Trump’s Impact on Clean-Energy Businesses

Published today at MIT Technology Review:

President-elect Donald Trump is a self-declared climate-change denier who, on the campaign trail, criticized solar power as “very, very expensive” and said wind power was bad for the environment because it was “killing all the eagles.” He also vowed to eliminate all federal action on climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s emissions reduction program for the power sector.

So how will renewable-energy businesses fare under the new regime?

Trump’s rhetoric has had renewable-energy stocks gyrating since the election. But the impact could be far less drastic than many worst-case scenarios. “At the end of the day what Trump says and what is actually implemented are two completely different things,” says Yuan-Sheng Yu, an energy analyst with Lux Research …

For the whole story see “Trump’s Impact on Clean-Energy Businesses

Anticipating Wind Power’s Uncontrollable Ebbs and Flows

Two months ago, on the evening of February 26, power grid controllers at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) found themselves in an uncomfortable position: they were rapidly running out of power. As consumption outstripped supply the frequency of the alternating current — nominally 60 hertz — began to slide, threatening to damage utility and customer equipment. At 6:41 pm the grid controllers declared a grid emergency and began ‘shedding load’ to restore the grid frequency. Which is to say, they shut off the power to some customers.

These customers had agreed in advance to participate in such “demand-response” situations and would be compensated for their trouble. Nevertheless, saying no to a buyer is as much a measure of last-resort for the power industry as for any other.

Wind power got the blame early on, because wind turbines in West Texas were delivering less power than their operators had projected. But subsequent studies showed that other factors were more important. In the 40 minutes leading up to the emergency conventional power plants delivered 350 megawatts less than they had promised, while wind generation slipped just 80 megawatts relative to plan. At the same time consumption rose by a whopping 1,185 MW more than ERCOT had forecast. ERCOT’s report to the Public Utility Commission of Texas highlights that electric load growth as a key cause.

Still, smarter integration of Texas’ wind power could have prevented the trouble. As ERCOT’s report shows, an independent wind power forecast prepared for ERCOT on February 25 under an ongoing pilot project predicted the February 26 wind power drop with “good fidelity.” Unfortunately ERCOT’s grid operators never saw the forecast and hence could not take steps in advance to ensure that alternate power supplies were available.

My story on TechReview.com today, Scheduling Wind Power, shows that grid controllers increasingly get the message: Integrating wind forecasting into grid planning is not only key to reliably accomodating much greater levels of wind power. It will also maximize the pollution reductions achieved in the process.

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Who Killed the EV Part II: Can California’s ZEV rules deliver an energy revolution?

The award-winning 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicles the controversial history of California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate. As the movie tells it, the rules prompted major automakers to produce pathbreaking EVs until 2003, when the automakers got the upper hand and crushed both the EVs and the ZEV mandate itself.

In fact, as I show in the November issue of IEEE Spectrum, the program is back and entrepreneurs, car companies and interest groups are scrambling to exploit its incentives to favor their respective automotive visions (see “California to Rule On Fate of EVs”). Far from a failure, the ZEV program’s prodding exposed automakers to the potential of electric propulsion — insights that Toyota applied in its market-leading Prius hybrid — and it may well accelerate the arrival of further innovations.

The ZEV program shows that mandating innovation is a messy process full of unintended consequences. But it may be just what we need to drive adoption of the technologies currently available to slow the growth of greenhouse gases. In his provocatively titled book Sustainable Fossil Fuels Canadian energy economist Mark Jaccard identifies the ZEV program as the forerunner of the renewable portfolio standards adopted by the EU and many U.S. states that are helping to drive installation of wind turbines, large-scale experimentation with new forms of solar power, small-scale hydropower and other renewable sources of electricity. (This summer Congress rejected a proposal to require 10% renewable energy across the U.S. by 2020.)

Jaccard believes that “niche market regulations” such as the ZEV mandate and renewable portfolio standards will be key policy tools to force real change, second only to a cap-and-trade program regulating CO2 emissions (Jaccard would prefer energy taxes to both, but believes they are not politically feasible). In other words, targeted programs like the ZEV mandate that force major industries to try new approaches may be just the thing to deliver meaningful change in the way we use energy.

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Cleaner Coal is Cheap, But So Are Renewables

When the U.S. Energy Department under an adminstration like Bush/Cheney tells you cleaning up our energy system is cheap, you know the walls are coming down. This summer Carbon-Nation made the case that Cleaning Up Coal is Cheap thanks to affordable technology for capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide. Now the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting that the cleanest energy option available — renewable energy such as biofuels and wind power — should also fit nicely in our budgets. Ironically the EIA analysis responds to a request by Republican environment critic James Inhofe, a Senator from Oklahoma.

EIA’s analysis examines how mandating 25% renewable power and fuels by 2025 would change U.S. energy consumption and economic growth (see Energy and Economic Impacts of Implementing Both a 25-Percent Renewable Portfolio Standard and a 25-Percent Renewable Fuel Standard by 2025). They conclude that such a mandate would significantly cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions: In 2030 carbon dioxide emissions would be 14% lower than 2005 levels, with emissions from electricity production specifically dropping 22%.  drop in emissions from the electricity sector and a 14-percent decrease in the transportation sector.

Yet the cost is negligible: a projected GDP hit of one-eighth of one percent and a rise in expense to consumers of one-tenth of a percent. Plus EIA’s analysis assumes that the mandate would spur fairly modest improvements in energy technology, a highly conservative assumption that one can hope Will prove false.

Cause for even greater optimism: the U.S. Senate’s version of the energy bill currently being negotiated in Congress establishes a 25% renewables mandate by 2025 as a national energy goal. Renewable energy is not perfect — as our recent discussion of Wind Energy’s Problem Child in the Bay Area shows — but it sure beats the status quo.

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