May 31, 2007

U.S. Congress introduces Federal RPS legislation

Up to now, much of the responsibility for buying renewable energy to replace existing sources is being placed by state legislatures squarely on the back of their electric utilities. Progressive states have been enacting renewable portfolio standards (RPS) which place a set MW quantity or percentage number to be achieved by a specific date (click on chart below to enlarge). According to a recent issue in The Wall Street Journal the utilities used to be highly resistant but some are now realizing that the standards are not as difficult to comply with as they feared.

After several false starts, the federal government is considering similar legislation:

A bill about to be introduced in the Senate would push utilities to generate drastically more of their power -- 15%, compared with the current 2% -- from sources such as wind or the sun by 2020.

The good news is that entrepreneurs and developers who have long held out for capitalization of their innovative technologies, are suddenly finding a ready market to sell to, at a reasonable price.

Obviously, such requirements would have to be filled with different forms of renewable energy depending on which part of the country is involved. Some, like Rick Boucher of Virginia (Democratic chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee) would like coal to be included as long as the carbon emissions are successfully sequestered. Expect this largely unproven technology to receive priority treatment as the voting nears.

Those states that have fewer renewable resources could purchase green tags, aka "Renewable Energy Credits" (RECs), from those states that produce surpluses.

Here are some excerpts from the article published May 25th...

Senate Pushes Utilities on 'Green' Sources
Proposal to Require Significant Increase Has Broad Support
by John J. Fialka

The Senate proposal, authored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, defines renewable energy sources as wind, solar, geothermal, wood chips and other biofuels, as well as various ways to make energy from tides and ocean waves.

So far, state laws, which cover 40% of the U.S. population, haven't made a big difference. The percentage of renewable fuels used in the U.S. has hovered from 2% to 2.5% in recent years and will reach only 5.5% by 2020, when most of the state standards are fully phased in. Dr. Wiser estimates state laws have raised the average consumer's utility bill by 38 cents a month. "Clearly, if you want to expand renewable fuels, something has to be done beyond this," he says.

Backers of the Bingaman legislation think the bill could do the trick.

technorati , , , , ,

May 2007 Digest

Tying Energy Efficiency to Renewable Energy

Lost in the rush to develop alternative energy technologies is the obvious value of making energy usage more efficient. As Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute would say, "a watt saved is a watt earned." This can be applied to biofuel usage as well. It is far cheaper to save energy than it is to produce more of it, particularly when existing technologies are so wasteful.

In marked contrast to the oil crisis of the 70's when cars lined up on even or odd license number days to tank up on gasoline and speed limits were held to 55 MPH to conserve energy, there has been little preaching by this administration - or the states for that matter - to slow down and use less. Memorial Day weekend driving plans were little impacted by recent gas price spikes. Auto shows still promote performance over gas use efficiency.

It is highly unlikely that the laudable goals of the 25x'25 Initiative for reducing fossil fuel dependence will be reached if we persist in inefficient usage of our energy resources or, in fact, grow our demand beyond current expectations. Similarly, while developing renewable energy (RE) technologies, energy efficiency (EE) needs to be built into the systems.

In a joint report presented by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficency Economy (ACEEE) case studies are showcased that demonstrate the synergies available when RE and EE are developed together. For installations that have such long lifespans and high capital costs, it is important to address efficiency challenges during early planning.

Here are links to stories that were posted in the BioEnergy BlogRing during May, 2007:

BIOstock Blog--------------
Clean Wood replaces Coal Power Plant in N.H.
U.S. paper & pulp industry assesses its bioenergy future

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Molecular visualization of the bioconversion process
U.S. State Dept. to host 2008 Int'l Renewable Energy Conference
IPCC 4th Assessment: Steps to mitigate climate change
U.S. D.O.E./E.I.A. International Energy Outlook 2007

BIOoutput Blog--------------
Tying Energy Efficiency to Renewable Energy
California's electricity - Phasing out coal
Amory Lovins - RMI and the Hypercar

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

technorati , , , , , , , ,

May 30, 2007

Amory Lovins - RMI and the Hypercar

The Rocky Mountain Institute is a bastion of knowledge concerning energy efficiency and renewable energy. Much of its expertise focuses on the concept that "a watt saved is a watt earned" demand management can reduce energy expense more dramatically than adding new alternative supply production.

Started in 1982 by Hunter and Amory Lovins, the organization now has 55 employees offering energy, engineering, and efficiency design consultation services. Their website has a special page devoted to explaining RMI's Approach to Energy. But they are not satisfied with merely making recommendations - they are committed to implementing their concepts in significant ways. They work with corporations, municipalities, and energy companies to deploy energy saving technologies for architecture, transit, and utility systems.

One example is their production of the Hypercar® - a fullsize demonstration model that incorporates the use of carbon composites instead of much heavier steel of current manufacture. Their online slide show points out that while 6% of the energy in a car's fuel goes to accelerating the car, less than 1% actually is expended to move the driver. Most goes to moving the car, so that reducing the weight of the car will impact the 2/3 to 3/4 of the fuel use that is weight-related.

The recently redesigned website also features a number of audio and video clips including an appearance by Amory Lovins on The Charlie Rose Show on November 28, 2006. The interchange focused on how the U.S. can eliminate its dependence on oil through market-driven approaches. He talks about RMI's progress in several sectors — including heavy trucks, the military, light vehicles, biofuels, airplanes, and financial — in implementing recommendations made in RMI's book, Winning the Oil Endgame - which has been made available for online download or purchase.

It may have taken 25 years to begin to receive the recognition that the enterprise deserves, but it certainly is well-positioned now to help civilization adjust to a more efficiency-conscious view of energy.

technorati , , , , , , ,

May 29, 2007

California's electricity - Phasing out coal

In its headlong rush to take the front line in the fight against Global Warming (California's AB32) the California Energy Commission has approved regulations that limit the purchase of electricity from power plants that fail to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards. That has to be considered bad news for neighboring states which have built coal plant facilities specifically to service the insatiable electricity demands of Californians. According to the Los Angeles Times, 47% of the electricity purchased by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power comes from giant coal-fired plants in Arizona and Utah.

The benchmark number that new contracts must meet is 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt hour. A 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Energy, Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Generation of Electric Power in the United States, shows that the standard means electricity coming from plants that are cleaner than the average natural gas plants of 1999 (1,321 versus coal's whopping average of 2,095 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour).

There is no discrimination between carbon positive (fossil fuels) vs. carbon neutral sources of energy. There should be because co-firing carbon neutral biostock could ease the blow to existing coal plant operations.

It is important to note that California periodically suffers brown-outs during the summer months and was the victim of the deregulation electricity nightmare of 2000 and 2001. As Wikipedia recounts the tail:

The California electricity crisis (also known as the Western Energy Crisis) of 2000 and 2001 resulted from the gaming of a partially deregulated California energy system by energy companies such as Enron and Reliant Energy. The energy crisis was characterized by a combination of extremely high prices and rolling blackouts. Price instability and spikes lasted from May 2000 to September 2001. Rolling blackouts began in June 2000 and recurred several times in the following 12 months.

That is not to suggest that current legislation is a "result of gaming". However, it is important that compensating power generators be contracted relatively quickly with a clearcut guarantees that the current benchmark does not suffer downward creep that would raise the risks for investors. As we learned in 2001, it is the public that will suffer the possible consequences and pay the ultimate tab of mis-steps of our energy decisionmakers.

Here is a reprint of the press release made May 23, 2007 by the California Energy Commission...

New Regulations Restrict Purchase of Electricity From Power Plants That Exceed Greenhouse Gas Emission Limits
New Performance Standard to Regulate Power Plants

The California Energy Commission today approved regulations that limit the purchase of electricity from power plants that fail to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards. New regulations, as part of SB 1368 (Perata), prohibit the state's publicly owned utilities from entering into long-term financial commitments with plants that exceed 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt hour.

"Working with the Legislature, the Governor has demonstrated a clear vision with this first-in-the-nation legislation to reduce emissions," said Energy Commission Chairman Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. "His bold leadership is helping to reduce California's carbon footprint by ensuring a clean supply of electricity," continued Pfannenstiel.

The implementation of SB 1368 is part of the Energy Commission's further implementation of AB 32 (Nunez), a landmark bill signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that calls for California to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases by 25 percent by 2020.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, SB 1368 directed the Energy Commission, in collaboration with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Air Resources Board, to establish a greenhouse gas emission performance standard for power plants.

This standard was reached by evaluating existing combined-cycle natural gas baseload power plants across the west and is the same CO2 measurement approved by the CPUC.

Created by the Legislature in 1974, the California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency. The Energy Commission has five major responsibilities: forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data; licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger; promoting energy efficiency through appliance and building standards; developing energy technologies and supporting renewable energy; and planning for and directing state response to energy emergency.

technorati , , ,

May 24, 2007

Tying Energy Efficiency to Renewable Energy

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) has teamed up with the American Council for an Energy-Efficency Economy (ACE3) to make a statement that creating new renewable energy technologies (RE) will not be enough to achieve national and international goals to meet energy demands while reducing our dependence on carbon positive fossil fuel systems. We also have a responsibility to develop energy efficiency (EE) standards and advanced technologies to mitigate the demand for energy and reduce carbon emissions.

This report, while limiting its scope to renewable electricity, does a good job of not only describing the synergies possible between RE and EE, but also provides numerous case studies of progressive state policies, public benefit funding, and corporations who have demonstrated how these synergies can be implemented.

Below are the conclusions of the report. The full report is available for download from the ACEEE website.

Bill Prindle and Maggie Eldridge,
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Mike Eckhardt and Alyssa Frederick,
American Council on Renewable Energy

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the cornerstones of sustainable energy policy. Demand growth for energy must be brought into a sustainable range, so that clean renewable energy technologies can begin to “catch up” with energy demand. If energy demand grows too fast, no supply technology, no matter how clean, will be able to substantially reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Energy efficiency and renewables thus must go hand in hand in any clean energy future. Fortunately, pursuing them jointly offers several important synergies over pursuing one to the exclusion of the other, such as:

• Lower total energy cost—A combined efficiency/renewables resource portfolio is typically less expensive than a renewables-only portfolio, and also generates greater total resource impacts;

• Better timing—Efficiency can typically be deployed quickly, achieving important impacts in the near and mid terms; renewables can take longer to deploy, but may ultimately deliver larger resource impacts;

• Electricity price stability—Efficiency and renewables provide complementary price hedges in power markets, by both moderating demand and diversifying fuel sources;

• Electric system reliability—Energy efficiency can reduce peak demand, reducing the risk of blackouts, while renewables diversify generation sources, and both efficiency and renewables can provide locational benefits in the form of distributed generation; and

• Regional resource balance—While renewables’ availability varies from region to region, energy efficiency is consistently available in end-use sectors across the country. Pursuing both efficiency and renewable resources in tandem thus makes it easier to attain national energy resource targets in any given state.

technorati , , ,