7 Inspiring Renewables News Stories

For decades being an anti-nuclear activist has meant the endless reading of bad news.  Despite years of warning that accidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl were possible or even likely, the better funded and more experienced media making machines on the pro-nuclear side dominated the conversation and media coverage.  This is finally starting to change (though we are still tremendously outspent by the likes of the NEI).

This months good news comes again from the Sustainable Energy News Summaries.  These are my picks (from the 70 mostly encouraging stories) for the month.  The format here is that i have quoted the story summary and then afterwards in italics i have added my commentary and in some cases graphics.

13.) Installed Base of Smart Meters Will Surpass 1 Billion by 2022:

Navigant Research, November 11, 2013


Although the direct operational and societal benefits of smart meters and the broader benefits of smart grids that are enabled by smart meters continue to be debated among policymakers, utilities, regulators, and consumers, penetration rates continue to climb, reaching nearly 39 percent in North America in 2012. According to a recent report, “Smart Meters,” the worldwide installed base of smart meters will grow from 313 million in 2013 to nearly 1.1 billion in 2022. In North America, the growth in installed base will come primarily from medium-sized and smaller utilities that will shift to smart meters as they build business cases for upgrading their metering infrastructure.

Smart meters matter because markets matter.  With smart meters you can have variable rate electricity pricing (as they already do in the Czech Republic for example).  This means you can reward people for doing their laundry in the middle of the night with low electricity rates.  Huge efficiencies are available if we simply balance our demand over the day.

15.) Annual Worldwide Solar PV Installations Will Double by 2020:

Navigant Research, November 8, 2013


The solar photovoltaic market continues to grow as PV technology costs have steadily declined and pathways to further cost reduction are being pursued.  By the end of this decade, solar PV is expected to be cost competitive – even without subsidies –with retail electricity prices in a significant portion of the world. According to a recent report, “Solar PV Market Forecasts,” annual installations of new solar PV capacity will more than double, in terms of capacity, by 2020, growing from 35.9 gigawatts in 2013 to 73.4 GW in 2020. Distributed systems will account for less than half of all installations in 2014, and non-distributed systems will represent more than half of the market through 2020.

Solar capacity factors run on average around 25%.  This means that 73 GW would replace about 18 full size nuclear power plants.  But what is really important here is “ever without subsidies” and the rate at which this is growing – doubling in 6 years.  The reason this is important is that it will continue to drive down the unit cost of solar PV, shortening the payback time and inspiring people who have no interest in the environment at all, to buy solar solutions because they are the cheapest.

30.) After Longtime Opposition, Southern Co. Warms to Solar:

UtilityDive.com, by Rod Kuckro, November 12, 2013


Southern Power is considering bidding on solar energy projects in Georgia that regulators want to see built by utility Georgia Power as part of the state’s long-term energy plan, according to documents filed with the Public Service Commission. Southern Power is the wholesale energy unit of Southern Co., while Georgia Power is one if the Atlanta-based company’s regulated utilities. The Georgia PSC convinced Georgia Power to agree to add 525 megawatts of solar to its system. Historically, Southern Co. and its utilities have not supported renewable energy development, arguing that the South’s climate is unsuited for solar and that the technology was too expensive compared with power from its coal-fired generation fleet.

Southern Company by market value is the third largest utility in the world.  It is of course pathetic that in the sunny southern and often sea side portion of the country they have fought against renewables for so long, but now they are changing their minds.  This is an indication that 1) even the most Neanderthal of energy executives are coming around. 2)  renewable energy economics are already irrefutably good.  Southern Company is building one of the only nuclear power projects in the US at Vogtle 3.  Vogtle 3 is already late and over budget.

40.) An Electric Vehicle Recharging Industry Rises:

New York Times, by Matthew L. Wald, November 12, 2013


Tens of thousands of new electric cars are zipping into traffic this year, and with them come a trunkful of strategies about how to recharge them. There are at least four ways to go: recharging slowly through a standard 120-volt wall socket, the type a consumer would use for a hair dryer; buying a faster 240-volt home charger, about the size of a garden gnome, for several thousand dollars; plugging into the same 240-volt charger in a public parking space but paying a price; or using a $30,000 superspeedy public charger that takes only minutes but is not widely available. The only consensus is that the more opportunities there are to recharge, the better the sales of vehicles that can generally go fewer than 100 miles between plug-ins.

i am not an especially large fan of electric cars, mostly because at the end of the day they are still cars.  If we are going to have cars, which seems likely for the foreseeable future, then lower ecological impact ones would seem a prudent way to go.  There is a standardization race currently underway for how these vehicles will be charged.  What is missing from the above brief story is that Tesla motors, the US premium electric car company is setting up a network of proprietary charging stations for it’s luxury electric cars.  For those who own Tesla’s highest end vehicles, refueling is free.

49.) Facebook’s New Data Center to Run Entirely on Wind:

Wired.com, by Klint Finley, November 13, 2013


Facebook passed another milestone in the green data center arms race with the announcement that its Altoona, Iowa data center will be 100 percent powered by wind power when it goes online in 2015. This will be Facebook’s second data center — after its Lulea, Sweden location — to run on all renewable power. The electricity for the new data center will come from a nearby wind project in Wellsburg, Iowa. Both the wind project, which will be owned and operated by MidAmerican Energy, and the data center are currently under construction. Facebook has a goal of powering its data centers on 25 percent renewable energy by 2015.

Did this building kill a nuke?

Did this building kill a nuke?

The important part of this story is not in the summary about but at the bottom of the article itself:  “When Facebook said back in spring that they were going to Iowa, the utility company in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy, announced that they were shelving plans to build a new nuclear facility and then filed plans to build a wind plant instead,”  Facebook is hugely problematic for me, but if their data centers are going to knock out reactors, i am willing to hype their efforts.

60.) As ALEC Shifts Its RPS Opposition Strategy, State Law Favors Renewables:

GreenTechMedia.com, by Justin Barnes & Chelsea Barnes, November 15, 2013


As of October, only eight states had enacted legislation to amend their RPS policies, and 2013 is now projected to go down as yet another year of overall RPS advancement. The most significant demand-side changes to RPS policies in 2013 involve new requirements and resource carve-outs in Colorado (S.B. 252), Maryland (H.B. 226) and Minnesota (H.B. 729). The collective new benchmarks likely will support more than 1,000 megawatts of additional renewables, including more than 500 megawatts of solar. Further, no supply-side RPS amendments enacted thus far in 2013 seem likely to have an immediate, significant or detrimental impact on renewables as a whole.

What is important here is that in 2013 the conservative inspired ALEC anti-renewables legislative agenda basically failed.  AND that ALEC appears to be rethinking its assault on clean energy in favor of something “gentler”.  With a bit of luck the grave stone for the nation will not have ALEC’s name etched in it as the cause of death.

Free ride to efficiency land

Free ride to efficiency land

72.) Washington Metro Will Install LEDs at Zero Cost:

GreenTechMedia.com, by Katherine Tweed, November 13, 2013


Philips has just offered its first turnkey lighting-as-a-service model to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. WMATA will upgrade more than 13,000 lighting fixtures at no upfront cost and pay for the project, plus a ten-year maintenance contract with Philips, through the $2 million savings the LEDs will provide annually. The switch to LEDs will reduce energy costs at Metro’s garages by 68 percent. The savings from the maintenance alone is expected to be about $600,000 annually. With this deal, Philips has won its first lighting-as-a-service performance contract. Although other industries operate on performance contracts, lighting manufacturers traditionally have not.

This story is about understanding how money decisions get made and figuring out how to tap the incredible economies of efficiency correctly.  Here we see the company which makes LEDs helping the end user get over their resistance to switching by having a no entry cost option.  The huge savings could only be accessed when the manufacturer basically pulled at the risk out.