Tag Archives: renewable energy

Debunking Trump’s Claim of “War on Beautiful, Clean Coal” Using Graphs

In President Trump’s first State of the Union Address last week, a wide range of topics in the Administration’s agenda were covered extensively while energy was largely pushed to the side. Trump did include two sentences on his self-described push for “American Energy Dominance,” and these two sentences sent wonks in the energy industry into a frenzy on social media:

“We have ended the war on American energy. And we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”

My Twitter feed lit up with various energy journalists and market watchers who noted the impressiveness that just 18 words over two sentences could contain so many misleading, or outright false, claims.

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As one of those energy reporters who immediately took to Twitter with my frustration, I thought I would follow up on these statements last week with arguments why the claims of ‘clean coal’ and the supposed ‘war’ on it do not reflect the reality the Trump Administration would have you believe, and I’ll do so with just a handful of graphs.



What is ‘clean coal’?

As a pure fuel, coal is indisputably the ‘dirtiest’ energy source in common use in the power sector, accounting for about 100 kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per million British thermal unit (MMBtu) of energy output. This output is notably larger than other major energy sources, including natural gas (about 50 kg/MMBtu), petroleum products like propane and gasoline (about 60 to 70 kg/MMBtu), and carbon neutral fuels like nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar. In the face of the scientific consensus on CO2’s contributions to climate change, many have noted that one of the best actions that can be taken in the energy industry is to shift away from coal to fuels that emit less CO2— which has definitively given coal a dirty reputation.

The premise of ‘clean coal’ is largely a PR push (literally invented by an advertising agency in 2008)– an ingenious marketing term, but one that does not have much in the way of legs. When you hear politicians talking about ‘clean coal,’ it is usually referring to one or more of the following suite of technologies:

  • Washing coal before it’s burned to remove soil and rock and thus reduce ash and weight of the coal;
  • Using wet scrubbers on the gas generated from burning coal to remove the sulfur dioxide from being released;
  • Various carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for new or existing coal plants that intervene in the coal burning process (either pre-combustion or post-combustion) to capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced from its burning and then sending it miles underground for permanent storage instead of releasing it into the atmosphere; or
  • Anything done to the coal-fired power plant to increase the efficiency of the entire process of generating electricity (e.g., the 700 Megawatt supercritical coal plant in West Virginia that is so efficient it reportedly releases 20% less CO2 than older coal plants) and reduce the overall emissions.

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When most in the energy industry discuss ‘clean coal’ technology, they are typically referring to CCS. However it should be noted that Trump did not mention CCS by name in this (or any) speech. Some analysts have noted that the White House’s attempts to cut CCS funding and send the Secretaries of the Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to supercritical coal plants are not-so-subtle hints that the Trump Administration’s preferred type of ‘clean coal’ is improving the efficiency of coal-fired generation. Even Bob Murray, the influential coal magnate, has written to the President to indicate his contempt for CCS, calling it a ‘pseudonym for no coal,‘ echoing the concerns of many proponents of coal that CCS is being pushed as the only ‘clean coal’ option so that if/when it fails (due to economic impracticalities) it would be the death knell of coal-fired generation altogether.

So regardless of which ‘clean coal’ technology the Trump Administration supports, issues remain. With regard to wet scrubbers, coal washing, and general plant efficiency improvements, the reductions in CO2 emissions are not nearly enough to compete with cleaner fuels. Even if all coal plants could be made 20% more efficient (and less reduce CO2 emissions by about 20%) like the West Virginia supercritical plant, which would be a massive undertaking, it would still result in coal generation being among the dirtiest energy in the country.

With regard to CCS, not only is the cost one of the biggest issues (which will be looked at in more detail later), but it does not remove all the pollutants from burning coal. Even with the most effective CCS capturing 90% of CO2 emissions, that leaves 10% of CO2 making its way into the atmosphere along with the other notable pollutants in coal gas (including mercury, nitrogen oxide, and other poisonous contaminants). When compared with the carbon neutral energy sources increasingly gaining ground in the United States, coal plants with CCS still hardly seem clean.

Again, the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) listing of carbon dioxide emissions coefficients shows the CO2 emissions associated with different fuel types when burned as fuel. As previously noted, coal is the far-away leader on CO2 emissions coefficients as a pure fuel. In DOE analysis of future-built generation (an analysis that focuses on the costs and values of different types of power plants to be built in the future, which will come up again in more detail later), the only type of coal generation even considered is coal with either 30% or 90% carbon sequestration, with 90% being the technological ceiling and 30% being the minimum example of new coal-fired generation that would still be compliant with the Clean Air Act. The below graph, our first in demonstrating the issues with claims of a ‘war on beautiful, clean coal,’ plots the CO2 coefficients of major fuel sources in the U.S. power sector, including coal using no CCS, 30% CCS, or 90% CCS. Existing power plants do not have the same requirements under the Clean Air Act, so they might still be producing CO2 at the far right of the ‘coal’ bar (indeed, last year almost 70% of U.S. coal was delivered to power plants that are at least 38 years old meaning they are likely far from the most efficient coal plants out there). Coal plants that are touted as ‘clean’ because of their up to 20% increases in efficiency would still find themselves in the same (or greater) range of emissions as 30% CCS coal plants, while 90% CCS coal plants appear to the be the only ones that can compete with other fuels environmentally (though it comes at a potentially prohibitive cost, which will show up in a later graph).

Note that the data for these CO2 emission coefficients come from this EIA listing. The lines for 30%/90% CCS are not just drawn 30%/90% lower, but rather account for the presence of CCS requiring more energy and thus cause a dip in efficiency– this graph uses the rough efficiency drop assumed for CCS plants in this International Energy Agency report

These numbers paint a scary picture of coal and are the source of what causes many energy prognosticators to scoff at the utterance of ‘beautiful, clean coal,’ though it is important to be clear that these numbers don’t tell the whole story. While nuclear and renewable energy sources do not emit any fuel-related CO2, they are not completely carbon neutral over their lifetimes, as the building, operation, and maintenance of nuclear and renewable generation plants (as with any utility-scale generation source) all have their own non-zero effect on the environment. However, since fuel makes up the vast majority of carbon output in the electricity generation sector, any discussion of clean vs. dirty energy must return to these numbers.

Further, the separation of dispatchable vs. non-dispatchable technologies (i.e., energy sources whose output can be varied to follow demand vs. those that are tied to the availability of an intermittent resource) shown in the above graph is important. Until batteries and other energy-storage technologies reach a point technologically and economically to assist renewable (non-dispatchable) energy sources fill in the times when the energy resource is unavailable, dispatchable technologies will always be necessary to plug the gaps. So regardless of what drawbacks might exist for each of the dispatchable technologies, CO2 emissions and overall costs included, at least some dispatchable energy  will still be critical in the coming decades.

Who is orchestrating the ‘war on coal’?

Even with the knowledge that coal will never truly be ‘clean,’ the question then becomes why haven’t the advancements in coal energy that is cleaner and more efficient than traditional coal-fired plants become more prominent in the face of climate and environmental concerns? The common talking point from the Trump Administration is that there is a biased war on coal being orchestrated, and the actions of President Trump to roll back regulation is the only way to fight back against this unjust onslaught that the coal industry is facing. But again, from where is this onslaught coming?

The answer to this question is actually pretty easy– it’s not regulation that is causing coal to lose its place as the king of the U.S. power sector, it’s competition from more affordable energy sources (that also happen to be cleaner). The two charts below demonstrate this pointedly, with the left graph showing the fuel makeup of the U.S. electric power sector since 1990 along with the relative carbon intensity of the major CO2-emitting fuel sources, while the right graph shows what’s happened to the price of each each major fuel type over the past decade. The carbon intensity shown on the left graph is even more indicative than the first graph above in detailing the actual degree to which each fuel is ‘clean’ as it factors in the efficiency of plants using the fuel and indicates the direct CO2 emissions relative to electricity delivered to customers.

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Note that the costs are taken from this EIA chart, with coal taken from fossil steam, natural gas taken from gas turbine and small scale, and wind/solar taken as the gas turbine and small scale price after removing the cost of fuel. Electric power generation and carbon emission data taken from this EIA source

Just from analysing these two graphs, a number of key observations and conclusions can be made about the electric power sector and coal’s evolving place in it:

  • In 1990, coal accounted for almost 1.6 million Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of power generation, representing 52% of the sector. By 2016, that figure dropped to 1.2 million GWh or 30% of U.S. power generation.
  • Over that same time period, natural gas went from less than 400,000 GWh (12%) to almost 1.4 million GWh (34%); nuclear went from less than 600,000 GWh (19%) to over 800 GWh (20%), and combined wind and solar went from 3,000 GWh (0.1%) to over 260,000 GWh (6%).
  • While the coal sector’s carbon intensity hovered around 1.0 kg of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produced from 1990 to 2016 (even as CCS and other ‘clean coal’ technologies began to break into the market), natural gas dropped from 0.6 kg CO2/kWh to less than 0.5 kg CO2/kWh, while nuclear, wind, and solar do not have any emissions associated with their generation (again noting that there are some emissions associated with the operation and maintenance of these technologies, but they are neglible compared with fossil fuel-related emissions). The drop in natural gas carbon intensity combined with coal losing ground to natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy led the electric power sector’s overall average carbon intensity to drop from over 0.6 kg CO2/kWh to less than 0.5 kg CO2/kWh.
  • While the narrative some would prefer to push is that coal is getting replaced because of a regulatory ‘war on coal,’ the real answer comes from the right graph where the cost to generated a kWh of electricity for coal increased notably from 2006 to 2016. Meanwhile, natural gas (which started the decade more expensive than coal) experienced a drastic drop in price to become cheaper than coal (thanks to advances in natural gas production technologies) while the low cost of nuclear fuel and ‘free’ cost of wind and solar allowed these energy sources to start and remain well below the total cost of coal generation. This natural, free-market competition from other energy sources, thanks to increasingly widespread availability and ever decreasing prices, is what put pressure on coal and ultimately led to natural gas dethroning coal as the predominant energy source in the U.S. power sector.

What these two graphs show is that the energy market is naturally evolving, there is no conspiratorial ‘war’ on coal. The technologies behind solar and wind are improving, getting cheaper, and becoming more prolific for economic, environmental, and accessibility reasons. Nuclear power is holding strong in its corner of the electricity market. Natural gas, more than any other, is getting cheaper and much more prominent to the U.S. power sector (while having the benefit of about half the CO2 emissions of coal), which is what has made it the natural ‘enemy’ of coal of the past decade or two. All that’s to say, the only ‘war on coal’ that’s been widespread in recent memory is a capitalistic, free-market war that will naturally play out when new energy sources are available at cheaper prices and contribute significantly less to climate change.

Will Trump policies reverse the course of coal in the United States?

Going back to the statement from Trump’s State of the Union Address, he claimed that his Administration had ended the war on clean coal. As stated previously, there was never an outward war on coal that was hindering the fuel. Even still, the main policy change from the Trump Administration with regard to coal was to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP) that aimed to cut carbon emissions from power generation.  However, many analysts predicted that would not change the current trends, as repealing the CPP does nothing to reverse the pricing pattern of the fuels. Indeed, this week EIA released its Annual Energy Outlook for 2018 and confirmed the tough future that coal generation has compared with natural gas and renewables– both with and without the CPP. While the CPP reduces the projections of coal generation, it doesn’t move the needle all that much and natural gas and renewables are still shown to surpass coal.

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So the major policy decision of the Trump Administration with respect to coal generation doesn’t appear to reverse the course of coal’s future. Again, this conclusion isn’t terribly surprising considering the economics of coal compared with other fuels. EIA projects the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for different type of new power generation (assumed to be added in 2022) which serves to show the relative costs to install new power generation. In the same analysis, EIA projects Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation (LACE), which can be thought of as the ‘value’ of the new generation to the grid (for more detailed description in the calculations and uses of these measures, read through the full report). When the LACE is equal or greater than the LCOE, that is in indication of a financially viable type of power to build (evaluated over the lifetime of the plant). So by looking at the relative costs (LCOE) of each power type and whether or not they are exceeded by their values (LACE), we can get a clear picture of what fuel types are going to be built in the coming years (and to continue the focus on whether coal or other fuels are ‘clean,’ let’s put the economics graph side-by-side with the CO2 emissions coefficients):

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Note that the source of the data on the left graph is the EIA Levelized Cost of Electricity analysis, with the ends of the boxes representing the minimum and maximum values and the line in the middle representing the average– the difference in possible values comes from variations in power plants, such as geographic differences in availability and cost of fuel. Also note that, counter-intuitively, EIA’s assumed costs for 30% CCS are actually greater than for 90% CCS because the 30% CCS coal plants would ‘still be considered a high emitter relative to other new sources and thus may continue to face potential financial risk if carbon emissions controls are further strengthened. Again, the data for the right graph takes CO2 emission coefficients from this EIA listing by fuel type

Looking at these graphs, we can see that the cost of new coal generation (regardless of CCS level) not only exceeds the value it would bring to the grid, but also largely exceeds the cost of natural gas, nuclear, geothermal, biomass, onshore wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), and hydroelectric power (all of which emit less CO2 than coal). Thus even in the scenario where 90% of carbon is captured by CCS (which allows it to be ‘cleaner’ than natural gas and biomass), it still comes at a significant cost premium compared with most of the other fuel types. These are the facts that are putting the hurt on the coal industry, not any policy-based ‘war on coal.’ Even the existing tax credits that are given to renewable energy generation are minor when looking at the big picture, as the below graph (which repeats the above graph but removes the renewable tax credits from the equation) shows. Even if these tax credits are allowed to expire, the renewable technology would still outperform coal both economically and environmentally.

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The last graphical rebuttal to President Trump’s statement on energy and coal during the State of the Union that I’ll cite comes from Tyler Norris, a DOE adviser under President Obama:

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As pointed out by Norris and other energy journalists chiming in during the State of the Union address, if the goal were to expand ‘clean coal,’ then the Trump Administration’s budget is doing the opposite by taking money away from DOE programs that support the research and development of the technology. In fact, at the end of last week a leaked White House budget proposal indicated even further slashes to the DOE budget that would further hamper the ability of the government to give a leg up to the development of ‘clean coal’ technology. Any war on energy is coming from the Trump Administration, and any battle that coal is fighting is coming from the free market of cheaper and cleaner fuels.

Sources and additional reading

20 Years of Carbon Capture and Storage: International Energy Agency

Annual Energy Outlook 2018: Energy Information Administration

Average Power Plant Operating Expenses for Major U.S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities, 2006 through 2016: Energy Information Administration

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Coefficients: Energy Information Administration

Did Trump End the War on Clean Coal? Fact-Checking the President’s State of the Union Claim: Newsweek

How Does Clean Coal Work? Popular Mechanics

How much carbon dioxide is produced per kilowatthour when generating electricity with fossil fuels? Energy Information Administration

Is There Really Such a Thing as Clean Coal? Big Think

Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2017: Energy Information Administration

Trump touts end of ‘war on beautiful, clean coal’ in State of the Union: Utility Dive

Trump’s Deceptive Energy Policy: New York Times

What is clean coal technology: How Stuff Works

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

How Much Power Is Really Generated by a Power Play?

As a huge sports fan who works in and writes about the energy industry, stumbling across this article that compared the kinetic energy produced by the high velocity projectiles in different sports got my creative juices flowing. By the estimates in that article, shooting a hockey puck produces the highest kinetic energy in all of sports.

Not only does it appear that hockey can take the ‘energy crown’ in sports, but a common occurrence during a hockey game is a ‘power play.’ A power play occurs when the referee determines that a player has committed a foul and that player is sent to spend a set number of minutes in the penalty box. During that time in the penalty box, the opposing team has the advantage of one additional player and are said to be on a power play– and if they score during that time then it is called a power play goal. While this power play has absolutely nothing to do with power plants or power generation, the idea that hockey pucks have the most kinetic energy in sports got me to wondering about what sort of power generation could be harnessed by power play goals in the National Hockey League (NHL).



If we wanted to harness the power of power plays (why would we want do do that? Maybe it’s the part of a plot by a wacky cartoon villain!), how much would that be? Why don’t we sit down and do the math!

Energy from a hockey puck

To start, we need to determine what the energy of a single hockey shot should be assumed to be (as the previously mentioned article does not include all of the necessary assumptions for academic rigor). High school physics class taught us that the kinetic energy is determined by taking one half times the mass of the object times the square of the speed of that object.

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Official ice hockey pucks weigh 170 grams, so we just need to figure out what to assume as the speed of the puck. Obviously every shot of the puck comes at a different speed depending on who is shooting, what type of shot is used (e.g., slap shot vs. wrist shot), how fatigued the player is, the condition of the ice, and many other factors. But for the sake of this back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can look at a couple of data points for reference:

  • The official NHL record for shot speed is 108.8 miles per hour (MPH) by Zdeno Chara in the 2012 All-Star Skills Competition;
  • Guinness World Records recognizes the hardest recorded ice hockey shot in any competition as 110.3 MPH by Denis Kulyash in the 2011 Continental Hockey League’s All-Star Skills Competition;
  • When discussing the benchmark of a particularly strong slapshot, 100 MPH is often used as the benchmark of a player getting everything behind a shot;
  • Finding benchmarks for the wrist shot is not as prevalent (people like to discuss the hardest shots possible, hence data on slap shots and not wrist shots), but some estimates show that wrist shots can reach speeds of 80 to 90 MPH; and
  • Estimates put wrist shots as accounting for 23 to 37 percent of all shots taken in professional hockey.

Given those figures, a rough estimate of average NHL shot speed can be determined by assuming slap shots are about 100 MPH and account for 70 percent of shots, while wrist shots are about 85 MPH and account for 30 percent of shots:

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll call the speed of a NHL shot 95.5 MPH, which equals about 42.7 meters per second (m/s). Plugging that speed and the 170 gram weight of the puck into our kinetic energy equation leaves us with an assumed ‘Power Play Power’ of an NHL power play goal of 154.9 Joules (J)– just over 0.04 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

For the rest of this article, we’ll refer to the energy gathered from power play goals, 154.9 J at a time, as ‘Power Play Power’– though please keep in mind the cardinal rule that power is the rate of energy over time, while the Joules and kilowatt-hours we’re talking about is total energy

Source

How much power can be harnessed from power plays?

The next step in reality would be to figure out how exactly you intend to extract ‘Power Play Power’ into actually generated energy, though that can be left up to the hypothetical cartoon villain who would be using such odd methods to create energy for his evil plots, as he did with the champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve (Side note, if I continue to write articles about the bizarre energy sources only thought up by a misguided cartoon villain, he needs a name– so in the spirit of villains like Megatron, Megamind, and Mega Shark, the energy-obsessed villain will be named Megawatt!)

But ignoring the question of how or why we would be extracting energy from ‘Power Play Power,’ let’s just look at what type of power will be generated based on 154.9 J per power play goal. Also note that there’s nothing special about the energy generated by a power play goal compared with a regular goal or even a shot that misses the goal– but where would the fun be without wordplay? POWER play goals only!

Most individual power play goals in a season

Note that all of the statistics pulled for this analysis are current as of January 1, 2018. Any power play goals scored after that date will not be accounted for in these statistics and calculations.

Pulling the top 10 individual player seasons with the most power play goals in NHL history, and assuming each of those power play goals account for 154.9 J, gives the following results:
Despite an impressive 34 power play goals in the 1985-86 season, Tim Kerr’s NHL record season would only generate enough ‘Power Play Power’ to run a large window-unit air conditioner for one hour at almost 1.5 kWh.

What about considering single players over their entire career?

Most individual power play goals over a career

As of January 1, 2018, the top 10 power play goal scorers for an entire career are as follows (note that as of writing, Alex Ovechkin is still active, as is Jaromir Jagr who is only two power play goals behind him in 11th place):
Looking at Dave Andreychuk, the individual with the most career power play goals in NHL history, his career ‘Power Play Power’ accounts for almost 11.8 kWh. Despite being an incredibly impressive number of power play goals, it’s only enough to power an energy-efficient refrigerator for about a week and a half. That’s a useful amount of energy to use in your home, but when it takes 274 career power play goals that that might be more work than it’s worth…

However looking at these first two charts, one aspect really jumps out– players who come from Canada appear to dominate ‘Power Play Power’ generation! Let’s dig into that a bit more.

Most power play goals by country of origin in the NHL

To start, Quant Hockey’s data shows that there are only 25 different home countries across all the players who have ever scored a power play goal in NHL history. Those 25 countries are listed in the below chart with their respective ‘Power Play Power’ totals generated:

Now we’re talking about some real energy. Canada, as predicted, dominates with almost 2,250 kWh of ‘Power Play Power’ since the beginning of the NHL. This amount of energy equates to about 20% of the average annual electricity used by an American household in 2016.

So that’s a pretty significant amount of energy on a micro-scale, but because we’re talking about the total ‘Power Play Power’ generated by all Canadian NHL players over nearly a century of play it is still not terribly impressive. For reference, the smallest nuclear power plant in the United States has a generation capacity of 582 Megawatts, meaning the 2,250 kWh of ‘Power Play Power’ of Canadian NHL players would be generated in under 14 seconds by the smallest U.S. nuclear plant operating at full capacity. Even if we included all power play goals scored by players of any nationality, the total ‘Power Play Power’ would only reach 3,339 kWh– or almost 21 seconds from the smallest U.S. nuclear plant.

Source 1, Source 2

Obviously the actual energy generation of each of these 25 nations will be much greater than the ‘Power Play Power’ generated by their respective NHL players– but is there some sort of correlation between ‘Power Play Power’ and actual energy production of the nations? Using the silly initial premise of this article as an example of the type of information available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and how to find that data, we can pull the total primary energy production for these 25 countries and get a rough idea! While the NHL started recording power play goals in the 1933-34 season, EIA’s country-by-country energy production data dates back to 1980 (measured using quadrillion British thermal units, or quads), but we’ll still use these two complete time frames for the comparison’s sake. Putting the two energy figures on one graph for a relative comparison provides the following:
This graph presents a couple of interesting points:

  • Among the 25 eligible nations included in the survey, Canada, the United States, and Russia all find themselves in the top 4 countries in terms of both ‘Power Play Power’ and Total Primary Energy Produced by the nation;
  • In an interesting coincidence, when the two types of energy being measured here are put on comparative scales, Canada and the United States appear to be almost mirror images of each other, swapping relative strength in ‘Power Play Power’ and Total Primary Energy Production;
  • In another similarity between the two measures of energy, the totality is dominated by the top three nations, and the relative scale of any nation after about the halfway point shows up as barely even a blip on this graph.

But other than that, it can be considered fairly unsurprising that NHL power play success doesn’t directly translate to Total Primary Energy Produced by nation. And even if Canada saw their NHL power play prowess as their opportunity to increase energy exports (which would only serve to increase the fact that Canada is the largest energy trading partner of the United States), translating ‘Power Play Power’ into real energy, their 2,250 kWh over NHL history would only translate to 0.00000004% of Canada’s primary  energy produced in 2015 alone. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ve discovered a viable energy to be harnessed by the villainous Megawatt.

Source

More benevolently, it would also appear that ‘Power Play Power’ will not serve as a reliable new renewable energy source for hockey-crazed areas (in this scenario, are we to consider penalty minutes a source of renewable energy?? If so, Tiger Williams might be the most environmentally friendly player in major sports history). However, at 419 billion kWh of renewable generation in 2015, Canada is the fourth largest renewable energy producer worldwide (with the United States and Canada being the only nations this time to finds themselves in the top four of of renewable energy and ‘Power Play Power,’ as North America accounts for majority of NHL players and has collectively agreed to generate 50% of electricity from clean sources by 2025). Following the link for EIA international renewable energy data to bring this back to educational purposes, you’ll find other top-15 ‘Power Play Power’ nations that also account for the top-15 in global renewable energy production, including the United States, Germany, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Coincidence? Probably.

Interesting and informative, nonetheless? Definitely!



Sources and additional reading

Appliance Energy Use Chart: Silicon Valley Power

Comparing Sports Kinetic Energy: We are Fanatics

How much electricity does a nuclear power plant generate? Energy Information Administration

How much electricity does an American home use? Energy Information Administration

Iafrate breaks 100 mph barrier: UPI

International Energy Statistics: Energy Information Administration

Most Power-Play Goals in One Season by NHL Players: Quant Hockey

NHL & WHA Career Leaders and Records for Power Play Goals: Hockey Reference

NHL Totals by Nationality – Career Stats: Quant Hockey

Now You Know Big Book of Sports

Ranking the 10 Hardest Slap Shots in NHL History: Bleacher Report

Saving Electricity: Michael Bluejay

Scientists Reveal the Secret to Hockey’s Wrist Shot: Live Science

Score!: The Action and Artistry of Hockey’s Magnificent Moment

Sherwood Official Ice Hockey Puck: Ice Warehouse

Slap Shot Science: A Curious Fan’s Guide to Hockey

Total Renewable Electricity Net Generation 2015: Energy Information Administration

Wrist Shots: Exploratorium

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Taking Control of Your Household Energy Mix: Renewable Energy with Clean Choice Energy

Taking up the cause of supporting renewable energy in lieu of traditional carbon-emitting fossil fuels has become increasingly popular in recent years, as people strive to do what they can to fight climate change, reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, and support localized energy resources that minimize harm to the environment. However finding something that everyday citizens can do to help the development and use of renewable energy is sometimes difficult:

But that may be changing as companies like Clean Choice Energy entering the market and providing everyday people the option to get their power from regional renewable energy sources. Clean Choice Energy allows eligible utility customers to agree to pay a little more and ensure that the electricity they are receiving is certified is renewable and does so without any extra equipment, new installations, or separate billing processes. For the energy-conscious consumer, Clean Choice Energy allows a small-scale participation in the energy transition in a very real and attainable way.

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But how does it work? Read on to learn more and read about my personal experiences with the process.



What is Clean Choice Energy?

Clean Choice Energy was founded in 2010 after Tom Matzzie (founder and CEO) wanted to install renewable energy into his home but found the process much more difficult than he thought it would be, which is a predicament Americans everywhere have encountered. The frustration of that process is what led to the birth of Clean Choice Energy. The basic concept centers around the idea that supporting new renewable energy development and continued generation costs more in the short term due to higher capital costs (while natural gas plants have installation costs of $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity, solar ranges from $2,000 to $3,700 per kilowatt and wind ranges from $1,200 to $1,700). So while in the long term, the ‘free’ nature of solar and wind to fuel the renewable energy brings the actual costs per energy generated of these projects below those of most non-renewable projects (see chart below), there exists a high upfront cost barrier to entry in the market.

Source

To overcome this cost barrier of renewable energy projects, Clean Choice Energy allows regular consumers to pay a little more every month to ensure that the power going into your home comes from 100% renewable sources. Giving the customer this flexibility is crucial, as power companies strive to keep their customers happy and prevent the prices from going up without cause. This goal to not raise prices, both prices for the customer and the price for the utility to generate energy, reduces the incentive for the utility to investment more in renewable power sources. While 29 states have mandatory requirements concerning the minimum amount of a utility’s portfolio that must come from renewable sources, many customers would still prefer to have more renewable energy in their personal energy mix and would even be willing to pay for that privilege. That preference is where Clean Choice Energy comes in, offering customers with the ability and desire to pay more for 100% renewable energy the option to do so. Not only do individuals who sign their household up get the satisfaction of knowing their lights and appliances are powered with solar and wind energy, but they can also be proud that their money is helping the feedback loop where more people buying renewable energy leads to more capital to invest and improve the renewable technologies which leads to more affordable renewable energy which causes more people to buy in, etc.

How does it work?

If the broad concept of buying into renewable energy sources for your household sounds appealing, then the general question of how exactly it works is the next logical step. Pretty much all possible questions are answered on Clean Choice Energy’s website, but the process is surprisingly simple and straight forward.

Getting your renewable power

When signing up with Clean Choice Energy, most locations have available both month-to-month contracts or full 12 month plans, though both can be cancelled at any point without delay or cancellation fee.

Once signed up, your household will begin to get its renewable power typically within one billing cycle, by the next meter read date. Your overall electricity and connection to the grid will not see any service interruption at all, and in fact everything on the customer’s end (wiring, equipment, billing process, utility company to contact with any issues) stays exactly the same. All that changes is that the utility will begin to get the electricity for your household from regional solar and wind resources as set up by Clean Choice Energy.

Clean Choice Energy’s standard clean plan is Green-e Energy certified, ensuring compliance with the standards put forth in Clean Choice Energy’s mission. When you get your power traditionally from the grid, it includes electricity from all the sources that utility uses– coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable sources. However once your household is a part of Clean Choice Energy, all your power will be accounted for from 100% regionally-based, clean, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar and not any blended products that contribute to fossil fuels or nuclear power. This end is achieved by making sure that all the energy from your meter reading is matched by Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which is what the customer is paying a premium to obtain.

Source

Billing

A crucial question for anybody considering a switch to Clean Choice Energy is how much their rates and monthly bill will be affected. Unfortunately, there is not a single or simple answer. The rates charged by Clean Choice Energy change from month to month because the renewable energy (i.e., the RECs) is bought on an open market where prices and availability fluctuate. As such, your bill is not going to increase by a fixed amount or fixed percentage, rather you agree to pay for the most affordable regional clean energy source that Clean Choice Energy finds in that particular month. However if this uncertainty is not ideal, Clean Choice Energy does, in certain locations, offer a fixed-rate price plan that you can discuss with them.

Once the next meter read date passes and you are officially getting renewable power via Clean Choice Energy, you will still continue to receive your only electric bill from the same utility. The only difference will be that ‘CleanChoice Energy’ will show up on that bill as your electricity supplier.

Availability

Because Clean Choice Energy is only available where it has specific agreements set up with the area’s utility, it is not an option everywhere in the United States. Currently, Clean Choice Energy serves both residential and commercial customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. However they are also continuing their expansion efforts and expect to enter into Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas in the future. Being in these states, though, is not all that is required, as you also must be a customer of the specific utilities in those states with which Clean Choice Energy has agreements. These applicable utilities can be found here.

My experience and review

Process of joining

One of Clean Choice Energy’s most significant and important claims is just how simple it is to sign up and start getting your renewable energy– no installation, no equipment, no headaches. To this claim, I can attest to its truth. I got a letter in the mail advertising that my apartment was eligible to switch, I went to the link I was provided, and within minutes I had completed my process of switching to 100% renewable energy. It actually was that easy!

Shortly after that, I received a welcome envelope in the mail, laid out and shown below, which came with a welcome letter, a sticker, a list of customer rights & responsibilities, and a detailed explanation about the type of power I was to receive.

After that, though, the required correspondence  with Clean Choice Energy was complete. At that point, everything was done through my existing power company, just as advertised. The next full bill I received from my utility (relevant excerpt shown below) replaced the utility’s supply charges with ‘CleanChoice supply charges.’ Again, the price change is variable and depends on your region– but for the below consecutive months from right before and right after I joined Clean Choice Energy, the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (with 383 kWh used in the last month before Clean Choice Energy and 617 kWh used in the first month with Clean Choice Energy and the first month all year I had used my heater) went up by 33%, while the distribution charges remain unaffected:

While that price hike is certainly enough to prevent some people from making the switch, I personally view it as a small token towards ‘walking the walk’ with respect towards supporting renewable energy, especially given the impact that doing so has.

Impact

In terms of what the impact of your switching to 100% renewable energy is, that entirely depends on your utility’s existing energy mix and your power usage. However Clean Choice Energy does provide a tool to look at the impact of your personal switch. Here’s the tally from my November electricity usage through Clean Choice Energy:

After using 241 kWh with Clean Choice Energy’s 100% renewable sources, my switch for that month accounted for 370 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions averted (the equivalent of planting 4.3 trees) and 178 pounds of coal not burned. Not only that, but Clean Choice Energy also keeps a running tracker of the impact of all Clean Choice Energy customers– with this screenshot taken as of December 29th, 2017:

In addition to the direct and measurable impact of switching to renewable energy, customers can also be confident that they are helping to invest in renewable energy sources in their local regions, which will hopefully help them become more affordable, profitable, and expansive. On a micro-level, I have also found that the decision to switch to Clean Choice Energy, and the higher electricity prices that come with it, has helped encourage me to reduce my own energy use. Whether that means turning off the lights more often or waiting until I have a full load in the washing machine before running it, the higher cost per kWh is incentive to reduce personal energy usage.

Conclusion

I’ve been a customer with Clean Choice Energy for over a year now, even making sure to transfer it to a new building when I moved apartments. If that’s not endorsement, then I don’t know what is! But again, more than being simple to do, using Clean Choice Energy serves as a token towards a better and greener energy future. While wind and solar power have grown a great deal recently (up to a combined 115 gigawatts of capacity in 2017 from just 17 gigawatts in 2007), renewable energy still accounts for less than 17% of total U.S. Power generation according to the Energy Information Administration. Investment and buy-in from customers that were unreachable before a program like Clean Choice Energy will be one of the driving forces to make renewable energy an even stronger force in the utility market than it already is.

How do you get started?

If reading all this is enough to get you interested, there are a couple of ways you can get started. First, make sure the specific utility in your state is included in Clean Choice Energy’s available partners. If it looks available to you, you can use this link to sign up (full disclosure: that is my personal referral link, and if you sign up using it then both you and I receive a $25 Visa gift card; if you prefer a non-referral link, then click here to sign up). You can also call them directly at 1-800-460-4900 to start the sign up process. If it turns out Clean Choice Energy is not option for you, call up your utility. There’s always a chance they have an internal program with similar goals, and if not then use your voice to let them know you want greener and cleaner energy!

Sources and additional reading

Barriers to Renewable Energy Technologies: Union of Concerned Scientists

Clean Choice Energy

Google, Apple, Facebook Race Towards 100% Renewable Energy Target: The Guardian

How Corporations ‘Bypassed the Politics’ to Lead on Clean Energy in 2017: Green Tech Media

Power plants’ costs and value to the grid are not easily reflected using simple metrics: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Renewable Energy Certificates: Environmental Protection Agency

Short-Term Energy Outlook: Energy Information Administration

State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals: National Conference of State Legislatures

Sunshine State lags on solar power, doubles down on natural gas: USA Today

The Bottom Line on Electric Cars: They are Cheaper to Own: Forbes

What Good is the Electric Car if Nobody Can Afford It? Cheap Electric Cars on the Horizon: Steemit

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Solar Power and Wineries: A Match Made in Heaven…and California

As the amount of power generation from solar energy continues to rise in the United States, more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of utilizing solar energy on their own properties. This type of small-scale solar generation is rising across industrial and commercial sectors, and no where is it more prevalent than in California, home of 43% of the nation’s small-scale solar output in 2016. California also leads the nation in another crucial area– wine production! If California were its own country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine, accounting for 90% of wine produced in the United States.

Seeing as California tops the list in solar power and wineries, it only makes sense that vineyards in the state have been rapidly adopting the renewable energy source on their properties. Exactly how much solar power is being captured on these wineries, and what wineries are doing the most to implement solar systems? This article will answer those questions. Also, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more of a beer drinker than a wine connoisseur (see this write up on which breweries use the most renewable energy), but the last part of this article outlines a California wine road trip that hits the top 10 wineries by solar energy capacity that has me already looking at flights to the West Coast.



Why solar and why California wineries?

Many wineries across the country and the world, not just in California, have realized the benefits of solar power and installed solar systems to meet part of or all of their energy needs. For example, Lakewood Vineyards in New York,Tenuta Delleterre Nere in Sicily, and Domaine d Nidoleres in France have all installed solar power systems on their wineries.
But this article focuses just on those wineries with solar power in California, as it is the region foremost afforded with the scale, climate, and policy to really promote both the solar and wine industries.

Solar power in California

California is not the only state to be embracing solar power at breakneck speeds, but there are a number of reasons why the state was always primed to become the nation’s leader. California tops the United States as a solar energy generator  so much, in fact, that it’s had to pay other states to take the excess generated power off its hands. California’s dominance in solar power can be attributed to the following:

Wineries in California

California is obviously also not the only state in the wine business, but it completely dominates the U.S wine industry in terms of volume of wine produced, as well as reputation for quality. Not only does 90% of total U.S. wine come from California, but the quality of California wine is considered today to be at it’s highest ever stature in quality according to many experts. The modern boom of the California wine industry has a number of causes, including the following:

Putting the solar and wine industries together

When you look at the massive advantages California has when it comes to cultivating a solar power sector and a wine industry, having the two fields overlap appears to be an obvious marriage throughout the state. Fortunately, the integration of solar power into winemaking is a natural fit.

With California being such a hospitable region for both solar power and winery, the logical question becomes how can the two be combined into a symbiotic and fruitful relationship. Wineries have been installing and taking advantage of solar power for years now due to the various benefits it provides the winery business. Fetzer Vineyards has run on 100% renewable energy since 1999, while Shafer Vineyards have fulfilled all their energy needs with solar power since 2004.
In terms of why solar power works perfectly as a energy source at wineries and related facilities, there are a number of reasons. For one, solar panel technology is at its most efficient at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit and can absorb sunlight even on cloudy days— this warm/temperate climate that optimizes solar technologies also happens to be the right weather in which to grow wine grapes. Beyond that, wineries are operations that typically have a large footprint, making it easier to find area on roofs or in fields on which to place solar panels compared with non-agricultural industries. This abundant availability of solar panels at wineries means that the energy gathered from the sun can be used to power all sorts of facilities of wineries– the primary residence, workshops, tasting rooms, offices, industrial equipment, and more.
Not only does solar work better on wineries than many other industries, but it also provides some unique benefits to those wineries that go out of the way to install solar power systems. The technology itself is reliable for extended periods of time (warranties last 20 to 25 years, while the life of service is 40 to 50 years), with economics so good that wineries have the ability to earn a 20% return on investment in solar panels. In fact, the solar power haul at some wineries can sometimes be even more than is needed to run the winery, allowing these lucky business-owners to sell it back to utilities (though this type of net metering finds itself the subject of heated policy debate these days). Because of this, the technology is even being developed for on-site microgrids designed for self-consumption, load shifting, and peak shaving.
Beyond all that, those who work in the wine business have a personal stake in increasing the use of renewable energy sources in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Wine grape vines are very sensitive to changes in temperature that climate change would bring, not to mention the difficulty faced by all agricultural businesses as a result of extreme weather and droughts, while the recent wildfires in California (which are more prone to happen as climate change continues) show the devastation that such fires can cause to the wine industry. It behooves the wine industry to embrace clean technologies wherever and whenever possible.

List of California wineries using solar power

Because of all these stated advantages, California wineries are absolute leaders in embracing solar technology. After extensive research and reaching out to individual wineries, I’ve put together the below list of 132 wineries across the state taking advantage of solar power. The capacity of these solar systems range from 2 kilowatts (kW) to well over 1 megawatt (MW), showing that all ranges of sizes are options depending on the level of commitment a winery is ready to make. Taken together, these wineries have a total peak solar capacity of 27.8 MW– which is a greater capacity of solar power than the total electric power industry in 15 different states as of 2015!
So if you’re like me and you have a difficult time at the wine store knowing what wine to buy because you don’t really know what to look for, you can now keep this list handy to support a winery that incorporates clean and renewable solar energy into its operations!
It’s worth noting that there are sure to be plenty of California wineries using solar power that are not included in the above table. Any winery that is listed in one of the cited resources as having an installed solar system but did not include its capacity was not included in the list, as these capacities are crucial to the later analysis of this article (this includes any wineries I reached out to but didn’t hear back from). There are also surely wineries that are using solar that don’t advertise it anywhere, or they do advertise it and my search failed to find it. If you’re aware of any wineries that should be included on this list but are not, please leave a comment below!

Quality and price of wines from California solar wineries

Beyond just finding and ranking the capacity of solar energy systems at various wineries, I thought it would be interesting to take each solar winery and compare them based on a noteworthy wine they produce. With that in mind, each solar winery in the previous list was paired up with the best wine it has (according to the top rating a wine of theirs received from Wine Enthusiast Magazine) along with that wine’s rating and price (both also according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine). That process led to the below table (note that some wineries from the first list are not included in this list because none of their wines showed up in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s ratings).

 

It’s hard to really abstract anything by looking at that in list form. Instead, we can then take that list and look graphically at the solar capacity of a winery and the rating of it’s best wine:
The same can be done to compare the solar capacity of a winery and the cost of it’s best wine:

Looking at these graphical representations, you can see that its not just niche wineries that are embracing solar energy. Every sort of price range and a whole range of sophistication and repute of wine has a wine that comes from wineries with solar installations, both large and small in capacity. The solar capacity of the wineries does not say anything about the wine produced at that winery– the installation of solar cuts across all sorts of vineyards. This shows that there should be no reason solar power at wineries cannot continue to grow to new wineries and expand capacity at wineries already with solar.

Where are solar wineries located in California?

Another interesting data point for each of these wineries is the region of California they are in. The separation of the various areas of California into its wine regions is sometimes a bit of a tricky exercise, with some well-known regions being sub-regions to others, the existence of some gray areas, and different wine region names depending being used depending on the resource being referenced. For the sake of this exercise, I will be using the following five main wine regions of California (recognizing they can and often do get broken down even further into smaller regions):
  • North Coast
  • Sierra Foothills
  • Central Coast
  • Central Valley
  • South Coast
These five regions are found in the following maps:

Source 1 Source 2

Before analyzing each region as a whole, the below graphic shows each city/town in California where the cumulative solar capacity at wineries is above 500 kW. The size of the circles are proportional to the total capacity. Using this visualization, you can already see where the most solar capacity is concentrated, in the North Coast and Central Coast.
If you then total up the capacity for each of the five major wine regions in California, you get the following graph:
This could be a misrepresentation of how dedicated each region is to solar, however, as all the regions are not the same size. It could just be that the North Coast has the most wineries (which it does), but a lower percentage of them are utilizing solar. To test this, the total solar capacity of wineries in each region is divided by the total acreage of planted wine grape vines in that region:
The result is that the North Coast is still the region with the greatest concentration of solar capacity per acreage of winery, still followed by Central Coast (though it’s a more distant second), and then the Sierra Foothills get a boost (while still remaining in third place). In either graph, Central Valley and South Coast lag way behind in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Road Trip

The last piece of analyzing the solar wineries in California I wanted to look at was putting together an epic road trip of California wine country that enables you to hit up the wineries in the state that use the most solar power. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to find a route that takes you across 372 miles over the course of 6 hours and 47 minutes and visits the top ten wineries in terms of solar power capacity. If you’ve always wanted to tour the best wineries and vineyards that California has to offer, but didn’t know where to start, then look no further!
The first day of the trip can take you to Meridian Vineyards, Estancia Estates Winery, and Carmel Road Monterey with only a bit over two hours of driving total, enabling you to see over 3 MW of solar powered winery. On the next day, after driving about three hours to get to the next batch of wineries, you’ll find yourself at the remaining seven wineries– total capacity exceeding 7 MW– that are within an hour and a half total drive from each other.
If you’re interested in driving this solar winery route (or maybe paying someone to drive you on this winery route– it is TEN wineries, after all), see the Google Maps route linked below.
 

Sources and additional reading

Solar Energy in the Winemaking Industry: Green Energy and Technology (Preview of book herelink to purchase book here)
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

The altE Store: Providing Solar Powered Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico

During times of disaster and tragedy, a quote from Fred Rogers (who you probably know better as Mr. Rogers of the eponymous children’s television show) often circulates to show the power of people banding together in difficult times.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words an I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.’

Among the ‘scary things’ that hit the world recently were the series of hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and southeast United States. While there are countless examples of helpers during these hurricanes, one story came to my attention recently that merged the helpers with the world of energy. When Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico in early September, more than 1 million power outages were reported across the island. Less than a month later, Hurricane Maria hit the island (before power was able to be fully restored from the first storm) and left Puerto Island almost entirely without electricity.



While reading about this humanitarian crisis, I learned of a company, the altE Store, that was using its abilities and expertise in solar power to help design and implement affordable solar powered energy solutions in the impoverished regions of Puerto Rico. These areas were the ones that were likely be lower on the list of priorities regions for the utilities to restore power, and thus the ones that could use a helping hand the most in such a turbulent time.

When I heard about this project, two things came to mind. The first thought was how right Fred Rogers was about looking for the best in humanity who go out of their way to help when disaster strikes. The second was that I wanted to learn more about the organization behind these efforts. So I reached out to them and was able to speak with Amy Beaudet, self-described Solar Queen at the altE Store to learn about the company, their charitable and humanitarian efforts, and the future of solar power.

About the altE Store

The altE Store, or the Alternative Energy Store, was founded in 1999 to sell off-grid solar systems to people in remote locations (think islands off the coast of Maine). The altE Store has evolved with the ever-changing solar industry, growing to also provide systems that are tied into the grid, systems that are tied to the grid but also have on-site storage (see: microgrids), as well as systems that exist completely separate from the grid. The altE Store exists as a completely web-based enterprise with no physical locations. Because of this, they have been able to establish a global reach, having done business in all seven continents.

Source

As a customer of the altE Store, you have lots of options at your fingertips. Any piece of equipment that you might need for your solar system is sold at the altE Store, including solar panels, racking, inverters, charge controllers, batteries, breaker boxes, PV wire, and more. You can purchase pre-designed systems in one package with a schematic on how to put it together, or you can have a design custom made for you. Lastly, you can purchase the solar equipment and install it all yourself, or you can have professionals come and assist in the installation as well. Through it all, the altE Store strives to provide flexibility to its customers, making headway towards their goal of “making renewable do-able.”

Education and outreach

Recognizing the value of having an educated customer base, the altE Store has been creating informative videos on solar power and solar systems for 10 years and has shifted even more focus into this side of the business in the past several years. The results have been pretty staggering, with viewers in over 200 different countries and extensive questions and requests frequently brought in the comment sections. Their goal has been to make sure accurate information is available for people getting started in solar power, curious potential customers, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, and anyone else interested in solar power– including technical information, product overviews, solar installation processes, and more. Engaging with these videos and blog posts ensures customers have a trusted and friendly face they can turn to with their solar needs, and spreading the message about the renewable energy source only helps the spread of the emerging technologies.

Response to Puerto Rico

The altE Store’s mission statement reads “Empowering the world one person at a time by providing renewable energy products, services and education.” That’s not just a lofty goal to them, though, and the situation in Puerto Rico that brought the altE Store to my attention demonstrates just that.

As the devastation from Hurricane Maria unfolded and many, including the people at the altE Store, watched from television and computer screens thousands of miles away and yearned to find something they could do to help. The team at the altE Store got in touch with a solar instructor who had worked with the company in the past and was working with a group in New York City looking to help in Puerto Rico as well. The New York City group was looking to send solar equipment to Puerto Rico, along with teams of people to install them, to help bring a source of immediate power to those who were looking at being left in the dark for weeks, if not months. Given the altE Store’s mission to bring renewable power where it is needed, this looked like a perfect opportunity for them to get involved.

Not only was this a great fit for the altE Store to get involved in the Puerto Rico recovery efforts, but that involvement happened at a pretty breakneck speed– for which the beneficiaries in Puerto Rico are surely grateful. Hurricane Maria made its way through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. It took a few days to truly understand the toll the storm took on Puerto Rico, and specifically the electrical system. The altE Store’s representatives first talked to the New York City group on Monday October 2. By Friday night, 2,000 pounds of equipment (inverters, charge controllers, and batteries) had been picked up from the altE Store facilities. This literal ton of equipment, which the altE Store provided at a heavily discounted price and at their own cost to provide, was combined with equipment donated from other sources. By Monday October 9, teams of solar technicians with the New York City group were on the ground ready to install the equipment that was en route to Puerto Rico. Not only that, but altE Store provided design work and schematics for the technicians to follow to install the equipment completely free. All of this work happened within just a few weeks of Hurricane Maria, and for absolutely no profit to the altE Store.

With regard to the equipment and teams sent down, their focused priority are where the most good can be done. This means getting power and light to central locations, like community centers and schools, so people can come to recharge their phones, radios, and lights, in addition to battery chainsaws needed to clear debris from roads. Additionally, locations integral to the sick and elderly, such as hospitals, are receiving solar power systems for cooling, medicine refrigeration, and the like. One interesting tidbit is that the word has been getting to the altE Store that the houses in Puerto Rico that already had solar panels installed in them are the ones that ended up keeping their roofs, while those without solar were more likely to lose their roofs. While this is anecdotal and might simply indicate that those who could afford solar also could afford more strongly reinforced buildings, it does provide a counterpoint to arguments that solar panels are no optimal for roofs within hurricane zones.

Despite the swiftness with which these great groups were able to react to get equipment and teams of technicians in place to install it, make no mistake that this will be a very long rebuilding process. Many homes need to be rebuilt before solar systems can be installed, and beyond that there are still only so many people on the ground to install the equipment that it will take time. But that is why it is great that groups like these are going down to service the more needing locations with solar power while the utilities in Puerto Rico work to rebuild the existing grid system. Through it all, the hope is that in the end the electrical system will come out of it all more resilient, cleaner, and more affordable. Much has been made about the dire state the grid system of Puerto Rico was before Hurricane Maria, so the silver lining on this whole situation could be the replacement of that old and ineffective system.

In addition to this specific partnership with the New York City group, the altE Store has also been working to find and collaborate with other groups for the same sort of relief effort in Puerto Rico, offering free design and expertise to go along with heavily discounted equipment in order to provide for those who would otherwise be stuck without power.

Other efforts

There is no shortage of opportunities for responsible companies, particularly in the energy business, to get involved in efforts to help out. In addition to the ongoing efforts in Puerto Rico, the altE Store got involved with the International Rescue Group to deliver emergency supplies to Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, specifically to build portable solar generators to charge cell phones of emergency responders, volunteers, and citizens. They even wrote and published for free do-it-yourself instructions for anyone to create their own solar generators for emergencies, preparation, or just as a self-education project.

For the areas of the United States outside of Puerto Rico that were hit by one of the several hurricanes, the altE Store is providing discounts to help them build or rebuild their solar systems to ensure their own power resilience. At 15 percent, this discount represents their biggest discount they’ve ever offered and they are stocking up their inventory to record levels to account for this influx of demand.

 Lastly, the altE Store regularly donates or discounts solar equipment to worthy causes (schools, Boy Scouts troops, etc.). They shrewdly recognize the value in educating the public, creating excitement about the technology, and demonstrating how accessible it can be. On top of that, showing the potential of solar power and sharing it with people who need it the most in times of crisis is simply the right thing to do.

Keeping updated on this story

In addition to the previously mentioned blog posts and videos that the altE Store provides on its website, there are several social media outlets where you can hear updates on the Puerto Rico project as well as everything else the altE Store is doing.

The altE Store’s Facebook pageTwitter account, and Instagram page all provide regular updates on its projects. Additionally, you can sign up for the altE Newsletter through a link on their webpage. If you have any specific questions about this work or if you simply want to get in touch with the altE Store yourself, you can also reach out directly to Amy Beaudet at amy@altestore.com.

Conclusion

In the end, the altE Store is a company who is in the business of selling solar systems to renewable-energy-seeking customers. They have many competitors in this market, they’re surely keeping an eye on government regulation of the solar industry, and they operate as any other business. But through their educational outreach and their desire to provide solar powered relief in the face of natural disasters show that they are also a forward-thinking energy organization who recognize the value of doing good in addition to doing good business. The altE Store should be commended for these efforts, and any other organization in the industry can take a page out of their book for how to use their influence for the common good.

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Brewed with Renewable Energy- Best Beers for the Green Consumer

As microbreweries and craft beers have really blown up in recent years, it’s easy to forget that the beer brewing process goes back millennia.  Archaeologists have noted that nomads may have made beer before making bread, ancient Babylonian’s kept beer recipes on clay tablets, and European monasteries in the Middle Ages took beer brewing out of the home and into centralized production.

All of this ancient brewing was fairly unstandardized, relying on fermentation and chemical reactions and, when needed, cooking by fire.  It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the production of beer scaled up massively, inventions came along to ensure the consistency of brewing, and the energy required to brew beer became substantial, powered by the revolutionary steam engine. Since that time, the energy intensity of brewing beer became substantial– today’s breweries typically use 50-66 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per barrel of beer. With a barrel of beer containing 2 kegs of beer and an average U.S. home using 10,812 kWh  per year in 2015, that means that it takes  less than 400 kegs of beer production to account for an entire household’s annual energy use– while places like Boardy Barn in Hamptons Bay, Long Island can sell up to 600 kegs in a single day!



All this lead up is to get to the question– why do you care? Well at the time that craft brewing has come out of the niche to become mainstream, so has personal responsibility to be energy and environmentally conscious. So at the intersection of these two pushes is the trend of breweries to utilize renewable energy in their production process. This post is meant to not only call out and give props to all the breweries that are incorporating green practices into their fuel mix, but to show you the best tasting beers you can buy that are ALSO incorporating the most renewable energy production.

In short– green beer appears to be a brewery cultural movement (and not just with food coloring you put in one day a year)!

Methodology

As stated in the introduction, the goal of this fun exercise is to cross-list breweries who have publicly available their power generation from renewable energy or their total renewable energy generation capacity with a rating of the most popular beer brewed at that brewery. As such, the methodology can be broken out by energy and by beer:

Energy

Many breweries today are installing renewable energy generation, and luckily for this exercise they also love to talk about it. And why shouldn’t they? Making publicly available your renewable energy generation is not only great PR for a brand, but it can also lead to other breweries making the energy conscious decisions as they follow the leaders in the industry. As such, you can usually count on breweries to advertise their use of renewable energy:

Source

With this in mind, the data collected all came from publicly available sources– a section on a brewery’s website about sustainability, a news article announcing a new solar system install, etc. Based on what data was and was not available, it made the most sense to collect and rate based on total capacity of renewable energy used at the brewery. As a result, the following factors were not considered:

  • The percentage of energy use at a brewery that is accounted for by renewable energy (apologies to the smaller breweries that have a large percentage, or even all, of their energy use come from renewable energy– obviously the larger breweries have more energy use overall and thus have a higher ceiling for total installed capacity, but this analysis is only counting the raw total capacity);
  • Commitments to switch to renewable energy in the future (though there will be a list of ‘honorable mention’ breweries with such initiatives at the end);
  • The installation of renewable energy sources without the listing of capacity or energy generated (sorry to these breweries, you’ll be in the honorable mentions as well); and
  • Energy savings, energy efficiency initiates, and sustainable practices that don’t include installation of renewable energy (these will also be included in ‘honorable mentions’ to give credit where credit is due).

Beer

After assembling the list of breweries with renewable energy capacity, it sounded fun to cross-list those capacities with the rating of the most popular beer at that brewery to find the ultimate beer to reach for at the bar or grocery story that tastes great and contributes to the world’s renewable energy supply. BeerAdvocate.com was used as the repository for information on beer ratings, as it had the most extensive and widely available information for this process.

For each brewery identified on the below list, the beer with the most ratings on BeerAdvocate.com was identified as the most popular beer. The most popular beer was chosen to ensure a high sample size of ratings and to best represent the beer made at that brewery. So while there may be beers more highly regarded at the breweries identified, the chosen most popular beer is more likely to be that brewery’s flagship beer and accounts for the highest portion of the brewery’s production energy compared with any other beer.

Results

Below is a table of the 57 breweries found with advertised renewable energy capacity, with the greatest capacity at the top.  After a quick glance at this table, a few tidbits jump out:

  • Renewable capacities found on this list starts at 10 kilowatts (kW) and goes all the way up to 3,733 kW (or 3.7 megawatts). This wide range shows how varied the efforts are to incorporate renewable energy, from a small solar system that only has minor contributions to overall operations to a massive renewable energy installation that contributes most (if not all) of a brewery’s power needs.
  • Solar power is by far the most prevalent form of renewable energy found at breweries. This may seem striking, but it actually makes sense because solar systems are the easiest and most feasible system to install on a building basis. Other forms of renewable energy (wind power, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass) are not as well suited for individual building complexes to harness.
  • Heineken, as a parent company, appears several times towards the top of the list. Many of these breweries existed for many years before Heineken bought them, but it does appear to be a trend that breweries have become more likely to install renewable energy capacity after being brought under the Heineken umbrella.
  • There is also a clear spread of locations where these renewable energy breweries are located, on both coasts of the United States as well as three other continents. We’ll look into this more in a later graphic.

The next step is to plot these renewable capacities against the rating of the most popular beer. See the below graphs for this visual. When shown this way, a couple more conclusions can be made:

  • It turns out that the beer from the brewery with the highest renewable energy capacity (The Abyss from Deschutes Brewery) is actually the one with the highest rating on this list, making the decision at the bar that much easier!
  • However, dedication to renewable energy does not necessarily correlate with a well-received beer, as Birra Moretti (Heineken) and MillerCoors have discovered.
  • While a smattering of breweries have made the commitment to exceed a megawatt of renewable energy capacity, the majority of breweries have started smaller in the 500 kW range.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The last graphic put together is a map to represent where these breweries are spread across the country and the world. These maps show the top 20 breweries by capacity, with the size of the beer mug icon representing the relative size of that capacity (though note that between the U.S. map and the world map, scale of the maps are accounted for. For example, the Anheuser-Busch brewery has about half the capacity as the Namibia Breweries Limited. However because the U.S. map is about twice as big, both of these beer mug icons appear the same size).

The conclusions to be drawn from these maps include the following:

  • Within the United States, the most breweries with the most renewable energy capacity are mostly focused on the coastal regions. Specifically, the largest capacities are found on the West Coast in California and Oregon. These are two states that are known to have among the most progressive energy policies, so it’s no surprise that breweries in these states have jumped in feet first to the renewable energy revolution.
  • The United States does not have a monopoly at all when it comes to beer brewed with renewable energy. Not only are there a number of prominent breweries with renewable energy in Europe, but both the African and Asian continents are represented as well.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Honorable Mentions

As mentioned in the methodology section, there were a number of breweries that have initiatives in energy efficiency, sustainability, or other ‘green’ practices that were unable to be captured in this exercise that purely focused on renewable energy capacity. However, it only seems appropriate to still give these breweries a shout out for the positive efforts being put forth as well.

(Updated Honorable Mentions after originally posted– please keep these suggestions coming!)

  • Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia became Pennsylvania’s first 100% wind-powered brewery in 2011 (though figures on the total capacity were not available, which is the only reason they’re in the honorable mentions and not the main results).
  • Sawdust City Brewing in Ontario, Canada treats their wastewater on site.
  • Cowbell Brewing Co. is North America’s first 100% carbon neutral brewery.
  • Beau’s Brewery was the first Canadian brewery to be powered by 100% ‘green electricity.’
  • Sleeping Giant Brewing Company uses a host of sustainable practices, including the increasing use of renewable energy.
  • Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto sources its energy from 100% renewable sources (also no mention of total use/capacity, so can’t add to the main results).
  • Rock Art Brewery became Vermont’s first 100% solar powered brewery in 2017.
  • The Alchemist in Vermont also sources nearly 100% of its energy from a local solar farm.
  • Moonraker Brewing Company boasts 1,100 solar panels on site.
If you know any other breweries that should be included in either the main results or these honorable mentions, please reach out to me by commenting here or heading to the contact page to let me know. Hopefully all breweries who deserve their pat on the back can get them!

Sources and Additional Reading

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev commits to 100 percent renewable energy: CNBC

Beer History Timeline: BeerHistory.com

BeerAdvocate.com

Carlsberg aims to produce beer with renewable energy: Justmeans

Deschutes Brewery 2015 Sustainability Story: Deschutes Brewery

Early History of Brewing: Michigan State University

Green Beer Not Just for St. Patrick’s Day: Power Finance & Risk

Prost! 5 Breweries Embracing Renewable Energy: Renewable Energy World

Renewable Heating and Cooling for Breweries: Environmental Protection Agency

Renewables roadshow: how the people of Newtown got behind solar-powered beer

Top 50 Solar Beer Breweries: Solar Plaza (and all sources cited therein)

What is the Combined Heat and Power System (CHP)?: Yuengling Brewery

Wind Powered Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co. 

 

Updated on 10/6/17 to fix units

Updated on 10/8 to include additional breweries (Yard Brewing Co., Sawdust City Brewing, Cowbell Brewing Co., Beau’s Brewery, Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, Steam Whistle Brewing, Rock Art Brewery, The Alchemist, and Moonraker Brewing Company). 

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

 

Technology Highlight– Microgrids

As localized sources of renewable energy and energy storage become more prevalent, the spotlight is increasingly being shined on microgrids. But what exactly are microgrids, where did they come from, and why should we care? In this technology highlight, I answer those questions are more to make sure you’re up to speed on everything to do with microgrids.

What is a microgrid?

The Department of Energy (DOE) defines a microgrid as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to opertae in both grid-connected or island-mode.”

Similarly, the Counseil international des grands reseaux electriques (CIGRE) defines microgrids as “electricity distribution systems containing loads and distributed energy resources (such as distributed generators, storage devices, or controllable loads) that can be operated in a controlled, coordinated way either while connected to the main power network or while islanded.”



As expressed by each of these definitions, the representative characteristics of microgrids are that they are made up of electricity sources that can operate separately from the traditional power grid (macrogrid) and operate autonomously, though they can also (in fact, they more often than not do) synchronize and operate with the macrogrid.

Microgrids utilize localized, distributed energy sources (including demand management, storage, and generation) to ensure the customers connected to the microgrid get energy that meets their cost, reliability, and sourcing requirements. While microgrids are normally connected to and operate in synchronization with the macrogrid the same as any other part of the traditional grid, what sets them apart is the ability to disconnect and operate autonomously if the conditions dictate.

How microgrids work

The traditional grid system works by connecting all buildings to a central power source through an extensive web of transmission and distribution infrastructure. The basic principles and equipment in a microgrid work the same way and typically operate within this traditional grid, but the key difference is the ability of the microgrid to break off and operate independently, referred to as ‘islanding.’ While the traditional grid always connects buildings to the main power source (i.e., whatever power plant or company provides the area’s electricity), a microgrid might source its power from distributed generators, batteries or other energy storage, or a source of localized renewable energy (e.g., small-scale solar or wind power).

Source: Department of Energy

Microgrids operate with a few main components– 1) the local generation, 2) the distribution, 3) the elements of consumption, 4) the storage, and 5) the point of common coupling.

Local generation

When communities utilize a microgrid system, one of the main reasons is the opportunity they present to take advantage of local generation. These generation sources are separate from the large power plants that power the traditional grid and typically take the form of generators or renewable energy sources, the use of which present a host of advantages to the community (which will be discussed soon).

Distribution

As with the traditional grid, the generated energy must be sent from the source of generation to where it will ultimately be used. The technology that is used to transmit electricity across the microgrid is more or less identical to the similar technology in the traditional grid, with the key difference that there is typically much shorter of a distance to traverse (which also comes with its unique advantages, to be discussed later in this article).

Elements of consumption

The point of consumption is simply the part of the electricity transmission and distribution process where the generated power enters its ultimate destination—buildings, street lights, electric car charging stations, etc. As with the distribution, the consumption in a microgrid system operates pretty much the same as it does in the traditional grid.

Storage

Because microgrids are so often coupled with renewable energy generation as at least one of the major energy generators, storage becomes a key component to the microgrid system. Storage often takes the form of a battery or system of batteries, but microgrids can also utilize alternative forms of storage, such as pumped hydro storage. The key point of this storage is to allow for the use of extra electricity that is generated during peak generation (such as during the middle of the day when solar capture is at its highest but residential power use is at its lowest) to be used when it is most needed (in the evening when residential power is at its peak). Microgrids can, however, also pump that extra generated electricity to be used by the traditional grid.

Point of common coupling

The point of common coupling, or the PCC, is the intersection where the microgrid meets up with the traditional grid. At the PCC, the microgrid remains connected to the main grid at the same voltage of the main grid but disconnects when there is reason to do so. If a microgrid does not have a PCC, it is completely isolated from the main grid and always operates autonomously. These type of microgrids are less common, but they do exist in certain remote locations.

Microgrids of the past

Microgrids have been around for quite some time. In fact it could be argued that microgrids actually pre-date the traditional grid system. Thomas Edison’s Manhattan Pearl Street Station (the world’s first commercial power plant) was essentially a microgrid, and when it was constructed in 1882 there wasn’t a centralized electrical grid to which it could hook up. Within four years, Edison had installed almost sixty of these early microgrids to create a customer base for his direct current generators.

These separate microgrids, each with their own generator sources and autonomous distribution systems, did not last long. The government stepped in to determine that, in order to protect consumers and guarantee them power, the electric services industry was to become a state-regulated monopoly. In doing so, the incentives for vast grid systems to transmit power were greater than the incentives to develop microgrids. The next century served to further entrench this traditional grid system. Microgrids found some niche applications, in remote locations or already self-contained systems like college campuses. But recently, the ideas behind grid security, smart grids and, subsequently, microgrids, have started to sneak into the public consciousness and change that conversation.

Advantages of microgrids

The ability of microgrids to disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously comes with a number of inherent advantages, and these advantages are the reason for the recent focus on microgrids in certain energy industry circles.

Resilience

In the operation of the traditional main grid, reliability can become an issue due to the widespread effects that a small disruption can cause as it makes its way through the system. In contrast, when there are interruptions or other issues to the main grid, users connected to microgrids can operate independently.

This difference is analogous to the difference between Christmas lights that are electrically connected in parallel compared with connected in series. When lights are connected in series, the burnout of one bulb means the entire strand will not work—but if the bulbs are connected in parallel, the burnout of one bulb will not affect the connection of the other bulbs. Similarly, you can think of microgrids as being connected to the traditional grid ‘in parallel.’ When an issue interrupts the traditional grid, microgrids can disconnect and operate independently.

Source: Department of Energy

A common example is when a severe weather event or even an intentional attack might bring widespread outages to the traditional grid. In these instances, microgrids can island and its customers will not be affected by the outages. Depending on the fuel source and energy requirements, microgrids can theoretically operate in island mode indefinitely outside of the traditional grid. Not only that, but because microgrids operate in parallel with the traditional grid, they are capable of feeding excess power back into the main grid during outages.

The usefulness of microgrids during emergencies was highlighted during the devastating hurricane season of 2017. Examples of microgrids taking over were found in grocery stores in Houston during Hurricane Harvey and hospitals in Antigua during Hurricane Irma, and the devastation to the electrical system in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria has many pointing to microgrids as integral to the future resilience of a rebuilt energy system for the island.

Note that in certain grid systems, protocol dictates that all distributed generation must be shut off during a power outage. This fact can be confusing because it is during these outages that the microgrids could be the most useful, but for the safety of the workers fixing the broken power lines it is vital that no power is unintentionally being sent from a microgrid back into the traditional grid. However, inverter technologies that would prevent this are becoming more common and allow microgrid customers to continue their generation during traditional grid outages. During Hurricane Irma, a rumor circulated that utility lobbyists had made it illegal to use any solar panels during the power outages, but in reality this was just a misunderstanding of the safety protocol and customers who have purchased the necessary inverter technology can always lawfully use their power generation sources.

Efficiency and reliability of transmission

Several of the weak points of the traditional electric grid are tied to the massive web that is the transmission and distribution system, and microgrids can help address some of these weaknesses in ways that benefit both the power companies and the end customers.

In general, the transmission and distribution system of microgrids use the same technology as the traditional grid. However, microgrids are often smaller networks and thus the end destination of power is closer to the point of generation. This proximity allows for a significant reduction in the characteristic transmission and distribution losses associated with sending power over a long distance, meaning the overall energy efficiency of the energy system is improved when using microgrids.

In addition to the benefits of increased efficiency, microgrids improve the reliability of the whole traditional grid system. When a certain portion of customers can operate independently, the opportunity opens up for relieving congestion of the main grid during peak load times. Not only that, but the storage within microgrids allow for regulation of the power quality and distribution of power during these times of peak load.

Energy choice

Outside of the previous reasons for switching to microgrids, communities could also choose to develop microgrid systems to gain control over their energy choices. Because microgrids are connected to their own localized generating sources, customers can choose that source based on its costs, its desire to establish a degree of energy independence, or to opt for an energy source that is clean and/or renewable. When connected to the main grid, customers are for the most part restricted to whatever the electricity companies choose to pump through the power lines. But microgrids allow for customers to take that control back.

Where microgrids are used

Microgrids can be utilized by communities, both rural and urban. These communities are bound by shared geography, and thus proximity to the energy source. In addition, microgrids are commonly installed and used by large consuming entities on their own (i.e., commercial, industrial, or government consumers). The most common types of entities are college campuses, large institutions (like hospitals), and military bases. Each of these applications share the advantages that they are typically owned by a single entity and benefit from a secure and reliable power supply outside of the traditional grid.

Some examples of microgrids in use and being developed across the world include the following:

  • The Santa Rita jail in Dublin, California has its own microgrid, connected to 1.5 MW of solar power capacity, 1.0 MW of molten carbonate fuel cell capacity, and a system of backup diesel generators, allowing the jail to island or reconnect to the main grid at its discretion.
  • The Fort Collins Microgrid in Colorado, on the other hand, connects a brewery, laboratory, city government facilities, country government facilities, a college campus, and more to a microgrid, demonstrating an example of a larger community system that is microgrid-capable.
  • In the wake of an earthquake and tsunami that wiped out the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the city of Higashi Matsushima is working to rebuild with microgrids and create a system of decentralized renewable power sources to ensure reliability in the case of future disasters.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) has made the proliferation of safe and reliable microgrids a focus, with a portfolio of activities intended to advance the research and development of new microgrid technologies and more implementation across communities around the world that can benefit from the improved reliability and resilience of their grid system.

Future of microgrids

Microgrids are becoming a major focus in the building of “smart grids,” improving the resilience of the existing grid system, and overall investment in energy systems. GTM forecasts that the capacity of microgrids in the United States will grow from 1.6 gigawatts (GW) in 2016 to 4.3 GW in 2020, while Navigant Research projects the worldwide microgrid capacity to grow from 1.4 GW in 2015 to 7.6 GW in 2024.

The future of microgrids will evolve in the coming years, as research and development dollars continue to pour in and debate continues on issues such as the legality of utilities as microgrid owners, the role of generators and regulators, and the economics of net metering. Regardless of the path microgrids take, they are sure to be a disruptive and revolutionary technology that continues to change the longstanding model of power generation and distribution.

Sources and Additional Reading

About Microgrids: Microgrids at Berkeley Lab

DOE Microgrid Workshop Report: Department of Energy

Fort Collins: Microgrids  at Berkeley Lab

How Do Holiday Lights Work? Department of Energy

How Microgrids Work: Department of Energy

Microgirds: the self-healing solution– General MicroGrids

Microgrids: PikeResearch

Santa Rita Jail: Microgrids at Berkeley Lab

The Role of Microgrids in Helping Advance the Nation’s Energy System: Department of Energy

Think Microgrid: How the Technology Has Changed its Stars– Microgrid Knowledge

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Best from “Today in Energy” in 2017

Among the wide array of regular articles the Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases, as detailed in this post on navigating EIA’s data sets , one of the most varied and interesting is the Today in Energy (TIE) series of articles released every weekday. According to EIA, TIE articles “provide topical, timely, short articles with energy news and information you can understand and use.”   

What makes TIE particularly compelling to read each day is that the topics it covers range across the spectrum of energy-related topics. Where most of the other reports released by the EIA are restricted to a specific fuel type or survey of consumers, TIE articles bring all of these topics from across EIA into relevant, digestible, and fascinating briefs to give a broad spectrum of information to its readers.



Further, TIE articles feature both stories that are relevant and important to current events (e.g., Hurricane Irma may cause problems for East Coast energy infrastructure) and stories that provide useful background information that can be referenced for years to come (e.g., Crude oil distillation and the definition of refinery). Not only that, but keeping up with TIE articles is a great way to keep up with other EIA publications as well, such as when articles such as the Annual Energy Outlook, International Energy Outlook, or Short-Term Energy Outlook are posted, TIE often includes an overview of some of the relevant conclusions of those articles and a link to read the full version.

To prove how valuable TIE articles can be for all these reasons, I’ve picked a sampling of 13 of my favorite TIE articles thus far in 2017 that are particularly interesting and demonstrate the cross-cutting topics offered by TIE. The ones I’ve chosen are based on the topics I find the most engaging, as well as the graphics that are the most clever and elegant.

1. EIA’s AEO2017 projects the United States to be a net energy exporter in most cases

January 5, 2017

Released the same morning as the Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (AEO2017), this article demonstrates the tendency of TIE to alert the readers of the latest EIA publications, while also providing a good overview to new readers as to what AEO2017 is and what the main takeaways from the report were.

2. Canada is the United States’ largest partner for energy trade

March 1, 2017

Utilizing the latest data from the U.S. census bureau, this article details the energy imports/exports between the United States and Canada broken out by U.S. region and fuel type and demonstrates TIE articles on the topic of trade. Most interesting is the graph showing the difference in electricity trade over the years from each of four U.S. regions.

Source: Energy Information Administration

3. U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell 1.7% in 2016

April 10, 2017

This TIE article from April breaks down carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions data, from the Monthly Energy Review, from 2005 to 2016 by both emitting fuel and industry, while also introducing carbon intensity as a metric and shows the progress made in reducing energy-related carbon intensity over the previous decade. As climate change heats up as an issue in domestic politics, industry, and foreign affairs, this type of window into U.S. CO2 emission data can prove invaluable.

4. Most U.S. nuclear power plants were built between 1970 and 1990

April 27, 2017

I chose this article because it provides a fascinating chart that shows the initial operating year of utility-scale generation capacity across the United States, broken out by fuel type, to demonstrate the relative age of each source of electricity generation and, in particular, the relative old age of the U.S. nuclear generating capacity, while also showing the explosion of non-hydroelectric renewable generation since the turn of the century.

Source: Energy Information Administration

5. American households use a variety of lightbulbs as CFL and LED consumption increases

May 8, 2017

An example of a TIE article getting into the use of energy inside of U.S. homes, this piece takes information from the 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) to show how residential lighting choices have been trending in the face of increased regulation and availability of energy-efficient lighting technologies, highlighting the differences depending on renter vs. owner occupied, household income, and whether or not an energy audit has been performed.

6. More than half of small-scale photovoltaic generation comes from residential rooftops

June 1, 2017

Utilizing data from the Electric Power Monthly, this article breaks out the use of small-scale solar power systems based on the geographic location and type of building, highlighting the rapid rise these systems have experienced in the residential sector, as a great example of renewable energy in the residential sector.

7. Dishwashers are among the least-used appliances in American homes

June 19, 2017

Again taking data from RECS, this TIE article provides insights on the frequency that certain appliances are in American homes, how often they go unused in those homes, pervasiveness of ENERGY STAR compliant appliances, and other data regarding residential energy use of appliances. This article also includes a plug for the 2017 EIA Energy Conference that was to be held a week after its publication, again showing how good of a job reading TIE articles daily can do of making sure you know the latest happenings at EIA.

8. Earthquake trends in Oklahoma and other states likely related to wastewater injection

June 22, 2017

A reason I find this TIE article particularly interesting is that it goes beyond just the energy data collected by EIA and synchs with outside data from the Earthquake Catalog to show additional effects of energy production in the environment. This kind of interplay of data sources demonstrates how powerful EIA data collection can be when analyzed in proper context.

9. Monthly renewable electricity generation surpasses nuclear for the first time since 1984

July 6, 2017

I highlight this TIE article for two reasons. First, the graphic below showing the monthly generation of nuclear compared with the cumulative generation of renewable energies—and the highlighting of 2016-17 particular—is really illuminating. This graph is a great demonstration of the power of data visualizations to convey the data and the message of that data. Second, the reason behind that graphic—that monthly renewable generation surpassed nuclear generation for the first time in over three decades—is a remarkable achievement of the renewable energy sector, showing the trending direction of the U.S. fuel mix going forward.

Source: Energy Information Administration

10. California wholesale electricity prices are higher at the beginning and end of the day

July 24, 2017

This TIE article was identified because of how interesting the topic of wholesale electricity prices varying throughout the day can be. As net metering and residential production of electricity increases across the United States, this will be a topic those in the energy fields will want to keep a keen eye on.

11. Among states, Texas consumes the most energy, Vermont the least

August 2, 2017

Grabbing data from the State Energy Data System, this TIE article presents a graphic displaying the most and least overall energy use as well as the most and least energy use per capita among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Using color to demonstrate the relative consumption and consumption per capita creates a pair of really elegant visuals.

Source: Energy Information Administration

 

12. Solar eclipse on August 21 will affect photovoltaic generators across the country

August 7, 2017

As everyone was scrambling to find their last minute eclipse glasses, this TIE article detailed where, and how much, the total solar eclipse of August 2017 was to diminish solar photovoltaic capacity and an assessment of how local utilities will be able to handle their peak loads during this time (a nice follow up TIE article on this also looked at how California dealt with these issues on the day of the eclipse, increasing electricity imports and natural gas generation).

Source: Energy Information Administration

13. U.S. average retail gasoline prices increase in wake of Hurricane Harvey

September 6, 2017

Another example of TIE addressing energy-related current events, this article not only provides the information and analysis of the effect that Hurricane Harvey had on retail gasoline prices, but it also provides the context of why the effect was being felt, how it compared to previous hurricanes, and what could be expected moving forward.

 

 

If you’ve been sufficiently convinced that Today in Energy articles would be an engaging read to start the day, you can sign up for an email subscription by following this link.

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

To start out this review honestly, I finished reading The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin over a year ago so this is not a particularly ‘fresh’ review from me. However, I found that it was the perfect book with which to begin my book review series because it is considered by many in the energy industry to be the seminal book tracking the historical and geopolitical forces that shaped today’s landscape of energy markets and systems (and I was able to reference the notes I made to myself when reading through it for the first time).

This is book is incredibly rich with information about EVERYTHING related to energy. Obviously at over 800 pages, it’s not a light or quick read– but the depth of information and amount you can learn from it, regardless of it you’re learning about the state of world energy affairs for the first time or you’re a seasoned veteran of the industry, makes taking the time to read it more than worthwhile.



The first section of The Quest starts with a deep dive into the world of oil– the history and politics that have shaped today’s oil landscape, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the formation of the various nations in the Middle East. I really enjoyed learning more about this political and geographic background, as without proper historical context it can be difficult to fully understand the posturing, trade deals, and tensions that are found in the daily headlines regarding oil-rich countries and their conflicts. I also greatly enjoyed the background information on how the current ‘electric age’ came to be, detailing the genius of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, the early rivalry and battles between their nascent companies in setting up an electric system, and how the legacy of those decisions in the early 20th century still affect how we use energy over a hundred years later.

The book continues on to detail the future of oil, as well as a vast amount of background on the technologies that went into discovering, trading, and utilizing non-oil energy sources such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, and renewable energy. Yergin finishes the story by relating the wealth of background information and historical context of the international energy landscape to how it will come shape our world in the future– politically, economically, socially, and technologically– by way of climate change, public policy, the future of transportation, the security of the energy grid, and continuing competition between nations for resources.

Rating:

  • Content—5/5: This book is nothing if not extremely informative. Yergin does a phenomenal job at shining a spotlight at the relation between state of the modern world and the allocation of various sources of energy and how the balances have shifted over time. If you are interested in learning a broad but in depth background on the state of worldwide energy affairs, you would be hard-pressed to find another book with this much information and analysis crammed into it.
  • Readability3/5: Be forewarned, this is not a book to be picked up lightly unless you’re ready to commit to a thorough read. Obviously the intent was not for this to be a poolside, pop science read, but rather a thorough volume that extensively covers the topic. That is, of course, a good thing as Yergin wrote this book to be studied moreso than consumed. However, at over 800 pages it did at times feel like a homework assignment to pick up again and slough through another dense chapter—and because of this it ended up taking me pretty much all of last summer to read.
  • Authority—5/5: Yergin is a renowned energy researcher, market analyst, economist, and many other accolades that there aren’t room to list here. Not only does his name itself carry enough weight to make this book an authority on the topic, but the research and analysis that went into it is plainly evident. You are reading from one of the authorities in modern energy markets.
  • FINAL RATING—4.3/5: Again, this book is by no means a light read– and I had to take a break from it at times so I didn’t get overwhelmed on the topic (which is saying something, given that the future of energy is the social/political topic about which I’m most passionate). But if you can commit the time and really want to contextualize the past, present, and future of energy– do yourself a favor and pick up this book.

 

If you’re interested in following what else I’m reading, even outside of energy-related topics, feel free to follow me on Goodreads. Should this review compel you to pick up The Quest by Daniel Yergin, please consider buying on Amazon through this link.

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.