Navigant Research Blog

Portland’s New Renewables Leadership Showcased at Historic Montgomery Park Install

— April 18, 2017

An analyst’s job is to look at trends, events, movers and shakers, and data that sometimes all collide into one amazing story. One such alignment occurred on April 14, 2017 at the ribbon cutting of Imagine Energy’s 1 MW rooftop solar PV installation at the Montgomery Park building in Northwest Portland. The layers speak for themselves:

  • Solar Install: 1 MW is the third-largest solar PV installation in Portland, and it will cover 20%-25% of the all-electric historic building’s energy needs. The press release speaks for itself, “After four Historic Reviews, six crane lifts with the largest mobile crane in Oregon, the harshest winter in 40 years, detailed engineering reviews, and a 300-ton crane mobilization to set 150′ solar trusses, the 1 MW solar project at Montgomery Park is complete.” The installation included four EV charging stations, as well.
  • 100 ENERGY STAR Rating for 100th Anniversary: The solar PV installation sits atop the roof of the Montgomery Park building, and there are also three additional structures on Portland’s second-largest office building. Montgomery Park is working toward a perfect ENERGY STAR building efficiency rating of 100 by its 100th anniversary in 2020. Despite its age, Montgomery Park is the fifth most efficient building in Portland, and a score of 100 would make it No. 1!
  • History: Montgomery Park’s owner, Bill Naito, has an amazing personal history. A Japanese American who moved to Utah in high school to avoid internment during World War II, Naito went on to become one of the most prominent developers and civic leaders in Portland’s history. Imagine Energy’s founder, Jonathan Cohen, and his wife, Jessie, are two of the cities’ most active entrepreneurs and owners of other businesses in Portland.
  • 100% Renewable Energy Target: The newly elected mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, recently announced that Portland and Multnomah County would target 100% renewable energy for city operations by 2035—joining 25 other US cities in taking the pledge—building upon the city’s climate action plan.
  • Top Solar Drone Video: Navigant Research has covered the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for wind power inspection and for transmission and distribution monitoring. As cool as those are, nothing beats a sweet solar PV installation promo video—and Imagine Energy’s is the best I’ve seen.

While today’s solar market is led by a shrinking number of mega companies, the solar shakeout has created opportunities for small and medium companies to carve out their niche—and work on creative, challenging projects that larger companies might overlook such as the Montgomery Park project.

 

Kauai and the Quest for More Renewable Energy

— March 13, 2017

Remote islands and microgrids have been a hotbed for renewable energy resources throughout the past several years. Historically, remote systems have relied on small diesel generators to support electricity needs, but volatile fuel prices can be high in comparison to renewable alternatives. According to a recent International Finance Committee (IFC) and Navigant Research co-sponsored white paper, more than 80% of growth in renewables and energy storage for both energy production and consumption will come from new and emerging markets by 2035. Remote islands will play a huge role in this development based on evolving grid and end-user needs, physical infrastructure, and decreasing technology costs.

Ambitious Goals

Specifically, on Kauai in Hawaii, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) laid out an ambitious renewable energy goal in 2008. The strategic plan previously aimed to reach 50% renewable energy by 2023, but the cooperative now expects to hit that goal in 2018, 5 years earlier than expected. The new target is to reach 70% renewables by 2023. To put this goal in context, Kauai had just 5% renewables penetration in 2009. In 2015, the island reached 37.4% renewable generation.

One of the most notable projects in Kauai’s pipeline is a 28 MW solar array paired with a 20 MW/100 MWh lithium ion (Li-ion) battery system; this will bring the island’s renewables penetration up to 58% when it comes online in late 2018. AES Distributed Energy, Inc. and the KIUC also established a power purchase agreement of $0.11/kWh, below the cost of fossil fuel power currently used to provide baseload generation to the island. Several other renewable projects dispersed around the island are up and running, pushing the plan forward. The KIUC wants the island to reach 100% renewables by 2045.

Most of the Hawaiian islands experience peak solar generation during the day, and consequently have diesel generators ramp up during peak demand at night. Several new projects are being paired with storage to help eliminate the use of these generators. Diesel plants on islands typically operate at high variable load, resulting in high variations of demand, which often is incongruent with the large size of diesel plants. Islands generally have more fluctuating power demand than mainland areas; over a year, generation can fluctuate significantly due to seasonal variation in tourism, for example. The AES project alone is expected to reduce the KIUC’s fossil fuel usage by over 3.7 million gallons annually.

Cutting Edge

Kauai and the KIUC are committed to ensuring that customers are on the cutting edge of the energy industry. By deploying emerging technologies like solar, energy storage, and smart metering systems, the cooperative is giving its members more transparency in how they can track their own energy use and set personal goals for efficiency. Making these investments and meeting these short-term goals pushes the KIUC’s vision forward to being a leader in shaping a thriving state for future generations.

Other small island nations and areas can learn from the KIUC’s goals. By engaging customers, testing grid stability, and aggressively looking for new projects, smaller markets can drastically change their energy outlook in a short period of time. Additionally, smaller markets can change rapidly in terms of renewables or storage penetration with just one or two large projects. Every market faces its own unique challenges, so it will be important for the government and private and public sectors to engage in efforts to push for ecologically and economically sustainable futures.

 

As Future of US Energy Becomes Uncertain, China Moves Forward with Clean Energy Plans

— February 2, 2017

Cyber Security MonitoringChina is moving forward on its commitments to cutting back on coal generation. It recently announced that it was canceling the development of 103 coal-fired power plants. The announcement, made by China’s National Energy Administration on January 16, cites the goal of these cancellations as meeting a target in the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan to limit coal-fired power generation capacity to 1,100 GW by 2020. The plan includes canceling projects across 13 provinces, some of which are already under construction.

The cancellation of these plants comes in conjunction with another announcement made by the National Energy Administration stating that it intends to spend more than $360 billion on renewable energy resources, including solar and wind, through 2020. The plan includes creating more than 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector, curbing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, and reducing the air pollution that hangs over cities like Beijing.

US Shifts Direction

These announcements come at a time when US President Donald Trump’s stated plans to revive the coal industry, scrap the Clean Power Plan, and focus on oil & gas have raised questions about the future direction of the US energy industry. Some experts claim that the Trump administration will only have so much power to change the fate of the coal industry; the economics behind the industry still point to a decline due to renewable resources becoming cheaper and natural gas proving to be a cost-competitive option in the United States’ current energy portfolio.

Based on statements in the first week of the Trump presidency, it seems unlikely that the United States will assume a leadership role in mitigating climate change. In fact, this shift in focus means that the United States risks losing ground to China in a race to lead the world forward in decreasing carbon emissions. This differs from the status quo just over a year ago at the Paris Climate Summit, where the United States and China both committed to fighting climate change.

Today, President Trump’s past claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax and suggestions of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement could create a space for China to take on a leadership role in clean power. While the country still has a long way to go to prove its commitments to the environment, in the past few years it has made significant progress in terms of reducing its emissions, curbing coal generation, and ramping up investments in renewable energy resources. China has shown potential in its ability to lead the world toward a low carbon future.

 

As Natural Gas Electricity Generation Grows, Risks and Opportunities Emerge for Energy Consumers

— October 26, 2016

Natural gas is becoming increasingly vital to US electricity generation. With vast new resources made available by hydraulic fracturing, use of the fuel is growing across various sectors, especially in the area of electricity. Although coal has led electricity generation since before 1950, natural gas finally took the highest share for most of 2015 and almost all of 2016 (as seen in the chart below).

While many welcome the growth of this cheap, low-emissions fuel, some risks are arising for energy consumers. Put simply: a system that depends heavily on natural gas is more susceptible to supply shocks. With slumping production and demand from the electricity sector, prices are already trending up. The monthly Henry Hub price reached $2.99/MMBtu in September, the highest in 20 months. This may be exacerbated by a colder winter that is driving predictions of higher gas and electricity prices and volatility compared to last year. And this week marks 1 year since the largest natural gas leak in US history hit southern California, the fallout of which still reminds us how unforeseen disasters can shock supplies.

This type of volatility can affect everything from household budgeting to the balance sheets of multi billion-dollar utilities. Notably, commercial and industrial electricity consumers can be heavily affected to the tune of millions of dollars by volatility in gas prices, electricity prices, or both. Thankfully, advances in alternative generation options exist to mitigate these risks.

Monthly Net Electricity Generation, All Sectors (Jan 2011 – Dec 2016)

AForni Blog

(Source: US Energy Information Administration)

Alternative Generation Advances

Renewables include technology solutions like wind and solar, and (in this context) other zero-emissions complements like battery storage and demand response. These technologies are being broadly embraced thanks to government support, cost declines, and emissions reductions initiatives. The dramatic growth in corporate renewable power purchase agreements is one of the most powerful examples of the Energy Cloud in action.

Onsite gas-fueled generation may seem subject to the same market vicissitudes affecting natural gas, but it has some key advantages, even over renewables. First, customers installing fuel cells, gensets, or microturbines can purchase long-term gas contracts that will guarantee a certain rate for gas (and therefore electricity)—a key risk mitigation tool. Compared to centralized generation, onsite gas generation is installed faster and with less regulatory risk, while also eliminating the transmission and distribution energy losses (and risks) of the electric grid. Compared to renewables, these technologies can be installed in a far smaller footprint and, crucially, generate electricity without relying on the wind or sun.

Onsite dual-fuel generation consists of gensets, turbines, or microturbines that can operate on diesel and natural gas (and often, other fuels). Such equipment has many of the same advantages of onsite gas-fueled generation, with the added bonus of accepting multiple fuel types. While natural gas is often the preferred fuel (due to emissions requirements and lower cost), shocks to natural gas supply and/or price can make an alternate fuel like diesel favorable, if only for a short period. Diesel can also be stored onsite, ensuring access in a major catastrophe. This technology has been most embraced in the US oil & gas sector, but has growing applications both stateside and abroad. Watch for the coming revolution in liquefied natural gas to open new opportunities in flexible generation, too.

Natural gas will be an important electricity fuel for a long time to come. But in an era with baseload in decline and renewables on the rise, these tools should not only mitigate natural gas risk, but also build flexibility into an electric grid that sorely needs it.

 

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