Renewable Electricity Could Reach 16% In Five Years

According to an early release review of the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (the final report is slated for release on April 30th) published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy could hit 16 percent of the net U.S. electrical generation by the year 2040. This includes biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind. But the SUN DAY Campaign challenges these predictions by asserting this could happen in the next five years.

When reviewing EIA’s own published data for the 11-year period January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2013 revealed that the percentage of the nation’s net electrical generation Biomass pelletsrepresented by renewable energy has expanded from less than 9 percent in 2004 to nearly 13 percent in 2013. Given the relatively consistent growth trends of the past decade or longer for most renewable energy sources and their rapidly declining costs, it seems improbable that it will require another 27 years to grow from 13 percent to 16 percent according to SUN DAY Campaign. Thus, EIA’s forecast is not just unduly conservative; almost certainly, it is simply wrong.

If the trends reflected in EIA data from the past decade continue, cite the SUN DAY campaign, renewable energy sources could increase to as much as 13.5 percent of net U.S. electrical generation in 2014, to 14.4 percent in 2015, to 15.3 percent in 2016, and reach or exceed 16.0 percent no later than 2018 — i.e., within five years and not the 27 years forecast by EIA. At worst, they would reach 16 percent by 2020.

“Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors – as well as the media and others – rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation’s environmental and energy future,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Consequently, EIA is doing a serious disservice to the public by publishing analyses that are inherently inconsistent with its own historical data and near-term projections.”

The SUN DAY Campaign has published its own full 32-page report that includes the assumptions and projections made, on a technology-by-technology basis, using EIA data. In addition, following the projections provided for each technology is a listing of recent studies and news reports that offer alternative or complementary scenarios – many of which are more aggressive than those provided by the SUN DAY Campaign. These additional studies suggest that even SUN DAY’s analysis may prove to be unduly conservative.

CSR Looks to Convert Used Railroad Ties to Biofuels

The Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR) has announced a new initiative to review the feasibility of “upcycling” used railroad ties into advanced biofuels. The research project is funded by a grant from the Indiana Rail Road (INRD). Working with the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) of the University of Minnesota – Duluth, CSR aims to determine the viability of converting some of the 15 million ties replaced by U.S. railroads each year into a clean-burning coal alternative.

railroad ties“CSR is thrilled to have the support of the Indiana Rail Road on this important, potentially historic opportunity,” said CSR President, Davidson Ward. “INRD is dedicated to innovation and technology, and its investment in our primary research is an inspiration to the entire team.”

Using a biomass processing technique known as torrefaction, the researchers at NRRI and CSR will convert the structure of used railroad ties, primarily made from hardwood species, into a clean, renewable, homogeneous, and densifiable biofuel. The final result is anticipated to be a pelletized biofuel that can be used in power plants. However, the biofuel will first powe CSR’s test bed steam locomotive, the Santa Fe Railway’s 1937-built No. 3463.

“As the son of a Santa Fe dispatcher and a lifelong student of that railway, I’m intrigued in CSR’s desire to rebuild and modernize such an innovative piece of technology as the 3463, and especially NRRI and CSR’s pursuit of energy, fuel and transportation development,” said INRD President and Chief Executive Officer, Thomas G. Hoback. “This important research impacts not only the future of energy in the U.S., but it honors the tradition of American innovation, from the reconstruction and modernization of an iconic steam locomotive to the biofuel development associated with our donation.”

This initial investigation aims to identify any hurdles involved with the conversion of railroad ties to fuel, including the handling of wood preservatives found in railroad ties. CSR will make results of the research known through its “White Paper Program“.

Hoback concluded, “This is something that I believe could lead to a key development in the future of the railroad industry. It is important to take pride in the history of where we’ve been, and the unique melding of research with preserving history, as championed by CSR, is a great way to honor the legacy of the Santa Fe.”

Cogeneration Explained

WASILENKOFF headshot-1The country is beginning to hear a lot about cogeneration, or cogen, but what it is exactly? How is it different, then say, a traditional electricity plant? To get the low-down on cogen I spoke with Chad Wasilenkoff, CEO of Fortress Paper whose company has been working with cogeneration and recently put its first cogen project online.

Q: Can you explain how cogeneration is different than a traditional electricity plant? For example, “wind” can provide power to the grid but is not considered cogen.

A: Wind will run a turbine and produce electricity similar to cogeneration. The difference is cogen also produces energy mechanically with steam to turn the turbine but also uses the thermal energy produced in the industrial process for additional energy needs. In conventional systems the heat is an unused byproduct of energy production. Cogen can also uses waste material as the energy source and in our case residual biomass from the paper making process.

Q: Obviously, cogeneration is not a new idea. Why do you think there is such a small rate of adoption/use of cogeneration in North America?

Cogen OutsideA: Cogeneration plants are capital intensive and the costs involved have to be balanced with the costs of other energy sources in the area. For industrial installations cogen works well for operations that use a lot of power, steam and heat. Cogen also tends to be more suitable in areas where the heat can be utilized. An example is Denmark where some cities get 95 percent of heat from cogeneration sites. There are also some small scale cogeneration units on the market for the individual homeowner.

Q: The potential for cogeneration is quite large. For cogen to reach its full potential, what would need to happen? Would there need to be legislation, tax credits, etc?

A: Yes assistance with financing, preferential pricing tax credits etc. would all help cogen to reach its full potential. Cogeneneration is already part of many plans for expanding renewable energy, According to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Q: Fortress Paper has made a significant investment in cogen at your Fortress Speciality Cellulose Mill in Thurso, Québec where you have constructed a cogen facility. Can you give the readers of DF more information about this project?

A: The Fortress Specialty Cellulose mill capex for the Cogen Plant was over Canadian $120 million and included a new turbine and generator with cooling tower and condenser, new biomass boiler, and new water treatment system among other items. Continue reading

National Grid Salutes Veterans

Today is Veterans Day in the United States where the country comes together to thank those Americans who have risked or given their lives to keep the country safe. In recognition of this day, National Grid is highlighting its programs to attract and retain veteran employees including it participation in Troops to Energy Jobs. The program is an initiative in which National Grid has partnered with five other energy companies across the country, and the Center for Energy Workforce Development, to develop an accelerated process for bringing military veterans into the energy industry workforce nationwide.

National Grid’s pilot program for Troops to Energy Jobs took place in Massachusetts, and employing veterans in the state remains a top priority for the company.

Troops-to-Energy-Jobs-logo“National Grid, along with other electric and gas companies, recognizes that veterans have spent their military careers protecting national security and are, among many things, battle-tested, self-motivated and safety-conscious—traits that translate well into a second career in the utility industry,” said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid in Massachusetts. “By hiring veterans into the company, we are ensuring the continued production and delivery of safe, reliable power to Massachusetts homes and businesses, and that service members are continuing to protect national security as they work to deliver a product that fuels our lives and powers our economy.”

In recent years National Grid said it has taken several steps to improve its opportunity for veteran outreach, including creating a dedicated veterans outreach specialist role within the company. This integrated specialist is responsible for veteran recruiting efforts and assists veterans as they transition into civilian positions within the energy field.

“Hiring veterans is a smart business decision. But, beyond that, it’s about pride and opportunity,” said Steven Spaeth, veterans outreach specialist for National Grid who is also a veteran himself. “Our industry has a role to play that is bigger than just hiring—we can help to pave the way for transitioning veterans into civilian jobs. Recognizing and supporting veterans once they are hired is critical to achieving a successful transition as we move our dedicated service members from the front lines to the power lines.”

National Grid also has its own Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG) to help implement the Troops to Energy Jobs national template in all its service territories. This group of 185 members is strongly involved with recruitment and outreach efforts that encompass National Grid’s Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Upstate NY and Downstate NY businesses. The company’s VERG provides ongoing support to veteran employees, assists the Human Resources Department by reviewing resumes for candidates who are veterans, and maintains a visible presence in local communities, including attending career fairs to recruit other veterans.

National Grid works with the Department of Labor in Massachusetts as well as at local One-Stops in its efforts to recruit veterans. The company also works closely with veterans organizations such as the Office of Veterans Affairs, directing candidates to the Troops to Energy Jobs website for assistance in translating military skills to those needed in energy jobs. The company will often tweet job openings and veteran-themed resources as part of its effort to reach as many veterans in as many different ways as possible.

Sustainable Roadmap for Jamaica Released

The Worldwatch Institute has released the report, “Jamaica Sustainable Energy Roadmap: Pathways to an Affordable, Reliable, Low-Emission Electricity System,” that looks at the measures that the Jamaican government can take to transition its electricity sector to one that is socially, environmentally and financially sustainable. The report also analyzes the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment in Jamaica and discusses the social and economic impacts of alternative energy pathways, concluding that a scenario of high renewable penetration can bring significant savings, greater energy security, gains in competitiveness, and many other important benefits to the country.

Jamaica Sustainable Energy Roadmap“Jamaica is paying a colossal price to import polluting and health-threatening fossil fuels, even when it has the best clean energy resources at its doorstep: wind, solar, hydro, and biomass,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch and a co-author of the study. “The Jamaican government has set a nationwide goal of 20 percent renewable energy use by 2030; our Roadmap will help to realize this goal. What’s more, our analysis shows that the bar can and should be set much higher: Jamaica can become a zero-carbon island in a matter of decades, and its people would benefit enormously from such a transition.”

Worldwatch collaborated closely on this project with the Government of Jamaica. “I am very confident that the outcome of this project will enable Jamaica to map, in more precise ways, the additional electricity generation capacity that we seek,” says Jamaican Energy Minister Philip Paulwell. “We intend to use the Roadmap to determine the next phase of new generation capacity, and it will enable us to be far more efficient than we have in the past.”

Jose Maria Figueres, president of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, points to the broader benefits of the study and Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Roadmap work: “This report provides the practical steps that enable us to fast-forward the deployment of renewable energy. With it, we can boost national economies and improve conditions of well-being. [Jamaica] can become a shining example of what the future is all about.”

The Roadmap also delves into the full societal costs of Jamaica’s current electricity sector to the costs of alternative pathways that are based on high shares of domestic renewable energy. The report concludes that Jamaica will benefit economically, socially, and environmentally if it relies more heavily on renewable energy sources and less on fossil fuels. In addition, based on analysis of Jamaica’s investment environment, the Roadmap suggests regulatory and institutional changes that will be necessary to attract new investments in clean energy solutions.

Study Aims to Debunk Indirect Land Use Change

A new paper, “Wood Bioenergy and Land Use,” authored by Roger A. Sedjo, Brent L. Sohngen, Anne Riddle on behalf of Resources for the Future attempts to debunk indirect land use change theory (ILUC). The paper looks at how the use of biomass energy will affect the forests.

Wood BioEnergy and Land Use paperBack in 2008, Timothy Searchinger examined the issue related to corn ethanol and posited that substituting corn ethanol for petroleum would increase carbon emissions associated with the land conversion in other areas, such as Brazil. In other words, what would the indirect impact be of planting corn on an acre of land that used to be virgin forest and how would this affect the carbon “savings” of using ethanol, an environmental concern tied to climate change.

The authors point out that the issue is broader than simply corn. If agricultural croplands are drawn into the production of biofuel feedstocks, commodity prices are expected to rise, triggering land conversions overseas, releasing carbon emissions, and offsetting the carbon reductions expected from bioenergy.

Using a general stylized forest sector management model, the study examines the economic potential of traditional industrial forests and supplemental dedicated fuelwood plantations to produce biomass on submarginal lands. It finds that these sources can economically produce large levels of biomass without compromising crop production, thereby mitigating the land conversion and carbon emissions effects posited by the Searchinger hypothesis.

Click here to download the paper.

World’s Largest Advanced Biofuels Plant Opens

Today marked the official opening of what is believed to be the world’s largest operational, commercial scale advanced biofuels facility. Situated in the fields outside the city of Crescentino, Italy, Beta Renewables, part of the Mossi Ghisolfi Group, along with Novozymes celebrated the first plant to be designed and built to produce bioethanol from agricultural residues and energy crops as commercial scale using enzymatic conversion. The advanced biofuels plant features Beta Renewables’ PROESA™ engineering and production technology alongside Novozymes’ Cellic® enzymes.

“The advanced biofuels market presents transformational economic, environmental and social opportunities, and with the opening, we pave the way for a green revolution in the chemical sector,” said Beta Renewables’ Chairman and CEO, Guido Ghisolfi. “We will continue to commercially expand Beta Renewables’ core technology throughout the world, and we are very confident at this stage given the demand we see around the globe.”

“The opening today presents a leap forward and is truly the beginning of a new era for advanced biofuels,” says Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes. “Here, at this plant, enabled by Novozymes’ enzymatic technology, we will turn agricultural waste into millions of liters of low-emission green fuel, proving that cellulosic ethanol is no longer a distant dream. It is here, it is happening, and it is ready for large-scale commercialization.”

The plant uses wheat straw, rice straw and arundo donax, a high-yielding energy crop grown on marginal land. Lignin, a polymer extracted from biomass during the ethanol production process, is used at an attached power plant, which generates enough power to meet the facility’s energy needs, with any excess green electricity sold to the local grid.

At the inauguration, Guido Ghisolfi and Peder Holk Nielsen were joined on the ground for the celebrations by Italy’s Minister for Economic Development, Flavio Zanonato, and representatives from the European Commission, as well as more than 500 global stakeholders.

During the event, both companies stressed that with the technology ready at commercial scale, it will be vital to create stable and conducive policy conditions worldwide, to harvest better the vast opportunities in cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels. Continue reading

Haiti To Build BioEnergy Zones

Haiti-based Sonamar, S.A. and Bangalore-based VayuGrid have entered into a partnership to develop BioEnergy Zones across Haiti. These bioenergy pockets will produce renewable energy through elite biofuel trees developed by VayuGrid. The two companies believe the project will deliver social, environmental and economic benefit to the country.

Briquettes-in-Stove-small-300x200The zones will be developed in non-arable land across Haiti to supply biodiesel, cooking briquettes, and high-protein animal feed. Social benefits will be realized, say the companies, through jobs and economic opportunities for the communities servicing the BioEnergy Zones; environmental benefits via renewable energy and reduction of deforestation through biofuels, and economic benefits by way of an agriculture financial model that is sustainable without government subsidies.

“We see great benefit in developing a high yielding crop that not only produces clean energy, but will also supply the cooking fuel to significantly reduce the large scale deforestation across Haiti,” said Alix Douyon, President of Sonamar S. A.

Sonamar, S.A. has an agreement with the Energy Ministry in Haiti for development of energy crops and has access to large tracks of barren land. As the local execution partner, Sonamar will work with local communities to develop the services-based ecosystem around BioEnergy Zones, creating long term opportunities for jobs and income within the communities.

“There is significant attention on how to make lasting changes in Haiti,” said Douglas Peterson, CEO of VayuGrid. “We are pleased to develop this agreement with Sonamar and expect significant benefit for Haiti directly and foresee that Haiti will become a demonstrator for the region for deploying large scale and sustainable renewable energy projects.”

The initial project will be for 1,000 acres and supply over 1.2 million gallons of biodiesel per year, and 15,000 tons of green coal. The project will be expanded to over 20,000 acres over the next 4 years.

REAP Funding Announced

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced funding for 631 projects across the country – including 45 in North Carolina – that will help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce their energy consumption and costs, use renewable energy Vilsack in Amestechnologies in their operations and/or conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy projects. Grant and loan funding is made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which is authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill.

With this announcement, USDA is committing to more than $21 million in energy projects nationwide. Despite budget uncertainties, USDA remains focused on strengthening the rural economy.

“As part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, USDA continues to work with America’s farmers, ranchers and rural businesses to help them save energy and improve their bottom line,” Vilsack said. “This program and others like it would not be available without a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, and again I urge members of Congress to pass a bill when they return to Washington next month.”

REAP helps producers reduce energy costs and increase production efficiency. Projects range from installing geothermal systems to adding anaerobic digester systems to installing solar panels.

Under the terms of REAP, up to 25 percent of an eligible energy production or conservation project can be funded through a grant, and additional support can be provided in the form of a loan. Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has helped fund nearly 7,000 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide.

Feedstock Flexibility Program Final Rule Published

The Farm Service Agency has made the final Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP) public and was published in the Federal Register on Monday, July 29, 2013. Congress created the FFP in the 2008 Farm Bill, allowing for the purchase of excess sugar to produce Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 9.10.14 AMbioenergy in order to avoid forfeiture of sugar pledged as collateral by processors when securing short-term commodity loans from United States Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).

Federal law allows sugar processors to obtain loans from the CCC with maturities of up to nine months when the sugarcane or sugar beet harvest begins. Upon loan maturity, the sugar processor may repay the loan in full or forfeit the collateral (sugar) to the government to satisfy the loan. The last time sugar forfeitures occurred was in 2004 but atypical market conditions have necessitated USDA to take a number of actions this crop year to manage the sugar supply at the least cost to the federal government. If needed, FFP is an additional tool to manage the domestic sugar surplus.

As part of continuing efforts to manage the surplus, USDA is currently operating a purchase of sugar from domestic sugarcane processors under the Cost Reduction Options of the Food Security Act of 1985, and simultaneously will exchange this sugar for credits offered by refiners holding licenses under the Refined Sugar Re-export Program.