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12.27.2018

Every year, we produce nearly 100 podcast episodes of The Energy Gang and The Interchange in order to help you understand the changing business of energy.  That's a lot of content to process. So this week, we're sifting through all our coverage and bringing you the most important trends we covered over the last 12 months. On The Interchange, we cover the following topics: The story that didn’t warrant the attention it got.  The story that should have gotten more attention than it did. The energy tech/sector/personality that had the biggest breakthrough of the year The energy tech/sector/personality that had the biggest setback of the year A notable trend that you wish you had predicted. The "most 2018" story of the year. In other words, a story that embodies the zeitgeist. The Interchange is sponsored by Sungrow. Sungrow is the leading pure-play solar inverter supplier with a range of solutions for both solar and storage applications. Find out more about how Sungrow is investing in U.S. solar. And then, go around the horn with our assessment of 2018 on The Energy Gang. First, we’ll discuss the top trends of the year. Then, a roundup of the best energy journalism of 2018. And finally, some predictions for 2019 — with a twist. Here are some links to our top journalism choices: “The Coal Bailout Nobody Is Talking About” by Joseph Daniel “Drilled” podcast by Amy Westervelt An interview with Ken Ward, Jr. about his MacArthur "genius" grant for investigative reporting on the coal industry. And Stephen’s other picks for top podcasts of the year. The Energy Gang is brought to you by GE's Reservoir, a modular lithium-ion energy storage system that can slash construction costs by 50 percent. Find out more about what Reservoir can do for your electric grid, solar plant, wind farm, microgrid or thermal power plant. Make sure to subscribe to our shows anywhere you download your podcasts.

12.27.2018

Siemens Gamesa is aiming to cut the cost of offshore wind foundations by up to 30 percent as part of a project unveiled this month.  The turbine maker said it is working with Aalborg University of Copenhagen, Denmark on a five-year offshore wind cost-reduction project called Integrated Implementation of Industrial Innovations for Offshore Wind Cost Reduction, or i4Offshore, which is being funded by the European Union to the tune of €20 million (USD $23 million).  The centerpiece of the project will be the development of a 1,000-ton gravity jacket foundation design that Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has already tested in Danish waters. The concept will feature a concrete transition piece and will sit on lightweight suction buckets, which could minimize the submarine noise of turbine installations by doing away with the need for monopile hammering. A further benefit could come in decommissioning, said Jesper Moeller, project lead and senior specialist in offshore technologies at Siemens Gamesa’s offshore business unit in a press release. “Once the wind turbine has exhausted its many years of operational life, the suction buckets, jacket foundation and transition piece can be decommissioned and removed relatively easily,” he said. “The materials, including steel, concrete and cables, can be reused in a highly resource-efficient manner.” Siemens Gamesa executives believe the design stands a good chance of beating the cost of monopile foundations, which are used for around four out of five offshore wind turbines today. The company is targeting a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction on the 2015 cost of monopiles. The jacket design could potentially work better than monopiles with larger turbines and deeper waters, both of which are trends in the offshore wind industry. It could also be easier to make the jackets in emerging markets where there is currently no monopile manufacturing supply chain to support the offshore wind industry. In the U.S., Deepwater Wind’s pioneering Block Island offshore project used jacket foundations made by Louisiana-based Gulf Island Fabrication as an alternative to bringing monopiles all the way from Europe. Asian offshore markets could also be served with jackets.  While the primary focus of the i4Offshore work will be to develop a competitor to monopiles, Siemens Gamesa is also hoping to get monopile makers excited about coming up with better, cheaper designs. Foundations can account for between around 15 percent and 20 percent of the capital cost of an offshore wind project, so any reduction would have a big impact on the industry. Apart from foundations, the collaboration with Aalborg University will also be targeting other areas of potential cost reduction. One that offers short-term promise is to use plastic sheaths for onshore cables, as opposed to having complex steel reinforced cables as is currently the case. Siemens Gamesa has already tested the concept with a single-core cable as part of a Danish demonstration project and will be looking to extend the technique to multi-core cables within i4Offshore.  The company believes the work could deliver a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction on typical 2017 cable costs.  However, the overall impact on project costs would be lower than a new foundation design because the electrical infrastructure of a wind farm accounts for less of the total cost, about 10 percent to 15 percent.  Siemens Gamesa picked Aalborg University for the i4Offshore project because of the university’s track record in working with suction bucket foundations.  More than a dozen other organizations are also involved in the project, including the cable maker NKT, the jacket assembly specialist Bladt, the installation firm Fred Olsen, and Bureau Veritas, the certification company. Siemens Gamesa is due to start talking to customers in the new year about possible North Sea locations for a test site.  Rob Bates, an offshore wind risk specialist underwriter at the insurance company GCube, said: “With the growth of the sector, reducing levels of risk from cable lay and foundation failure will be key to ensuring stable energy production and a lower levelized cost of energy. “While, typically, industry experience results in lowered levels of risk as challenges are identified and overcome, R&D projects such as Siemens' i4Offshore project have the chance to accelerate this process, pooling knowledge of how best to mitigate risk.”

12.27.2018

In 2002, when solar was $9 a watt, I co-founded an advocacy organization to bring solar into the mainstream. Solar’s made a lot of progress since then, and 2018 feels like a crucial year in many ways, with some key successes and pivotal developments. Here’s my list of the most important stories in solar in 2018, and predictions for 2019. 1. 100% is the new black Hawaii did it first, but California’s SB 100, committing the world’s fifth-largest economy to 60 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free by 2045, is the biggest and most important climate action taken to date in the U.S. It’s big because California is big, and important because it sets the bar higher for what’s possible. Since then, Xcel Energy, a major utility serving 3.3 million customers, announced its own decision to go 100 percent carbon-free by 2050, New York Governor Cuomo pledged to work with lawmakers to pass 100 percent carbon-free legislation in 2019, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is backing a target of 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Washington, D.C. (the city, not the federal government) also just passed its own bill to go 100 percent carbon-free, topping the list of 101 cities that have already committed to that goal.   2. There are votes in solar  While politicians have long given a nod to pro-renewables sentiment, in 2018 this phenomenon reached a new level of precision and power. The League of Conservation Voters counted 1,400 candidates on the November ballot that committed to a 100 percent clean energy platform, including eight winning governors. That’s amazing and is already having an impact. Xcel, which voluntarily committed to 100 percent clean energy in December, operates in eight states. Five of those states have new governors signed onto 100 percent clean energy. Elections matter. 3. Old coal and new nukes did not have a good year  Coal usage has fallen to its lowest since 1979, retiring about 14 gigawatts this year. And what happened in South Carolina drove another nail in the coffin of the nuclear industry’s future prospects. For those who didn’t follow the Post and Courier’s excellent coverage of the demise of the VC Summer nuclear plant: After the $9 billion project was abandoned while only 40 percent finished, and ratepayers were paying $27/month for a boondoggle that may never produce a single kilowatt-hour of electricity, the South Carolina House voted 107-1 to fire the regulators who approved construction-work-in-progress payments, and the regulators, in turn, threatened to claw back money from utilities. I can’t think of a commission in the country where there are three votes to sign up for that ride. To have a future going forward, nukes will have to get radically cheaper and try a business model that isn’t political suicide for policymakers. And it’s not just me who thinks so. An executive of Exelon, the largest owner of nuclear assets in the U.S., said he doesn’t think new nuclear, including small modular reactors, will be built in the U.S. due to high costs and performance of renewables and storage. This is definitely a turning point and reinforces my belief that the future of carbon-free energy is renewables. 4. Peak peaker? Solar-plus-storage is emerging as a gas killer. Lithium-ion battery prices have improved 85 percent in the past eight years, per Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Over the past several years utilities have signed solar-plus-storage deals at increasingly competitive terms. What’s new and different this year is that solar-plus-storage bids are winning all-source RFPs (such as this 50-megawatt battery deal with Arizona Public Service) — and the trust of regulators to rely on these clean solutions as replacements for gas peakers. Calpine tried to make an end-run around the California Public Utilities Commission to get reliability-must-run status for some of its peakers. The CPUC was not amused, and now we have approval for the world’s largest batteries replacing three gas plants. Notably, both NextEra CEO Jim Robo and AES CEO Andres Gluski have said they don't expect to build a peaker past 2020. Why not start the stopping now and save us the future stranded assets? 5. New dawn for new utility regulatory and business models  Distributed energy resources have the potential to more efficiently deliver services and reduce costs for everyone. But as long as regulated utilities’ revenues are linked to deploying more capital, there’s a structural barrier to success that needs to be addressed. The growth of community-choice aggregation in California is one model for more local control. Hawaii, which just passed a crucially important law introducing performance-based regulation to the state, offers another model. The premise is to pay for — and therefore incentivize — results, not capital deployment. Rhode Island and Vermont have initiated exploratory dockets, but having an actual example of how this can work in Hawaii will be enormously helpful for replication. 6. Solar on new home construction The California Energy Commission has a mandate to include cost-effective energy saving measures in building codes. Their last revision to Title 24, which underwent years of public input and scrutiny, found that requiring solar as a part of new housing construction is a clear net economic benefit to owners. Starting in 2020, new homes built in California will come with solar. Because installations on new construction are cheaper than retrofits, our calculations show that energy savings will exceed marginal increases in mortgage payments upwards of $60 a month for an average home. Scaling this nationally would add 203 gigawatts of solar and cut CO2 emissions by 9 percent by 2045, and polls well with 63 percent support. Time to start building like we plan to stay on this planet for a while. Predictions for 2019 Here's what I see happening over the next year to accelerate these trends. 1. Multiple new states will pass major new renewable portfolio stan​dards Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada and New York top the list, with many more contenders in play. Other states will lift major new renewable goals through integrated resource plans or equivalents. 2. The Green New Deal resets t​he conversation Kudos to the new generation of activists who have really forced the climate crisis on the next Congress’ agenda and are doing a masterful job framing the conversation around the benefits to people’s lives, not wonky acronyms or clunky policy pathways (as the saying goes, there are only two problems with carbon tax messaging: carbon and tax). At the same time, let’s be clear: This is welcome mojo, but the states are where the deal will actually get done. 3. Federal government headwinds  The Trump administration’s 30 percent tariffs on solar panels resulted in the cancellation of about $8 billion in solar projects in 2018, eliminating about 9,000 jobs. And while efforts at both the DOE and FERC to blow up competitive energy markets and provide billions in subsidies to out-of-market coal and nukes on unsupported reliability grounds haven’t yet come to fruition, the new FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s history of radical antipathy toward renewables is really concerning. The fight over whether the U.S. energy markets will go full oligarchy will heat up in 2019. 4. Building electr​ification  The real savings come from not having to build fossil infrastructure in the first place, and the push to electrify everything will boost renewable generation further. With solar on the roof, induction cooking and heat pumps, we’re going to see new communities increasingly pass on gas.   5. Footholds for equity and a​ccess California’s 100 percent clean law would not have happened without the leadership of environmental justice activists, full stop. Energy justice and community-based organizations all across the country are on the frontline of the fight to make the clean energy economy work for everyone. This year, the NAACP partnered with justice, industry and advocacy organizations (including Vote Solar) for the Solar Equity Initiative to bring jobs and bill savings where they’re need most. Groups like GRID Alternatives, Power52 and others have done great work expanding job training and opportunities to disadvantaged communities. Policymakers from New Jersey to Illinois to California are increasing focused on developing programs that ensure equity and access in energy. The industry is catching on to that leadership: SEIA has made a commitment to diversity in the solar industry, and The Solar Foundation is now publishing important benchmarking studies to track its progress. This country has a long way to go, but I’m excited about the possibilities and believe 2019 will be a pivotal year in this transformation. 6. Heartland he​ats up  NIPSCO, a municipal utility in Indiana, made headlines when it announced that after crunching the numbers, shutting down all its coal plants and replacing them with largely renewables would save ratepayers $4 billion over 20 years. Math combined with a real consideration of ratepayer interests can be a powerful thing. There’s been a lot of groundwork and progress in the region — the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act; PURPA progress and Consumers Energy's integrated resource plan with plans for 6 gigawatts of solar in Michigan; and Minnesota’s renewable portfolio standard and community solar program. With a bevy of new governors committed to renewable progress, I predict it will be one of the hottest regions for new solar growth. That’s my take on the highlights — your mileage may vary. What’s indisputable is that it’s an exciting time to be alive as we aim to transform one of the largest and most politically entrenched industries. Best to you all in the new year, and may solar shine in 2019. *** Adam Browning is the executive director of Vote Solar.

12.27.2018

Editor’s note: This guest posting is adapted from an article ... The post Fight Greenhouse Gas Emissions While Feeding Hungry Families appeared first on Earth911.com.

12.26.2018

In keeping with GTM holiday tradition, here's the latest list of profitable publicly held fuel cell firms: 1. 2. 3.  The biggest news in the 2018 fuel cell world was the reinstatement of the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit for fuel cells. That, and the long-promised IPO of VC-funded Bloom Energy, which now boasts the largest market cap and revenues of any fuel cell firm, by far.  But wait. Hold the presses. Germany’s SFC Energy, a maker of portable direct methanol fuel cells, could make history as the inaugural member of our list with just a bit of profit in this year’s final quarter. Stay tuned. Before we celebrate, take a look at the financial results of the public fuel cell firms over the last few years. In most cases and with the possible exception of Bloom, it’s the usual grim story with year-over-year revenue and losses headed in the wrong direction. In addition to a lack of profit, a recurring theme in the stock performance of these public fuel-cell firms is an initial burst of buoyancy and hype followed by a dreary slog into life as a small-cap company. A brief fuel cell tech rundown Fuel cells electrochemically convert hydrogen and oxygen into DC electricity. Fuel cells employ an assortment of electrolytes, catalysts and temperatures. But in almost all cases, the membranes are expensive to fabricate, and the technologies require precious metal catalysts (typically platinum or palladium) or high process temperatures. Input fuels range from natural gas to methanol to hydrogen. There are ongoing R&D and DOE efforts to reduce the need for expensive metals and to improve the reliability and lifetime of the fuel cell stack. Common technologies include proton exchange membrane (PEM), solid oxide (SOFC), phosphoric acid (PAFC) and molten carbonate (MCFC). There are a number of other technologies, all adept at destroying investor capital. GE, GM, Hyundai, Honda, Johnson Matthey, Panasonic, Siemens, Samsung, LG, Sharp, Toshiba and Toyota have all invested in and, in many cases, abandoned fuel cell technology. Bloom Energy, Doosan and FuelCell Energy build large stationary fuel cells, using SOFC, PAFC and MCFC technologies, respectively. Plug Power, on the other hand, targets its PEM fuel cell system at powering forklifts and other vehicles in the enormous materials handling market. While Bloom's and FuelCell Energy's equipment runs on natural gas, Plug Power's PEM fuels cells run on "five nines" hydrogen and work most productively with a hydrogen infrastructure at the customer site.   State incentives in California and elsewhere have driven large stationary fuel cell installations, while other locales consider fuel cells for microgrids and grid resiliency. Fuel cells are again eligible for the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit, a lifesaver for most firms. Fuel cell shipments globally were about 670 megawatts in 2017, up from 500 megawatts in 2016, and the market is growing — as is the list of Fortune 500 fuel cell customers. In fact, almost 10 percent of Fortune 500 firms use fuel cells for stationary or motive power.  The stationary fuel cell market will grow 18 percent year-over-year to reach more than $2.1 billion by the end of 2019, according to research firm Fact.MR. Technavio pegs the annual growth rate of the fuel cell market at nearly 28 percent through 2023. Market player highs and lows in 2018 Bloom Energy: Bloom Energy finally went public in July of 2018 after a dozen years of suspense and more than $1.2 billion invested. Bloom’s stock soared to double its $15 IPO price but soon fell to earth and is now well below its IPO price in a bleak time for most stocks. Bloom partnered with Key Equipment Finance to help finance more than $100 million in fuel cell projects and with SK Engineering and Construction to expand its sales channel in South Korea. Battery storage was included in 27 of Home Depot's fuel cell projects with Bloom in 2018. Bloom continues to blaze trails in powering data centers and other critical applications for a wide swath of Fortune 500 firms. Bloom has faced significant losses in the past two years — $263 million on revenues of $376 million in 2017, and $280 million on revenues of $209 million in 2016. In the first three quarters of 2018, Bloom reported a net loss of $135 million on revenues of $528 million.   Bloom claims its system emits 756 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour compared to 960 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour for the average natural gas plant and 2,280 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour for a coal plant.   Posco Energy: Korea’s Posco Energy is a fossil fuel independent power producer and a division of steelmaking giant Posco. It claims to be the world’s largest fuel cell manufacturer, with a 50-megawatt annual production capacity and 160 megawatts installed across South Korea. But even a quasi-state-run company with a big factory can’t make a profit in fuel cells: Posco intends to exit from the fuel cell business in the near future, according to various reports, after posting $292 million in accumulated losses since 2007.  Doosan Fuel Cell America builds and markets a 460-kilowatt phosphoric acid fuel cell based on technology acquired from UTC. The Korean firm has a partnership with Wells Fargo Vendor Financial Services to finance its systems. The stationary fuel cell puts out a claimed CO2 (electric only) emission of 998 pounds per megawatt-hour and claims a 10-year stack life. Customers include Cox Communications and Coca-Cola. FuelCell Energy acquired a 14.9-megawatt fuel cell park from Dominion Energy in a $37 million deal with the financial help of the Connecticut Green Bank. It’s part of the firm’s strategy to hold and grow its generation assets and capture more consistent revenues and cash, in this case from a power-purchase agreement with Connecticut Light & Power. Connecticut’s recent clean energy RFP awarded 22 megawatts to FuelCell, along with 20 megawatts for Doosan and 10 megawatts for Bloom.    Despite these and other wins, FuelCell continues to lose money. Its stock price is down to $0.52 per share from $1.86 per share one year ago. Ballard Power announced a strategic collaboration with Weichai Power, a Chinese engine and auto parts conglomerate. Weichai agreed to purchase a 19.9 percent stake in Ballard for $163 million, a 15 percent premium to the stock price. Ballard’s other China partner, Broad-Ocean, agreed to purchase $20 million in shares to maintain its 9.9 percent ownership level — so, as GTM has reported, Ballard is flush with cash. In its 22nd year as a profitless public company, Ballard had a 2018 replete with stagnant growth and mounting losses. Plug Power acquired American Fuel Cell (AFC) in 2018 and is integrating AFC’s thinner metal plate technology into its fuel cells, saving volume in space-constrained applications. Plug opened a second manufacturing facility in upstate New York.  Plug upped its full-year 2018 revenue guidance to between $175 million and $190 million from the previously forecasted revenue range of $155 million to $180 million.  Fuji Electric: Fuji Electric has been selling a 100-kilowatt phosphoric acid fuel cell since 1998.  Germany’s SFC Energy, a contender for the inaugural spot on the profitable fuel cell company list, might eke out some earnings in 2018 on sales of its portable fuel cells for consumer, oil and gas, and industry. SFC added lithium-ion batteries to some of its hybrid generators this year. Europe’s SOLIDpower installed its 1,000 solid oxide fuel cell in 2018, a compact 1.5-kilowatt unit with hot water capabilities for home and office. LG, the world’s largest builder of lithium-ion batteries, just shut down the 70-employee LG Fuel Cell Systems (the former Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems) after gaining  $18 million in government grants and investing hundreds of millions in development. LG has no plans for further development of the technology, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.       How do you assess the health of an industry? How do you assess the health of an industry? Is it whether it's growing? Profitable? Innovating? Winning market share from competing technologies? Driving down costs?  Fuel cells are not faring too well by these parameters.  Wind, solar, efficiency and storage are leading the energy transition away from carbon, but Matthew Klippenstein, Plug In BC EV adviser and fuel cell industry analyst, contends that fuel cells, renewable hydrogen and liquid energy carriers, next-generation nuclear, biofuels and other technologies still have their contributions to make.  Klippenstein suggests that the fuel cell sector’s growth “continues to track, and possibly exceed, the earlier trajectories for solar and wind energy,” and “dismissing hydrogen and fuel cells would be as premature as dismissing solar in the early 2000s, or wind in the mid-1990s.”  But the solar industry took advantage of the maturity of the silicon industry and its Moore’s law-esque scaling. The wind industry has the swept-area law, and lithium-ion has automated 20-gigawatt-hour factories. Is there any equivalent scaling mechanism in fuel cells?  Klippenstein believes that Toyota, Hyundai and others could drive production of hundreds of thousands of stacks for fuel cell EVs in the coming years — and that will serve as the catalyst for scaling this industry to profitable distributed generation from natural gas and hydrogen.  In the meantime, we’ll keep waiting for profits.

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