Emerging Nations Hit Record Clean Energy Investments

According to the new report Climatescope, developing nations have surpassed the world’s wealthiest countries in securing more renewable energy investments. Climatescope is a clean energy country competitiveness index, interactive report and online tool supported by the U.S., U.K. and Inter-American Development Bank Group. The report unveils a portrait of clean energy activity in 55 emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America Climatescope2015and the Caribbean. The group includes major developing nations China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as dozens of others. Energy solutions reviewed included solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal, biomass, and other zero-carbon emitting technologies (excluding large hydro).

The news came shortly before a round of UN-organized climate negotiations kicked off in Paris prior to the start of COP21. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which released the report, says these talks often focus on the question of how much capital wealthier countries should make available to lesser developed countries to address the climate challenge.

Climatescope’s key findings include:

  • For the first time ever, over half of all new annual investment into clean energy power generating projects globally went toward projects in emerging markets, rather than toward wealthier countries.
  • New investment in renewables soared in 2014 in the 55 Climatescope countries assessed to hit a record annual high of $126bn – up $35.5bn, or 39%, from 2013 levels.
  • The results were substantially bolstered by the remarkable growth in China, which added 35GW of new renewable power generating capacity all on its own – more than the 2014 clean energy build in the US, UK, and France combined.
  • Meanwhile, “South-South” investment (funds deployed in Climatescope nations from banks or other financial institutions based in those countries) surged to $79bn in 2014 from $53bn the year prior.
  • Continuing declines in clean energy costs appear to be driving growth. Costs associated with solar photovoltaic power have ticked down 15% year-on-year globally. Solar is particularly competitive in emerging markets which often suffer from very high power prices from fossil generation while also enjoying very sunny conditions.
  • A total of 50.4 gigawatts (GW) of new clean capacity was built in Climatescope countries, marking a 21% uptick from the prior year. In another first, renewables capacity deployed in emerging markets topped that in wealthier Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations.
  • On a percentage basis, clean energy capacity is growing twice as quickly in Climatescope nations compared to OECD ones.

The report found that progress was achieved during 2014 despite a number of countries in the survey seeing economic growth rates slow. Average gross domestic product growth across Climatescope nations slipped to 5.7 percent in 2014 from 6.4 percent in 2013 with the slow-down most apparent in major nations, Brazil, South Africa, and China. Despite the pullback, these three countries attracted a total of $103bn in new clean energy investment in 2014.

60% New Electricity Generation Renewable Power

Becoming a trend, renewable energy sources accounted for more 60.2 percent of the 7,276 of new electrical generation placed in service in the U.S. during the first three quarters of 2015. According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 26 new units of wind totaling 2,966 MW of new electrical generation have been placed in service so far this year. This accounted for 40.76 percent of all new capacity brought online year-to-date.  Among renewable sources, solar followed with 1,137 MW (142 units), biomass with 205 MW (16 units), geothermal steam with 45 MW (1 unit), and hydropower with 27 MW (18 units). Thirty-four units of natural gas contributed 2,884 MW.

wind power in Iowa

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Only 9 MW of new generation from oil and 3 MW from coal were put into production and there was no new capacity from nuclear power. In total, new capacity from renewable energy sources so far this year is 1,460 times greater than that from coal while new capacity from wind alone exceeds that from natural gas. In just September, wind (448 MW) again dominated, with 54.83 percent of new capacity followed by natural gas (346 MW), and solar (20 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.40 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.59 percent, wind – 5.91 percent, biomass – 1.43 percent, solar – 1.13 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.34 percent (for comparison, renewables were 16.35 percent of capacity in September 2014 and 15.68 percent in September 2013). The share of total installed capacity from solar alone has more than doubled over the past two years (1.13% vs. 0.54%). Total installed capacity from non-hydro renewables (8.81%) now exceeds that from conventional hydropower (8.59%).

“With Congress and numerous states now questioning the ability of renewable energy sources to meet targets called for in the Administration’s new Clean Power Plan (CPP), the explosive growth of wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal in recent years confirms that it can be done,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “In fact, the latest FERC data suggest that the CPP’s goals are unduly modest and renewables will handily surpass them.”

Renewable Industries Call on Secy of State for Support

COP 21 is fast approaching and the U.S. will be in the spotlight for its efforts to reduce climate change impacts. In anticipation of the worldwide climate event, leaders of the U.S. biomass, geothermal and hydropower industries are urging Secretary of State John Kerry to support a “pan-renewable technologies approach”. The National Hydropower Association, Biomass Power Association and Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) said in the letter that today these technologies provide 86 percent of the world’s renewable power and this amount is anticipated to grow in the coming years.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.57.22 PM“As baseload renewable power technologies, our industries are particularly critical to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and we encourage Secretary Kerry to recognize the contributions our industries are making to fight climate change,” said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association.

The letter highlighted some of hydropower, biomass and geothermal benefits:

  • Hydropower was the leading renewable power technology in each of the top five renewable electricity producing countries: China, U.S., Brazil, Canada and Russia.
  • Biomass provides a significant percentage of renewable power around the world, and was the leading renewable electricity source in Germany in 2014, providing 10% of the country’s electricity.
  • Geothermal provides power in 24 countries, including 51% of in-country power supply in Kenya, where these additions are credited with reducing consumer bills by over 30%.

Karl Gawell, GEA executive director, called on the Administration to increase its support of renewable electricity generation. “We are asking for a U.S. approach that recognizes hydropower, biomass power and geothermal power are also important contributors to avoiding fossil fuel emissions today and will be important contributors to meeting future climate goals.

The group stressed in the letter, “. . .[P]ower grids will continue to be a vital means for electricity delivery. Therefore, enhancing the grid and grid-connected technologies is important.

Bob Cleaves, president, Biomass Power Association, added, “Biomass power is recognized the world over for its many environmental and economic benefits. As a baseload power source, it’s an essential part of any renewable energy mix that uses low-value materials that often have no other use. Biomass will play an important role in reducing the use of fossil fuels.”

Geothermal Industry

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to include geothermal energy in the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). In a letter, GEA makes the following suggestions that would allow geothermal power plants to fully be included in CEIP:

  1. Include metered MWh generated from geothermal resources or allow states to include geothermal resources if their state contains these resources.
  2. Since the timeframe for geothermal includes exploration and more permitting in many states than an equivalent wind or solar project, include projects where significant construction has begun; this could include a binding written contract to the manufacture, construct, or produce electricity on a piece of the geothermal property, and includes expansion of existing facilities (incremental generation) or a new facility.
  3. Projects online in 2020 and 2021 under this program would receive credit for their MWh generated like wind or a solar project.

US geothermal energy photo DOE“Without this amendment to the CEIP program, GEA is concerned the way the current rule is written would shift investment away from geothermal projects in the west,” states the letter, noting geothermal’s importance in the low-income communities such as the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.

The letter states, “geothermal power meets the criteria and the spirit of the CEIP by providing emission free power in low-income communities. In fact, studies have shown, geothermal binary plants are less polluting than either wind or solar technologies on a lifecycle basis. In addition, these plants are located in some areas with the highest unemployment rates in the west. Adding geothermal to this provision could help expand these facilities, providing jobs and economic opportunities in these impoverished communities. Overall, geothermal power will be essential to western states’ long term clean energy portfolio and economies, while being consistent with the CEIP’s directive to advance clean technology in impoverished communities.”

Recently several senators (Reid, Feinstein, Boxer, Wyden, Merkley, Hirono, and Schatz), submitted a letter to EPA Administrator McCarthy also calling for geothermal energy to be included in the program. The letter stated, “We have noted that the Clean Energy Incentive Program includes solar and wind energy, but does not include a number of other important clean energy technologies that the federal government has historically defined as renewable energy resources, like geothermal energy, marine and hydrokinetic energy, biomass, small irrigation power, and qualified hydropower, as defined under Section 45(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Environmental Protection Agency should ensure that other clean energy sources of electricity are eligible for matching emission rate credits under the Clean Energy Incentive Program.”

Geothermal May be Africa’s Energy Solution

Representatives from 12 African countries gathered in Nairobi recently to discuss the feasibility of establishing the Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence (AGCE). The center would work to improve the continent’s institutional and infrastructural capacities including bringing and training geothermal scientists an engineers.

Oklaria Geothermal Plant in Kenya.

Oklaria Geothermal Plant in Kenya.

Around 600 million people in Africa lack access to grid electricity, with the number expected to rise to 700 million by 2030. As a result, the continent is increasingly looking to alternative energy sources to bridge that gap especially geothermal opportunities. With an estimated potential of 20,000 MW, geothermal energy could provide an answer to the continent’s energy shortage.

The majority of the potential energy source remains largely untapped in part due to a lack of skilled workforce. AGCE would address this issue and become the vehicle to training a talented geothermal energy workforce and thus open the doors to sustainable geothermal development.

During the workshop, the attendees reviewed a feasibility study that catalgoues the region’s needs and potential for geothermal. In addition, the group also created AGCE’s vision and developed its long-term sustainability.

The meeting was organized by the United Nation Environment Programme’s (UNEP) African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) and brought together country representatives, African governments, development partners, donors, civil society, private developers, technical institutions and academia. AGCE is expected to be established in Kenya, which is the main hub for geothermal technology on the continent, with a natural laboratory and a major geothermal agency.

Energy Policy Modernization Act Intro’d

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) have introduced legislation entitled “The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015,” a bipartisan bill designed to increase the use of renewable energy in the U.S. Karl Gladwell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) noted that the legislation would help America achieve its geothermal potential, “by addressing some of the most important barriers to geothermal development in the U.S.”

Photo Credit: Geothermal Technologies Office

Photo Credit: Geothermal Technologies Office

The legislation features five titles reflecting common ground on energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and land conservation. In the supply title, it includes several provisions supporting geothermal energy. It would:

  • set a 50,000-MW National Geothermal Goal;
  • direct federal agencies to identify priority areas for development;
    •allow federal oil and gas lease holders to obtain a non-competitive geothermal lease to facilitate coproduction of geothermal power — today 25 billion barrels of hot water are produced annually from oil and gas wells within the United States;
  • facilitate new discoveries by allowing the limited non-competitive leasing of adjacent lands where a new discovery has been made; and
  • provide geothermal exploration test projects a limited categorical exclusion provided the lands involved present no extraordinary circumstances.

“Our energy renaissance has taken us from a position of energy scarcity to one of energy abundance, but current law rarely reflects that fact. After months of working together, the bipartisan legislation we introduced today marks a critical step toward the modernization of our federal energy policies. By focusing on areas where agreement was possible, we have assembled a robust bill with priorities from many senators that will promote our economic growth, national security, and global competitiveness,” Chairman Murkowski said in a press statement.

The Senators cite that the end result will be more affordable energy, more abundant energy, and more functional energy systems that will strengthen and sustain our energy nation’s renaissance. The bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act will also achieve these goals in a fiscally-responsible manner.

Earlier this week the Senate Finance Committee voted 23-3 in support of legislation sponsored by Sens. Hatch, R-Utah, and Wyden, D-Ore., to extend the expired Production Tax Credit for geothermal power plants that start construction by December 31, 2016.  The Murkowski-Cantwell legislation builds upon legislative proposals introduced previously by Sens. Heller, R-Nev., Wyden, D-Ore., and Tester, D-Mont., along with several co-sponsors. The bill now awaits the Committee’s markup, expected next Tuesday.

Geothermal Industry Calls for Tax Extender Credits

The geothermal industry is happy with the news that the Senate Finance Committee voted for a package of tax extenders proposed by Chairman Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (D-OR). The package includes provisions extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for new geothermal power facilities that “start construction” by the end of 2016. Developers retain the option of converting the PTC to a 30 percent investment tax GEA logocredit. The PTC expired at the end of 2014, although it was extended in December 2015 for a two-week period that was far too short to benefit geothermal projects according to Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA).

“This is important news for geothermal developers,” said Gawell. “It will help spur the market for new geothermal power plants which has been suffering due to slack demand and uneven tax treatment,” he said.

The Committee voted 23-3 in support of the package, with strong majorities of both Republican and Democratic Members supporting the bill. The tax extenders bill, entitled “An Original Bill to Extend Certain Expired Tax Provisions,” now moves to the Senate floor.

“The strong bi-partisan support in Committee is a good sign for the future of the Senate Tax Extenders Bill,” Gawell noted.

Mid-Year Renewable Energy Check-Up

Heading in to the second half of 2015, renewable energy accounted for nearly 70 percent of new electrical generation for the firs six months as reported by the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects. The report finds wind accounts for more than half (50.64%) of the 1,969 MW of new installed capacity. Solar accounted for 549 MW, bimomass with 128 MW, geothermal with 45 MW and hydropower with 21 MW. The rest of the new capacity was added using natural gas (1,173 MW).

© Metalmaster | Dreamstime.com - Solar Panels Photo

© Metalmaster | Dreamstime.com – Solar Panels Photo

FERC reported no new capacity for the year-to-date from oil or nuclear power and just 3 MW from one unit of coal. Thus, as calculated by the SUN DAY Campaign, new capacity from renewable energy sources during the first half of 2015 is 904 times greater than that from coal and more than double that from natural gas. For June alone, wind (320 MW), biomass (95 MW), and solar (62 MW) provided 97 percent of new capacity with natural gas providing the balance (15 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.27 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.61 percent, wind – 5.84 percent, biomass – 1.40 percent, solar – 1.08 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.34 percent (for comparison, renewables were 16.28 percent of capacity in June 2014 and 15.81% in June 2013).

Renewable electrical capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.20%) and oil (3.87%) combined. In fact, the installed capacity of wind power alone has now surpassed that of oil. On the other hand, sources the SUN DAY Campaign, generating capacity from coal has declined from 28.96 percent in mid-2013 to 26.83 percent today.

“With Congress now debating whether to extend the federal tax incentives for renewable energy sources, it is reasonable to ask whether the American public has gotten a good return on these investments to date,” noted Ken Bossong, executive eirector of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The latest FERC data confirms that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’.”

GEA Good Source for Clean Power Plan

During the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO and Policy Forum that took place in Washington, D.C. on July 9, 2015, Karl Gawell, executive director for the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), called on bipartisan action. “In the world market, policymakers are working to address the upfront risk of geothermal projects and shortening lead times. Congress needs to take action on pending legislation to make similar progress in the U.S.,” Gawell said.

He added that geothermal projects are subject to extensive bureaucratic delays. “Geothermal development projects can go through as many as six NEPA analyses,” explained Gawell. As a result, geothermal projects cannot effectively take advantage of short-term tax incentives. We need longer term incentives.

There are currently several pieces of legislation pending in the U.S. House and Senate that seek support for renewable energy including geothermal energy development (S.562, S.822, S.1057, S.1155 and S. 1407, in the Senate). Gaswell called out to legislators: “We urge the sponsors of the individual pieces — Senators Heller, Wyden, Tester, Risch, Crapo, Merkley, Murkowski and others (as well as Representatives Simpson, DeFazio and Gosar) – to work together on a bipartisan basis if an energy bill moves forward.” Continue reading

Trevor Day School Uses Geothermal for Energy, Education

Trevor Day School, located in New York City, is using geothermal for energy and education. The technology used is the first by an educational institute as well as the first on the East Coast to contribute to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 80 percent prior to 2050.

The system contains structural piles that are made from reinforced concrete. They are turned into heat exchangers by adding loops of plastic pipes down their length with some going more than 80 feet deep. They provide both support for the building, but also allow the structure to extract and store heat from the earth to use in heating and cooling the building.

A view from First Avenue of Trevor's new LEED qualifying, state-of-the-art, geothermal school building; a first of its kind on the East Coast. (Photo: Business Wire)

A view from First Avenue of Trevor’s new LEED qualifying, state-of-the-art, geothermal school building; a first of its kind on the East Coast. (Photo: Business Wire)

To learn more about the project, DomesticFuel spoke to several of the project team members including Michael Paquette, P.E. senior project engineer for Langan. He explained that this technology was different than many current geothermal projects.

On ‘traditional’ geothermal projects, the geothermal loops are installed in boreholes drilled specifically to install the geothermal loops, or in shallow trenches excavated specifically for geothermal loops, explained Paquette. However, at Trevor Day School, the geothermal loops were installed in pile foundations that were already required for the building (hence the term ‘energy piles’).

“The value of the energy piles is that the piles must be installed for the building’s foundation support, so adding geothermal loops inside the piles themselves is a relatively lower cost compared to drilling dedicated boreholes for the geothermal loops,” continued Paquette. “The piles serve dual purpose as foundation support and energy transfer. Although energy piles are becoming more common in Europe, Trevor Day School is one of the first projects in the USA to use this technology and will hopefully serve as a catalyst for other developers in the U.S. to consider this technology.”

What is the return on investment of this clean energy technology? Continue reading