Today Natural Gas Rush, Tomorrow High Bills

According to a new report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), consumers and businesses are becoming increasingly vulnerable to higher electricity bills due to increased natural gas bills. As such, USC calls for more energy efficiency and renewable energy resources like solar and wind to be integrated into the U.S. grid. This would help insulate against economic risks tied to one energy source, while diversify the power energy mix.

The Natural Gas Gamble,” finds that the power sector is leading the country into a danger zone by favoring natural gas over renewables and energy efficiency options.

“There’s a well-documented history of volatility in natural gas prices,” said Jeff Deyette, senior energy analyst at UCS and report co-author. “Increasing demand, extreme weather energy-cover-natural-gas-gambleevents, and uncertainties about available gas supplies can cause prices to spike dramatically. For example, last winter when the Polar Vortex brought bitter cold to much of the U.S., prices in some regions jumped 10- to 12-times higher than recent lows. Despite the recent surge in natural gas production, these trends could continue and leave consumers that rely on natural gas paying the price.”

The analysis also found that if renewables made up a much greater share of the U.S. electricity mix and were combined with investments in energy efficiency, electricity prices would stabilize and consumers would ultimately pay less for their energy. Factoring in the limit on carbon emissions and strong renewable energy and energy efficiency policies at both the federal and state levels, by 2040 renewables could make up nearly 40 percent of the electricity mix and consumers would see an annual net savings of $59 billion (in 2013 dollars).

“Businesses and shareholders may also see their bottom lines negatively affected if utilities continue to expand natural gas in their electricity mix,” Deyette added. “Cleaner-burning natural gas can help in the transition away from coal to cleaner electricity generation sources. However, simply substituting dependence on one fossil fuel for another is a dead end that ultimately limits our ability to slow climate change and safeguard consumers.”

The UCS report concludes that as the nation moves away from coal, enacting a breadth of policies to ensure a diverse supply of low-carbon power sources—made up primarily of renewable energy and energy efficiency, with a more balanced role for natural gas—would protect consumers’ pocketbooks and the environment.

EIA Reports Renewable Energy Sees Gain

Net electrical generation from non-hydro renewable energy sources increased by 10.9 percent over the previous year (2013), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest “Electric Power Monthly“. The solar contribution to net electrical generation more than doubled (102.8%) while wind grew by 8.3 percent, biomass by 5.7 percent, and geothermal by 5.4 percent.

Comparatively speaking, nuclear power and coal increased by only 1.0% and 0.3% respectively while electrical generation using natural gas dropped by 0.3 percent. Conventional hydropower also declined by 3.7 percent. Net electrical generation from all energy sources combined increased by 0.7 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.

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During the last decade, electrical generation from non-hydro renewables has more than tripled. And, significantly, 2014 was the first year in which non-hydro renewables provided more electrical generation than did hydropower (281,060 thousand MWh vs. 258,749 thousand MWh).

Including hydropower, EIA reports that renewable energy sources accounted for 13.19 percent of net U.S. electrical generation in 2014 (hydropower – 6.32%, wind – 4.44%, biomass – 1.57%, solar – 0.45%, and geothermal – 0.41%). These numbers, however, almost certainly understate renewable energy’s actual contribution to the nation’s electrical supply because EIA does not fully account for electricity generated by distributed and off-grid renewable energy systems (e.g., rooftop solar).

“Given current growth rates – especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14% of the nation’s electrical supply by the end of 2015,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.”

New Energy in 2014 Dominated by Wind Power

According to a new report released this week by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration (EIA), more wind power was added to the grid in 2014 than any other energy resource. The data shows wind power generated 4.4 percent of all the electricity in America in 2014 and maintained its position as the fifth largest electricity source in the U.S. Iowa led the nation by producing 28.5 percent of its electricity from wind power, followed by South Dakota at 25.3 percent and Kansas at 21.7. Wind energy provided more than 15 percent of electricity in a total of seven states, more than 10 percent in a total of nine states, and more than five percent in a total of 19 states.

All renewable energy sources including hydropower now deliver more than 13 percent of the nation’s electricity, with wind energy providing more than one-third of that total.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 1.08.01 PM“The U.S. is blessed with an abundant supply of wind energy. Pairing this homegrown resource with continued technology innovation has made the U.S. the home of the most productive wind turbines in the world,” said Emily Williams, deputy director of industry data and analysis for American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Analysis released last year found the U.S. is number one in the world in wind energy production.

AWEA cites the wind industry growth as being driven by technological improvements and cost declines that have reduced the cost of wind energy by more than half over the last five years, as documented by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In 2014, wind provided enough electricity to power the equivalent of 16.7 million homes, or all the residential households in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, and Montana. Once recently added U.S. wind projects have had a full year of production, total wind output will likely rise to powering the equivalent of 18 million homes.

Wind has more than tripled since 2008, it can double from where it is today to 10 percent by 2020, then double again to 20 percent by 2030, and become the leading source of electricity in the U.S. by 2050,” said added Kiernan. “However, to get there Congress must provide wind with the same policy certainty it provides to other energy sources by rapidly extending the Production Tax Credit for as long as possible.”

Calling Energy Entrepreneurs

Calling student energy entrepreneurs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $2.5 million in funding for the Cleantech University Prize (Cleantech UP), which hopes to inspire the next generation of clean energy gurus. This funding opportunity will support the commercialization of promising technologies for sectors such as solar and wind that reduce carbon pollution and grow the clean energy economy.

According to DOE, the goal of the Cleantech UP is to create a strong national infrastructure focused on collegiate high-tech entrepreneurship that accelerates the rate of clean energy innovWind Turbine in Northern Iowaation in the U.S, while also establishing a national Cleantech UP Hub. The program will support up to eight Cleantech UP Collegiate Competitions.

The Cleantech UP Hub will create a national prize, train student entrepreneurs, and serve as a coordinating body for energy entrepreneurship training, while the Cleantech UP Collegiate Competitions will provide prizes for eight individual university-focused competitions that will equip students with business skills to move clean energy technologies from the discovery phase to the marketplace. Together, the Cleantech UP Hub and Cleantech UP Collegiate Competitions will form a strategic network that increases student entrepreneurs’ participation—both in quantity and quality—in clean energy, and addresses the existing gaps in early-stage commercialization training.

Cleantech UP will build on the success of its precursor, the Energy Department’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition. More information can be found here.

RES Americas’ Keechi Wind Project Online

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.00.25 AMThe Keechi Wind Project in Jack County, Texas is now producing wind power. The 110 MW project was completed by RES Americas and consists of 55 Vestas V100-2.0 MW turbines. The Keechi Wind Project will deliver electricity into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT) market, under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Microsoft Corporation.

“The successful completion of the Keechi wind project included RES Americas self-performing the installation of 55 wind turbines,” said Andrew Fowler, chief operating officer of RES Americas. “It was also extremely important to us to work closely with the local community in sourcing labor and materials to construct the project.”

Keechi Wind was developed by RES Americas and constructed under a fixed-price, engineering, procurement, and construction agreement and was RES Americas’ first project in which it self-performed the turbine installation. The project, which is owned by Enbridge, connects to Brazos Electric’s Joplin substation via a 12-mile generation tie line. Vestas will provide turbine operations and maintenance services for the first five years of the project.

NREL: Biodiesel Leads Biofuels Growth in US

renewenergydatabookThe latest numbers from the federal government shows biodiesel was the leader in growth among biofuels in the United States. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) 2013 Renewable Energy Data Book showed good gains for many of the renewable energy industries, while energy consumption from petroleum actually slumped, despite an overall increase in the amount of energy consumed.

United States overall energy consumption grew to 97.3 quadrillion Btu in 2013, a 2.4% increase from 2012. Energy consumption from coal and renewables grew slightly, while consumption from petroleum and natural gas fell slightly.

Biodiesel was the fastest growing biofuel type, with production increasing by 64% in the United States and 17% globally, from a relatively small base.

Renewable electricity [including hydropower and biopower] grew to nearly 15% of total installed capacity and 13% of total electricity generation in the United States in 2013. Installed renewable electricity capacity exceeded 171 gigawatts (GW) in 2013, generating 534 TWh.

[S]olar electricity was the fastest growing electricity generation technology, with cumulative installed capacity increasing by nearly 66% from the previous year.

[W]ind electricity generation increased 20% in 2013, while wind electricity capacity grew 1.8%.

The report also found that in 2013, renewable electricity accounted for more than 61 percent of all new electricity capacity installations in the United States. By comparison, renewable electricity captured 4 percent of new capacity additions in 2004 and 57 percent in 2008.

Globally, solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) are among the fastest growing renewable electricity technologies— between 2000 and 2013, solar electricity generation worldwide increased by a factor of nearly 68.

Wind Power Will Help Meet Clean Power Plan

According to a new report released today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), adding more wind power to the U.S. electric grid can help the country meet the goals set out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Carbon emissions will be reduced and the lights will stay on, said AWEA, as wind power is already providing clean and reliable power for millions of Americans.

“Americans want energy security, clean air, and a more reliable energy system,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “Diversifying our energy mix with wind helps us achieve all of these goals at once.”

During a press webinar this morning, AWEA Senior Director of Research Michael Goggin walked through the several of the most common questions about wind power and readability that are answered in the report. The report focuses on the 15 most common questions and provides answers drawing on the expertise of grid operators along with other research.

AWEA Wind Energy Reliability Report CoverGoggin explained that as wind energy has grown to provide a larger share of our electricity mix, wind turbine technology has matured so that modern wind plants are able to provide the same grid reliability services as conventional generators. Changes in wind output are not a major issue for grid operators because all power plants are already backed up by all other power plants, and grid operators already deal with large fluctuations in electricity supply and demand. In fact, the gradual and predictable changes in wind power are also much easier for grid operators to address than the large-scale outages that can occur at conventional power plants.

“Based on grid operators’ experience with reliably and cost-effectively integrating very large amounts of wind energy, wind can play can play a key role in meeting EPA’s Clean Power Plan,” said AWEA Senior Director of Research Michael Goggin.

Real-world examples presented in the report help illustrate the significant role wind energy is already playing including in Texas when fossil-fired power plants failed in the cold in February 2011, and more recently did so again across much of the U.S. during the “Polar Vortex” in early 2014.

According to Wind Vision, a new Department of Energy report due for release in early 2015, will show that wind could double from today’s amount to reliably supply 10 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2020, 20 percent by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. However, as stressed by Kiernan during the presser, a long-term commitment to support wind energy by the federal government through programs such as Production Tax Credit will be critical to meeting the goals set forth in the Clean Power Plan as well as the President Obama’s climate change objectives.

Click here to read the full report.

EIA: Ethanol, Biodiesel, Renewables to Grow in 2015

The latest government numbers show the amount of ethanol and biodiesel, as well as energy produced from wind and solar will increase in 2015. The latest Short-Term Energy Outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows growth for the biofuels, while total renewables used for electricity and heat generation will grow by 3.8 percent this year.
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Ethanol production averaged 933,000 bbl/d in 2014, and EIA expects it to average 938,000 bbl/d in 2015 and 936,000 bbl/d in 2016. Biodiesel production averaged an estimated 80,000 bbl/d in 2014 and is forecast to average 84,000 bbl/d in both 2015 and 2016.

In 2013, the electricity generation shares were 6.6% and 6.2% from hydropower and nonhydropower renewables, respectively. Wind is the largest source of nonhydropower renewable generation, and it is projected to contribute 5.2% of total electricity generation in 2016. Wind capacity, which grew by 7.7% in 2014, is forecast to increase by 16.1% in 2015 and by another 6.5% in 2016. Because wind is starting from a much larger base than solar, even though the growth rate is lower, the absolute amount of the increase in capacity is more than twice that of solar: 15 GW of wind versus 6 GW of utility-scale solar between 2014 and 2016.

EIA expects continued growth in utility-scale solar power generation, which is projected to average almost 80 gigawatthours (GWh) per day in 2016. Despite this growth, solar power averages only 0.7% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016.

Amazon Web Services Using Wind in Indiana

Amazon Web Services has announced it will power its Benton County, Indiana facility with 150 MW wind farm coined the Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge). Pattern Energy has been selected to support the construction and Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 12.11.11 PMoperation of the wind farm that is expected to be in operation as early as January of 2016. The wind farm will generate nearly 500,000 megawatt hours per year and will be used to power both current and future AWS Cloud datacenters.

“Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will bring a new source of clean energy to the electric grid where we currently operate a large number of datacenters and have ongoing expansion plans to support our growing customer base,” said Jerry Hunter, vice president of infrastructure at Amazon Web Services. “This PPA helps to increase the renewable energy used to power our infrastructure in the US and is one of many sustainability activities and renewable energy projects for powering our datacenters that we currently have in the works.”

Pattern Development’s CEO, Mike Garland added, “We are excited to be working with Amazon Web Services and we commend the Company for its commitment to sustainability and its continued pioneering and leadership in cloud computing. We look forward to working with AWS as it progresses towards its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy.”

Global Wind Energy Installations Surpass Gas, Coal

According to new research, the European (EU) wind energy industry installed more new capacity than gas and coal combined in 2014. Across the 28 Member States, the wind industry connected a total of 11,791 MW to the grid with coal and gas adding 3,305 MW and 2,338 MW respectively. In addition, the coal and gas industries in Europe both retired more capacity than they commissioned in 2014. In comparison, wind energy capacity in Europe increased 5.3 percent year on year from 2013, with cumulative installations now standing at 128.8 GW in the EU.

Thomas Becker, chief executive officer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), said, “Europe is at a turning point for investment in renewables and particularly wind. Ploughing financial capital into the industries of old in Europe is beginning to look unwise. By contrast, renewables are pushing ahead and investments in wind remain attractive.”

Wind in Power - AWEAThe report found renewable power plants accounted for 79.1 percent of new installations during 2014; 21.3GW of a total 26.9GW. Today, grid-connected wind power is enough to cover 10 percent of the EU’s electricity consumption, up from 8 percent the year before. On a country-by-country breakdown, Germany and the United Kingdom accounted for 59.5 percent of total EU wind energy installations in 2014, installing 5,279MW and 1,736MW respectively.

Becker continued, “These numbers very much show Europe’s continued commitment to renewable and wind energy. But this is no time for complacency. The uncertainty over the regulatory framework for the energy sector is a threat to the continued drive toward sustainable and homegrown energy that will guarantee Europe’s energy security and competitiveness for the long-term. It’s time for Europe’s political leaders to create a truly European Energy Union and send a clear signal of their support for the shift to a secure and sustainable energy system. Political will on their part is an essential piece of the puzzle.”

Ultimately the report finds a concentration of new wind energy installations in several countries while markets in eastern and southern Europe continue to struggle and expects this trend to continue throughout 2015.