Switching to solar energy provides economic benefits, saves lives


In a new study published in Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, a team from Michigan Technological University calculated the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives along with the potential benefits of switching to solar.

Health Impacts

Tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal. By transitioning to solar photovoltaics (PV) in the US, up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life.

“Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved,” says Joshua Pearce, a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value.”

Using a sensitivity analysis on the value of electricity, which examines the different costs of electricity that varies by region throughout the country, saving a life by using solar power also showed potential to make money — sometimes as much as several million dollars per life, says Pearce.

“Everybody wants to avoid wasting money. Just based off the pure value of electricity of the sensitivities we looked at, it’s profitable to save American lives by eliminating coal with solar,” he explains.

Pearce worked with energy policy doctoral student Emily Prehoda on the study, and their main goal was to better inform health policy. They gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate US deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar. Then they used current costs of solar installations from the Department of Energy and calculated the potential return on investment.

Pearce and Prehoda also analyzed the geographic impact of coal-related deaths. “Here, we have solid numbers on how many people die from air pollution and what fraction of that is due to coal-powered plants in each state.”

Power of Solar

To fully replace all the coal production in the US with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts — a significant increase compared to the 22.7 gigawatts of solar installed in the US currently. The total cost of installing that much solar power totals $1.5 trillion, but that investment is figured into Pearce and Prehoda’s calculations, and is a profitable investment.

As Pearce sums it up: “Solar has come down radically in cost, it’s technically viable, and coupled with natural gas plants, other renewables and storage, we have ways to produce all the electricity we need without coal, period.”

He says resisting the rise of solar energy is akin to if computer manufacturers kept using vacuum tube switches instead of upgrading to semiconductor transistors.

“My overall take away from this study,” Pearce says, “is that if we’re rational and we care about American lives — or even just money — then it’s time to end coal in the US.”

Next Steps

The World Health Organization reports that millions die each year from unhealthy environment, air pollution notably the largest contributor to non-communicable diseases like stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Future work can expand this study globally.

“There’s roughly seven million people who die globally from air pollution every year, so getting rid of coal could take a big chunk out of that number as well,” Pearce says, adding that another goal of future research is to dig deeper into the life cycles of coal production as this study only looked at air pollution related deaths. Doing so will continue to illuminate the multiple positive impacts of solar power and its potential to do more than keep the lights on.

Renewable energy generation in the US dramatically exceeds 2012 predictions


The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released numbers on US electricity generation for the first quarter of 2017, and renewable energy numbers are coming in big.

According to the EIA, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal power accounted for 10.68 percent of total electricity generation in the first quarter of 2017. If you include electricity from conventional hydroelectric plants, renewables made up nearly a fifth of total electricity generation—as much as 19.35 percent.

The striking part about that number is that the EIA, a statistical department within the Department of Energy, couldn’t foresee how dramatically renewables’ share of the electricity mix would increase just five years ago. In 2012, the administration predicted (PDF, page 87) that electricity generation from renewable sources would increase “from 10 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2035.” Even by 2015, the administration predicted (PDF, page ES-6) that “The renewable share of total generation grows from 13 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2040.”

Non-profit organization Sun Day Campaign said in a statement that, if the EIA were to extend its 2012 renewable growth forecast further out into the future, “renewables would not be expected to reach 19.35 percent until roughly the year 2057.”

The renewable energy numbers for the first quarter of 2017 include about 4.786 TWh of residential and small-scale solar electricity, as well as 9.2 TWh of utility-grade solar electricity. In the previous year’s first quarter, utility-grade solar generated only 6.67 TWh of electricity, meaning utility-grade solar electricity generation increased 38.5 percent year over year.

The EIA’s projections didn’t foresee the explosion of solar installations caused by compelling federal tax incentives combined with plummeting photovoltaic costs. Instead, five years ago, economists were predicting that “most of the growth in renewable electricity generation comes from wind and biomass facilities.”

Wind certainly contributed a major proportion of renewable energy in the first three months of 2017 (67.64 TWh), but biomass faltered, with wood and wood-derived fuels losing 1.2 percent of the total electricity generation year over year. “Other biomass” lost 2.3 percent of the share it had in 2016.

For the entire year, the renewable energy portion of total electricity generation won’t track exactly with the first quarter of the year. Solar might increase as the days get longer and sunnier, while hydro could fall behind if any reservoirs experience droughts. Depending on where you are in the country, wind can become more variable in the summer.

Outside of renewable energy, nuclear power plants provided 1 percent less electricity, year-over-year. Older nuclear facilities have been facing retirement (like the recently-announced planned retirement of Three Mile Island in 2019), while newer and proposed nuclear plants have faced stiff competition from cheap wind and natural gas. Earlier this year, the status of three proposed nuclear plants was thrown into question as Westinghouse, the reactor builder owned by Toshiba, declared bankruptcy.

Coal also saw a 5-percent bump in the first quarter of 2017 from the first quarter of 2016, but it was a bump that was largely expected by economists due to demand for natural gas. Natural gas has been incredibly cheap, driving up demand. As demand goes up, some electricity purchasers have turned back to coal in the short term. But the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says that bump is short-lived, barring dramatic policy intervention.

World Bank announces project to bring renewable energy to 45,000 people in Vanuatu


The World Bank has announced that 45,000 people in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu are set to get access to renewable energy.

In an announcement on Wednesday, the World Bank said its board of executive directors had approved $4 million for the Vanuatu Rural Electrification Project II, or VREP II, which will be co-funded by the Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program and the government of New Zealand.

The World Bank added that the project would partially subsidize solar home and micro grid systems for 8,400 households, and also contribute to the construction of five mini grid systems, which in turn would benefit 550 households. The systems will be able to power refrigerators, lights and office equipment, the World Bank said.

“The government of Vanuatu is working hard with the support of the World Bank to deliver affordable, reliable and renewable energy to 100 percent of the population by 2030,” Ham Lini Vanuarora, Vanuatu’s minister for climate change adaptation, said in a statement.

“Energy is crucial to our nation’s continued development – boosting economic opportunities, allowing access to essential communications and information technology, and improving health services and education delivery, including in rural areas,” he added.

Breaking the figures down, the World Bank said that VREP II would be financed via $2 million in credit and a $2 million grant from the World Bank’s International Development Association fund; a grant of $6.77 million from the Climate Investment Funds’ Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program; and $3.4 million from the government of New Zealand via the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility.

“Access to electricity is a crucial part of building safer homes and communities, and creating new economic opportunities,” Michel Kerf, country director for the World Bank in Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, said.

“This project will deliver real benefits for people living in rural Vanuatu, and we are proud to be supporting the government of Vanuatu to help achieve 100 percent renewable access by 2030,” Kerf added.

World’s First Commercial Carbon Sucking Machine Turns Greenhouse Gas Into Fertilizer


A revolutionary plant that can suck carbon dioxide right from the air was unveiled on top of a waste recovery facility near Zurich on Wednesday.

Swiss company ClimeWorks is capturing CO2 from the air with the world’s first commercial carbon removal technology. Its Direct Air Capture plant is capable of removing 900 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere a year.

Here’s how the technology works, per Fast Company:

“At the new Swiss plant, three stacked shipping containers each hold six of Climeworks’ CO2 collectors. Small fans pull air into the collectors, where a sponge-like filter soaks up carbon dioxide. It takes two or three hours to fully saturate a filter, and then the process reverses: The box closes, and the collector is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which releases the CO2 in a pure form that can be sold, made into other products, or buried underground.”

The extracted greenhouse gas will be sent to nearby greenhouses as a fertilizer for tomatoes and cucumbers.

The company boasts that its technology could extend to other markets, including carbonation for soft drinks or the production of climate-neutral fuels.

Climeworks, founded by engineers Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher, has a goal of capturing one percent of global emissions by 2025. The company said 750,000 shipping container-sized units would be needed to fulfill this goal.

While that might sound like a lot, as Wurzbacher told Fast Company, the same number of shipping containers pass through the Port of Shanghai every two weeks.

Gebald commented that his company’s CO2 collectors can be easily scaled up, and noted that carbon capture technology is essential to achieving net zero emissions by the end of the century, a goal of the Paris climate agreement.

“It is clear today that we won’t be able to achieve zero gigatonnes by the end of the century without the use of carbon removal technologies,” Gebald said.

Three Mile Island Nuke Plant Closure Strengthens Call for Renewable Energy Future


Tuesday’s announcement that the Three Mile Island Unit One nuclear plant will close unless it gets massive subsidies has vastly strengthened the case for a totally renewable energy future.

That future is rising in Buffalo, and comes in the form of Tesla’s massive job-producing solar shingle factory which will create hundreds of jobs and operate for decades to come.

Three Mile Island, by contrast, joins a wave of commercially dead reactors whose owners are begging state legislatures for huge bailouts. Exelon, the nation’s largest nuke owner, recently got nearly $2.5 billion from the Illinois legislature to keep three uncompetitive nukes there on line.

In Ohio, FirstEnergy is begging the legislature for $300 million per year for the money-losing Perry and Davis-Besse reactors, plagued with serious structural problems. That bailout faces an uphill battle in a surprisingly skeptical legislature. FirstEnergy is at the brink of bankruptcy, and says it will sell the reactors anyway.

To make matters worse, Ohio lawmakers have imposed unique spacing restrictions on the state’s wind industry, blocking at least $1.6 billion in investments poised to build eight wind farms now waiting in the wings. Those turbine developments would go far in providing jobs to those who will inevitably lose them at FirstEnergy’s uncompetitive nukes.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants a staggering $7.6 billion for four uncompetitive upstate reactors. That bailout is being challenged in court by environmental groups and by industrial players angry about unfair competition and soaring rates. Their owners concede these old nukes can’t compete with renewables or gas, and have wanted to shut most or all of them.

Now, Three Mile Island’s owners say without millions more in handouts from Pennsylvania rate payers, the reactor will close in 2019. A battle over the handout will be upcoming in the Pennsylvania legislature. Ironically, the Quad Cities plant in Illinois, which is in line for huge subsidies, could not compete with gas or renewables at a recent power auction, and may have to shut despite the handouts.

Meanwhile, coming on line this year, Tesla’s Buffalo Billion gigafactory has the power to transform our entire national economy.
It’s the core of a plan to fulfill America’s direst needs—a reliable supply of safe, cheap energy, and a base of good long-term employment for the nation’s battered working class.

Costing about $750 million, it will bang out solar roofing shingles by the end of this year. It will directly create at least 500 high-paying, clean, safe jobs that will last for decades and turn our energy economy green. Another 1,440 jobs are slated to come from spin-offs. Still more will be created by lowered electric rates and increased clean energy production.

The Buffalo factory joins Tesla’s new plant outside Sparks, Nevada—housed in the biggest building in the world—now producing a new generation of batteries. They will bridge the green energy gap when “the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.”
These two job-producing powerhouses are at the core of the Solartopian revolution. Solar panels, solar shingles, wind turbines, high-efficiency LED lighting and advanced batteries are key to our global survival and prosperity. Along with the hardware needed for tidal energy, ocean thermal, geothermal, advanced conservation and other renewable industries, gigafactories producing these technologies will be the engine for the 21st century economy.

If Gov. Cuomo’s $7.6 billion bailout ask went instead to build seven gigafactories like the Buffalo Billion, New York would gain thousands of jobs directly and thousands more through the industry powered by lower electric rates. They would be safe, secure, clean, good-paying jobs that could transform the state’s energy and employment situation.

Cuomo’s bailout plan, however, would raise rates on New Yorkers far outside their upstate service area. That even includes Long Island—hundreds of miles away—whose angry citizens rose up decades ago to kill the infamous failed $7 billion Shoreham reactor, which Cuomo’s father Mario helped bury when he was governor.

Ferocious opposition to this bailout has arisen throughout New York. A critical court case will open on June 5. Support for this litigation can be sent to Rockland Environmental Group, LLC 75 North Middletown Road, Nanuet, NY 10954.

New developments at Sempra and other major electric utilities now make it possible for renewables to sustain a central grid 100 percent of the time, without the fluctuations critics claim make a green-powered future difficult to achieve.

So we can bail out Three Mile Island, Perry, Davis-Besse and a rising tide of our 99 obsolete, dangerously decayed atomic dinosaurs at a cost of untold billions? Do we want to escalate the risk of reactor disasters, create tons more radioactive wastes and temporarily preserve a few thousand dead-end jobs?

Or do we want to bang out these Buffalo Billion plants and join Germany, Switzerland, India and other major nations soaring to a Solartopian future.

Is there really a choice?

Solar energy empowers villagers and saves wildlife in Nepal


This fall, rangers protecting rhinos, tigers and other endangered wildlife in Nepal’s famous Chitwan National Park will get a solar system that will light and power an isolated ranger outpost deep in the jungle. At the same time, local women will get the training and tools they need to sell low-cost clean energy technologies to people living in the buffer zone that surrounds the park. This is all part of continued collaboration in Nepal by Empowered by Light, which helps remote communities throughout the world develop renewable energy projects, and Empower Generation, which empowers women to become clean-energy entrepreneurs.

This project will continue the organizations’ efforts in Nepal, which are detailed in a fascinating 20-minute video, Bufferzone, that explores the unique challenges of living in a place where the wild animals that make the region unique—from tigers to sloth bears to elephants—can attract tourists, and can also attack villages and people.

“Remote communities around the world are embracing renewable energy because the benefits are real, immediate and life-changing,” said Moira Hanes, Empowered by Light’s co-founder and board chair. “In Nepal, renewable energy is providing these communities with steady, reliable access to electricity, in many cases for the first time, all while helping to support their critical efforts to protect endangered wildlife and create economic and job opportunities that weren’t there before.”

To help rural communities thrive without draining the park’s natural resources, this fall’s effort will train 10 local women, whose economic opportunities have traditionally been limited, to sell a range of clean energy technologies such as solar home systems and improved cookstoves.

Inside the park, rangers working to prevent poaching rely on solar power to stay in touch with park authorities and power spotlights that help protect them at night. On a previous visit, Empowered by Light also helped install solar power at tourist towers that allow visitors to stay in the park overnight, generating income for conservation projects and for people-protection efforts designed to minimize conflicts between villagers and wildlife.

Empowered by Light and Empower Generation are seeking to raise $50,000 to help support the new project, which will assist hard-working people in Nepal in their efforts to:

Protect Chitwan National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site
Protect single-horned Asiatic rhinos and Bengal tigers from poachers
Train Nepali women, who have a particularly difficult time securing formal employment, to sell clean energy and start their own businesses
Reduce dependence on dirty and dangerous sources of energy, including diesel generators and kerosene burners that put the community’s health and safety at risk
Kick-start eco-tourism in a place where economic development options are limited

From coal to solar, India’s energy landscape is almost too hard to keep up with


In 2010, India was experiencing a massive boost in coal power—but not everyone was benefitting.
Those in the Siddhi community, spread across the foothills of the Western Ghats, were almost entirely left in the literal dark. Francis Wilson relied entirely on kerosene lamps since the power grid didn’t cover his area. Mohan Appu had no direct connection to electricity because he had no documents to prove ownership of the house he had lived in for years. Residents of this rural community would have to travel almost 13 miles to charge a mobile phone.

This scenario, which plays out often across pockets of rural areas in the country, reflects the curious situation of India’s energy landscape. For the past two years, there’s been an overabundance of coal power, even though 240 million people in India still have little to no access to electricity. Meanwhile, over the last five months, the price of renewable energy has plummeted so low that analysts have hailed it as both “record-breaking” and “unsustainable” in the same breath. In fact, the pace of change in the country’s energy infrastructure has been so swift that even researchers are scrambling to keep a steady pulse on a constantly developing beat.

As China slowly cut down on its own coal infrastructure, the International Energy Agency in 2015 projected India to be the next coal center in the near future. It stated that “half of the net increase in coal-fired generation capacity worldwide [through 2040] occurs in India.” Nearly a year later, in July 2016, the non-profit CoalSwarm put out a report that found 370 proposals for coal plants in the works across the country.

The findings revealed a pretty explosive conclusion: that India’s outsized plans for coal energy would wipe out climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement. Merely a few months after the report, the researchers at CoalSwarm were surprised by a new twist. In December 2016, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) laid out an electricity plan that said no new coal plants, beyond those already under construction, are needed for at least the next decade. The CEA also put forth new renewable energy goals—a production of 275 gigawatts (GW) generated from solar, wind, and hydro by 2027.

This means that the majority of the plants that CoalSwarm tracked are now going to be shelved. It’s also a show of India’s push towards reforming its energy infrastructure: the country added more renewable power than thermal in the 2016 fiscal year. “It was hard to keep up,” says Christine Shearer, a senior researcher at CoalSwarm and lead author of the report. “The country is supposed to be at the heart of coal plant growth, but it’s interesting to see the tide go against what we often hear about China and India—that they’re going to keep building coal plants—when actually, they’re both stalling production.”

The glut of power doesn’t mean that every corner of the country is electrified—rather, it gestures strongly towards inertia, uneven distribution, and redundancy. “There are many coal plants which aren’t functioning at full capacity,” says Ashish Fernandes, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace. This under-utilisation, he points out, has led to an abundance of stale power contained inside state-owned distribution companies.

Another reason for the overabundance: rural areas that lack electricity can’t seem to afford the price of it. The cost can range from around Rs120 ($1.86) to Rs500 ($7.75) per month for domestic utilities, depending on the state. “If [residents] can’t afford the power, it doesn’t matter what fuel they use,” says Tim Buckley, a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). “You’ve got to solve energy poverty, education, and employment to address that problem,” he adds. “You can’t keep building expensive coal-fired power plants that pollute the country and think there’s going to be demand—[some residents] just can’t afford it.” Even when data shows an area as having electricity, it may not mean much, Fernandes says. “We need to look at individual households that have power. According to the government data, if you have one building or streetlight in a rural area that has power, the entire town is considered to be connected,” he adds.

A report by Greenpeace published in October 2016 identified 65GW of coal power stations under construction in India and an additional 176GW of projects at various stages of obtaining permissions. The report forecast that 94% of the capacity being built would not be needed by 2022, representing a waste of $49 billion in investments. This could partly explain why a $150 million coal plant in the state of Maharashtra is currently sitting idle, with a lack of demand from power generators. And it could also explain why another state in India, Gujarat, has walked away from a $4 billion coal plant of 4000 megawatts this month. “There is no financial investment to fund coal in the Indian market because they’re simply not competitive against solar energy prices right now,” says Buckley.

As prospects for India’s coal sector are falling, so is the price of renewable energy. In turn, the country’s future outlook, if all goes accordingly, is pretty good news for the planet. India first set a record-low price in February this year when a kilowatt-hour of solar energy was selling at Rs2.97 ($0.046). This month, the country hit another record low—the price of solar dropped 12% further, currently selling at Rs2.62 ($0.041) per kilowatt-hour. “To spell it out, new solar is 15% cheaper than existing domestic coal. No one, anywhere in the world, was expecting solar to get that cheap for at least a decade,” Buckley says, “and India just got there this year.” It’s a marked shift for India—which, in a matter of months, went from potentially thwarting global climate goals to possibly saving them. According to a study released last week by the Climate Action Tracker, India and China are on pace to “overachieve” their climate goals by 2030.

Out of the world’s top three carbon transmitters, the US is the only one at risk of missing its target goal, the Climate Action Tracker report concludes. An energy blueprint released this week by the Indian government predicts that 57% of total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027—exceeding the Paris Agreement’s target of 40% by 2030. Currently, almost 33% of the country’s total energy comes from non-fossil fuel, which makes the Paris target relatively unambitious—it looks like India is almost three-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.
The research is undoubtedly positive and the numbers trumpet a new standard being set by two unlikely countries. But in terms of large-scale implementation, neither solar nor coal are easy options in India. For solar energy to be reliable and widespread, the country would need to build grid infrastructure on an unprecedented scale. The dwindling prices of non-fossil fuel energy is encouraging, and the slow-but-steady withdrawal from coal is optimistic, but is it enough to plug the gaps? Fernandes doesn’t think so. “The biggest threats to renewable expansion are the distribution companies,” he says, adding that this is the root of the problem. “Unless the distribution model is overhauled, the same issues will be transferred.”

Solutions like off-grid solar panels are one kind of sustainable technology that could address the distribution problem, says Harish Hande, co-founder of SELCO, an enterprise that introduced off-grid solar energy in the Siddhi community in 2010. Within a year, 100 homes in the area were connected to power in the Western Ghats region. SELCO has been nationally awarded for its energy work in under-served households and areas—but, as Hande points out, a long-standing solution has to go beyond the mere mechanics of the supply chain. “It’s much larger than providing electricity,” he says, “and there have to be enough public-private partnerships that cross over education, health, and the bigger ecosystem for sustainable energy services to become more accessible.”

Renewable Energy Jobs Reach 10 Million Worldwide


The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a report on Wednesday, providing the latest employment figures of the renewable energy sector and insight into the factors affecting the renewable labour market.

The report, Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2017, found more than 9.8 million people were employed in the sector in 2016, which could rise to 24 million by 2030.

According to IRENA director-general Adnan Z. Amin, falling costs and enabling policies have driven up investment and employment in renewable energy worldwide since IRENA’s first annual assessment in 2012, when around seven million people were working in the sector.

“In the last four years, for instance, the number of jobs in the solar and wind sectors combined has more than doubled,” Amin said.

“Renewables are directly supporting broader socio-economic objectives, with employment creation increasingly recognised as a central component of the global energy transition.

“As the scales continue to tip in favour of renewables, we expect that the number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world.”

Clean Energy Council spokesperson Mark Bretherton told Pro Bono News that renewable energy projects could also create employment across Australia.

“Renewable energy is extremely popular and is a change which the majority of Australians want. The good news is that renewable energy projects create jobs, investment and additional work for contractors, equipment suppliers and local businesses such as cafes, motels, backhoe operators and pie vans,” Bretherton said.

“There is a lot of potential for renewable energy to create employment across Australia, particularly in regional areas of the country where most wind and solar projects are located.

“It has taken a while, but we are almost mid-way through a year that is set to be the biggest in the history of the Australian renewable energy industry.

“More than 30 major projects are either underway or will start in 2017, creating more than $7.5 billion worth of investment and more than 4,100 direct jobs. And this is just the beginning, with these projects creating many indirect jobs as well through flow-on benefits.”

According to the IRENA report, solar photovoltaic (PV) was the largest employer in 2016 globally, with 3.1 million jobs — up 12 per cent from 2015.

China, Brazil, the United States, India, Japan and Germany accounted for most of the renewable-energy jobs.

In the United States, jobs in the solar industry increased 17 times faster than the overall economy, growing 24.5 per cent from the previous year to more than 260,000.

It comes as Australia has moved up the rankings of the most attractive countries for renewable energy investment.

EY’s Renewable Energy Attractiveness Index – published twice a year – put Australia at number five across the globe, which marks a big jump from number 11 in October last year.

China and India took the top two placings, displacing the US which has slipped since the election of Donald Trump. Germany was fourth ahead of Australia, with Chile, Japan, France, Mexico and the UK making up the rest of the top 10.

Bretherton said Australia had a national large-scale Renewable Energy Target which provided an “extra incentive” to build the cheapest kind of renewable energy – which at the moment means wind and solar power.

“Renewable energy such as wind and solar is now the cheapest kind of power it is possible to build right now – less than new gas plants, and much less than new coal power plants,” he said.

“Solar in particular is now almost half what it was just a couple of years ago thanks to targeted support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“Australia’s major power companies declared earlier this year that new coal plants are ‘uninvestable’, and this sentiment is echoed by many fund managers who are reluctant to take a long-term investment risk on coal for a large variety of reasons.”

How New York Is Building the Renewable Energy Grid of the Future


New York State is making a $5 billion bet that by making its power cleaner, it can become a magnet for the clean energy jobs of the future.

Its efforts stand out among the many states racing to integrate more renewables into their power grids—such as Massachusetts, Hawaii and California—not necessarily for the technology but because of what’s happening behind the scenes: New York has launched a Herculean effort to turn around an antiquated system that has deterred innovation for generations by rewarding utilities for selling more electricity.

To get utilities to embrace a changing electricity system, the state is establishing ways for the companies to be reimbursed for some of the savings from energy efficiency programs that are reducing demand for their services. It also is allowing them to reap more return on their investments in equipment needed to bring more renewable energy into the grid. And it is investing in entrepreneurs who are inventing the technology to make it all work.

The state is so gung-ho that its rules require utilities to come up with demonstration projects that test out a new business model, in partnership with at least one private sector company.

The result, say the state’s regulators, is that New York is already attracting hundreds of innovative companies of all stripes. The plum opportunities are not only in installing wind turbines and solar panels, which are generating new employment opportunities across the country, they are also in emerging technologies related to smart grid management and storage. These jobs are largely invisible to the public and, in some cases, didn’t even exist a few years ago.

While the state hasn’t yet projected overall how many jobs are in the new energy economy, they have released enticing tidbits. In January, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) released a report projecting that by 2030, New York’s energy storage industry could realize annual revenues between $5.6 billion and $8.7 billion, with total job growth between 17,300 and 26,800 employees. Jobs in the energy storage industry already grew by 30 percent between 2012 and 2015 to 3,600.

“We are now the leading market for energy storage companies,” boasts John Rhodes, president and CEO of NYSERDA, pointing to companies like NOHMs Technologies in Rochester and BessTech in Troy. “And probably microgrid technology as well.”

One of the companies that has been drawn to New York’s new markets is Opus One Solutions. New York’s vision relies on distributed, independent power operations that ramp up and down with the intermittent sunshine and wind, as well as with the fits and starts of demand for power. Opus One has software that can understand how those waves of power from distributed resources interact with traditional power flows. Just as important, its software can make real-time price estimates for the value of those local power sources.

“Why New York?” asks Alison Smith, the start-up’s director of markets, gazing out at the Manhattan skyline from a conference room at the Urban Future Lab, a state-sponsored incubator for start-ups.

“It is the most forward-thinking state in North America in considering how we build the critical elements of a distributed grid,” she answers.

Incubating Clean Energy Innovation

Three years ago, New York announced that it would spend $5.3 billion toward meeting its goal of having 50 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. (The state only had 24 percent renewable generation in state this year.) Mandates related to these standards have resulted in significant additions of wind and solar to the grid—but that is just the most readily visible part of the changes New York is undergoing.

According to Richard Kauffman, the state’s chairman of energy and finance, it didn’t take long to figure out that “New York cannot cost effectively make this transition just by bolting wind and solar onto the grid of Westinghouse and Tesla,” referring to two of the original creators of the grid, George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla. Instead, New York wants a new “hybrid grid” that integrates intermittent and distributed resources like wind or solar or microgrids.

At the core of the problem to getting that grid was a stodgy, legacy financial model for utilities that didn’t support innovation. Utilities have historically been rewarded with 9 percent rate increases when they add capital expenditure for transmission and distribution to new central power stations, which in New York are historically gas and coal with some nuclear and hydro. The result is that New York has added so much base load capacity to meet peak demand (largely in these traditional forms of energy generation) that on an average day the state uses just 54 percent of generation capacity.

“Technology is not what is holding us back,” said Kauffman. “Could I tomorrow install smart meters in every home and save energy? Absolutely. But until now, there has been absolutely no financial incentive to do this.”

So, New York began changing regulations to reward utilities for integrating new business models that support advances like battery storage that are needed to scale up wind and solar. It has mandated the demonstration projects. Seventeen are already up and running and another dozen or so are in the works for approval.

It is also offering other stimulants such as grants and assistance through incubators like the Urban Future Lab.

Every few weeks, the state announces another competition. In February, it gave $15 million to develop renewable heating and cooling technology. In March it gave $11 million in grants to winners of a microgrid contest. In April it made $15.5 million available to support the most promising energy storage projects.

New York is distributing this money with the idea of leveraging as much from the private market as possible. Since 2009, NYSERDA says, it has invested $14 million in six clean energy incubators where clean tech start-ups get a boost by being connected to utility officials and investors. The return to the state on that $14 million investment: 155 of the new and emerging companies coming from those incubators have attracted over $284 million in private investment.

There is broad consensus that New York’s financial game plan is particularly sophisticated in theory. “New York is not the only one grappling with grid modernization,” said Lisa Frantzis, a senior vice president with Advanced Energy Economy, a business group working on alternative energy. “I can tell you that many states are dealing with the same issues but no one is dealing with it as holistically as New York.”

However, some clean energy advocates are not sure if the execution yet meets the ideals of the plan.

Jamie Howland, director of the Climate and Energy Analysis Center at the Acadia Center, an advocacy organization, said this is all still a work in progress. “It is going to take some time to know how well it’s working.”

Meanwhile, he worries about what New York hasn’t done to prime the economy. “New York has to import all its fossil fuels, so for every dollar spent on energy efficiency, the economy grows by five dollars. And New York can clearly do more on energy efficiency. It is lagging states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island.”

In Buffalo, from Hospitial to Clean Energy Producer for the Region?

The partnership between Opus One and National Grid is a prime example of how the new demonstration model is supposed to open up New York’s power grid to innovation that speeds renewable energy.

Last year, the company was looking to aggressively expand operations out of Canada and into the United States. The key was to find a home base with utilities that were both able and willing to integrate radical new technologies.

For the highly regulated industry, it was a tall order. But because of those mandates that utilities partner with third parties, New York fit the bill.

And, in fact, no sooner had Opus settled on New York State than it was picked in September 2016 by National Grid, the utility for greater Buffalo, to partner on a two-year project on cutting-edge technology that could help Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus expand its back-up energy supply to include an expansive portfolio of renewables.

With seven institutions on 120 acres and 17,000 employees, the medical campus is practically a small town. Like all critical care facilities, BNMC is required by law to have a backup power generation system, and like many hospitals, it has relied on one of the dirtiest forms of fuel: diesel.

As BNMC considers how to upgrade its power structure, one option is to invest beyond its own needs and become a clean power producer for the local region.

“There is no doubt to us now that the technology is out there to provide energy from zero-emissions sources,” said Paul Tyno, director of energy investments for BNMC. “The question is the economic feasibility of it.”

“We need to know what kind of return we will get for our investments,” he said.

This is where Opus One comes in. Opus can take just a few limited pieces of information from the grid and, using advanced computer modeling, show comprehensive power flows in real time—as well as accurately predict them in the future.

The transparency also allows Opus to calculate demand for supply and then come up with prices for energy based on where it is being distributed. This is potentially a big breakthrough. One of the problems states like California and Nevada have faced is that they have not yet calculated what they should be paying individual customers for the solar power they generate.

National Grid asked Opus to work on a demonstration project with BMNC to provide a model of a real-time market for its distributed clean power.

“This demonstration is essential in providing us with a better understanding of the technical requirements required to integrate, operate and fully optimize a distributed system,” said Carlos Nouel, vice president of National Grid’s New Energy Solutions group. If it works, he added, there is potential to scale to the entire area.

Tyno said that New York’s insistence on pilot projects is the foundation of all this experimentation.

“To me, the ability for a customer asset to provide relief to the central grid strengthens that central grid,” he said. “If you’ve got a strong grid that is consistent and reliable and has manageable costs in this day and age, I think you are going to attract business to your area.”

Small Turbines From Silicon Valley Firm May Shift Wind Energy Market


While wind energy is the fastest-growing energy source in the world, wind farms provide less than five percent of the energy in the U.S.

But one Silicon Valley startup is aiming to change the market’s direction. CEO Ignacio Juarez co-founded Semtive six years ago in Argentina, where today you can find its turbines powering street lights and part of the Sheraton Hotel grounds in Buenos Aires.

The renewable wind energy startup opened its U.S. headquarters at NASA Research Park at Moffett Field last year.

“We developed a very simple, affordable and reliable way to generate clean energy with wind,” said Juarez.

Unlike wind farms, which rely on speeds of 30 mph or greater, Semtive’s turbines are made for low wind speeds. Its blades are designed to allow the turbines to keep spinning at low wind speeds – around 10 miles per hour – which is the Bay Area average.

Semtive says the turbines are ideal for urban and rural areas. They are made of aircraft-grade aluminum, and manufactured in Mountain View and Manteca. Installation on a rooftop or balcony takes less than an hour. You can already spot test turbines at homes in Pacifica and at University of California, Davis.

Biologists and animal activists have rallied against wind farms for years, because the blades are notorious bird killers. Surveys estimate that there are 5,000 or more bird deaths each year at the Altamont Pass.

Semtive says its new turbines are safe for wildlife. In fact, you can stop the blades with your hand.

The company believes its product is the first and most affordable small wind turbine on the market for homes and businesses.

The smallest model starts at $4,600. To offset the cost, customers can qualify for green tax rebates and incentives from the state and federal government.

“If you are living in a very small apartment in San Francisco you can put one on the balcony to generate clean energy there, if you have your electric car you can install one in your house to car your electric car,” added Juarez.

Wind energy can be generated at the cost of two cents per kilowatt hour. By comparison – solar energy averages about eight cents per kilowatt hour.

Juarez says if you PG&E bill falls under $150 a month – one medium-sized turbine can generate 100 percent of your energy usage. All you need is the Semtive converter, which is included in the purchase. You plug it into any outlet and it sends energy back into the grid. And you can keep track of your savings with the accompanying app.

“Everybody can generate affordable clean energy today with our solution,” Juarez said.

The company is taking the first U.S. pre-sales on its website starting Tuesday, May 16.

“Semtive is an innovative company, they’ve got interesting technology,” said San Francisco State University Faculty Director of Graduate Business Programs Sanjit Sengupta.

Sengupta’s research focuses on new product development and technological innovation.

“If it really pans out it would be economically beneficial to consumers, even of solar, because you can’t do away with solar,” said Sengupta. “But, for example, if it’s a cloudy day and so on, and there’s not enough solar, then this would be a nice complement.”