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Tag Archives: USA

US green energy: store, curtail – or export?

by Dave Elliott

The US is pressing ahead with renewables, with around 60GW of wind and 10GW of PV solar already in place.  But that means some system operation issues are coming to the fore.  Since these sources vary, as does demand, when there is surplus output from wind of PV, should it be stored or just dumped?

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Energy in the USA

By Dave Elliott

The boom in shale gas extraction may dominate the news headlines, but renewable energy is also moving head rapidly in the USA. It currently supplies about 15% of US electricity, if off-grid use is included, and the potential for expansion is very large. A new report from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), ‘The Renewable Electricity Futures Study’ (RE Futures), found that the US renewable resource base was sufficient to support 80% renewable electricity generation by 2050, even in a higher demand growth scenario. It also looks at a 90% option, with 700GW of wind and solar PV.

To accommodate this large variable supply input, there would have to be major upgrades to the grid and up to 100GW of balancing back up/ load shifting/storage. But NREL’s hourly modeling found that, with this backup in place, demand could always be met, even at peak times, although 8-10% of wind, solar, and hydro generation would need to be curtailed e.g. at times of low demand, under an 80%-by-2050 RE scenario, and more storage would be needed in the 90% scenario.

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Gasoline victims of circumstance?

By Carey King

The USA Today is not known to provide the most in-depth analysis of US news, but a recent article I read while traveling caught my attention. The article discussed the ‘high’ gasoline prices of $4/gallon in the United States and the economic hardship caused by spending more money on energy. I will not discuss the many reasons, some beyond personal choice and some not, that relatively lower gasoline (or petrol) prices in the US cause economic difficulty versus different prices in the EU.

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Iran has a renewable-energy programme

Unbeknown to most lay people and many energy insiders, Iran has more going on in the energy industry than nuclear controversy. Given the global location of Iran provides it with some of the world’s highest solar insolation, there is actually solar research occurring. Much of the research involved concentrating solar-power technologies and the Iranian scientists were working to ensure that Iran had the domestic expertise to design and install solar CSP systems.

To support much of this solar research, Iran has a government-sponsored Renewable Energy Organization of Iran (SUNA) that is part of the Ministry of Energy. The objective of this organization is to develop applications for renewable energy. The staff includes 300 persons with 150 of those engineers and scientists. The budget is approximately $60 m. Iran even has a feed-in tariff for wind and biomass energy of approximately 13 cents/kWh. Additionally, Iran has a renewable-portfolio standard to meet 10% of its electricity from non-hydro renewable-electricity technologies.

I had the privilege of learning of some of these details while joining a workshop this November between Iranian and US energy and solar-energy scientists and engineers. Joining the Iranians was the head of their National Academy. This workshop was arranged by the US State Department with assistance of the US National Academies. As the US and Iranian governments are officially not on speaking terms, it is nice to know that some parts of the governments are finding ways to keep some communication channels open. Sharing ideas on solar- and renewable-energy technologies may help us find a way to share ideas and shed light on renewing cordial relations. Kudos to the US State Department for finding ways to have international relations using science.

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Texas: the US leading CO2 emitter has significantly decreased emissions, but not by design

On January 29, of this year the Environmental Defense Fund, together with the UK Consulate, hosted a climate conference at the capitol: “Texas’ Changing Economic Climate.” At the beginning of the conference, we heard a personal message from Prince Charles of Wales to the State of Texas imploring Texans to lead the US, and hence the world in climate mitigation. At the end of the conference, one of our elected officials suggested Texas may in fact already be a leader in carbon emissions mitigation while at the same time increasing the gross state product. And if Texas has been taking this leadership role by promoting things like a business-friendly environment and a deregulated electricity market, then perhaps other states, and countries, should look to Texas for how to mitigate carbon emissions.

Are those claims true? Is Texas a leader in reducing carbon emissions while increasing economic productivity?

On the surface, it seems plausible. From 2000 to 2005, total CO2 emissions in the state decreased 4.4 percent while economic output increased 16.5 percent. But dig deeper, and claims of real leadership on climate mitigation evaporate. It turns out that global energy prices were the main drivers of those changes, not the state’s regulatory environment or business initiatives. Much of the CO2 reduction came from decreased natural gas use by the chemical industry as a result of the rising cost of natural gas. Electricity deregulation in Texas fostered the increased use of natural gas combined cycle technology for electricity generation – helping to maintain relatively steady electric sector CO2 emissions since 2000. Much of the rise in the state’s economic output is attributable to the oil and gas industry, buoyed by the same rise in global energy prices.

It is a mistake to think that significant steady and long term CO2 emissions reductions, together with increased gross state product, can be achieved by simply continuing actions of the past five to ten years.

This report examines the data behind claims that Texas has been a leader in reducing carbon emissions while increasing economic productivity. The data shows that the external economic factor of higher energy prices was the main driver in decreasing emissions in Texas from 2000 to 2005, not our pro-business or deregulatory policies. Furthermore, Texas must prepare for the future. Federal climate legislation is on the horizon. This legislation is likely to impose constraints on the Texas economy that will demand even greater reductions in emissions. Texas and the rest of the US states should work to understand how specific industries and consumers will be affected by a federal CO2 constraint. By promoting those businesses that are well-positioned and facilitating restructuring for those ill-positioned, Texas can successfully transition to and maintain leadership within the new carbon-constrained energy economy.

Texas CO2 emissions data

In looking at aggregated data from the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy, from 2000 to 2005, the CO2 emissions of Texas went from 654 million metric tons (MtCO2 ) to 625 MtCO2 – a decrease of 4.4% F F. By looking at the data in Figure 1, one can see that the peak year for Texas CO2 emissions was 2002 at 672 MtCO2. Emissions in both 1999 and 2001 were less than in 2000 with the decrease from 1999 to 2005 being only 0.2%, as Texas’ CO2 emissions in 1999 are listed at 626 MtCO2. Thus, in thinking about a specific baseline year for CO2 emissions, the choice can have a large impact. This fact provides reasoning for using a running average that can level out short-term fluctuations in the economy and energy prices.

The evidence for the emissions decrease is revealed by looking one level deep into the data – emissions from the industrial sector (see Figure 2). In 2005, the Texas industrial sector was responsible for 179 MtCO2 compared to 218 in 2000 – a 17.6% decrease. As a comparison, the drop in the overall US industrial sector emissions was only 6.4%. No other major sector, transportation or electric power, decreased in emissions in Texas during the 2000–2005 span. Furthermore, the Texas industrial sector is dominated by the consumption of natural gas as they are correlated very closely: Texas total consumption of natural gas dropped 21% from 2000 to 2005.

Figure1_TXCO2.JPG
Figure1_TXCO2.JPG

Figure 1. Texas’ CO2 emissions by fuel.

Figure2_TXCO2.jpg
Figure2_TXCO2.jpg

Figure 2. Texas’ CO2 emissions by sector.

Table1_TXCO2.jpg
Table1_TXCO2.jpg

Table 1. Comparison of US and Texas CO2 emissions from 2000 to 2005. Emissions in Texas and the US (MtCO2).

Interpreting Texas CO2 emissions data

There is an important question to ask in terms of interpreting the data showing a drop in industrial natural gas usage and subsequent emissions: Did the industries in Texas quit making as many goods or find a way to make the same amount, or even more, goods while consuming less natural gas?

From 2000 to 2005, the Texas Comptroller of Public AccountsF F shows that the gross state product increased from $850 billion to $989 billion in constant 2005 dollars. This is a 16.5% increase in economic output. During that same 2000-2005 span, Texas’ total industrial output dropped a few percent before coming back to 2000 levels (see Figure 3). The only industries with substantial economic growth were oil and gas extraction, refining, and primary metals (not shown). The real price of oil and natural gas rose 40% from 2000 to 2005 – and roughly doubled from 1999 to 2005, providing substantial income and revenue to the Texas oil and gas sector, as well as the state budget. However, the chemical sector, which uses substantial quantities of natural gas as a feedstock was down 11%, perhaps tied to the increase in cost of natural gas. Additionally, a 13% drop in employment in the chemical industry from 2000 to 2005 provides some evidence to a drop in the number of chemical goods produced.

Figure3_TXCO2.jpg
Figure3_TXCO2.jpg

Figure 3. Industrial productions indices for Texas.

One can still ask what industrial energy efficiency improvements occurred early this decade in Texas. At the beginning of 2000, approximately 10.3 MW of cogeneration was installed in Texas. By the end of 2005, this was 17.5 MW – a 71% increase in capacity in six years F F. This is important because cogeneration, also commonly known as combined heat and power facilities, get more useful energy out of the same amount of fuel. Generating electricity and heat from more efficient systems decreases fuel consumption and emissions when it displaces less efficient systems.

However, electricity generation within the industrial sector was relatively constant from 2000 to 2005. Electricity generation from combined heat and power (CHP) facilities increased from 70 to 97 million MWh from 2000 to 2002, and then decreased to 85 million MWh by 2005. Overall, CHP generation increased 21% from 2000 to 2005, practically all outside of the industrial sector. Thus, many CHP facilities were installed, but the demand for their services did not seem to hold up.

The signing of SB 7 in 1999 began the deregulated electricity market in Texas. This change in policy ended up launching a tremendous increase in the installation and use of natural gas combined cycle units (NGCC) for electricity generation (see Figure 4). However, the move to NGCC generation technology had already begun in the early 1980s. The NGCC units use the excess heat from a combustion turbine to generate steam for a steam turbine. This combination makes NGCC power generation much more efficient than generating electricity from either the steam or combustion turbine alone. Amazingly, Figure 4 shows the clear impact that deregulation policy had on the strategy in the electric power sector. From 2000 to 2005 the installations of NGCC units increased by 400%.

Figure4_TXCO2.jpg
Figure4_TXCO2.jpg

Figure 4. The cumulative installed capacity of natural gas plants in Texas shows that installation of combined cycle plants increased significantly starting in 2000F F. ST = steam turbine operating stand-alone, CT = combustion turbine of an NGCC plant, CA = steam turbine of a NGCC plant, GT = gas combustion turbine operating stand-alone, and CS = an NGCC plant where the combustion turbine and steam turbine are connected mechanically.

The employment situation in the industrial manufacturing sector shows a marked contraction (see Figure 5). Employment in the chemical and plastics industry was representative of the overall Texas manufacturing employment trend from 2000 to 2005. Employment in the oil and gas extraction industry was slightly up from 2000 to 2005, and followed the continually climbing energy prices through 2007. Interestingly, even in some industries that saw economic growth during the time span of interest due to an increase in prices for the manufactured good, employment went down (e.g. primary metals). Also, industries that experienced decreasing employment are many of those that are energy and natural gas intensive.

Figure5_TXCO2.jpg
Figure5_TXCO2.jpg

Figure 5. Employment indices for the overall Texas manufacturing sector as well as selected industries.

Conclusions

What this analysis shows are a few major points regarding Texas gross state product and CO2 emissions from 2000 to 2005: (1) the major growth of the Texas gross state product increased during the first half of this decade due to a rise in global energy prices and increased value of chemical products, (2) the boom in natural gas cogeneration installations does not nearly account for the 32% drop in natural gas consumption in the industrial sector as the generation from these facilities only slightly increased from 2000 to 2005, and (3) a drop in cogeneration systems from 2002–2005 together with a drop in output from the chemical industry accounts for a large portion of the decrease in natural gas consumption, and subsequently Texas’ CO2 emissions. Texas’ emissions may have even slightly decreased since 2005 with continued increases in natural gas and oil prices.

It is a mistake to think that significant steady and long term CO2 emissions reductions, together with increased gross state product, can be achieved by simply continuing actions of the past five to ten years. High energy prices benefit some Texas industries while hurting others, and there is evidence to suggest that higher energy prices have been influential in decreasing emissions from 2000 to 2005. Impending federal climate legislation will impose constraints on the economy that go beyond the reductions in emissions that have occurred in Texas as a consequence of external factors rather than by directed policy. Texas and the rest of the US states should work to understand how specific industries and consumers will be affected by a CO2 constraint. By promoting those businesses that are well-positioned and facilitating restructuring for those ill-positioned, Texas can successfully transition to and maintain leadership within the new carbon-constrained energy economy.

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Climate Targets

With the climate conference in Copenhagen in December seen by many as the make-or-break event, the EU position is relatively clear- a 20% by 2020 cut in emissions (from 1990 levels), unless a good global agreement can be reached, when the target would be raised to 30%.

The UK is amongst the leaders in pushing for high targets. The Budget in April set what was claimed as the world’s first carbon budget, as required by the new Climate Change Act, with a legally binding 34% reduction in emissions by 2020. The government said it will ‘increase the level of ambition of carbon budgets once a satisfactory global deal on climate change is reached’. Longer term, there is a firm commitment to an 80% cut by 2050.

While welcome, all that will mean very little if the US and China don’t come up with decent targets. The good news from the USA is that, after years of denial under Bush, the US government now sees greenhouse emissions as a major issue: the Environmental Protection Agency is now regulating them. And progress is being made on national targets. Against strong opposition, the House of Representatives has just voted 219 to 212 to bind the US to cutting carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83% by 2050. It also agreed that a national carbon ‘cap and trade’ system should be established and to a 15% 2020 target for electricity from renewables. However this has still all to be passed by Senate- where opposition is likely to be even stronger.

The opposition has already led to watering down of targets. For example, the draft US Clean Energy act called for a 20% cut on 2005 emission levels by 2020, and for the US to get 25% of its electricity from renewables by 2025. The fossil lobby wanted just a 6% cut by 2020 and lower renewable targets. Even so, the emission level now agreed by the House of Representatives (17%) is a significant compromise and the 15% target for electricity from renewables is an even bigger compromise, especially since it seems 12% could be allowed in some regions with poor resources, and energy efficiency gains may be allowed as a substitute for some renewables.

In any case, even if finally passed into law through Senate, these are just paper targets. The crucial thing is the proposed new US Carbon trading system – a key element in translating the targets into reality. Indeed, although much was made of the £150 billion over ten years that Obama allocated to renewables and other green energy projects earlier this year, as part of the US Economic stimulus package, much of that funding will only materialise if the carbon trading system goes ahead. This may explain why the very large stimulus allocation (around 10 times current support levels) was not fought much by Republicans- they may have been waiting to block it at source by opposing the Carbon trading system. If that is proves to be the case, the fear is that the new proposals won’t get through in time for the USA to make a clearly positive contribution at the Copenhagen conference.

While this may be a problem, it seems that the simple fact that Obama is now taking the US into climate negotiations has been enough for the Chinese to engage in the process more fruitfully – and that in turn has helped Obama, since one of the main reasons for opposition to the Kyoto protocol in the US was that it didn’t apply to newly developing countries like China, whose emissions were expanding rapidly. They have actually recently overtaken the US. But China now seems to be thinking in terms of, if not absolute cuts, then at least a commitment to the reductions in the growth of its rapidly expanding carbon emissions.

Su Wei, a leading figure in China’s climate change negotiating team, said that officials were considering introducing a national target that would limit emissions relative to economic growth in the country’s next 5-year plan from 2011.’China hasn’t reached the stage where we can reduce overall emissions, but we can reduce energy intensity and carbon intensity.’ i.e. carbon emissions/GNP. Whether an agreement will be reached on that before the Copenhagen conference remains to be seen.

The stakes are high- for Obama and for the world. The EU is pushing hard, and, whatever might be happening at home, the USA seems to be bending over backwards to get a global agreement. It has proposed that developing nations like China should not be required to commit to specific emission targets, but should be asked to commit to boosting energy efficiency standards and improving the take-up of renewable energy. And there are positive signs, with talk of China being able to go beyond the current target of getting 15% of all energy from renewables by 2020, to 18% and possibly 20% – on a par with the EU and well ahead of the USA.

We may make it yet.

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