Our last two newsletters focused on two big pieces of climate legislation, one in Massachusetts, and the other – the Inflation Reduction Act – for the whole country. We’re leading this week’s news with climate activist Bill McKibben’s thoughts on what needs to be done next.
Here in Massachusetts, we’re watching developments as Boston declares its intent to file a home rule petition which may allow it to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings. Trouble is, the climate bill only allows ten communities to participate in a pilot project banning those hookups, and that list is already full. Boston’s participation depends on one of those smaller communities getting bumped.
Gas bans are surging nation wide, and both rules and opportunities vary by state. Rockie Mountain Institute offers a guide for communities who want to require electrification in new construction.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is looking at a permit request from the Regional Energy Access Expansion (REAE) pipeline project, designed to support growing demand for natural gas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Typical of pipeline projects, it’s the developer (Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC in this case) that’s claiming increased gas demand. New Jersey state officials, however, have told FERC that the Garden State doesn’t need more gas, in part because of the state’s climate policies and energy efficiency goals. The case offers an opportunity for FERC to reconsider its approach – something clean energy advocates have requested for years.
Two reasons that states are projecting lower demand for gas include more building electrification along with surging demand for weatherization services. Maine is seeing a doubling of projects over the past year, and contractors are having a hard time keeping up with demand.
Climate change is intensifying heat waves, which are growing longer, hotter, and deadlier. A new study predicts that a Midwestern ‘heat belt’ will come to dominate dangerous-conditions forecasts over the next 30 years. For those of us living outside the Midwest – don’t feel left out – there’s plenty to go around.
The proliferation of wind farms in the West is displacing coal production, benefiting the climate, and providing lots of good jobs. But wind turbines are killing golden eagles. This is a powerful narrative for considering the tradeoffs and uncomfortable choices associated with the energy transition. Turns out, climate change is more of a threat to the overall golden eagle population than turbine blades, and eagle collisions can be reduced by properly siting wind farms.
For some green energy good news, we can report that new solar installations around the world are expected to grow by a whopping 30% this year, and the industry believes double-digit annual growth will continue through 2025.
Energy storage is surging too, and will be considerably goosed by investment tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act. Importantly, the IRA extends these credits to standalone projects (just batteries, for example – not hybrid projects co-locating batteries with renewable energy technologies like solar or wind). This will allow an acceleration of storage build-out, which is essential for a clean, resilient grid.
And in long-duration energy storage, Oregon-based iron flow battery company ESS Inc has recognized revenues for the first time since it publicly listed, while also closing in on its targeted annual production capacity of 750MWh. Theirs is a battery made entirely of non-toxic, non-flammable, Earth-abundant materials – yes, yes, yes!
Our neighbors in Vermont are showing how widely-distributed small residential storage batteries increase the resiliency of a modern grid. Utility Green Mountain Power helped thousands of customers get home batteries, and now it taps them at peak times to prevent high costs and grid outages. Meanwhile, traditional utilities have resorted to emailing their customers on hot days, begging them to back off their air conditioners.
The electric vehicle revolution is upon us, but the public charging system has some catching up to do. EV early adopters mostly recharge at home, and that’s both convenient and reliable. But drivers taking occasional long road trips, and folks dependent on public facilities are encountering a high percentage of broken chargers. With a major effort underway to build hundreds of thousands of public chargers – the federal government alone is spending $7.5 billion – improving reliability is a top issue.
We’re learning more about health effects from the witches brew of chemicals pumped into the ground during fracking operations. A new peer-reviewed study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health finds that young children living near fracking wells at birth are up to three times more likely to later develop leukemia.
The fracking industry has always guarded its secrets – declining to disclose the full list of chemicals used to smash open subterranean rock and facilitate the flow of hydrocarbons. That obfuscation – especially under-reporting emissions – goes right up the chain as the fuels are transported, processed, and eventually burned. A recent example is Cheniere Energy, a major exporter of U.S. liquefied natural gas. The company is engaged in “greenwashing” its operations in order to portray gas exports as a climate solution and clear the way for further expansion, according to a new report.
Global demand for gas has soared in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, sparking a scramble by U.S. gas exporters to increase export volumes, with the backing of the Biden administration.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
One Down – Reflections on a Remarkable Year
By Bill McKibben, Substack.com
August 14, 2022
Well, check off one of the Crucial Years. If our civilization has a fighting chance of survival, we need to cut emissions in half by 2030; it’s the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced as a species, and the greatest drama imaginable.
I’ve been writing this newsletter for a particularly remarkable trip around the sun. It’s been a pivot year: the U.S. Congress finally passed climate legislation, by the thinnest of margins, and filled with all the gifts to Big Oil that Joe Manchin could cram in. But it’s what we should have done 30 years ago: started moving aggressively towards clean energy. And so now the game is on. The next year is going to see at least three crucial things
1) Having gotten some concessions from Politics, the movement is now going to go hard against Money—Wall Street will be as much the target as Washington
2) They don’t call it global warming for nothing, and so it will be fascinating to see if the Biden administration can leverage American action to help move the rest of the world (which is a way of saying I’m looking forward to reporting from the climate talks in Cairo)
3) Execution. With the burst of money from DC, it’s time to build out all those EV chargers and offshore wind farms; figuring out how to make it happen in timely fashion is going to be crucial.
So we’ll watch these things together—but this is a fighting newsletter. So we’ll also figure out ways to help spur change on.
In our first year together we had one clear win as a community: convincing the president in late spring to sign legislation using the Defense Production Act to start producing heat pumps as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” went from a newsletter post to American policy inside a hundred days, and you folks made it happen, with a storm of organizing. More to come.
» Read article
NATURAL GAS BANS
Boston seeks to ban fossil fuels in new buildings
By The Associated Press, in WBUR News
August 16, 2022
Boston is seeking to ban fossil fuels from new building projects and major renovations, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Tuesday.
The Democrat said the state’s largest city will take advantage of a key provision in the climate change bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker last week.
That legislation, which is meant to bring the state closer to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, calls for a pilot project allowing 10 Massachusetts cities and towns to require new building projects be all-electric, with the exception of life sciences labs and health care facilities.
Wu said the city will file a home rule petition with the state Legislature to join the pilot.
“Boston must lead by taking every possible step for climate action,” she said in a statement. “Boston’s participation will help deliver healthy, energy efficient spaces that save our residents and businesses on utilities costs and create local green jobs that will fuel our economy for decades.”
Wu’s office said natural gas, oil and other fossil fuels used in buildings represent more than one-third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Other major U.S. cities have already moved to ban fossil fuel hookups in new buildings, including New York City and Washington, D.C.
» Read article
Ten cities and towns are poised to ban fossil fuels from new buildings
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
August 14, 2022
The small housing development just off Main Street in Concord is almost complete. Many of the neat one-, two- and three-bedroom homes are already occupied, and the rest have just a few plumbing and electrical jobs that need wrapping.
From the outside, this 14-unit development looks relatively unremarkable — except for one key difference: there are no gas hookups, no oil or propane tanks. All the homes are completely fossil-fuel free.
In recent years, small developments such as Concord Millrun have cropped up in recognition that the climate crisis calls for radical changes in our use of fossil fuels. And now, a new climate bill signed last week by Governor Charlie Baker contains a provision that could change the landscape significantly: 10 communities in the state can participate in a pilot program that bans the use of fossil fuels in new buildings and major renovations. Where once they were the exception, in these 10 communities, fossil-fuel-free developments will become the rule.
And if the effort succeeds in those communities, advocates say, the rest of the state could eventually follow.
“Ultimately, we need to stop building with fossil fuels, and the easiest way to decarbonize our buildings is for them not to be carbon-full from the beginning,” said Amy Boyd, policy director of the clean energy advocacy group Acadia Center. “The more we keep building with fossil fuels, the harder it’s going to be.”
Cutting emissions from buildings, which account for nearly one third of emissions in Massachusetts, is key to addressing the climate crisis and reaching the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. To get there, the state’s climate roadmap calls for widespread electrification of homes, primarily through the use of heat pumps that use electricity to heat and cool homes.
While progress has been slow so far, updates to the energy efficiency program known as Mass Save aim to change that, with new incentives up to $10,000 for installing heat pumps as the sole source of heating and cooling.
[…] “It will, ideally, show that a natural gas ban or a building electrification requirement is feasible, cost-effective, and not something to be afraid of, particularly in the Northeast region of the country,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow with the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University’s Sabin Center. “By allowing a handful of municipalities to go ahead and do this, we hopefully will get some more data to support building electrification movement generally.”
Ten cities and towns have already secured local approval and have submitted home rule petitions: Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, Lexington, Arlington, Concord, Lincoln, Acton, Aquinnah, and West Tisbury. But it’s unclear if all of them will meet the affordable housing requirement, and other towns and cities can still apply. The Department of Energy Resources will decide which communities participate.
One potential contender: the city of Boston, where a spokesperson for Mayor Michelle Wu said they are “closely reviewing the rules for participating in the pilot program as part of our broader agenda.” If Boston were to pass a ban on fossil fuels in new buildings, it would be among the first major US cities to take the step, joining New York City, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
» Read article
How Local Governments and Communities Are Taking Action to Get Fossil Fuels out of Buildings
By Leah Louis-Prescott, Rachel Golden, RMI | Blog Post
August 9, 2022
Across the United States, 80 cities and counties have adopted policies that require or encourage the move off fossil fuels to all-electric homes and buildings. As of August 2022, nearly 28 million people across 11 states live in a jurisdiction where local policies favor fossil fuel-free, healthy buildings. And the momentum behind these policies keeps building — dozens more local governments have strong commitments to decarbonize their buildings stock, which will soon become formal policy.
This national wave of action is motivated by the numerous benefits — in terms of climate, air quality, health, economics, resilience, and safety — of shifting from fossil fuels to zero-emissions electric appliances.
Local governments across the nation are feeling the heat and are eager to help their residents and businesses get off fossil fuels like gas. With the help of local experts, they have created a range of policy solutions, including:
» Blog editor’s note: This article will be of particular interest to activists and policy makers who wish to implement fossil-free building guidelines in their communities.
» Read article
FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION
N.J. pipeline project could shake up FERC gas reviews
By Niina H. Farah and Miranda Willson, E&E News
August 17, 2022
A proposed Northeast pipeline expansion could test the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approach to scrutinizing demand for new natural gas infrastructure at a time when a slew of states are trying to use less of the fossil fuel.
The Regional Energy Access Expansion (REAE) project is designed to support growing demand for natural gas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, according to developer Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC. New Jersey state officials, however, have told FERC that the Garden State doesn’t need more gas, in part because of the state’s climate policies and energy efficiency goals.
The tension offers an unusual opportunity for the commission to consider a state’s climate targets before signing off on a pipeline project, according to some legal experts. At the same time, it exposes a key question for the commissioners as they contemplate new approaches to natural gas reviews: What evidence and perspectives should carry the most weight?
“We finally get to see what FERC will do now that they have these data from the state showing that we don’t need more gas capacity,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior staff attorney at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank that is representing the New Jersey Conservation Foundation opposing the project before the commission.
In a potential first for a pipeline proceeding, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) have presented FERC with an independent study on the state’s natural gas capacity. Conducted by the consulting firm London Economics International for the BPU last year, the analysis concluded that New Jersey was “well-positioned with available interstate supply beyond 2030,” contrary to gas utilities’ claims of potential shortfalls.
The study was commissioned by the BPU last year as New Jersey seeks to transition off fossil fuels. The Garden State has a target of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 across the electric power, transportation and buildings sectors.
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Maine weatherization contractors race to hire and expand as demand booms
Contractors registered with Efficiency Maine are on pace to insulate twice as many houses this year as last, with wait times now close to three months. State incentives and soaring oil prices are driving the surge in demand.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 16, 2022
Maine weatherization contractors are scrambling to hire and expand as state incentives and soaring oil prices cause a surge in demand for their services.
Contractors registered with Efficiency Maine, the major administrator of efficiency programs in the state, are on pace to insulate twice as many houses this year as last. The average wait time to receive services is now close to three months.
“Every contractor is fully booked,” said Andy Meyer, senior program manager for Efficiency Maine. “Most for months, some for more than that.”
Weatherization is one of the strategies Maine is using in its efforts to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. The state has set a goal of weatherizing 35,000 homes by 2030. And in the past year, several factors have converged to pique consumers’ interest in implementing such measures.
At the beginning of 2022, Efficiency Maine increased its rebates for weatherization services, boosting the rebate rate from 30% to 50% and the lifetime cap on rebates from $3,500 to $5,500. In concert, it launched a $1 million marketing campaign spreading awareness of the incentive program.
Then, fossil fuel prices shot up: The price of heating oil more than doubled from May 2021 to the same month this year, bringing the cost of filling a standard tank over $1,500 in a state where 60% of homes use heating oil.
Now, record numbers of homeowners are interested in better insulating and sealing their homes to cut down on fuel use and costs. By June of this year, requests for rebates were up 254% over June 2021.
» Read article
World’s biggest offshore wind farm company sets 100% renewable target for all suppliers
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
August 15, 2022
Denmark’s Ørsted – the world’s biggest developer of offshore wind projects – has set “a clear expectation” for all its suppliers to use 100% renewable electricity by 2025, marking them as the first company in the world to do so.
In April 2020, Ørsted asked its main suppliers to disclose their own emissions and to set science-based carbon reduction targets, and to begin using 100% renewable electricity in the manufacturing of wind turbines, foundations, cables, substations, and components.
Ørsted is now expanding its supply chain decarbonisation programme to include all its 22,000 suppliers across component manufacturing, transportation, installation, and operation of renewable energy assets, requiring them all to begin using 100% renewable electricity.
“A sustainable future for our planet requires a rapid transition to renewable energy and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C,” said Mads Nipper, group president and CEO of Ørsted.
“That’s why the renewables industry must lead the pack by decarbonising its own supply chain. We’ve transformed Ørsted into a global leader in renewable energy and strongly believe that companies must demand science-aligned climate action from each other as well.”
“We recognise the efforts undertaken by all existing and new suppliers who share our ambitions and will commit to using 100 % renewable electricity. We look forward to working together to achieve this goal as soon as possible and to set a new gold standard for the renewable energy industry.”
Ørsted’s overarching goal is to become carbon-neutral in its own energy generation and operations by 2025, on track to achieving a carbon neutral footprint across the company, its supply chain, and energy trading by 2040.
» Read article
Climate study predicts Missouri will see days of 125 degrees by 2053 as part of ‘heat belt’
By Andrew Sullender, Springfield News-Leader
August 17, 2022
Amid this year’s heat wave in southwest Missouri, a new study predicts a new Midwestern ‘heat belt’ to dominate forecasts over the next 30 years.
Released Monday, the peer-reviewed ‘Extreme Heat Model’ created by the First Street Foundation studies the future of climate change in the United States and “identifies the impact of increasing temperatures at a property level, and how the frequency, duration, and intensity of extremely hot days will change over the next 30 years from a changing climate.”
In the study, “Extreme Danger Days” of heat are defined as when temperature exceeds 125 degrees in a given day. The model predicts only 50 counties next year will experience an Extreme Danger Day of heat. But more than 1,000 counties in the United States will experience days of over 125 degrees by 2053.
The vast majority of these counties are geographically concentrated in the Midwest, the model finds — dubbing the more than quarter of U.S. land mass the “Extreme Heat Belt.” This emerging heat belt stretches from the northern Texas and Louisiana borders to Illinois, Indiana, and even into Wisconsin. Of course, right in the center of the heat belt is all of Missouri.
“Increasing temperatures are broadly discussed as averages, but the focus should be on the extension of the extreme tail events expected in a given year,” said Matthew Eby, founder and CEO of First Street Foundation. “We need to be prepared for the inevitable, that a quarter of the country will soon fall inside the Extreme Heat Belt with temperatures exceeding 125 degrees Fahrenheit and the results will be dire.”
» Read article
As Heat Waves Worsen, THIS Policy Predicts Where People Will Die
PBS Weathered, YouTube
August 16, 2022
Wind energy boom and golden eagles collide in the US West
By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
August 17, 2022
CODY, Wyo. (AP) — The rush to build wind farms to combat climate change is colliding with preservation of one of the U.S. West’s most spectacular predators — the golden eagle — as the species teeters on the edge of decline.
Ground zero in the conflict is Wyoming, a stronghold for golden eagles that soar on 7-foot (2-meter) wings and a favored location for wind farms. As wind turbines proliferate, scientists say deaths from collisions could drive down golden eagle numbers considered stable at best.
Yet climate change looms as a potentially greater threat: Rising temperatures are projected to reduce golden eagle breeding ranges by more than 40% later this century, according to a National Audubon Society analysis.
That leaves golden eagles doubly vulnerable — to the shifting climate and to the wind energy promoted as a solution to that warming world.
“We have some of the best golden eagle populations in Wyoming, but it doesn’t mean the population is not at risk,” said Bryan Bedrosian, conservation director at the Teton Raptor Center in Wilson, Wyoming. “As we increase wind development across the U.S., that risk is increasing.”
Turbine blades hundreds of feet long are among myriad threats to golden eagles, which are routinely shot, poisoned by lead, hit by vehicles and electrocuted on power lines.
[…] Despite the deaths, scientists like Bedrosian say more turbines are needed to fight climate change. He and colleague Charles Preston are finding ways wind companies can reduce or offset eagle deaths, such as building in areas less frequented by the birds, improving habitat elsewhere or retrofitting power poles to make them less perilous when eagles land.
“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, but it’s a start and I think it’s the way to go,” Preston said. “It’s a societal question: Is there room for them and us? It’s not just golden eagles. They are kind of a window into the bigger picture.”
» Read article
Solar On Track for ‘Staggering’ 30% Growth This Year
By The Energy Mix
August 15, 2022
New solar installations around the world are poised to grow by a “staggering” 30% this year, and the industry can look ahead to double-digit growth each year through 2025, according to a Bloomberg.com analysis that predates the ambitious clean energy provisions in the US$369-billion Inflation Reduction Act adopted by the U.S. Congress last week.
“At the end of the day, the global solar picture is just staggering at this point,” Bloomberg senior clean energy analyst Rob Barnett told Yahoo Finance in late July. “We are on track to install something like 250 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity this year. I know most folks don’t think in gigawatts, but that is a very large amount. It’s more than the installed capacity of a number of European countries.”
(A gigawatt is one billion watts of electricity generating capacity, enough to power about 750,000 North American homes.)
Yahoo cites massive growth in many parts of the world. China, already the world leader in solar capacity, plans to double its new deployment this year. Germany broke its solar generation record in the midst of a searing heat wave July 17, and solar plus wind generation covered 28% of U.S. electricity demand in April, an all-time high.
Barnett maintained the boom is just beginning. “There really is this big, top-line growth scenario that we see unfolding for all of the companies that are participating in the solar supply chain,” he said. And while the cascade of extreme weather events around the world is increasing concern about climate change, the big push is coming from high oil and gas prices driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coupled with plummeting solar costs.
“I do think there is increasing focus on all sorts of solutions to try to help manage emissions and tackle the concerns of climate change,” Barnett told Yahoo. “But I would actually argue that the bigger driver for clean energy demand, particularly here in Europe, is elevated energy costs.”
Though solar is still an intermittent power source without some form of storage, and fossil energy costs are beginning to come down, “the economics [of renewables] are already quite good,” he added. “And so you’d have to see such a sea change in terms of gas prices or coal prices, if you’re thinking about the power grid, to really reverse some of the trends. And I just don’t think there’s any appetite for it, either.”
» Read article
Energy storage industry hails ‘transformational’ Inflation Reduction Act
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 17, 2022
US President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act yesterday, bringing with it tax incentives and other measures widely expected to significantly boost prospects for energy storage deployment.
“The Inflation Reduction Act invests US$369 billion to take the most aggressive action ever — ever, ever, ever — in confronting the climate crisis and strengthening our economic — our energy security,” Biden said.
The legislation was readied for Biden’s signature at a speed which took many by surprise, from the announcement of compromises being reached by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the end of July, to its quick passing in the Senate and then the House of Representatives in just over a fortnight.
Its investment in energy security and climate change mitigation targets a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) levels by 2030, supporting electric vehicles (EVs), energy efficiency and building electrification, wind, solar PV, green hydrogen, battery storage and other technologies.
Most directly relevant to the downstream energy storage industry is the introduction of an investment tax credit (ITC) for standalone energy storage. That can lower the capital cost of equipment by about 30%, although under some prevailing conditions it will be more or less, depending on, for example, use of local unionised labour.
It also unties developers from pursuing a disproportionately high percentage of solar-plus-storage hybrid projects, since prior to the act, batteries were eligible for the ITC, but only if they charged directly from the solar for at least 70% of every year in operation. The industry has campaigned for the standalone ITC for many years.
For the upstream battery and energy storage system value chains, there are also tax incentives for siting production within the US, as there are for wind and solar PV equipment manufacturers that source components or make their products domestically.
There are also 10-year extensions to existing wind and solar ITCs along with new or extended clean energy production tax credits (PTCs) and the ITC for solar goes up from 26% to 30%, while the standalone storage ITC will also be in place for the next decade.
» Read article
LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE
ESS Inc ramps iron flow battery production capacity to 500MWh, signs 12GWh Australia deal
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 12, 2022
Iron flow battery company ESS Inc has recognised revenues for the first time since it publicly listed, while also closing in on its targeted annual production capacity of 750MWh.
Alongside its latest quarterly financial results release yesterday, the Oregon, US-headquartered technology provider also announced a major deal for up to 12GWh of its systems to be deployed in a new partnership.
ESS Inc listed on the New York Stock Exchange in late 2021 after a SPAC merger. Having said from the outset that it would likely be a couple of years before it would be able to reach profitability, it has also not been able to recognise revenues until this quarter.
It registered revenues of US$686,000 for Q2 2022, relating to the sale and installation of three of its Energy Warehouse systems, which are behind-the-meter commercial and industrial (C&I) devices of 400kWh capacity each.
ESS Inc is the only manufacturer and holder of patents on its flow batteries, which use an iron and saltwater electrolyte in rugged systems that can deliver long-duration energy storage (4-12 hours’ duration) over many years without the degradation that lithium-ion batteries experience with use, in particular from frequent and deep cycling.
The company also talks up the fact that its electrolyte is non-toxic and uses more abundant raw materials than other flow batteries in their manufacture, with other providers tending to opt for vanadium dissolved in sulfuric acid, or in some cases, zinc-bromine. Alongside Energy Warehouse it also offers a grid-scale unit, Energy Center, which is a 3MW system.
» Read article
MODERNIZING THE GRID
This utility keeps customers cool during heat waves while saving them money
Vermont’s Green Mountain Power helped thousands of customers get home batteries. Now it taps them at peak times to prevent high costs and grid outages.
By Julian Spector, Canary Media
August 11, 2022
Again and again this summer, U.S. power grids have struggled to meet demand for electricity to run air conditioners amid heat waves. Utilities and grid operators have asked people to use less electricity in hopes of averting widespread outages in places like Indiana, New York and Texas.
Such pleas put the onus on regular people to keep the grid up and running, instead of the companies that make money from producing electricity. And though “demand flexibility” is something that power companies pay for, these emergency calls for customer cutbacks ask people to donate this service for free.
Voluntary customer conservation has helped grids stay functional in dicey situations. But the power sector can do better than hoping people choose not to use air conditioning in a heat wave — especially as extreme weather events and ensuing grid crises worsen due to climate change.
Against that backdrop, Vermont utility Green Mountain Power wants people to know there’s a readily available alternative: instead of asking customers to sacrifice, it uses clean, decentralized energy sources to reduce consumption and save millions of dollars.
[…] Many utilities worry about losing control (and, potentially, revenue) in a world of consumer-owned energy devices; indeed, many startups that sell such devices frame their products as an explicit challenge to the centrally managed, monopolistic utility system. GMP embodies a different vision: a creative utility managing the influx of new localized energy technologies to benefit everyone in its territory.
The fact that this model exists implicitly challenges other utilities to do more with readily available consumer energy technology. There are high-tech alternatives to the frantic pleas to turn down the AC.
[…] Back in 2015, GMP offered customers in its service territory a discount to buy or lease their own Tesla Powerwall home batteries, on one condition: In a pinch, the utility can control the battery for its own needs.
The customers get to use the batteries (offerings now include brands beyond Tesla) however they want almost all the time. Key benefits include storing rooftop solar power and keeping the lights on during a grid outage. But if GMP senses a major weather event — like a storm threatening power lines, or a heat wave driving a spike in air conditioning — it takes control, makes sure the battery is charged up ahead of time and discharges it during the event to deliver extra power when it’s needed most.
All these batteries are pretty small. But there are thousands of them, thanks to years of customer outreach. After starting as a pilot program, the battery offering was codified as a rate option customers can select for their utility services. Renters can participate, with permission from their landlords. And if a resident gets a battery on their own, they can sign it up to participate. GMP now also controls around 1,000 smart electric-car chargers, as well as large-scale batteries at solar power plants, which it can also dispatch to send power to the grid.
All those devices, working in unison, give GMP ample capacity to play with in the form of what’s called a “virtual power plant,” or VPP. If the utility control center predicts an hour when demand will peak, it can throw its VPP at it.
» Read article
A Frustrating Hassle Holding Electric Cars Back: Broken Chargers
Owners of battery-powered cars sometimes struggle to refuel on longer trips because public chargers don’t work or malfunction while cars are plugged in.
By Niraj Chokshi, New York Times
August 16, 2022
The federal government is doling out billions of dollars to encourage people to buy electric vehicles. Automakers are building new factories and scouring the world for raw materials. And so many people want them that the waiting lists for battery-powered cars are months long.
The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken. One recent study found that about a quarter of the public charging outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area, where electric cars are commonplace, were not working.
A major effort is underway to build hundreds of thousands of public chargers — the federal government alone is spending $7.5 billion. But drivers of electric cars and analysts said that the companies that install and maintain the stations need to do more to make sure those new chargers and the more than 120,000 that already exist are reliable.
Many sit in parking lots or in front of retail stores where there is often no one to turn to for help when something goes wrong. Problems include broken screens and buggy software. Some stop working midcharge, while others never start in the first place.
Some frustrated drivers say the problems have them second-guessing whether they can fully abandon gas vehicles, especially for longer trips.
“Often, those fast chargers have real maintenance issues,” said Ethan Zuckerman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has owned a Chevrolet Bolt for several years. “When they do, you very quickly find yourself in pretty dire straits.”
[…] The climate and energy bill that Congress approved last week includes tax credits for purchases of electric cars and chargers. And last year, lawmakers passed an infrastructure law that authorized $7.5 billion in federal spending to help build public chargers. Just having more chargers available means drivers will be much less likely to become stranded or frustrated if the first one or two they pull up to malfunction.
The money also comes with a requirement that chargers be functional 97 percent of the time and adhere to technical standards for communicating with vehicles.
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Critics Call Dems’ Climate Bill a “Devil’s Bargain” on Climate. Here’s What the Devil Is Getting.
Evaluating the ugly parts of the historic legislation.
By Nitish Pahwa, Slate
August 13, 2022
Americans feeling the heat of climate change will find a lot to like in the Inflation Reduction Act—and a decent bit to criticize. Overall, the climate movement has cheered the bill’s $370 billion climate investment, albeit with reservations about some of its fossil-fuel tradeoffs. My colleague Jordan Weissmann recently addressed some of the more prominent complaints: that the bill requires federal lands and offshore waters utilized for renewable energy development to also be opened up for oil and gas drilling, and that the deal reached with Sen. Joe Manchin included future concessions that could greenlight a West Virginia gas pipeline and ease the process for permitting new energy projects. Add to all that nitpicks like the IRA’s subsidy of arguable climate solutions like “clean” hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, and big electric automobiles to the exclusion of non-car EVs. It’s a lot of buts.
As always, two things can be true: The IRA is an unprecedented and necessary climate bill that will reduce emissions to a significant degree, and it has some flaws. It was never going to be any other way—Democrats’ narrow hold on the Senate, the influence of big business, a hostile judiciary, and Americans’ extreme sensitivity to gas prices meant there would have to be compromises on any climate package. Yet even with these snags, many analyses of the bill have determined it to be a net good. The think tank Energy Innovation calculates that for every ton of carbon emissions from new oil and gas, there will be 24 tons reduced due to measures governing buildings’ energy use, home electrification, and green lands set aside as carbon sinks. So with the IRA now making its way to President Joe Biden’s desk, it’s worth taking stock of just how much of a boon it will be to fossil fuels.
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
LNG Exporter Downplays Emissions to Justify Expansion
Cheniere Energy has introduced “cargo emissions tags” to assuage climate concerns of potential buyers. But a new report says these tags are riddled with problems.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
August 12, 2022
A major exporter of U.S. liquefied natural gas is “seeking to greenwash” its operations in order to portray gas exports as a climate solution and clear the way for further expansion, according to a new report.
Global demand for gas has soared in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, sparking a scramble by U.S. gas exporters to increase export volumes, with the backing of the Biden administration. But building out LNG infrastructure to address an energy crisis is at odds with governments simultaneously trying to slash emissions to address the climate emergency.
In recent months, Cheniere Energy, the largest LNG exporter in the United States, has begun providing emissions data, which it calls “carbon emissions tags,” or CE tags, for its gas.
The tags quantify the greenhouse gas emissions of a given LNG cargo, with the aim of easing buyers’ concerns. The CE tags include emissions from where the gas is drilled upstream, all the way down to the point of export on the coast. The logic is to offer transparency to buyers overseas by disclosing the emissions of each shipment, which would help to clean up the supply chain over time.
But a new report from Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA says the program is riddled with flaws and is broadly aimed at portraying LNG as a clean fuel, rather than actually cleaning up the supply chain, at a time when gas developers are hoping to take advantage of the war in Ukraine to expand operations.
“The industry realizes they have a problem with methane emissions,” Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist for Greenpeace USA and a coauthor of the report, told DeSmog. He pointed to the 2020 decision by French energy company Engie to back out of a U.S. LNG deal over concerns about runaway methane emissions in American fracking fields. Donaghy said that event hammered home the message to the U.S. gas industry “that they do have to clean up their act, or at least be seen as making progress.”
Cheniere has responded to growing climate concerns by pointing to a study that it funded that shows that emissions from its Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana could displace electricity generated by coal in China, cutting emissions intensity by 47 to 57 percent. Cheniere then introduced CE tags to quantify the emissions of its LNG cargoes.
But Cheniere’s CE tags downplay the industry’s environmental impact, Donaghy said. They rely on EPA calculations that have been shown to underestimate methane releases by shale drillers. The general rule of thumb is that if gas drillers are leaking more than 3.2 to 3.4 percent of the gas they produce, then gas is worse for the climate than coal. The EPA assumes a national methane leakage rate of about 1.4 percent. But it uses models, rather than actual measurements.
Studies have shown that the EPA has consistently undercounted methane pollution from oil and gas operations. The Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico is particularly dirty — a recent study pegged methane leaks at 9.4 percent, six times worse than EPA estimates, and offered evidence that Permian gas is vastly worse for the climate than coal.
“In the scientific literature, people have come around to the perspective that the EPA is sort of systematically underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure,” Donaghy said. And because Cheniere’s data is premised on the EPA approach, it too is undercounting methane, the report alleges.
» Read article
» Read the Oil Change International report
» Read the Permian Basin methane leak study
» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
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