Tag Archives: energy storage

Tesla wants to change the world. It just might happen.

The Tesla PowerWall. Photo by Tesla.

The Tesla PowerWall. Photo by Tesla.

Last week, Elon Musk and his Tesla corporation changed the world. Or so you might think from reading the press coverage about Musk’s long-expected announcement that the gigafactory Tesla is building in Nevada will produce batteries not only for Tesla automobiles, but to use as storage for renewable energy–especially rooftop solar–as well.

EverReady is probably pretty jealous; an announcement about a new battery has never received so much attention. Continue reading

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Why we’re writing so much about the changing nature of the electricity business–everybody else is. Oh, and because it’s important.

If how much is written about a topic is an indication of how important or perhaps timely the topic is, then the issues of distributed generation, the changing nature of how Americans will obtain their electricity, and the effects of both on electric utilities, are of both extreme importance and timeliness. We have been reporting on these issues almost daily, citing articles and adding to the conversation, but today the plethora of articles, opinions, predictions and information–and good ones at that–is almost overwhelming.

That major changes are coming should be obvious to anyone without blinders on–or perhaps anyone who hasn’t overinvested in nuclear power and fossil fuels. The only questions now are how fast those changes will be implemented and how extensive they’ll be.

If you haven’t been following the issue, here’s the brief (and simplified) synopsis: Distributed generation–for the most part small-scale rooftop solar (from your local Wal-Mart to your own house) and wind farms, coupled with increased availability and affordability of electricity storage (primarily batteries) coupled with increased energy efficiency in both buildings and appliances and smart electric grids are completely changing the nature of the electric utility business.

In the 20th century, that business model–designed to bring reliable and relatively affordable (if not often safe or clean) electricity to the entire nation–achieved its goals. Utilities built large “baseload” power plants, typically fossil fuel or nuclear powered plants that run 24/7, and an accompanying transmission grid to take the power from those plants to cities and towns all across the country. Regulators ensured they earned a profit on every step of that process. And the nation was indeed electrified.

But as we entered the 21st century, that business model began to fall apart. Most states chose to deregulate their electric utilities, and separated the jobs of power production from electricity transmission. Instead of regulators setting rates and ensuring profits, utilities began to be forced to compete with each other to sell electricity at the lowest rates to consumers. Inefficient and overly costly power plants began to close–a process that accelerated in 2013 with the unexpected shutdown announcements of five nuclear reactors. More shutdowns–in many cases aided by anti-nuclear campaigns–are likely this year and next. And dozens of dirty coal plants have closed in the past few years as well.

Meanwhile, technological advances, especially the plummeting costs of small-scale solar power and the advent of leasing arrangements which mean that consumers–both businesses and homeowners–can get solar installed on their rooftops without the high upfront costs, have made it possible for millions to produce their own electric power and sometimes even more than they need, which policies called net metering allow for them to sell back to the grid at market, and sometimes above-market prices.

As energy efficiency programs have begun to work, the average household and business is using less electricity than they used to. It now looks like peak electricity use in the U.S. was reached in 2007, and even with population growth we may never again reach that peak.

Wind power costs also have fallen over the years, and in many parts of the country are cheaper than their older competition: nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Smart grids, which are still in their infancy, make it possible for grid operators to more efficiently move between the intermittent power sources like wind and solar farms as their power is produced and wanes, providing more reliable access to renewable energy.

That’s where we are now. Where we’re going, sometimes called Utility 2.0, is what’s really exciting. The “internet of things,” where our devices, soon to include our entire homes and places of work, are connected to the internet, are enabling the smart grid to become really smart–to provide power to where it’s actually needed when it’s actually needed (and not at other times) from where it’s being produced (and in a somewhat similar fashion to the local food movement, that will more often than not be locally).

Electricity storage means that those big baseload plants will become obsolete. At the household level, who needs them when your rooftop solar panels provide all your electricity when the sun is up, and when it’s down you just shift to the batteries that have stored the excess power. Solar power 24/7. On the macro level (after all, most big city downtowns don’t have enough rooftop space to power themselves), larger batteries and other types of storage now in the early stages of commercialization mean that the power from wind, offshore and onshore, and large solar plants such as those sprouting up in California and Nevada (and even New York City’s Fishkills landfill), will also become 24/7. Add in some geothermal power where available, even more increased energy efficiency, the ability for cars to not only run on electricity but to generate electricity, and other technological advances on the horizon, and that old utility model has bitten the dust.

As we noted here on Wednesday, February 26, Rocky Mountain Institute has just released a report on when it will be cost-effective for the average household to just completely leave the grid if it wants–it’s sooner than you think. But whether we will end up with millions of micro-grids or will keep some form of regional grids as we have now is one issue for discussion; the reality staring all in the face is that we won’t have the kind of electric system we have now, and that’s coming sooner than most people think as well.

Traditional utilities are fighting this, of course, the same way all obsolete industries fight to remain relevant until they no longer are. And the nuclear power industry is fighting this too–that’s behind what for it is the absolute necessity of rigging the power markets to favor nuclear power over cheaper (and cleaner) energy sources. Without a rigged market, it can’t survive even in the current reality, much less the one on the way. Clean energy advocates should be actively championing and working towards the future–because it is the pathway to a nuclear-free carbon-free energy system.

Everything that has been said here has been documented in the past two months of GreenWorld, thus I haven’t put up links to each sentence–although I could have. Just scroll through the last two months, as I did yesterday sitting in a hospital room after a minor procedure, and you’ll see that. Even I was amazed at how this has been documented here.

But here are a few more posts I found just this morning that provide some new context and perspective:

Among the most ardent champions of the new system are Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk and his cousin, Solar City’s Lyndon Rive, who appeared yesterday at the California Public Utilities Commission to talk about our energy future.

Said Rive: Storage is a game-changing product. Those in the game don’t want to change the game. Utilities are trying to delay the game from changing.

Musk added that Tesla is working to create stationary battery packs that will last long, be safe and compact enough for houses. In other words, Musk’s vision is not just for Tesla to eventually become one of the world’s major auto manufacturers, it’s larger that that: it’s to bring Tesla into every household.

Musk also endorsed a carbon tax: The right move is a broad carbon tax. Our taxes for gas are very low compared to the EU. We should tax the things that are bad over the things that are good. Like we tax cigarettes and alcohol more than bread. It seems like common sense. It’s time for us to get serious on a carbon tax on a national basis. It’s economics 101. It’s so obviously the right move, but politicians are afraid of it.

commercial_installed_solar_pv_costsStephen Lacey is one of the better-informed writers on energy issues. He too sees solar power coupled with battery storage as an existential threat to utilities and in this article explains more about that, while also explaining in greater detail the Rocky Mountain Institute report mentioned above.

John Farrell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance is another who has been writing extensively on these issues. In this article, he asks: Is utility 2.0 a forecast or a post-mortem? And he concludes that for many utilities, it’s the latter–it may already be too late for them to jump on board–although some commenters disagree. Snippet:

Look at Georgia Power. They’re struggling to complete new reactors at their Vogtle nuclear power plant, and costs are rising despite over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees. But thanks to a coalition of environmentalists and the Georgia Tea Party, the state’s public utilities commission has required the utility to invest in distributed solar power. The utility will get 525 MW of new clean power generation, years before either new reactor will generate a single kilowatt-hour. And by 2017, the earliest the reactors could come online, it will cost less for Georgia Power customers to get solar energy from their own rooftop than to buy it from the utility.

Finally, David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, which owns 53,000 MW of power plants, most of it fossil fuels, but also some nuclear and some renewables, has been outspoken on the need for utilities to adapt to the new model. In this article, he says it is “shockingly stupid…to build a 21st-century electric system based on 120 million wooden poles….” Crane has famously said he believes the new system will take about as long as it has taken smartphones to supplant landlines (though obviously that remains a work-in-progress), and that rooftop solar is the future. Here he even admits that NRG’s own power plants could become a liability for the company in the not-so-distant future. Crane is no anti-nuclear advocate, in fact he remains a supporter of nuclear power, but adds that there is no support in either the political arena nor private sector for traditional reactors or small modular reactors. The article goes on: Beyond nuclear, Crane said that the public’s perception of renewable energy technologies is vastly more positive than it was even a few years ago. “Green doesn’t mean a compromise of capability and price,” he said, adding that consumer products like Tesla S are “kicking ass.”

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/28/why-were-writing-so-much-about-the-changing-nature-of-the-electricity-business-everybody-else-is-oh-and-because-its-important/ ‎

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Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nuclear Power

Tom Henry’s (Toledo Blade) blog: The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is pinning a lot of hopes on its upcoming Wall Street briefing tomorrow. Henry says NEI President Marvin Fertel will try to “regain some of the investor confidence it has lost in recent years.” That’s a tall order. Wall Street already has bailed out of supporting any new nuclear reactor construction; the real concern for NEI and the nuclear industry is that the trend of reactor shutdowns that began last year will continue and perhaps accelerate. But it’s not likely that Wall Street will care that much–reactor shutdowns are occurring for two primary reasons: 1) in some parts of the country even existing nuclear reactors that are paid for cannot compete with other sources of energy, especially natural gas and renewables and 2) self-inflicted wounds from botched and expensive repair jobs and other aging reactor problems as at San Onofre and Crystal River.

Davis-Besse. This is not what a reactor pressure vessel head is supposed to look like.

Davis-Besse. This is not what a reactor pressure vessel head is supposed to look like.

Davis-Besse is highly likely to be the next one on that list as it undergoes steam generator replacement over the next several weeks–even if the replacement itself goes smoothly, who knows what other underlying problems will be uncovered during the process? Davis-Besse has a long history of expensive safety issues that were discovered well after the fact, including the infamous hole in the top of its reactor pressure vessel and cracks in its containment building which First Energy claims came from the very cold winter of 1978.

Fertel is likely to argue for a restructuring of electricity markets to give preferential treatment for nuclear power because, well, because it’s nuclear power, dammit. Meaning he’ll argue that nuclear power is “baseload” power and those pesky renewables are “intermittent,” even though the future of the electric grid is for distributed generation that can easily handle “intermittent” renewables. In fact, large nuclear power reactors are a hindrance to a grid designed to handle clean energy technologies because power that is more expensive (like nuclear) is used last, and nuclear reactors cannot power up and down quickly enough to be useful in that context. Further, when large reactors scram or shut down for other reasons, especially suddenly (and reactors to tend to do that from time to time), they need large amounts of replacement power to be able to be brought online suddenly. A 200 MW wind farm that encounters a breeze-free day is one problem, a 1200 MW nuclear reactor that scrams is quite another.

Fertel is also likely to say that the cold weather snaps the midwest and east have been experiencing this winter are further proof that nuclear power is needed, since many reactors have been keeping up a steady high capacity factor and gas prices have spiked. That argument may play to this crowd, if they can even get to the briefing, since New York City is expected to get about a foot of snow overnight….. Then again, if that’s the best argument the industry has: that it runs when it snows, the industry is in weaker position than perhaps even Wall Street realizes. After all, if its power is still more expensive, and snow is only a factor about two months a year (and wind farms have continued to operate just fine during this winter), that’s not much on which to hang the prospects of an entire industry….

You’ll be able to watch the NEI briefing live beginning at 8:30 am eastern time here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nei-s-wall-street-briefing

California PUC issues its proposal to replace San Onofre power: a lot of clean energy, but should be more. Under the proposal, which will be voted on in March, San Diego Gas & Electric would have to build 200 MW of new clean energy; Southern California Edison would have to build 400 MW. But that leaves 800 MW that could be new natural gas plants, which environmentalists oppose.

UCS: All six of TVA’s nuclear reactors are among 23 reactors identified as worst by NRC report cards. UCS reactor safety expert Dave Lochbaum explains the NRC’s “report card” rankings and discusses why TVA is the worst-performing utility in the country. Why are there six TVA reactors on the list? According to Lochbaum, “Probably because TVA only operates six reactors.”

Greenpeace UK analysis of European Commission’s initial verdict on UK’s proposed subsidies to build Hinkley Point reactors. Article includes link to the full 70-page Commission report, which may result in a finding that the project violates European Commission rules. That would almost certainly end the project for good, but would save British ratepayers billions of dollars. Perhaps the most telling finding: The Commission also said that all these favours being done for the nuclear industry “might crowd out alternative investments in technologies or combinations of technologies, including renewable energy sources.” That’s the hope of the nuclear industry everywhere, and the concern of clean energy advocates everywhere. Unfortunately, financial resources are not infinite. Spending billions of dollars on risky and dangerous nuclear reactors makes those billions of dollars unavailable to spend on the 21st century clean energy technologies that can actually address our climate crisis and improve our lives.

Clean Energy

Details emerge on ConEd’s plans for large-scale energy storage as part of its replacement plan for Indian Point’s power. But California is still leading the way on storage as the technology moves from demonstration project stage to early commercialization. The next stage, of course, is widespread commercialization and when that happens the need for “baseload” power from large-scale power plants, nuclear or otherwise, will begin to disappear.

Sol-Systems-What-Investors-Want-InfographicInfographic: what solar investors want. The infographic may be self-explanatory, but a lot of work went into creating it; read about it here.

It’s not just energy efficiency anymore: Smart buildings are another factor that will rapidly change electric utilities and help bring a clean energy future. Key quote from the article: “Thanks to smart grid and smart building technologies, the relationship between utilities and buildings is shifting. It is moving from a one-way relationship–-utilities produce energy and buildings consume it-–to a two-way relationship, whereby buildings generate electricity on-site and sell it back to the utilities.”

Scotland-1, Trump-0. Donald Trump loses battle to stop offshore wind farm in Scotland; court rules it can be built. Trump thinks offshore wind turbines will ruin the view from whatever mansion he built or plans to build. The court thinks addressing Scotland’s power needs is a bit more important

Inside Washington

Senate Energy Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has confirmed what we reported here yesterday: S. 1240, the Committee’s Mobile Chernobyl radioactive waste legislation is dead for this Congress. Of course, as a co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Murkowski doesn’t call it “Mobile Chernobyl….” But, as a co-sponsor, she is in a good position to know whether the bill will move or not. Clearly it won’t. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), another co-sponsor, notes here that some senators are concerned that the “interim” high-level radioactive waste sites the bill is intended to encourage would become de facto permanent ones. Hmm, that’s one point we’ve been making for a year now…..

From DeSmogBlog: 76 big business groups announce offensive against Obama administration carbon rules, renewable energy. Last week, Entergy and Exelon spoke at a Platt’s energy conference and while they don’t appear to be joining the group taking on the carbon rules (although we haven’t seen the full list of the 76 groups), they also plan a direct assault on renewable energy programs this year. Duke Energy already is doing that in North Carolina and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is planning on attacking renewable energy laws across the country, despite having failed in similar assaults last year. See a trend here? The big polluting energy companies have a fundamental choice: adapt to renewable energy and all that goes with it–distributed generation and a whole new utility model that we’ve been discussing in these pages for weeks or fight back and try to kill renewable energy before it grows into the country’s dominant energy source. The progressive companies, like NRG Energy, are making the first choice; the dinosaurs wagging their tails are joining together in what may be their last-ditch effort to restore the 1970s to American life.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/06/nuclear-newsreel-wednesday-february-12-2014/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, February 6, 2014

Nuclear utilities cry that the market is stacked against them. Maybe it’s that nukes are just too expensive? What they want is a system that is stacked for nuclear power–that would be a system stacked against ratepayers. This is an issue that will grow in importance this year and next as some utilities fight to avoid more reactor shutdowns.

DOE nuclear chief Pete Lyons–a longtime nuke industry proponent (former aide to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM))–claims reactor shutdowns are threatening Administration’s climate goals. Absurd. Obama should disown comments, find new chief and/or abolish nuclear department.

UCS scientists pen new book: Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster. Release event in Atlanta February 10–if you’re in the area, you’ll want to be there. If you’re not, the book will be a must-read.

Big banks are investing big money in renewables. Not in nuclear. Goldman Sachs, for example, is about to invest a staggering $40 Billion in new renewable projects. Wall Street knows where the future is, even if the nuclear industry hasn’t figured it out yet.

New electric capacity 2012-2013, from FERC.

New electric capacity 2012-2013, from FERC.

New electric capacity in 2013: wind stalls (because of expiration of production tax credit), solar zooms (not even counting rooftop!), coal/nukes going nowhere. Year-end report from FERC shows the trend, and the trend is very likely to continue.

Several actresses join with Sierra Club to make a video urging California Gov. Jerry Brown to ensure that replacement of lost power from San Onofre nuclear shutdown is accomplished with 100% clean energy.

New study compares electricity storage to solar market of 2005: about to zoom up. That’s good news. The faster storage is implemented, the faster a renewable-powered grid will become the reality.

Utilities are on the attack against solar power in Kansas–want to end state’s net metering program. And in Ohio, wind power opponents claim state’s support for wind is unconstitutional, take case to Ohio Supreme Court. Renewable energy standards are also under attack in the state. Activists must fight back against these nuke/fossil fuel assaults on clean energy.

Another article on how solar power is becoming a standard feature on some new homes–at least these rather nice new homes in California….It’s a growing and welcome trend.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/06/nuclear-newsreel-thursday-february-6-2014/

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Nuclear Newsreel, January 16, 2014

Strike threat looms at Entergy’s Indian Point reactors, already battered by economic & legal challenges. The unions, including control room operators, are threatening a strike at Indian Point and have even set up “practice” picket lines in front of the site. But this story goes beyond the labor strife and looks more deeply at the growing list of challenges faced by Entergy which could well lead to shutdown of the reactors. Let’s keep adding to the pressure, folks….

Even BP admits renewables are the fastest-growing energy source, will pass nuclear generation by 2025. BP dropped the pretense of it being a big player in solar power a few years ago, but even their analysis shows that renewables are the future. The figures are staggering: BP projects the use of renewables in power generation will rise 768 percent in China by 2035, 539 percent in India, 227 percent in Brazil and 277% in the U.S. Still, BP likely understates the case and still predicts fossil fuels will remain dominant, providing about 75-80% of the world’s energy (not just electricity) in 2035. A guy who is out to change that dominance is Elon Musk, owner of Wall Street’s favorite electric car company, Tesla Motors. This article looks at Musk’s plan to wean civilization from fossil fuels, not only through electric cars, but through his involvement with SolarCity, which is one of several companies behind the extraordinary acceleration of rooftop solar in the U.S. Musk is not the only one to believe that solar power will be the dominant source of electricity in the U.S. by mid-century, but he is one actually making that happen.

Two press releases from allied groups, Friends of the Earth and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, focus on the only two private new reactor projects in the U.S. moving ahead now–what’s left of the “nuclear renaissance.” SACE’s release talks about the continued secrecy from the Department of Energy in attempting to give a taxpayer loan for the Vogtle reactor project (a loan that reportedly has been blocked by concerns from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget). Taxpayers kept in the dark as deadline looms to finalize $8.3 Billion nuclear loan for Vogtle reactors. And FoE examines newly released documents that show all is not as rosy as the utility, SCANA, has publicly portrayed progress at South Carolina’s Summer nuclear project. Another nuclear debacle: Cost overruns, delays and construction woes bedevil V.C. Summer reactor project in S.C.

MOX funds in spending bill top budget request. Yesterday, we noted that the omnibus budget bill included more money for the controversial small modular reactor (SMR) program than requested by the Obama Administration. We forgot to mention yesterday that the SMR program last year received Taxpayers for Common Sense most uncoveted Golden Fleece Award. Today, as journalists continue to delve into the fine print of the 1,000+ pages of the omnibus bill, we learn that Congress wants to give the MOX program more money than the Administration requested. This program is even more controversial–after years of delay and overspending, the Administration actually wants to end this program entirely. The program involves building a facility at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site to reprocess reactor fuel into plutonium-based “mixed-oxide” fuel. It’s a dangerous, dirty, and entirely unnecessary program whose only real constituent appears to be Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).

Report finds increased cancer cases near St. Louis radwaste landfill. The oldest radioactive waste dump in the US lies near the runways to the city’s airport; it’s a vestige of World War II that has never been cleaned up because, as is the case for just about all radioactive waste, no one wants it and there is really no place for it to go. As to why no one wants it–this story should make that clear.

How solar power beat natural gas in Minnesota. Seriously, if solar power can beat natural gas (which itself beats nuclear power and coal) in Minnesota–no one’s idea of a sunny resort area–then can there possibly be anywhere that solar power has not become the cheapest electricity source? Well, maybe in areas well-suited to wind power…

Stock analyst says avoid Exelon stock in 2014. and warns of nuclear shutdowns ahead. The analyst names three single-unit Exelon reactors he believes are vulnerable–Oyster Creek, Clinton and Ginna–that also have shown up on other lists of potential near-term reactor shutdowns. But he adds a fourth, the two-unit Quad Cities site on the Illinois/Iowa border, as vulnerable too, apparently due to competition from Iowa’s fast-growing wind industry.

Japanese taxi company refuses ride to anti-nuclear lawmaker in fear of retribution from nuclear industry.

The Colorado legislature yesterday beat back yet another attempt to weaken the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.

RealClearPolitics released a list of who it calls the 10 most influential legislators on energy issues. Some names on the list are obvious; some may surprise you.

Finally today, researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered a new way of storing energy from solar power production. Energy storage is probably the hottest field in the energy arena right now, and is the last, though quickly disappearing, obstacle before renewables become a 24/7 “baseload” kind of power source. Not that the old concept, still pushed relentlessly by the nuclear industry, of “baseload” power has the same level of relevance to a modern, distributed energy grid that it did in the 1970s.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/16/nuclear-newsreel-January-16-2014/