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Posts Tagged ‘California’

The ability to fast-charge electric cars is seen as key to the adoption of battery-powered vehicles. But as I wrote in The New York Times on Thursday, utilities are worried such devices will overload the grid:

Think, the Norwegian electric automaker, announced a deal this week with a California company, AeroVironment, a maker of electric vehicle charging stations, to introduce fast-charging stations that can charge its battery-powered City car to 80 percent capacity in as little as 15 minutes.

A conventional charger can take eight or more hours to charge an electric car, depending on the battery.

“The development and deployment of very-fast-charge stations will help speed the electrification of automobiles in the United States and globally,” Richard Canny, Think’s chief executive, said in a statement.

But utilities — concerned that fast-chargers could overload the electricity grid — are more cautious.

Think and AeroVironment did not reveal the voltage of their fast-charger but such devices — known in the industry as “Level 3” chargers — generally average around 440 volts. Most household appliances run on 110 volts.

“It is premature to evaluate the feasibility or safety of Level 3 fast-charging equipment,” wrote Christopher Warner, a lawyer for the utility Pacific Gas and Electric, in a brief filed with the California Public Utilities Commission in October. “Such charging may require large investments in infrastructure and load management constraints in order to prevent ‘mini-peaks’ and localized impacts on grid reliability.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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In The New York Times on Thursday, I write about how California regulators are helping revive a once-thriving solar hot water market:

California regulators on Thursday approved a $350 million program to subsidize the installation of solar water heaters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The program will allocate $250 million for the replacement of hot water heaters fueled by natural gas and $100.8 million for those powered by electricity.

Solar hot water systems typically consist of a storage tank and a rooftop array that collects heat from the sun to warm the water.

Customers of California’s three big investor-owned utilities will receive rebates of up to $1,500, or about 30 percent of the cost of replacing a residential natural-gas hot water heater with a solar system. Owners of multi-family commercial buildings are eligible for up to $500,000 in incentives.

The California Public Utilities Commission reserved 60 percent of the funds to install solar hot water systems on those buildings, with the balance going to single-family homes.

Homeowners with electric hot water heaters can receive up to $1,010 to install a solar hot water system and owners of commercial buildings will get up to $250,000. Only about 10 percent of hot water systems in California are electric, according to the utilities commission.

The program’s goal is to replace 585 therms of natural gas -– the equivalent of installing 200,000 solar hot water systems — and 150 megawatts of electricity by 2017. Incentives decrease over the eight-year life of the program.

“Today’s decision will increase consumer confidence and understanding of solar water heating technology and its benefits,” Michael R. Peevey, president of the utilities commission, said in a statement.

You can read the story of the story here.

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In The New York Times on Thursday, I write about a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance that shows China has become the dominant solar module supplier in the huge California market:

China’s rise as a major solar module maker has been meteoric, but perhaps nowhere has its ascension been faster than in California, the United States’ largest solar market.

The Chinese company Yingli Solar has captured 27 percent of California’s solar market, according to a preliminary report.
Over the last three years, China’s share of the California market, in terms of supplied megawatts, has risen to 46 percent, from 2 percent, according to a preliminary report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm.

At the same time, the share supplied in California by American companies has declined to 16 percent, from 43 percent.

“The ascendancy of Chinese manufacturers would be noteworthy regardless of market conditions, but is particularly telling in a time when purse-strings are still tight,” the report said.

At the beginning of 2009, Chinese solar companies supplied 21 percent of the market; by year’s end their stake had more than doubled.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Todd Woody

California utility PG&E on Monday announced two new Big Solar deals that will likely to ramp up the debate over solar thermal power plants’ thirst for water in the desert Southwest. As I write in The New York Times:

The West’s water wars are likely to intensify with Pacific Gas and Electric’s announcement on Monday that it would buy 500 megawatts of electricity from two solar power plant projects to be built in the California desert.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project would consume an estimated 536 million gallons of water a year, while the Mojave Solar Project would pump 705 million gallons annually for power-plant cooling, according to applications filed with the California Energy Commission.

With 35 big solar farm projects undergoing licensing or planned for arid regions of California alone, water is emerging as a contentious issue.

The Genesis and Mojave projects will use solar trough technology that deploys long rows of parabolic mirrors to heat a fluid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. The steam must be condensed back into water and cooled for re-use.

Solar trough developers prefer to use so-called wet cooling in which water must be constantly be replenished to make up for evaporation. Regulators, meanwhile, are pushing developers to use dry cooling, which takes about 90 percent less water but is more expensive and reduces the efficiency –- and profitability – of a power plant.

NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of the utility giant FPL Group, is developing the Genesis project in the Chuckwalla Valley in the Sonoran Desert. The twin solar farms would tap about 5 percent of the valley’s available water.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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NRDC water report

Water isn’t as sexy as solar, doesn’t carry the smart grid’s geek cred or inspire green technolust like the Fisker Karma or Tesla Roadster electric sports cars. But as a new Natural Resources Defense Council report drives home, it could be one of the biggest climate-change related business opportunities of the new century.

The NRDC study focuses on California, where drought, a growing population and the specter of global warming-triggered water shortages demand innovative water efficiency policies and technological solutions. Just like California has kept its per capita energy consumption flat over the past 30 years as its population doubled through energy efficiency standards, the reports’ authors say that the Golden State must take the same approach with water.

“Such measures can help stretch limited water supplies, save businesses, money, reduce energy consumption, improve water quality, and protect local, regional, and statewide ecosystems,” wrote authors Ronnie Cohen, Kristina Ortez and Crossley Pinkstaff.

They focus on the so-called commercial, industrial and institutional sector, or CII — i.e. Big Business and Big Government — and the takeaway headline is that if those water consumers cut their consumption by implementing existing conservation technology they would save enough H2O to supply the coastal metropolises of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

As has been oft pointed out, a great deal of energy is expended to transport and manage water — 20% of California’s electricity production is water-related, according to the state’s energy commission — and cutting water use will also slash companies’ electricity bill and, not incidentally, greenhouse gas emissions.

The report says that CII accounts for one-third of California’s urban water use. Taking such prosaic measures as installing aerators on faucets, low-flow shower heads and energy efficient commercial dishwashers and washers can save millions of gallons of water. Take toilets, for example. Urinals alone — pay attention guys — consume 15% of the water used in commercial restrooms. Switching to waterless urinals would save 45,000 gallons a year per urinal, according to the report.

More high tech measures involve deploying smart irrigation systems that use sensor networks to determine when to turn on the sprinklers at all those golf courses built in the California desert and in suburban communities throughout the state.  Needless to say, much of the opportunity in Big Water be for consultants and policymakers.

The whale in the room, of course, is Big Agriculture. Ag was beyond the scope of the NRDC report but it is the biggest consumer of water in California and has often been the most resistance to change or paying the true cost of such things as growing rice and alfalfa in the desert.

But as far as the commercial and government sectors go, the report concludes with these policy recommendations:

  • “Establish efficiency standards for water-using products.
  • Set performance-based water savings targets that provide water agencies with flexibility.
  • Prioritize water conservation above increasing supply.
  • Adopt a Public Goods Charge on water sales to provide a dedicated funding source for water efficiency programs, including expanded technical and financial assistance.
  • Encourage partnerships with—and financial support from—energy utilities and wastewater agencies.
  • Streamline the process for recycled water use.
  • Encourage volumetric pricing for sewer services.
  • Decouple water agencies’ sales from revenue.
  • Improve water use data collection and management.”

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cpuc-rps-report

California quadrupled the amount of renewable energy it installed in 2008 over the previous year, according to a report released Wednesday by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

The 500 megawatts of green electricity brought online last year represents 60% of all renewable energy generation built since 2002, when California mandated that the state’s investor-owned utilities obtain 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010. In November, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order raising the Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, to 33% by 2020.

“Clearly, 2008 was a turning point for the RPS program and contracted projects are beginning to deliver in large numbers,” the California Public Utilities Commission report stated.

The CPUC in 2008 approved projects that would generate 2,812 megawatts of renewable energy for California’s Big Three utilities – PG&E (PCG), Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE). Impressive numbers but the utilities have acknowledged they are unlikely to meet their renewable energy targets by the 2010 deadline because it takes years to get solar and wind projects online and some will inevitably fail. For instance, the financial crisis has raised questions about just how many of the Big Solar power plants the utilities are relying on will actually get built, though the $787 billion stimulus packaged signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama has brightened the solar industry’s prospects.

California increasingly is depending on solar energy to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the state’s landmark 2006 global warming law. According to regulators, utilities received 30% more bids for solar power projects in 2008 than in the previous year while wind farm proposals dropped by half and “very few” geothermal tenders were filed.

The fact that utilities received 24,000 megawatts’ worth of renewable energy bids last year (more than enough, if built, to meet the 33% renewable energy target) speaks to the frothy state of the market. But before solar power plants and other green energy projects can go online they face years-long and often contentious environmental reviews, while a lack of transmission lines to bring all this electricity from the desert to coastal cities remains the green elephant in the room.

Meanwhile, regulators are reviewing a policy change that would seem to undercut the state’s goal of encouraging utilities to generate more renewable energy. On March 12 Feb. 20,the California Public Utilities Commission will consider whether to allow utilities to buy so-called tradable renewable energy credits, or TRECs, from other entities  to meet their green electricity mandates. Such credits are associated with the electricity generated by wind farms, solar power plants and other projects and can be bought and sold. In other words, if a utility finds itself falling short of its renewable energy goals – or just doesn’t want to spend the money procuring green power – it could buy TRECs on the open market.

Green Wombat is awaiting a reply from the utilities commission on whether California utilities could purchase TRECs generated by out-of-state projects – which, of course, would do nothing to reduce the state’s own greenhouse gas emissions.  UPDATE: CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper says that utilities will be able to buy out-of-state TRECs as long as they meet California’s eligibility requirements.

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photo: Better Place

Silicon Valley startup Better Place on Tuesday announced a deal with Hawaii’s governor and the state’s biggest utility to build an electric car charging network throughout the islands.

The agreement comes less than two weeks after Better Place CEO Shai Agassi and the mayors of Northern California’s three largest cities unveiled a plan to build an electric car infrastructure for the San Francisco Bay Area. Better Place also has signed similar deals with governments in Australia, Denmark and Israel.

Agassi said the network of charging posts and battery swapping stations will be ready by 2012. That’s roughly the target date for Better Place’s other projects, which means the year-old startup will be simultaneously building electric car networks in four countries while raising billions of dollars in project finance.

Renault-Nissan will supply electric cars for the network. Better Place will own the car batteries and charge drivers for the miles (or kilometers) driven. By removing the battery from the purchase price of electric cars – the most expensive component – Better Place hopes to sell vehicles at prices competitive with their fossil-fueled counterparts.

Appearing with Agassi at a press conference at the capitol in Honolulu, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle said the Better Place partnership offers the state the opportunity to slash the $7 billion it spends annually on imported oil and provide a market for renewable energy. Hawaiians pay some of the highest gasoline prices in the U.S. and the state has set a goal of obtaining 70% of its energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030.

“It’s not a simple goal – we’re looking to end our dependence on oil,” said Agassi, who shed his customary dark suit for a gray polo shirt and wore a lei. “Any form of renewable energy – wind, solar, geothermal – is here in Hawaii.”

“This will be the blueprint where six or seven million visitors will come and experience first-hand what it’s like to drive an electric car,” added Agassi, 40, a former top executive at business software giant SAP. “You couldn’t ask for a better advertisement.”

Utility Hawaiian Electric (HE), which supplies 95% of the state’s power, will generate renewable electricity equal to what the Better Place network consumes and work with the company on developing the charging infrastructure.

“The price of oil is irrelevant to us – we have to reach a clean and secure energy future,” Lingle said.

Better Place’s latest deal came on the same day that General Motors (GM) and Ford, which have asked for a multi billion-dollar bailout from Congress, (F) announced plans ramp up production of hybrid and electric cars.

“It’s a win-win-win – the only loser in the equation is oil and that’s ok,” said Hawaiian Electric executive vice president Robbie Alm. “Green cars will provide the market for renewable energy.”

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