Email today from Savey Women’s Alliance, whose Medfield chapter is its “Chapter of the Year” – Congratulations!
Email today from Savey Women’s Alliance, whose Medfield chapter is its “Chapter of the Year” – Congratulations!
From the Router 50 newsletter today –
Two U.S. electric utilities recently declared something remarkable: It’s cheaper to tear down their coal plants and build renewable-energy plants than to keep the old boilers running. For the utilities, the goal is now to retire their coal plants and exceed the economy-wide climate targets set in the Paris Agreement: an 80% reduction of carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.
It’s a surprising move by two (primarily) coal-powered utilities in the American West, but get ready for more. Economics, and politics, are fast converging on a consensus. Committing to a 100% carbon-free goal, even before we quite know how to reach it, is good for business.
The first to make the announcement was Xcel Energy, a utility serving 3.6 million people in eight states from Minnesota to New Mexico. On Dec. 4, the company said it would hit an 80% reduction target by 2030, and eliminate all carbon emissions from its power plants by 2050. Two days later, Colorado’s Platte River Power Authority (an Xcel competitor) approved its own goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.
Jason Frisbie, general manager of Platte River Power Authority, said it was just an admission of economic realities, not a political statement. “This whole thing started because the board wanted to recognize the shift that has already been taking place in the business for several years,” he told a local newspaper. Cities buying its electricity were demanding clean energy, and the price of renewables had tumbled below even the cheapest fossil fuels.
Although the announcements came in quick succession, they’ve been a long time coming, says Mark Dyson of the energy nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute. At least 90 cities have declared their intention to adopt 100% renewable energy goals. Utilities can accept this, or risk losing their biggest customers.
Two major defections recently drove home the point. In Boulder, Colorado, the city council voted on Dec. 4 (the same day Xcel made its announcement) to leave the utility to pursue its own 100% renewable electricity generation two decades earlier than Xcel. In Silicon Valley, San Jose left the utility PG&E this year to offer a 100% renewable option from San Jose Clean Energy. (PG&E is only delivering 80%.)
After years of hedging their bets, utilities can’t ignore the numbers anymore. PacifiCorp, which relies on coal for 59% of its fuel, recently said it’s more expensive to run 13 of its 22 coal units than to retire them and switch to renewables. The company estimated it could save money by shutting down 60% of its units by 2022, an assessment largely in line with the Sierra Club’s calculations. Globally, at least 42% of the world’s coal power stations are operating at a loss, estimates the research nonprofit Carbon Tracker.
Dyson says it’s just a matter of time before more utilities across the US reach the same decision to replace old coal with “crazy cheap” new renewables. In Colorado, bidders are selling wind for as little as $12 per megawatt hour (MWh) and solar for $23 per MWh. Even after adding batteries to solar farms to keep supplying power into the evening, the cost rises to just $30 per MWh. That’s before income tax credits of 30% for new renewables built by 2023. Those prices are well below the average US price of nuclear ($105/MWh), coal ($67/MWh), and even low-cost natural gas ($39/MWh), according to Ravi Manghani of energy research firm Wood Mackenzie.
Steel for fuel
With prices so low, investing in new renewable-energy infrastructure instead of fuel is a no-brainer. In fact, that’s the basis of Xcel’s new business model: “steel for fuel,” with steel meaning new wind turbines and solar arrays. Xcel, like most vertically integrated utilities, is a regulated monopoly. A state commission sets customers’ prices so the utility can earn a reasonable rate of return on what it builds without overcharging. More stuff on the ground equals more money. In the case of renewables, argues Xcel CEO Ben Fowke, “everybody benefits.” Xcel earns money on the new “steel” and customers get lower prices far into the future.
More utilities are following its lead. The Southern Company’s CEO said in April that the utility will be “low to no carbon” by 2050. Earlier this year, New Mexico utility PNM said (with no publicity) it will exit all coal generation by 2031. In October, northern Indiana’s Public Service Company said it will save $4 billion by replacing all coal generation with renewables by 2028.
Yet some are still fighting to make coal great again. In the same week of Xcel’s announcement, Wyoming’s Black Hills utility proposed buying an existing coal power plant as the cheapest option with “long-term price-stability,” a characterization that left some analysts scratching their heads (jobs may have something to do with it). Meanwhile the Trump administration is rolling back environmental rules such as the Clean Power Plan and promoting a Coal FIRST initiative to keep coal plants open. But Moody’s Analytics, a financial analysis firm, said these actions “will not materially derail decarbonization trends.”
Built-in climate catastrophe
Accelerating those trends is critical to avert catastrophic climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions have already baked at least 2°F into the climate, and just 15 years remain to avoid another one-degree rise. Stopping the construction of new, long-lived power plants that emit carbon for decades is the only way to avoid this. ”Most warming anticipated this century is from infrastructure yet to be constructed,” writes Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at Stanford University.
For now, the grid is not quite ready for 100% renewables. Far more storage will need to come online. High-voltage transmission lines must ferry energy from (often remote) wind and solar arrays to their final, urban destinations. With utilities set to approach 80% renewables in the next decade, the last 20% of carbon-free electricity will be the hardest to achieve.
“Technical options exist but it does get costly,” says Tom Wilson, a renewable-energy expert at the Electric Power Research Institute. Right now, the only cost-effective commercial options running at scale are nuclear reactors (very pricey) and large hydroelectric facilities (hard to site new ones). While geothermal, carbon sequestration, revolutionary batteries, and experimental small reactors are among future cost-effective possibilities, utilities are betting the right solutions will come on time. “If you have the vision, and the need to get there, sometimes the technology shows up,” says Wilson.
Michael J. Coren is a reporter at Quartz, which originally published this article.
Interesting concept from my Route 50 e-newsletter –
PORTLAND, Ore. — In the largest pilot study of its kind to date, more than 270 households in the Pacific Northwest volunteered their hot water heaters over the past year to be used as a battery for the power grid. Participants installed plug-in devices that allowed their water heaters to be controlled remotely, both starting and stopping the heating of water when ordered to by the grid operator.
According to a report on the joint program between Portland General Electric and the Bonneville Power Administration, the success of the pilot study has national implications. If fleets of water heaters, like fleets of electric vehicles, can be harnessed to shift excess electricity from wind and solar power on command, then water could be heated at times when energy on the grid is more abundant—and cheaper.
Equally, if these same fleets of water heaters could be instructed to not heat at times of peak demand, that frees up power when energy is scarce, and more expensive. More broadly, this could reduce the amount of energy storage we will need to build as the power grid evolves in an era of renewables.
Centered on customers from eight local utilities in Seattle, Portland, and the Tri-Cities region in eastern Washington state, the study was a substantial undertaking. Over 92 percent of the program’s participants expressed satisfaction with the trial.
“Every stage required a lot of work: lining up vendors, testing the hardware, choosing marketing materials for customers, and educating our participating utilities,” said Conrad Eustis of Portland General Electric (PGE), who was primary lead co-investigator with Tony Koch, at Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). “Settling on an analysis method that would yield useful results, that in particular took much more time than we expected.”
Operationally, the study relied on the ability of smart-grid enabled water heaters to be fitted with a hybrid communication device: an FM radio frequency receiver that would take the start-and-stop heating signals—at times chosen by the utility—and a WiFi device that could relay all the associated data for analysis. These interactions are called “events” and over the course of three seasons—summer, winter and spring—the program generated over 600 events.
One concept that often trips people up when thinking about using water heaters as batteries is that water heaters are not, in fact, batteries. An electric vehicle has a battery, so it’s easy to see how an EV could be used to take, and give back, energy to the grid. Scale that up to millions of vehicles, and now you have a very large battery to charge up, or discharge, at opportune times.
But how does this work with a humble appliance, like a water heater? Moreover, in the PGE-BPA study, the majority of the 600 test events consisted of a signal sent to customer water heaters to simply not start heating. “Don’t heat now!”—says the signal (by the way, we’’ll heat you up a bit later). To most, this may sound minor. After all, the water heater is not, in fact, putting energy back into the grid. But, it might as well be.
“You see, this has the exact same effect as an actual battery,” Eustis said. “I mean, what do you do with a battery? You choosewhen you put energy in, and you choose when you take it out. So simply choosing not to use as much energy is equivalent to taking energy out of a battery. The heater goes cold. Later, when we have that cold water at hand, we can choose to put excess energy back in from the grid, from solar for instance, to heat it up. From the viewpoint of the grid, it’s identical to a battery.” In other words, a fleet of water heaters can be used as a virtual battery.
Eustis has been interested in energy storage, and in particular the potential of water heaters, for over a decade. To help educate the public more fully on the transformation of such appliances, Eustis has coined the word alonetic, to mean devices that can, at times, beneficially support the operation of the power grid—as long as the needs of customers are met first. The support comes in the form of “events” when communication, or any method of control, activates these devices into service.
Under this umbrella term, devices that can both take and return power to the grid in both directions, or only take power from the grid in just one direction, are beneficial when paired with smart-capability that allows these events to occur either at the choosing of the local utility, or the customer. For this study, the program designers chose an internet-of-things device from e-Radio that plugged in to capable water heaters, turning them into a smart-grid device.
These capabilities are already appearing in Europe and in the U.S. with electric vehicles. eMotorWerks, a Silicon Valley based EV charging company, bundles up the charging preferences of its customers, for example, and works with the California grid operator, CAISO, to strike favorable prices on their behalf. This is called demand-shifting, or demand-response , and at scale it’s enormously helpful to the system. Typically, the customer sets the parameters. But both the customer, and the power grid, benefit.
The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has described the potential of water heaters, or specifically grid-integrated-water-heaters (GIWH), as “the unexpected battery in your basement,” adding that GIWH may be “as sexy as Tesla.”
An RMI report in 2015 estimated the total potential value to the grid from these integrated appliances, water heaters especially, at a minimum of $13 billion. Why might that be? Well, power prices follow the laws of supply and demand, and therefore fluctuate, often to a great degree, throughout the day. This was true even before the rise of wind and solar power, but those two technologies have started to make pricing fluctuations more extreme.
In California and Texas, for example, wholesale power prices can now go to zero, or even negative, during the day when solar power creates surpluses, or overnight with wind. These events represent large economic losses across the nodes of the system. To counter those losses, society will have to pair energy storage with the rise of renewables but at great expense. But if software-enabled tools can utilize existing devices for storage, at scale, then large portions of those investment costs can be avoided.
“Most homes in the future will likely have a central-energy-manager,” Eustis said. And it’s easy to imagine this trend already, with electric cars, rooftop solar, a home battery, and also grid-integrated devices now coming on to the scene. One issue that policymakers will have to confront is the technology standard that enable these devices to talk to one another. The PGE-BPA study utilized a standard that, like the USB standard that allows a laptop to connect to a mouse, tied the waters heaters to a radio device. It’s called CTA-2045, and one of the conclusions of the study is that to to use water heaters in the future as a virtual battery, they’ll need to ship from the factory with a common standard.
The US has roughly 125 million households. Harnessing each of those water heaters as an energy storage solution could eventually scale up to major cost savings as the country modernizes its power grid.
I saw the Borgstein Alpaca Farm booth at Medfield Day, loved it, and said I would post about their open house.
I really like that we have an operating farm in town. Plus pictures of alpacas on the Internet makes for a nice change from pictures of cats. The Borgensteins have 17 of their goal of a 20 alpaca herd, per the count up screen.
This email from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) this afternoon, forwarded from Mike Sullivan, announces that the Town of Medfield is now an official green community under the state’s Green Communities Act, and we can start spending our $148K DOER grant monies. The Facilities Director, Jerry McCarthy and the Medfield Energy Committee plan to use those monies on upgrading the outdoor lighting around town buildings and retro-commissioning of the HVAC controls at the Blake Middle School, as those were easy and fast projects, with good rates of return, to get accomplished. Since, only once we spend all that initial $148K of grant money, we can then apply for further DOER grants, to do more improvements.
From: Pfister, Jane (ENE)
Date: Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 3:20 PM
Subject: MEDFIELD—Green Community Designation Grant — Effective Date
To: “Jerry McCarty
Cc: Mike Sullivan , “Brown, Kelly (ENE)”
Hi Jerry –
DOER signed the contract so the town has an effective date (March 23, 2018) and can begin work and obligate funds. The town can proceed with approved measures.
Attached is the page one with DOER signature, but when I have the contract back from our fiscal dept. with a contract ID # I will send a scan of the full contract.
Progress reports are expected quarterly, see attached for overview of what to include if applicable. Even a brief email is OK to keep me informed.
Jane Pfister, Grant Coordinator
Green Communities Division
Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 1020, Boston, MA 02114
This from Medfield Green –
Styrofoam – Have you been stockpiling Styrofoam? We thank you and this Saturday is the day to bring it to the Transfer Station.
We will accept packing blocks, foam coolers, clean WHITE produce and meat trays, take out containers, hot cups such as Dunkin’ Donuts , Honey Dew and Cumberland Farms (without paper or cardboard infused), clean, WHITE foam egg cartons and trays. Please clean all food/beverage containers and remove any labels or stickers. No peanuts or bubble wrap. Next Styrofoam collection planned for October, 2017. Details to follow.
NEW: Unfortunately, we can’t accept colored foam trays because the vendor no longer accepts them due to difficulty in spotting out pieces contaminated by food as opposed to white foam – however, the art teachers at the elementary schools would love to take the clean, colored foam trays and Colleen Sullivan has very generously offered to transport them to the schools. If you do have colored trays, please clean them well and either drop them at Memorial, Dale or Wheelock or bring them on Saturday.
Please take clean, reusable Styrofoam peanuts to Express Business Center (258A Main St., Medfield), Postal Center (14 Milliston Rd, Millis, MA) or the UPS Store (689 Main St., Rt 1A Marketplace, Walpole). Fully popped bubble wrap and packing pillows can be recycled every week with plastic bags in the bins at the front of the single stream recycling compactors.
The Friends of Medfield Library will be collecting books, CDs and DVDs (no encyclopedias) to help stock their new and improved space at the library. The Grand Opening will be on May 30th.
See you at the Transfer Station – the place to be in May