Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Counting Down Top 10 Energy Facts: Numbers 2 And 1

2. Carbon Concentration In Atmosphere Exceeds 400 PPM

This year the world crossed the 400 parts per million atmospheric carbon concentration for the first time in more than 800,000 years.  That obviously is remarkable and could easily be the most important energy fact of 2013.

And to make the matter more stark, carbon pollution pours in increasing amounts into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.  Our global carbon pollution problem is getting worse and worse. We are stepping on the accelerator and not hitting the brakes.

The question becomes, at what level will carbon concentrations plateau and stop rising? The fact that nobody knows the answer to that question should concern everyone. But it plainly does not.


1. Coal Is Fastest Growing Fossil Fuel In World

Coal is not king anymore in the USA, but coal is booming around the world. And so the atmospheric concentration of carbon skyrockets with no sign of slowdown ahead.

Indeed, coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel, growing faster than oil or gas, according to the IEA.
In fact, the IEA says coal will grow at the rate of 2.3% per year through 2018.

Outside the USA, low-priced coal is displacing gas to make electricity. The IEA says:

"Low international coal prices push gas out of the power generation sector, where competition is possible (except in the United States, where low gas prices are isolated from international levels)."

The sharply escalating amount of coal being mined and combusted makes depressingly small the prospect of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon at levels below 450 parts per million.  Moreover, the chances of keeping carbon atmospheric concentrations below a genuinely scary 500 parts per million are rapidly diminishing.

The fact that coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel in the world is the most important energy fact of 2013. And this fact drives home the reality that the world desperately needs an economic means to capture and store carbon.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Counting Down Top 10 Energy Facts---Numbers 4 & 3

4. Plummeting Solar Costs Build 5,000 Megawatts of Solar In US and 35,000 Megawatts Globally

Why did the US set another solar installation record this year, installing more than 5,000 megawatts of solar this year, the equivalent of a good-sized nuclear reactor? And why will 35,000 megawatts or more of solar be built around the world in 2013?

Plummeting solar costs that make solar as cheap or cheaper than taking power from the grid in more and more parts of the USA and world is the reason why solar is booming near and far.

Solar continued this year its stunning decline in the costs of the panels, installation, and permitting.  Large solar projects in the US now cost less than $2 per watt and even small residential projects are down to $3 per watt.  And those prices do not include any tax credits or other incentives. Totally amazing pricing!

But even lower solar prices are ahead in 2014, with another 10% price decline forecasted!

The amazing prices of 2013 meant that the solar industry built the equivalent of a good-sized nuclear plant just in the USA this year and will install the equivalent of 1 to 4 nuclear plants per year in 2014 and beyond. That much solar will fundamentally change our electricity and energy markets.

This picture is worth a thousand words and explains why solar power will be the ultimate disruptive energy technology.

3. Wind Power Costs Fall To 2.3 Cents/Kilowatt-hour, Making Wind Power Cheapest Energy Source

We keep being told that nuclear power renaissance and a wind power bust are around the corner. Pricing in 2013 proves neither will happen.

Nuclear power simply costs a fortune to build, to run, and to decommission. It is the country's most expensive source of new generation.  And so no renaissance in the USA is even on the distant horizon.

Unlike nuclear, wind power, however, has crashed, crushed costs so much so that utilities were buying more wind power at the end of 2013 than they had intended at the start of the year.

Indeed, wind power has crushed its costs to such an extent that it is the lowest cost new generation in increasing parts of America, even when natural gas is at $4 per thousand cubic feet.  And wind's competitive position will improve, because the odds are good that both gas will cost more than $4 in the coming years and that wind will continue to decrease its costs.

Wind now provides 4% of America's electricity, but 2013 wind pricing insures that wind will generate 10% or more of America's power by 2030.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Counting Down The 10 Most Important Energy Facts Of 2013--Facts 7,6, and 5

The Countdown of the Ten Most Important Energy Facts of 2013 continues with Number 7:

7. Nuclear Production Falls Again Below 2010 Record Year, Confirming A Slow Decline In Nuclear Power

Though nuclear power has not had a burst of new plant construction, that is almost perpetually predicted to be around the corner, the nuclear industry had steadily increased output from the nation's nuclear fleet. Investments in existing nuclear plants that wrung more power from them were quietly made over decades.  And so, for 40 years, nuclear power production rose steadily and set new record production levels, even long after the industry added very few new plants to the fleet.

Now, the era is ended, when nuclear plants regularly set record production marks. Nuclear production peaked in 2010, at nearly 807 billion kilowatt-hours, or more than 4 times wind's 2013 output.

This year will mark the third year in a row of nuclear production being less than its 2010 peak, confirming that America's nuclear power production has plateaued and may well have begun a slow decline. In addition, 5 nuclear units were scheduled for retirement and decommissioning this year. Three of those plants came to the end of the road because of mechanical problems that were too expensive to repair, but 2 others were running well.  Yet, their operational costs exceeded the low wholesale electricity prices they earned in competitive power markets.

Why are wholesale electricity prices low? Declining electricity demand, rising wind and solar production, and massive shale gas supplies that have driven down gas prices since 2008 from their high of $13 per thousand cubic feet.

Indeed, one analysis concluded that about 25% of the nation's nukes were vulnerable to closure simply because the costs of operating them exceeded the revenues they earned in wholesale electricity markets.  That is stunning, if accurate.

The slow decline of nuclear power production that has commenced since 2010 is reversible, but the odds are that it will not be. The two nuclear plants in Georgia, now under construction, will alone not be enough to do so.

If 2010 proves to be the all-time record high for US nuclear production, the task of curbing America's carbon and air pollution just got harder. Nuclear power remains America's single, biggest source of non-fossil fuel energy.

6. Marcellus Region Supplies 18% Of America's Natural Gas

The difference between gas glut and shortage in America is the Marcellus region's 13 billion cubic feet per day production--18% of America's gas supply. Whether one loves or hates it, Marcellus production is pivotal in national gas and electric power markets.

Natural gas prices rose from an average of $2.77 in 2012 to about $3.63 in 2013, a substantial increase from the rock bottom prices of last year.  Yet, had Marcellus gas production been removed from the market or had been reduced to 2010 levels of 2 billion cubic feet per day, America's natural gas price would have skyrocketed toward $8 for a thousand cubic feet or even higher at times.

Marcellus gas wells are among the most prolific shale wells in North America. That is one reason why the region's gas wells are also among America's lowest-cost to produce, highest profit margin units. Amazingly, despite those economics, Pennsylvania (unlike West Virginia) allowed another year of record gas production to pass without a drilling or severance tax.

Taxation, regulation, and zoning of gas production in the Marcellus region remain inadequate.  Most best practices, such as not using drilling wastewater pits, and technologies still are not required in the region.

Strong public opposition in New York meant that it continued its moratorium during 2013.  A moratorium issued in 2010 of further leasing of Pennsylvania's state forests also continued.  Then in an important decision at the of 2013 that may shape 2014 regulation of gas drilling in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Act 13 that had preempted local zoning of gas drilling.

5. Electric Car Sales Breakthrough To Annual Rate of 100,000 Plus

The electric car revolution gained escape velocity in 2013. Large numbers of new models entered the marketplace. Prices fell. Tesla's stock soared.

Consumers responded to more models and lower prices, buying 9,000-10,400 per month at the end of 2013 or at an annual rate of more than 100,000.  Sales in 2013 were double 2012 numbers.  Rising sales means more electric vehicles on the road, with the total now exceeding 170,000.

The sales momentum in 2013 creates the possibility that electric car sales could achieve a rate of 1% of monthly sales by the end of 2014. That will be an historic milestone when, not if, it is achieved.

Virtually nothing is more important to the America's economy, environment, and national security than transitioning our transportation fleet from oil. And so the strong rise in electric vehicle sales in 2013 is a truly important energy fact of 2013.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Counting Down The 10 Most Important Energy Facts Of 2013

Bio-diesel, solar, and wind production set records, as did electric car sales and global carbon pollution, during 2013. This year, the US oil and gas booms continued, while US coal production and exports declined. Yet, around the world, coal consumption grew faster than any other fossil fuel.

Politics rippled through the world of energy, with the start of 2013 featuring the extension of the wind production tax credit by Congress and the launching of right-wing attacks on state renewable energy requirements that had no success over the following 12 months.  New York continued its shale gas moratorium, 4 towns in Colorado passed by referendums local moratoriums, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Act 13 that had sharply limited local zoning powers over gas drilling. But California and Illinois enacted statutes regulating, permitting shale gas production.

This year is part of remarkable energy times that began in 2007. So, picking the 10 most important energy facts of action-packed 2013 is no easy task but onward!

10. Electricity Demand Falls In 5 of 6 Years

Once upon a time, actually not so long ago, electricity demand increased almost every year by 1% to 2%. But starting in 2008. something strange happened. Electricity demand in the United States declined in 4 of the 5 years from 2008 to 2012. And consumption in 2013 may be lower again!

Falling electricity demand is not the result of a shrinking economy. Indeed, US GDP has risen every quarter since July 2009 and our economy is now substantially bigger in real terms than it was in 2007, when a near depression commenced. So, what's going on with electricity demand?

Distributed solar, smart grids and meters, energy efficient lighting, appliances, motors, and buildings are all cutting demand. And lower demand is depressing wholesale electricity prices. In turn, low wholesale electricity prices are pressuring inefficient coal plants and even nuclear units, leading to some surprising coal-plant and nuclear closures in 2013.

Declining electricity demand in 5 of the last 6 years is a startling and important energy fact of 2013.

9. Gas Industry Flares 30% of Gas In North Dakota

Flaring of natural gas in North Dakota is essentially out of control, burning $100 million of product a month, and emitting 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Those are big numbers, and the economic loss has caused landowners to sue to recover lost royalty payments that have literally gone up in smoke.

But what is most telling about the gas flaring in North Dakota is the attitude it demonstrates about environmentally responsible operations among those companies doing it and the regulators allowing it. That attitude reveals itself in other ways around America in things like drilling pits for wastewater and not using available pollution controls that could cut air emissions by 90% from compressor stations.

Simply, the attitude that fuels North Dakota flaring is burning not only gas but also large swaths of public opinion. It represents a view that environmental protection comes second to profit maximization. That view is not shared by most Americans and is certainly not what they want in their neighborhoods.

8. New York's Air Cleanest In 50 Years, Saving 800 Lives Per Year

Clean air regulations and energy economics are causing a massive switch from oil to natural gas in New York City.  As a consequence of switching from more expensive, dirtier oil, consumers are saving money, the air is cleaner in New York City than anytime in the last 50 years, and 800 lives per year are being saved, according to a public health study. That's a wonderful and important energy fact.

Yet, the gas that is displacing dirtier oil is coming largely from local communities in Pennsylvania, where best practices and best technologies are not being used and where pollution is higher as a result.

It's past time to mandate the best pollution controls at compressor stations, to limit substantially flaring, to require green completions at gas wells, to ban pits for drilling wastewater, and to insist that best practices and technologies be routinely used to reduce pollution in local areas where gas is produced. New York City's clean air must not come at the expense of dirty air in the gas fields around America.

The combination of less energy demand as well as renewable energy and gas displacing coal and oil is cutting significantly across America soot, mercury, lead, arsenic, and other air pollutants that sicken and kill. But these national advances make it a moral imperative to protect local communities where gas drilling takes place.

For in some of these gas drilling communities, air quality is worse, not better. That injustice must not be accepted!

Tomorrow, the Countdown continues with Number 7.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Study Finds Texas Will Increase Renewable Energy By 150% To 330% But Add No Coal Capacity

Texas is a power generation giant, and how Texas generates electricity will be a model for America. In short, Texas charts America's power generation future more surely than any other state!

Today, like America, Texas relies on coal, gas, nuclear, and renewable energy. Indeed, renewable energy, nearly all of it wind, accounts for 10% of Texas's power, a bit less than the 14% green power provides America. But change is sweeping through how Texas generates electricity.

A new study finds that Texas will add no new coal or nuclear capacity between now and 2032. Zero new coal, as Texas ramps up natural gas and renewable energy generation.

Texas's reliance on renewable energy generation jumps from 10% today to 25% or possibly 43%.  The trend lines for renewable energy are one more indication that the most recent EIA's 2040 renewable energy projection nears silliness.

Here is what the study states:

  • Across the more likely scenarios, wind and solar grow from their current 10 percent generation share to levels between 25 and 43 percent. Natural gas-fired generation provides all of the remaining incremental generation, adding 12 to 25 gigwatts of new combined-cycle capacity – a 38 to 80 percent increase in the current installed base.
  • The mix of new gas and renewables generation is sensitive to the price of natural gas and cost declines in wind and solar power. Changes in these three factors can cause significant shifts in the mix of future installations, leading to a wide range of plausible generation shares for wind, solar, and natural gas.

PA Supreme Court Knocks Down Bullying Act 13 But Will The Gas Industry Double Down?

Ever since Governor Corbett was elected, whatever the gas industry wanted it received.  One timeless lesson of the remarkable decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is to be careful for what you ask.

That is a lesson that the gas industry forgot in 2011, when it used its political muscle and Governor Corbett's unquestioning support, to ram through the Pennsylvania General Assembly Act 13. The gas industry got what it asked for and showed that it preferred to bully state government than be a good neighbor in municipalities across Pennsylvania.

The question now becomes, will the gas industry double down on its bully tactics and jam through another state law?  Early indications are that it is likely to  do just that!

Or will the gas industry head in a different direction that works with local governments, land owners, lease holders, and even those who experience negative impacts from gas drilling? This path requires more work, more restraint, more respect for the diversity of opinion across Pennsylvania. Working with neighbors means correcting mistakes without the need for suits, installing pollution controls that are the best, even when they cost a bit more in the short run, not drilling in some locations, and paying a drilling tax.

The gas industry must choose whether it will be the neighborhood bully. Attacking zoning once more will be doubling down on bully laws.

Paradoxically, the fact that the Governor will give the gas industry whatever it wants creates a trap for the industry itself. So far, the industry has consistently showed that it cannot discipline itself to be careful for what it asks. The temptation is just too great and over-reach is the result.

The ball is now back in the gas industry's court. Will it be more bully ball? If so, opposition to the gas industry, already significant, will rise and intensify. Be careful for what one asks!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Green Power: Renewable Energy Is 100% Of New Generation Added In November

All--100%--of the new generation added in America during November was renewable energy.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports that 394 megawatts of utility scale generation became operational in November. This total does not include distributed generation and substantially understates total new generation as a result. Specifically, large amounts of solar generation are not reflected in the FERC data.

Non-Hydro Renewable Energy Increases 112% or 113 Billion Kilowatt-hours Since 2007

Non-hydro renewable energy--wind, solar, biomass, geothermal--has been on a tear since 2007, the year coal-generation peaked. The growth numbers are simply astonishing.

Starting at a base of 105 billion Kwhs in 2007, electricity generation from non-hydro renewable energy resources skyrocketed 120% to 218 billion Kwhs or an increase of 113 billion Kwhs in just 5 years.

Another way to measure the jump in non-hydro renewable energy generation is in households served. In 2007, non-hydro renewable energy sources generated enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 10.5 million homes. But by 2013, they were producing power for nearly 22 million homes. Wow!

Hydro itself produces enough power for typically between 24 million to more than 30 million homes each year. And so, in combination, the non-hydro renewable energy generators are nearly as big as hydro. Renewable generated electricity already is big business, vital to America's consumers, economy, power markets, and economy. And it is rapidly getting bigger still!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Natural Gas Generation Increases 25% or 300 Billion Kilowatt-hours From 2007 To 2012: What Role Will Gas Play In The Next 20 Years

Generating electricity from natural gas had been growing slowly from 1990 to 2007. The low capital costs of a natural gas plant were a big draw, though gas prices swung from low to high.

After gas prices peaked in July 2008 at $13 per thousand cubic feet, and then plummeted from that peak, natural gas generation jumped, increasing 25% and 300 billion kilowatt-hours from 2007-2012.

Natural gas has been steadily raising its share of America's electricity production from 12% in 1990, to 16% in 2000, to 30% in 2012.

The gains for natural gas created pain for coal whose market share declined from 48% in 2008 to 37% in 2012.  Coal-fired generation dropped 500 billion kilowatt-hours or 25% of its 2007 peak total, while natural gas gained 300 billion kilowatt-hours.  Renewable energy also gained at coal's expense, with non-hydro renewable energy jumping 113 billion kilowatt-hours.

Looking out to 2040, the EIA projects, in its latest Annual Report, that gas will pass coal, as America's leading source of electric power, in 2035. Does that projection understate or overstate the role of natural gas in making America's power in the next two decades?  The truth is nobody knows.

What the period from 2007 to 2012 shows is how dramatically and quickly large energy trends can change. What looked certain 6 years ago proved uncertain 6 years later. In fact, gas and renewable energy have done much better in the marketplace in the last 5 years than conventional wisdom  expected just 6 years ago.

My expectation is that over the next 20 years the biggest shake up of the electricity generation industry will come from booming solar, increasingly competitive energy storage, substantial market gains by fuel cells, and rising energy efficiency.

Stunning Facts: Hydropower Provides 15% of World's Electricity & 30,000 Megawatts Added In 2012

The world's carbon and air pollution would be much, much worse without hydro power. Indeed, zero-carbon, zero-air pollution hydro power provides 15% of the world's electricity!

By contrast, hydro provides about 8% of America's power.  Using water to make 8% of America's power and 15% of the global electricity avoids burning large amounts of coal, gas, and oil or nuclear power. Yet, in the energy world, there are always trade-offs.

Large hydro projects in many parts of the world, including America, have caused substantial damage to river systems, fish migration, and to communities living nearby. Indeed, China has forcibly moved millions of people from their homes in order to build massive dam systems to generate hydro power.

Around the world, hydro added 30,000 megawatts in 2013, an impressive amount that is equal to about 15 nuclear plants. Hydro power is the oldest form of power, but it is still very much part of our modern world.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stunning Fact: Siemens Gets World's Largest Onshore Wind Order From Buffett's Utility

Wind is big business and getting bigger. Siemens (not a mom and pop operation) just landed the world's largest onshore wind power order from Buffett's Iowa utility (also not a mom and pop operation).

Buffett's utility ordered 1,050 megawatts of wind capacity that will be provided by more than 400 turbines manufactured by Siemens. The value of the contract is about $1 billion.  Most of the turbines will be operating by 2014 and all by 2015.

A major competitive advantage of wind power is that it goes from order to operation faster than any other power alternative, with the possible exception of solar.

Now $1 billion orders of any type are a big deal in any industry. Siemens has landed a big one for sure. But the $1 billion total of the order is big but the unit price is small. And that makes the Siemens-Buffett deal even more important.

Buffett's utility is getting 1 megawatt of wind generation for $1 million. That is astonishingly low!  Not long ago, the capital costs of wind generation were over $2 million per megawatt.

The crashing capital costs of wind power, combined with its impossible to beat fuel cost, is making wind power the lowest cost source of new generation in substantial parts of America. Right now. And that is yet another reason why the EIA's just released 2040 projection that renewable energy's generation market share will increase just 2 percentage points over the next 27 years is close to silly.

Hot Fact: Global November Temperatures Warmest Since Records Kept

The National Climatic Data Center reports the following:

"The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for November 2013 was record highest for the 134-year period of record, at 0.78°C (1.40°F) above the 20th century average of 12.9°C (55.2°F)."

The National Climatic Data Center also finds the following:

"The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the year-to-date (January–November) was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.2°F), tying with 2002 as the fourth warmest such period on record."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bad New EIA Projections: Is EIA's Latest Coal Or Renewable Energy Market Share Projection More Wrong?

The Energy Information Administration is out with its preliminary 2014 Annual Report that features numerous projections about America's energy future through 2040. It's a fun read but be careful!

Be especially careful about the EIA's market share projections for coal-fired and renewable energy electricity. The EIA projects that coal generation's market share will modestly decline over the next 27 years from 39% in 2013 to 34% in 2035 and 32% in 2040.

As a point of comparison, remember that coal's market share fell from 48% to 37% from 2008 to 2012.

Also, the EIA forecasts that renewable energy's market share will increase minutely from 12% in 2012  to 16% in 2040.  Yet, renewable energy will provide about 14% of the nation's electricity this year. And so, the EIA projection would be right if renewable energy's market share increases just another 2 percentage points in the next 27 years.

To summarize, according to the EIA, coal will lose just 5 percentage points of market share from 2013 to 2035, and renewable energy will gain just 2 percentage points of market share from 2013 to 2014. I think not!

While both almost are certainly wrong, the renewable energy forecast is close to silly.  It fails to reflect the astonishing solar tsunami that is already building the equivalent of more than one nuclear plant per year and soon will be equal to 2 to 4 new nuclear plants annually. Wind too will more than double almost certainly over the next 25 years.

Why are wind and solar skyrocketing? Federal and state policies are favorable. But both wind and solar now are economically competitive in large areas of the country, and their prices are still falling, while fossil fuel prices are volatile, with the price of natural gas likely to rise in the short, medium, and long terms.

As for EIA's coal market share projection, the EIA likely underestimates coal's loss of market share over the next 27 years.  Why? In part, because the EIA gets so wrong the increase in renewable energy generation, and because the EIA underestimates the economic pressures on coal generation in competitive generation markets.

Both EIA's renewable energy and coal market share projections are wrong, very wrong, but the EIA's renewable energy forecast is most wrong of all!

Sunny Fact: Installed Cost Of Solar Now Averages $3 Per Watt And Falls 4.2% Since June!

The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the price of solar fell another 4.2% in the third quarter from the second quarter.  Prices are lowest for large utility scale projects and highest for small residential units. What is the average cost of a fully installed solar system now in the USA?

"Blended average PV system prices fell 4.2 percent in Q3 2013 compared to the previous quarter, reaching a new low of $3.00/W."

That is astonishing progress and means that the lowest cost projects are now below $2 per watt. Just amazing!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Coal Generation Drops 25% Or 500 Billion Kilowatt-hours Since Its 2007 Peak: What Will The Next 5 Years Bring For Coal Generation?

In 2007, when coal-fired generation was peaking at over 2 trillion kilowatt-hours of production, nobody saw it coming. What came was a colossal drop in coal-fired generation over the next 5 years.

From 2007 to 2012, the nation's leading source of power experienced an incredible 25% decline in output. Coal generation fell an astounding 500 billion kilowatt-hours, with the deepest drop in 2012.

Indeed, in 2012 alone, coal-fired generation fell more than 200 billion kilowatt-hours or 10% of its 2007 peak.

Coal's reversal of fortune is truly remarkable from the vantage point of 2007. Then coal was rising and more than 150 new coal plants were in the development pipeline.

Several things turned the bright future coal generation had in 2007 into a 25% drop in production by 2012. The price of natural gas crashed from a high of $13 per thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to a low of less than $2 in April 2012. The falling gas price made gas-fired generation low-cost and turned a slow increase in natural gas generation into a rapid rise. The gains of natural gas came at the expense of coal but not renewable energy.

Non-hydro, renewable energy production also soared 120% from 2007 to 2012 and generated 113 billion kilowatt-hours more. Indeed, non-hydro renewable energy and gas together replaced 413 billion kilowatt-hours of the 500 billion kilowatt-hours decrease of coal generation in this 5 year period.

Finally, the demand of electricity that had meant an ever-increasing electric market stalled, as a result both of the near depression that began in November 2007 and ended in July 2009 and rising energy efficiency across the economy.

What will the future bring for coal? 2013 has seen a modest rebound of around 5% from the 2012 low. Even so coal-fired power plants will produce less electricity this year than they did in 2011. And more coal plant retirements will take place over the next 5 years, and the odds, therefore, are high that coal generation soon will fall below the recent lows set in 2012.

Clean Power Fact: California Adding 8,000 Megawatts Of Wind And Solar

California today has 10,700 megawatts of wind and solar capacity operating. That's about 15% of America's combined 70,000 plus megawatts of wind and solar.

No doubt, California already is a renewable energy leader, but the Golden State is just getting started. California will build another 8,000 megawatts of solar and wind capacity by 2020.

My strong belief, however, is that California will build much more than 8,000 megawatts of solar and wind by 2020. Why?

The size of the solar boom will surprise nearly all of us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Rare Fact: Generation Retirements Exceeding New Generation Capacity In 2013

In the electricity industry, the earth is moving.  Gone are the days when electricity consumption increased like clock work.

And gone are the days when the amount of new generation normally exceeded the amount of generation that retired. This year, retirements just might exceed the amount of new generation capacity coming on line.

"So far this year (through October 2013), the electricity industry has added 10.0 gigawatts (GW)
of new generating capacity.  Much of this new capacity (6.2 GW) is fueled by natural gas.
Renewable energy sources are used in 2.3 GW of the new capacity while two new coal plants
(1.5 GW) have also started producing electricity this year.  However, these new sources for
power generation have been more than offset by 11.1 GW of retired capacity.  Coal-fired and
nuclear plants comprise the largest proportion of year-to-date retired capacity (3.8 GW and 3.6
GW, respectively).  A total of 2.3 GW of natural-gas-fired capacity has been retired so far this

Chicago Buys Zero-Coal Electricity & Saves 2%

Chicago, the Windy City, has signed a new contract for all of its electricity with a competitive supplier.  None of it will come from coal-burning power plants.  The new contract also will save 2%.

Indeed, Chicago's price for power generation is an incredibly low 4.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. As recently as 2008, in many parts of America, power generation prices were 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stunning Facts: America Has More Than 400,000 Solar Systems Operating This Year And 1 Million By 2017

Gone are the bad, old days when the sight of a solar system was rare.

Today, solar systems--big and small--are common.  Indeed, the number of solar systems operating is already nearly bigger than the population of Wyoming.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reports: 

"Cumulative solar capacity has already surpassed the 10 GW mark, and by the end of the year more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the country."

America will likely reach 1 million solar systems by 2017. Amazing!

Coal's 2013 Ups and Downs: Consumption Up, Production Down, Exports Down, Price Down For First Time Since 2000

Coal-fired electricity generation has had a modest rebound this year, but modestly increased coal generation has not been a rising tide lifting all coal boats.

Coal production is down 1.8%. Coal consumption is up 4.4%. Exports are down 8.1%

All that has added up to coal prices falling about 2%, the first decline since 2000! That declining price signals distress and competitive pressure from natural gas as well as renewable energy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sun Fact: Uncle Sam Will Install 5,000 Megawatts Of Solar In 2013--More Than Germany!

The sun is shining more brightly than ever in America. America's solar industry will install about 5,000 megawatts of solar capacity in 2013.  That will produce more power than a medium-sized nuke.

Here is more good news about America's solar industry.  More solar will probably be installed here than in Germany. That's notable, because Germany is the world solar leader.

At least for now.

Stunning Fact: Morgan Stanley States New Wind Costs Less Than Coal And Gas In Midwest

Here is yet more evidence of the incredibly low prices wind power has achieved. And this data comes from the heart of Wall Street---Morgan Stanley to be precise:

“In the Midwest, we’re now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt hour,” said Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy at the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. “Compare that to the variable cost of a gas plant at $30/MWh, the all-in cost to justify the construction of a new gas plant would be above $60/MWh.”

Wind power is a triumph for America's economy and environment, making Uncle Sam more competitive and cleaner.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Key Fact: Natural Gas Prices Rise 33% From $2.70/mcf To $3.68/mcf In 2013

The age of natural gas price volatility is not dead. Just consider price movements in the last 12 months.

Natural gas prices hit rock bottom in April 2012, when they actually were below $2 for a thousand cubic feet for a short time. For all of 2012, natural gas averaged an extremely low $2.70.

In 2013, natural gas prices are up a big percentage--36%--but from their low 2012 levels. Gas prices this year have averaged $4, a low level when compared to that existed from 2000 to 2011.

The higher 2013 natural gas pricing has meant a significant decline in the use of natural gas to make electricity, a modest rebound in the amount of coal-fired generation, and higher heating bills for many homeowners. EIA projects that natural gas heating bills will average across America $80 more this winter.

Reality Check: Texas Oil Production Doubles In 3 Years And Highest Since 1981

Daily oil production has doubled in Texas in the last 3 years and stands at 2.7 million barrels per day.

Lone Star oil production is now the highest since 1981 and is nearing its all-time peak production of 3.4 million barrels per day. When was that set?


Monday, December 9, 2013

Astonishing Facts: New Wind Farms In New Mexico, Texas & Minnesota Cost Just 2.2 to 3.3 Cents/Kwh

Last month revealed truly astonishing utility Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for new wind power in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Texas. Utilities are purchasing new wind generation for $22 to $33/Mwh.  That is astonishingly low pricing and wonderful bargains for the lucky consumers!

How do these wind prices compare to the cost of a new gas plant? A new gas plant today would generate gas at a cost of about $50 to $60/Mwh.

The bargain pricing in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Texas reflects continued improvement in wind turbines that each year produce more power at lower costs per kilowatt-hour. Wind will soon provide 5% of America's power, and the continued cost declines mean that wind can provide 20% of our electricity by 2035.

Newt Gingrich Demolishes Conservative Attacks On Mandela In Remarkable Statement

This morning, let us sing praises for Newt Gingrich for taking on right-wing attacks on Nelson Mandela.

I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, listened in my earliest years to my father rage against the fascist, racist Apartheid regime of South Africa. I am in awe of Mandela's courage in putting his life on the line in the face of unrestrained brutality and tyranny. Then, after 27 years of rock breaking in terrible prisons and  the murders of countless friends, comrades and others, Mandela practices divine grace to lead black and white toward reconciliation.

Though most Americans have reacted to Mandela's death with respect, sorrow, even love, some conservatives have not. Now comes Newt Gingrich to demolish these right-wing attacks on Mandela.

Gingrich's statement is remarkable and begins with:

"Yesterday I issued a heartfelt and personal statement about the passing of President Nelson Mandela. I said that his family and his country would be in my prayers and Callista’s prayers. I was surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some of the people who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure. So let me say to those conservatives who don’t want to honor Nelson Mandela, what would you have done?"

Gingrich's remarkable statement should be read by all and is here:

Thank you to Newt Gingrich for speaking well and strongly to America's conservatives.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Good Fact: Electric Vehicles Now 160,000 On The Road

Sales of electric vehicles are adding up. Indeed, more than 160,000 EVs are now on the road!

After hitting the 100,000 mark in May, electric vehicle sales are accelerating.  Monthly sales are now exceeding 9,000 cars or an annualized rate of about 110,000 vehicles.  And even more models are coming into the marketplace like the BMWi8 that is sold out for 2014.

Reality Check: PA Natural Gas Heating Bills Lowest Since 2003 But Gas Drilling Rules & Enforcement Are Weak

Natural gas heating bills in Pennsylvania this December are the lowest since 2003, according to data from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, as reported by Marc Levy of the AP.

While many consumers who need lower heating bills are getting them, virtually all consumers want strong gas drilling rules and enforcement of them. Consumers don't want local communities where gas drilling takes place to experience readily avoidable environmental impacts. Yet, the reality is that current rules and enforcement are too weak and too many local people experience impacts that could be reduced or eliminated.

For example, flaring rules are lax. Pits for storing drilling wastewater are not banned. The best pollution controls on compressors and other equipment are not required to be used and so often are not. As a result, air emissions that could be cut by 90% are not so slashed.

The size of the regulatory staff regulating the gas industry is too small. Local communities' authority to zone gas drilling has been crippled. And no drilling tax is being levied.

Now is the time to make the gas industry use the best technologies and best practices.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stunning Fact: US Auto Fuel Efficiency Up 23% Since 2007!

University of Michigan data shows stunning improvement in auto fuel efficiency. It is up from 20.4 mpg in November 2007 to 24.8 mpg in November 2013 or 23%. And it is still steadily rising. Wow!

Reality Check: Why Did Gas Wellhead Price Fall 66% But Residential Price Drop Just 23% From 2008 To 2013?

The charts below show the huge variations in average natural gas prices that different consumers pay. The average price a residential customer paid for natural gas in 2012 was $10.68, while the average price of gas at the well was $2.66.  What explains such a massive difference between those prices?

First and most importantly, most of the $10.68 paid by a residential customer is for the pipes, the meters, and other items needed to move the gas from the well to the home.

Second, nearly all residential customers are not paying the spot or short-term gas price but are paying for a portfolio of gas that includes some spot gas but also long-term gas contracts. The price of the gas in the long-term contracts was higher than the low, low 2012 spot gas prices.

Yet, very large consumers of gas--industrial and electric power plant users--pay much, much lower natural gas prices than residential customers. This much lower pricing reflects a number of market and regulatory factors, including how utility commissions assign fixed costs to different kinds of customers.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good Fact: Nature Conservancy Poll Finds 80% Plus Support Strong Environmental Regulation Of Shale Gas

The public wants something that is not now the case--strong environmental regulation of shale gas development, according to a new poll of opinion in 6 states in the Marcellus region. The Nature Conservancy poll is full of interesting data--87% support for slashing methane leakage--and is here:

Best practices and best technology are currently both available and not being uniformly used. Some companies don't use drilling pits to store drilling waste water but others do. Most compressor stations are running on diesel fuel--the dirtiest option--and don't have installed the best pollution controls that would cut air emissions 90%. Flaring is widely used and too often with poor equipment. Green completions to cut methane emissions are spreading and will be required in 2014 by EPA rule for most shale wells but still many wells are drilled without them.

In short, the voluntary approach has and will not work. State and federal rules must require best practices and technology. Then regulators must enforce those rules to insure compliance.  That's exactly what overwhelming majorities want.

Time will tell whether those majorities matter!

Admirals Bank Offers Nationwide Up To $40,000 Loans For Solar Projects

The marketplace is filling with more ways to build and finance solar projects at homes and businesses. Leasing solar systems is one option that is increasingly available and is currently the market leader.

But owning solar systems can be a better deal for homeowners, allowing them to keep more of the savings and value created by installing solar. Yet, many homeowners don't have $20,000 of disposable cash that they can put into a solar system and so solar ownership has been out of reach for many families and businesses.

But now, Admirals Bank has a product that will allow many more homeowners to own solar and not lease systems. The bank is offering loans of up to $40,000 nationwide for solar systems at a 4.5% rate.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Reality Check: Coal Accounts For 43%; Oil 33%; And Gas 18% Of Global Carbon Emissions

Annual global carbon emissions hit a record level in 2012, and burning coal accounted for 43% of the record total. It is the leading global source of carbon emissions. But what about oil and gas?

Oil usage was responsible for 33% and gas 18% of the world's total carbon emissions.  By contrast, in the USA, burning oil is the top source of carbon emissions at 43%, while coal ranks second at 31%.

Wow Facts: BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid Goes 184 MPH & Gets 94 MPG

Do you want stellar performance from your next car? How about a top speed of 184 miles per hour and 94 miles per gallon? That's the wow performance of the new BMW i8 plug-in hybrid.

The car goes on sale in 2014 and is already sold out for the entire year. The electric vehicle revolution is going to be a lot of fun for auto enthusiasts!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Green Power: Facebook's New Iowa Data Center Goes 100% Wind Power

Facebook's new Iowa Data Center will be powered 100% by wind power from one of Warren Buffett's Mid American wind farms. Facebook is a phenomenon and even makes investment decisions based partially on whether renewable energy is available. Don't believe that? Here is Facebook itself:
When we settled on Altoona as the location for our fourth data center, one of the deciding factors was the opportunity to help develop a new wind project in the state. The project brings additional investment and jobs to the region, and in effect it makes it possible, on an annualized basis, for 100% of our energy needs to be met entirely with one of Iowa’s most abundant renewable resources. We are committed to reaching 25% clean and renewable energy in our global data center mix in 2015, and we will continue to work with utilities and other partners on supply options for our other data centers."

Record Facts: Biodiesel Production Booms To Record Pace

Biodiesel production is booming. During the third quarter of 2013, monthly production averaged about 125 million gallons, the highest quarterly production ever, and an annualized production level of 1.5 billion gallons.

While biodiesel production in 2013 will not reach 1.5 billion gallons, which would be 50% more than the 2012 level, biodiesel production this year is almost certain to set a new annual record. From April to September 2013, biodiesel production each month exceeded the amount produced in the same months during 2012.

Unlike gasoline that has a negative energy balance (it takes more energy to produce a gallon of gasoline for your car than it provides when used), biodiesel has a strongly positive energy balance. Its boom is good news for our environment and economy.

Stunning Fact: Tesla Earns A 99 In Consumer Reports Customer Satisfaction Survey

Most of us remember a tough teacher or professor that never gave a 100% or even a 99%.  Consumer Reports and the owners of vehicles whom it surveys had been that tough grader, until Tesla.

Tesla just got a 99% in Consumer Reports' car owner satisfaction survey.  Well done, indeed!

In fact, given that 99%, the 3 owners (one in Mexico) out of about 20,000, who had Tesla fires, may have liked it.