The USA's Bad Politics of Energy in 2017

The USA’s Bad Politics Of Energy In 2017

By June 10, 2017 No Comments

President Trump has handed over world leadership to China. His ignorance regarding energy sources, production and distribution hurts the USA. China is the world leader in energy and soon will be in transportation infrastructure, a major source of pollution.

US businesses already are ignoring Trump’s blunders. The energy industries will continue the path of profitable renewable energy sources and smart grid technologies.

Departing the Paris accord will be short term – any future US administration will be smarter than this dopey one and likely will re-affirm the accord. Numerous countries already are ahead of schedule on carbon reductions.

The following articles address these issues as applied in the USA and in Europe.

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Trump Can’t Stop Corporate America From Fighting Climate Change

Sustainability is good for business. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement won’t change that.

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Then–Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the United Nations signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2016 in New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Here are a few items that have been in the news.

At their annual meeting, ExxonMobil Corp. shareholders, led by giant financial firms, approved a resolution against management’s wishes that would force the company to report on the impact of climate change.

S.C. Johnson & Son, the family-controlled consumer goods powerhouse, announced its factory in Bay City, Michigan, is now powered entirely by wind power generated nearby. The factory joins two others—in the Netherlands and Poland—that run on zero-emissions wind power.

In Tallahassee, Florida, workers broke ground on the construction of a solar plant with a capacity of 20 megawatts that, upon completion, will provide enough power for 3,400 homes.

The city of Porterville, California, announced an event on Friday to mark an order for 10 zero-emission all-electric buses, which a nearby factory will produce.

Two large coal plants operated by utility PSEG in Jersey City, New Jersey are officially being disconnected from the grid and will be retired, leaving only a single coal-burning plant in the Garden State.

Wednesday afternoon, I picked up the new all-electric Chevrolet Bolt that I’m leasing. Made in the U.S., the car runs entirely on battery power and provides mobility without combustion.

Oh, and news reports indicated that President Donald Trump may announce as early as this week that he is pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Yes, one of these things is not like the other.

From renewable energy to energy efficiency to new modes of transportation and mobility, sustainability has become a very large global business. Lots of companies make money in these sectors, and many more governments, institutions, and individuals consciously commit resources to these efforts. And while it’s important to have federal policy working in favor of these new technologies and the ongoing energy revolution, Trump’s decision won’t alter the structural forces that are propelling the daily progress of green investments and the ongoing revolution in electricity production. The planet doesn’t need the United States’ official buy-in to confront climate change.

Here’s why.

Trump’s move would only affect the U.S. And while America’s largest companies may be domiciled in the United States, they have to worry about meeting standards across the globe. The U.S. has about 4 percent of the world’s population and accounts for about 25 percent (and falling) of global economic output. That’s huge. But with every passing year, our economic influence wanes as a global customer and a global producer. Trump may want to give U.S. companies a license to pollute more or tell U.S. automakers that they don’t have to bother meeting aggressive mileage standards. And they may take him up on it. But if a U.S. automaker wants to sell cars in Europe (whose economy is roughly the size of the ours) or China (which is getting there), it will likely have to develop vehicles that can run farther on batteries and guzzle less gas. (General Motors already sells fewer cars in the U.S. than it does in China.) The global case for ironing emissions out of transportation is growing in urgency, not declining. India, population 1.3 billion, is making noises about banning gasoline-fueled vehicles from its roads by 2030.

The same dynamic holds on the consumer side. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and many other consumer-facing brands get the lion’s share of their revenues, and virtually all their growth, from overseas. For the sake of their brands, and simply to maintain their social license to operate around the globe, they have to remain committed to sustainability. Regardless of what Trump does, they’ll have to figure out how to comply with stringent carbon or emissions limits in overseas markets. They’ll start doing it because it is necessary for their brand, and they’ll keep doing it because it turns out that many of these initiatives are good for their bottom line. And Trump’s action won’t change that.

Even in the absence of aggressive national targets, the case for cleaner (or cleaner-burning) fuels remains intact. For the last several years, utilities have been planning—and executing those plans—to lessen their reliance on coal and increase their reliance on natural gas and renewables. Utilities make investment decisions for 20, 30, and 40 years, not for the four or eight years of a Trump presidency. States, whether it is California acting on its own or the northeastern members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, are placing significant pressure on the power industry to reduce emissions. Trump’s move won’t cause utilities to rewrite their Integrated Resource Plans. Nor will it stop them from canceling plans to shutter coal-fired plants. This week’s coal-plant closures in New Jersey will certainly not be the last.

And that’s because of another structural issue that Trump can’t reverse: cleaner forms of electricity are cheaper. As Trump adviser Gary Cohn recently said, “Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock.” The U.S. has abundant (read: cheap) supplies of natural gas. And the renewables sector, a cottage industry only a decade ago, has blossomed into an industrial powerhouse—one now possessing an enormous lobbying punch. Again, on a pure cost basis, even with the modest subsidies renewables enjoy wind and solar is often cheaper than coal. Should Trump pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, companies, utilities, and universities will continue to invest in wind and solar.

Finally, there’s the power of the American consumer. Polls show that Americans, by large margins, believe that climate change is real and want the government to do something about it. They’re less likely than companies to put their money where their mouths are, in part because it’s money and in part because options just haven’t existed. But that may be changing. There are more than 1 million solar installations in the United States, many on the roofs of people’s homes. Sales of the Bolt have been modest, but overall sales of plug-ins and plug-in hybrids have been growing rapidly. And if Tesla gets its act together, it could easily sell a couple of hundred thousand Model 3s this year.

So, yes, it would be problematic and depressing if the U.S. were to join Nicaragua and Syria in not being part of the climate accord. And if this withdrawal were to be followed by seven years of federal policymaking that is hostile to sustainability and renewables, it would be an even bigger problem.

But it’s too soon to write an epitaph for the big business of sustainability.

 

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NICE, France (Reuters) – A major pilot project by Europe’s largest power network operator to integrate power from rooftop solar panels into the grid has shown that battery storage of renewable energy is not yet economically viable in Europe.

The conclusion is a sobering one for proponents of sun and wind energy because as more of it comes on tap, better storage will be needed to keep the power produced when it is sunny and windy so it can be used at other times.

The 30 million euro “Nice Grid” pilot is one of the biggest in a European Union-backed “Grid4EU” scheme in which France’s EDF, Italy’s Enel, Spain’s Iberdrola Czech Republic’s CEZ, Sweden’s Vattenfall and Germany’s RWE are testing the power grids of tomorrow.

In the Mediterranean village of Carros on the outskirts of Nice, EDF’s power grid unit ERDF has connected compact batteries to solar panels on rooftops and utility-size batteries to its local power distribution network.

The technology works perfectly but the pilot has shown it is still too expensive for wider rollout.

“The economic model of the batteries is not mature yet,” Philippe Monloubou, chief executive of French grid operator ERDF utility told Reuters.

A quarter of Europe’s power already comes from renewables. This may rise to 50 percent by 2030. But the intermittent nature of solar and wind power requires flexible grids, the ability to respond to the ups and downs of demand and, crucially, cheaper power storage.

French company Saft, which sold the batteries for the Nice pilot, has already installed 80 MW of battery storage around the world, mainly in remote areas in Canada, South America and Africa, or on islands where they compete with expensive diesel generators as a back-up source of power.

But in Europe, they come up against cheaper back-up power from gas-fired power plants and large, efficient grids.

ACHILLES HEEL

In Carros, which has total solar capacity of 2.5 megawatt/hour, ERDF has connected 20 lithium-ion batteries to rooftop solar panels. Residents themselves have no control over the 4 KWh batteries – which are similar to Tesla’s 7 KWh Powerwall batteries – which are run by ERDF.

ERDF has also hooked up two 100 KWh batteries to soak up solar power of several dozen residences, two 600 KWh batteries linked to the low-voltage grid and one linked to the high-voltage grid, for a total cost of under 2 million euros.

Software developed by France’s Alstom regulates the flow of power on the Carros network, and is already widely used in other cities and countries.

But the cost of batteries is the project’s Achilles Heel.

From the Nice pilot, ERDF has learned that battery storage in Europe costs 500 to 1,000 euros per kilowatt/hour (KWh), with an extra 30 percent for installation and the inverters that turn direct current solar power into the alternate current used on the grid, an ERDF official said.

At that level, battery storage would already be economically viable in certain parts of Germany and Denmark, where renewable energy use is most advanced and where retail power rates, at around 30 eurocents per kilowatt/hour (KWh), are among the highest in Europe, according to Eurostat data.

But that is not the case for France, where residential power rates are around 17 cents per KWh, and most of Europe, where power averages about 21 cents.

“Economical feasibility is usually not a given in most of mainland Europe’s grids,” acknowledged Michael Lippert, head of Saft’s new energy storage unit.

Some analysts expect the tipping point for batteries in Europe could come around 2020. The ERDF official said it is hard to forecast by how much more the cost of batteries would have to fall to become viable for grid storage. “That is one thing we will have to evaluate at the end of the Nice pilot,” he said.

Compared to the cost of solar panels, the cost of batteries has been slow to fall, but as renewables become a greater part of Europe’s energy mix, the need for technologies to overcome the intermittency problem will also increase, which is why Saft has set up a division for utility-scale power storage.

MIDDAY WASHING

The Nice Grid pilot has also experimented with “demand response” systems to use discounted tariffs to encourage citizens to use more electricity when sunshine is abundant and less during winter evening demand peaks.

Some 200 households signed up to let ERDF temporarily switch off their heaters or hot water boilers during winter evening peak consumption using the new “Linky” smart meters which France plans to roll out nationwide in coming years.

Another 70 customers signed up to receive an SMS warning the day before an expected sunny day so that they can benefit from midday power prices that are 33 percent lower.

“I switch on my washing machine when the sun shines,” Carros resident Lara Muzzarelli told reporters in her red-stone villa.

Around Europe, distribution system operators are running several pilots as part of the Grid4EU scheme, including Czech Republic’s CEZ Distribuce, which tests Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation and Spain’s Iberdrola which is testing the integration of electric vehicles into the grid.

ERDF has several pilots in France, testing the integration of different kinds of renewable energy in rural and urban areas and with different storage technologies. The French government will decide in the coming year on a wider roll-out of some of these technologies in larger cities.

(Editing by Mark John and Anna Willard)

 

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