Energy & Technology
A number of analysts have raised concerns that the proposed Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing power plant carbon emissions, could threaten the reliability of electric power. But a closer look at the U.S. power system and the safeguards in place suggests that these reliability issues are manageable. The greater threat to reliability, in fact, is the rising incidence of extreme weather driven by climate change.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which is overseen by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and government authorities in Canada, is responsible for keeping our power system reliable. NERC develops reliability standards and assesses the power system to anticipate and minimize the risk of disruption. It was established after a 1965 multi-hour Northeast blackout. Since then, the U.S. population has increased by 65 percent and power generation is more than 3.5 times greater with only one comparable blackout, in 2003.
Last fall, NERC issued an initial report identifying reliability issues under the Clean Power Plan that required further investigation. NERC and other analysts have questioned whether our natural gas system can handle more demand if more power plants switch from coal to natural gas. NERC also questioned how the power system will respond to less 24/7 baseload coal generation and more intermittent renewable generation.
Since the NERC report was issued, the Department of Energy, The Analysis Group and the Brattle Group have offered analyses that suggest power plant emissions can be reduced under the Clean Power Plan without compromising system reliability.
“Oh the weather outside is frightful.” That line from the classic song “Let it Snow” usually heard this time of year is a reminder winter is upon us, bringing hot chocolate, holidays – oh, and higher energy bills.
But we can all sing a happy tune about saving energy and money, and reducing our impact on the climate, if we’re a little smarter about how we stay toasty in our homes this winter.
Most homeowners’ largest energy expense comes from space heating, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of a typical household’s annual utility bill (and 40 percent of home energy use).
As for environmental impact, the energy used in residential buildings -- for space heating and cooling, water heating, appliances, electronics and lighting -- is responsible for more than one-fifth of total U.S. energy-related carbon emissions.
Space heating accounts for almost 30 percent of a typical home’s energy bill. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The climate targets announced this month by the United States and China will require a significant effort beyond a business-as-usual scenario for both countries. More details will likely follow in the weeks and months ahead, but here is what we know so far for each country.
China announced a goal for its greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030 or sooner. This marks the first time that China has pledged a peak or absolute target for greenhouse gas emissions, rather than an intensity-based target. In business-as-usual scenarios, China’s emissions wouldn’t peak until 2040 or later.
China also announced it would boost its share of zero-carbon energy, which includes nuclear, hydropower and renewables, to 20 percent – up from about 13 percent today. Meeting that goal will require a substantial build-out of nuclear power stations, hydroelectric stations, wind turbines, and solar panels, as well as transmission and other infrastructure. In a separate announcement, China said it plans to cap its coal consumption by the year 2020.
China can’t, as critics claim, sit idly by for 15 years and reach these targets. It will need to significantly restructure its energy system. China will have to add more than 1 GW of zero-carbon power a week for the next 15 years – an amount roughly equal to the entire installed electricity capacity of the United States.
Image courtesy youngthousands, Flickr.
On a dark winter night, twinkling holiday lights lift our spirits. Over the centuries we have gone from decorating trees with candles (not the best idea) to using electric-powered lights, which were first draped around a tree in 1882 by an inventor who worked for Thomas Edison.
Today, thanks to three Japanese scientists who recently won the Nobel Prize for their development of a blue light-emitting diode (LED), we can move beyond Edison and choose an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly light source, the LED bulb. Although they’ve been on the market for some time, LED lights are now coming down in price, making them an even more attractive option for everyday and holiday lighting.
When decorating this season, keep in mind these three reasons why LEDs are a better way to brighten your holidays.
- LEDs are a better choice for your pocketbook. With continued advances in LED technology (especially around heat regulation) by producers like GE and CREE, the cost of home LED bulbs is now nearing the price of compact fluorescent lights. Since lighting is responsible for 14 percent of a home’s electricity use, more efficient bulbs can reduce home energy bills. If you’re wondering how much you could save by making the switch, check out the CREE LED calculator. When it comes to holiday decorating, LEDs will lead to significant savings over the years. For example, lighting the tree with incandescent lights will cost you around $122 over 10 seasons (including replacement strands), compared to just $33 for a tree adorned with LED lights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if all decorative strands purchased this year were ENERGY STAR rated, Americans would save $45 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 630 million pounds annually.
My ride for the weekend: BMW’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle.
Washington, D.C., is well-situated for day trips with mountains, forests, beach and bay all a short drive away. On a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to tool around in style. BMW lent me their new electric car – the i3 – and asked that I race it around the DC metro region. (Or perhaps that’s just how I heard them.)
The car handles beautifully the way you’d expect a BMW to, and proves there’s no performance tradeoff by going with an electric vehicle (EV). For most drivers, EVs like the i3 can accommodate daily driving needs. The average American only travels 30 miles per day. In particular, EVs are well suited for commuting because a driver can charge at home or the workplace. But day-tripping with an EV can take more planning and I learned firsthand that a robust public charging network is essential if EVs are to make more headway in the marketplace.
At C2ES, we often cite the importance of public charging stations to extend the range of EVs and give drivers confidence that an EV is a practical replacement for their conventional car. To allow EV drivers to travel as they would with a gasoline car, quick charging stations are needed along major roadways. Multiple, slower charging stations (referred to as Level 2) should be at key destinations to provide redundancy in case stations are in use or down for maintenance. Those are some of the conclusions of our new paper assessing the public charging infrastructure in Washington state and the same can be said of Washington, D.C.
For the first time ever, a large-scale, coal-fired power plant is capturing carbon dioxide to keep it from being released into the atmosphere – a milestone for a technology critical to addressing climate change.
Canadian electric utility SaskPower has switched on unit 3 at its Boundary Dam power plant, about 10 miles from the North Dakota border, and will hold an official grand opening Oct. 2. Following a $1.2 billion retrofit, the 46-year-old, 110-megawatt coal unit is now on course toward capturing 90 percent of its carbon emissions. Other upgrades reduce nitrous oxide emissions and capture 100 percent of the unit’s sulfur dioxide emissions.
Numerous commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology projects have been deployed in the industrial sector. In the power sector, demonstration-scale projects have been deployed, but this is the first commercial-scale project.
We will need to construct hundreds of such projects (along with other zero- and lower-emitting technologies) if greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced to levels that avoid the worst effects of climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 440 terawatt-hours (TWh) of CCS must be generated between 2020 and 2035 to give us a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. To get a sense of that scale, SaskPower’s unit 3 can produce up to 1 TWh of electricity per year.
The Boundary Dam project is important not just because it’s the first of its kind, but because it demonstrates a way to help make carbon capture technology economically viable -- by turning unwanted pollutants into valuable commodities. SaskPower has agreed to transport and sell its captured carbon dioxide (CO2) to an oilfield operated by Cenovus for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations. The captured CO2 helps coax additional production from declining oil fields and results in the permanent storage of the CO2 underground. (In addition, captured sulfur dioxide emissions will be used to produce 50 tons per day of sulfuric acid for industrial customers, and SaskPower will sell the plant’s coal combustion residuals, also known as coal ash, for use in construction products like drywall and concrete.)
Sep 29, 2014
Nick Nigro and Dan Welch of C2ES will report in the state of the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market.
Moderated by Linda Bluestein, National Clean Cities Co-Director.
This webinar is open to the general public, and no pre-registration is required. To join the webinar:
- Audio: Dial 888-807-9760 and enter passcode 2225108.
- Web: Log in to MyMeetings with conference number PW8745637 and passcode 2225108. You also may join the webinar directly.
Visit the Clean Cities webinars page for more details:
One way to reduce power plant carbon emissions is to reduce the demand for electricity. Encouraging customer energy efficiency is one of the building blocks underpinning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. But the plan does not distinguish among uses of electricity. That means, without further options, the Clean Power Plan could inadvertently discourage states from deploying electric vehicles (EVs), electric mass transit, and other technologies that use electricity instead of a dirtier fuel.
In all but very coal-heavy regions, using electricity as a transportation fuel, especially in mass transit applications, results in the emission of far less carbon dioxide than burning gasoline. In industry, carbon emissions can be cut by using electric conveyance systems instead of diesel- or propane-fueled forklifts and electric arc furnaces instead of coal boilers.
Under the proposed power plant rules, new uses of electricity would be discouraged regardless of whether a state pursues a rate-based target (pounds of emissions per unit of electricity produced) or a mass-based target (tons of emissions per year).
EPA has a few options to make sure regulations for power plants would not discourage uses of electricity that result in less carbon emissions overall.
C2ES and its partners have published papers and created tools for the AFV Finance Initiative. The initiative consists of two projects:
- Unlocking Private Sector Financing for Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Fueling Infrastructure
C2ES, in partnership with National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program, began a two-year project in early 2013 to develop innovative finance strategies aimed at accelerating the deployment of AFVs and fueling infrastructure.
When combined with other policies and incentives, publicly-supported financing programs, such as those offered through Clean Energy Banks (CEBs), could significantly accelerate deployment of EV charging infrastructure and facilitate EV market development. Read our report that details the range of financial tools available to CEBs and examines these tools’ potential to reduce barriers to EV infrastructure investment. The report also explores how lessons learned from existing CEBs and other relevant organizations could be applied to the EV charging market.
Innovative service contracts that incorporate features of the Energy Service Company (ESCO) business model could help reduce the barriers to vehicle fleet investment in natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and fueling infrastructure. Read our report that explains how ESCOs reduce barriers faced by energy efficiency and cost savings projects, demonstrates how some of the features of ESCOs are being employed in cutting-edge NGV fleet projects, and explores how these features could be incorporated into innovative business models.
Read our white paper that examines how private financing can address the barriers to demand facing electric, natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cell AFVs and their related fueling infrastructure. Starting with a review of the state of the market, it covers significant barriers to market demand and barriers for private investors and concludes with a review of innovative finance options used in other sectors that could be applied to the AFV market.
The Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee selected C2ES to develop new business models that will foster private sector commercialization of public EV charging services.
|In May 2014, the Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee commissioned a study to develop new business models that will foster private sector commercialization of publicly available EV charging services and expand the role of private sector investment in EV charging throughout the state.|
The results of this new study demonstrate that, with continued public support and EV market growth in the near term, it is reasonable to expect the private sector to be able to be the predominant source of funding for publicly available commercial charging stations within approximately five years.
The EV Charging Financial Analysis Tool was developed by C2ES and the Cadmus Group to evaluate the financial viability of EV charging infrastructure investments involving multiple private and public sector partners.
Download the EV Charging Financial Analysis Tool to assess the financial viability of EV charging projects.
The Washington State Legislature was interested in exploring government’s role in fostering new business models that will expand the private sector commercialization of EV charging services. This paper provides an assessment of the existing EV publicly available charging network in Washington.
The Alternative Fuel Vehicle Finance (AFV) Initiative brings together key public and private stakeholders to use innovative finance mechanisms to help accelerate the deployment of AFVs and fueling infrastructure. C2ES is working with states around the country to develop new strategies that will improve the business case for AFVs by leveraging small pubic investments or with new business arrangements.
Decreasing the transportation sector’s reliance on petroleum offers important economic, security, and environmental benefits for the United States. The nation’s dependence on foreign oil comes at a high price. In 2012, the U.S. transportation sector consumed 73 percent of the country’s petroleum supplies. Dependence on oil in transportation exposes the United States to price shocks largely beyond its control, since oil is a globally priced commodity. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimate that the total economic loss associated with oil dependence in the United States was $2.1 trillion from 2005 to 2010. These economic losses are due to oil price shocks and oil market influence by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). From an environmental perspective, motor vehicles are also responsible for half of smog-forming air pollutants, about 75 percent of carbon monoxide emissions, and more than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Most AFVs do not rely on petroleum, are more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts, and have lower or no tailpipe emissions. However, several barriers stand in the way of AFV and infrastructure deployment: market volatility, technological uncertainty, information failures, and regulatory hurdles and uncertainty. These barriers affect each fuel type differently. Recent large investments by the federal government in AFVs and other clean technologies will be winding down in the coming years. New private financing mechanisms are needed to fund these vehicles and associated infrastructure to enable wide-scale adoption.
C2ES is working with states to identify new ways to mobilize this private capital. The Initiative currently consists of two projects defined below.
C2ES, in partnership with National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program, began a two-year project in early 2013 to develop new financial tools aimed at accelerating the deployment of AFVs and fueling infrastructure. C2ES has assembled an advisory group of experts on AFVs, infrastructure, and finance from the public and private sectors to help guide its work. The project aims to:
- Identify barriers that hinder private sector investment;
- Develop and evaluate innovative financing concepts for vehicle purchase and fueling infrastructure in order to make AFVs more accessible to consumers and fleet operators; and
- Stimulate private-sector investment in AFVs and the associated infrastructure deployment, building upon and complementing previous public sector investments.
C2ES is researching financial barriers, preparing case studies, and developing strategies that states can consider trying at the project’s conclusion:
The project specifically emphasizes two fuels that offer significant opportunities for growth—electricity and natural gas. Biofuels are not considered because many government and private sector stakeholders are already facilitating the deployment of biofuel-powered vehicles. Vehicles powered by hydrogen are included, but they are not a major focus because hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are not yet widely available.
Click here to view publications for this project.
In May 2014, the Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee selected C2ES to develop new business models that will foster private sector commercialization of public EV charging services. First, C2ES assessed the state of EV charging in Washington and created useful products for the state to perform similar assessments as the market evolves. Second, drawing from its experience with the AFV Finance Initiative and similar activities, C2ES identified and evaluated business models for EV charging in the state. Finally, C2ES recommended ways the public sector can support those business models to maximize private sector investment in EV charging.
Click here to view publications for this project.