California has set very ambitious goals for converting its energy supply to renewables. In a bill that is currently being discussed in the State Legislature, SB-100, California would officially establish the goal of reaching 100% renewable energy consumption by 2045. In addition to SB-100 being discussed in the State Capital, on September 8, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB-32, which commits the State of California to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030. While California’s emissions peaked in 2009 and have shown stable (if incremental) reductions over the past 7 years, there still is a great deal of work required to attain Governor Brown’s ambitious target.
While many believe that both pieces of legislation have obvious merit, there remain many challenges to attaining such lofty targets. One of the biggest issues with these goals is the inability of utility providers to balance the various intermittent power sources available that can produce renewable energy. Wind only blows a limited percentage of the time and solar only provides electricity when the sun is shining. Even hydropower is subject to droughts and variable rainfall. How then is a utility supposed to provide consistent and reliable power every day, to everyone, when any, or all, of these energy sources may or may not be available? Historically, the answer to that question has been power plants that run on storable fuels such as coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuels. So, the question becomes: how does California bridge the gap between a 100% renewable energy future and the current system that relies on more than two thirds of its energy coming from fossil fuels?
Is there a way California can solve both problems with currently accessible technology? The answer may surprisingly be yes, and the solution may come from a place very few expected.
Some Brief Facts about Trash:
- The U.S. creates, roughly speaking, about 250,000,000 tons of trash a year. In pounds that’s 500,000,000,000lbs per year. To make this more clear, that’s 500 billion pounds of trash, every year!
- About 30% of Municipal Solid Waste is made up of organic materials such as yard clippings, food waste and other organics
- That means that the U.S. disposes about 75,000,000 tons of organic waste each year
- All of that organic waste breaks down over time and emits massive amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere
- As a Greenhouse Gas, Methane is 21 times more potent (meaning it traps heat in the atmosphere)
Hidden within that organic waste is an enormous amount of chemical energy. There are a number of ways that this energy can be captured, but the primary two are:
- Organics converted into methane – also known as Anaerobic Digestion
- Organics converted into ethanol – also known as Fermentation
Converting Trash into Fuel:
Each of these methods, when done correctly, yields a storable fuel source. In the case of anaerobic digestion, the storable fuel is methane, which most in the industry would call Biogas. Biogas is equivalent to natural gas depending on the purity and concentration levels reached. The second method, called fermentation, yields ethanol. Ethanol is a type of alcohol, and many might know it as grain alcohol, or moonshine. Both of these fuels can be used combusted in generators to generate electricity.
Through either of these methods, a fuel source, that can be stored for later use, can be derived from something that society pays to store in landfills. Additionally, if California were to utilize organic waste to create energy, it would reduce its landfill content by close to 30% and would capture the methane emitted by the decaying waste,. Utilizing this approach would yield the following benefits:
- Less waste going to landfills
- Less methane going into the atmosphere
- Very low cost fuel that can be used to generate electricity
Additionally, because these fuels can be stored, they don’t have to be used right away. That allows electricity to be consumed in a few different ways:
- A typical business could use electrical generators powered by either of these 100% renewable fuels, while not taking up massive roof space, or building intensive carport structures to support solar panels. Additionally, unlike solar, because the business can store the ethanol or methane on site, it can essentially run “off-grid” in the case of a power outage. As long as the business had a large enough fuel tank or regular deliveries, it could run off-grid indefinitely. Lastly, if the business sized its generator for extra capacity, it could deliver additional energy back to the grid. If the business were to send power back to the grid, it could program the generator to wait until energy demand peaked (and corresponding energy prices are at their maximum) before transmitting that power onto the grid. In this way, the business could achieve the highest rate of return on its investment.
- If a utility placed a small 1-10 MW generator at each of their substations, they could create mini-Peaker Plants (Peaker Plants are power plants that are typically operated only during extreme electrical load peaks) and could fill in the gaps when renewable energy sources are not providing sufficient electricity.
- By doing so, the utilities would get the best of both worlds. They could add significant amounts of additional load capacity to the grid, while maintaining the 100% renewable energy mandate. Additionally, this new load capacity would not be intermittent in nature and would be entirely under the utility’s control.
The only issue not addressed by ethanol/methane driven generators, is the problem of “over production”. Due to the intermittent nature of most renewable energy technologies, it’s not known if they will all be on, some will be on, or they may all be off from day to day.
Given the substantial amount of new solar and wind generation added to California’s grid over the past 10 years, there are times when both solar and wind are producing at their maximums across the state and the grid does not have the corresponding load requirements to use all of that energy. During these times (which are not very common) utilities will ask some of their heaviest usage customers to take some of this additional load if they can. As more renewables get added to the grid, this problem will only worsen. To achieve a goal of 100% renewable energy, utilities will still need to add battery capacity to the grid to balance load and energy production. This is one area where a waste to energy solution will not be an effective solution. Waste to energy is a “supply side” only solution, and can’t be used to add demand to the grid in times of over production. That being said, figuring out ways to add a 100% renewable energy source (derived from waste) to California’s energy mix could be a huge benefit to the grid, to the climate, and to businesses and other users of electricity.
About Sustainable Capital Finance: Sustainable Capital Finance (SCF) is a third party financier & owner/operator of commercial & industrial (C&I) solar assets and is comprised of experts that specialize in structured finance and solar development. SCF has a vast network of EPCs and Developers across the US that submit project development opportunities through SCF’s cloud-based platform, the “SCF Suite”. This allows SCF to acquire and develop early to mid-stage C&I solar projects, while aggregating them into large portfolios. SCF has standardized the diligence and transaction process, thus creating cost-efficiencies and risk mitigation, in order to solidify the C&I marketplace as an investment-worthy asset class. For more information, visit https://www.scf.com. Connect with us on Twitter at @SCF_News and follow us on Linkedin and Facebook!
- There will be a 30% tariff on all imported crystalline silicon PV modules & cells with the first 2.5 GW of cell imports being excluded.
- The tariffs will decrease annually at a rate of 5% over the next 4 years finalizing at 15% in 2022.
- There are no floor prices or quotas established, despite being included within the initial recommendation proposed by the two petitioners Suniva & Solarworld.
- According to GTM Research, the proposed tariff should equate to a tax of $0.10-$0.15/W which will hamper deployment of utility-scale solar installations by as much as 9%.
- Solar jobs will undoubtedly be affected by this tariff, but the industry as a whole can breathe a sigh of relief that further damages were avoided.
New Jersey Senate Passes Bill 2276 to Raise Solar Energy Targets
The New Jersey Senate passed a bill on January 8th, 2018 as a short term fix to avoid the collapse of the solar market once the current goal is hit later this year. It is still unknown as to whether or not Gov. Chris Christie will sign the bill and his term expires next week.
FERC Rejects Energy Secretary’s Plan to Bail Out Coal and Nuclear Industries
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order officially ending Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to bail out both the coal & nuclear industry, citing the DOE didn’t provide evidence that the existing market rules are “unjust and unreasonable”. The proposed plan helped subsidize the stored fuel costs required to operate coal & nuclear plants. FERC’s order was praised by both environmental groups & energy advocates.
Panasonic Begins to Ramp Up Solar Cell Manufacturing at Tesla Gigafactory 2
Back in 2016, Tesla and Panasonic developed a partnership to produce and distribute high-efficiency Panasonic cells & modules. After a year of delays and trial runs, the Gigafactory 2 is officially producing both cells & panels. A portion of the manufactured panels are dedicated to the Tesla’s much hyped solar-roof. Systems are starting to be installed on roofs of non-Tesla employees.
DOE invests $12 Million in 8 projects with goals to improve solar forecasting.
These projects will seek to improve solar forecasting, building upon similar projects that were awarded funds in 2012. Expanding the solar forecasting from 24 to 48 hours in advance will help grid operators manage day-ahead planning. An example of one of the awarded projects is IBM’s Watt-Sun Program.
Schneider Electric SE & Cybersecurity Firm FireEye Confirmed Successful Hack of Industrial Control Systems at an Unnamed Facility
Cybersecurity has become an increased focal point for the electric industry in 2018 & beyond. With more and more cyber-attack attempts occurring every year, industry leaders are being challenged to address such a critical issue. Consulting Firm Accenture recently found that more than 75% of utility executives in North America believe a cyber-attack is probable in as soon as five years.
‘Tis the season to…come up with a 2018 solar wish list? Yes, that’s precisely what the team at SCF compiled. Some of these wishes are realistic, others are not…like that 120 crayon Crayola pack that never made its way under the tree. Check out SCF’s #SolarWishList, and please feel free to add to the list, by utilizing the comment section.
1) Preserve the ITC & throw in an extension, better yet, extend it indefinitely!
2) Minimal tariffs & quotas on cell & module imports (Section 201 Trade Case)
3) Blockchain Investment & development of additional use cases
4) More Solar-Inspired Art & Architecture
6) Increased Solar + Storage Deployment (Read more on storage bankability here)
7) Less Solar Degradation (Loss in production due to panel aging) – SunPower’s most recent degradation rates are testing at 0.25%/annually (Source here).
8) To help reverse Climate Change
9) Cheaper Panels and more efficient ways to install panels
10) Bankability of SRECs & additional rebate programs
11) Improved Community Solar Asset Management & Development of Solar for Low-Income Housing
13) Reconstruction & Renovation of Puerto Rican Grid to include DERs
14) Significantly more institutional capital in the marketplace therefore lowering the cost of capital
15) Expansion into new markets: States like Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire & others are positioning themselves to make significant progress in solar development in the next couple years.
16) Cooperation & teamwork from all stakeholders continuing to promote a sustainable cause
17) 365 days of sunshine a year, throw in some rain and snow when/where needed
18) Tax reform that incentivizes more tax equity in the market.
What are 3 words to describe SCF?
Solar financing specialists.
What do you like most about SCF?
I enjoy being part of a small, knowledgeable team, that get’s to work on very interesting solar projects, from schools and churches, to home owners associations, municipalities and general commercial customers.
What is your role at SCF?
I head up the project operations team, as their Project Operations Manager (please don’t call me the POM 🙂 that manages the due diligence, development and construction process on all of our acquisitions and developments. Our team prepares financial models, updates contracts, reviews various technical documents and manages schedules to ensure that projects meet our requirements.
What career advice would you give for people trying to enter the solar field?
Leverage your existing skills and experience as there are a great variety of roles in the solar industry. Whether it be in manufacturing, sales, engineering, construction, science, real estate, tech, insurance, finance, risk, or law, there are numerous people with different specialties that are involved in a project. Be well read on various topics, complete short courses (NABCEP and Heatspring offer affordable courses) and attend various networking events, such as those for young professionals and women in solar (organised/attended by our very own Maggie Parkhurst!).
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Being able to apply my skills in different countries and industries.
What is the best book you’ve read?
I tend to read mostly non-fiction and historical fiction (sad, I know), but I found Richard Muller’s Energy for Future Presidents and Physics for Future Presidents interesting and helpful reads for anyone entering the renewable energy industry.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Stay outdoors and active, catch a game of footy (Aussie rules football) and spend time with family and friends.
What are your hopes for the solar industry?
Given solar is now cost competitive with traditional energy, I think the future is very bright. I don’t believe the phase out of the ITC will be too much of a hindrance as we will likely see more competitive and efficient financing markets. China and the corporate sector’s commitment to securing renewable energy sources, not only for environmental reasons but also for financial ones, is also a good sign. So I hope and believe it will continue to grow.
What is the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Being Australian, I’ve only ever been to Men at Work and ACDC concerts, and they’re really hard to split.
What has been your favorite city you’ve ever lived in and why?
I really enjoyed Hong Kong. It has a good mix of professional, travel and social opportunities. The city itself has a lot of bars and restaurants, but there is also a lot of hiking trails and water activities on its doorstep. It’s also an excellent base from which to travel to any place in Asia, and it’s really easy to meet people and make friends.
If you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?