Stimulus Money Flows to Hydropower

Following in the wake of the $3.4 billion smart grid stimulus funding, the Department of Energy yesterday announced roughly $30 million in grants to seven hydroelectric facilities nationwide. The projects will produce about 187,000 MWh/year, enough to power more than 12,000 homes.

An important theme of the announcement was the incremental generation potential of the projects. No new dams were being built. Rather, older turbines would be replaced with newer more efficient models.

Barker Dam Construction in Boulder Canyon (1909)

If generated using traditional means, the additional 187,000 MWh/year would cause 110,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide. The equipment change-out was expected to produce only marginal carbon emissions, mainly from equipment production.

As the stimulus funding is designed to create jobs, the announcement highlighted the retention of 40 jobs at Voith Hydro, a turbine manufacturer.

The seven grant projects included:

  • Alcoa Inc.’s Tapoca Cheoah Hydro Plant (Robbinsville, NC): Replace four 90-year old turbines to increase generation by 95,000 MWh, a 23% increase ($13 million)
  • Alabama Power Coosa River Plants (Mitchell, AL): Upgrade four units at three hydroelectric plants to increase generation by 36,087 MWh annually, a 7.3% increase ($6 million)
  • City of Tacoma Public Utilities (Potlatch, WA): Install two additional turbines to generate 23,500 MWh annually, a 14% increase, plus an upstream native fish habitat project ($4.67 million)
  • City of Boulder, Colorado: Upgrade 100-year-old Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Project by replacing two older turbines with a single, high-efficiency unit to increase generation by 11,000 MWh annually, a 30% increase ($1.18 million)
  • Los Alamos, New Mexico: Add a low flow turbine to increase plant capacity and generate an additional 6,462 MWh annually, a 22% increase ($4.56 million)
  • Energy Northwest (Packwood, WA): Install a new Pelton Wheel turbine at the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric facility to increase generation by 5,868 MWh annually, a 6% increase ($800,000)
  • North Little Rock Electric Department (Little Rock, AR): Install a new automated intake maintenance device to clear debris obstructing the intake and allow operation at peak efficiency ($450,000).

While these grants are small, they demonstrate the incremental improvements that we can make to our aging infrastructure.

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Will Fleet Electrification Save the Postal Service?

With a projected net loss of $7 billion for fiscal year 2009, the Postal Service needs to find ways to cut costs. While the Postmaster General’s request to cut Saturday delivery will save $3.5 billion, it’s not nearly enough. Electrification of delivery vehicles is one area that holds promise as it could deliver savings of $219 million per year.

The U.S. Postal Service’s current fleet includes approximately 146,000 delivery vehicles. These right-hand drive delivery vehicles average about 10 miles to the gallon and range in age from 8 to 22 years.

According to an August 2009 report (pdf) from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, “broad use of electric vehicles in the Postal Service delivery fleet would be operationally feasible.”  The report highlighted several elements contributing to the finding:

  • Short delivery routes that average approximately 18 miles a day;
  • Regimented operating hours and centralized base locations allowing for off-peak charging;
  • Stop-and-go driving characteristics, which creates excellent opportunities for regenerative breaking to recapture energy; and
  • High existing fuel expenses.

The report acknowledges that the Postal Service is in the midst of an economic crisis and does not have capital funds to spend on vehicle electrification. Without extensive funding from outside sources, the report concludes that it is not currently economically feasible for the Postal Service to do a broad fleet purchase.

The report did examine the use of vehicle-to-grid revenue (V2G) in addition to outside funding to help offset costs. With V2G, stored battery electricity or capacity can be sold back to grid operators when not needed. The following is a summary of the Inspector General’s financial analysis for several possible scenarios:

  • Postal Service Purchases and Maintains Vehicles, Without Government Funds or Grid Revenue: Payback>10 years; Individual Rate of Return (IRR) = -1%
  • Postal Service Purchases and Maintains Vehicles, Without Government Funds But Generates Grid Revenue Payback = 5.6 years; IRR = 15.4%
  • Postal Service Purchases and Maintains Vehicles with Available DoE Program Grants: Payback = 5.5 years; IRR = 19.9%
  • Postal Service Purchases and Maintains Vehicles with Grid Revenue, and DoE Program Grant: Payback < 2 years; IRR = $63.2

For outside funding, the analysis looked to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 as the most likely source. Within the stimulus bill, there are three potential sources of funding:

  • Funding for alternative transportation technologies and fleets;
  • Loan guarantees for investment in battery technology and demonstration; and
  • Grants for development of technology associated with the smart grid.

Several recipients of last week’s smart grid stimulus funding announcement incorporated elements to support vehicle charging including Duke ($200 million), SMUD ($127 million), NV Energy ($138 million), and Madison Gas and Electric Company ($5.5 million), among others. Other V2G funding sources will be made available soon.

Hopefully the Postal Service can take advantage of the funding to help determine whether fleet electrification makes better sense than raising the price of postage (once again).

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Next-generation Hybrid Trucks Hold Promise

Hybrid truck manufacturers and suppliers wrapped up a 3-day conference in Atlanta on Thursday. The Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) showed off the latest medium- and heavy-duty hybrid-electric, hybrid-hydraulic, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles for commercial and military use. Governor Sonny Perdue even declared this past week Hybrid Truck Week in the state of Georgia.

Converting trucks to more efficient, less polluting technologies is a laudable goal.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, heavy-duty trucks serve as the backbone of today’s freight transportation system. They also consume more than 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel in California alone. According to EPA estimates, every gallon of diesel fuel releases roughly 22 lbs of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, not to mention NOx, SOx, and PM. According to a recent IBM study (see below), trucks are responsible for 7 percent of all US global warming emissions.

The conference opened with a modern day cattle drive on the streets of Atlanta with over 30 hybrid trucks participating (photo slideshow). During the conference, sessions focused on technology advancements and incentive programs. Participants even tracked the event on Twitter.

On the last day of the conference, participants were able to drive a variety of models in the parking lot of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. Southern Company provided a utility bucket truck for the ride and drive event.

Utility use of hybrids is rather interesting as they can be used for both fleet vehicles and larger service trucks. The larger service trucks often need to idle their engines to run heavy lifts and other equipment. The hybrid-hydraulic lifts can operate using battery power.

According to a profile on the Clean Fleet Report, Pacific Gas and Electric Company has the largest compressed natural gas fleet in the US. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities.

If we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas (and other) emissions from the transportation sector, hybrid trucks seem to be a smart approach.

One final note: IBM released a study on the future of the hybrid truck industry at the conference along with a summary video.

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Government Focused on Advanced Energy Storage

Earlier this week, the Dept of Energy announced the recipients of $151 million in funding from the Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). In August 2007, Congress established the ARPA-E within the Dept of Energy to help “overcome the long-term and high-risk technological barriers in the development of energy technologies.”

In April, President Obama announced $400 million in initial funding for the agency as part of the total Recovery Act funding. Several types of projects were slated to receive funding under ARPA-E’s first Funding Opportunity Announcement, released on April 27, 2009. These included:Click for larger image.

  • Energy Storage
  • Biomass Energy
  • Carbon Capture
  • Renewable Power
  • Direct Solar Fuels
  • Building Efficiency
  • Waste Heat Capture
  • Vehicle Technologies
  • Water
  • Conventional Energy

As part of this week’s announcement, approximately $30 million of the $151 million will be devoted to energy storage.

According to the DOE, developing technology to store electrical energy so it can be available to meet demand whenever needed would represent a major breakthrough in electricity distribution. While much attention is focused on the smart grid, a May 2009 article on earth2tech.com compared an advanced electrical grid without energy storage to a computer without a hard disk – severely limited.

The following energy storage projects received funding from ARPA-E this week:

Liquid Metal Batteries: Scientists at MIT will develop a new all-liquid metal grid-scale battery.

Planar Na-beta Batteries: Eagle Picher in partnership with PNNL will develop a new high energy, low-cost planar liquid sodium beta battery for the grid.

Nanotube-Enhanced Ultracapacitors: FastCAP Systems along with MIT will develop a new nanotube enhanced ultracapacitor with potential for a 6x improvement in energy density and cost over the current industry state-of-the art.

Metal-Air Ionic Liquid (MAIL) Batteries: Arizona State University, in partnership with Fluidic Energy, Inc., will seek to develop a new class of ultra-high energy new metal-air batteries using advanced ionic liquids.

Silicon Coated Nanofiber Paper as a Lithium-Ion Anode: Inorganic Specialists, Inc., will develop ultra high capacity battery anodes for next generation Li-ion batteries (3x the state-of-the art) based on a novel low cost silicon-coated carbon nanofiber paper.

High Energy Density Lithium Batteries: Envia Systems in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory will develop high energy density, low cost next generation Li-ion batteries using novel nano silicon-carbon composite anodes and high capacity manganese rich layered composite cathodes discovered at Argonne National Laboratory.

Whether these energy storage technologies will materialize is anyone’s guess. Time will tell.

The exciting element to ARPA-E is that DOE received over 3,700 submissions, with 300 having sufficient merit that they were asked to submit more detailed proposals. A total of 37 ARPA-E applications received government funding (6 energy storage applications). More than 500 reviewers put in 8,700 hours of work assessing the applications.

It’s comforting to know that so many experts are focused on this important topic.

For additional information about energy storage, check out the latest Congressional briefing on energy storage organized by the National Science Foundation and Discovery Magazine. (Disclosure: KEMA colleague Dr. Ralph Masiello is one of the speakers.)

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Obama Announces Smart Grid Grants

UPDATE: Grant awards (pdf) by category, state, or map-overlay.

The White House held a press briefing on Monday evening to announce that President Obama would be awarding $3.4 billion in Smart Grid grants. Administration officials included Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change; Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to the Vice President; and Matt Rogers, Department of Energy.

Obama will announce the grants on Tuesday after completing a tour of Florida Power & Light’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the largest photovoltaic electricity facility in the country, around lunchtime. Local media is expected to stream the announcement around 12:15pm EST.

A few early recipients announced include Constellation Energy’s Baltimore Gas and Electric Co ($200 million) and Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co subsidiary ($28.1 million).

According to an overnight Reuters article, here are some basic details about the announcement:

  • $3.4 billion government investment
  • $4.7 billion private investment
  • $400,000 to $200 million range
  • 100 companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners in 49 states.
  • 18 million smart meters
  • 700 automated substations
  • 200,000 smart transformers

More details as they are announced.

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Laying the Table for Climate Negotiations

Leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, there’s much speculation about the roles that both the United States and China will play on the world stage. China and the US together account for 40 percent of greenhouse gases. The goal of the conference is to reach an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It would replace the UN’s Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Without participation by the world’s two largest CO2 emitters, the treaty is unlikely to succeed.

It appears that the US and China are moving closer together.

On October 22, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke on the phone and agreed to “strive to have a successful conference.” Both expressed determination to tackle the issue. At a recent US-China clean energy forum, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang said that “the Chinese side is ready to strengthen consultation and communication with all the parties, including the American side.”

This comes just two days before the international Climate Day of Action with citizen participation from over 175 nations. Citizens are joining together to “stand for a safe climate future.” They’re also demonstrating to conference attendees that now is the time to act on climate change. One group of attendees is trying to spread the word itself.

Government leaders from the Republic of the Maldives — the smallest country in Asia and one that sits on average only about 5 feet above sea level — held a special meeting last weekend. President Mohammed Nasheed and 13 cabinet members met 20 feet under water to sign a document calling for all countries to cut carbon emissions. Watch the underwater cabinet meeting in action.

Back in March, President Nasheed pledged that the Maldives would be carbon neutral by 2020. According to an article in the Guardian newspaper, the plan includes new renewable electricity generation and transmission infrastructure, rooftop solar panels, a biomass plant burning coconut husks, and battery banks to provide back-up storage.

Similar to the lone polar bear on a melting ice floe, residents of Malé, the capital of the Maldives, may soon find themselves on the cover of Time Magazine, as climate refugees. Let’s hope that the US and China demonstrate leadership in Copenhagen.

Male, the capital of the Maldives

Malé, the capital of the Maldives

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‘Fifth Fuel’ Creates Jobs

According to the newly released Clean Tech Job Trends 2009 report issued by research firm Clean Edge, energy efficiency provides the most bang (i.e., jobs) for your buck. The report attributes stimulus dollars and increased recognition by companies, utilities, and governments that energy efficiency is a cost effective method for dealing with volatile energy prices in helping drive the job growth. Efficiency is referred to as the fifth fuel after coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables.

The report cites statistics from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)—an independent unit of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—indicating that building retrofits related to energy efficiency create seven direct jobs per million dollars invested. For comparison purposes, wind and solar create 4.3 and 5.4 direct jobs, respectively, per million dollars. According to the PERI researchers, investments in clean energy will generate roughly three times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within our fossil fuel energy infrastructure.

Clean Edge identifies key sectors in which clean-tech jobs are now emerging including energy, transportation, water, and (building) materials. It also identifies the top 15 U.S. metro areas for clean-tech job activity with San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA coming in at the top.

The jobs report is available for download on the Clean Edge website. Forbes also prepared a special report on the untapped potential of energy efficiency in July 2008.

On October 19, Vice President Biden unveiled Recovery Through Retrofit, a report detailing the results of a multi-agency initiative to examine how best to create a self-sustaining home energy efficiency retrofit industry. The report identifies a series of barriers including a lack of access to information, financing, and skilled workers.

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Zero Net Energy Policies

Similar to many states, California is addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy production and use. The state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (i.e., Assembly Bill 32) established the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. One approach to meeting this climate change goal is by specifying the loading order for electricity resources. In short, that means that the state will meet new electricity needs first with energy efficiency and demand response and second with new generation from renewable energy and distributed generation resources.

Chartwell School

Zero Net Energy Chartwell School located in Seaside, CA

The state’s Air Resources Board calls for energy efficiency measures that would reduce electricity demand by 32,000 GWhs. These measures would in turn reduce CO2 emissions by 19.5 million metric tons by 2020. Energy efficiency measures don’t always mean sitting in a cold, dark house trying to do your part to slow down climate change.

California is examining building and appliance efficiency standards. While the state already has the lowest per capital electricity use in the US, and one that has remained stable for over 30 years, maintaining business as usual is not enough to meet carbon reduction goals.

Increasing efficiency standards for buildings and combining with onsite generation results in newly constructed buildings with the potential for zero net energy by 2020 for residences and 2030 for commercial buildings.

Making zero net energy buildings a reality will require close cooperation among various state agencies, local governments, utilities, and industry players. Similar to other approaches such as waste reduction, California should set clear standards and then help remove obstacles to implementation. Only then will the state achieve its goal of buildings that produce all of their own power.

Additional detail on California’s energy policies can be found in the California Energy Commission’s 2009 Integrated Energy Policy Report (pdf)

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Commuter Water

An article in London’s Observer newspaper details a creative plan to install modern day drinking fountains in underground, bus, and railway stations across London and the south-east before the 2012 Olympics. According to the article, Hydrachills will be installed at Hammersmith bus station and at the Tower Bridge museum to help lure the roughly 400,000 visitors annually that pass through the two sites away from buying bottled water.

Hydrachill water dispensing stations can fill bottles of up to 500ml (approx 16 oz) with chilled water for a 20p (approx 30 cent) charge. Concerning the tap’s water quality, the local Drinking Water Inspectorate’s latest water quality report said Thames Water–Britain’s largest privatized water company and the source for the Hydrachill machines–was 99.99% compliant with national and European standards.

Adding further benefits, all proceeds will be donated to Waste Watch, a UK environmental charity working to change the way people use the world’s natural resources. According to the article, of the 13 billion plastic bottles of all types sold in the UK last year, only a third were recycled.

Imagine if Hydrachill-like machines were installed in New York’s subway and San Francisco’s BART stations. Combined with a BPA-free bottle, commuters would have ready access to high quality drinking water at a fraction of the cost and at a  substantially lower carbon footprint to deliver.

YouTube Video: Hydrachill Refilling Station

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