Natural Gas, Solar & Wind Biggest Power Generation Additions

eiaSome clean renewables and alternatives to petroleum have added the most power-generating capacity in the first half of this year. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says out of the 4,350 megawatts of new utility-scale generating capacity to come online in the first six months of 2014, natural gas plants made up more than half of the additions, with solar and wind making up more than 25 percent and about 16 percent respectively.

Natural Gas

Four plants accounted for the combined-cycle capacity additions — the new Riviera plant (1,212 MW) in Florida, expansions at the Lake Side Power Plant (629 MW) in Utah, and the Channel Energy Center (183 MW) and the Deer Park Energy Center (155 MW), both in Texas.

Significantly fewer combustion turbine plants were added (130 MW) compared to last year (3,120 MW), making the June 2014 year-to-date additions of natural gas plants overall about half the level of the same period last year.

Solar

Solar additions experienced strong year-on-year growth, with nearly 70% more additions in the first half of 2014 (1,150 MW) than in the same period last year (690 MW). About three-quarters of this solar capacity was located in California, with Arizona, Nevada, and Massachusetts making up most of the rest.

Wind

Wind additions (675 MW) were more than double the amount added in the same period last year (330 MW) and were concentrated in California, Nebraska, Michigan, and Minnesota.

California’s 228 MW of capacity additions came from the Alta Wind X and Alta Wind XI projects of the Alta Wind Energy Center (currently the largest wind farm in the United States at 1,548 MW of total capacity), while Nebraska’s 207 MW came from the Prairie Breeze wind farm. In Michigan, 61 MW of the Echo Wind Park plant came online as well as the 75-MW Pheasant Run II plant. In Minnesota, the 50-MW Lakeswind plant came online.

You can read the full EIA monthly report here.

Wind, Solar Solution for New EPA Power Plant Rules

epa-logoThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce later today new rules to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent by 2030, and a couple of renewable energy sources could help states comply. This article from the Boston Globe says solar and wind energy might be part of the compliance mix.

Under the rule, states will be given a menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shut down coal plants, states could reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.

And this article from the Houston Chronicle says power plants in Texas could end up in good shape because they use clean-burning natural gas.

[T]he state would have some 110 fully operating power plants, mostly fueled by natural gas, [Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club's anti-coal campaign in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas] said. “That’s the good news. The problem can be solved at a small number of plants. This will not affect nuclear plants or natural gas plants.”

Texas officials said the low prices for natural gas have led to the seasonal mothballing of coal-fired plants and reduced their output overall. The shift, they said, will lead to fewer emissions of greenhouse gases.

You can bet more renewable energy sources will be chiming in when the rule is announced later today.

Hess Doubles North Dakota Gas Plant Capacity

hessNatural gas and propane shortages of the past winter might become history with a major expansion of a North Dakota plant. Hess Corporation officials have commemorated the recently completed expansion of the Tioga Gas Plant, more than doubling the capacity of the facility.

The project is part of a more than $1.5 billion infrastructure investment made by Hess between 2012 and 2014 in North Dakota that has significantly increased production of propane, methane, butane and natural gasoline, and of ethane, a vital industrial product never before produced in the state. The expansion also brings a substantial improvement in efficiency and significantly reduces the amount of natural gas flared at Hess’s operations, from about 25 percent before the plant was shut down for the expansion project to 15 to 20 percent today.

“The Tioga Gas Plant was built in 1954, just three years after we drilled the very first oil well in the state of North Dakota,” said John Hess, Chief Executive Officer of Hess Corporation. “Today, as one of the largest oil and gas producers in the Bakken, we are committed to responsible long-term growth in North Dakota and proud to contribute to the state’s infrastructure.”

The plant is fully operational and is currently processing about 120 million standard cubic feet of gas per day (MMSCFD), with the expectation that through the combination of Hess and third-party gas it will soon process at least 250 MMSCFD with the potential to increase beyond 300 MMSCFD. Prior to expansion, the plant processed about 100 MMSCFD.

Hess officials were joined at the ceremony by a host of government officials, including North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and Sen. John Hoeven.

EIA Report: Solar Making Large Gains

eiaThe latest Short-Term Energy Outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that the growth of solar power will continue to make good gains. EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski made the following comments in the May report:

Renewables:“U.S. solar-electric generation capacity has increased significantly in the last four years. EIA expects continued robust growth in solar electricity generation. EIA currently expects that utility-scale solar capacity will increase by over 50% between 2013 and 2015, with utility-scale solar providing about one half of 1% of total electricity generation in 2015. Growth in customer-sited solar capacity is expected to exceed utility-scale solar growth over this same period. Customer-sited units provide most of the nation’s solar power.”

Meanwhile, underground storage of natural gas supplies remains well below average but is expected to rebound through the summer and fall.

The report has some good news for drivers as well. Record U.S. crude oil inventories are expected to help push down gasoline prices by as much as 20 cents per gallon by September.

Natural Gas, Solar Account for Lion’s Share of Adds

eiaAlternative energy sources made for a good showing of new power-generating capacity added last year. This report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows more than half of the utility-scale power generating capacity added last year came from natural gas-fueled plants, with solar accounting for another 22 percent – a significant increase from just 6 percent in 2012. Wind also accounted for another 8 percent of capacity added.
EIAapriladds
Natural gas capacity additions were … 6,861 MW … added in 2013, compared to 9,210 MW in 2012. The capacity additions came nearly equally from combustion turbine peaker plants, which generally run only during the highest peak-demand hours of the year, and combined-cycle plants, which provide intermediate and baseload power.

Nearly 60% of the natural gas capacity added in 2013 was located in California. The state is facing resource adequacy concerns as well as the need for more flexible generation resources to help complement more variable-output renewable resources, particularly solar, being added to the system.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) added 2,193 MW of capacity in 2013, continuing the trend of the past few years of strong growth, helped in part by falling technology costs as well as aggressive state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and continued federal investment tax credits. Nearly 75% of the capacity added was located in California, followed by roughly 10% in Arizona.

While wind’s numbers in 2013 were only one-tenth of what it did in 2012, (1,032 MW in 2013 compared to 12,885 MW in 2012), EIA attributed this to producers rushing to take advantage of the federal production tax credit at the end of 2012.

Scripps Research Develops Lower Cost Fuels

Researchers from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TRSI) have devised what they believe is a new and more efficient way to convert the major components of natural gas into useable fuels and chemicals. The research, led by TSRI Professor Roy Periana, uses chemistry and nontraditional materials to turn natural gas into liquid products at much lower temperatures than conventional methods.

“We uncovered a whole new class of inexpensive metals that allows us to process methane and the other alkanes contained in natural gas, ethane and propane, at about 180 degrees centigrade or lower, instead of the more than 500oC used in current Energy Diagramprocesses,” said Periana. “This creates the potential to produce fuels and chemicals at an extraordinarily lower cost.”

Methane, the most abundant compound in natural gas, is difficult and costly to convert into useable liquid products. With a need for lower carbon fuels, new processes are required to convert methane to fuel and chemicals in a way that is competitive with petroleum-based products.

Methane, ethane and propane, the major components in natural gas, belong to a class of molecules named alkanes that are the simplest hydrocarbons and one of the most abundant, cleanest sources of energy and materials. At the core of technologies for converting the alkanes in natural gas is the chemistry of the carbon-hydrogen. Because of the high strength of these bonds, current processes for converting these alkanes employ high temperatures (more than 500oC) that lead to high costs, high emissions and lower efficiencies.

Periana has been thinking about this type of problem for decades and has designed some of the most efficient systems for alkane conversion that operate at lower temperatures. However, when Periana and his team examined these first-generation systems they realized that the precious metals they used, such as platinum, palladium, rhodium, gold, were both too expensive and rare for widespread use.

“What we wanted were elements that are more abundant and much less expensive that can carry out the same chemistry under more practical conditions,” said Brian G. Hashiguchi, the first author of the study and a member of Periana’s lab. “We also wanted to find materials that could convert methane as well as the other major components in natural gas, ethane and propane.” Continue reading

Low Profile Biodiesel or Natural Gas Semi to Hit Road

walmartsemi1It’s a pretty cool looking design (although I’m not sure how my friends in the trucking industry would take to being inches from the roadway). And what makes it even cooler is the fact that a new concept semi from Walmart would be able to run on alternative fuels, including biodiesel or natural gas. This blog post from the company story says the new truck debuted at Walmart’s Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting.

We’re just beginning formal testing, but this Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (WAVE) concept truck will be 20 percent more aerodynamic than our current trucks and have a micro-turbine hybrid powertrain that can run on diesel, natural gas, biodiesel and probably other fuels still to be developed. It may never make it to the road, but it will allow us to test new technologies and new approaches. I share it because it gives you a sense of how sustainability is helping us see things in new ways.

WAVE was just one of the innovations we discussed at our Sustainability Milestone Meeting on Monday. We also talked about new ideas around less photogenic topics like air filters, buttons, and even landfills. By seeing through the lens of sustainability, we are accelerating the pace of innovation across our business.

With about 7,000 vehicles in its truck fleet, let’s hope Walmart keeps riding low with biodiesel and natural gas.

Primus Green’s STG Technology Awarded Patent

Primus Green Energy has been awarded a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its STG+ liquid fuel synthesis technology. The company says its STG+ produces high quality, cost-effective, drop-in liquid transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel directly from syngas derived from natural gas and other carbon-rich feedstocks in a single-loop process.

STG+ represents a cost breakthrough for the GTL industry, says the company, as it demonstrates compelling economics at scales of less than 6,000 barrels per day. The patented process is far simpler and more efficient than existing GTL technologies as it Primus STG and reactorstransforms syngas to liquid fuels with only one condensation step and also recycles untransformed gases. These efficiencies result in a high-yield process – STG+ can convert one MMBtu of natural gas into more than five gallons of 90+-octane, drop-in gasoline.

“STG+ is a new, proprietary thermochemical GTL process that fundamentally transforms the efficiency and economics of liquid fuel synthesis technologies,” said Robert Johnsen, CEO of Primus Green Energy. “The allowance of this patent application validates the novelty of the technology we have developed and proven at scale in our research facilities and commercial demonstration plant here in Hillsborough. Further, it greatly strengthens our intellectual property portfolio, an important step as we look toward construction of our first commercial GTL plant.”

In October 2013, Primus successfully commissioned its 100,000 gallon-per-year natural gas-to-gasoline demonstration plant. A recently concluded independent engineers report found that both catalyst performance and STG+ system economics exceeded expectations during demonstration plant operation. The company is now working toward construction of its first commercial plant, which is expected to produce 27.8 million gallons per year of drop-in gasoline from natural gas. The company expects to break ground on the plant in 2014.

Get Your Sustainable Energy in America Factbook

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has released the 2014 installment of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The resource was developed for The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and found that renewable energy, natural gas and energy efficiency advancements are leading a transformation of America’s energy.

The 2014 Factbook documents the upward trajectory of energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy, using the latest data from 2013. The report finds renewable energy provided 13 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2013, up from 12 percent in 2012 and just 8 percent in 2007. At the same time, renewable energy costs reached all-time 2014 Sustainable Energy in America Factbooklows, allowing clean energy, with the aid of incentives, to be cheaper than fossil fuel electricity in some parts of the country. Small, distributed generators and off-grid installations, meanwhile, began to emerge as a transformative force in the power industry. Financiers who back small-scale solar systems have raised nearly $6.7 billion since 2008.

“The U.S. energy transformation that began in the mid-2000s gained additional momentum in 2013,” said Lisa Jacobson, president of The Business Council for Sustainable Energy. “The Factbook plays a vital role in chronicling this fast-moving transformation, which is creating whole new industries and thousands of new jobs in the energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors.”

The factbook also found that energy efficiency financing is on an upward trend. Spending by energy service companies and by electric and gas utilities totaled more than $12 billion in 2012. Today 31 states and the District of Columbia, representing 77 percent of the U.S. population, have legislation in place to enable the financing of energy efficiency via property-assessed clean energy programs (PACE). Technology for smart grid and for smart homes is making its way into the market and has potential to be pervasive in the future, driving even further efficiency gains in the years ahead.

“The changes unfolding in the U.S. energy industry have been profound and, by the typical time scale of the industry, abrupt,” said Michel Di Capua, Head of North American Analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The effects of these changes will be felt in seemingly every nook and cranny of the American economy, from military bases to manufacturing plants, from homes to highways. 2013 saw some detours from the long-term trends, but overall, it is clear that the long-term transformation of how the U.S. produces and consumes energy continues.” Continue reading

Greenercars.org Releases Environmental Ratings

Greenercars.org has released its 17th annual 2014 Environmental Scores with the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive topping the list with the hightest-ever score of 59 out of 100. The vehicle will be rolled out nationally this year. The GreenerCars initiative is part of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

2011_smart_fortwo-electric-drive-cabriolet_Softtop_RoadsterThe next two “greenest” cars were the Toyota Prius C and the Nissan Leaf. Toyota’s entire family of Priuses performed exceedingly well, with the regular Prius and the Prius plug-in hybrid nabbing spots #4 and #7. Other top scorers for 2014 include the Honda Civic Hybrid (#5), Lexus CT 200H (#6), Honda Insight (#10), and the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid (#12). Making its return to the “Greenest” list after an absence last year is the Honda Civic Natural Gas vehicle (#9).

“We’ve had such an influx of hybrid and electric vehicles in recent years that the race to earn a spot on the “Greenest” list is more competitive than ever, particularly for conventional vehicles. It’s encouraging to see automakers investing heavily in eco-savvy vehicles on the whole,” said ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan.

New to the list this year is the Mitsubishi Mirage, Mitsubishi’s new subcompact offering for the American market. The gasoline vehicle takes the 8th spot on the list. The only other non-hybrid gasoline model to make the list this year is the Smart ForTwo which placed at #11.

“From the rise in the number of efficient vehicles in car-sharing and car rental fleets to the myriad advanced technology vehicle choices available to consumers, the leading edge of the U.S. auto market is evolving rapidly,” said Steve Nadel, ACEEE’s Executive Director.

In addition to the “greenest” cars, the list also includes “greener choices” and the “meanest” cars as well. The dirtiest vehicle for 2014 is the Class 2B Ram 2500 followed by the Bugatti Veyron and the Ford E-150 FFV Wagon.

Unlike Diamonds, Fossil Fuels Are Not Forever

what happens when fossil fuels run outPlymouth Rock Energy has released an interesting graphic with the theme, “unlike diamonds, fossil fuels are not forever”. The infographic describes the acceleration of fossil fuels consumption and its ultimate depletion as a viable energy resource. It further states the potentially catastrophic outcomes for contemporary society while, at the same time, offers optimism for charting a new energy conservation course.

What is interesting about Plymouth Rock Energy, is that the company was founded nearly 60 years ago to supply electricity from coal and natural gas. Yet the company’s infographic cites peak fossil fuel production sometime between 2010 and 2020. The company cites experts who suggest that the world will see soaring gas prices due to shortages, a decline in global development and environmental destruction if business continues without chaBuilding a Better Roadnge.

The graphic provides some “better way” solutions including energy conservation through the development of alternative fuel sources and the reduction of carbon dioxide pollution curbing what they term “man-made global warming”.

Plymouth Rock Energy says they believe that utilizing sustainable resources such as natural gas, hydropower, wind, and solar energy production can provide long term solutions. Adding to energy conservation efforts are the use of ethanol fuel blends, readily available natural gas deposits, electricity, and hydrogen fuel cells.

API’s State of American Energy Same Old, Same Old

Yesterday American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard outlined “The State of American Energy” and the role the oil and natural gas industry in economic growth, job creation and energy security.

api_logoDuring his speech, Gerard stressed the role that oil and natural gas would play in the country’s energy policy but he cautioned that the country must “get our nation’s energy policy right today”.

“If we are to continue our nation’s current positive energy production trends, we must
implement energy policies based on current reality and our potential as an energy leader, not the outdated political ideology of the professional environmental fringe or
political dilettantes,” said Gerard. “American energy policy should reflect the reality that someone will benefit from helping to meet the world’s ever growing need for energy.”

“Because make no mistake; energy, specifically oil and natural gas, will remain foundational to our way of life. Broadly, demand for energy worldwide will continue its upward trajectory. For the foreseeable future, we will need more energy from all sources: wind, solar, oil, natural gas, nuclear power, coal and biofuels to meet the world’s ever growing need for energy,” Gerard added.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 25 years from now, oil and natural gas will provide nearly 60 percent of the country’s energy and more than 90 percent of the country’s transportation fuels.

In reaction to Gerard’s speech, Growth Energy’s CEO Tom Buis responded, “API’s ‘State of American Energy’ speech, brought to you by Big Oil, is nothing new. While oil companies talk about the future of energy in this country, they seem fixated on a finite resource and fail to acknowledge that renewable fuels play a critical role in meeting the nation’s growing energy needs of the future.” Continue reading

Consumer Attitude About Renewable Energy Rebounds

According to a new consumer survey from Navigant Research, favorable attitudes toward a number of clean and renewable energy concepts, particularly solar energy, wind energy, hybrid vehicles and electric cars, have rebounded significantly from their 2012 levels.

The survey finds the average favorability rating for 10 concepts, which fall under the Solar and wind togethercategories of clean energy, clean transportation, smart grid, and building efficiency, also rose, to 51 percent, the highest level seen in Navigant Research’s annual survey since 2010.

“Between 2009 and 2012, there were steady declines in favorability for some clean energy concepts, particularly the most favorable concepts, such as solar energy, wind energy, and hybrid and electric vehicles,” said Clint Wheelock, managing director with Navigant Research. “This year saw statistically significant increases in favorability for seven of the 10 concepts, and a decline for only one – nuclear power.”

The white paper, “Energy and Environment Consumer Survey,” analyzes the survey responses as a basis for comparing consumer views of 10 energy and environment topics to one another. In addition to favorable and unfavorable opinions, the number of respondents unfamiliar with a concept is also considered in order to compare the level of consumer awareness within each topic.

The survey of 1,084 U.S. adults was conducted in the fall of 2013, and asked respondents to provide their level of favorability for the following key concepts: solar energy; wind energy; nuclear power; hybrid vehicles; electric cars; natural gas vehicles; biofuels; smart grid; smart meters and LEED certification.

According the Navigant Research, the similarly high levels of favorable views toward solar and wind energy indicate that consumers are generally supportive of the more established renewable energies that harness naturally occurring power sources. Since these two concepts have retained their most favored status year after year, Navigant Research asserts that consumers consider these renewable energies to be important pieces in the power generation portfolio of the future.

World Energy Center Heeds Call for Renewable Energy

The Southern California-based World Energy Center is reporting that it has heeded and exceeded President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s call for the use of renewable electricity. The administration has called, as part of its “new energy plan” for America, to develop and use 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025. This will spur clean energy jobs, says the Obama administration as well as reduce greenhouse gases and other sources that lead to climate change.

img_energy-center-mapThe World Energy Center is comprised of more than 30 companies, cities, colleges, participants’ partners and affiliates. Larry Hales with Hales Global Group has been providing consultant business development services and says the World Energy Center is the nation’s leading clean energy nerve center in North America. The Center collaborates with multiple companies to develop the most technological advanced renewable energy projects with the goal of spurring clean energy innovation and creating a commercialization Hub to reduce the cost of clean energy and accelerated its worldwide deployment.

World Energy Center aims to create more new jobs and further economic growth says President and COO, Michael Reich, “With billions being spent on new construction projects, long-term manufacturing, engineering, maintenance and management jobs, ancillary growth and service jobs, manpower will be needed for us to succeed. We need to create green job training facilities, educational programs and a number of diversified renewable energy projects will be brought online.”

The World Energy Center and its collaborative group of partners expect to build out more than 5,000 Megawatts of solar, geothermal, wind, natural gas and other clean energy projects over the next 15 years. Reich said the Center will position the United States as a leader in low cost renewable energy, create tens of thousands of green jobs and educate the next generation of young Americans keeping pace with President Obama’s goal and Energy Secretary Dr. Moniz’s mandate.

Ian Campbell, senior lobbyist with Manchester Associates noted that World Energy Center is extremely efficient at Photovoltaic, PV, converting sunlight into electricity. “We are building on the development of applicable PV affordable solar renewable clean energy which was born in 1979, and today with support from private and public partners, the price of PV systems has fallen in half; however, maintaining such a viable U.S. clean technology industry will require policy makers to advance energy subsidies that will lead to improvements in technology and lower prices.”

Project Aims to Convert Natural Gas to Butanol

From microbe to fuel_large

Using enzyme engineering and other capabilities, Sandia National Laboratories will work to engineer pathways from methanotroph organisms into another microbial host that can generate butanol. Butanol has long been considered one of the best biofuel options for transportation energy. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

A new project spearheaded by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are using their expertise in protein expression, enzyme engineering and high-throughput assays to develop biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel or methane to butanol for transportation. The $34 million project by the Advanced Research Project Agency Energy (ARPA-E) is one of a set of 15 Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy or REMOTE, projects. Sandia is a part of a two-year award led by MOgene Green Chemicals, a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Louis-based MOgene, LC.

The broad goal of REMOTE is to have another source of energy in the U.S. that doesn’t have to be imported and could lead to lower carbon monoxide emissions than conventional fossil fuels.

Methanotrophs are microbes that can metabolize methane. Sandia’s Blake Simmons, manager of the labs’ biofuels and biomaterial science and technology group, calls this microbe the “poster child” of organisms that are capable of metabolizing and converting methane. The goal of the project is to engineer pathways from these organisms into another microbial host that can generate butanol. Butanol can be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine and, along with ethanol, has long been considered one of the best biofuel options for transportation energy.

“The need for hydrocarbons that are nonpetroleum in origin is still growing, including applications such as aviation and diesel engines,” said Simmons. “But in its natural state, you’re not going to readily burn natural gas in those types of engines, and the same goes for some combustion engines.” Natural gas, he explained, requires a special modification to be used effectively as a liquid fuel in vehicles, much like biomass needs to be converted before it can be used as a drop-in fuel.

“With biomass, we are essentially taking something that exists in nature and converting it into a low-cost, low-carbon, domestically-sourced fuel. With this project, we’re using natural gas as the input rather than biomass,” Simmons continued. Natural gas extracted from the ground is not renewable, he pointed out, but it is playing an increasingly important role for the Department of Energy and the nation’s energy supply.

Simmons said MOgene brings a great deal of organism expertise to the table, while Sandia offers enzyme engineering and other capabilities.

Using organisms to convert natural gas into liquid transportation fuels isn’t a new objective for the research community, Simmons said. “There have been plenty of investigations into this in the past, since there are plenty of organisms in nature that thrive and survive and multiply off of natural gas metabolism. The problem, though, is that they exist in unique, tailored environments and are typically very slow at what they do.” Continue reading