From Oil Fields to Renewable Energy: Scaling Geothermal

on January 5, 2021

Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakout. While the technology has been around for some time — one could argue, if you look at naturally heated spas of the Romans and springs in Iceland, a very long time indeed — it’s never really been seen as a scalable part of the energy mix in the same way as solar and wind power.

The next few years will be critical in terms of development. The International Energy Agency predicts geothermal capacity growth of 3,600 to 4,500 megawatts globally through 2023. And a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Energy projects that the share of electricity produced by geothermal plants could increase twenty-sixfold by 2050 — to the point where it would be responsible for 8.5. percent of all electricity generation in the country. 

As refinements in geothermal energy systems are developed, and as more reliance on renewable energy sources highlights the need for continuous production, geothermal power is ready to take the next leap forward. In particular, what’s known as “intermediate geothermal” holds a tremendous amount of promise and has been underdeveloped. Attention has focused on either shallow projects confined to individual homes or large-scale energy production at deeper — but hard to locate and develop — depths.

The promise of intermediate 

There are several types of geothermal energy. Shallow geothermal is usually found in individual homes and involves saving energy on heating and cooling by tapping into stable temperatures a few meters below the earth surface. Shallow projects also can involve simply making direct use of the heat as it escapes the surface in hot springs and volcanic vents. These are easy to build but difficult to scale. 

Direct energy production occurs at much deeper levels or in areas of active volcanism (or volcanic activity), where temperatures are above 200 degrees Celsius. Essentially, such a system drills down into solid rock; injects water through one well, intercepting natural fracture or pore systems or inducing fractures to let the water pass through; and then collects the heated water through another well. It’s an efficient and constant energy source, but it is technically complex, expensive. A lot of things need to come together to create the right environment for energy production. 

Intermediate scale geothermal systems tap into rock at temperatures from 80 to 150 degrees Celsius. This is not hot enough for direct electrical energy generation, but it is hot enough to use heat directly for district heating (as in the city of Munich) or to run a heat exchanger to produce cold air. This can be crucial in regions of the world where cooling is a major energy use and expense.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsFrom Oil Fields to Renewable Energy: Scaling Geothermal

Texas Support For Massive Transmission Boost For Renewables in Question

on January 5, 2021

Houston — The Electric Reliability Council of Texas must massively expand its transmission capacity to move West Texas renewable power to load centers in the eastern half of the state by 2035, a move aimed at accommodating fossil-fuel generation retirements, but experts differ on whether the state government would approve such spending.

ERCOT’s Long-Term System Assessment, mandated to be presented to the state legislature every two years, shows that under various scenarios, locational marginal prices by 2035 could range from less than $82/MWh to more than $125/MWh. The range depends on how much generation transitions to renewable resources, what renewable mandates are established, and how much battery storage becomes available.

Posted on the ERCOT website on Dec. 23, the LTSA identified 16 high-voltage projects that potentially may be needed by 2030 and two more by 2035. All but four are in the eastern half of the state, with the remainder in far West Texas.

The projects have a total estimated breakeven cost of $13.8 billion, which ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said Jan. 4 is “the amount of capital expenditure that the analysis indicates could be supported based on the current economic planning criteria.”

In an email, Morris Greenberg, senior manager for North American power analytics at S&P Global Platts Analytics, said the estimated breakeven cost “represents the value of the upgrade (or what you would be willing to invest to build it).

“So, for example, taking the aggregate value $13 billion in the Current Trends case, this would produce levelized benefits of about $1 billion/year,” Greenberg said. “If the projects cost that amount or less, you would build them.”

Potential savings

Under a scenario with current trends – increased renewables, reduced fossil-fueled generation, continued moderate load growth – the 18 projects would save about $1.1 billion a year in production costs and $1.9 billion a year in congestion rent by the 2030 study year, according to the LTSA.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsTexas Support For Massive Transmission Boost For Renewables in Question

3 Things to Watch in Renewable Energy in 2021

on January 4, 2021

The renewable energy industry enjoyed a banner year in 2020. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global economy installed a record amount of new renewable capacity in 2020, primarily powered by surging demand in the U.S. and China. Overall, 90% of the new electricity generating capacity added in 2020 was renewable energy. 

And as good as 2020 was, 2021 could be an even stronger year for renewable energy. Here are three things investors should keep an eye on in the coming year.

1. A continued acceleration in renewable energy

While 2020 was a great year for renewable energy, the pandemic held it back slightly as the global economic slowdown caused some delays. For example, sales of solar panels and other components like inverters were below their pre-pandemic levels in the U.S. during the third quarter. 

But those headwinds should fade in 2021. Meanwhile, new tailwinds should grow stronger. For example, the IEA anticipates that the European Union and India will join the U.S. and China in accelerating their shift toward renewables in the coming year. This tailwind started picking up in the third quarter. Solar inverter maker SolarEdge Technologies (NASDAQ:SEDG) noted that its “third-quarter results reflect significant growth in Europe” as its “solar business outside the U.S. reached an all-time high.”

Add that to the U.S. solar market showing signs of returning to its pre-pandemic installation levels and emerging markets like India and China accelerating their renewable energy efforts, and 2021 looks like it will be another record year for renewables.  

2. The continued rise of solar plus storage

The cost of battery storage has fallen dramatically over the years. A decade ago, it cost between $71 to $81 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for a four-hour battery storage adder to a wind or solar energy project. But by 2020, the cost of adding a battery storage component had plummeted to between $6 to $12 per MWh. And it’s currently on track to fall to a range of $4 to $9 per MWh by 2022.

Because of the dramatic decline in costs, more projects will include battery storage in the future. Only 28% of the utility-scale solar projects built in 2019 had battery storage, but most projects developed in 2021 will likely feature it as companies like NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) want to supercharge the country’s battery storage capacity. In addition to including battery storage in newly developed projects, companies will likely also retrofit more existing ones with it in 2021. 

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Fractal Energy Storage Consultants3 Things to Watch in Renewable Energy in 2021

Germany Commits To 65% Renewable Power By 2030

on December 30, 2020

65% of Germany’s total electricity demand will be met by renewable power within the next decade, according to a revision to the country’s renewable energy law passed by the country’s parliament last week.

An agreement within Germany’s governing coalition was reached at the last possible moment, after months of fighting over how high the target should be and how it should be designed. A compromise was only found after all 27 EU governments agreed to a new more ambitious emissions reduction target of 55% by 2030 earlier this month.

The amended law can now take effect as planned next month. That start date was important because 20-year feed-in tariffs to many renewable plants are scheduled to end next month. The new renewable energy law will replace those feed-in tariffs with auctions for renewed support as of 2022.

But the German government has left many decisions for next year, for instance new targets for renewables’ contribution to power consumption. Environment minister Svenja Schulze said at a press conference that these decisions should be taken in January. “It would be wise, it would be consistent, if the new EU climate target were to be incorporated into the [renewables law] very quickly, and the planned expansion rates for wind and solar plants were to be adjusted upwards,” she said.

However renewable energy companies have been left unimpressed by the compromise. Solar power industry association BSW called it “completely inadequate and half-baked”, and said that it actually creates new market barriers that will result in market decline in large commercial PV systems in the coming years.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsGermany Commits To 65% Renewable Power By 2030

AMSC: A Good Way For Investors To Ride The Renewable Energy Trend

on December 30, 2020

There’s a big tomorrow in power generation. No, not in public utilities, which always are draggy stocks. At issue is the equipment that will help the world meet a growing need for more electricity, and doing that via renewable energy.

And a good means for investors to take advantage of that trend is with a company that does a lot of power-related things well, enjoys good revenue growth, still isn’t profitable, but has seen its stock quadruple over the past five years. That sounds a lot like Amazon AMZN +1.2% in the 1990s.

In this case, we’re talking about AMSC (it stands for American Superconductor Corporation AMSC -12.9%),  which focuses on the electrical grid, the lifeblood of modern civilization, and does so with modern technology. The outfit also is a big player in wind power, cementing its place in renewable energy.  Recently, it expanded yet again via its purchase of Northeast Power Systems, which makes gear vital to the grid’s operations. Acquiring companies often see their share price dip. Not AMSC. This year alone, its stock is up a bracing 228%.

Make no mistake: The electricity biz has a big future. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, global power generation will almost double, to 45 trillion kilowatt hours by 2050. “The grid is going to get bigger” with renewable energy, needed to combat climate change, rising too, says Dan McGahn, AMSC’s chief executive. One propellant of the demand for more electricity output, he notes, is a coming surge in electrical vehicles.

Small wonder the company’s revenue growth has been substantial. In its fiscal second quarter, ending Sept. 30, revenue swelled to $21.1 million, compared with $14 million for the year-earlier period. Part of its success is in the burgeoning field of wind power. The existing grid is 56% of its business, with wind at 44%. The company’s slogan is: “We don’t generate the energy. We keep it moving.” AMSC likens itself to an orchestra conductor. Instead of melding woodwinds, brass, strings, drums and the like, AMSC harmonizes transmission lines, substations and generators.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsAMSC: A Good Way For Investors To Ride The Renewable Energy Trend

Does Low-Cost Renewable Energy, Storage Mean Hydrogen is Here To Stay?

on December 14, 2020

Shoring up the economic viability of hydrogen will require “massive amounts of collaboration,” according to Mehta, but after several false starts, he and others see reason to believe hydrogen is about to establish a foothold.

“Hydrogen has gone through multiple hype cycles, and has not met its ambition,” Mehta said. But thanks to advances that have boosted the availability of renewable energy and increased government support, he said, “maybe the stars are finally getting aligned.”

Hydrogen is already gaining traction in the transportation sector, with Shell currently building hydrogen fueling stations in California and Germany, Mehta said. But he said increased adoption of green hydrogen production in the energy sector held the key to increasing scale and decreasing costs to competitive levels for other industrial applications.

According to analysis by IHS Markit released the week preceding the panel, hydrogen production is on track to exceed $1 billion by 2023, based on the number of projects already in advanced planning phases. Assuming plans for large-capacity electrolysis plants remain on track, green hydrogen could achieve cost parity with blue hydrogen by 2030 in regions with good access to renewable resources, and by 2040-2050 in additional locations, according to Soufien Taamallah, director of energy technologies and hydrogen research at IHS Markit.

“If plans for large capacity electrolysis plants (100 MW+) do not materialize,” Taamallah said in an email, “it will be difficult to reach cost parity with blue hydrogen.”

But electrolysis is only one part of producing green hydrogen, said Sunita Satyapal, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office. The price of electricity represents the majority of the cost of hydrogen, she said, but hydrogen could achieve cost parity if the cost of electricity dropped to 3 cents per kWh or lower — which she said low-cost renewable generation is on track to achieve.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsDoes Low-Cost Renewable Energy, Storage Mean Hydrogen is Here To Stay?

Renewable Energy Surges Even In Fossil Fuel Friendly Red States

on October 28, 2020

The nation’s two largest coal-producing states, Wyoming and West Virginia, have emerged as leaders in renewable energy and energy storage, respectively, according to a new report.

States that voted red in the 2016 presidential election occupy seven of the top-ten spots for wind and solar generation as a percentage of their electricity consumption, according to Environment America’s Renewables on the Rise 2020, released last week.

“There are clean energy leaders in big states and small states, red states and blue states, states on the coasts and states in the heartland,” say the authors, Tony Dutzik and Jamie Friedman of Frontier Group and Emma Searson of Environment America’s Research & Policy Center. Environment America is a branch of the Public Interest Network.

Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota generate enough renewable energy to meet more than half their electricity demand, according to the report. Oklahoma is not far behind at 45 percent. Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota also appear on the top-ten list.

It remains to seen whether the growth of clean energy in red states will turn them purple or encourage cleaner Republican energy policy, but some signs of influence have appeared.

Just after the 2018 Midterm election, a post-election voter survey “found strong support among Republicans and Democrats alike for government action to accelerate development and use of clean energy in the United States,” according to the survey sponsors, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum and the Conservative Energy Network.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsRenewable Energy Surges Even In Fossil Fuel Friendly Red States

How Ultra-Capacitors Are Helping Wind Power Generation Realise its Full Potential

on October 22, 2020

Editor’s note: You may have already watched the recent webinar on ultra-capacitors and the role they could play in the energy transition, which hosted with sponsors EIT InnoEnergy, the European Union-backed energy tech innovation accelerator.

In that webinar, market analyst Thomas Horeau of Frost & Sullivan explained that one of the key uses of ultra-capacitors in the renewable energy industry is in ‘feathering’ wind turbines: providing short bursts of stored power to correct the angling of turbine blades to optimise their performance or conversely to prevent damage from high winds.

Also taking part in the webinar was Egert Valmra, product director of ultra-capacitor manufacturer Skeleton Technologies, which supplies devices to wind farm operators for this very purpose. Valmra said that when he first joined the company just over six years ago, he wondered why pitch control for wind turbine blades was necessary.

I was told that if windmills get disconnected from the grid and have less resistance, they can spin out of control. In that moment, it’s crucial to quickly change the pitch of the blade… so that less force is applied,” Skeleton Tech’s EgertValmra said.

The two options for changing the pitch of the turbine blades are to do it hydraulically or electrically. Hydraulic solutions, Valmra said, require “a little bit too much maintenance”. Meanwhile the servicing costs of using batteries for this role and “replacing them every couple of years mean the servicing costs are too high”.

While Egert Valmra gave the viewers a brief and succinct explanation of wind turbine pitch control or feathering using ultra-capacitors in the webinar, this week, we asked the webinar’s main presenter, Johan Söderbom, EIT InnoEnergy’s thematic leader for energy storage and smart grids, to go into a little bit more detail on the connection between wind power and ultra-capacitors, as follows:

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsHow Ultra-Capacitors Are Helping Wind Power Generation Realise its Full Potential

Could The U.S. Automobile Fleet Run On Wind And Solar Power?

on September 2, 2020

I like doing thought experiments. I often use them to help me envision the parameters of a complex problem. For example, a dozen years ago I attempted to calculate the area required to supply the entire U.S. with electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) power.

Admittedly, these thought experiments require major simplifications. To completely run the U.S. on solar power would require a substantial amount of backup power or storage for when the sun isn’t shining.

I also knew that my solar PV calculation was subject to many assumptions, and the answer could therefore be 50% too large or 50% too small. But the number I calculated — an area less than 100 miles by 100 miles — at least provided me with a point of reference for the scale of such an undertaking.

I wanted to imagine about how much area it might take, and that calculation gave me a ballpark figure to visualize. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) once calculated that there are about 2,000 square miles of suitable area for PV generation just on U.S. rooftops. So it didn’t seem like a preposterous notion.

In the dozen years since I did that calculation, U.S. solar power generation has increased by a factor of 66. U.S. wind power generation, which started from a larger base at that time, has increased by a factor of five. The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads has also grown exponentially in the past decade.

That led me to wonder how much U.S. gasoline demand could be displaced if all of the wind and solar power generation went into powering EVs. In turn, that led me to wonder about the scale of displacing all U.S. gasoline consumption with wind and solar power.

Again, I will note that this is just a thought experiment. It isn’t constrained by issues like the number of available EVs, or the amount of storage required to ensure that the power is always available on demand. With those caveats, I will attempt the calculation — with no idea beforehand how it is going to turn out.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2019 the U.S. consumed 142 billion gallons of gasoline. The EIA value for the energy content of a gallon of gasoline is 120,286 British thermal units (Btu). Thus, in 2019 the U.S. consumed 17 quadrillion Btu (quads) of gasoline.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCould The U.S. Automobile Fleet Run On Wind And Solar Power?

Wind Farm Plan Adds Solar and Battery Energy Storage in the Tri-Cities

on September 1, 2020

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. – Scout Clean Energy (“Scout”), announced plans to add solar and battery storage components to a proposed wind farm that would be located just south of the Tri-Cities in Benton County, Washington.

The innovative development will combine wind energy, solar energy, and battery energy storage in the same location – making more renewable energy available to customers during lower wind periods, and for short durations when the sun is not shining, and the wind is not blowing.

“Throughout the development process, our team has been diligently examining ways to structure the most efficient project that will maximize the local resources and also integrate the power into the local grid reliably,” said Dave Kobus, Scout’s lead project manager for the Horse Heaven Wind Farm.

Project development began in late-2016 in the form of leasing, land acquisition, and environmental surveys which was conducted by both Scout Clean Energy and WPD, a Portland, Oregon-based wind energy developer that holds lease agreements in Benton County. Scout recently acquired additional wind farm assets from WPD which will enable the company to scale up to 850 MW of combined wind, solar, and battery power. Scout and WPD will continue to cooperate in the development of the Horse Heaven project.

“Scout has been monitoring power market interest for solar and storage technology along with wind, referred to as a hybrid facility. Recent improvements in technology have created the economic conditions needed to support demand for co-locating a wind-solar-battery storage project in the Horse Heaven Hills,” noted Kobus.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsWind Farm Plan Adds Solar and Battery Energy Storage in the Tri-Cities