Renewable Energy World North America: Red and Blue Make Green

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by Kristen Wright,
Associate Editor

Texas is a paradox, the chairman of the Texas Public Utilities Commission told the keynote audience Feb. 23 during the Renewable Energy World North America (REWNA) Conference and Expo in Austin, Texas.

Barry T. Smitherman said three parts constitute this Texas paradox:

  1. Texas is the “reddest” state, but it has more renewables than any blue state.
  2. Texas leadership is opposed to cap and trade, but the state has one of the strongest renewable energy standards.
  3. Texas is not viewed as the smartest state by people living on the coasts, but it’s building the smartest grid. 

“Despite the theater in Copenhagen and misguided efforts in Washington to enact climate change legislation and or regulation,” Smitherman said. “Texas is leading the nation in renewable energy capacity and generation, build out of EHV transmission, deployment of smart grid elements, natural gas shale discoveries, emerging clean-coal technologies, new nuclear development and reducing emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.”

He said that Texas will be able to meet requirements of either climate change bill: the Senate’s—the Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act—or the House’s—the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages electric flow to some 22 million Texas customers: 85 percent of the state’s electric load on 75 percent of the Texas land area.

ERCOT achieved nearly 70 percent of installed wind capacity at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 28, 2009, when the state’s wind farms generated 6,223 MW of wind energy, Smitherman said. Total load was about 35,700 MW, he said. More recently on Jan. 28, wind served nearly 20 percent of total load, having produced 6,000 MW when load was about 30,000 MW, he said.

Smitherman cited a recent Environment Texas report, “Too Much Pollution,” that attributes the 4 percent decline in Texas electric generators’ emissions from 2004-2007 to increases in power produced by Texas natural gas and wind. It’s the nation’s second-highest decline in CO2 emissions for that time, Smitherman said.

Despite its success in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Texas is not a fan of a Dec. 15, 2009, finding by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. In the finding, she named CO2 a polluting greenhouse gas that endangers public health and welfare. Carbon dioxide now sits alongside five other dirty words on the list: methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

Texas, Virginia, Alabama, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and about a dozen other groups have filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the EPA’s endangerment finding, Smitherman said. Reasoning, according to the petition, includes that:

  • The finding will lead to bureaucratic licensing and regulatory burdens on farmers, ranchers, small businesses, hospitals and schools.
  • Jackson outsourced the scientific study and her required review of the scientific literature necessary to make that assessment. In doing so, the EPA relied primarily on conclusions of outside organizations such as the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • Since the finding’s public comment period ended in June 2009, revelations have become public about the conduct, objectivity, reliability and propriety of the IPCC’s processes, assessments and contributors.
  • Texas must exercise its right to challenge a flawed, legally unjustifiable process that will harm Texans and the Texas economy.
  • The EPA should grant the Petition for Reconsideration, conduct the agency-led assessment that complies with Office of Management and Budget rules, and then rely on that mechanism before reaching a potentially trillion-dollar decision regarding whether greenhouse gases from mobile sources endanger public health and welfare.
It’s the Economy, Stupid ” and Energy and the Environment

Americans care about three things: the economy, energy reliability and independence, and sustaining the environment, ABB’s head of Power Systems North America told the keynote audience.

“Renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) are really driving renewables,” Martin Gross said.

Despite having 33 states with RPSs, the United States faces challenges, including regulatory siting, cost allocation and a need for more political courage to plan outside of current borders, he said. For a national portfolio standard to emerge and succeed, the nation must produce some 300 gigwatts of clean energy, most likely in the forms of solar and wind, he said.

Technology isn’t the problem; it’s the lack of a national transmission policy, Gross said. Right now, transmission capacity for this much clean energy is nonexistent. If the U.S. started building the transmission lines tomorrow, the project wouldn’t be complete for five or six years, Gross said. A more feasible goal is 2025, he said.

The lines likely will connect into flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS), static equipment which enables and supports remote variable generation or high-voltage DC (HVDC), Gross said. The latter technology is being used to enable offshore wind 81 miles off Germany’s coast at transpower stromàƒ¼bertragungs gmbh (formerly known as E.On Netz GmbH)’s Borkum 2, the world’s largest offshore wind farm and the wind farm farthest from a mainland.

Although the U.S. lacks a national policy, states are stepping up, Gross said. The Texas competitive renewable energy zones (CREZ) project, for example, will move 18 gigawatts of wind to high priority lines and multiple FACTS are under construction today. Principles contributing to success in Texas include a progressive PUC and cooperation among regulatory agencies, Gross said.

What’s the Next Hottest Thing?

The technology to replace coal plants within the next 10 years “is not there,” the general manager of Austin Energy told REWNA keynote attendees.

Roger Duncan, general manager of the ninth-largest U.S. public utility, said there has not been much progress in clean-coal and carbon capture and storage technologies. As a result, not very many coal plants will be replaced, he said. 

Maybe 10 or so nuclear plants will come online in the next decade, but it won’t be tens of thousands of megawatts, he said.

“I think you’ll see biomass grow,” Duncan said. “Solar’s going to take a good portion of the market.”

Distributed solar and photovoltaic (PV) solar, however, are a different ballgame, he said. Solar PV is experiencing very high growth. Distributed PV is closer to the consumer electronics market, he said.

“At some point, solar technology will be too cheap to meter,” Duncan said.

Duncan said that he expects a battle of wind and natural gas. The transmission system is the main bottleneck, with regional siting problems, he said. Wind has potential to be a successful baseload power source, but natural gas has some environmental issues within the process of hydrofracting, he said.

Residential buildings are not going to stay zero-energy with PHEVs, Duncan said. He said to expect major new loads.

Finally, Duncan said Americans will become familiar with sentient buildings and appliances to monitor and manage energy usage. In other words, buildings will become conscious.

“Think of it as a computer it it’ll make you feel better,” Duncan said. “The building won’t mind.”

Hey, Let’s Do This

China’s not just planning high-voltage transmission lines for solar and wind power; the nation is actually doing it, Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner (FERC) Jon Wellinghoff told the REW keynote audience.

The United States seems stuck in the renewable transmission planning phase. Renewable potential in the U.S. is tremendous: The U.S. has some 2,000 GW of wind energy, 50-60 GW of geothermal systems, 100 GW of geothermal/geopressure sites and thousands of GW of solar energy, Wellinghoff said.

He named a central solar site at Nellis Air Force Base as a success. It’s one of the largest photovoltaic (PV) systems in the world. Wellinghoff said there also are strides in hydrokinetic and biomass. If renewables are to work in the United States, however, there must be competition, he said.

“We’re struggling with it at FERC,” Wellinghoff said.

The CREZ project in Texas is a model. Problems arise in crossing state lines and independent system operator jurisdictions, he said. And then there are cost allocations: Do you spread the cost like peanut butter across everyone or just the beneficiaries, he said.

FERC can do backstop siting, but it’s very narrow, and a court case has limited FERC even more, Wellinghoff said.

Multiple strategies exist to implement wind and solar reliably, he said. As an example, Wellinghoff mentioned that the University of Delaware’s using a Toyota Scion as a grid stabilization tool. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles could help more wind get into the grid by balancing the variability, and car owners could get paid $7 to $10 a day to charge their vehicles, he said. It’s called a CashBack hybrid, or CBH.

Wellinghoff also mentioned that smart consumer controls will make their ways to iPhone applications as soon as next year for Whirlpool and GE. If your refrigerator has four load types, you don’t want all four on at a time, he said.

Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards

After narrowing down hundreds of submissions, Renewable Energy World Network editors and readers have chosen seven winners, recognizing them for their achievements in advancing the market for renewable energy in North America. Winners in each category include:

·     Project of the Year: eSolar’s 5-MW Sierra SunTower

·     Utility-scale Renewables: Enbridge and First Solar’s 20-MW Sarnia Solar Project

Distributed and On-site Renewables: Solyndra and Solar Power Inc’s 602-kW Rooftop CIGS PV Project for Costco

·     Building Integrated Renewables: Conserval Engineering’s 25-kW PV and 75-kW Thermal SolarWall Hybrid System at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University

·     Innovation in Renewable Energy: Enphase Energy’s Micro-inverter System

·     Leadership in Renewable Energy: For policy, Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association; and for technology, Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi, founder and CTO of Suniva

·     Reader’s Choice Award: First Wind’s 203-MW Milford Wind Corridor


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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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