Australia has enough solar, wind storage in pipeline to go 100% renewables

by Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy

Last Friday, tens of thousands of school students went on “strike”, imploring politicians to finally Get Serious about climate change policies, and urging a switch to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Can’t be done, they were told.

Readers may remember, however, that ANU researchers Andrew Blakers and Matt Stocks in February said that if Australia continued at its current rate of wind and solar deployment, then enough to meet the equivalent of 100 per cent of the country’s electricity needs could be delivered by 2030.

Now, new research from the Norway-based research company Rystad says the pipeline of wind, solar and storage projects in Australia will likely reach 100GW before the upcoming federal election in May, including those in “concept” stage, and those seeking development approvals, already have DAs, have won contracts, are under construction, or are already built.

Read more:

Here’s how local governments are replacing California’s biggest utilities

The Climate Center is cited in the article below. We continue to advocate for Community Choice Energy as a preferred model for many communities because Community Choice agencies’ objectives are aligned with local government climate goals and these agencies do not have any obligation to maximize profits for private shareholders. 

by Sammy Roth, LA Times

Seventy miles north of downtown Los Angeles, where the Mojave Desert gives way to the San Joaquin Valley, three newly built wind turbines stand atop a ridge overlooking State Route 58. Strong gusts emerge from the mountain pass below, making this an especially windy spot in one of the windiest parts of California.

A few new turbines aren’t normally a big deal in the Golden State, which has been building wind farms for decades.

But these particular machines are at the heart of a revolution in California’s energy industry, which for millions of people, homes and businesses could mean an end to buying power from monopoly utilities such as Southern California Edison.

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Australia in midst of $20 billion wind and solar investment boom

by Giles Parkinson, Renew economy

The Coalition government tried to prevent it and failed, and haven’t stopped complaining about it ever since. And now we can see why: Australia is in the midst of an extraordinary investment boom in large scale wind and solar projects, and battery storage, far beyond what even the industry’s most ardent supporters ever imagined.

The latest estimates from the Clean Energy Council show that there is currently $20 billion of wind and solar farms either under construction or about to start because they have reached financial close.

This represents some 80 wind and solar farms with some 14.6 gigawatts of capacity – far beyond that which is required under the mandated renewable energy target, which the Coalition tried to scrap under the Abbott government but only got as far as reducing its target from 41,000GWh to 33,000GWh.

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Wind is cheapest, followed by solar

by Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News

There was a time when utility companies could say coal plants were a bargain. Many of the same companies viewed wind and solar as too expensive to do on a large scale.

I’m not talking about ancient history. This was 2008, when I started covering energy.

Since then, the costs of wind and solar have fallen so dramatically that they have upended the economics of energy generation. I see this as the most exciting economic story of our time.

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Trump’s import tariffs will make U.S. wind power more expensive

by Jim Efstathiou Jr, Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s trade war won’t wreck the U.S. wind industry, but it will raise the cost of power.

Tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports, as well as on metals from Europe and elsewhere, could raise the cost of wind power in the U.S. by as much as 10 percent, Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, said at a conference in New York. Executives from three of the world’s top turbine manufacturers agreed.

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Massachusetts and Rhode Island Contract for 1,200MW of Offshore Wind

Massive new projects put New England states on the forefront of the U.S. offshore wind market.

By Jeff St. John and Julia Pyper

Massachusetts and Rhode Island, two states on the forefront of the nascent U.S. offshore wind market, have awarded a combined 1,200 megawatts of contracts to build out what could become the country’s largest offshore wind complex.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts announced that Vineyard Wind, a project backed by Iberdrola’s Avangrid Renewables and Danish investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, had won a contract to build up to 800 megawatts of wind turbines off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The consortium beat out two other contenders, Bay State Wind and Deepwater Wind, which also hold leases on the stretch of windy coastline.

This is the first contract to meet a goal set by Massachusetts lawmakers in 2016 to build 1.6 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2027. Vineyard Wind expects to have the wind farm operational and selling power to Massachusetts utilities by 2021.

Also on Wednesday, Rhode Island announced it would award a 400-megawatt offshore wind project to Deepwater Wind. That’s not an unexpected choice, given that Deepwater is also the developer of the 30-megawatt demonstration-scale Block Island project off the state’s coast — the only offshore wind power installation in the country to date.

The Revolution Wind project is more than 10 times the size of Block Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo noted in a press release. “Rhode Island made history when we built the first offshore wind farm in the United States,” said she said. “Today, we are doing it again.”

Massachusetts, meanwhile, is the home of Cape Wind, the country’s first failed attempt to build offshore wind turbines. Launched with great fanfare and plans for $2.6 billion in investment, Cape Wind fell apart after its utility partners canceled their offtake agreements in 2015, and then officially called it quits in December.

The short project execution timeline Vineyard proposed in Massachusetts will present a challenge for the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry, said Anthony Logan, research analyst at MAKE Consulting. The scale of capacity for both projects will also push the limits of what the industry can do without access to a domestic turbine installation vessel.

On the plus side, both projects are leveraging recent European technology advances that have brought down the levelized cost of energy for offshore wind there, Logan added.

“Vineyard, for example, will require a very long export cable compared to its U.S. [counterparts], but EU developers have been aggressively developing ways to mitigate increasingly long distances to shore,” he said.

Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said today’s announcements light the way for the U.S. offshore wind industry — and the nation — going forward. “With world-class wind resources, infrastructure and offshore energy expertise, the U.S. is primed to scale up this industry and lead it,” he said, in a statement.

MAKE Consulting’s Global Offshore Wind Power Market report forecast that the U.S. offshore wind market will see an compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent to grow to 5.3 gigawatts by 2026, mainly by state-level procurement in the absence of major federal policy incentives.

That’s a significant jump from MAKE’s previous projection of 2.3 gigawatts by 2026. The increase stems primarily from a new executive order from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, committing the state to 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Murphy also signed legislation today requiring the state to reach that target.

New York and Maryland are also showing promising initiatives that will kick-start the market, MAKE noted.

New York plans to solicit 800 megawatts of offshore wind over the next two years and 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Its first project, a 90-megawatt farm off New York’s Long Island, to be delivered to the Long Island Power Authority, saw the first public unveiling of its plans earlier this month. Last year, utility regulators in Maryland approved 368 megawatts of offshore wind capacity for two developers.

Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced Tuesday that the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is looking to craft a strategic plan to make Virginia an offshore wind energy hub.

“Virginia should be the prime location for the offshore wind industry, from the supply chain to the full build-out of our offshore wind assets off the coast,” said Northam.

Tech firms like Google, Amazon push power companies toward solar and wind, a blow to coal

by Elizabeth Weise, USA Today

SAN FRANCISCO — Every time you save a photo to the cloud, buy something on Amazon, open a Google doc or stream a movie, you’re probably pulling electricity from a wind turbine in Texas or a solar farm in Virginia.

In fact, your clicks and taps may have helped build them.

Since 2008, renewable energy has gone from 9% to 18% of the U.S. energy mix, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. A big part of that shift stems from tech companies’ rapid buildout of cloud storage centers and a move to burnish their public image by vowing they’ll run these centers on sources like wind and solar.

Rather than lose these deep-pocketed customers, the nation’s power companies are changing policies and crafting deals that meet increased demands for renewable energy, in some cases shifting away from traditional electricity supplies like coal and natural gas. Even in coal mining states like West Virginia.

“We have the ability to shape the market,” said Michael Terrell, head of Google Energy Policy. “If you build it, we will come.”

Last year, the top four corporate users of renewable energy in the world were Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Google announced this month that as of 2017, all its facilities and data centers were running on 100% renewable electricity.

Coal declining

A practice of insisting power companies offer wind- and solar-sourced power supplies is spreading to other sectors — Walmart, GM and Budweiser all have goals to run more of their global business off renewable energy.

This is bad news for the struggling coal industry. Coal producers have seen their share of U.S. power generation decrease since 2008, even as the Trump Administration has promised to roll back what it considers hostile environmental regulations.

The coal industry has said it now knows that at least the government is not going to discourage production, and it’s only got to deal with the marketplace.

The problem is that a growing portion of the marketplace is demanding green energy.

“There’s no federal or state law out there today that says you must do this, but there are boards of directors that say ‘We want to set a carbon footprint goal for our companies,'” said Appalachian Power President and COO Chris Beam.

In December, the Charleston, W.Va-based utility contracted with Bluff Point Wind Energy Center in Indiana to buy 120 megawatts of wind-generated electricity, green power it can now offer to companies that are making it a core requirement on where they’ll site their businesses, Beam said.

Today Appalachian Power generates 61% of its electricity by burning coal and 5% from wind and solar. By 2031, Beam says he hopes to get that mix to 51% coal and 25% wind and solar.

There’s also a trickle-down effect. Big tech companies are pushing their suppliers to go green. Apple, which said last month that 100% of the electricity it uses for its facilities and data centers comes from renewables, saysnearly two dozen of its suppliers — such as manufacturers of batteries, keyboards and lenses — have also made a commitment to 100% renewable energy.

“The smart ones are seeing it as a competitive advantage,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives and former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama Administration.

“They know they have an edge in competing for Apple’s business.”

Amazon, Microsoft in Virginia

The biggest energy companies are changing their policies to court big tech energy buyers, who can often promise 20-year contracts.

Three years ago, Amazon wanted to build a new data center in northern Virginia. Because of its commitment to 100% renewable energy, it required that center to be run on electricity generated by wind or solar.

Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Energy, the local utility, didn’t have any way for Amazon to source all its electricity from solar. So it created a special power purchase agreement that allowed the Seattle company to contract for 100% renewable electricity, something that wasn’t previously possible in Virginia.

“We thought about it, we understood their reasoning, we convinced ourselves that it was in our best interests to do it and we ended up signing,” said Greg Morgan, director of customer rates and regulations for Dominion.

Last month Microsoft announced it is contracting to buy electricity from a giant solar array in Virginia in what will be the largest ever corporate purchase of solar energy in the United States and will double the state’s solar capacity.

Other buyers are following. When it goes online in 2019, the solar array in Spotsylvania county, southwest of Washington D.C, will produce 500 megawatts of electricity, with Microsoft buying 315 megawatts. Customers are already lined up for the megawatts it won’t be using, said Microsoft. The deal will bring Microsoft’s total purchase of renewable energy globally up to 1.2 gigawatts.

A public shaming

The tech push towards renewable began in earnest in 2011, when Greenpeace released a report calling out data centers for being huge users of electricity created by non-renewable sources. It came at an opportune time. Going green fit tech’s corporate ethos. The companies were also flush with cash, making it easier for them to make choices that at least in the beginning were more expensive.

“Over the last few years, the tech companies have knowingly and willingly paid a premium for green power and they’ve been willing to do so because it advanced their self-stated goals,” said Dominion’s Morgan.

Data centers that store racks of iCloud and Google Photos servers use just 1.8% of the United States’ overall energy, according to Arman Shehabi, author of a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 2016 report on data center energy usage. But demand to source these from green energy has changed the mix.

Close to 50% of corporate investment in offsite renewable energy in the United States has been from tech companies, the highest of all market segments, said John Hoekstra, vice president at Schneider Electric, a Paris-based energy management and automation company.
Walmart, Budweiser

But other big corporate buyers of electricity have set similar goals. Walmart was one of the first Fortune 500 companies to make a commitment to going 100% renewable, in 2005, said Sam Kimmins at The Climate Group and head of RE100, which sets standards for companies making green energy commitments. Walmart recently said it gets 28% of its global electric needs from renewable energy and wants to hit 50% by 2025.

Last year Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian beer maker that brews Budweiser, announced that it would be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2025. General Motors plans to get there by 2050.

It’s become such a movement that last year, U.S. corporations bought more renewable power than utilities did, said Timothy Fox, vice president at ClearView Energy Partners, an energy consulting company.

Today, corporate America is happy to throw its weight around, said Bryn Baker, the World Wildlife Fund’s deputy director of renewable energy. “Companies are coming in and saying, ‘If you want us to be here, you have to give us access to clean energy.’”


Texas wind turbines went right on turning under Harvey’s impact, as refineries shut down

by Juan Cole, Common Dreams

Extreme weather is in our future. Caribbean hurricanes of the future will be more and more violent and destructive because of manmade global heating. Sea level rise will open the coast to bigger storm surges. The number of coastal floods has already doubled since the 1980s because of people driving their gasoline cars and running their air conditioners off burning lumps of coal. Hotter air over hotter water will have more moisture in it, setting the stage for regular flooding. Hotter water creates more powerful winds within hurricanes.

So the bad news is that a fossil fuel energy system does not deal well with extreme weather.

Even just by Thursday, Harvey had shut down so many oil refineries that it had taken 20% of daily US gasoline production off line. By Friday it was being announced that so many refineries had been damaged that the major pipeline that brings 3 million barrels a day to the east coast, had been shut down. Altogether, 4.4 mn b/d of refinery capacity is off line now. About half a million barrels a day of refining capacity will remain shut down well into next winter.

Reuters quoted a market analyst as saying, “Imports can’t make up for this. . . This is going to be the worst thing the U.S. has seen in decades from an energy standpoint.”

Not only is gasoline going to be more expensive as a result, but the pollution dangers from the damaged refineries are horrific.

But guess what? Texas’s wind turbines weathered Harvey. Some were pushed to the max by its powerful winds, but they just went on making electricity! Turbines shut down if the wind is 55 mph or more, but most wind farms affected by Harvey were able to keep operating. One shut down because the electrical wires were knocked down, not because the turbines stopped working!. On an average day, Texas gets 20% of its electricity from wind. That only fell to 13% the day of Harvey’s landfall.

Harvey also menaced a nuclear reactor, a la Fukushima, but we dodged that bullet this time.

Nuclear reactors no longer make any sense, and they remain dangerous and vulnerable to extreme weather events. Even if wind turbines did get damaged by a storm, they don’t explode or spread around radioactive fallout.

Duke Energy has just abandoned plans for a nuclear reactor and is instead putting $6 bn into solar and wind.

So it turns out that not only would a rapid turn to 100% green energy, as California plans, forestall further global heating, it can help keep us safe during the extreme weather caused by . . . burning fossil fuels in the first place.

The problem of fossil fuels and global heating is only going to get worse. The National Institutes of Health warns,

“The public health impacts of climate change in U.S. Gulf Coast states—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—may be especially severe and further exacerbated by a range of threats facing the coastline areas, including severe erosion, subsidence, and—given the amount of energy production infrastructure—the ever-present potential for large-scale industrial accidents. The Gulf Coast population is expected to reach over 74 million by 2030 with a growing number of people living along the coastlines. Populations in the region that are already vulnerable because of economic or other disparities may face additional risks to health . . . The Gulf region is expected to experience increased mean temperatures and longer heat waves while freezing events are expected to decrease. Regional average temperatures across the U.S. Southeast region (which includes Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina as well as the Gulf Coast) are projected to increase between 4 °F to 8 °F (2.2 °C to 4.4 °C) throughout the century. Hurricanes and sea level rise, occurring independently or in combination with hurricane-induced storm surge, are major threats to the Gulf Coast region [11]. Some portions of the Gulf Coast—particularly coastal Louisiana and South Florida—are especially vulnerable to sea level rise due to their low elevation.”


Is 100% renewable energy doable?

With the publication of a study by Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University, the push for 100% renewables is seeing renewed fervor.  A group of U.S. Mayors just announced that they will back 100% renewable energy targets, and Senator Kevin de León recently introduced a new bill, SB100, to establish an overall state target of 100% clean energy for California by 2045. Many are citing Jacobson’s study as proof of the viability of 100% renewables.

However, a new report by several respected energy experts disputes Jacobson’s findings, warning that policy makers should not make decisions based on Jacobson’s study. The 21 authors of that report include some of the most prominent climate change and clean energy experts in the country, like Ken Caldeira of Stanford, Daniel Kammen of U.C. Berkeley, and Varun Sivaram of the Council on Foreign Relations. The lead author is Christopher Clack, a former research scientist at the University of Colorado and current CEO of the grid modeling consultancy Vibrant Clean Energy. The authors contend that because decarbonization is so hard, it requires a more diversified approach (than Jacobson suggests) for success.

Jacobson remains steadfast.

“Virtually every sentence in the Clack article is false as evidenced by [my] line-by-line response,” he wrote in an email Saturday, referring to a counter-rebuttal he had written. “There is not a single error in our paper.”

One of the major points of contention is the ability of hydropower to meet peak demand. In Jacobson’s vision, hydropower would not be used daily, but instead stored up large amounts of water for massive discharge on a few peaks each year. He assumes retrofits of higher capacity turbines on existing dams could make this possible.

In addition, Jacobson’s grid reliability study does not model the spatial dimensions of the transmission system (which must carry power over many miles from where it’s generated to where it is needed). Jacobson contends that he included 30-second time resolution instead (to illustrate that there’s enough power in the whole system at any given minute), while other models focus more on spatial resolution with less granular time resolution. He says models always require tradeoffs.

Jacobson devotes a large part of the study to storage. His model uses six types of storage, but does not include lithium ion batteries because of their cost. Underground thermal energy storage (UTES), modeled on a government-funded pilot project called Drake Landing in Canada, handles all storage for building air and water heating, and dwarfs the other types of storage. The reliance on UTES requires the technology to quickly transition from pilot scale to nearly every building heating system in the United States. Chilled water storage and ice storage handle cooling in Jacobson’s models. Of the six types of storage Jacobson discusses, only pumped hydro has achieved widespread commercial use on the grid.

In his rebuttal Jacobson said of the nascent storage technologies, “When something is so simple, and it’s cheap already, it has tons of potential to be commercialized and used on a large scale, particularly in new communities.”

With time running out on climate action and many decisions to be made about how to slash emissions, the debates sparked by Jacobson’s study may literally determine the fate of the planet for millennia. Stakes are high and both Jacobson and Clack clearly wish to see climate action moving forward. No matter who is right, investing in renewables, storage and grid technologies to the tune of trillions of dollars is essentially the task before us.

Jacobson’s report has given many people the imagination and moral courage to reach for what the planet is demanding. Many would argue that those are the ingredients that have been lacking in humanity’s struggle to stop climate change. So perhaps, despite the shortcomings of his report, we owe Jacobson more than a scathing review.

Related: An Interview With Mark Jacobson on the 100% Renewables Debate



Community-Scale Wind Power at Hardware Center

If you ever get the chance to drive by the ever-colorful Ace Sebastopol Hardware Center, look up. You can’t see the forty kilowatts of solar panels installed on the roof that power the entire place on sunny days, but you can see the small, community scale wind generator that has been installed. This is a good example of the kind of appropriate community scale wind power installation that local electricity suppliers like Sonoma Clean Power can incentivize. 

“We like to be green and show the community that there are options available for producing your own power,” said Co-Owner and General Manager Mike Bishop.

The WindTronics generator is designed for home and small commercial use and measures just 6 feet in diameter and weighs only 241 pounds. It is rated to produce up to 1500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year depending on the location and height of the installation. That’s enough to power one small electricity-frugal household, so in most cases, this technology would be best to augment other power sources.

Mike Bishop agrees. “It’s a great supplement to our solar power system because it produces power in the evening and cloudy days when the solar system is not producing,” he said. 

“This is a good, low profile design that is quiet and bird-friendly so it’s good for residential and rural use. We just wish the incentives were more stable and predictable.”

On that point, when Sonoma Clean Power is established, it will take up the issue of offering attractive payment agreements for surplus clean power fed into the grid. A win/win prospect – good for the planet, and good for business.

Woody Hastings