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Archive for the ‘Renewables’ Category

EIA AEO minutia of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on April 28, 2009

One of the annoying features of the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook is that it has to model policies exactly as the law is currently written. For example, even though the production tax credit for renewable generation had been extended almost every years since its inception (after the requisite political brinksmanship), these extensions are only on an annual basis, so EIA assumes they expire when it forecasts what the world is going to look like in the future.

Which is why I was surprised to come across this footnote in Table 13.5 (Regional RPS requirements), in the AEO 2009 Assumptions documentation: “California is not projected to meet RPS targets because of funding limitations.”

Now I’ve expressed skepticism of California’s state RPS in the past, but it certainly says something when the hyperliteral folks at AEO call your bluff.

Posted in Renewables, RPS | Leave a Comment »

Another BANANA peel for renewables (or more green infighting)

Posted by Rich Sweeney on March 19, 2009

Despite claiming on her website that “today, global warming is my number one environmental priority,” Senator Diane Feinstein moved yesterday to make over 600,000 acres of California desert off limits for renewable energy development (E&E daily, $ub req). In a letter to Ken Salazar, she asked that the Interior stop considering applications for renewable projects in the eastern Mojave Desert, despite the fact that the state is still going ahead with its insane ambitious 33% RPS by 2020.

Posted in Renewables | Leave a Comment »

Assuming we cap carbon emissions, what’s the added benefit of enacting a federal RPS?

Posted by Rich Sweeney on February 26, 2009

I’ve been really busy since I got back from Thailand, which is why I haven’t been posting. Now I’ve got a cold and don’t really have the mental energy to come up with anything coherent or insightful. So I figure I’ll take this opportunity to ask CT readers a question, the one in the title.

I’ve been confused about this for a long time and am hoping someone can explain it to me.  There’s been a lot of chatter recently about Obama’s apparent attempt to sneak a cap and trade program in through the back door of the budget. However, I’ve heard from multiple sources that the House Dems want a national renewable portfolio standard in place before a carbon cap is implemented.

As far as I know, the reason we want to promote renewable electricity is to reduce our carbon emissions. Since simply enacting an RPS will not guarantee that we reduce emission to the desired level, some sort of carbon price will be necessary anyways. If the RPS is less than or equal to the percentage of renewable electricity generated after carbon policy is in place, then the renewable credit price (REC) will go to zero, and the whole program will have contributed nothing more than red tape.

On the other hand, if the RPS still binds after we cap carbon, it will have the effect of increasing electricity prices without further reducing carbon emissions. Unless the CO2 permit price goes to zero (EIA estimates of L-W were in the $20 range), the emissions cap acts as both a floor and a ceiling on emissions.

So my question is, simply, why do we want an RPS if we know we need to price carbon anyways?

Posted in Cap and Trade, Carbon Tax, Climate Change, Renewables, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Renewable energy money in the stimulus bill

Posted by Rich Sweeney on February 18, 2009

A nice concise summary (PDF), courtesy of ACORE.

Posted in Renewables | 1 Comment »

Sweet article on transmission and renewables

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 9, 2009

In the MIT Technology Review. Lots of good information indicating that the main barriers to renewable energy investment are bureaucratic, not technological or economic. Which means that any sort of green stimulus aimed at promoting renewable electricity would be pretty useless unless its simultaneously accompanied by regulatory overhaul. And I definitely don’t see that happening before President’s Day.

Here’s just one interesting passage from the article. Def check out the whole thing:

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, which manages the grid in a region covering portions of 15 states from Pennsylvania to Montana, has received hundreds of applications for grid connections from would-be energy developers whose proposed wind projects would collectively generate 67,000 megawatts of power. That’s more than 14 times as much wind power as the region produces now, and much more than it could consume on its own; it would represent about 6 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption. But the existing transmission system doesn’t have the capacity to get that much electricity to the parts of the country that need it. In many of the states in the region, there’s no particular urgency to move things along, since each has all the power it needs. So most of the applications for grid connections are simply waiting in line, some stymied by the lack of infrastructure and others by bureaucratic and regulatory delays.

Posted in Renewables, transmission | 1 Comment »

Green infighting

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 7, 2009

From Greenwire, a preview of what’s to come as government attempts to promote green investment. Like any other market, the renewable energy and efficiency market consists of both complements AND substitutes. It’s really hard not to appear to be picking winners in these situations, which inevitably invokes outcry from the losers. In this instance, interest groups backing energy efficiency and distributed renewable energy are attempting to block a large transmission investment aimed at bringing geothermal and solar energy to badly congested markets. We’re gonna need all of the above if we are gonna significantly reduce our carbon emissions from electricity, but that doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot to the critics listed here. I’ll post the whole article below the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Renewables, transmission | 3 Comments »

Wise(r) words on renewables and transmission

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 16, 2008

Last week the NYTimes ran a new story with a familiar punchline: despite noble ambitions, many states look poised to fall well short of their renewable portfolio standard (RPS) mandates. The piece quotes LBNL’s Ryan Wiser, who has written and research extensively on renewable electricity. While the article talked mainly about loopholes and small regulatory incentives to comply, Wiser concludes with this blunt statement:

“It comes down in a lot of ways to transmission, ultimately.”

Where have I heard that before? Actually in my previous post I forgot to link to the paper I mentioned, which I co-authored with Shalini Vajjhala, Karen Palmer, and Anthony Paul. In it we show that increasing interregional transmission capacity can increase renewable penetration in a baseline scenario (absent any national RPS), and decrease the cost of renewable energy credits if a national RPS is enacted.

Also, in response to the last post I got a useful email directing me to WIRES, a coalition of transmission interests working on public policy to alleviate congestion and promote renewables. For those interested, there’s lots of useful information on their website, including a new report done by CRA on integrating locationally constrained resources.

Posted in Electricity, Renewables, transmission, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The most interesting post I’ve read in a long time

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 21, 2008

Mike Giberson on negative electricity prices and wind subsidies in Texas.

In the first half of 2008, prices were below zero nearly 20 percent of the time. During March, when negative prices were most frequent, prices were below zero about 33 percent of the time. After mostly taking the summer off, negative power prices were back to near 10 percent in October……..During these negative price periods, suppliers are paying ERCOT to take their power. Consumers (at least at the wholesale level) are getting paid for using power, and the more power consumers use the more they get paid. These prices are a big anti-conservation incentive. You could, as a correspondent put it to me, build a giant toaster in West Texas and be paid by generators to operate it.

As is usually the case on KP, the whole post is clear and well argued and provides great background information. Definitely read the whole thing yourself. Then rethink your position on the PTC.

Posted in Electricity, Renewables, Wind | 2 Comments »

Questions for the Goreacle

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 10, 2008

I love Al Gore. No one has done more to increase political awareness about the dangers of global warming. And now, having essentially settled the debate over if we should act, Gore has shifted his focus to informing how we should act. His vision is an admirable one. Since last spring Al has been pushing for the US to commit to getting 100% of its electricity from renewable sources in the next ten year. I think everyone agrees that it would be awesome if that happened. Yet while it is the job of politicians to inspire and lead the public and to challenge us to to achieve our stated social goals, its the job of policy analysts like myself to evaluate their propositions. So I have some questions about the plan that Gore put forth in yesterday’s NYTimes and on the We Can Solve It website.

  • In the Times op-ed, Gore writes, “The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.” Does anyone know where that $120 billion came from? Or even what it represents? EIA lists total 2007 electricity sales at $343 billion.
  • Under the heading “Are materials or land availability a limiting factor?” on the We website, there are charts comparing annual US glass and steel production to the quantities called for under Gore’s plan. The solar thermal glass requirement looks to be about 40% of US production and the steel requirement is 8%. Now I guess the point is to show that these quantities are less that we currently produce, but that’s a pretty useless metric. The real constraint is the cost of displacing the 40% of glass currently going to other uses. Lots of great things are technologically or materialistically feasible if cost is no obstacle. Did we learn nothing from the run-up in corn prices this summer?
  • Gore takes 2020 EIA electricity demand estimates as the target level of generation for his scenarios. But then he also calls for the electrification of our transportation sector. Clearly this would increase the amount of electricity demanded (by how much is anyones guess). I like his point about PHEVs acting as batteries for renewables, but doubt that this could really impact the grid. Reliability is a huge issue when it comes to electricity.
  • Gore’s plan also meets 28% of the EIA 2020 target with energy efficiency. Where does this come from? Is it really “efficiency” or simply demand reduction as a result of the high price of eliminating fossil fuels? Again, lots of things are “feasible”, but welfare losses matter.
  • Finally, what actually happens to all the coal and natty gas plants? Much of our current capacity has another 20-30 years of capital life left. How do we eliminate them? Is it through legislative fiat or does the government buy these plants out and retire them? Either way, this would cost somebody a lot of money.

Ok I realize there isn’t a lot of insight here. I really just wanted to list the questions I had when I read Gore’s plan. Any CT readers have answers to these/ questions of their own?

Posted in Climate Change, Efficiency, Government Policy, Renewables | 4 Comments »

And if you don’t know, now you know…

Posted by Rich Sweeney on October 17, 2008

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how far renewable energy has come in this country. Fortunately Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown reminds us that these are indeed exciting times. See for yourself below el jump.

* H/T to Tmoney.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Renewables | 1 Comment »

Monday morning links

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on October 6, 2008

Wontcha just ease back into that work week, doggone it!

  1. Tim Haab points out one good rider on the financial bailout: the renewable energy tax credit was (finally) re-upped.
  2. Mankiw links to an NYTimes review of Goldin and Katz’s new book on education and technology.  Seems to give an overview of skill-biased economic growth, and addresses ways that our educational system has not kept pace with the demands of technological progress.  Looks like a good primer on some very important questions in labor economics.
  3. The Oil Drum explores the links between energy and the financial crisis.  There are a couple links in there, a few open-ended discussion questions, and basically an open thread.

Posted in Education, Finance, Renewables, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

What’s the matter with California

Posted by Rich Sweeney on September 3, 2008

Over on, Stephen Lacey* has an article on two controversial California renewable energy ballot initiatives.

The first, Proposition 7, would increase the states RPS to 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. The current RPS, enacted in 2002, set a goal of 33% by 2020, which is already by far and away the most ambitious target in the US. In 2007, 11.8 percent of all CA electricity came from renewable resources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric facilities. Now 40% isn’t necessarily impossible, but the costs and reliability impacts are highly uncertain. As one insider put it a few months ago, “If that passes, I’m stocking up on flashlights.”

The other initiative is Proposition 10, which “authorizes the state to issue US $5 billion in bonds from California’s general fund in order to provide incentives for “clean alternative energy vehicles” and research and development of next-generation transportation.” Ostensibly the idea behind the bill is to jump start California’s alternative fuel market, but Lacey points out that many clean energy analysts are skeptical. For what its worth, this clean energy analyst couldn’t separate the beef from the bs amidst all the legalese. However, the measure is financially backed by T. Boone Pickens’ company Clean Energy Fuels, which at least answers the classic Jim Garrison question “Who benefits?”

Which brings me to the point about California, and about direct democracy in general. Most propositions deal with issues that are far too complex and consequential to simply leave up to a popular vote. Even if every voter was smart and experienced enough to evaluate the issues reasonably, he most certainly would not devote the time and effort necessary to do so. Instead ballot initiatives are incompletely explained by self-interested parties, and decided on a whim by shortsighted citizens. Voters get all of their information on a proposed ammendment in a media blitz that occurs right before the vote, and devote exactly 2.5 seconds to pondering the issue between questions in the voting booth. The result is a hodge-podge of conflicting codifications which would be quite comical it weren’t so disastrous. Two examples:

  • During the 80s and 90s CA voters mandated spending increases in every direction imaginable while simultaneously enacting arbitrary estate and sales tax cuts, leaving the government perilously tied to state income taxes. Then when the economy went south and the state went into fiscal crisis, they took to the booth again to oust Gray Davis for allowing the budget deficit to get so large.
  • in 1993 Californians voted “three strikes” into law, which mandated life imprisonment for third time felons. The result has been prison overcrowding and countless inhumane incarcerations.

Good policymaking requires a careful consideration of both the costs and the benefits. Ballot propositions emphasize only the positives, often encouraging voters to think they can have their cake and eat it too. Now its totally possible that CA voters will take the time to understand the implications of a 40% RPS, or the benefits of a $5 billion alternative fuels subsidy. Much more likely though they’ll evaluate these propositions in a vaccuum, ignoring the tremendous costs/ stresses of the former and the wasteful, restrictive nature of the latter.

* FYI Stephen Lacey also hosts an excellent weekly podcast for those interested in renewables.

Posted in Government Policy, Political Economy, Renewables, RPS | 1 Comment »

NREL Releases New Wind Study

Posted by Rich Sweeney on May 13, 2008

The DOE, in conjunction with Black & Veatch and AWEA, finally released its long awaited 20% Wind Energy by 2030 study (PDF) yesterday. I haven’t read the whole thing yet as I’m still swamped at work, but here are some quick highlights from the DOE press release:

  1. Annual installations need to increase more than threefold.  Achieving 20 percent wind will require the number of annual turbine installations to increase from approximately 2000 in 2006 to almost 7000 in 2017.
  2. Costs of integrating intermittent wind power into the grid are modest. 20 percent wind can be reliably integrated into the grid for less than 0.5 cents per kWh.
  3. No material constraints currently exist. Although demand for copper, fiberglass and other raw materials will increase, achieving 20 percent wind is not limited by the availability of raw materials.
  4. Transmission challenges need to be addressed.  Issues related to siting and cost allocation of new transmission lines to access the Nation’s best wind resources will need to be resolved in order to achieve 20 percent wind.
  5. Most notably, the report identifies opportunities for 7.6 cumulative gigatons of CO2 to be avoided by 2030, saving 825 million metric tons in 2030 and every year thereafter if wind energy achieves 20 percent of the nation’s electricity mix.

More to come on this once I’ve had a chance to go through it carefully.

Posted in Renewables, Wind | Leave a Comment »

Feel good clean energy video of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on May 6, 2008

You can read more at William’s blog.

Posted in Electricity, Renewables | 2 Comments »

Soon it’ll be even easier to put your money where your mouth is

Posted by Rich Sweeney on April 2, 2008

According to Seeking Alpha, two new solar ETFs are on the way.

Posted in Green Biz, Renewables | Leave a Comment »

Solar sentence of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 2, 2008

The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year.

From “A Solar Grand Plan” in last month’s Scientific American. While I’m a little skeptical about some of the numbers used (although I think they’re probably too pessimistic on the costs side, given recent developments), it’s definitely worth checking out. The authors lay out a surprisingly clear and coherent plan for getting large scale solar farms off the ground. Nevertheless, I have a few small questions/ gripes about the plan:

  • Not sure if we should pick compressed air as the storage mechanism of choice just yet. Nanotechnology/ batteries are still promising; and a look at R&D expenditures quickly reveals that the DOE knighted hydrogen some time ago.
  • On a related note, I’m not sure if the authors properly considered how installing DC lines across regions would alter the competitive landscape. Ignoring any political/ siting barriers, I think interregional HVDC is a worthy aim and real possibility in the medium term. But those wires would be open to all generators, not just solar. The authors go on to vaguely assert that total electricity demand would go down under their plan. If DC is involved, I highly doubt this.
  • The authors suggest that society could pay for the $420 billion overhaul with a carbon tax of “0.5 cents per kWh”. I’m going to assume that this tax is listed per kWh, as opposed to per ton of carbon, strictly for illustrative purposes. Taxing all electricity generation equally regardless of carbon usage would be insane.
  • Finally, I’d just like to state my categorical annoyance at the opening statement of the last paragraph:
    • “The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar is a practical alternative….”

    The US and other developed countries have been funding solar research since the ’70s. Californians, some of the richest people on the planet, periodically endure rolling blackouts. Given the obviousness of the solution (duh, the sun’s hot and free) and the amount of money at stake (the total of the electricity system was around around $130 billion), I don’t think solar’s prolonged infancy can be simply attributed to some information asymmetry.

H/T The Energy Blog.

Posted in Renewables, Solar | 1 Comment »

A website named desire

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 31, 2007

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is a really great resource for navigating the clusterfuck that collectively constitutes America’s renewable energy and efficiency policy. Enjoy.

Posted in Renewables | Leave a Comment »

Renewable energy penetration – it’s all relative

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 31, 2007

I’m finally back in DC after heading home for Christmas and skiing in Maine. Though a lot has happened since we last posted, I wanted to start off with an obvious, but oft-forgotten observation: when projecting market penetration of a given product, what matters is relative price changes, not absolute ones.

The National Academy of Sciences recently sponsored a panel on renewables as part of its America’s Energy Future project. When I started doing some research for the electricity component of this project, my boss directed me to an interesting survey paper she did at RFF a few years ago. Though cost effective energy from renewable sources has received a lot of attention in the popular press lately, its been an academic and DOE goal since the 1970s. Yet over the ensuing years, renewable sales and capacity have consistently fallen short of government projections. Most policy makers and passive observers simply attribute these persistent shortcomings to technology holdups, ie they assume that the technological development hasn’t met projections. But when Palmer and her co-authors looked at the performance of renewables projections from the 1970s and ’80s they saw a different story. While renewables market share has consistently fallen short of predictions, cost reductions have largely exceeded or met expectations. This is because during the same period, the costs of conventional sources fell by even more. Therefore the culprit in this tale isn’t technological delays on the renewables side, but technological advancements and input price reductions on the conventional side.

These days it seems everyone wants to know how much the market for renewable energy is going to grow in the coming decades (Yesterday the NYTimes ran a chart depicting the EIA’s 2030 market share projections). While most fossil fuels will probably remain high for the foreseable future, we need to remember that clean energy sources are still chasing a moving target. Given the market’s past experience, this uncertainty alone could be significantly deterring investment (periodically allowing the PTC to lapse probably isn’t helping either). Though it wouldn’t alleviate all the variance in price, firmly committing to some sort of carbon tax or cap would counter this uncertainty.

Posted in Renewables | Leave a Comment »

Some good news on renewables

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 18, 2007

1. A recent study by two Stanford professors found that up to 1/3 of wind capacity can be used to supply baseload electricity once a large enough number of wind turbines are linked together. To date, wind’s market penetration has been hindered by its perceived intermittence.  If the authors’ findings are correct, they might suggest that government should focus on subsidizing inter-turbine transmission, not turbine production.  Read the press release and download the paper here. H/T The Energy Blog.

2. Today’s NYTimes has an article on Nanosolar’s new thin film PV panels.  The Google backed company plans to start selling photovoltaic systems for as low as $2 a watt. Assuming a ten year life and a very conservative 8 hours of sunlight a day, that’s less than 7 cents a kilowatt hour.

More evidence that we may not even need an RPS. H/T Thom.

Posted in Renewables, RPS | Leave a Comment »

Are you sitting down? I’m going to defend W.

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 8, 2007

Today on NYTimes’ The Board, the editorial board derides President Bush’s opposition to a 15% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) as flip flopping. This is because as Governor of Texas, Bush implemented a very forward looking and successful statewide RPS. Therefore, clearly his opposition to a national RPS can only be the result of Cheney, Rove, and industry “getting to him”. However, while it is certainly possible that some undesirable influence got to Bush, the premise that what’s right for Texas’ electricity market is necessarily right for the country as a whole is far from true. Texas is unique for two important reasons. The first received only cursory mention from the Board, while the second was ignored entirely.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Electricity, Renewables, RPS | Leave a Comment »