Renewable Energy Resilience

Nanogrids, Microgrids and Virtual Power Plants

Expert on new energy business models such as nanogrids, microgrids and virtual power plants, covering cutting edge energy and environmental issues for over 25 years.

Which State Will Lead on Offshore Wind?

The U.S. wind industry is a major player in global markets with traditional onshore power generation applications, ranking No. 1 globally in 2008 and 2009, before losing out to China in 2010. Efforts to move offshore have, so far, been hampered by a lack of regulatory support in permitting and questions about financing.  

Now that the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference is behind us, which state does Pike Research believe will actually deploy the first offshore wind turbine in water?

Before we place our bets, let’s take a quick look at the big picture and highlight a few parameters about the U.S. offshore wind market culled from a recent Pike Research market forecast.

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Having Better Conversations About "New" Energy

The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado  is about as swank as it gets in terms of a place to host a conference on energy topics, whether  those sources are “old” or “new.” One of the top-rated luxury spas in the country, the beautiful surroundings at the Broadmoor reminded me of how lucky we are to be engaged in this sort of business, discussing the future of the planet while nibbling on gourmet food and swilling fine wine.

I was curious to see what kinds of technologies were being considered at the Global New Energy Summit (GNES). Hailing from northern California, it is sometimes a shock when I travel to other parts of the world, and the Rocky Mountain West is no exception. Along with the usual suspects such as wind and solar, traditional fuels were also highlighted, including nuclear power. I must admit it was a curious phenomenon to hear from one of Pike Research’s prime competitor representatives that being a yogi, vegan, liberal Democrat had not stopped him from being enamored with the possibility surrounding new nuclear technologies.

I felt like I should suggest he take a big bite of Filet Mignon and come to his senses, but valor held me back. I have often made the argument of how I don’t understand how any good Republican that believes in the free market could supported centralized and costly (and super-subsidized) nuclear power, so maybe liberals are a better fit after all!

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Can the U.S. Get Its Act Together on Offshore Wind?

Can the U.S. match words with deeds in its efforts to come clean on the promise of clean energy industries revitalizing both the environment and economy of the U.S.?

At an offshore wind power conference held in Boston last week, Michael Bromwich, director of the the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) promised that the Obama Administration is making permit streamlining for offshore wind projects a top priority, even as the same administration tries to clamp down with new safety regulations for the oil and gas industry. What Bromwich didn’t say is that under current regulations, it is actually easier to go offshore with oil and natural gas drilling than it is to site, permit and build an offshore wind farm. There’s something clearly wrong with that picture.

Under the current regulatory regime, it takes from 7-10 years to permit an offshore wind project (and typically less than half of that for an oil or natural gas platform). In November 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced simplifications to the permitting process in the “Smart from the Start” initiative. In response, BOEMRE has eliminated the second round of Request for Interest in the permitting process, which is redundant and can delay the permitting process by 6 months to a year. The goal of the “Smart from the Start” program is to shrink permit approval down to 2 years, which would translate to a total development cycle of 4 years.  

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Wireless "Smart Meters" Face Increasing Criticism in Marin County

Folks are generally quite gung-ho on the amazing power of wireless technology. From convenience to efficiency and cost savings, there’s plenty to rave about.

Yet in the San Francisco Bay Area -- and in particular in my Marin County home -- citizens are up in arms, blockading trucks and  opposing mandatory installation of smart meters. These opponents have been bolstered by a couple of major developments all occurring within the last month, so it is safe to say they are not going to go away quietly.

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Looking Forward, Looking Back on Renewable Energy in California

As Jerry Brown is sworn in as California's new governor today, renewable energy advocates should feel good about the future and prospects for continued progress in 2011. Outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was certainly a big supporter of clean energy, but it was Brown who helped jump-start the entire renewable energy industry in California in the early '80s. Having him back in the driver's seat should be comforting news. As CEERT executive director V. John White pointed out in a recent story in The Sacramento Bee, Brown now has the opportunity to finish the job he started three decades ago.

No doubt California is a much different state today than it was when he was the nation's youngest governor, as the San Francisco Chronicle points out. The San Jose Mercury News also predicts that the past may be prologue to the future. And if that is indeed the case, look for Brown to challenge the status quo in unpredictable ways, including his approach to breaking regulatory  bottlenecks and doing more with less. During his campaign, Brown announced a "clean energy plan" that he said could add 20,000 MW of new renewable energy capacity, creating two to three times as many jobs as equivalent investments in fossil fuels.

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Proposition 23: Economic Boon or Disaster?

The oil and gas interests that are behind Proposition 23 on this fall's ballot in California would like you to believe that clean air and protecting the climate are simply unaffordable frills  in today's depressed economic times. Not only do they have their priorities scrambled, the facts are not on their side.

The object of wrath of some Republicans and small-minded corporations is AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Even large energy companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) supported the law, as it was seen as a way to bring California back into the forefront of developing the carbon-free electricity sources that most experts predict will come to dominate our power supplies in the coming decades. Recent polls show that 7 out of 10 independent voters oppose Prop. 23; a majority of all voters also still voice support for AB 32, despite the economic doldrums facing the nation and state.

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U.S. Wind Industry in Steep Decline in 2010

As of the summer of 2010, the landscape for the wind industry has changed dramatically from last year, when the U.S. set a record by installing over 10 GW in a single year and claiming the title of the world’s top wind power producer for the second year in a row.

According to recent statistics provided by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the amount of new wind power capacity installed in the first half of this year only adds up to 71% of what was installed during the same time period in 2009. Only two new manufacturing plants have been built, factories key to the nation’s economic revival.

Prior to 2005, the U.S. imported more than 70 percent of major wind turbine components for domestic wind projects. Today, the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components has grown to more than half. Despite the growth in the domestic supply chain, considerable components going into wind turbines being installed in the U.S. are imported, particularly high value parts that comprise the gearbox and generators. The majority of steel castings are also coming from overseas.

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The Value of Real-Time Wind Power Forecasting

The rapid growth of wind power is offering new challenges for transmission grid operators throughout the world, especially in the U.S.  As wind power levels comprise an ever larger portion of utility supply portfolios, rapid changes in the speed and direction of wind resources often cause wind farms to deviate significantly from scheduled deliveries. When this happens, grid operators must tap into volatile spot market to keep the transmission grid in balance.

The value of spot market purchases required to balance the grid can cost from -100/MegaWatt hour (MWh) (during times of oversupply) up to $6,000/MWh (during times of supply shortages), depending upon wholesale supply conditions. Near real-time forecasting data for wind could be worth millions of dollars – both earned and saved –- but so far, few of the handful of firms that provide wind resource assessment and forecasting have developed a coherent business strategy to tap this emerging market for their products and services.

When compared to simple reliance upon climatology, an advanced forecasting system will reduce short-term forecasting errors by 40 to 60%. The magnitude of potential revenue losses can reach almost $4/MWh.

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Why California Cannot Trust Giving "Power to the People!"

The initiative process was originally designed by the so-called “Progressives” in 1911 as a means to bring “power of the people," since the California Legislature was then in the tight grip of powerful railroads, which controlled the Democratic Party.

While the term “progressive” is most often associated with the Democratic Party today, these Progressives were Republican reformers. They successfully amended the State Constitution empowering voters to create new laws in the same way they elected legislators, placing California among the leaders of “direct democracy,” which has since spread to 24 states.

When the "Community Choice Aggregation" (CCA) state law was passed in 2002, it, too, was seen as a way to bring “power to the people” in the form of cleaner electricity supplies to Bay Area local governments tired of waiting for Washington, DC -- and Sacramento -- to do something about global warming.

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Signs of Progress in southern California Deserts

Efforts to resolve the roadblocks between environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have born fruit in the sunny southern California desert. Gov. Schwarzenegger and President Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on March 22nd a new collaborative process designed to both conserve land for endangered species and stream line permits for new renewable projects jeopardized by any further delays.

The breakthrough was announced at a press conference celebrating the signing of new state legislation SBX8 34 , a bill that will ensure state regulatory agencies have the resources necessary to focus on the state's stringent environmental review process while still issuing permits for new renewable energy facilities. The bill creates further efficiencies in the permitting and siting process for large-scale renewable energy projects that could qualify for federal stimulus funds.

The measure has won some qualified support from environmentalists. A unique confluence of events -- including deadlines for federal renewable development subsidies -- helped pave the way for approval of the state legislation.


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Wind Industry Growing Pains

Wind turbine technology has become a fully commercial venture, but the recent rapid growth of the wind industry has strained its supply chain to meet demand in a timely manner. Furthermore, unexpected component failures, especially electronic controls, gearboxes, generators, and rotor blades, have driven up Operations & Maintenance (O&M) costs.

During the course of the research for a new report just published by Wind Energy Update, it ultimately became clear that reliable and verifiable data on wind industry O&M cost trends is quite rare. In fact, there are no current widely available data sets illustrating these wind industry O&M costs. Proprietary research, reviews of scarce secondary sources and anecdotal evidence obtained through confidential interviews with wind industry owner/operators and component suppliers suggest that O&M expenses are double or even triple what was originally projected, particularly with the latest class of multi-megawatt machines now permeating the global wind market.

Of course, nearly all machine and electrical components have a certain chance of failure within their design lifetime, and wind turbines are no different. Savvy operators can make problematic turbines look better through innovative in the field O&M strategies, and vice versa. Nonetheless, the wind industry’s promises of delivering cost effective clean renewable energy to combat global climate change is being compromised by higher than expected component failure rates. Gearboxes allegedly designed for a 20-year life are breaking down prematurely across most major manufacturing brands, are failing after only 6 to 8 years of operation.


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Moving Beyond Copenhagen: Cap and Trade Versus Carbon Tax

A coalition of the environmental and business leaders appear committed to passing a new “cap-and-trade” system through Congress, designed to somehow protect the world from the impending doom of climate change. While the focus of the world this past week was on Copenhagen, the ball is, for all practical purposes, still in the court of the U.S. Congress.

Even with the introduction of the new Kerry-Leiberman-Graham legislation during Copenhagen, a surprisingly broad set of interests are beginning to emerge on behalf of fresh alternatives that may include incentives for renewables, EPA regulations and maybe even a novel market-based approach:  a carbon fee that is rebated back to the public.

Organizations as diverse as Sierra Club and Chevron are quietly contemplating what a “Plan B” might include, and how it could yield broader political support, and more environmental success, than today’s competing House and Senate omnibus “cap-and-trade” bills.


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The Microgrid Revolution...

Microgrids have a long history. In fact, Thomas Edison’s first power plant constructed in 1882 – the Manhattan Pearl Street Station – was essentially a microgrid since our centralized grid was not yet established. By 1886, Edison’s firm had installed 58 Direct Current (DC) microgrids.

Shortly thereafter, however, the evolution of the electric services industry evolved to a state-regulated monopoly market, taking away incentives for microgrid developments.

Today, however, a variety of trends are converging to create promising markets for microgrids, particularly in the U.S. it has been become increasingly clear that the fundamental architecture of today’s electricity grid based on the idea of a top-down system predicated on unidirectional energy flows is now obsolete. With the election of Barack Obama as President of the U.S. in 2008, and the subsequent passage of government stimulus funding packages in 2009 to respond to the economic recession, significant new federal funds are being earmarked for the “smart grid,” positioning the U.S. as the global market leader in microgrids.


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If I were the new CEO of Chevron

If I were the new CEO of Chevron, I would stop listening to the lawyers and bring the engineers into the boardroom to develop a strategy to invest a good portion of last year’s record $24 billion profit into inventing solutions to the adverse environmental and social impacts of the company’s operations around the globe. 

New Chevron CEO John  Watson has inherited a mess from outgoing CEO David O’ Reilly – but with challenge comes opportunity. It is clear that Chevron’s historical reliance upon litigation to get what it wants is being eclipsed by new activist strategies that have effectively boxed Chevron into a corner.


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Locavore, Locavolt & Local Land

In my new book, Introduction to Energy in California, I describe the history of energy in California and highlight how West Marin could serve as a potential model for taking charge of our own energy future. Learn how sustainable microgrids can bring community back into the energy equation, answering challenges on both environmental and economic fronts.

On Sunday, September 13th, come to the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station and learn about the movement to transition communities from dependence on fossil fuels to a local food, local energy, and local farm future...and then visit McEvoy Olive Ranch near Petaluma.

Bernie Stephen of Transition West Marin will describe how communities can create resilience and reduce carbon emissions in response to peak oil and climate change.


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New Book from University of California Press!

My fourth book on energy and environmental issues was just released by the University of California Press. Entitled Introduction to Energy in California, this 400-page plus book is unlike any of my previous books: Reaping The Wind; Reinventing Electric Utilities and In Search of Environmental Excellence.

Why is it different?

First off, I was not only the author, but the Art Program manager. What that means is that I was responsible for selecting and gaining permission to use over 90 photographs, 42 line illustrations, 18 maps and 8 Tables. The book features historical photos, many of them from Pacific Gas & Electric and Chevron, featuring early hydroelectric innovations in the Sierra Nevada foothills as well as early oil development in southern California.

The other aspect that is different is that this is a science-based reference book. No need to preach to the choir. Let's try to look at energy in a comprehensive and non-politicized way.The theme that runs through the book is that California has always gone out on a limb and embraced nearly every energy source with wild-eyed enthusiasm.

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Is Water a Human Right?

When drought brought a critical shortage of water to Kerala, India, anti-globalization activists placed part of the blame on Coca-Cola, which operated a plant there. Critics contended that Coca-Cola failed to involve the local community in its plans and built a substantial global movement against water privatization, employing the tactic of “brand-jacking” of the world’s No. 1 brand – Coke -- to make their point.


Today, Coke’s Kerala plant is closed – a casualty of the global pressure placed on the company. But the campaign against corporate water has only grown stronger. Today, the focus is on bottled water, which critics point to as a wasteful, expensive example of water privatization – companies taking public water, repackaging it, and selling it back to us for a profit.


But the water wars have just begun. Bottled water may be today’s popular target. But activists are beginning to look beyond bottled water, setting their sites on much bigger objectives. At stake, they believe, is whether water is recognized as a basic human right, or becomes simply another commodity controlled by giant corporations.


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New Kinds of Water Power Spark a Buzz!

While the total installed capacity of emerging "second generation" marine hydrokinetic resources was less than 10 megwatts (MW) at the end of 2008, a recent surge in interest has generated a buzz, particularly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Portugal, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan.The next five years will determine whether these sources are THE NEXT BIG THING, or delegate to niche markets.

The United Nations (UN) projects that the total “technically exploitable” potential for waterpower (including marine renewables) is 15 trillion kilowatt-hours, equal to half of the projected global electricity use in the year 2030. Of this vast resource potential, roughly 15 percent has been developed so far. The UN and World Energy Council projects 250 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower will be developed by the 2030. If marine renewables capture just 10 percent of this forecasted hydropower capacity, that figure represents 25 GW, a valid possibility and the likely floor on market scope.

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Can California Really Lead on Green Jobs?

Imperial County, tucked away in the southeastern corner of California, has long suffered from perennial unemployment rates exceeding 20 percent.


Yet Imperial County is also home to the “crown jewel” of all geothermal steam resources in the U.S., making it a prime spot to showcase how renewable energy can help spur the new green economy so enthusiastically touted by the Obama Administration.

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Renewable Energy Equals More Jobs

The State of California is poised to harness the clean energy and economic development benefits that flow from massive new investments in its abundant renewable energy supplies. California is uniquely blessed with some of the best renewable resources (solar, geothermal, wind, biomass) on the planet. This gives California the opportunity to lead the nation in creation of new green jobs.

Among the primary findings of a new report funded by the Energy Foundation and prepared for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) are the following:

· If California obtained a third of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020, state manufacturing employment could increase by almost 200,000 jobs.

· Complying with this goal could pump as much as $60 billion into the state’s stagnating economy .

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©2016 Peter Asmus. Photo credit: David Clites. Website by: