2 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for March 23: Wind energy investments to hit $65 billion this year; World Bank helps Indonesia increase geothermal energy
China WindPower Group Ltd., Iberdrola SA and Duke Energy Corp. will lead development of an estimated $65 billion of wind-power plants this year that let utilities reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
The estimate from Bloomberg New Energy Finance assumes a 9 percent annual increase in global installations of wind turbines, adding as much as 41 gigawatts of generation capacity. That’s the equivalent of 34 new nuclear power stations.
Utilities that built natural gas-fired generators during the last decade are increasingly erecting turbines and buying wind power from competitors, tapping a renewable-energy source as governments consider ways to penalize carbon-based fuels.
“Wind development is moving fast,” James Rogers, chairman of Duke, which owns utilities in the U.S. Southeast and Midwest, said in London on March 18 at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference. “In the last 10 years, 90 percent of plants we’ve built have been gas. I’ve used gas plants like crack cocaine.”
While gas-fired plants are relatively cheap to build and pollute less than coal plants, they still emit carbon dioxide, which will carry higher costs if governments tighten environmental rules.
Last year, $63 billion was invested in turbines, adding 37.5 gigawatts of new capacity and bringing potential output of electricity from wind to 157.9 gigawatts, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, a Brussels-based industry group. A third of those turbines were installed in China, which doubled its capacity to 25 gigawatts.
Wind is gaining support as turbine costs fall and government stimulus money helps pay for the plants. Prices for turbines have declined by about 15 percent to 1.05 million euros ($1.44 million) per megawatt over the past two years, according to William Young, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“It makes sense and it makes money,” said Michael Liebreich, founder of the London-based consultant bought by Bloomberg LP in December.
If this year’s forecast holds, the new wind turbines may supply up to 12.3 million homes, less than the almost 33 million customers that the 34 nuclear plants would power with the same capacity, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy and American Wind Energy Association. Output from a nuclear plant is steady while turbines work only when the wind blows.
Worldwide investment in renewable-energy, which also includes solar and biomass facilities, may top $200 billion this year after outlays fell 6 percent to $162 billion in 2009, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.
That investment is moving ahead even after world leaders failed to reach a binding agreement limiting emissions from carbon-based fuels when they met in Copenhagen in December, Deutsche Bank AG Vice Chairman Caio Koch-Weser said. The cost of carbon permits for December 2010 traded in Europe has fallen 3.2 percent since that summit ended.
“The renewables story is gaining momentum independently now,” Koch-Weser said in an interview at the same conference. “I see with many clients from China to California to India now a really good renewables paradigm shift happening.”
The World Bank has announced $400 million to help double Indonesia’s geothermal energy capacity, part of a broad effort at the bank to ramp up climate change spending in the developing world.
Indonesian leaders estimate the country has about 28,100 megawatts of geothermal capacity — the equivalent of about 12 billion barrels of oil. They are aiming to make the renewable power a major source of energy in the coming years, a goal that Indonesian officials note will require hefty foreign investments.
At the same time, the country has pledged to reduce its growth of greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent in the coming decade. World Bank officials said they believe the funding will help Indonesia meet its goal.
“Indonesia has the largest geothermal energy potential in the world. The co-financing will help Indonesia reduce the use of fossil fuels to meet its rapidly growing energy needs. It also gives a clear signal on the practical actions developing countries can take to combat global climate change,” Katherine Sierra, the World Bank’s vice president for sustainable development, said in a statement.
The funding announcement comes at a time of heightened tension at the World Bank. The board is expected to decide next month whether to lend South Africa $3.75 billion for a 4,800-megawatt coal-fired power plant. The project has sparked widespread anger in the environmental community, which is pressing the World Bank to eliminate all fossil fuel lending and only fund clean-energy projects.
The debate could have a direct impact on the bank’s Climate Investment Funds, from which money for the Indonesia geothermal plan flows. Green groups are leaning on Congress not to put money into World Bank climate programs as long as the institution continues to underwrite coal. They also are closely eyeing the fund’s 2012 sunset provision, and argue the bank should not assume it will be the main delivery mechanism for the hundreds of billions of dollars wealthy nations have pledged to fight climate change.
A House Science and Technology panel will meet Thursday to mark up legislation that would reauthorize the Energy Department’s new high-risk, high-reward technology development program.
The Energy and Environment Subcommittee markup is the next step toward reauthorizing the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. The panel will also mark up language authorizing research and development programs within DOE’s Office of Science and DOE’s energy “innovation hubs.”
The measures will be introduced as three separate bills and marked up together before ultimately being stitched together with other research and education legislation in a larger bill that will serve as a follow up to the 2007 America COMPETES Act, a committee aide said.
The 2007 legislation originally authorized ARPA-E, but the program did not get its official start until last year with a $400 million boost from the stimulus bill. The program’s charter is set to expire at the end of this year.
So far, DOE has awarded 37 grants of about $4 million each to companies developing technologies like advanced biofuels from seaweed; crystal-growing for low-cost, light-emitting diodes; and a low-cost, all-liquid metal battery. And DOE has issued two additional grant solicitations of $100 million each to fund projects working in several targeted disciplines like carbon capture and storage and fuels from sunlight.
President Obama requested $300 million in additional funding for the program in his fiscal 2011 budget request, and the Science Committee has heralded that move.
Lockheed Martin began work last week on computer tools that could help determine where temperature differences between an ocean’s warm surface water and the colder deep water might be ideal for generating electricity.
Funded by $1 million in federal grants, the research is aimed at commercializing ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).
One $500,000 project intends to develop a geographic information system-based tool to help identify where electricity production is possible and gauge how much could be generated, said Rob Varley, the project manager. The other $500,000 grant will fuel research on the cost of running OTEC systems over their expected lifetimes of 20 to 30 years.
OTEC technology, which depends on the intake and discharge of large volumes of water, can be run from floating platforms or ships, or could be run onshore. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has said the technology would be most likely applied to islands that have growing power requirements and a dependence on imported oil.
There are no OTEC units in commercial use, Varley said. “We believe it can be utilized, but the major obstacle is going to be being able to get the cost of OTEC plants down to where they are affordable,” he said.
In order for the technology to work, surface-water temperatures must be about 36 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than temperatures about 3,280 feet below, the Energy Department says.
Tapping ocean thermal gradients also makes it possible to provide seawater-based air conditioning that could reduce electric-utilities’ electricity demands.
Gasoline pump prices lingered at a 17-month high on Monday following a steady climb in recent weeks.
Nationwide average retail prices remained flat at $2.82 per gallon, the highest level since October 2008. Prices are up 18.6 cents in the past month, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.
That matched the national average in the Energy Information Administration’s weekly report, up 3 cents from a week ago and 86 cents above a year ago. California had the highest average pump price – $3.09 a gallon – and the Gulf Coast region was the lowest at $2.69 a gallon.
Many experts and the EIA think average gasoline prices will hit $3 or more this spring or summer before easing later in the year. More expensive blends to cut pollution in the warmer months and more drivers on the road should keep pump prices up.
The price rise comes as the economy continues its slow recovery from the Great Recession and deals with stubbornly high unemployment.
At $3 per gallon, a typical motorist using 50 gallons of gasoline a month will spend $150 on fuel. A year ago, prices were at $2 a gallon.
Today, the city of San Francisco is rolling out its GreenFinance initiative, designed to help homeowners defray the cost of solar panels and other green upgrades.
In what’s called PACE financing, the city pays for the upgrade, and you pay off the loan over 20 years through property taxes. Because the improvements drive down energy bills, the idea is that you can go green for free.
San Francisco may be the first city to use the financing method to support energy-efficiency and water conservation improvements. Because these approaches reduce emissions and cost less, they should be included.
But if your home is already energy efficient, adding solar panels may be the next move, and it’s getting easier and easier to do.
1BOG, or One Block Off the Grid, is launching a second-round of campaigning to get San Franciscans to band together to negotiate better deals with solar installers. They boast an average savings of 15 percent, and participants can also use PACE financing. 1BOG offers a handy online estimate tool to give you an idea of how much you would pay for solar panels, and how much they would save you in the long run.
Sungevity has a special cooked up, too. It offers lease-to-own financing with no down payment. From the consumer’s end, it works much like PACE financing, but, according to Sungevity, lower interest rates result in lower final cost.
With so many options, there’s no excuse not to to look into efficiency and green energy upgrades for your house.
The oil giant Chevron has transformed an old refinery site in California into a test bed for seven advanced photovoltaic solar technologies, which the company is evaluating for use at its facilities worldwide.
On Monday, Chevron is unveiling 7,700 solar panels installed on 18 acres in Bakersfield, the capital of California’s oil patch. Called Project Brightfield, the plant will generate 740 kilowatts of electricity to power nearby oil operations.
Any excess electricity will be fed to the power grid.
“We were looking for the next-generation technology that we believe could well be the low-cost solution “” not just in terms of panels but in total cost of ownership,” said Des King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, the company’s venture capital and technology development arm. “It’s one of most comprehensive side-by-side tests in shear numbers of panels.”
Mr. King said Chevron collected data on 180 solar companies, visited 38 of them and narrowed the list to 19 before choosing seven finalists.
Six of the companies make thin-film solar panels that deposit or print solar cells on glass or flexible metals. Though less efficient than traditional crystalline photovoltaic technology, thin-film solar panels typically do not use much expensive silicon and can be manufactured at a lower cost.
Chevron has installed panels from Abound Solar of Colorado; MiaSol©, a Silicon Valley start-up; Sch¼co, a German industrial company; Solar Frontier, a subsidiary of Japan’s Showa Shell Solar; Sharp; and Solibro, a division Q-Cells, a big German solar module maker.
Project Brightfield’s sole crystalline panel maker is Innovalight, a Silicon Valley start-up that has developed a “silicon ink” that it uses to make photovoltaic modules. “We hope this is a boost to new technology providers,” Mr. King said.
For MiaSol©, Brightfield is the start-up’s first commercial project and the company will supply solar panels that will generate about a third of the facility’s electricity.
Chevron will test the technologies for three years and decide which might merit use at the company’s facilities, or by Chevron Energy Solutions, which builds solar power plants and installs solar arrays for commercial customers.
Last month, Chevron announced that it planned to build a one-megawatt concentrating photovoltaic power plant at the tailings site of its molybdenum mine in Questa, N.M. Such photovoltaic panels use mirrors to concentrate the sun on high-efficiency solar cells but have yet to be widely deployed. Concentrix Solar, a German company, will supply the technology.
A Silicon Valley start-up, SolFocus, last week announced the construction of the nation’s first big concentrating photovoltaic power plant in Victorville, Calif.
Chevron has also invested in BrightSource Energy, a solar thermal power plant builder that has contracts to supply 2,600 megawatts of electricity to California utilities. Mr. King said Chevron is not just evaluating the efficiency of the solar technologies but the total cost of their installation and operation.
“During the construction of the site, we timed how long it took to construct the panels and we’ll be looking at the cost of maintaining and operating them,” he said.
Disagreement among Senate Democrats is slowing progress on the climate bill – even as supporters push to move forward with a proposal this week.
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been working overtime to move a draft of their climate bill forward before the Senate leaves for recess at the end of the week
But at the same time, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman and Democratic Policy Committee chair Byron Dorgan have been fiercely lobbying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up the energy-only bill approved by the energy committee last June. The two met with Reid last week to argue for their legislation, which includes no cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
On Monday, Reid said no decisions have been on how to move forward.
“I’ve got lots of options on energy and I’m going to try to work it through with Bingaman and Kerry,” said Reid.
His comments come as Graham continues to cast doubt on the ability of the Senate to pass a bipartisan climate bill in the aftermath of the contentious battle over health care reform.
“I’m still committed to trying to roll out a vision of how to price carbon and make it business friendly,” he said on Monday. “But the truth of the matter is you are going to find most of our colleagues here risk-adverse.”
Over the past week, Graham has repeatedly warned that health care could poison the well for bipartisan work on other large initiatives.
“If health care blows the place up it’s going to be hard to do anything,” he said last week.
Immediately after health care passed the House on Sunday night, Graham fired off a statement blasting the process used to move the legislation as “sleazy.”
As Graham questions the bill, Kerry is mounting a fresh push on a major climate change bill.
“In the wake of health care’s passage, we have a strong case to make that this can be the next break-through legislative fight,” said Kerry.