Olympic Energy

 

Between coverage on Simone Manuel, the 10,000 meter world record and the green pool water, have you stopped to consider what type of energy it takes to run and compete in the Olympics.   We will dive into some fun comparisons, but first, let’s review some basic physics.  Power is the rate at which Energy is generated or consumed.  Simone Biles’ vault routine has more power than Amy Cragg’s marathon, but Cragg uses more energy during her race.  Remember, energy takes many forms, chemical, nuclear, gravitational and kinetic to name a few, so we are comparing the energy (calories) consumed by an athlete to the energy generated by various types of power plants (kilowatt-hours.)

 

1 solar panel operating for 1 hour generates the same amount of energy as the potential energy contained in ALL of the 10 M Olympic dives.

After 1 day of operation, 2 solar panels would generate enough energy for an Olympic marathon.

Players on the soccer field would consume the energy generated by an average residential solar installation on a long, sunny day.

The Olympic Torch travels around the world used the energy generated by a 200’ tall Wind Turbine over the course of a day.

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Let’s not forget all the couch athletes!  They use the most energy of all!  During the 2012 London Olympics, viewers consumed 425 million hours of footage on their computers which is the equivalent of one average coal plant running 8 hours per day through the Olympics.

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Television viewers won the energy competition.  Two of our largest nuclear power plants, would need to run full time for the duration of the Olympics to keep those TVs running.

Please note all of these calculations are approximate and based off rough estimations.

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Democratic Platform: Energy

Yesterday was the first day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.  Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren highlighted climate change and energy policy as priorities for the Democrats over the next four years.

 “This election is about climate change, the greatest environmental crisis facing our planet, and the need to leave this world in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations.” -Bernie Sanders

“We believe that oil companies shouldn’t call the shots in Washington, that science matters, that climate change is real. Hillary will fight to preserve this earth for our children and grandchildren. And we’re with her!” – Elizabeth Warren

The contrast could not be greater to last week’s Republican Convention, where one of the few references to energy policy came from Harold Hamm, the likely Energy Secretary in a Trump administration: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded.”  The differences are even more striking in the two parties’ platforms.   Last week, we reviewed the Republican platform.  This week, we review the Democratic platform.

Overlaps with Republican Platform

There are no overlaps in the Democratic and Republican energy policies with two exceptions: support for coal workers and streamlined permitting for transmission lines.

The fight against climate change must not leave any community out or behind—including the coal communities who kept America’s lights on for generations.   …  We will also oppose threats to the public health of these communities from harmful and dangerous extraction practices, like mountaintop removal mining operations.

The two parties have the same goal: protect the welfare of communities founded in 19th century coal.  However, the strategies are opposites.  The Republicans advocate increasing coal production without addressing the growing environmental, health and economic problems associated with the industry.   In contrast, the Democrats want to push 21st century jobs into these communities using modern technology to help these communities. This is a common theme.  One party accepts risks clearly defined by the past, while the other advocates launching into the unknown of the future.

We will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar, and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.

While both parties seek streamlined permitting for federal transmission lines, only the Democrats will plan around integration of renewable energy sources.

Climate Change:

Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures, and that Americans deserve the jobs and security that come from becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.

The platform has a resounding chorus that climate change is a threat to America but mitigating actions bring broad solutions for America.  More middle-class jobs, a reduction in foreign conflicts, increased innovation, lower energy bills and more people of color and women in STEM careers are all linked to climate change solutions.

Global Cooperation

As discussed last week, the Republican platform completely rejects global cooperation in environmental and energy policies.   The Democratic is the complete opposite.

We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis.

… In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.

… We will support developing countries in their efforts to mitigate carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, deploy more clean energy, and invest in climate resilience and adaptation.

The democrats want to lead the world in solving the climate crisis with global cooperation and support of developing countries in meeting their climate commitments. They plan on polling experts to make the best plan.

Next steps

The platform lays out specific milestones necessary for achieving these goals:

  • Within 4 years, install half a billion solar panels (~100 GW).
  • Within 10 years, clean energy sources will supply 50% of electricity
  • Within 40 years, America will run on 100% clean energy
  • Expand clean energy R&D
  • Maintain the Clean Power Plan
  • Power the federal government with 100% clean electricity
  • Partner with states, cities and rural communities for clean power

As expected of any political platform, details and specifics are missing, but the first step to making a plan is acknowledging the existence of an issue. This platform does exactly that and proposes solutions that create more jobs and a healthier and safer America.

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Make America Safe Again: Energy

Yesterday was the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the theme of the night was “Make America Safe Again.”  Smart energy policies contribute to American’s safety by curbing dependence on foreign energy sources, cyberthreats to our infrastructure, climate change and dangers to our troops abroad.  The speakers addressed these issues as follows:

  • US Senator Tom Cotton: “________________________________.”
  • Melania Trump: “________________________ !!”
  • Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell: “________________________________?”
  • Governor Rick Perry “________________________________________ .”

OK, maybe it was wishful thinking that energy or climate policy would be addressed on the first night of the convention, but, given the relevance of extreme weather events to our country’s safety, I had to be hopeful. Disappointed, I went directly to the newly adopted Republican Party’s platform to find the relevant energy policies.

Cyber Threats and Terrorism

The grid is aging, vulnerable to cyber and terrorist threats, and unprepared to serve our energy needs of tomorrow. It should not take seven to ten years to plan and construct a transmission line. We support expedited siting processes and the thoughtful expansion of the grid so that consumers and businesses continue to have access to affordable and reliable electricity.

 How do we mitigate the risk of cyber threats and terrorism on our electric grid?  The platform recommends a reduction in permitting timelines and an expansion in the transmission grid.  This is not a solution and just exacerbates the problem.  Distributed generation, microgrid installations and smart grid modernization would have a much higher return on investment and lead to greater security.

Clean Energy:

The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource. Those who mine it and their families should be protected from the Democratic Party’s radical anticoal agenda.

We encourage the cost-effective development of renewable energy sources — wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, geothermal, and tidal energy — by private capital.

 So much has already been written on how the GOP unanimously voted to define coal as clean.   Until our government accepts that coal emits carbon, carbon causes climate change, and extreme weather events kill Americans, our safety continues to be at risk.   Government funding the cost effective development of renewable energy sources is just one way to make America safe.

Safety of our Troops Abroad

The same Administration now requires the Department of Defense, operating with slashed budgets during a time of expanding conflict, to use its scarce resources to generate 25 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2025. Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue. This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it.

 This is an annoyingly obtuse view on the DOD’s resources.  A significant portion of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan came attacks on fuel convoys.  To keep our soldiers safe, convoys must be closely guarded which results in a fully burdened cost of $45 per gallon of oil.  Increasing electricity generated by renewable technologies directly decreases our casualties and has the added benefit of reducing the DOD’s expenses.

Global Cooperation

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution. Its unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy.

. . . We demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in accordance with the 1994 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

 Carbon emissions do not respect political borders, so climate change is a global problem needing global solutions.  The United States’ funding supports UNFCCC initiatives in developing countries so that Americans don’t suffer from extreme weather events caused by climate change.  By no means are the existing agreements perfect, but continued participation in UN sponsored conversations will only yield improvement.

 

In summary, the Republican Party recommends burning more coal, shortening environmental permitting timelines, ceasing global cooperation, cancelling the Clean Power Plan and enhancing American oil and gas development.  This does not make America Safe, nor, as we will might find out today, does it make America work again.

Intersolar

I had a fantastic trip to Intersolar filled with some great conversations, a few animated debates, new friends, and a lot of learning.  Here are my top 5 highlights:

Energy Storage

With half a floor dedicated to Energy Storage, batteries were a frequent topic of conversation. There were 28 companies displaying Li-Ion, lead acid or flow batteries and a host of others selling energy management solutions.  There is no clear leader amongst these companies, and most attendees agreed that the energy storage industry closely resembles the early days of the solar industry.  We will likely see a lot of turmoil and consolidation as these companies respond to new regulations, strong competition, and broadening markets, but I expect a thriving industry will emerge!

Solar Hop

Walking the exhibit floor of Intersolar is like a scavenger hunt of finding where old colleagues are now working. Dubbed the “Solar Hop,” it is incredibly common for people to jump from one company to another as the industry evolves.  At one point I was chatting with three former Bloom Energy colleagues with whom I was working just 1 year ago.  Today, we are scattered between energy storage, solar development, racking manufacturing, and consulting. I hope this will eventually settle down, but for now, it is encouraging a lot of collaboration and competition.IMG_2792

SEI’s 25th Anniversary

No solar conference is complete without some celebrating!  I started my career interning at Solar Energy International’s, so I was thrilled to attend their 25th anniversary party.   Complete with signature cocktails (I preferred “Dirty Energy,” a drink styled after an old-fashioned) the annual Battle of the Bands competition (Congrats to Inovateous for the win), and a jovial crowd, SEI and QuickMount PV threw a fantastic party.

Industry Diversity

After the reactions from SPI 2013, I thought Booth Babes were a thing of the past.  Alas, Talesun missed the memo and had some very scantily clad women dressed as bunnies.  Intersolar attendees are still overwhelmingly white men, and Talesun’s insulting marketing plan further highlights how much we need more diversity in our industry.

boothbabes

Debuting Companies

When I was last at Intersolar in 2014, module washing companies were the next big thing. This year, it’s customer acquisition platforms.  Business plans range from drone fly-overs, to independent consulting for residential customers, to finance options for installers.  It will be interesting to see who returns in 2017.

 

Aliso Canyon, Beaches and Blackouts

June 30, 2016

The 4th of July weekend means summer is in full swing – everyone is escaping the heat by heading to the beach or blasting their air conditioning. For electric utilities, it means we are in blackout season, and the threat is greater due to the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak.

Southern Californians have heard a lot about Porter Ranch. Now, all of the Southern Californian utilities are advertising the high probability of blackouts this summer. What’s the link? How does a natural gas leak lead to the lights going out?

Porter Ranch is a community located less than 5 miles from the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility. The largest in California, it is made up of 115 storage wells. When one leaked, thousands of residents were displaced from their homes and the rate of methane emissions for the Los Angeles basin more than doubled. That means the one leaking pipe continuously released more methane into the atmosphere than all of the cars, power plants, airports and smoke stacks in the Los Angeles basin. When the leak was finally contained, the California Legislature issued a temporary moratorium on gas injections into the facility until each well was individually inspected and tested.

The facility has not been emptied, so there is still supply for periods of peak gas consumption, but the availability is reduced. While the majority of the natural gas goes to heating, refineries and natural gas vehicles  , Aliso Canyon’s storage facility supplies 52 electric power plants or 60% of the region’s residential, commercial and industrial customers.

A shortage of stored natural gas means these power plants cannot ramp up production to meet the high electrical demand. If there is too much demand and not enough supply, we get blackouts. To make the situation even more complicated, Southern California still faces a drought!  In 2014, hydroelectric generation was just 38% of 2011, our last wet year. With drought conditions ongoing, hydropower will not be a reliable source of energy to make up for the leaks.

When you head to the beach this weekend, take a break from the waves and check out the local power plants that provide your electricity:
– The 550 MW Scattergood Generating Station in El Segundo (pictured above)
– The 1,310 MW AES Redondo Beach Natural Gas Power Plant
– The 450 MW AES Huntington Beach
– The 573 MW Mandalay Power Station in Oxnard

These are all natural gas power plants that rely on Aliso Canyon. Take a good look and be grateful that America’s power grid is resilient and blackouts are rare. Then, cool down in the Pacific, limit your electricity consumption, and invest in alternative energy systems! Happy Independence Day!

Why does Tesla want to acquire Solar City?

June 23, 2016

A few days ago Tesla offered to acquire Solar City. There are many theories about why: combined, Tesla and SolarCity can meet their world-saving, sustainability goals; Elon Musk is wrangling finances to prop up his various business interests; by mingling their tax and carbon credit markets, the two companies can pull in more cash. The theories range from practical to deeply conspiratorial, but all of them fall short of the real question: how will the acquisition expand the Musk-Empire in the rapidly shifting alternative energy market?

In April, Tesla wowed the world when approximately  400,000 people each invested $1000 in reservations for the Model 3 electric vehicle. If every reservation results in a purchase, then Tesla has already booked $14 billion in the most successful product launch ever. But don’t hold your breath for that new car smell! Assuming no delays, most investors will not receive their car for 5 years which is an optimistic timeline given the fact that Tesla has never delivered a car on schedule (the Model S was 3 years late.)

The production timeline for the Model 3 is tied to the construction of the Gigafactory which is ahead of schedule with power cell production starting as early as November. Without the Model 3 ready, where will all these batteries go? Not to the residential market which is struggling. In March, Tesla terminated sales of their 10 kWh Power Wall since other manufacturers offer a better product for half the price. Further, dissatisfied residential customers have complained that the electronics for the 7 kWh are too noisy for a residential setting. Why purchase a $6,500 battery to save $31/month when it keeps you up at night? Until there are drastic price reductions in batteries, the residential market will stay on the fringe.

Tesla’s battery market is not limited to residential. In fact, they are one of the primary suppliers for the commercial/industrial market.  Southern California Edison awarded all of the behind-the-meter battery storage to two Tesla-supplied storage companies: AMS and STEM . The market continues to grow – EnerNOC uses Tesla batteries, and the  CPUC has approved an expedited procurement of additional battery storage to avoid blackouts in Southern California this summer.

This is where the acquisition of SolarCity starts to make a lot of sense.  SolarCity is cash-strapped and struggling. Shares are down, losses are growing and the market is not cooperating. Recruiting commercial solar customers continues to be an expensive process, and SolarCity eliminated over 550 jobs in Nevada due to unfavorable regulatory developments. SolarCity needs work for their design and construction teams. If Tesla supplies the batteries and SolarCity provides the design, installation labor and sales, the profit and growing market stays with the Musk companies. The merger gets more attractive when you know that solar powered batteries are entitled to the 30% Federal Investment Tax. By combining solar and batteries, SolarCity will have an edge on the commercial battery and solar market, the Gigafactory will have a market for all the batteries that would have gone into their likely-to-be-delayed Model 3, and Tesla can help corner the energy storage industry without ramping up its field service personnel.

And what about those customers who are looking for a fully integrated residential energy solution? Pairing electric vehicles with the smart grid is hardly a new idea.  Back in 2011, Tendril looked into smart plugs for EVs and in 2012, announced a partnership with BMW. SolarCity/Tesla could do the same thing and transfer all the value of a residential battery installation to the electric vehicles customers with no cost of customer acquisition.

Smart grid, distributed generation, batteries, electric vehicles are markets driven by tax credits, incentives, regulatory policies and lobbying power. If SolarCity accepts Tesla proposition, then we can be certain that there will be a major shake-up in the commercial battery, residential solar, and electric vehicle markets. Will Tesla and SolarCity continue to grab market share without making a profit? Will other companies be able to compete, or will there be a consolidation in the commercial battery market? Only time will tell. Come back to our blog for more information!

 

Disclaimer: this post is entirely our opinion and is based exclusively on public information. Throughout the post we have cited articles with more background information on each of the facts above.