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Onsite Generation: Can Utilities Rethink Their Business Proposition?

4/19/2014 @ 7:34AM


Ken Silverstein

Can utilities adapt to emerging innovations that allow customers to “bypass” their services? Or, will power companies become the modern-day dinosaur?

The trend is toward more independent customers who are able to generate their own electricity — all spearheaded by advancing technologies that are becoming cheaper and more effective. But just how all it all “ends” cannot yet be forecast.

In its report, “The Economics of Grid Defection,” the Rocky Mountain Institute says that the transformation to onsite generation is inevitable. Rooftop solar panels are the main catalyst: Falling prices and financing by third parties in combination with continued government supports are all promoting development. The missing component, it says, is a reliable and affordable battery technology, which can store the electrons and then release them later on.

“We looked at solar plus battery systems and already, the economics are getting better,” says James Mandel, manager at the think tank and an author of its report, in an interview. “The optimal investment for these is in concert with the grid, which we believe will lead to cheaper central generation too.”

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An in-depth look at the future of American energy and how we get there

Cheryl Roberto / Published April 18, 2014 in ClimateEnergy

Original source:

Imagine a world where homes not only run on clean electricity but also generate, store, and sell it. A world where power companies get paid for conserving energy, not just producing it. Where, when supplies are tight, the power grid gives customers the option of being paid to reduce and even shift their energy use to a different time of day, allowing us to use more renewable energy.

The U.S. is poised to spend around $2 trillion over the next two decades replacing our outdated electric infrastructure. We must make sure those investments are not spent on replacing old, dirty power plants with more of the same. If we’re truly going to unleash the clean energy future, we must invest in renewable energy and a smarter grid that can smooth out the demand for power and reduce harmful air pollution.

Now, more than ever, we need to be smarter about the way electricity is made, moved and used, and EDF is working to bring forth a new, dynamic approach to American energy- one that wastes less and generates more clean, on-site, local energy that puts customers in the driver’s seat.

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Loan Guarantees Are Back: DOE Targets ‘Catalytic’ Grid Integration Technology

DOE prepares $4 billion for “catalytic, replicable, and market-ready” technologies to assist with change on the grid edge.

Stephen Lacey

April 16, 2014

Three years after the Department of Energy issued its last loan guarantee to a renewable energy project, the program is officially back in action.

Ending a long hiatus, the DOE indicated in February that it would finally use the remaining $1.5 billion allocated by Congress for loans to clean energy project developers. Today, the department is announcing the first public step in that process: a solicitation for developers of battery storage, microgrids, efficiency and waste-to-energy projects that will "catalyze" the market.

"We are looking at how we get the same type of impact in other technologies like we did in solar," said Peter Davidson, the executive director of DOE's loan programs office, in an interview at Greentech Media's Solar Summit.

The total support could rise to $4 billion as DOE uses $2 billion in other available funds, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit subsidies.

The projects will fall under the 1703 loan guarantee program, the original loan backstop vehicle set up under the 2005 Energy Policy Act and funded by the stimulus package in 2009. That is separate from DOE's sister loan program, 1705, which offered $16 billion in support to clean energy companies, 80 percent of them solar. Although the 1705 program has a 97 percent success rate, it's still best known for having backed failed solar companies Abound and Solyndra.

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A Better Battery

Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and former secretary of energy, and Yi Cui, a celebrated battery researcher who works with Chu at Stanford, describe how an overhaul of the unglamorous battery will jump-start a shift to renewable energy.

May 2014

James Fallows Apr 16 2014, 10:02 PM ET

Why do batteries matter? Look at all your electronic devices: from laptops to smartphones to Kindles or iPads, even your watch. Those electronics are getting better at reducing the amount of energy they need, but as they do, you get greedy and want their capability to increase. The battery, and how much energy you can store in a given volume and weight, is the defining factor in this whole field.

Then there are electric cars. If we can make batteries with double the energy density of today’s and drive the price below $200 a kilowatt-hour (versus $300 to $800 today, depending on type and weight), we could have a car with a 300-mile range, even with the air conditioner or heater turned up, that sells for $25,000 to $30,000. The Department of Energy’s goal is to get batteries to $150 a kilowatt-hour by 2020.

Finally, there are the utility-scale batteries, which are very important for renewable energy. Wind and solar power are going to keep increasing. Wind is already the second-cheapest form of new energy, after shale gas, and it will become the cheapest within a decade. Right now utility companies get about 4 percent of their power from renewable sources other than hydro—and that 4 percent is roughly all from wind. You want to see a day when renewables are 50, 60, 70 percent. Utility companies will need batteries to stabilize the flow of renewable energy into the grid, plus a better electrical control system to do the switching. People may have these batteries at their houses instead of generators.

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CalCharge leads Bay Area’s play to be the battery-tech capital of the U.S.

Apr 18, 2014, 1:10pm PDT

Jon Xavier

Technology Reporter- Silicon Valley Business Journal

See correction at end of article.

A consortium of the battery technology companies ranging from the huge — Duracell, Hitachi, Volkswagen, LG and Eaton Corp. — to local startups this week formally launched CalCharge, a group tasked with accelerating research around energy storage.

CalCharge's formation buttresses the Bay Area's status as a center of gravity in energy storage. The new public-private partnership also includes San Jose State University, SLAC National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractor’s Association.

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Dan Morain: California could be in the running for Tesla’s battery factory, after all

By Dan Morain

Published: Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014 - 12:00 am

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Should companies that receive state subsidies be expected to provide jobs for Californians? To write a letter, go to Or comment on our Facebook page at

Elon Musk probably would be a billionaire even if California didn’t exist. But this state’s green laws and subsidies certainly helped turn Musk golden.

Musk founded Tesla Motors Inc., the sleek all-electric cars that sell for $70,000 or more, and SpaceX, which has the lucrative NASA contract to ferry cargo to the International Space Station. He’s also chairman of SolarCity, the largest installer of rooftop solar panels.

Californians helped create Elon Musk Inc., buying a third of all the Teslas that are on the road and installing more solar panels on our roofs than any other state by far. It’s all encouraged by environmentalist laws, tax breaks and subsidies, courtesy of every Californian who pays taxes or utility bills.

It’s all good for Musk. Tesla’s stock has quadrupled in price in the past year. SolarCity’s stock is up nearly threefold. Forbes magazine estimates Musk’s wealth at $8.2 billion.

So it was quite a slap in February when Tesla announced plans to build a $5 billion, 6,500-employee battery factory in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, or, worst of all, Texas, with its insufferable governor who incessantly boasts about raiding other states’ businesses.

California’s liver, it seemed, had become chopped, and the hand that feeds had bite marks.

But in March, Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke with Musk and told him he ought to reconsider. Gov. Jerry Brown’s GO-Biz operation, which encourages business development, became engaged. Whatever the effort is, it may be having an impact.

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Texas Launches Draft of ‘PACE in a Box’ Toolkit

The Lone Star State unleashes a toolkit it hopes can unlock efficiency financing at record speed.

Katherine Tweed

April 18, 2014

Texas is not the first state to adopt commercial property-assessed clean energy financing, but it wants to be the biggest -- and to get there quickly.

Keeping PACE in Texas, a nonprofit coalition that was formed to develop PACE programs for the state last year, has just released a draft of its “PACE in a Box” toolkit, which will be finalized before summer.

PACE allows investments in energy-efficiency retrofits and distributed renewable generation to be paid back through a tax that is tied to the property, which lowers the risk for both lenders and owners and can potentially open up a far larger swath of the energy efficiency and clean energy markets. Commercial PACE-financed projects climbed to nearly $60 million in 2013 with another $215 million in the pipeline, according to PACENow, a nonprofit that promotes PACE programs.

In most states, commercial PACE has been a regional affair, with different municipalities each adopting slightly different rules. (Connecticut, which has implemented a successful statewide PACE program, is the most notable exception.) There are various types of PACE programs popping up from coast to coast, and many are building on the lessons learned by early movers, particularly Connecticut and California.

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“King Coal” Is Dying; Prince Oil & Gas Is Next

4/18/2014 @ 9:23AM


David Blackmon

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.  -Martin Niemöller

Several years ago, during a period of time when some in the oil and natural gas industry were engaging various environmentalist organizations in discussions on how to promote and better regulate natural gas as a fuel for power generation, a very wise man took me aside and said, “Don’t kid yourself.  These groups are focused on killing coal right now, but once they’re done with them, they’re coming after us.”

Now that the environmentalist lobby, working in concert with the Environmental Protection Agency – which is largely populated by folks who came out of these same environmental organizations – has almost succeeded in killing the nation’s coal industry for all intents and purposes, it is obvious that truer words were never spoken.  Anyone paying attention to what is happening today in the U.S. energy space can clearly see that the focus of the radical environmental movement is indeed turning very quickly to efforts to do the same with oil and gas.

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Coal Company Cuts Off Ex-Miners From Their Health Benefits

By Rebecca Leber April 19, 2014 at 2:50 pm Updated: April 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

Original source:

More than one-thousand ex-coal miners are losing their promised health benefits in eight months. Murray Energy redirected the blame in its announcement this week to the Obama administration, insisting that the largest independent coal company in the U.S. is the real victim here — of the so-called war on coal.

“Murray Energy’s inability to provide these benefits is, in part, due to the destruction of the coal industry, including our markets, by the Obama Administration and its appointees and supporters, who have eliminated the livelihoods of thousands of coal miners, and their families, by the forced closing of 392 coal-fired electric power plants in America, now and in the immediate future,” Murray said in a statement confirming the cuts. “Due to these action and devastated coal markets, Murray Energy is unable to support these benefits.”

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Dear Mr. Peabody: No One’s Loss of Life, Liberty and Health For Your Coal Profits Is Acceptable Collateral Damage

Posted: 04/18/2014 4:52 pm EDT Updated: 04/18/2014 4:59 pm EDT

Jeff Biggers

Author of 'Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland"

Falling on the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow coal miners' massacre, a growing movement of citizens groups will gather on Saturday afternoon in St. Louis to join the great Washington University sit-in against Peabody Energy.

The pillars of Big Coal are crumbling in St. Louis this week -- according to Wall Street analysts, and as an extraordinary grassroots movement holds Peabody and its university hosts and investors accountable for its legacy of ruin amid climate change, a failed regulatory system, and a proposed strip mine expansion that will effectively destroy the farming community of Rocky Branch, Illinois.

And for coal mining families across the nation, the Ludlow Massacre of children, women and immigrant union coal miners, is one of the most defining cautionary tales of injustice and rallying cries for action in the American coalfields that still resound today: No one's loss of life, liberty and health for coal industry profits is acceptable collateral damage.

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Why climate deniers are winning: The twisted psychology that overwhelms scientific consensus

There's a reason why overwhelming evidence hasn't spurred public action against global warming

Paul Rosenberg

Topics: Climate Change, Global Warming, Psychology, Climate deniers, Editor's Picks, Innovation News, Sustainability News, Politics News

Saturday, Apr 19, 2014 06:45 AM PDT

In the run-up to Earth Day this year, two major reports were released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the largest such body in the world. On March 31, Working Group II released its report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, and on April 13, Working Group III released its report, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Both reports cited substantially more evidence of substantially more global warming and related impacts than past reports have, and they did so more lucidly than in past iterations.

As climate scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe told Salon, “This time around, to its credit, the IPCC has gotten a lot more serious about improving its ability to communicate the report’s message, through graphics and other ancillary products.” There was also a greater sophistication in how to conceptualize, measure and compare things, even where substantial uncertainties are involved. And there was a substantial list of more than 90 major impacts already recorded on every part of the planet.

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“Russia with Love”: Alaska Gas Scandal is Out-of-Country, Not Out-of-State

Posted: 04/18/2014 3:59 pm EDT Updated: 04/18/2014 3:59 pm EDT

Steve Horn Become a fan

Research Fellow, DeSmogBlog

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska's statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.

It's not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.

The question of who owns Alaska's natural gas and where they're from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.

At its core, the controversy centers around a public-private entity called the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) created on April 18, 2010 via House Bill 369 for the "purpose of planning, constructing, and financing in-state natural gas pipeline projects." AGDC has a $400 million budget funded by taxpayers.

AGDC was intially built to facilitate opening up the jointly-owned ExxonMobil-TransCanada Alaska Pipeline Project for business. That project was set to be both a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export pipeline coupled with a pipeline set to bring Alaskan gas to the Lower 48.

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The fracking divide: Mexico’s oil frontier beckons U.S. drillers in wake of new law

By Nick Miroff, E-mail the writer

BATIAL-1 WELL, Mexico — The geological marvel known to Texas oilmen as the Eagle Ford Shale Play is buried deep underground, but at night you can see its outline from space in a twinkling arc that sweeps south of San Antonio toward the Rio Grande.

The light radiates from thousands of surface-level gas flares and drilling rigs. It is the glow of one of the most extravagant oil bonanzas in American history, the result of the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Sweeping changes to Mexican energy policies are opening the country to foreign companies and U.S. fracking crews, but Mexico’s northern shale beds lie beneath some of the country’s most lawless places.

Curving south and west, the lights suddenly go black at Mexico’s border, as if there were nothing on the other side.

This is a reflection of politics, not geology. The Eagle Ford shale formation is believed to continue hundreds of miles into Mexico, where it is known as the Burgos Basin. But while more than 5,400 wells have been sunk on the Texas side since 2008, Mexico has attempted fewer than 25.

A landmark energy bill approved by Mexico’s Congress in December is aimed at correcting this disparity. It has opened the country’s oil industry to private and foreign investment for the first time in 75 years, with the goal of bringing in new technology, expertise and a risk-taking culture long missing at the state oil monopoly, Pemex.

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Fighting Fracking: Where Moral Outrage Fails, Earthquakes Prevail

Posted: 04/17/2014 6:24 pm EDT Updated: 04/17/2014 6:59 pm EDT

Carol Pierson Holding Become a fan

Writer, CSRHub

In response to pressure from students, faculty -- and apparently alumni -- who oppose Harvard Endowment's refusal to divest its fossil fuel stocks, Harvard University's President Drew Faust's office issued her second statement on climate change and sent a an email link to Harvard alumni. (N.B.: I am one). Instead of divesting, Harvard will become a signatory to the UN Principles of Responsible Investing and the Carbon Disclosure Project. Alumni are also asked to contribute to a $20 million Climate Change Solutions Fund. Harvard is chipping in $1 million.


I was not alone in my reaction. My email was buzzing with disappointed environmentalists and sustainability investment managers. 100 Harvard faculty members posted a letter objecting to Harvard's failure to divest. Students who worked so hard for divestment must be crushed.

But really, even Harvard's full commitment to fossil fuel divestment would be symbolic. Only $33.6 million of the fund's $33 billion is invested in fossil fuels.

And even Harvard's entire endowment pales in comparison to the reserves the fossil fuel industry holds, valued at $27 trillion. Or the $100 million a day Exxon alone spends in exploration.

My own stance against Harvard's failure to divest hasn't changed. My argument is both moral and economic. Investment research professionals including Asperio Group have proved that fossil fuels aren't a good investment over time. But even economic arguments don't get you far in the face of $27 trillion.

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Sticky subject of drilling divides beach town

An oil company fights for rights in Hermosa Beach. Another coastal community argues over funding and the city’s identity.


Published: April 18, 2014 Updated: 4:13 p.m.

HERMOSA BEACH – Steve Layton, oil man, shook hands with and smiled at and generally chatted up a line of oil protestors.

Finally, Layton made his way to Allan Mason, an anti-oil guy who’d been moving down the line to dodge the confrontation.

“There was nowhere left for me to go,” Mason said. “So I shook his hand.

“Then I told him off.”

That was a year ago. Since then, the battle for the soul of Hermosa Beach has only intensified.

At issue is a simple question voters figure to answer in November:

Should Hermosa Beach let Layton’s company, E&B Natural Resources, drill for oil over the next 35 years and share revenue with the city and school district, or should residents pay $17.5 million for the Bakersfield-based firm to get lost?

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