NY’s Energy Vision Spelled Out in Syracuse Symposium

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A group of movers and shakers met last week in Syracuse to describe the vision for the state’s energy economy at the Energy in the 21st Century Symposium. This year’s feature was The Electric Grid. This was particularly timely in the wake of the release of NY’s Renewable Energy Vision (REV), which calls for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, (from 1990 levels), a 23% reduction in building energy consumption (from 2010 levels), and for the state to receive 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, without nuclear, all by 2030.  This vision puts NY on the path to play a leading role in the transformation of the national energy economy.  In his opening remarks, Richard Kauffman, NY’s first “energy czar,” came right out and said, “It’s time to stop rebuilding the grid of yesterday.” He went on to describe the new grid as “hybrid, bi-directional, flexible, and both centralized and distributed.” Solar in the state has increased 600% since 2012. The goal is to have no more coal plants by 2020 along with a state tax credit of $2000 for zero emission vehicles.

Former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, now commissioner of NYS Department of Transportation, spoke of investing in transportation as an effective way to create jobs. His office has embraced Smart Growth and the notion of Complete Streets. Given the state’s commitment to public transportation, NY can boast the lowest per capita consumption of motor fuel. NY’s 2.7 billion annual passenger trips account for one-third the national total. As for transportation’s tie-in to the electric grid, Driscoll announced plans to add 3,000 EV charging stations by 2018, as well as a Transportation Solar Initiative to add solar PV along highway right of ways.

Studies Show That the Move to Renewables Will Save Consumers Money

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - We have, over the past couple of weeks, written about the impact of the rapid growth of renewables, particularly, rooftop solar, on the economic outlook for electric utilities. First we described the downgrade, by Barclay’s investment bank of the entire sector based on fears of a downward spiral, precipitated by massive grid defection among residential customers.

A follow-up piece described a report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which had a considerably less dire tone, suggesting that the changes in electricity sales would likely be relatively modest over the next twenty years.

Both of these reports were focused specifically on rooftop residential solar, or what the utilities call distributed generation. Utility scale renewables projects are another important piece of the puzzle and one that, according to a press release by the World Resources Institute (WRI), will have a beneficial impact on both utilities and consumers.

WRI evaluated reports issued by reports  four major utility companies including New York Independent System Operator(NYISO), Midcontinent ISO (MISO), serving the Midwest, PJM Interconnect, serving the mid-Atlantic region, and Western Interconnection, serving 14 states west of the Rockies.

In a world where the vast majority of new generation capacity is either coming from renewable or natural gas, and where demand growth has been stagnant, utilities are now finding the opportunity to retire, older, inefficient plants that are more costly to operate. This will reduce operational cost, which is good for everyone involved. These lower wholesale prices for electricity will far outweigh the infrastructure investments needed to incorporating these new renewable sources into the grid. Depending on whether the utility is structured as a regulated monopoly, or investor-owned, which varies by state, will determine how much of those savings will be passed along to consumers.

Leaks Make Natural Gas Vehicles Less Climate-Friendly Than Diesel

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A couple of weeks back, we wrote about how natural gas was being used to replace diesel to fuel many large trucks. California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. opened several natural gas filling stations in locations stretching from coast to coast. We wrote, “Natural gas has become an attractive option for high-horsepower trucks, because it is less expensive (by up to $1.50/gal), cleaner (23% less GHG emissions), and offers better price stability when compared with conventional diesel. It's also better for the health of drivers and the communities in which they operate. Given the high level of natural gas availability in the US at this time, it also offers the opportunity to reduce dependence on imported oil.“

A recent study, just released, reveals some information that could potentially pour cold water on this approach. The study, which was jointly conducted by scientists at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that there is currently 50% more methane already in the atmosphere than had previously been thought. The researchers have determined that this gas must come from leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain.

After conducting a detailed analysis, weighing both the benefits and costs, the team determined that from a greenhouse gas perspective, the added methane resulting from these leaks, more than offsets the reduction in carbon dioxide resulting from the switch from diesel to natural gas. In other words, according to the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, Assistant Professor of Energy Resources at Stanford, “Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective.”

The leaks, however, were not severe enough to tip the balance when it came to replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas. That's because of the enormous amounts of CO2 that comes from coal. Even factoring in the methane leaks, gas-powered plants have half the impact of coal plants.

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