Archive for the ‘Energy Storage & Microgrids’ Category

How ISOs and RTOs can create a more nimble, robust bulk electricity system and accelerate renewable energy.

Its no secret that the limiting factor for renewable energy growth is the lack of robust and coordinated transmission and the tools to control intermittency. This ISO/RTO Council report is probably the best update on the subject available. A great read and well worth time.

From the executive summary:

“. . . . specifically, the task force seeks to identify where technological deployment intersects with operational and policy considerations. This report is the culmination of that effort.

Source: ISO.RTO Council

In the course of developing this report, three key priorities emerged as imperatives to continuously ensure the reliability and efficiency of the

Bulk Electric System as the penetration of emerging technologies continue to expand. Those identified priorities are as follows:

1. Renewable supply and integration: Many breakthroughs are being made in individual technologies such as renewable generation, grid-scale energy storage and microgrids, for example. However, is there enough innovative activity happening cohesively to integrate all of these disparate components into the overall electricity system?

2. Greater situational awareness: Several technological options are presenting themselves, but are they being exploited to their maximum potential and will they be enough to maintain adequate awareness over a changing system?

3. Controlling an increasingly distributed electricity system: As Distributed Energy Resources (DER)3 increasingly connect to the distribution system, their aggregate impact on the bulk electricity system4 is already evident. To what extent should operation of DERs be ‘controlled’ or influenced by the bulk system operator and what should that relationship look like? What technologies will best assist that framework.”

As this report demonstrates, we have the technology and the knowledge to speed this clean energy transition but we need the political will. It’s time for leadership at all levels to embrace what it is the greatest economic and environmental opportunity of our lifetime.

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Diversification Chronicles – New Realities Facing Fossil Fuel Based Energy

solar, renewable energy diversification

Source: U.S. DOE

In my previous Diversification Chronicles post I covered some of the high level reasons why the time is right for fossil fuel and electric utilities to pursue profitable diversification into the renewable energy industry. Below, I outline recent events and news that further highlights the legal, regulatory and market drivers that should create urgent diversification strategy development or expansion for companies with large CO2 and GHG negative externalities as a result of their business operations.

On August 9th, the federal 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the first time on the legality of the Obama administration’s estimated social cost of carbon (SCC). SCC was determined by federal agencies who worked together starting in 2008 to create an accurate SCC, a metric that represents the long-term economic damage to society, in U.S. dollars, from each incremental ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The latest estimate placed the SCC at $36 per metric ton of CO2.

The recent ruling upheld the Department of Energy’s use of the SCC metric in its analysis of standards for commercial refrigeration equipment.  DOE used them for issuance of 2 rules in 2014: one of the rules set energy efficiency standards for 49 classes of commercial refrigeration equipment, while the other stipulated test procedures for the standards.

The refrigeration industry challenged DOE’s use of the social cost of carbon, but DOE’s use of the SCC metric, “was neither arbitrary nor capricious” according to senior federal judge Kenneth Ripple, who was appointed to the bench by President Reagan. The ruling was definitive in its entirety.

While this ruling only applies to the refrigeration industry in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, the implications are enormous for the oil & gas and electric utilities. The SCC metric as established by the US government is now a benchmark going forward. This may well be the first domino falling which would affect all CO2 & GHG emitters in near term.  

For the first time ever, CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants will drop below those from natural gas in 2016, according to a new analysis from the federal Energy Information Agency. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, historically low prices for natural gas, and other factors have driven coal use down by >30% while natural gas has been replacing that fuel for generation.

It was always assumed that natural gas would be a solid 50-year bridge fuel combined with renewables, energy storage and other technologies. But with its rapid rise in use, less energy density, and methane issues, natural gas is becoming a larger CO2 & GHG contributor with projections putting it past coal emissions in its heyday.

In addition to overproduction, very low oil prices, and legal challenges surrounding potential prior knowledge of the impact of their industry on climate change, the oil & gas industries are facing a potentially game changing problem of how Wall Street will value each company’s fossil fuel reserves.

Typically, an oil & gas company’s stock market valuation is weighed heavily on proven reserves and ability to extract. With many countries looking at putting a price on CO2 and limiting extraction of oil & gas as a result of the COP 21 Paris Agreement, this becomes a crucial data point for both the investment community and the operating companies themselves.

Industry observers believe that it’s only a matter of a few years before the investment community significantly reduces the value of oil & gas companies and limits their equity positions. Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission is coming under pressure to change its rules to require energy firms to be more clear on what their material climate change risks are.

Combined with climate change symptoms seemingly accelerating over the last few years, these market and regulatory challenges make diversification into renewables an imperative.  Short-term and weak green-washing strategies of the past will not stand up to public or government scrutiny going forward. The time is now for government and corporations to lead the transition to renewable and clean energy.

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Solar+Storage: Capturing Opportunities and Overcoming Challenges

 

solar energy & energy storageThe solar + energy storage model is widely cited and somewhat hyped beyond the reality of where pricing and business models stand today.

This archived webinar from my friend Terry Schuyler and his colleagues at DNV GL provides a clear picture of the challenges and the coming opportunities as the storage technologies decrease in cost and increase in performance.

Click here for webinar access. 

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Diversification Into Renewable Energy Chronicles – How About Now?

solar energy, diversification, solar bankability

Source: U.S. DOE

First post in a series looking at the fossil fuel segment diversification into renewable energy.

Consider the current energy industry situation:

  • For the first time in the last 100 years of the electric utility industry, revenue from sales of electrons did not go up after the US economy emerged from the recent great recession. Energy efficiency, renewable energy and behind-the-meter generation schemes are part of the reason.
  • Oil and gas industry revenue and margins are suffering from very low prices as a result of overproduction, regulatory tightening on negative externalities and other factors.

    Coal Industry Decline

    Coal Industry Decline

  • The coal industry is at a point that prompted the CEO of one the largest coal producers to state publicly that coal as a dominant generation fuel is in significant decline. Natural gas at historically low prices is rapidly replacing coal for base load generation. Coal is also impacted by strict limits on emissions as a result of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards(MATS). International markets, long thought to be a lucrative export valve for US coal, are in decline.  China and other large coal burning nations have enacted new laws to wind down their coal generation, as the reality of climate change sets in and the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy continues to rise.
  • The future energy picture, broadly speaking, is generally viewed through an electric industry lens. “Electricity is the energy of the 21st century,” according to Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of the large French oil company Total, which has been making initial strategic investments in renewable energy and energy storage over the last six years.
  • The majority of the world’s countries (174) have come to agreement on slowing down climate change at the United Nations COP21 in December 2015, which attempts to limit warming to 2° C compared to pre-industrial levels. With energy generation contributing average of 35% of emissions, the implications for the energy sector is clear.

In this era of market turmoil and low prices across all fossil fuel energy sectors, renewables are highly cost-competitive AND gaining ground. The recent BNEF 2016 Outlook verifies what renewable energy cheerleaders have been saying for many years – renewables with energy storage and next-generation grid technology are ready to lead the imperative global transition away from carbon-intensive generation.

So why is the fossil fuel industry still sitting on the sidelines? Renewable energy companies and assets throughout the supply chain are relatively inexpensive now, due to the low cost of the gas and oil it competes against. The timing to present a diversification effort to shareholders has never been better.  The timeline for return on investment for renewable diversification is significantly shorter than building fossil fuel assets. This would appear to be a first-mover’s diversification market.

The renewable energy industry represents a natural, highly profitable diversification strategy given the fossil fuel industry’s large balance sheets, synergistic services and capabilities, very low cost of capital, leverage with regulatory agencies and built-in customers in many cases. Yet many fossil fuel companies continue to dig in deeper on their traditional extraction-and-burn model, even as a Deloitte survey of oil and gas executives back in

Constellation Energy PV System at Denver Airport Source: Denver International Airport)

Constellation Energy PV system at Denver Airport     Source: Denver Int’l Airport

2009 uncovered major concerns about the sustainability of their industry.  The majority of these executives also expressed strong support for, and confidence in, the future of renewable energy.

There are signs that a tentative transition by some entities is underway. Major electric utilities such as Duke Energy, Georgia Power, NRG Energy and Exelon domestically have their toe in the renewable energy water, and the large European utilities Enel and E.ON  have announced long term transitions to 100% renewable energy. Other smaller electric utilities are testing renewable generation, and decoupling their profitability from electron-only sales into energy efficiency and other services. The oil & gas sector is increasing their involvement in renewables with recent announcements from Shell, Total, and Statoil, as well as a number of smaller firms that service the large multinationals.

However, with the exception of Total and few others in the electric utility industry, diversification capital investment budgets are small, generally under 0.6% of the total. And there is always the lingering suspicion, based on past pronouncements, that these latest diversification efforts are merely green-washing to counter urgent climate change action calls.

To be sure, diversification from a core competency is not simple for any company who has shareholders to satisfy on a quarterly basis.  Patience for executing a diversification strategy is not something the investment community is good at, as witnessed by the removal of electric utility visionary David Crane from the electric utility NRG last year. And E.ON in Germany is an example of the difficulty in maintaining profitability while crossing the diversification chasm.

But with the continual and rapid lowering of the installed cost and levelized cost of energy, as well as plunging cost reductions in the energy storage sector, diversification into solar and wind and other renewables can be achieved with a well timed diversification plan and lower risk. There’s money to be made, jobs to be created and the urgent health of our planet to consider.  How about now?

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The Golden Age of Natural Gas Cancelled?

bnefIt’s fitting for me to return to blogging right after the release of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Outlook 2016 report. While I have always been an optimist that solar energy and renewables generally would eventually disrupt the centralized fossil fuel paradigm, this report exceeds even my optimistic thinking.

What is astounding about this report is that as solar and wind continue their steep cost declines to the point that even with coal and natural gas generation costs at historic lows, renewables are, and will continue to be, the preferred choice for new generation through 2040. In fact, the report states that zero emissions renewables will be over 60% of all new electricity generation by 2040, requiring $7.8 trillion investment (coal & gas will require $2.1 trillion). Natural gas has always been assumed to be a long term “bridge fuel” until renewables, storage and intelligent grid infrastructure could mature but that maturation is happening significantly faster than most analysts thought.

In addition, capacity factors are forecast to go through the roof for renewables as better technology, supply forecasting and

60% Zero Emission Generation by 2040

60% Zero Emission Generation by 2040

smart grid technology enable large jumps in capacity gains. This makes renewables much more desirable. Once the generation asset construction is completed, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is essentially zero, while coal and gas have ongoing cost-variable fuel requirements for every watt produced. The choice is clear for the power utilities, IPP’s and commercial and industrial customers like Amazon, Apple and others even before factoring in the environmental benefits.

The report also forecasts Energy Storage becoming ubiquitous by 2040, with total behind-the-meter energy storage to rise dramatically from around 400MWh today to nearly 760GWh in 2040, representing a $250b market. PV+ storage, in the near and future terms, will be come the norm, not the exception.

On a more sobering note, coal use in India other countries will still be expanding, which in turn means that the world will exceed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s ‘safe’ limit of 450 parts per million and the 2⁰C scenario agreed upon at COP 21 in 2015. While China (long demonized as the mega coal offender) is on a massive and rapid transition from coal to renewables, India has a long way to go. As a result, in addition to the $7.8 trillion capital investment for renewables through 2040, another $5.3 trillion investment in zero-carbon power by 2040 is required to prevent CO2 in the atmosphere rising above the COP 21 goal.

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Lazard 2014 LCOE Research Report

Lazard Ltd. puts out their annual Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) Analysis in Q4 every year, and I always greet it as a worthy piece of market research. Others, however, shower it with critique – some dubious, some accurate. (2014 post on this research here) While there are significant variables that affect the effort to quantify LCOE in one metric, this annual research is quite accurate and appropriately footnoted regarding these variables.

LCOE is defined as all the expense line items of a PV system’s installed cost + the total lifetime cost of the PV system divided by the total amount of energy output in kW hours that the system will put out over its lifetime. (A simple LCOE calculator here).

Lazard LCOE Chart from 2014 Research

Lazard LCOE Chart from 2014 Research

The latest Lazard research reveals what others including Deutche Bank, UBS, NREL and other analysts have been saying over the past year: utility-scale solar and wind power are increasingly cost-competitive on the wholesale level with traditional energy sources such as coal and nuclear, even in the absence of subsidies. At the retail level cost comparison, its widely competitive unsubsidized with highly subsidized traditional fossil fuel generated power.

The research also shows the all-important progress of energy storage cost reduction and the large benefits of coupling storage with PV to reduce the demand charges and/or provide instant grid frequency stabilization. (A great list of all the energy storage benefits can be found here.) 

As a long-term participant in the utility and solar energy industries, it’s breathtaking to see the progress of the PV industry and its market penetration in the last 3 years. The industry has continually had to compete with highly subsidized fossil fuel generation while consistently improving LCOE through hardware, process and regulatory efforts to name a few. Significantly, all of this market penetration progress was achieved with 10X less in government subsidies than traditional fossil fuel-based industries. And with current cost reduction roadmaps throughout the supply chain showing continual lowering of cost’s, the future looks bright.

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Electric Utility Extincton or Evolution?

For the first time in its 100-year history, the electric utility industry in the US did not have an uptick in electron sales exiting a recession. This is due to a number of factors including the strong emphasis on energy efficiency programs over the last 10 years, growth in distributed generation behind the utility meter, demographic shifts with movement to warmer climates and an economic downward reset after the large bubble burst which led to the great recession.

Solar Energy, utility Meter

A direct connection to the customer

Combined with growth in renewable energy and independent power producers (IPP), this lack of growth has caused extensive discussionand consternation about the future of the electric utilities and their ongoing viability as going concerns in the energy industry and on Wall Street.

Recent discourse centers on the rise of residential PV due to the well-documented reduction in cost of PV systems over the last 6 years. PV deployed on homes now competes with retail priced energy from the electric utilities, which is now at cost parity in many locations.  With the emerging development of PV combined with energy storage using batteries, the conversation is about a utility death spiral that goes like this: as more and more homes deploy solar with batteries, the electric utility loses more and more revenue which requires them to raise rates which then encourages more adoption of residential PV by home owners.

While there is no question that the electric utility industry is going through a large and painful transition to a new and yet to be defined business model as a result of the aforementioned issues, it would seem highly unlikely the electric utility business model would go away completely as many pundits would suggest, for the following reasons:

1)   They possess a regulatory-granted monopoly which evolved to serve a nationwide public need for robust and reliable electric service;

2)   They have low cost of capital in an industry that requires large capital expenditures;

3)   They operate at unprecedented scale with corresponding efficiencies;

4)   They own and operate the grid infrastructure.

Solar energy, utility monopoly

Monopoly with significant barriers to entry.

There is no question that the utility industry has historically been slow to react or plan for the current disruptions in the energy industry. They also have a dismal record when entering new markets and seeming unwilling to accept new or disruptive technology trends and business models. With the exception of a few forward-looking utilities such as NRG, the power utility providers of today have been non-reactive to very large and visible recent trends that are a direct threat to their electron sales-only model. In many instances they have been hostile and retaliatory. But the reasons above provide a very strong platform for a competitive advantage that is unlikely to see the electric utility demise anytime soon especially now that they are waking up to not only the threats but the opportunities.

Solar PV, bankability

Utility Duke Energy owned North Carolina project

Many high profile participants and pundits have been predicting that renewable energy will be larger than 50% of total generation in the future and that all clean energy generation will come from the non-utility players. While I have very little doubt that renewables and in particular solar energy will be a large piece of the generation pie (as smart grid technology and grid improvements are implemented), the electric utilities with their regulatory monopoly, cost of capital advantages, and ability to implement at enormous scale will own a much larger share of the clean energy generation than most observers realize.

Utility adoption of renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, distributed automation grids and other new business models are beholden to the same issues that IPP’s and other non-electric utility energy market participants face – the transition away from a 100-year old, one direction, aging grid infrastructure to a smarter, automated, bi-directional grid that is hyper-efficient.  This will take time but I give the advantage to the larger electric utilities who are uniquely positioned to both steer the smart grid design and deployment and then efficiently phase their participation in the new energy economy accordingly.

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Levelized Cost of Energy Update

A good update from Lazard’s annual look at Levelized Cost of the Energy (LCOE) for alternative and conventional energy sources illustrates two interesting developments: 1) the continued progress of solar photovoltaics (PV) reduction of cost and competitiveness with conventional brown fuel generation and 2) the cost reductions in the battery storage market.

A key metric for project finance entities, PV LCOE has been significantly reduced by ongoing year-over-year cost reductions of PV hardware, balance of systems (including installation methods) and financing. The result has been a robust PV market both in North America and globally at a time when government support has been steadily declining.  (LCOE is defined as all the expense line items of a PV system’s installed cost + the total lifetime cost of the PV system divided by the total amount of energy output in kW hours that the system will put out over its lifetime. A simple LCOE calculator here). A signifcant recent example is  SunEdison’s utility scale PV project for the City of Austin which is supplying energy in year 1 at just under $0.05/kWh  as part of a 20 year supply contract. This contract will likely save the city’s electricity rate payers money compared to conventional brown fuel sources.

The most interesting data in the Lazard report is the all-important progress of energy storage cost and performance. Renewable energy has large value generally when the renewable fuel source is available–when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. For example, in the early evening a solar array is winding down production at a time when the peak energy demand on the utility grid is still elevated. Solar battery storage significantly increases the value of solar during this time, as solar power stored in the batteries can service this demand at a competitive cost depending on the location.

In addition, solar battery and other storage media can also provide voltage, frequency regulation (Hz) and ramp rate control for PV systems, which enable grid operators to have more control and confidence in the interegrity of their grid with a large number of intermittent distributed resources on their systems.

Notably, energy storage is not required for renewables solely because of their inherent intermittent generation function. Some of the Independent System Operators who manage the transmision and distribution grids nationally need storage throughout their grid to manage their ongoing demand response and frequency regulation challenges. This is due mainly to localized issues such as in the PJM ISO where they have a dearth of energy generation and other grid architeture issues.  PJM embraces and rewards energy storage operators whose storage, placed strategically throughout the grid, helps them smooth out demand spikes and control frequency swings.

In a future post I will review the various storage technologies including battery, compressed air, hydro and thermal.

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