. Another source is pumped-storage type plants to generate hydro power. China has the world’s largest hydro power generation capacity, and has the world’s largest hydropower plant at the Three Gorges — which generates 22.5 GW.

But wind and solar will still see high growth rates, with costs continuing to drop. Energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie expects that solar PV system costs in the US are falling faster than previously forecasted. Sarah Golden, senior energy analyst at GreenBiz Group, says that the cost of producing energy from wind has fallen by as much as 70 percent since 2009. International Renewable Energy Agency recently reported that wind, along with solar, beat the cheapest coal in cost for power generation.

Waste-to-energy, and Waste-to-fuel:  This has been getting a lot of support in recent years from major disposal companies like Waste Management, Inc. This year, an unexpected growth segment has come up through COVID-19. New priorities have been tied to sustainable disposal of medical waste, and dealing with growth in unrecyclable plastics, and an increase in the use of face masks and other personal protective gear.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released a report concluding that converting solid waste into hydrogen is a key technology that can greatly reduce emissions. Adding carbon capture and storage can support developing advanced waste-to-hydrogen technology with negative emissions. It can assist national mandates to reach net zero-carbon.

Another bright spot has been researchers finding that next-generation thermochemical processes convert solid waste – including plastics, medical waste, municipal solid waste, and wastewater sludge – into hydrogen without incinerating the waste. Carbon dioxide produced during the process can be efficiently captured and stored to make new products using technology that is commercially available today. The costs that are continuing to fall, making it even more viable.

Renewable fuels:  Biogas is becoming even more practical and clean as landfill gas (LFG) grows in usage. The digestion process takes place in the ground rather than in an anaerobic digester commonly used to produce renewable fuels. As of June 2020, there were about 564 operational LFG projects in the US, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. As for now, most of these projects use biogas to produce electricity rather than to power natural gas vehicles.

Making renewable natural gas (RNG) for natural gas vehicles requires a higher content of methane than biogas. It also requires the removal of water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other trace elements to produce RNG. But RNG continues to gain support among fleet managers and stakeholders in NGVs. A recent commentary by S&P Global Platts made the point that while hydrogen has been grabbing headlines through large-scale national plans being scheduled, RNG deserves more attention as “an emerging tool for decarbonization.”

One advantage explained in the commentary is that RNG can be appealing to US energy companies looking to diversify. An example would be Southern California Gas Company (SoCal) releasing an agreement between SoCal, the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., consumer advocate groups, various industry groups, such as RNG Coalition, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It came about with the goal of facilitating increased volumes of RNG to California customers.

And in other news……..
Fisker finds needed capital:  Fisker Inc. reached a deal to go public last Monday by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Apollo Global Management. Founder Henrik Fisker was able to raise more than $1 billion to help bring the Fisker Ocean electric SUV to market by late 2022. Proceeds from the transaction were valued at $2.9 billion. The business model is different than Tesla and other automakers, and was compared to the role Apple has played — cool technology, but production has been farmed out to others, cutting down the huge capital outlay needed to become a carmaker. Fisker is in talks with Volkswagen to use its modular EV platform and to assemble its vehicles at a VW plant in Europe. Its retail store model will be closer to Tesla’s — with customers able to place customized orders online and also to visit “brand experience centers” in key US and European markets.


Renewable energy ready to grow, Fun activities to overcome cabin fever and boredom

Spain, one of many countries hit hard by Covid-19, is sending workers out to continue building up renewable energy to power its grid. Workers on the 500-megawatt Núñez de Balboa solar park have been wearing protective gear to finish installing the nearly 4 square miles of panels to supply power up to 250,000 people, becoming the largest in Europe.

That power grid is run by Iberdrola, a multination energy company based in Spain, but its one of many renewable energy projects continuing during the coronavirus crisis — even when oil prices have plunged downward. Fossil fuels make up a big chunk of power for the global energy grid; some countries may be adding it and taking advantage of the low cost, but renewables look like they’ll continue growing rapidly.

It’s a major trend to follow for those planning the future of energy used in generating electricity — along with fueling transportation. Opponents of adopting ambitious government mandates on bringing their country’s fleets over to electrified vehicles can point to the fact that natural gas, coal, and nuclear make up most of the power grid in the world — and that renewables like solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal have a long way to go. Electric vehicle advocates lose some of their arguments made when the total lifecycle of the vehicles and their energy sources don’t clearly stand out from internal combustion engine vehicles — or from other alternative fuels.

As for growth, renewables have been the big winner in recent years, and that trend should continue. The International Renewable Energy Agency reports that between 2015 and 2019, renewable energy grew to make up 72 percent of of all new power generation last year. It outpaced nonrenewable energy during that time period.

The International Energy Agency (a separate agency from IREA) expects renewable power to grow by another 50 percent by 2024 with solar leading the way. The agency expects it to be the only energy source to grow this year, with fossil fuels taking a major hit because of decline in energy demands coming from the pandemic.

However, fossil fuels may also be coming up for a boost in energy consumption. Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s minister for climate, energy and utilities, said he’s concerned that the recent dive in global oil prices might lead countries “that are built on an old-fashioned fossil economy” to see the transition to cleaner energy as unnecessary. It could be set aside in a few markets.

Jørgensen shared these perspective during IEA’s meeting last month with lawmakers and companies from around the world focusing on the role of renewable energy in the economic recovery expected to follow Covid-19. A common theme by speakers was not repeating the cycle following the 2008 financial crisis that had benefited suppliers of fossil fuels. Jørgensen said that the argument needs to be made that investing in renewables is a smart business strategy and not just an ideological choice.

The US has a long way to go in making this transition. The US Energy Information Administration reports that fossil fuels are by far the largest sources of energy for electricity generation. It’s led by natural gas, which made up about 38 percent of electricity generation in the US last year, followed by coal at 23 percent and petroleum at less than 1 percent. Nuclear powered 20 percent of US energy last year.

Renewable energy made up about 17 percent of electric power in the US last year. Hydropower plants made up about 7 percent of total US electricity generation during that time, with wind power making up that same share. Solar made up 2 percent and biomass was about 1 percent or energy in the US last year.

Hydropower plants using flowing water to spin a turbine connected to a generator — such as the Snake River providing Idaho’s energy. Wind turbines convert wind power into electricity. Photovoltaic (PV) and solar-thermal power are the two main types of solar electricity generation technologies being used in the US. As for biomass, that comes from steam-electric power plants that can convert gas that can be burned in steam generators, gas turbines, or internal combustion engine generators. Geothermal power plants contribute about a half of one percent of US power last year, and that comes from steam turbines.

Renewable energy made up a segment of US job creation efforts in the years following the Great Recession that struck in 2008. Advocates cite these projects and business startups that have thrived, and the contribution it’s making to reducing dependency on fossil fuels and to reducing carbon emissions.

From my blog:  Getting cabin fever? Looking forward to Covid-19 no longer running our lives? 
Along with taking all the social distancing and cleanliness guidelines suggested by the CDC seriously, it seems like a good idea to use the downtime for something good. My list of activities for your consideration to help get through the coronavirus includes watching the Oscar-winning Parasite. One way I could tell it was a great movie when a turn in the storyline happened, and I thought, ‘What the hell is going to happen now?’

Looking at advanced mobility in new publication: Automotive Digest Publisher Chuck Parker has a new publication called Fixes and Solutions geared toward automotive professionals looking out a the next wave of technology and industry changes — well beyond coronavirus. I just wrote a piece on the District of Columbia releasing a study examining four plausible scenarios on how autonomous vehicles could be adopted in the area. Economic growth and greater transport solutions for local communities are advantages, but new problems could arise from adoption of the technology. However, there is more I could write about. In fact, here are eight topics that will have to be considered as challenges to overcome and integrate before we all get to ride around in autonomous electric shuttle buses………. cyber security, Internet of Things, cloud computing, robotics, renewable energy, batteries, mobile devices, and 5G.

BYD and Hino commercial EVs:  BYD and Hino Motors have signed a strategic business alliance for collaborating on commercial battery electric vehicles development. The two companies will work together to develop the best-fit commercial BEVs for customers to achieve carbon reductions. Commercial fleet customers will be served, and BYD and Hino will cooperate in retail and other related business that will promote the adoption of BEVs. Hino’s director and senior managing officer Taketo Nakane said, “We are pleased with this collaboration aiming to realize commercial BEVs that are truly beneficial to customers both practically and economically. By bringing together BYD’s achievement in BEV development and Hino’s electrification technology and reliability built over years of experience in developing hybrid vehicles, we will develop the best-fit commercial BEV products for consumer in working towards swift market introduction.”

Goodbye 2016 and Hello 2017, Part 2: Looking at autonomous vehicles, urban mobility, infrastructure, and renewable fuels and energy

Here’s part two of my analysis of 2016 events and a forecast of 2017 trends in clean transportation and mobility:

Autonomous vehicles:

Uber autonomous vehicle test projectMichigan now leading the way: Last month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills to clear the way for self-driving cars to operate on public roads and re-establish the state as the leader in automotive innovation. The Michigan bills establish regulations for the testing, use, and eventual sale of autonomous vehicle technology, and were crafted to more clearly define how self-driving vehicles can be legally used on public roadways. The new laws allow testing of vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or needed human control – which aims to propel Michigan ahead of California, which had been the leading state in the U.S. for testing autonomous vehicles.

The federal government is going in that direction as well, issuing long-awaited guidelines backing fully autonomous vehicles in September. The U.S. Department of Transportation would like to see uniform, national policies applying to autonomous vehicles. In a joint appearance, Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, released guidelines that encourage technology innovations from companies balanced with concerns over public safety.

Uber continued testing its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, but decided to move from California to Arizona. Uber last month used Otto flatbed trucks to move its autonomous Volvo cars to Arizona after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked registration of the company’s self-driving cars. California had made regulatory threats to Uber, and things got worse when the ride-hailing company refused to purchase $150 permits for testing autonomous cars that the state requires. There may be more than the 16 self-driving vehicles that had been tested by Uber in San Francisco, and the company hasn’t provided a date on when testing will begin in Arizona.

Google has renamed its Self-Driving Car Project as “Waymo.” Waymo will be an independent unit within the Alphabet parent company. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. Google co-founder Larry Page has been reported to be rethinking his company’s mission. Alphabet/Google, along with Apple, are now looking into partnering with automakers as technology suppliers rather than investing heavily, and going through the complex regulatory process, needed to manufacture their own autonomous vehicles.

Honda has been in talks with Waymo to test out some of the autonomous vehicle technology in Honda’s vehicles. Both companies said that it’s a research project and not a manufacturing agreement to jointly manufacture autonomous vehicles. Honda may choose to provide Waymo with vehicles that are modified to run on Google’s self-driving system; those Honda vehicles would join the existing Waymo test vehicles currently being tried out in four U.S. cities.

Honda follows Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in creating a self-driving vehicle test program. FCA announced in December that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for Waymo. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids (plug-in hybrid vehicles) recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant. Google and parent company Alphabet have also been reported be in talks with FCA about starting up a ride-hailing and ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Tesla Motors is planning to demonstrate a Tesla vehicle traveling cross country in fully autonomous mode by the end of 2017. During a fall conference call announcing fully autonomous capable hardware, CEO Elon Musk said the company’s goal is to demonstrate a vehicle traveling safely from Los Angeles to New York using the new technology by the end of this year. The software for reaching the fully self-driving mode will need to be validated and approved by regulators before being released to the public. Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with hardware for full autonomy are already in production, and the upcoming Model 3 will have it as well, Musk said. Semi-autonomous features will continue to be available through the Autopilot feature, but Tesla has separated Autopilot from the new fully autonomous features after the fatal crash in Florida was reported last summer. If all of this works out and receives government approval, Tesla would likely lead the market in autonomous technologies. Tesla may have a fully automated vehicle for sale by 2018, beating Ford and BMW, which have committed to rolling out fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.

China would like to become the world’s largest market for plug-in and autonomous vehicles. The Chinese government released a policy report on setting national standards for autonomous vehicles. It’s taking an optimistic approach: “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. The report also forecasts that “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) will make up 40% of the 38 million new vehicles sold in China during 2030. That would make for about 15 million new plug-in vehicles coming to market that year. By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

Impact of autonomous vehicles on fuel consumption: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have conducted a study of a vehicle-platooning scenario and determined the best ways to deploy vehicles in order to save fuel and minimize delays. Their analysis, presented last month at the International Workshop on the Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics, shows that relatively simple, straightforward schedules may be the optimal approach for saving fuel and minimizing delays for autonomous vehicle fleets. The findings may also apply to conventional long-distance trucking and even ride-sharing services. Navigant Research may not agree with those findings. Navigant just released a study which analyzed how fuel is likely to be affected by the growing use of automated mobility systems in light-duty passenger and medium-to-heavy duty goods vehicles. Usage of petroleum and alternative fuels is likely to go up with growing transportation demand in developing nations like China and India; and in developed countries that are seeing surging demand for mobility services and automated systems.

Urban mobility

Urban mobilityAutomakers took serious steps forward during 2016 showing their commitment to mobility services and the changing identity of automakers in the near future.

GM’s investment in carsharing brand Maven, along with $500 million in Lyft and $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, seemed to start the trend. GM will be testing self-driving versions of the Chevy Bolt all-electric car with Lyft. Maven is considered to be a serious competitor to Zipcar and other carsharing services.

Ford Motor Co. last year acquired shuttle service Chariot and forged a partnership with bike-share program Motivate. The automaker sees the importance of tapping the market value by turning to low-fixed cost and less capital revenue streams like Chariot and Motivate, said Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. In March, the company the creation of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a new subsidiary formed to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services.

Toyota launched a Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) to support emerging mobility services like carsharing. The platform will be used to collaborate with service providers and telematics insurance carriers. In May, Toyota and Uber forged an alliance that will create new leasing options. Car buyers can lease their vehicles from Toyota Financial Services and cover their payments through earnings generated as Uber drivers. Toyota also created another alliance tied to the launch of MSPF with U.S. carsharing company Getaround. The two companies will start a pilot program this month in San Francisco.

BMW is moving its ReachNow carsharing service forward. During the L.A. Auto Show’s AutoMobility days, BMW announced that four new services will be launched in four North American cities. A new ridesharing service competes with Uber and Lyft and offers members an on-demand ride service where a driver shows up with a car. ReachNow Ride was scheduled to start up as a pilot program in Seattle last month, and it will be available to all members in early 2017.

Tesla Motors will launch Tesla Network with self-driving capabilities in 2017. In his “Master Plan, Part Deux” in July, Tesla CEO Elon Musk included a system in which a Tesla owner could add a car to a shared Tesla fleet using a mobile app. That’s where Musk introduced the concept of the Tesla Network where the electric automaker will be entering into ridesharing and carsharing services that will be a revenue model for Tesla. The company has been released a few more details lately on its blog and website. Tesla doesn’t want its car owners to use these electric cars for Uber and Lyft rides. “Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car-sharing and ride-hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year (2017),” according to a recent Tesla website statement.

Volkswagen made a series of announcements as it emerges from the “Dieselgate” scandal and commits to vehicle electrification and globally competitive mobility services. The German automaker kicked things off earlier this year by investing $300 million in on-demand transportation service Gett. At that time, the cab-hailing startup had operations across about 60 cities around the world. The German automaker also launched its Moia brand last month, stating that it expects it to become one of the largest mobility providers in the world. The new business will initially offer electric ride-hailing and carsharing services. Electric shuttles will likely be the first fleet vehicles rolled out to customers and they’ll soon be automated, the company said. VW also bought Vancouver-based parking-payment operator PayByPhone, which processed more than $250 million in transactions this year. The automakers wants to become the leader in mobile payments for parking. VW’s financial services unit had previously taken a 92 percent stake in Sunhill Technologies GmbH, Germany’s market leader for mobile parking payments. Another recent announcement by VW was adding a ride-hailing service in Rwanda as part of its mobility services to compete with Uber’s strong presence in Africa and other regions.


ev-corridor-in-fhwa-mapThe Federal Highway Administration released a map in November showing 55 routes across the U.S. for charging plug-in vehicles and refueling alternative fuel vehicles, with 48 designated charging routes in the new corridor. The Alternative Fuel Corridors covers 35 states and nearly 85,000 miles, according the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FHWA. More miles will be added to the network to accommodate electric, hydrogen, propane autogas, and natural gas vehicles as more alternative fueling and charging stations are built.

The designation of these corridors comes from the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act, which was signed by the president in December 2015. In July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx put the alternative fuel station provision in motion by calling on states to nominate national plug-in electrified vehicle charging and hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling corridors along major highways.

You can view an Alternative Fuel Corridors resources page that includes a map showing each of the charging and fueling networks. There’s only one electric charging route linking the nation, which crosses the Great Plains with Highway 70 bridging between Utah and Colorado. Charging station routes are concentrated in the Northeast, East Coast, Great Lakes region, Texas, and the West Coast. Compressed natural gas will have corridors very similar to charging networks. Hydrogen fueling routes will be concentrated in California, Colorado, the Midwest, and the Northeast.

Electric vehicle charging network EVgo kicked off the nation’s quickest fast-charging station in Baker, Calif., at the site of the World’s Tallest Thermometer. Drivers going from Los Angeles and Las Vegas can see how hot it’s getting out there, and can pull over for a very fast charge. These days,

50-kW CHAdeMo or Combined Charging System (CCS) fast chargers are about as fast it gets. EVgo has started constructing a 350-kW fast charging station in Baker. The charger company says that these chargers will be seven times faster than any fast chargers currently available, and that they represent a new level of convenience. Electric vehicles with the biggest battery packs that travel the farthest per charge will be able to get 80% charged in less than 20 minutes.

Renewable fuels and energy

renewable-energyRenewables:  While not yet officially announced, Scientific American just reported that renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind are expected to account for 8% of U.S. electricity-generation capacity in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar growth is behind much of it.

For the first time ever, new solar-generating capacity is expected to exceed new generating capacity for wind and natural gas, according to the report. The federal report won’t be available until March, but Scientific American reported that the volume of new solar installation and their energy capacity is expected to outpace both wind and natural gas as energy sources. Natural gas isn’t counted as a renewable energy, but has become an important source of energy powering electric plants in recent years as the country has been moving away from coal power.

RFS and LCFS: American Petroleum Institute (API) estimates that 2017 gas station fuel volumes will put the ethanol-to-gasoline ratio at 10.4%, higher than the 9.7% ration recommended by the oil industry association. That comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s adjustment of biofuel blends last year. However, California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) may be taking off as the fuel source of choice for many sustainability advocates. A recent study by Lux Research that LCFS may become the new standard for government policies to meet emissions reduction goals, calling it the trend “a new generation of policies is based on technology-agnostic carbon intensity metrics.”

Renewable diesel and conventional electricity used to power electric vehicle will be the near-term winners in low-carbon transportation fuels under the Lux analysis, followed by renewable electricity to charge EVs in third place. Canada has embraced LCFS as its national standard. In November, Canada announced that the country will adopt a national clean fuels standard. The national standard studies low-carbon fuel standards being used in California, Oregon, and British Columbia, according to a report.

Electric power expert talks about the changing business model of utilities

In this age of smart grids and electrified transportation, the role of electric utilities is going through widespread change. Two news stories on major utilities this month offer a look at the new landscape. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) submitted a proposal to the California Public Utilities Commission asking for permission to build 25,000 new charging stations for electric vehicles in its Northern California territory. Duke Energy has made a $225 million investment in REC Solaelectric power generation at nightr for a majority stake in the commercial solar company.

What’s behind these moves? Green Auto Market spoke with utility expert Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, author of Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities, for more perspectives on these issues. Dr. Fox-Penner, principal of The Brattle Group, has also served as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Economic conditions are changing for utilities with much of it based on two market factors, Fox-Penner said. While electricity prices went up in recent years, utility bills are stabilizing. Supporting energy efficiency (and producing less electricity) is becoming common now for utilities as well. Investing in new segments such as charging stations and solar power would also offer additional revenue streams and profit centers for utilities. All of this means that utilities are looking at new channels for growth – and not all of it will be as tightly regulated by public utility commissions, he said.

Areas of growth for utilities include offering more energy efficiency services, demand response services, and development of smart grids, Fox-Penner said. “Grid resilience” is now a buzzword in the industry, he said, with demand response offering users more stability in pricing during periods of peak demand; or at other times when reliability of the grid is threatened – with Hurricane Sandy offering an example of how volatile conditions can become.

Smart grid systems allow end users to have more control of energy use in their homes and commercial properties. That can come through new technologies like measurement sensors, computing, micro-generation, and geothermal heat pumps, Fox-Penner said. Converting over to the smart grid will take quite a few years, he said. The Eastern US has quite a lot of decades-old copper wire that does need to be replaced. There are also several aging distribution systems in the US that will take decades to replace, he said.

Generating electricity through renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro, is a big part of the environment shaping the future of utilities. California and other states have ambitious targets in place. Renewables do benefit from having access to energy storage through electric vehicle batteries and stationary storage units to address intermittent conditions – but they’re not necessary for renewables to succeed. “Certain standards can be met even without battery storage by integrating traditional energy with renewables,” Fox-Penner said. “Europe is doing it without much battery storage.”

Concern over climate change is helping renewable energy see growth, he said. “There’s been enormous growth in wind power, and coal has trended downward,” Fox-Penner said.  Not long ago, coal powered 55% of US electricity and lately it’s hovered around 45%. Natural gas is the other fastest growing source of power with wind.

Solar still doesn’t make up much of the total supply, but it is “growing at a healthy clip,” he said. Nuclear makes up about 20% of electricity produced in the US with that coming from aging plants. We could see nuclear go away in the next 10-to-20 years, Fox-Penner said.

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Energy storage holds huge potential for makers and owners of electric vehicles

energy storageFor those of you following the cleantech business, you’ve probably noticed an emerging market segment in the past year: energy storage. There’s a lot of demand for clean energy to be produced – along with ways to store that energy for when it’s needed through an economically feasible business model. Electric automakers have gotten into that market – and we’re likely to see electric vehicles added to energy storage potential.

California Gov. Jerry Brown called for 50% of California’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 in his “State of the State” address last week. That’s up from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 20% and his own previous 33% mandate for renewable energy. Utilities in the state – and in several others in the US – have been investing in energy storage to address renewable energy mandates and to better manage their grids. Energy storage has become “a powerful and appealing alternative to upgrading grid infrastructure to solve these challenges,” according to Navigant Research.

Demand and price can swing up and down over a 24-hour period, causing uproar from residential and commercial property owners – and from state regulatory agencies. Utilities are exploring batteries for energy storage as a way to bring stability to peak periods and to move forward on renewable energy mandates.

Solar power companies are getting into the game. In its new study, “The Future of Solar-Plus-Storage in the U.S,” GTM Research reports that four of the nation’s top 10 residential solar installers currently offer “solar plus” energy storage. These four companies, including top installer SolarCity and fifth-ranked NRG Home Solar, installed 38% of all US solar energy in the first three quarters of 2014.

If you look at the first chart in this article, you’ll see three automakers identified as part of the energy storage market: Tesla Motors; Chinese automaker BYD; and the company that used to be known as CODA Automotive that is out of the electric vehicle business, post-bankruptcy, and is now CODA Energy – an energy storage systems company. These automakers have also sold their EV battery technology to other automakers and to clientele in other industries.

There’s a good deal of speculation out there that electric vehicles (EVs) could be viable energy storage containers. That could come from a fleet with 150 EVs parked on its corporate campus for long stretches of time; on average, those EVs might be in motion only one quarter of a 24-hour cycle, bringing huge opportunities for power storage. That could be a revenue stream for company, and a support system for renewable energy and grid stabilization.

Other examples of available parked EVs could come from transit station parking lots, retail stores, and apartment/condo complexes. Lithium and NextGen batteries are still expensive and underutilized – energy storage has great potential for key stakeholders out there.

What EPA electric power rules will cost automakers, DOE fuel cell vehicle grants, and other news from Capitol Hill

Washington DCIt’s always good to stay current on what’s happening in Washington, DC, with new regulations and funding programs regularly rolling out. Last week, more details came out on the latest in electric power regulations, grants for fuel cell vehicle projects, renewable fuel requirements for ethanol, and on the impact of the federal standards on heavy-duty truck mileage and emissions………..

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement last week Monday on electric utilities reducing carbon 30% (coming mainly from coal-powered plants) had some good news for automakers. While German automakers have been hit hard financially by government mandates that they convert their power over to renewable energy sources, that doesn’t appear to be the case for US-based production plants. Jim Doyle, president of Business Forward, and  Debra Menk, an automotive economist, gave a teleconference presentation last week on that issue (coming from a report released by Business Forward). By the time utilities convert over to renewables (by 2020), it’s expected to only cost automakers an additional $7 per car or truck to utilize that clean energy. Electricity only makes for about 1% of an assembly plant’s total expenses, so automakers won’t see much of an impact that they feel compelled to pass on to consumers.
  • The US Department of Energy will issue $7 million for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle development. Meteria, based in Pasadena, Calif., will get $2 million to for its new resin system that will reduce the cost of hydrogen storage systems; $1.2 million goes to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and San Francisco-based Ardica for hydrogen storage system improvements (each one gets $1.2 million); and HRL Laboratories of Malibu, Calif., will receive around $1 million of the funding.
  • The EPA appears to be putting the ethanol compliance issue on the backburner. Refiners have been given a compliance extension – from June 30 to Sept. 30 of this year – on blending 16.55 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum. That comes from the EPA ruling on 2013 renewable fuel requirements; EPA thinks refiners should know the 2014 requirements before the end of the 2013 compliance year. This will affect the decisions of refiners to bank renewable fuel credits for use in the future, according to the EPA. It may give the White House some breathing room on a battleground between oil companies and refiners and corn growers and ethanol producers.
  • Federal fuel economy and emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks will lead to significant fuel savings and are likely good for the trucking industry, according to Jim Sweeney, vice president of capital equipment for AmeriQuest Transportation Services.  “The increase in overall maintenance costs for this new technology is undeniable — but looking at the big picture, the economic and operational benefits that come along with these initiatives seem to far outweigh the bad,” Sweeney wrote in his blog. Similar to passenger cars, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the first phase of this program in 2011 for heavy-duty vehicles coming out in model years 2014 to 2018. The second phase is being worked out now by the federal agencies with truck makers.