Transitioning to Renewable Energy Gains Momentum

The clean energy transition continues to gain pace.

Wind Power Statistics

The state of Texas now ranks first in the nation for installed wind capacity and number of turbines, according to the US Energy Information Administration. (EIA, July 2019)

Texas ranks first in United States installed wind capacity and number of turbines from US Energy Information Administration

At least one installed wind turbine can be found in 41 states. Naturally, as the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas: and Texas has more than 13,000 turbines and the most installed wind capacity at 24.2 gigawatts (GW).

And as you’d expect, turbine technology has advanced. Larger turbines provide more wind power density, which means more power capacity per individual turbine.

The evolution of the wind turbine over time from BloombergNEF

Other states transitioning to renewable energy with wind production and turbines are California, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois. States with the highest turbine heights are those that have adopted renewable power generation more recently and are taking advantage of the larger turbine efficiency. Those with turbines above the national average in height include Connecticut, Rhode Island, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri.

Evolution of wind turbines show the promise of transitioning to renewable energy with wind power density

Texas Keeps Transitioning to Renewable Energy Through Incentives for Solar and Wind

A new law in Texas (known in the state’s economic development sector as the “Chapter 312 abatement program” – from H.B. 3413) extends the deadline for wind and solar generation property tax abatement programs. The economic development programs were set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year. The new deadline is Sept. 1, 2029. The abatements will continue to boost solar and wind development in Texas. (Solar Industry Magazine, August 2019)

The below chart shows a sample project tax impact with Chapter 312 abatements, and why this is a boon for renewable economic development in states like Texas which have no income tax and rely heavily on property taxes:

Texas Chapter 312 Abatement Tax sample showing positive economic development impact of renewables

Renewable Capacity Exceeds Coal in US

As coal generation has declined due to several market forces, renewable energy has surged—for the first time producing more power in the US than coal. (Yale Environment E360 Digest, June 2019)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reported 21.56 percent of the nation’s generating capacity as of April 2019 was from solar, wind, hydropower, biomass and geothermal.

Coal continues its 40-year downward trend, accounting for 21.55 percent of generation in the US. Natural gas continues to grow to produce more than 44 percent of the US total energy capacity as of last April.

FERC forecasts renewables could account for one quarter of the nation’s capacity in just three more years.

Fact Checking Four Renewable Energy Myths

With any new technology or industry disruption there are myths that sprout up and need to be addressed. Here are explanations that dive deeper into four of the more prevalent renewable energy myths raised by those who are anti-renewable energy. (Yale Climate Connections, February 2019)

Myth #1: Wind and solar are more expensive ways to generate electricity than fossil fuels.

Fact Check:
When comparing prices on generation, it’s important to compare apples to apples.

The industry uses a measure called the “LCOE” which stands for Levelized Cost of Electricity: this metric compares the costs of building and operating solar and wind plants which have no fuel costs once built, with the costs of building and running gas and coal plants with ongoing fuel costs.

Levelized cost of electricity explained, a formula from Wikipedia
Levelized Cost of Electricity formula from Wikipedia

Over the lifetime of the plant, the costs for each type of plant are divided by the energy produced and a levelized cost per megawatt hour is produced. Bottom line: the price of renewables is now cheaper than conventional fossil fuels. Solar photovoltaic equipment has seen the greatest drop in price over the last 10 years, so much so that it ties wind for the lowest cost of unsubsidized electricity for new power generation.

For more info on LCOE, check out this piece from Forbes from the end of 2018: Plunging Prices Mean Building New Renewable Energy Is Cheaper Than Running Existing Coal

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis over time for Unsubsidized Solar PV from LAZARD
Levelized Cost of Energy for Wind Unsubsidized
Historical LCOE comparison shows declines for solar & wind by Lazard (on Forbes)

 

Myth #2: Wind turbines use more energy to build than they produce.

Fact Check:
As noted above, wind energy is an economical choice when considering the total life cycle costs of wind farm construction and maintenance. The industry looks at the ratio of energy generated by a plant compared to the energy used to create it. It’s called the Energy Return on Investment (EROI).

Energy Return on Investment Formula, also known as energy returned on energy invested (EROEI or ERoEI)
EROI formula from Wikipedia

Wind turbines generate 20-25 times the amount of energy that goes into making them. Wind has an EROI of between 18-20. Coal’s EROI is around 18, while natural gas is in the range of 7-15. Coal and natural gas are less effective because a great deal of energy is used to transport the fuel via rail or pipeline to the plants. Solar and wind is on location! Also, 30-45 percent of energy is lost as heat in the fossil fuel electricity generation process. Not so with solar and wind.

Myth #3: Renewable energy isn’t reliable.

Fact Check:
There’s no denying “when the sun isn’t shining or the wind stops blowing, energy production stops”; however, it’s also true that renewables are able to generate at lower financial and environmental costs in place of fossil fuel when the sun is shining, and while the wind is blowing. And the industry is on the cusp of finding several new cost-effective ways to store power from these renewables to meet later demand.

It’s an engineering challenge that includes everything from commercial scale batteries to concentrated solar power stored in molten salt which can spin steam-powered turbines at any time.

An even more efficient storage method involves pumping water uphill using surplus wind energy and then releasing it downhill to spin turbines and generate electricity. Pumped hydro systems can respond nearly instantly to fluctuating energy demands across the grid. It uses gravity as a giant battery.

How the Pump Hydro Storage System WorksAbove image from Solar Quotes

 

Myth #4: Renewables use a lot of land.

Fact Check:
Like all forms of generation, renewables have some upsides and downsides. One of those is land use, because it varies.

Wind farms on average leave up to 98% of the land undisturbed which is important to farmers and ranchers continuing operations. (Schneider Electric, October 2018) Many landowners appreciate land use payments as a great source of secondary revenue.

Surface Area Required to Power the World on Zero Carbon Emissions Alone and with Solar Alone
Land use overview for Zero Carbon Emissions from landartgenerator.org

Solar generation is most efficient at commercial scale and in arid regions like the Southwest US where land is unsuitable for other uses. However, the amount of land use needed is significant and concerns remain about how the large farms affect sensitive ecosystems. That’s a topic we’ll address in a blog post soon and will soon be covered in a curated article on how some solar farms become areas to repopulate the bees.

To reduce U.S. emissions by 80% by 2050 using solar alone, it would take an acreage about the size of South Carolina. That’s why it’s important that we embrace a mixed portfolio of clean energy generation to meet electricity demand.

Siting solar on land already in use helps, too. Solar structures over landfills, parking structures and on rooftops are employed by more and more communities and businesses in partnership with their local utilities. Another advantage of locating the power closer to homes and businesses that need it, is a reduced need for new poles and wires.

 

A Balanced Approach

It’s important to be realistic about the challenges of introducing clean energy into our electricity system. Now that 100% renewable goals are being set, our best and brightest are finding solutions to bring us power that is affordable, reliable, environmentally friendly and sustainable.

The Duck Curve Part 1: A Challenge of Overbuilding Renewables

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series
Read Part 2: “Smoothing Out the Curve”

What is a Duck Curve, and what does it have to do with renewable energy?

One of the more interesting terms unique to the energy industry is the ‘Duck Curve’ – when taken at first glance one wonders what a duck, an electric grid, demand flexibility, and renewable energy all have in common.

The ‘Duck Curve’ is a term used to describe the shape of the demand curve (which displays how much electricity is needed from the power grid to meet fluctuating customer demand throughout a 24-hour period) when a large amount of renewables, particularly solar, are part of the power system.

To understand where the Duck Curve graph comes from, it’s important to know what factors go into shaping it. Let’s start with the concept of Net Load. Net Load is the difference between the amount of electricity we predict to use and how much electricity we end up producing from renewables. Thus, the Net Load will tell us how much power needs to come from traditional power plants; like those running on coal, gas, nuclear, etc.

The below graph comes from California Independent System Operator (ISO)

The Duck Curve graph shows the need for energy demand flexibility.

(Chart from Energy Alabama, May 2017)

How does the Duck Curve happen?

Look first at the line in 2012, above – this line shows a more traditional demand curve. To be clear, this is what energy system operators in the past would use as a baseline forecast when scheduling the amount of electricity their power plants would need to generate every day.

Before the introduction of variable resources (like renewable energy), the forecasted Net Load was fairly accurate and easy to predict. Over the years, however, the amount of renewable generation has increased significantly and the ability to forecast and predict demand has become increasingly difficult. The need for demand flexibility is higher than ever. This is clear when observing the Net Load for other years on the above graph.

The decrease in Net Load for 2014 and onward is a result of introducing of more and more renewables (particularly solar) into the system. You’ll immediately notice that there is minimal, if any, of the load that needs to be met by power plants during the middle hours of the day. However, as the sun goes down and evening demand begins to increase (people going home, cooking, turning on their TVs, charging their phones, cars, etc.) there is a tremendous amount of strain on the system as plant operators must ramp up all available power plants to keep the lights on.

Still don’t see a duck? How about now?

Duck superimposed on a duck curve

(Chart from Berkeley News, January 2018)

The shape of the power demand curve has changed to the sinking curve in the middle of the day because more power is being met by solar or wind generation. As a result, less power is needed from utility fossil fuel or nuclear power plants as the sun shines and the wind blows.

On the flip side, as we get into the evening hours, more power from coal, oil, gas and nuclear plants is required—and required quickly—to ramp up to meet peaking customer demand as the sun goes down.

Why is this steep ramping every day a problem?

If we stick with the California ISO example from earlier, we see that California over the last decade has been, hands down, the leader of solar installations in the U.S.: as a whole, the state surpassed 11.2 GW of installed solar capacity by the end of 2017. Introducing this large amount of solar energy is what causes the “Duck Curve” along with the evening ramp-up challenges utilities face when the sun sets each day in states like California.

The key here is to keep in mind that traditional power plants (those running on fossil fuels) are not very flexible and cannot just be “switched on” like a light switch every evening to meet this increased demand.

The end result? Plant operators are forced to keep inflexible plants that run on coal, oil, and gas operating all day, so they’re still burning fuels and producing emissions in order to be ready to ramp-up their generation when the sun goes down. This inflexibility is why California’s traditional fossil fuel plants are forced to run as much as they are in spite of all the solar.

This is the solar power dilemma that California is facing. This same challenge is seen in other places, like Hawaii, where a large amount of solar generation has been installed into a power system that is made up of inflexible fossil fuel plants.

Drilling down by the hour: how power is generated to meet customer demand.

People use the most electricity from 6-9 a.m. and 2-7 p.m.

When you think about this, it makes sense because most households need their homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer when they are preparing for work or school from 6-9 a.m. The second peak is when they return from work and school between 2-7 p.m. Most businesses and plants require the bulk of their power during the day, so residential demands are dropping off as solar input is going up.

Traditional oil, gas, and coal power plants are cycled up and down throughout the day to meet demand. It puts wear and tear on the plant equipment and adds pollution to the environment. Some may say “just add storage” – and while yes, some of this commercial power storage technology does exist, it has not progressed to a point that it solves all the problems. Given the current technology of storage as it is, it doesn’t make economic sense to install at a scale that would be necessary to cover the gap.

The Duck Curve highlights how, when we add solar and wind energy to the mix, we must rethink how we meet fluctuating demand in the smartest way possible. The goals we must shoot for are

  1. keeping energy costs affordable,
  2. maintaining system reliability and
  3. minimizing the need for fossil fuel power generation and resulting environmental effects.

Continue reading in Part 2, where we explore some steps we can take to smooth out the Duck Curve.

Balancing the Benefits and Challenges of Renewable Energy

The rapid expansion of renewables into the energy market in recent years has led to cheaper electricity for utilities, greater savings for consumers, and reduced emissions. The growth in wind output in particular has been staggering; wind capacity stood around 40 Gigawatts in the U.S. in 2010, and by late 2016 it had nearly doubled to more than 75 Gigawatts, transforming the way utility companies produce and manage power supply.

However, the dramatic rise in renewable energy production has also created challenges as utilities, power planners, and grid operators consider new factors impacting their business models and the bottom lines.

Decreases in Traditional Power Plant Revenues

The decrease in traditional power plant revenues due to the increase in energy coming from renewable sources is one such challenge. Instead of producing all of the electricity for a community, coal plant operators now generate less energy to make room for the influx of solar- and wind-generated power. This means less average load and less operating hours for power facilities, and since energy plants in the U.S. traditionally bid and sell power on open electricity markets, it also means a potential decline in profits.

At the same time, wind and solar energy production depend on fluctuating weather conditions—whether or not the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. This variability forces power plant operators to continuously adapt their coal or gas output in order to meet demand. Inflexible thermal power plants, like coal and Combine Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) facilities, are now required to stop and start frequently to accommodate the flow of renewable energy into their systems. But regularly stopping and re-starting is costly, time consuming, technically challenging, and not how these plants were designed to operate.

Weather Patterns Affect Renewable Energy

Facing these challenges, dispatchers and plant operators are forced to monitor weather patterns as frequently as possible—working almost in the capacity of weathermen as they forecast natural conditions in order to predict when wind and solar energy output will be high or low, then calibrate the plant accordingly. For this reason, accurately forecasting the weather has become an essential job for plant operating teams—particularly when managing inflexible power plants that aren’t designed for an easy start and stop.

The continual ramp-up and ramp-down depending on the weather has thus made plant operators’ jobs more difficult than in the past when renewables played a more marginal role in power production. In the words of one energy journalist: “Grid operators don’t control variable renewable energy (VRE), they accommodate it, which requires some agility.”

Inflexibility of Current Utility Systems

The problem is therefore two-fold. A key factor limiting the more robust expansion of renewables into utility systems is the inability of old-model inflexible power stations to go offline when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, then quickly come back online once those conditions change. At the same time, uncertainty—the fact that renewable energy producers cannot predict with perfect accuracy how much sun or wind power will be generated at any given time—forces grid operators to produce excess energy from coal or gas to ensure there is enough to meet peak electricity demand. The trick for operators is knowing how to compensate for all the time when renewables aren’t producing their share.

Low Capacity Factor for Renewable Energy Systems

Low capacity factor is another feature that is somewhat hampering the rollout of renewable energy systems. This refers to the actual production from renewable energy sources compared with their potential production. For example, in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration, utility-scale solar energy production had an actual capacity of about 28% while wind had an actual capacity of 34%. The difference between what renewable energy systems could be producing versus the actual amount of power they generate is still a work in progress. It’s also another reason why conventional coal and gas plants are still required to compensate during low production hours for renewables.

Over-Generation

Another challenge facing clean energy producers is over-generation, that is, the production of “too much” power. This can occur at certain times of the day when renewables output is high and consumer demand is low, or likewise when demand is high but the generation from renewable sources is higher. As described by specialists in the California energy market: “Over generation sounds like a non-problem, but when there is more electricity being generated than places to store or export it, it must be turned off or it threatens reliability of the grid.”

Currently around 1,100 Gigawatts of solar and wind capacity exist globally. The boom in renewable sources has coincided with a steep fall in their costs; wind power, for instance, cost nearly $1,500/kW in the 1990s, but only around $900/kW in recent years—a 40% drop. The decrease in solar production costs is even more dramatic: whereas 15 years ago the cost of generating a kilowatt of solar was $4,000, today the price is around $300, a decline of more than 1,000%. But ubiquitous sun and wind power, in themselves, are not enough of a solution.

Finding the right Balance between Clean and Traditional Power

As we are learning, successful renewable energy production is also about finding the right calibration—or one might say collaboration—between clean and conventional forms of power generation. Expanding and improving transmission infrastructure, improving day-ahead and near-term weather forecasting, and using advanced modeling tools to help grid operators understand how much renewable capacity they can integrate into the grid are all part of the solution. Replacing old generation coal plants with new flexible generation technologies, which provide the capacity to easily turn on and off, will help utilities maintain system reliability, increase their value, and operate at the lowest cost.

All of this so long as the system is being built to take on the amount of volatility that comes with renewable energy. This includes accurate foresting tools and models, and the system flexibility that allows for following the intermittency of renewable energy. Since the power grid changes continually and rapidly on any given day, plant operators need the best information available in order to manage intermittency and maximize the generating capacity of their systems. These are challenges that can and will be met as the renewable energy market matures—and meanwhile, wind and sun power are becoming the most reliable and economical forms of power generation across the land.

Renewable Energy Glossary

Capacity. System Load. Base load.

Not your everyday household terms. However, the transition to renewables for reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly energy generation, makes it important that we understand the meaning behind power industry terms.

Feel free to recommend other helpful terms on our Path to 100% social media pages.

Balancing
Describes the challenge utilities meet to maintain a balance between energy consumption and the amount of power being generated. If not, a system imbalance can occur which causes electrical equipment and industrial processes to malfunction, lights to flicker, and can cause damage to sensitive electrical equipment – all of which are things that society cannot tolerate. If the imbalance is significant enough the entire electric grid can fail causing black outs.  More and more utilities are using a combination of conventional generation produced by sources such as natural gas, coal, and nuclear, and renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geo-thermal to achieve this balance.

Here’s a little more context:

“Increased variability from more solar and wind power generation means that conventional generating resources must perform differently. They must increasingly provide necessary capabilities, such as frequency reserve and ancillary services (spinning reserves), which ensure grid stability while ramping up and down in response to variations in the renewable resources.

“The grid-planning models can help to indicate the level of flexible conventional generation that is required to balance various levels of renewables. And although coal plants have some ability to ramp, the majority of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the gas-fired fleet.” (TransForm, March 2017)

 

Base Load Generation
Power generation plants that operate continuously throughout the year, except for periodic maintenance or upgrading, to meet the majority of customer demand. Utilities traditionally use fossil-fuel generation (natural gas, coal, nuclear) to meet the base level of energy demand because of its reliability.

The baseload they produce is “The average amount of electric power that a utility company must supply at a given time.” (PG&E)

 

Biofuels
This is a category of sources for power generation derived from biomass (crops like corn) or waste feedstocks (think manure). An example is ethanol. Another is biodiesel which is “A fuel made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled grease that can be used instead of petroleum-derived fuel.” (PG&E)

 

Capacity
“The amount of electricity a generator can produce when it’s running at full blast. This maximum amount of power is typically measured in megawatts (MW) or kilowatts and helps utilities project just how big of an electricity load a generator can handle.” (US Department of Energy, March 2018)

Let’s be clear—Capacity is not the same level as actual electricity generated, because plants don’t run all the time.

For example, they are taken offline for maintenance or refueling during which time they are not generating power. This is true for all types of generation. For renewables like wind and solar, actual generation also is affected by current weather conditions. For hydro generation, water flows affect generation levels. Extreme cold can affect fossil fuel plants, also, due to ice accumulation on pipes.

 

Capacity Factor
Capacity factor is a measure of how much energy is produced by a plant compared with its maximum output. It is measured as a percentage, generally by dividing the total energy produced during some period of time by the amount of energy the plant would have produced if it ran at full output during that time. “(NREL Sept 2013)

“Capacity factors allow energy buffs to examine the reliability of various power plants. It basically measures how often a plant is running at maximum power. A plant with a capacity factor of 100% means it’s producing power all of the time.” (US Department of Energy, March 2018)

For example, in the 2016 Integrated Resource Plan Update for Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and UNS Electric, Inc. (UNSE), the Annual Capacity Factor for Solar Photovoltaic fixed installations was 17%. For Solar PV (single-Axis) it was 24%, and for Solar CSP (Storage) it was 38%. New Mexico Wind was 38%, and Arizona Wind was 30%. In this case, the Solar Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) thermal storage and New Mexico Wind tied for highest producing power at 38% for the year.

 

Demand
The amount of electricity that utility customers are using, or trying to use, at one time. (PG&E) It fluctuates throughout the day and night (see Demand Curve), and utilities must forecast those changes in order to bring more generation and power on the grid just before it is needed or less power when demand dips.

 

Demand Curve
If you use a line graph to track customer demand in a 24-hour period or throughout the year, it produces a curve showing those times of day or seasons of the year when power demand is up and when it is down. Utilities forecast customer demand for electricity so they can produce or purchase the power to deliver through the grid to meet demand. (EnergyMag)

 

Distributed Energy
Describes small-scale units of local generation connected to the grid at distribution level….Common examples of DERs include rooftop solar PV units, natural gas turbines, microturbines, wind turbines, biomass generators, fuel cells, tri-generation units, battery storage, electric vehicles (EV) and EV chargers, and demand response applications. These separate elements work together to form distributed generation.” (Arenawire, March 2018) Advanced technology allows for two-way power flow on the grid, so these units can generate power that flows back into the grid for use.

 

Energy Shifting
This term can be used to describe two things.

  • It is used to describe the process of using of energy storage systems (ESS) to store, say excess solar energy to be distributed at night or when there is a peak in demand on a very hot day. A more in-depth discussion about types of ESS and how they improve the reliability of energy can be found at this link: com.
  • It can describe the move from traditional fossil-fuel generation to renewables for more of our electricity generation. Check out the dynamic graphic at this link NY Times, December 2018 to see each of the US state’s unique energy shift story.

 

Energy Storage Systems (ESS)
Lots of research is focused on finding effective ways to store electricity produced from renewables so it can be available later when customers need it.

“Energy can be stored using electrical, mechanical, thermal, and chemical storage systems, each with their own benefits and appropriate application….

“Chemical storage systems (excluding batteries) typically uses electrical energy to perform water electrolysis, which produces hydrogen.”…

“Mechanical storage systems operate by converting electrical energy into potential or kinetic energy for storage.” (Cat.com, Dec 2014)

Examples include a flywheel, compressed air or pumped hydro storage systems.

Batteries are another example, but not necessarily ones that use the same technology as the ones in our TV remotes. “The top energy storage technologies include Lithium Ion, Sodium Sulfur, Metal-Air batteries, along with supercapacitors and hydro pumped power…” (Silicon Valley Innovation Center)

 

Distributed Generation (DG)
Small-scale generation owned or operated by an end-user to supplement energy needs. Rooftop solar is an example of distributed generation. (AECT)

 

Fossil Fuels
Fossil energy sources, include oilcoal and natural gas, and are non-renewable resources formed when prehistoric plants and animals died and were gradually buried by layers of rock. (US Dept of Energy)

 

Flexibility
“Flexibility of operation—the ability of a power system to respond to change in demand and supply—is a characteristic of all power systems. Flexibility is especially prized in twenty-first century power systems, with higher levels of grid-connected variable renewable energy (primarily, wind and solar).” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory: 21st Century Power Partnership, May 2014)  For example, conventional power plants need to be flexible enough to power up and down quickly to respond to fluctuations of renewable energy generation.

 

Frequency
Describes the rate per second at which electrical current changes direction or alternates between positive and negative voltage. It is measured in hertz (Hz), an international unit of measure where 1 hertz is equal to 1 cycle per second.

The US standard power frequency is 60 Hertz. In other parts of the world, 50 Hertz is used. The frequency for all types of power generation needs to be at the standard to keep on our lights.

If the different generators don’t spin at the same speed, the system becomes unstable. If there is more demand for electricity than there is supply—the frequency will fall. If there is too much supply the frequency will rise. Increases or decreases in power frequency as little as one percent puts equipment and power infrastructure at risk of damage. Curious to know more? There’s a great explanation with examples at these links: Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and Medium.com

 

Generation Capacity
“The maximum demand that a given generator or group of generators can meet at a given time. For example, a 1,000 megawatt power plant could meet the demand of 1,000 homes using 1 kW of power simultaneously.” (AECT)

 

Geo-thermal: “
This is energy available as heat emitted from within the earth’s crust, usually in the form of hot water or steam.” (IEA) In the U.S. geothermal energy is often used at the household or campus level. The unique geology of Iceland allows for 25% of its total electricity production to come from geothermal power facilities. (National Energy Authority of Iceland)

 

Green Certificates or Renewable Energy Certificates
“A green certificate is a tradable asset which proves that electricity has been generated by a renewable (green) energy source.” (Kyos.com)

Owners of renewable generation have one REC for each megawatt of generation. They can keep or sell their certificates. REC purchasers can claim that the energy they used came from a renewable source. Their purchase supports renewable power generation. Check out the EPA video on RECs is at this link: RECs: Making Green Power Possible.

 

Greenhouse Gases
This refers to “gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation (heat).” (IEA)

 

Microgrids
“Microgrids are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously. …Microgrids support a flexible and efficient electric grid by enabling the integration of growing deployments of distributed energy resources such as renewables like solar.” (US Dept of Energy)

 

Peak Demand (Peak Load)
The maximum expected load for a given period of time (i.e. 2-7 p.m. in hot summer states).

 

Peaking Generation
Generation that only operates at times of high demand, and is not needed at times of low demand. (AECT)

 

 Hydropower
“The electrical energy derived from turbines being spun by fresh flowing water. This can be from rivers or from man-made installations, where water flows from a high-level reservoir down through a tunnel and away from a dam.” (IEA)

 

Load
“A snapshot of the amount of electric power required to meet customers’ demand at a given time, expressed in kilowatts (kW) or Megawatts (MW).” (AECT)

 

Non-Fossil Fuel
Fuels that are renewable and/or not formed when prehistoric plants and animals died and were gradually buried by layers of rock. This category of fuels includes renewables like solar, wind, biomass, wave energy, and nuclear energy which is considered nonrenewable.  (US Energy Information Administration)

 

Peak Demand (Peak Load)
“The maximum expected load for a given period of time….” usually expressed in a 24 hour period. (AECT) In winter months, peak demand is often in the morning when people are preparing to go to work and school and in the evening when they return home from work and school. In summer months, peak demand is often from midafternoon to early evening, when outside temperatures are at their hottest and the air conditioning is always running

 

Photovoltaic
This is a semiconductor device that directly converts “solar energy into electricity.” (IEA) It is one of the main processes solar panels use to produce electricity.

 

Power or Electricity Generation
The process of making electricity from a fuel source such as natural gas, the sun, the wind, water, biofuels, coal, and oil.

 

Renewable Energy
Energy “that is derived from natural processes (e.g. sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and biomass are common sources of renewable energy.” (IEA)

 

Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)
“A legislative or regulatory mandate or goal for power generated from renewable sources.” (AECT)

 

Renewable Volatility
Grid instability that occurs with renewable generation because of its dependence on weather. Advances in technology, energy storage, and grid management are reducing this effect.

 

Smart Grid or Advanced Metering System (AMS)
“An enhancement to the electric grid that allows customers to use more technologically advanced electric meters that provide greater detail and increased control over their electric usage. The system also creates new efficiencies and capabilities for transmission and distribution utilities, such as remote meter-reading and improved storm response.” (AECT)

 

Solar Power Generation
Describes processes that use energy from the sun to create electricity.

“There are two main types of solar energy technologies—photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP). You’re likely most familiar with PV, which is utilized in panels. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, photons from the sunlight are absorbed by the cells in the panel, which creates an electric field across the layers and causes electricity to flow.

“The second technology is concentrating solar power, or CSP. It is used primarily in very large power plants and is not appropriate for residential use. This technology uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat, which can then be used to produce electricity.”  (US Department of Energy)

 

Solar water heating
“This term comprises various technologies that convert sunlight into renewable energy that heats water using a solar thermal collector.” (PG&E) It is one of the processes solar panels use to produce electricity.

 

Spinning Reserves
This describes the amount of extra generation capacity not being used at a generating unit or units that can be ramped up within 10 minutes to meet unexpected peaking demand.

 

Zero Carbon
Power generation that does not add net carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere. Examples are wind, solar, geothermal, micro-hydro, synthetic fuels and wave energy. (Nature.org, May 2013) Biofuels are not included in this category. (Study.com)

 

Zero-emission technologies and Net-zero emissions
Zero-emission technologies do not emit greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. “In the energy sector that means using non-fossil energy sources, i.e. nuclear or renewables. However, neither is entirely carbon-free – at present we use fossil fuel to make the materials for the energy conversion technologies involved and, in the case of nuclear, to extract and process nuclear fuel. Nevertheless, they are both low-carbon options.”

“Net zero”

(emphasis added) means that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are reduced 100%, to zero, although some can be allowed if compensatory carbon negative processes are introduced, for example, air capture of carbon dioxide.(PhysicsWorld, Oct 2018)
 

Q&A Series: A Discussion with Matti Rautkivi on the Renewable Energy Transition

As Director of Strategy and Business Development for Wärtsilä, Energy Business, Matti Rautkivi has helped lead the Finnish technology company’s expansion of renewable energy capacity in the United States and throughout utility systems worldwide. His expertise replacing coal powered plants with renewables and flexible generation has made him a thought leader in the clean energy transition. He sits down here with Path to 100’s Michael Levitin to discuss the impacts of Wärtsilä’s work helping utilities worldwide cut energy costs while lowering emissions, what’s at stake for countries financially, and why the global transformation toward cleaner, cheaper forms of electricity cannot be stopped.

Michael Levitin: Let’s start with your recent book, Goodbye to Deerland: Leading Your Utility through the American Energy Transition. It’s had an impact in the U.S. and European energy markets and is now being translated into Chinese. Tell us what the main message of the book is, and why it’s important right now?

 Matti Rautkivi: Goodbye to Deerland is probably the first book to explain, in concrete steps and examples, what this energy transition really means—not just for people but for the utilities who are the prime movers really pushing this energy transition forward. The transition is taking place for financial reasons: because it makes economic sense. It’s a good story but it’s also a guide for these utilities that need to reinvent themselves and their whole way of doing business on the path to 100 percent renewable energy systems.

The positive thing is that utilities are closing old coal plants and this book gives them guidance to go forward. The guys we mention in the beginning of Deerland, from Nebraska, were totally against the idea—they were like the last Alamo of the utility business, defending their coal. And they’re the ones who are now replacing coal plants with hydrogen, building wind and building a new future.

Levitin: Now it’s a global phenomenon?

Rautkivi: The same thing is happening in Finland where utilities are starting to invest in the renewable energy transition because it makes economic sense. Nobody knew a year ago that wind is so cheap—and what you can do with wind in Finland. Now everybody knows and the Finnish government recently decided it will close all coal plants by 2029 while there’s a financial incentive in the market, making it the first country to get rid of coal by law. Finland will stop building nuclear, too.

It’s a pretty beautiful story, the same story we’ve told in the US and in Europe and which is expanding around the world. In developing countries, every dollar you save is beneficial for the development of the country so they don’t want to spend extra money on energy. They don’t think sustainability is the key driver for energy development: their key is just to get electricity as cheap as possible and now the cheapest option is renewables. When it starts to make economic sense to build renewables and flexibility and not jeopardize economic growth, they’re more than willing to make this change—and they’re able to move pretty quickly compared with the US and Europe. In that sense these developing countries have the energy transition easier: they don’t have the heavy existing infrastructure so the resistance to the change is lower.

Levitin: It’s easier to talk about closing down old coal facilities that are too expensive and inefficient to run. But what about the newer plants that are getting built, in Asia especially, with an operating lifetime of 30 or 40 years?

Rautkivi: The United States and Europe are different from China, and Asia more generally, where GDP and population is growing, economic wealth is growing, people are buying more fridges and electric appliances and the demand for electricity is increasing much faster. There they need to provide electricity for everyone 24/7, and over the last 10 or 20 years they’ve built the cheapest generating capacity they could find. But now public opinion is heavily against new coal plants and they’re starting to realize that renewables together with flexible gas and energy storage is a better option for them in the future. So they’re investing heavily in renewables, which are getting cheaper and cheaper and it’s become more economical to replace even those newer coal plants.

Look at the Philippines, where even in 2017 the plan was still to build 6,000 Megawatts of new coal plants just to keep the lights on and provide reliability. It was their master plan—to bring coal from Indonesia, China, or even the US—and on top of that they were planning to build 9,000 Megawatts of baseload gas to run around the clock. Now they’ve published their new plan in 2019 and with no proposals for coal: Now their plan is instead to build zero Megawatts of coal and 0 Megawatts of baseload gas, and build 17,000 Megawatts of wind and solar and 4,000 Megawatts of flexible gas. Similar logic in South Africa, which was planning to build at least 6,000 Megawatts of coal and now they’re building just renewables and flexible gas: because it makes financial sense.

Levitin: Talk about the white paper and Wärtsilä’s vision of what the Path to 100 percent renewables looks like?

Rautkivi: After spending a couple of years living in the US and really seeing the energy transition taking place, I’m 100% sure that it will happen everywhere. At that point we were still talking about the transition of coal plants leaving the market and people starting to build wind and solar and natural gas. Now we’re living that transition and when we look at where this world is going—where we need to go to save the planet, and the economic option for all of humankind—we need to maximize the amount of renewables in these power systems beyond 70% and 80%, to 90% and 100%. The question is what is the optimal way to get there, utility by utility, country by country, over the next 15 to 20 years?

What really struck me was I started to see that people think this is easy—that we can just do it, without understanding the facts. From our perspective as a company, we can sell our power plants and storage to support the transition, but what kinds of products and services really bring value to this system? What is the endgame? Will the world go really high in renewables, to 70% or 80%, then the transition stops there? No, it won’t, it will go to 90% and 100% if it makes financial sense. The ultimate goal is 100% renewables and we are heading there, and the white paper is one of the tools helping people understand it step by step. But the paper is not an end vision of a 100% renewable world that we’re heading toward—it’s about how we get there as fast as possible and at the lowest cost possible. The lower the cost, the easier the transition because there will be no reason to resist it.

 Levitin: What do you see as the greatest challenges right now in getting there?

 Rautkivi: The first phase of acceptance is denial: They say it’s not possible. So first you need to understand the facts, that all the elements are already there, and then you need to know the actual steps that you need to take. We happen to have pretty good tools and technologies in our portfolio but at the same time there are elements we don’t have today, so as a company we’re not able to solve all the pieces of the puzzle.

We figured out, for example, that if you build natural gas engines today, they won’t be part of the 100% renewables system unless you change the kind of fuel they use. Will the engine from 2017 still be there in the future? Yes, if you’re able to burn synthetic gas or biogas while continuing to add wind, solar, battery storage and flexible gas [to your energy mix]. This gives a huge motivation to our people that we want to be part of this story—that we are on the right path going forward.

 Levitin: Do you feel that utilities, and countries as a whole, are finally starting to get it?

 Rautkivi: It’s complex, that’s why we need to write books and white papers and do the modeling and explain this step by step. I’m extremely happy that this company is leading the transition toward a renewable energy future and developing an understanding for these countries and utilities, whether in Finland or the Philippines or Australia. It takes time explaining but in the end, every single utility and government understands that this makes sense—from Southern Company in Alabama to the Nebraska Public Power District, and from Helsinki to Shanghai. They have all changed their minds, every single one.

 Can you give an example of how this is translating into action right now in Europe—perhaps specifically in your home country?

Rautkivi: In Helsinki, we recently published a case study for the local utility showing how they can replace two coal plants by 2025 and get to 87% renewables, then what the next steps are to get to 100% renewables. It’s not just a matter of “close those coal plants.” We showed them, “First you need to build this, then you need to build this: These are the steps toward a 100% renewable energy system at lower cost than conventional energy.” We’re minimizing the cost so every economy and every country can move toward this 100% renewable energy system. Costs will go down and as a bonus we’ll cut emissions by 90%. There aren’t any good arguments any more to resist it.

 Levitin: You have helped Wärtsilä become a model for other companies to follow on the Path to 100. What is your message to those companies?

 Rautkivi: There are companies that will follow this and there are companies that will die defending their existing business models. For any company it is important to look beyond the obvious, next five years and look instead at what kind of world we will have in 15 or 20 years. It needs to ask what brings value, what brings internal motivation, in order to develop something for this world.

If you look at energy and those who are actually implementing the changes—the energy ministers, the regulators, the utilities investing in new technologies—the key element globally is we need to demystify energy. We need to make this transition really simple and understandable to people and show them that it is really possible. In general people are afraid of change. In China they’re afraid the coal miners will lose their jobs, the cost of electricity will increase, it’s too expensive, etc. We need to provide information and tools and really have the debate that this makes sense, and bring people together to argue about it. We as Wärtsilä are not, and cannot, be afraid of the debate. The best is to showcase Texas or Australia or the Philippines, where people are paying less for electricity and emissions are going down. That’s leadership. To call yourself a leader, all you need is followers.

 Levitin: Are there any key strategies you’ve learned in terms of presenting the renewables argument and convincing people it’s the wisest option?

Rautkivi: The argument must be fact-based. Facts, with support, with examples from around the world—and how we can use these best practices to solve these issues in detail. There are always more questions and things you need to clarify.

If you’re talking to utilities you really need to understand their business and where the market is going and how the system really works. It’s not that you’re attacking them, you’re simply telling them, “You need to change and this is a better option for you. Let me help model your power system, or train your staff how this system works and look like.”

We’ve done this in 50 different countries, we have the expertise, and that’s really powerful. The planning department of the Philippines energy minister was in Finland for two weeks with our power system analysts and they built the whole model for how this transition can take place in the Philippines, providing training and all the rest so they can go back to their colleagues and face these challenges.

Levitin: It sounds like a philosophy of change.

Rautkivi: People in general are against change, even when it makes financial sense. They say, “No, it’s not possible for this and this reason,” and at that point you need to say, “Let’s look and really try to solve this. We have experience and we can help you.” We have more than 10 years experience with flexibility and high renewable energy systems, and that’s what you need in order to support your customers. We believe in this, and that’s probably the most important thing: We believe that Yes, a 100% renewable world is possible. We just need to find the solutions to get there.

Levitin: Are you optimistic about the future?

Rautkivi: We are the leaders here and we’re trying to do the right thing. I think the main conclusion is that this transition is taking place and it’s global and it will happen throughout the world, and the good thing is that nothing is going to stop this. Climate change is accelerating it and the fact is we need to take action. In the end it will happen and that is a great thing for everybody.

7 Renewable Energy Facts: Why Adding Solar & Wind Power Makes Sense

Our growing dependence on electricity for work, home, and play is undeniable. Computers, assembly-line robots, tools, automated logistics and inventory systems, video games, electric cars, and flash water heaters, require more reliable, affordable power 24/7.

Utilities, communities, and regulators are finding solar and wind power are key to meeting increased power demand while reducing the economic and environmental costs of generation. Read about these 7 renewable energy facts to stay informed.

Seven Renewable Energy Facts that Support Increased Adoption

#1: It’s become cheaper to generate power using the sun and wind.

In more and more scenarios the full lifecycle costs of building and operating renewable energy projects have dropped below operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies like coal or nuclear. It’s even more remarkable development when you consider that in the U.S. conventional energy technologies (oil, coal, and nuclear) are relatively cheaper to operate than other developed economies. (Lazard, Nov 2017 Report)

#2: Every day we hear of citizens and leaders committing to 100% renewable power

Citizens and leaders are influencing their local governments of all sizes, to supplement power generation from more conventional means such as oil, gas, and nuclear.

Their goals are to reduce environmental costs while ensuring reliable and affordable power for the long-term. And their forward thinking is catching on! (We’ll take a closer look at several of these initiatives in future posts.)

#3: The growing costs of climate change

Emissions from fossil-fuel power plants are increasing the earth’s overall temperature and creating expensive problems.

In November of 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that in the last 10 years taxpayers have footed the bill for more than $350 billion to clean up and provide assistance from flooding and storms. (MarketWatch, Nov 2018)

Those events are expected to be more frequent and harsh in the coming years. Increased use of renewables can reduce the number and impact of these events to decrease recovery costs. The positive effect of renewables is even greater when we consider the loss of human lives and quality of life for those living in or having to leave their homes in hard hit areas (think Hurricane Katrina and wildfire-destroyed Paradise, California).

#4: We’re making headway in storage technologies

The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so we need to store electricity for cloudy, windless days! And we can’t forget that more frequent drought conditions are affecting communities powered by hydro generation.

Companies are testing improvements in traditional battery technology and new alternative battery technology to meet power generation integration goals at the utility, neighborhood, and individual customer level.

“These energy storage devices are versatile, capable of storing energy from any source–fossil fuel or renewable– and in any place–private homes or industrial operations.” (Forbes, June 2018)

#5: We’re cracking the code with smart grid technology

Smart grid technology adds power from intermittent renewables generation to conventionally generated power for reliable, affordable power on the grid no matter what time of day or day of the week.

Recent research targets management of renewables integration at a microgrid level (as few as 3-5 houses). Researchers can better test changing customer demand for power and changes in weather. Results of this microgrid work will translate to entire commercial smart grid systems. (Siebel Energy Institute, 2016)

#6: Officials are advancing legal and regulatory changes

Legal and regulatory advancements are supporting utilities and consumers who generate more electricity with solar and wind technology.

Legislative and regulatory actions are intended to:

  1. reinforce the power infrastructure for greater reliability,
  2. keep prices affordable,
  3. improve power quality,
  4. reduce environmental impact, and
  5. provide generation to meet increased demand from economic growth.

It’s often a “carrot and stick” proposition. The government provides funding opportunities for research and for the addition of renewable power (carrot) to meet mandates for more use of renewables (stick). (NCSL, April 2016)

#7: We won’t run out of solar or wind power.

It is estimated that the sun emits “384.6 yotta watts (3.846×1026 watts) of energy in the form of light and other forms of radiation” which is spread around our entire planet and filtered by our atmosphere. It makes sense to harness that free energy for electricity generation.

“If all the sunlight energy striking the Earth’s surface in Texas alone could be converted to electricity, it would be up to 300 times the total power output of all the power plants in the world!” (The Institute of Agriculture: University of Tennessee)

It is also the powerful sun that creates conditions for winds on Earth. The sun heats up the Earth land and water unevenly, creating sea and land breezes. (National Geographic) Regions most affected by these temperature changes are places with the most consistent winds and therefore, most often the best places to site wind farms.

It’s important to note that water generated power (hydro) is a reliability risk when drought conditions exist, so reliance on other inexhaustible renewables like wind and solar is key.

Meeting the 100% Challenge by Addressing Renewable Energy Realities

Our challenge is to assemble the right amount of each ingredient for the most effective mix of power generation as we transition to 100% renewables.

Ford Motor Company is doing just that. The car manufacturing giant recently announced it is purchasing 500K megawatt hours of Michigan wind energy to power several of its plants, along with the large solar system it installed. Global Director of Energy and Technology George Andraos said this about the bold step:

“Ford supports the implementation of renewable energy where the project can be tied to the customer’s facility, either directly or through the local distribution utility, and we believe that supports local jobs, improves the local environment, and adds resiliency to the local grid.” (Forbes, Feb 2019)

Bottom line

The Path to 100% renewables is underway because of economics, customer/community expectations, climate, new technologies, and legal/regulatory updates. It’s an exciting time!