Why the U.S. Air Force wants to fly on renewable energy

Posted on January 16th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Northeast, including the area surrounding Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst (JB MDL) in New Jersey. JB MDL played a critical role in the relief and recovery from Sandy. The sprawling base, including what used to be known as McGuire Air Force Base, provided essential support as a staging area for relief efforts and aid distribution for more than 100 nonprofits and government agencies, including FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Homeland Security.

"They were the central node for receiving aid and stationing for deployment," observed Michael Wu, special assistant, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, "but the reason they were able to do that is because the storm just missed them. If the storm had been a little bit farther south, they would have been knocked out like everybody else."

The experience of Sandy vividly demonstrated the crucial role that energy resilience plays in mission assurance for the Air Force. And so Wu, together with a team drawn from Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon, JB MDL and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), joined teams from across North America at RMI’s third annual eLab Accelerator to investigate clean energy approaches to resilience.

A brave new world

The Air Force team came to Accelerator with the goal of honing "a replicable and scalable process for implementing resilient energy projects and resilient energy systems throughout the Air Force enterprise," said Wu. "Climate change could create significant challenges to readiness, and is already having an impact on our installations and will impact our ability to operate going forward." 

Threats from more frequent and more intense storms are on the minds of all enterprises. Indeed, the White House’s recent memorandum Climate Change and National Security calls out climate change as “a significant and growing threat to national security, both at home and abroad,” and directs all federal entities to "ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans."

Wu, providing an example for the Air Force, noted, "The energy resilience tools that we’ve used have been mostly spot-diesel generation on our critical facilities." But diesel fuel runs out and can be hard to resupply, especially in the midst of widespread disruption. Wu believes "that we’re entering a new threat environment, where there’s a much greater concern over long-term, widespread power outages.” 

The Air Force, being a military service, also has its eye on a somewhat more colorful set of threats beyond just climate change. Wu explained: "The driving factor for a lot of our new initiatives has really been the determined-adversary aspect of it." For example, our increasingly interconnected world is also increasingly susceptible to sabotage, as revealed when someone armed with only bolt cutters and a rifle shot up an electrical substation in Silicon Valley in April 2013, doing $15 million worth of damage that took 27 days to repair. PG&E was able to compensate using other grid resources, but it put the world on notice that grids are physically vulnerable. 

Think globally, act locally

Sandy provided JB MDL the impetus to implement localized clean energy technologies and approaches. "They really wanted to create more self-sufficiency and resiliency for themselves and their mission partners on the base," said Wu. The solution that JB MDL is finalizing is one that includes energy storage, controllable loads and "high renewable energy penetration, because that will strengthen our ability to maintain our missions in one of those prolonged power disruption scenarios," said Wu.

But the team that came to Accelerator ultimately had their eye on innovating solutions for all U.S. bases, not just JB MDL, and on ensuring resilience in the face of any disruption, not just weather-related natural disasters. In Wu’s words, "How do we create a process that we can learn from, replicate and scale? How do we do it in such a way that it’s helpful for JB MDL, but it’s also something that we can apply across the Air Force enterprise?" Rather than have an architecture and engineering firm take on the resiliency project at JB MDL, the team "did a really good job of sitting down and trying to do some long-term visioning and strategic thinking," said Wu.

"It was exciting to work with a team that had such diverse perspectives on resilience for mission assurance," said Jason Meyer, RMI facilitator for the Air Force team at Accelerator. "The application insight from folks at JB MDL, the enterprise strategy from Air Force headquarters [HQ AF], the experience of NREL across a number of similar projects and efforts and the technical knowledge of O’Brien & Gere [contractor to JB MDL] really advanced the development of immediate solutions for JB MDL, with an eye toward application across the Air Force."

JB MDL is an excellent model from which to scale up. Wu said, "There are so many stakeholders just within the base and within HQ AF, and it’s a joint base that includes all four services," that it was valuable to create a process for stakeholder engagement there. The team also has ideas about how to pursue opportunities with the local grid operator, PJM and the local utility, Jersey City Power & Light. 

Lessons from — and for — the private sector

The problems and opportunities that Air Force installations face regarding resilience are faced by just about every large organization you could imagine. Many such organizations had teams at Accelerator. Wu said, "The space that they had, and the faculty and other teams that were doing similar projects, really made the difference at Accelerator." He said their team learned a lot from "how much other teams were struggling and wrestling with the same questions: How do we pay for this stuff? What’s the value of resilience? How do we do this in the regular course of business, and not just for the pilot project?" 

"We share a lot of energy resilience requirements with other sectors — with the financial systems sector, with cities," said Wu. "Our missions are a little different, but the energy resilience side is actually remarkably similar ... Those kinds of folks will hopefully be helping to push the technologies and the market factors in the same direction. What I think is critical is to recognize the common requirements." Wu said he thinks "it will help create more standardized business models that allow more expansion and, hopefully, a self-perpetuating cycle of enhancements and improvements to the way we create resilient energy systems." 

"Resilience and resilient energy systems are critical concerns for many different types of stakeholders," concluded Meyer. "The complexity of the need — which could range from mission assurance to sheltering in place or continued operations of critical facilities in times of disaster — is compounded by the complexity and newness of the technology that could provide solutions." Accelerator is "such a powerful forum to work through these challenges due to the diversity of stakeholders and faculty members in the room that can lend a hand in the development of a solution," Meyer said.

Mission ready air force

"Every mission expansion or shift or new technology that the Air Force has implemented in the last three decades has increased the importance and prominence of access to electricity for our installations," Wu summarized. "The expansion of our cyber mission, the expansion of our space mission, the proliferation of remotely piloted aircraft and other new platforms — all of them are more networked, and that creates new interdependencies."


As electricity has become more critical to the Air Force, so has resilience, whether the mission is providing local relief during disasters, air support for forces across the globe or reliable communications via satellites in Earth’s orbit. That’s why the resilience inherent in on-site renewable energy generation and storage has such great potential to help ensure the Air Force is always ready, at home, on the other side of the world, and even in outer space. 


Saudi Arabia seeks $30bn-$50bn solar and wind energy investment

Posted on January 16th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Saudi Arabia will “within weeks” start issuing tenders for a big solar and wind power programme that envisages investment worth $30bn-$50bn by 2030, the country’s oil minister said on Monday.

The oil-rich kingdom was also in the early stages of feasibility and design proposals for the country’s first commercial nuclear power stations, with capacity of 2.8 gigawatts, added Khalid al-Falih. “There will be significant investment in nuclear energy,” he said at a renewable energy event in Abu Dhabi. Mr Falih gave no further details on the programme’s timeframe and cost. The pledge marks the first solid indication of the kingdom’s commitment to developing nuclear energy, after it recently signed co-operation agreements with Russia, France and South Korea on feasibility work. Fleshing out his previously announced ambition to turn Saudi Arabia into a “solar powerhouse”, Mr Falih said that the country was targeting renewable power projects with a capacity of 10GW by 2023.

The pledge to invest heavily in broadening the energy mix builds on previous commitments to alternative power sources as part of Riyadh’s ambition to diversify the economy away from crude oil production by 2030. Its national development plan had earlier set a target of developing 3.45MW of renewable energy capacity by 2020. The broader economic reform plan aims to create new revenue streams to wean the government off dependence on oil. Energy forms a major component of the strategy, sparked by a fiscal crisis after two years of sustained low oil prices. The slump in oil revenues has prompted the government to draw down more than $100bn in financial reserves and borrow $17.5bn on global bond markets to help finance its budget. The government is also expected to cull billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects to cut costs, and is set to return to bond markets this quarter.

Renewable and nuclear energy are seen as vital to cut domestic demand for oil, freeing up production for export. Mr Falih also said the kingdom would turn to natural gas as a feedstock for local electricity production. The government has pushed forward with cutting utility and petrol subsidies despite some disapproval from a population accustomed to a generous welfare state. The reforms are expected to save about $55bn a year by 2020. Speaking at another event in Abu Dhabi last week, Mr Falih said that earlier price rises had already produced a “significant drop” in demand growth from an average 5-6 per cent to 0.5 per cent last year. He also reaffirmed Riyadh’s commitment to privatisation as part of the economic reform push. The long-awaited initial public offering of a minority stake in state oil company Saudi Aramco — “the largest IPO in history” — was still scheduled for 2018, he said. The state-owned Saudi Electricity Company was also set to be split and sold off, he said. Mr Falih reiterated plans to privatise the stock market next year, adding that this could be followed by other sectors such as seaports and airports. Addressing last year’s Opec deal with non-Opec producers to trim output to sustain prices, Mr Falih said he doubted that the six-month agreement would need to be extended as demand would increase and the market would return to balance.


Smaller Businesses Want Renewable Energy Developers To Spread The Green

Posted on January 11th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Smaller enterprises want energy developers to spread the green, allowing them to get in on the renewable wave rolling through America. The dynamic has made it easier for larger corporations with more demand to buy wind and solar electricity but it has nudged out the less brawnier brands.

The guys at Google and Facebook, for example, are stimulating the need for wind and solar energy that they are using to feed their electricity-starved data centers. The developers of those energy projects, in return, are getting solid customers that are buying their output at a fixed price over a certain period of years.

But individual commercial and industrial customers aren’t generating the type of demand that can propel big energy projects into the market. Now, though, that may change. The same so-called power purchase agreements that are used to attract the likes of Microsoft, Intel and SAP can also be parceled out to smaller businesses, albeit in much smaller blocks of energy and for much shorter time frames.


“We connect the corporate community to power purchase agreements,” says Paul Schuster managing director for Altenex, a unit of Edison Energy, in an interview. “We have noticed those larger-to-mid-sized energy users need to achieve cost efficiencies, which can be done by buying smaller blocks of renewable electricity.”


A traditional power purchase agreement, for example, might require a company to buy 100 megawatts and it would last 20 years. But the contract now offered to the smaller players might be for 10 megawatts over 10 years.

So how does all this work? A wind developer can’t go forward until it knows that it can sell its output into the market at a fair price. Because there are tax breaks for both building the project and buying the output, developers have proved able to sell that product into wholesale markets.

Let’s say it is an insurance company or a bank that buys the bulk of the wholesale power before it would be resold into retail markets: They often line up the major corporate outlets or Internet giants and contact with them to sell the energy at fixed prices over a set number of years. What Altenex is doing is going to that insurer or banker — in this example — and offering to market smaller blocks of electricity to commercial and industrial businesses.

“The return on equity should be infinite,” says Schuster. “Customers, in fact, are not putting down any upfront capital. Hopefully, they are buying renewable energy at the same cost or lower cost than they are paying for fossil energy.”

Is the corporate green market on fertile ground? PriceWaterhouseCoopers says that it has grown over the last 24 months and that it will continue to expand. Seventy-two percent of the companies it surveyed said that they are pursuing renewables, noting that they want to be more sustainable and to use green energy to hedge against volatile energy prices.

Green electricity sales in the form of voluntary power purchase agreements grew by 4% in 2015, adds the National Energy Renewable Laboratory. Contracted green power sales from those deals grew by 13% in 2015, it notes, and now total 10.2 million megawatt hours.

The larger companies are the main drivers with the likes of General Motors, Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Tata Motors and Walmart setting a goal to run their entire operations using green energy. That includes a number of different options — everything from investing directly into deals to buying their electricity through power purchase agreements.

“The contracts are pretty favorable to the corporate buyers,” says Lori Bird, senior analyst for the National Energy Renewable Lab, in an interview. “Because companies are doing this, they are getting a credit and the energy is going into the grid. The companies are playing a vital role in driving renewable energy projects. Utilities have played that role and still do. But companies are now doing so with these financial arrangements.”

But the smaller businesses also want in on the action. Historically, such enterprises have bought so-called renewable energy credits that guarantee green energy gets generated and fed into the grid, she adds. But those purchases are nominal and have often been procured through their local utilities. 

More than 860 utilities offer green power programs to their customers, the renewable energy lab says, giving more than half of the electricity customers nationwide the option to buy renewable energy. But the aim now is to ratchet up the stakes and to offer commercial and industrial businesses a chance to contractually buy more green power.

“Until now, the market has only worked well for large companies willing to take large amounts of renewable energy on long-term contracts,” says Marty Spizer, with the World Wildlife Fund. “This promising market development could be really important to meet the needs of the critical middle-market segment that need easy, flexible, and cost-effective options.”

What it signals above all else is that the trend to go green is, in fact, a sustainable one and not a fad that will get ensnared by current political happenings. Indeed, big businesses started the momentum and the smaller ones now have the potential to carry it forward.


Obama: Renewable Energy Revolution Is 'Irreversible', Will Outlast Trump

Posted on January 11th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Barack Obama, outgoing president of the U.S., has stepped directly into the climate debate. He believes that the U.S. is on the way to a "clean energy" world and he delivers four reasons why he thinks the shift is now irreversible.

In an article for the journal Science, President Obama said that although the understanding of the impact of climate change is increasingly and disturbingly clear, "There is still debate about the proper course for U.S. policy—a debate that is very much on display during the current presidential transition."

That is almost his only acknowledgment of President-elect Donald Trump's declared belief that climate change is a hoax, invented by the Chinese.

Clean Energy Economy

"But putting near-term politics aside," he wrote, "the mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow."

First of these is that between 2008 and 2015, the U.S. economy grew by 10 percent while carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5 percent, an outcome that "should put to rest the argument that combating climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living."

Renewable energy costs fell dramatically during his years in office: 41 percent for wind, 54 percent for rooftop solar photovoltaics and 64 percent for big solar-power installations. Clean energy now attracts twice as much global capital as fossil fuels.

President Obama also believes that businesses now understand that reducing emissions works for the benefit of business—it cuts costs for consumers and delivers returns to shareholders.

It also matters to the workforce: 2.2 million Americans are now employed in the design, installation and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services, while 1.1 million Americans are employed in producing fossil fuels and generating electric power with those fuels.

The power sector of the economy has changed too. It has shifted from coal to natural gas, largely because of market forces, and the drop in renewable electricity costs has prompted big businesses such as Google to promise that 100 percent of their energy will be from renewable sources in 2017.

Global Momentum

And, he argues, there is already global momentum. Nations in Paris in 2015 agreed on "smart" climate policies for all. It would undermine U.S. economic interests to walk away from the agreement.

"This should not be a partisan issue. It is good business and good economics to lead a technological revolution and define market trends," wrote President Obama.

"Despite the policy uncertainty that we face, I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States, and that continued participation in the Paris process will yield great benefit for the American people, as well as the international community."


China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020

Posted on January 10th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



China intends to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power sources like solar and wind, the government’s energy agency said on Thursday.

The country’s National Energy Administration laid out a plan to dominate one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, just at a time when the United States is set to take the opposite tack as Donald J. Trump, a climate-change doubter, prepares to assume the presidency.

The agency said in a statement that China would create more than 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2020, curb the growth of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming and reduce the amount of soot that in recent days has blanketed Beijing and other Chinese cities in a noxious cloud of smog.

China surpassed the United States a decade ago as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, and now discharges about twice as much. For years, its oil and coal industries prospered under powerful political patrons and the growth-above-anything mantra of the ruling Communist Party.

The result was choking pollution and the growing recognition that China, many of whose biggest cities are on the coast, will be threatened by rising sea levels.

But even disregarding the threat of climate change, China’s announcement was a bold claim on leadership in the renewable energy industry, where Chinese companies, buoyed by a huge domestic market, are already among the world’s dominant players. Thanks in part to Chinese manufacturing, costs in the wind and solar industries are plummeting, making them increasingly competitive with power generation from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

Sam Geall, executive editor of Chinadialogue, an English- and Chinese-language website that focuses on the environment, said that the United States, by moving away from a focus on reducing carbon emissions, risked losing out to China in the race to lead the industry.

Mr. Trump has in the past called the theory of human-cased global warming a hoax and picked a fierce opponent of President Obama’s rules to reduce carbon emissions, Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

The investment commitment made by the Chinese, combined with Mr. Trump’s moves, means jobs that would have been created in the United States may instead go to Chinese workers.

Even the headline-grabbing numbers on total investment and job creation may understate what is already happening on the ground in China. Greenpeace estimates that China installed an average of more than one wind turbine every hour of every day in 2015, and covered the equivalent of one soccer field every hour with solar panels.

China may meet its 2020 goals for solar installation by 2018, said Lauri Myllyvirta, a research analyst at Greenpeace, who is based in Beijing.

But despite these impressive numbers, China’s push to clean its air and reduce its greenhouse gasses faces political pressure from the politically powerful coal industry.

Mr. Geall and Mr. Myllyvirta both said that Thursday’s announcement was missing any language on curtailment, or the amount of electricity generated by wind and solar that never finds its way to the country’s power grid. In China, wind power curtailment was 19 percent in the first nine months 2016, Mr. Myllyvirta said, many times higher than in the United States, where curtailment levels are often negligible.

The main reason for curtailment, he said, is that China is plagued by overcapacity in electricity generation and operators of China’s grid often favor electricity generated from coal.

In recent years the country has also been building coal-fired power plants at a furious pace, although that has recently slowed along with China’s economy. Another omission from Thursday’s announcements, Mr. Myllyvirta said, was the absence of any specific target to reduce coal consumption.

But both Mr. Geall and Mr. Myllyvirta said Thursday’s announcement set the stage for still more power generation from renewable energy and a gradual shift away from coal.

“My experience with China is when a numeric target gets written down, it gets implemented,” Mr. Myllyvirta said. “It doesn’t always get implemented in the way you like, but it does get implemented.”


Creating the Culture for a Renewable Energy Future

Posted on January 10th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Renewable energy has already won the battle against fossil fuels, despite the big subsidies for oil and gas. Renewable energy is cost-efficient when it’s compared to the cost of pollution. Also, renewable energy has been proven to be cost-effective when projects take advantage of partnerships and cooperative financing.

It is just a matter of time before the victory in this battle is shared with the majority of the world.

However, how soon this happens depends on how quickly the existing oil and gas energy generation culture changes. Culture has been defined as the learned and shared behavior of a community of interacting human beings. If culture is about learned and shared behavior, can we learn and share our way to a renewable energy future?

The oil and gas energy generation change is contingent on how governments consider culture when they implement effective renewable energy incentives and subsidies. The change also depends on how willing businesses are to evaluate and adapt their culture of renewable energy consumption.

The private sector, financing institutions and multilateral development agencies need to facilitate a culture shift in funding, developing and evaluating renewable energy projects. We must evaluate 11the culture in which we live and work and how the benefits of renewable energy influence that culture. Each of us must understand our history if we are going to change our reality in our lifetime and shape the future.

Overcoming Intimidation Created by Renewable Energy

The transition to renewable energy might seem intimidating – regardless of whether it is 20% by 2020 or 100% by 2060 – because it will require a culture shift. This may be why worldwide energy goals are like moving targets. They must adapt as the shift occurs, whether at the national level or within local companies.

One aspect of this intimidation might come from the notion that we’ve lived with fossil fuel energy so long that change is impossible. However, “so long” really is not that long in the context of human history.

It is only since the Industrial Revolution that fossil fuels have dominated our culture. Even then, we had hemp as biomass and oil, hydropower as dams, wind power as windmills and solar power as solar cooking. Before the Industrial Revolution facilitated migration from rural workplaces to urban manufacturing areas, we depended on decentralized ways of living and making a living.

Decentralization and the use of renewable energy is nothing new. Certainly, the amount of energy we consume can be correlated with the electrification of technology. But this does not necessarily mean our energy consumption needs to increase continuously.

With electrification, we increase our energy footprint in two ways: with the energy requirement to use products and the energy requirement of creating products. As we create more products, we still have to deal with the energy footprint of electronic waste. It makes sense that manufacturers are developing “smart” technology to optimize all aspects of product energy consumption.

Most of our ideas around energy consumption are not necessarily based on what we need to consume. Instead, they are based on what we want to consume for comfort, security, tradition – to reflect human progress, to satisfy ideas of development, to define wealth, to distinguish class and assert cultural identity.

Benefits from the Development of a Sharing Economy

Culturally, the truth is most of us in the Western Hemisphere are accustomed to the conveniences of having our own car, our own home, our own everything. However, these customs have changed and will continue to change. Innovative companies such as Uber are proof of those changes. We are also seeing examples from the development of a sharing economy.

However, Uber didn’t just grow exponentially because the company saw the benefits of sharing costs with drivers. Uber saw the benefits of creating a sharing economy.

So how can a sharing economy benefit from renewable energy? If we share both our energy consumption and our profits, we justify a shared investment in a renewable energy future. This investment can create the necessary capital for renewable energy projects.

How Do We Scale Out and Cooperate for a Renewable Energy Future?

For now, the only way to see an immediate return on investment from solar installation and a lower electricity bill is if the cost for energy consumption exceeds the cost of installation. Individually, this is a rare occurrence. More often, our energy consumption cost means that a solar installation is equal to electricity payment five to 30 years in advance.

But many of us wonder how we will pay our bills the next three months. Five years is simply too far forward to stretch our money.

There is a way to cooperatively create energy consumption clusters, which together can receive a return on investment sooner than in five years. That way, we not only share the installation costs, but also the financing and soft project costs.

This approach could further increase confidence in renewable energy investment, while helping individuals to understand their energy consumption. In turn, more of us would be willing to install energy-efficient products and give utilities the consumer energy demand information they need. That could lead to utilities adjusting fossil fuel costs for consumers who install solar panels that feed into centralized grids.

This consumer information is important because our existing electricity utilities and the culture of energy generation will not simply go away. The utility’s ultimate goal is to provide reliable and affordable electricity to everyone and that requires revenue and validated consumer demand data.

Reliability means meeting energy demands while avoiding power outages. But if we demand less energy, utilities earn less revenue. At the same time, a centralized grid structure, even if transitioning to renewable energy, still needs revenue to operate.

So where should this revenue come from? There are a range of policies and revenue-generating options. They include:

  • Renewable energy permits or licenses for energy generators and consumers
  • Rebates to customers who invest in energy storage, perhaps in the form of electric vehicles
  • Increases in the rates utilities pay customers who sell renewable energy back to the grid
  • Correlation of renewable energy rates with the cost of fossil fuel
  • Taxes on existing fossil fuel generation or products made primarily from fossil fuels such as Styrofoam
  • Private sector investment
  • Air pollution fines

The mix of policy options chosen must avoid the risk of having too many people come off the grid. When that happens, the cost of electricity will increase for those who either cannot afford an off-grid system or who are not part of a cooperative renewable energy project.


The transition to renewable energy will cost us on multiple levels beyond the technological cost. There is also the cost of transitioning systems that depend on fossil fuels, including companies, business clusters, communities, transportation and water infrastructure.


All of Las Vegas’s City-Owned Buildings Now Run on Renewable Energy

Posted on January 10th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Las Vegas is best known for its blinding neon signs and indulgent venues, but more recently the city government has set its sights on keeping the lights on in a more sustainable way.

Las Vegas’s city-owned buildings and other public infrastructure are now entirely powered by renewable energy as of December, including about 48,000 streetlamps, lights inside City Hall and power at city parks, Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke said.

“The move to renewable energy has been seamless,” Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman said in a statement. “The city of Las Vegas has long been a leader in sustainability, and becoming the first large city in the country to rely on 100 percent renewable energy [for city-owned buildings] is an incredible accomplishment that sets a great example for our residents and businesses.”

Of course, the restaurants, casinos and homes in Las Vegas still mostly get their power from plants that run on traditional fossil fuels. Nevada as a whole relies heavily on gas and coal for its power generation—63.9 percent of its energy comes from petroleum, and 18.2 percent comes from coal. About 18 percent of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources like geothermal, solar and hydroelectric energy, according to Colorado State University/The Nature Conservancy’s energy tracking tool.

More cities are expected to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon, either entirely or to power their municipal-owned buildings, as a way to meet climate targets and to save money. Cities across the country, including Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are studying how to move their residents, businesses and city buildings toward renewable energy, Sierra Club spokesman Shane Levy told Motherboard. St. Petersburg, Florida, was one of the most recent cities to jump into that initiative, becoming the first city in Florida to make a commitment to renewable energy.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory spokesman Eric O'Shaughnessy told Motherboard about 10 percent of cities in the US have an established renewable energy goal, and most cities that reach 100 percent renewable energy start the process by converting their city-owned operations to green power. He said the 10 percent figure is from a 2016 survey by the International City/County Management Association.

“There is a general consensus that cities are increasingly interested in renewable energy for both environmental and economic reasons, especially if you are working on the timeframe of several decades,” he said.

“Environmentally, going 100% renewable is a big step toward achieving sustainability goals. Economically, some cities have been able to actually save money by entering into long-term contracts for renewable energy that beat the rates they were previously paying for electricity.”

Las Vegas had been moving toward the goal by working with energy company NVEnergy, and when a large solar project was completed near Boulder City, the city was able to buy the rest of the energy it needed to run all city-owned buildings on renewable energy, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The switch to renewable energy cost the Las Vegas city government about $47 million, and it is expected save $5 million a year in energy bills due to the switch, Radke said.

“So it is a nine- to 10-year pay-back, which is really good,” he said.


Native American Solar Energy Visionary Equips Standing Rock Protesters With Green Technology

Posted on January 9th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Henry Red Cloud knelt down on the snow-packed ground at the Standing Rock Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

He didn’t seem to mind the frigid cold as he used his bare hands to secure an outlet to a solar air heater, one of 11 he installed one December day at the Oceti Sakowin Camp to help protesters there stay warm as temperatures dipped below zero.

“They’re outside all day,” Red Cloud, 57, later told ABC News in an interview. “And we still have 120 days of winter left here in the Northern Plains.”

Thousands of Native Americans, environmental activists and their allies have camped out near the Standing Rock Reservation for months in protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in July sued to block the four-state crude oil pipeline project, claiming it was never meaningfully consulted before construction began.

The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” argue that the nearly completed pipeline will threaten the reservation’s water supply and traverse culturally sacred sites. They also cite an 1851 treaty that they say specifies that the land in question was designated for Native American tribes.

Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based firm that’s building the pipeline, has said that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on local water supply are unfounded” and “multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route.”

The push to block the 1,170-mile pipeline has ignited tension between the “water protectors” and local authorities, and it has become one of the largest Native American demonstrations in decades. Many of the protesters left the camp after the Army Corps of Engineers, which reports to the Department of Defense, announced Dec. 4 that it will not approve an easement needed to permit the controversial pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe.

Although a major victory for the protesters, the decision may not have permanently defeated work on the controversial pipeline as the Obama administration enters its final days in the White House. President-elect Donald Trump has said he supports finishing the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

Many protesters have left since the Army’s announcement, but hundreds still remain and have erected teepees, tents and other kinds of shelters to keep warm this winter atop the frozen, snow-covered ground.

ABC News, on Dec. 21, photographed Red Cloud’s fifth return visit to the camp where he continued installing various systems providing heat, light and electricity from renewable energy sources, including solar and wind. The founder and owner of Lakota Solar Enterprises, a Native American-owned and operated renewable energy firm in South Dakota, also trained hundreds of protesters on how to install the systems themselves so they can live sustainably and embrace green technology.

“We need to utilize the sun and start coexisting with the earth and the sun and the wind,” he said. “We can do it. Our ancestors did it.”

Red Cloud, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, said he took an interest in renewable energy in hopes of helping Native American communities like his own that are suffering from high unemployment, poverty and the effects of climate change.

About 97 percent of the population on the Pine Ridge Reservation live below the poverty line, and about 90 percent are unemployed. Thousands of homes there lack electricity, adequate heating, clean water and sewage systems, according to data from the American Indian Humanitarian Foundation.

Red Cloud’s energy firm employs tribal members to manufacture and install solar air heating systems for Native American families across the Great Plains. He also co-manages the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, which provides hands-on green job training in renewable energy technology and sustainable building practices to tribes throughout the United States.

“It’s creating an economic opportunity for individuals here,” Red Cloud told ABC News. “And we’re bringing awareness and helping tribes reach energy independence, because we have the resources. We have tremendous sun and a lot of wind.”

In 2014, Red Cloud was one of 10 people honored by Obama as “Champions of Change” for driving policy changes at the local level to expand energy choices for Americans, grow jobs and add new clean energy to the grid.

“I found myself in D.C. at the White House having lunch there with the president,” Red Cloud laughed.

On the vast Pine Ridge Reservation, which spans over 2 million acres, Red Cloud and his partners are also building sustainable homes using natural materials, planting thousands of trees to combat deforestation and are cultivating organic farms with alternative energy sources.

Now, the father of 17 and direct descendant of Lakota war chief Red Cloud is bringing these green concepts to the Standing Rock Reservation to empower the tribes fighting the pipeline.

“We’re going to make history together and start to move ourselves away from fossil fuels. It can’t happen overnight,” he told ABC News. “We need to move forward together.”


First commercial geothermal-hydro hybrid plant starts operations

Posted on January 5th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Italian power firm Enel S.p.A., announces that  through its subsidiary Enel Green Power North America, Inc. (“EGPNA”), it has started operations at the world’s first integrated, commercial-scale geothermal-hydro power plant at its Cove Fort site in Utah. At Cove Fort, EGPNA added a fully submersible downhole generator technology to a geothermal injection well, combining geothermal and hydroelectric power at one site.

“The operation of this technology, a world’s first, is a major milestone for the geothermal industry and a reinforcement of our commitment to innovation and energy efficiency,” said Francesco Venturini, Head of Enel’s Global Renewable Energies. “We are creating innovative solutions that are making renewable energy better, stronger and smarter. As a result we have once again discovered a more resourceful way to maximise plant operations and power generation with the aim of using this technology at our facilities around the world.”

Findings from the initial testing phase held between July and September 2016 reveal that the addition of the hydro generator to the geothermal injection well resulted in an overall increase in output of 1,008 MWh over this time, offsetting the energy consumption of the Cove Fort plant by 8.8%, therefore improving the plant’s operational efficiency.

The innovative generator technology captures the energy of the water flowing back into the earth to generate additional electricity while also better controlling the flow of brine back into the ground. The presence of the generator creates pressure against the brine flow, which reduces the flow’s turbulence into the well, hence minimising the likelihood of any potential damage to the well. The result is a first-of-its-kind innovation that can reduce operational and maintenance expenses, while also having the potential to generate additional revenues.

Cove Fort is EGPNA’s second hybrid power plant to begin operations in the United States. The company also operates the award-winning Stillwater facility in Fallon, Nevada, the world’s first power plant to combine medium enthalpy, binary cycle geothermal, solar thermal and solar PV technologies at the same site.

With an installed capacity of 25 MW, Cove Fort began operations in 2013 and generates up to 160 GWh of power each year, powering more than 13,000 US households while avoiding the annual emission of about 115,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

EGPNA is present in 23 US states and two Canadian provinces with more than 2.5 GW of installed capacity spread across four different renewable energy technologies: wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower.


In Utah, an old geothermal plant gets a new life with hydroelectric additions

Posted on January 5th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Renewable energy can be a tricky business. If you’re not dealing with the intermittency of solar or wind power, you might struggle with some of geothermal’s more complex issues. For example, older geothermal plants rely on steam output that can diminish over time or harm the plant’s turbine components. Or, a geothermal plant can damage the subterranean aquifer that it’s taking hot water (called brine) from. Or, if the geothermal plant is air-cooled, a particularly hot day can reduce the plant’s efficiency.

To combat all of these issues, Italian renewable energy company Enel Green Power has been working to make its geothermal resources in Fallon, Nevada, and Cove Fort, Utah, more efficient by combining them with other renewable power sources. In its most recent endeavor in Cove Fort, Enel cleverly combines hydroelectric power with geothermal power to provide more electricity for the plant's operation.

 Usually, geothermal plants pump mineral-rich brine up from areas of hot rock beneath the surface of the Earth, convert that heat to energy, and then re-inject that water back into the ground to heat back up again. The re-injection process is usually as simple as it sounds—just put the water back in the ground where you found it once it cools. Instead, Enel is harnessing power from all that falling water. Brian Stankiewicz, Enel’s Senior Operations Manager for geothermal and solar operations, told Ars that the company realized it “had an exponential amount of hydraulic energy that could be harnessed” shortly after it bought the defunct plant in 2007.

Enel called on the expertise of oilfield service provider Baker Hughes to help it install a downhole generator in the injection well, opposite the production well where the water is pumped up. The generator is placed at the bottom of the well receiving the recycled geothermal water, connected to a turbine above it that spins as the re-injected water is pulled down by gravity. The generator changes that mechanical energy into electrical energy, producing an additional 1,008 megawatt hours for the plant. Enel says the hydroelectric addition has improved Cove Fort's efficiency by 8.8 percent.

Perhaps that seems like a small amount for a geothermal plant that generates 160,000MWh annually, but the hydroelectric component also helps protect Cove Fort’s aquifer. On many geothermal projects, the amount of brine that can be re-injected is limited to prevent damaging underground rock formations, Stankiewicz told Ars, adding, “if the flows get too large for the well, it can create a lot of turbulence.” Enel’s downhole generator at Cove Fort controls the injection of the brine back into the aquifer and limits those damaging “turbulent vortexes,” as geothermal engineers call them.

The hydroelectric component is an interesting addition to what was, as recently as 2007, an old, non-operational geothermal plant. Construction began on Cove Fort in southwestern Utah in 1984, and it was a fully operational steam turbine geothermal plant between 1990 and 2003. But steam turbines at geothermal plants don’t always have the longest life—minerals in the brine can wear out turbine components faster than a steam engine using regular water. Stankiewicz also attributed the original plant’s degradation to aspects of the reinjection process. “A conventional flash style plant doesn’t allow you to reinject 100 percent” of the brine, he said. “There’s a lot of evaporation.”

So when Enel bought Cove Fort in 2007, it converted the plant to a more efficient Rankine binary cycle plant—instead of using straight steam to power turbines, Enel pumps the hot water up to a heat-exchange site where a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point than water (in this case pentane) is heated by the water and evaporates, creating hot vapor that can power the plant’s generators.

“Over the last couple of decades, geothermal development has shifted toward the use of liquid dominated resources and away from steam as new power generation technologies make lower temperature resources economical to develop and operate,” Stankiewicz explained in a follow-up e-mail.

Enel reopened Cove Fort in 2013, and since then the 25MW plant has powered approximately 13,000 homes served by the Salt River Project, a utility cooperative in Arizona.

Checking in on some 16ft-tall mirrors

The combination of geothermal and hydroelectric energy at Cove Fort is a first for North American geothermal plants. But it’s the second hybrid plant that Enel has built combining geothermal with other renewable resources. Enel’s Stillwater plant in Fallon, Nevada, is the only triple-hybrid renewable energy plant in the US, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), combining geothermal power with a 26MW array of photovoltaic solar panels, and a concentrated solar power (CSP) system that uses mirrors to add heat from the Sun to already hot geothermal water. In fact, Ars took a tour of Stillwater way back in 2014, when the company was still in the process of installing the 16-foot-long parabolic mirrors that currently concentrate heat on a 5” pipe full of geothermal brine.

The CSP system finally came online in 2015, and in October of this year, the US Department of Energy and Enel announced that they would be working together to conduct some studies on ways to optimize Stillwater’s three energy sources.

Currently the CSP provides some interesting efficiencies to Stillwater. Shortly after opening the geothermal portion of the plant in 2009, Enel realized that the ambient air temperature in the Nevada desert was reducing how quickly its air-cooled geothermal system could shed heat, which harmed how much energy the plant could produce in the middle of the day. While Enel can’t make a hot desert afternoon cooler, it realized it could make the geothermal brine it pumped from the Earth hotter. Its parabolic mirrors can heat the air in front of them to about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, while the brine inside goes from 300 degrees Fahrenheit out of the ground to 390 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the DOE, this strategy has been working for Enel: “between the months of March and December 2015, the CSP component increased the amount of overall output by 3.6 percent, on average.” That, in combination with the solar PV array, means that Stillwater is a renewable energy plant that’s producing 24/7—during the day when geothermal energy production might drop off, the solar array is producing energy and the CSP system is boosting the weakened geothermal performance. At night when the solar array isn’t producing anything, geothermal is functioning well, and the cool night air means that the CSP system isn’t needed.

What’s does the future hold?

Enel couldn’t say if there are any more projects like this in the works, but Stankiewicz did say that Cove Fort’s Down Hole generator scheme could likely work on other geothermal sites. “The Cove Fort plant presented unique geological conditions that proved to be a good first testing facility for this technology,” he wrote to Ars in an e-mail. “We are actively looking at ways in which this technology can be applied at other sites around the world with the same geological conditions. An analysis needs to be done of individual injection wells to ensure there is enough head pressure and flow to allow the installation of the Down Hole Generator.”

And, despite the incoming Trump administration’s aversion to renewables, the company is publicly optimistic that there will continue to be a market for renewable energy in the US. Besides the geothermal plants, Enel has a handful of solar and wind farms, and it announced a deal in October to construct a 300MW wind farm in Missouri. “Our company is well positioned to continue its growth in the US as evidenced by its more than 1 GW under construction and continued investments in both renewables and the US market,” a company spokesperson said.

Correction: The story originally said that Fort Cove was the first geothermal plant to use hydroelectric power and geothermal power together, but a project from the Northern California Power Agency actually predates Enel's project.