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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 4 Comments | Updated on Oct 4, 2011

With Electric Cars, U.S. States Can Boost Energy Self-Reliance

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/electric-cars-us-states-can-boost-energy-self-reliance/

The U.S. Northwest could get an additional 12 percent of its electricity from local wind power if 1 in 8 of the region’s cars used batteries. 

That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories investigating how electric vehicles can help smooth the introduction of more variable renewable energy into the grid system.

The study examines the Northwest Power Pool, an area  encompassing roughly seven states in the Northwest.  With around 2.1 million electrified vehicles, the grid could support an additional 10 gigawatts of wind power.  With electricity demand from those seven states of about 250 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, the additional 10 gigawatts of wind would provide 12 percent of the annual electricity demand (roughly 30 billion kilowatt-hours per year).

The results are no doubt applicable to other regions of the country.  In fact, at least 33 states have enough wind power to meet 10 percent or more of their electricity needs and if the same portion of vehicles (13%) were electrified in those 33 states, it would allow them to add a collective 100 gigawatts of wind power, meeting nearly 14% of their electricity needs. 

Northwest Power Pool

In the long-run, a fully electrified vehicle fleet would theoretically – just do the math! – provide enough balancing power for a 100% renewable electricity system.  And since the large majority of those vehicle trips would be made on batteries alone, it would be a significant dent in American reliance on foreign oil for transportation. 

Further reading: learn a bit more about electric vehicles helping wind power in Denmark, too.

Hat tip to Midwest Energy News for the original story.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Sep 26, 2011

The Value and Power of Distributed Solar in Arizona

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/value-and-power-distributed-solar-arizona/

A presentation I gave last Friday to the Arizona Corporation Commission.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 2 Comments | Updated on Sep 15, 2011

Solar PV Economies of Scale Improve in 2010

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/solar-pv-economies-scale-improve-2010/

Installed costs for solar PV have dropped and economies of scale improved significantly in 2010, opening the door for much more cost-competitive distributed solar power. 

The data comes from the 4th edition of the excellent report from the Lawrence Berkeley Labs’, Tracking the Sun (pdf) and shows the installed costs for behind-the-meter solar PV projects in 2010.  The following merely copies Figure 11 from that report, showing the average installed cost of “behind-the-meter” solar projects in the U.S. in 2010, by project size.

This is useful and shows the significant economies of scale for solar PV in 2010, but the history is important.  For context, the following chart shows the 2010 data along with the 2009 data from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, with the grey shaded area indicating the cost decreases.  The 2010 installed cost data from the California Solar Initiative (red) is also shown, helping validate the LBNL data.  The last data point from the CSI is an outlier likely due to having too few projects in that dataset.

Two things are clear from the new data.  First, installed costs have dropped significantly, by $1 per Watt for residential-scale solar PV and by nearly $2 per Watt for megawatt-scale projects.  We can also see more clearly how the economies of scale of solar have improved, as well.

The unit cost savings between the smallest and largest solar projects (1 MW and under) jumped from $2.80 to $4.60 per Watt, a change in relative savings from 30 percent to 47 percent.  Economies of scale were also much greater for mid-size solar (30-100 kW), with the percentage savings over the smallest projects rising from 21 to 35 percent.   The following chart illustrates the change in economies of scale, showing installed costs as a percentage of the cost of a 2 kW system.

Instead of having relatively little economies of scale for solar PV projects larger than 2 kW, the 2010 data confirms that the unit cost of solar does continue to fall significantly as solar projects grow up to 1 megwatt (MW) in size.

Unfortunately, LBNL did not have sufficient data to provide context for economies of scale for larger distributed solar projects (1 to 20 MW), with only about 20 datapoints.  However, their finding was that these larger crystalline solar projects cost between $4 and $5 per Watt, showing small but significant scale economies.

The lesson is that solar economies of scale seem to be improving as the U.S. market matures, good news for distributed solar to compete with peak electricity prices on the grid.

[note: for more context, see the previous post on 2009 solar economies of scale]

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 4 Comments | Updated on Sep 6, 2011

PACE Financing: A 101 and Status Update

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/pace-financing-101-and-status-update/

A short slide deck providing a “101″ on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, a status update on the legal challenges, and some of the policy design issues we explored in our report on Municipal Financing Lessons Learned.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 1 Comment | Updated on Sep 2, 2011

Putting the Sun to Work for Minnesota

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/putting-sun-work-minnesota/

This is the best video you will ever see supporting a state solar energy standard, submitted for a contest hosted by Environment Minnesota.

 

For more information on the solar energy standard for Minnesota, see Environment Minnesota’s website as well as Solar Works for MN.

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Clean Local Energy for Kentucky
Article, Resource filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Aug 31, 2011

Clean, Local Power for Kentucky

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/clean-local-power-kentucky/

In August 2011, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell gave this presentation to a group of rural utilities and environmental organizations in Kentucky.  The slides illustrate the enormous renewable energy potential in Kentucky and the cost-effectiveness of clean, local power in meeting the state’s electricity and economic needs. Clean Local Power for Kentucky View more presentations… Continue reading

Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 6 Comments | Updated on Aug 18, 2011

In Wind Power, is Bigger Better?

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/wind-power-bigger-better/

Update October 2012: The 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report shows weak, but consistent economies of scale in wind power projects. It seems obvious: every extra turbine in a wind farm comes at a lower incremental cost, making the biggest wind power projects the most cost effective per kilowatt of capacity. If you bet $20 on… Continue reading

Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 1 Comment | Updated on Aug 18, 2011

U.S. Could Get 20% of Its Power from Solar on Transmission Line Right-of-Way

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/us-could-get-20-its-power-solar-transmission-line-right-way/

Ontario Hydro transmission line forest cutUpdate 8/23/11: While solar can be built right under high voltage transmission lines, it can’t necessarily interconnect right at the tower.  Thus, this piece should be read as an analysis of land use rather than easy interconnection.

What if the U.S. could get 20 percent of its power from solar, near transmission lines, and without covering virgin desert?

It can.  Transmission right-of-way corridors, vast swaths of vegetation-free landscape to protect high-voltage power lines, could provide enough space for over 600,000 megawatts of solar PV.  These arrays could provide enough electricity to meet 20% of the country’s electric needs.

It starts with the federal Government Accountability Office, which estimates there are 155,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the United States (defined as lines 230 kilovolts and higher).  According to at least two major utilities (Duke Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority), such power lines require a minimum of 150 feet of right-of-way, land generally cleared of all significant vegetation that might come in contact with the power lines.

That’s 4,400 square miles of already developed (or denuded) land for solar power, right under existing grid infrastructure. 

Of course, the power lines themselves cause some shading, as may nearby trees (although the New York Public Service Commission, and likely other PSCs, has height limits on nearby trees that would minimize shading on the actual right-of-way).  To be conservative, we’ll assume that half of transmission line right-of-way is unsuitable for solar. 

That leaves 2,200 square miles of available land for solar.  With approximately 275 megawatts (MW) able to be installed per square mile, over 600,000 MW of solar could occupy the available right-of-way, providing enough electricity (over 720 billion kilowatt-hours) to supply 20 percent of U.S. power demands (note: we used the average annual solar insolation in Cincinnati as a proxy for the U.S. as a whole).

Making big strides toward a renewable energy future doesn’t require massive, remote solar projects, but can use existing infrastructure or land to generate significant portions of our electricity demand.  Transmission right-of-way, providing 20% of U.S. electricity from solar, is just one piece of the puzzle, with another 20% possible using existing rooftops and a solar potential of nearly 100% from solar on highway right-of-way.  Solar can help achieve a 100% clean – and local – energy future.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Aug 17, 2011

Challenges Ahead: Brown’s 12,000 MW Local Renewables Target

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/challenges-ahead-browns-12000-mw-local-renewables-target/

Commentary by Al Weinrub, August 10, 2011

jerryBrown_3477Jerry Brown led off his conference of 250 high level renewable energy stakeholders July 25-26, 2011 by calling for a “more secure, more sustainable, more American” energy system. The conference was organized to help chart the path to 12,000 MW of local renewable power by 2020, as called for by the Governor.

Key to achieving the 12,000 megawatts will be overcoming significant obstacles, among them being bureaucratic approval and permitting barriers, grid integration and interconnect difficulties, and finding appropriate amounts of investment capital. And, of course, building political consensus.

The conference started off with a bang as the governor, referring to some of these obstacles, blatantly asserted that “some kind of opposition you have to crush.”

With that auspicious beginning, and after the Governor and press cameras had departed, two intensive days of deliberation began. The by-invitation-only participants consisted of about 50% renewable industry representatives and consultants, 25% government personnel (the governor’s staff, energy agency commissioners and staff, a few legislators, and county and regional agency representatives), and the remainder representing  investor-owned and municipal utilities, a few unions, financial institutions, environmentalists, and a smattering of decentralized/distributed generation advocates.

There seemed to be a great deal of consensus at the conference about the need to streamline renewable energy project approvals across the plethora of government agencies that are often involved, and also about the need for utilities to be more forthcoming about technical data required by project developers. There was much less consensus, however, about what kind of projects would be developed, where, and by whom.

In fact, the main contention at the conference was between those who emphasized least cost of energy as the main criteria for decentralized generation projects and those who stressed other values, such as local economic development, jobs, equity, community health, and the like. The conflict was framed in many ways, but emerged most directly between those parties who advocated for large projects (5 – 20 MW) through a renewable auction mechanism (RAM and those who advocated for community-scale projects (0 -5 MW) promoted through a feed-in tariff mechanism.

Not surprisingly, the utilities and big developers like Recurrent Energy were pushing the least-cost criteria, calling for the 12,000 MW to be developed as larger 10 -20 MW ground-mounted solar PV projects close to transmission substations and selected through a RAM program. Surprisingly, they were joined by The Utility Reform Network (TURN), which argued that this approach would result in the least cost of energy and hence best protection of ratepayers.

The other side included the Los Angeles Business Council, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Clean Coalition, the Local Clean Energy Alliance, Solar Done Right, and other long-time decentralized generation advocates who called for the 12,000 MW to be developed as smaller-scale projects in urbanized areas where economic recovery, jobs, equity, and health are key goals. These parties argued for a comprehensive feed-in tariff program that would promote this type of local renewable development. They also argued against the prevailing assumption that larger scale projects are less expensive, pointing not only to rapidly declining prices for solar PV installations, but to a fuller set of socio-economic costs and benefits, which the big players conveniently ignored.

Amidst the palpable jubilation of the renewable energy industry over Brown’s commitment to local renewable energy, the Governor’s conference revealed emerging battle lines over how that 12,000 MW target will be deployed. Will California’s “local” renewable energy projects primarily represent the interests of the big industry players or the interests of local communities?

This is a question for which the stakes are high; whether California will go down the old road (simply calling it something new) or whether it will take a qualitatively different approach. If the representation of invitees at this conference is indicative of the Governor’s leanings, there is reason for concern, if not alarm. Despite Brown’s campaign platform of more democracy and more local control, there was very little community present at this conference.

A political battle over who will benefit from decentralized/distributed generation of renewable energy is shaping up. This is a battle for which our communities will need to mobilize if we are not to be first marginalized and then regarded as an opposition to be crushed.

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