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Waging America’s Wars Using Renewable Energy PDF Print E-mail

A major player in U.S. renewable energy happens to be a five-sided building in Virginia usually associated with deployment of power rather than consumption of it.

The U.S. Department of Defense is the second-largest buyer of renewable electricity through deals meant to lock in long-term supply and provide incentives to developers of wind and solar projects, according to a database of more than 600 corporate power-purchase agreements (PPA) tracked by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Only Google is a bigger buyer. The revelation provides one of the starkest examples yet of the same clean energy imperatives driving companies, cities, universities, and other federal agencies. 

QuickTake Wind Power Picks Up Speed

First, renewable power has become cheap enough to compete with conventional sources in many places, particularly the Great Plains, where wind farms dot the landscape from Texas to Minnesota. Companies looking for power are commissioning the deals—traditionally with utilities—as a long-term hedge against variable electricity prices. At the Pentagon, the military has committed to acquiring up to 3 gigawatts of renewable capacity before 2025. The Air Force and the Navy lead the armed services in commissioning clean energy projects. 

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, now an assistant secretary for energy, installations, and environment, said economic security is “inextricably” linked with energy and the environment. “You can't consider one without considering effects on the other.”

Second, and even more surprising, is that in locations where renewable energy is competitive but not necessarily cheapest, energy consumers are still pursuing carbon-free power. This is often driven by corporate sustainability or climate pollution goals. There's a calculus at work for each entity, between changing prices and changing institutional missions. 

The Pentagon is finding that clean power is often just better, without even considering the climate benefits. It helps the military execute its mission in big and small ways, like something as simple as lightening the load soldiers carry onto the battlefield. Not surprisingly, Congress, the White House, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all encouraged the military to clean up its energy sourcing.

Here’s the big picture:


1. Everything is changing

By inking these deals, big institutions are fueling a revolution in the energy sector. This chart shows how the sources of U.S. electricity have changed since 2000. The light-blue and yellow wedges that open up toward the top right of the chart show the rise of wind- and solar-generated electricity.

SOURCE: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Some of the organizations buying clean power are doing so despite the fat-and-widening brown band above, which shows the expansion of gas resources from the shale boom. Most of the overall wind and solar capacity has been ordered up by utilities, and the deals struck by big brands, big agencies, and big schools make up barely 10 percent of the total installed wind and solar capacity. But many of these green energy users spend a lot of money on marketing and communications and aren't shy about touting their progressive stance on climate friendly solutions.

BNEF projects that the renewable and natural gas booms should lead the U.S. to meet President Barack Obama's 2030 climate emissions goal, which seeks to cut power-sector carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels—regardless of whether a court challenge to his Clean Power Plan succeeds.


2. Who’s buying clean power?

To some extent, the usual suspects. The top 20 purchasers of renewable electricity include many of the large technology, consumer goods, and retail companies that are regularly toasted for their electrical hygiene.

Google’s activity amounts to almost 26 percent of the total capacity built by the other 350 institutions in the BNEF database combined. It’s also the leading face of the leading industry. Technology has out-bought manufacturing, retail, and the rest since 2013. The sector purchased 1.78 gigawatts in 2015, which was more than the entire country bought in 2014, some 1.63 GW. 

Activity is expected to slow this year, after a mini-rush propelled by the expiration of a wind production tax credit and the expected lapsing of a solar investment tax credit. However, in December both credits were renewed, so green investments may pick up again.


3. Where is it going?

This map shows where corporate PPAs have resulted in new renewable energy projects.

The Great Plains corridor is lit up with large-scale wind farms. Each mammoth installation can churn out enough electricity on average to power 35,000 homes. California drives much of American solar development, with many projects also finding homes in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

Wind is big in the Midwest, while solar dominates the coasts. Meanwhile, see if you can find the fuel cell plant.

SOURCE: Bloomberg New Energy Finance


4. Doing the “right” thing

"Corporate sustainability" can be described in many ways—as cost-saving, confusing, or public-relations greenwashing. The BNEF data suggest another label might be tossed in: It’s working.

By taking on commitments to reduce or stop pollution, executives are demonstrating that there's more to economic decision-making than short-term pricing. Companies and other institutions are committing resources to green power at a time when conventional electric power—fueled by abundant natural gas—has reduced prices to near-historic lows. Reasonable people can disagree over which revolution has been more dramatic, the clean energy one or the shale gas one. But going by the numbers alone, gas has made conventional power very cheap.

The surprising thing is that many companies—always with an eye on the numbers—aren't going by short-term numbers alone. Challenged by a climate change skeptic at a March 2014 shareholder meeting, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook shut down the criticism, saying, “If you want me to do things only for [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock.” Even Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s sustainability program has put the Bentonville, Ark.-based company on the map of American renewables.

"Every corporation has a different reason for doing PPAs, with sustainability, corporate values, and the price hedge and stabilizing effect on costs all being part of it," said Neha Palmer, Google's head of energy strategy, global infrastructure. "It's clear we are not the only ones finding value in doing these types of activities."

 

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Several companies in the U.S. database have committed to meeting scientifically determinedclimate goals. Mars Inc. (ranked 13), Procter & Gamble Co. (15), Owens Corning (16), and L’Oréal SA (175). Many actively buy PPAs around the world. In December, Google bought 781 megawatts of wind and solar power in the U.S., Chile, and Sweden, the same week Microsoft Corp. secured 175 MW of wind power to run an Illinois data center.

 

“There’s no question: The spark for corporate purchasing of renewables continues to be sustainability goals,” said Jacob Susman at EDF Renewable Energy, who has worked on deals with Yahoo! and Procter & Gamble.

Corporate buyers may make up 50 percent of demand for the next several years, he said, but that may change: “The historically low cost, and still declining, of wind and solar adds fuel to the fire.”

 
Europe Launches €135 Million Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure And Cars Deployment Project PDF Print E-mail
The H2ME initiative welcomes the launch of a second pan-European deployment of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, and passenger and commercial fuel cell electric vehicles

The H2ME initiative welcomes the launch of a second pan-European deployment of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, and passenger and commercial fuel cell electric vehicles

Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME)

Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME)

Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME) announced the second pan-European deployment of hydrogen refueling infrastructure in June –H2ME 2.

The project that brings together 37 partners (interestingly Toyota seems to be absent this time).

The project cost totals €100 million  ($112 million USD) further funded by a €35 million ($39 million USD) grant from the The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU).

The plan for the H2ME 2 is to install additional 20 new hydrogen-refueling stations (HRS) and deploy 1,230 fuel cell vehiclesover six-years.  Apparently €135 million ($152M USD) doesn’t get you a lot in the fuel cell game (or very quickly).

Previous H2ME project from 2015 started with a goal of 29 refueling stations and 300 fuel cell vehicles.

“Today sees the launch of a second pan-European deployment of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, and passenger and commercial fuel cell electric vehicles. The six-year H2ME 2 project brings together 37 partners from across Europe.

It will include the deployment and operation of 1,230 fuel cell vehicles, the addition of 20 extra hydrogen-refuelling stations (HRS) to the European network and will test the ability of electrolyser-HRS to help balance the electrical grid.

The project has been developed under the auspices of the Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME) initiative and supported by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) with funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 programme.   The H2ME 2 project takes its name from Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME), a collaboration between national H2 Mobility initiatives from across Europe which aims to coordinate European activities and helps support the early roll-out of hydrogen vehicles across Europe.

The H2ME 2 project will complement and build on a first FCH JU-funded project developed by H2ME partners, H2ME 1 (www.H2ME.eu), which was announced in September 2015, with plans for 300 fuel cell vehicles and 29 HRS. Together, the H2ME projects will form the largest EU funded project for hydrogen mobility and FCEV deployment.

The €100 million H2ME 2 project, funded with a further €35 million grant from the FCH JU, will significantly expand the European hydrogen vehicles fleet and in so doing, aims to confirm the technical and commercial readiness of vehicles, fuelling stations and hydrogen production techniques. H2ME 2 will produce recommendations and identify any gaps that may prevent full commercialisation, as well as collating results to support future investments.  Together the H2ME 1 and H2ME 2 projects demonstrate the breadth and depth of the commitment to hydrogen-fuelled road transport as a pan-European solution to the need to have viable, competitive, alternatives to fossil fuels.”


 
Norway and South Korea could team to support hydrogen fuel cars PDF Print E-mail

Norway is looking to form a closer relationship with South Korea in order to support hydrogen fuel cars. Norwegian Ambassador Jan Grevstad has called for greater cooperation between the two countries in order to support clean transportation. Grevstad notes that both countries have a great deal of expertise in the energy, maritime, and oil industries and this has created new opportunities for businesses in both countries. Moreover, both South Korea and Norway are focusing more heavily on renewable energy, which will ensure new economic opportunities emerge in the future.

Countries could work together to bolster clean transportation market

Ambassador Grevstad notes that the transportation sector is a prime example of the energy cooperation between Norway and South Korea. The engine technology developed in South Korea can be paired with the hydrogen production and infrastructure technology created in Norway. Through cooperation, Grevstad believes that both countries can promote hydrogen fuel cars among consumers more aggressively. This cooperation is expected to generate more confidence among consumers, ensuring that they purchase clean vehicles in the coming years.

South Korea has a vested interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology

Partnerships - Hydrogen Fuel CarsSouth Korea has been showing strong interest in hydrogen fuel cells. The country is working to develop new fuel cell vehicles in order to become more environmentally friendly. Automaker Hyundai is the first major company in South Korea to develop such a vehicle. Hyundai has found modest success, thus far, but believes that hydrogen fuel cars will become the future of transportation in the near future. Whether or not countries choose to cooperate in the clean transportation space will likely determine if this belief holds true.

Norway considers banning gasoline-powered cars by 2025

Norway recently began considering plans to ban the sale of gasoline cars by 2025. This would cause a major shift in the country’s transportation space, as only clean vehicles would be available to consumers. While plans to ban the sale of traditional cars are not yet set in stone, Norway will have to work with other countries in order to ensure that clean transportation does not fade away.


 
Clean Trucks to be Awarded $50 Million by California Air Regulators PDF Print E-mail

Going green will get a bit easier for freight truck owners and trucking infrastructure operators who can qualify for $50 million in clean truck replacement funding being awarded later this summer in the Southern California air basin.

The funds are in the last round to be paid out under California’s $1 billion Proposition 1B bond fund approved by voters in 2006. This final phase follows $52 million in funding awarded by the South Coast Air Quality Management District just two months ago.

Applicants must be truck owners aiming to replace older, diesel-powered Class 6 through 8 trucks and truck refrigeration units with new, clean natural gas, hybrid or zero emissions battery-electric or fuel-cell electric equipment.

Funding also is available for truck stop electrification, electric truck battery charging and hydrogen fuel-cell fueling stations and zero emission refrigeration unit infrastructure, said Fred Minassian, an assistant deputy administration officer with the South Coast district.

The regulatory agency administers air quality programs throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties – the largest air basin in the state.

Funds available for qualified replacement truck purchases include up to $200,000 each for zero emissions trucks, up to $150,000 each for hybrid trucks with some all-electric (zero emission) travel capability, up to $100,00 each for trucks with new ultra-low-NOx (0.02 grams per mile) natural gas engines, up to $80,000 for trucks with standard hybrid power systems and up to $65,000 apiece for trucks with low NOx (0.2 grams/mile) engines.

Qualified applicants will have until June of 2020 to complete the purchase and replacement process – a timeframe intended to endure that the battery electric and fuel-cell trucks the program is promoting will be commercially available, said Minassian.

Funding applications can be obtained online and must be submitted by August 4.

The South Coast air basin managed by the SCAQMD has received 55 percent of Prop 1B funding since the initial awards were made in 2008, said Minassian.

Air quality management districts in the Bay Area and San Diego-Imperial County regions each received 6 percent of the $1 billion in total funding and the San Joaquin Valley district got 25 percent, he said. Each of those districts is handing the final round award process on its own schedule.

 
Scripps Vessel Proves Viability of Renewable Fuel on 14,400-Mile Voyage PDF Print E-mail
The research vessel Robert Gordon Sproul.The research vessel Robert Gordon Sproul.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel has demonstrated the viability of renewable fuel by traveling 14,400 nautical miles over a 16-month period on renewable diesel.

The R/V Robert Gordon Sproul used a hydrogenation-derived renewable fuel called NEXBTL Renewable Diesel developed by Neste Oil in Finland. The experiment began in September 2014 and ran through December 2015, during which time the vessel used a total of 52,500 gallons.

“Part of the Scripps mission is to protect the environment, and one of the most significant changes that we could make in our ship operations involved moving toward the use of cleaner, renewable fuels,” said Scripps Associate Director Bruce Appelgate. “As scientists, we know we need to develop sustainable means of powering our ships to address pollution concerns as well as to mitigate future increases in fossil fuel costs.”

Renewable biofuel is nearly carbon-neutral and produces cleaner emissions, thus decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality relative to fuels derived from petroleum.

“We were able to show that our existing ship ran as well if not better on biofuel,” said Scripps atmospheric scientist Lynn Russell. “The hope is that the price of biofuel will come down as the manufacturing process gets better understood, and as people test it and start adopting it. Now that there’s proof of concept, it should be easy to keep doing it.”

The University of California, of which Scripps is a part, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025.

 
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