Gaining Power By Going Green
By Jay Fremont
As consumers become ever more sensitive to the plight of the environment, they are increasing their pressure on utility companies to join the Green Revolution by replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources.
Also helping to accelerate the green movement are incentives offered by the federal government and several state governments to reward utilities that take aggressive steps to go green.
In some cases, states have set specific deadlines by which utilities operating in their jurisdiction must be generating a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
For those who may not be clear about what is included under the umbrella description of renewable energy sources, the Natural Resources Defense Council offers a helpful list of subcategories.
These include wind and solar energy, biomass (generated from plant materials), biogas (from animal waste), geothermal, hydropower, and offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy. The NRDC describes itself as “the nation’s most effective environmental action group.”
Use of Renewables to Grow
Utilities surveyed by Black & Veatch for its “2013 Strategic Directions in the U.S. Electric Industry” report predict a 150 percent increase in the use of renewable energy sources by 2038. Although that sounds fairly ambitious, it’s relatively modest when one considers the very small percentage of electricity being generated from renewables at present.
On the downside, 3.4 percent of the respondents to Black & Veatch’s survey said technical limitations would prevent utilities from meeting their goals under state Renewable Portfolio Standard requirements. Another 14.5 percent think the renewables goal will be technically achievable but at a cost that would be too great for consumers.
Reducing Harmful Emissions
The switch to renewables is just one aspect of the so-called Green Revolution, which also focuses on the reduction of emissions that are harmful to the environment.
Utilities are gradually substituting cleaner fuels for higher-carbon fuels such as coal and oil.
In a 2013 report, the Energy Information Administration envisions the 2040 fuel mix of electric utilities breaking down as follows: Coal, 35 percent in 2040, down from 53 percent in 1993; Oil and Other Liquids, 1 percent, down from 4 percent in 1993; Nuclear, 17 percent, down from 19 percent; Renewables, 16 percent, up from 11 percent; and Natural Gas, 30 percent, up from 13 percent.
It’s worth noting that nuclear generation of electricity is comparatively clean but raises other environmental concerns relative to the disposal of nuclear waste and the possible consequences of a nuclear plant’s catastrophic failure.
Vermont Pushes to Go Green
A few utilities and regional initiatives are taking the lead in the Green Revolution, setting an example for others in the industry and other parts of the country.
Vermont has embarked on an ambitious program to speed up the use of renewable fuels in the generation of electricity. It is working toward a goal of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2017.
To do this, Vermont utilities have 6 megawatts of installed wind power capacity and have 30 percent more electricity generated from solar power than Germany, one of the world’s leaders in the use of solar and other renewable energy forms.
The Green Mountain State is also looking at the possibility of converting some of the state’s brownfields into sites for the generation of electricity from renewable fuel sources. Brownfields are former industrial sites that have been contaminated by hazardous substances. They typically include former military bases, old industrial sites, and marginal agricultural land that has been allowed to go dormant.
Boulder May Municipalize Utility
The Colorado city of Boulder, home to the University of Colorado and long considered a bastion of liberal thinking, has taken an unusual step to signal its impatience with the slow pace of greening by the electric utility serving the city.
It has done so by moving to establish its own municipal utility to replace the services offered by Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based utility company that serves millions of electric customers in several states.
The dispute is ongoing and not yet resolved, but it reflects the pressure mounting on utilities to move as quickly as possible to green their operations, thus helping to protect the environment from further damage.
Change Coming in Rural Areas Too
Some hopeful signs of change are also being seen at the other end of the political spectrum in red-state rural areas served by electric co-ops. Because many of these co-ops are concentrated in areas where coal is king, their use of coal-fired electricity is generally higher than the national average.
Nevertheless, according to an article on the Yes! Magazine website, 90 percent of electric cooperatives have some form of renewable energy in their portfolios, and a whopping 96 percent of these co-ops offer some sort of energy efficiency program.
And, best of all, electric co-ops are getting 3 percent more of their energy from renewable sources than the U.S. electric utility sector as a whole.
As an example of rural co-op efforts to increase energy efficiency, the Yes! article cited the case of a Jackson Energy Cooperative customer in rural Kentucky.
The utility retrofitted the customer’s home and heating system to make it more energy efficient. Specifically, the company replaced his old furnace with a more efficient heat pump and installed a plastic moisture barrier under his house to help keep out the cold.
The result was a warmer house and a lower utility bill.
And the lower utility bill represented not only the cost of the electricity used but an additional charge that goes toward repayment for the cost of the retrofit.
About the Author: Jay Fremont is a freelance author who has written extensively about personal finance, corporate strategy, social media.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere